Pushing the Boundaries of "Good at Math": How Mathematics Teachers (Re)Define Their Subject in Everyday Practice
Nicole Louie

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

Mathematics Education
What does it mean to be "good at math"? Traditionally, schools have valued getting the right answer, fast, a practice that has excluded important aspects of mathematics, as well as many students. Recent decades have seen many efforts to reform mathematics education, but change has been elusive?in no small part because of the complexity of the learning that reform demands of teachers. This case study investigates how teachers work together to redefine mathematics and mathematical competence, focusing on teachers with an explicit commitment to serving all students, especially students from non-dominant backgrounds. The study involved over a year of ethnographic observations and interviews at two urban high schools in Northern California. I find that teachers struggled to reconcile their abstract belief in all students with their day-to-day observations of deficits in students? knowledge and skills?but that two teachers succeeded in enacting teaching practices that supported all students to engage with mathematical challenges and develop identities as mathematically competent people. I examine the resources that these two teachers leveraged against the ideological and structural challenges that they and their colleagues faced. In particular, I explore the role of teachers; professional communities, both school-based and not, in building teachers; capacity to redefine who and what is "good at math"? This research contributes to understandings of how teachers engage in equity-oriented learning, with important implications for policies and practices that target such learning.
About Nicole Louie

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