Math for Teaching: Research Methods

Research methods for Math for Teaching thesis work vary considerably depending on:

  1. the type of project being undertaken, along with
  2. the availability of specific resources (classes that can be studied, the number of teachers/students available for the study, etc.) 

Although you should think carefully about possible approaches to use for your project, you should discuss methods with your Research Advisor before settling on any one approach. You might need to incorporate a combination of approaches for your project.

Common methods popular in math education research

1. Data collection

  • If you are researching a particular teaching approach, or an alternative curriculum, then you might consider collecting data from students involving test scores, attendance records, etc. Such projects typically involve statistical analysis
  • This approach is often used in many top math education research journals
  • Disadvantages include difficulty in getting permission to study student data, and challenges in collecting enough data in a limited amount of time

2. Observational research

  • Classroom observations can be used for examining student dynamics, interactions with teachers, etc. - or to provide evidence for the effectiveness of a particular teaching approach
  • Although it can be difficult to draw definitive conclusions using such an approach, this is sometimes the only method available to investigate certain aspects of teaching

3. Action research

  • Typically denotes teachers making observations about their own teaching
  • This can be problematic - one is both trying out something potentially new in a classroom, and - at the same time - “observing” oneself carrying it out ... it is, however, often the most efficient/simplest approach for investigating a teaching method
  • There are also Use of Human Subjects issues involving studying one’s own students

4. Surveys, questionnaires

  • These can be a useful way to collect information from teachers and students about attitudes, experiences, and opinions
  • Care needs to be taken to craft survey instruments that target the specific information you hope to study, while avoiding potential bias (e.g. leading questions, wording or interpretation issues)
  • As is the case with other methods, there are concerns with interviewing one’s own students

5. Interviews and focus groups

  • These qualitative approaches can be useful for studying students’ or teachers’ attitudes towards math - or towards particular classroom/school issues
  • It can be challenging to analyze data coming from interviews and to organize the results without introducing possible bias - there is the potential for misreading or overinterpretation of people’s statements

6. Library/journal research

  • Studying the results of other researchers can provide a rich source of data for many projects
  • Advantages: you get to work with data that has already been collected and is ready for immediate use
  • Disadvantages: difficulty of coming up with new or novel results, as well as potentially having to rely on less scholarly sources if little has been published on a particular topic