Teacher as Researcher in the Classroom - Digital Promise

Teacher as Researcher in the Classroom

October 16, 2018 | By

The Milwaukee Master Teacher Partnership is a partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (awards 1540840 and 1557397) to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. It is dedicated to improving student achievement, classroom practice, and teacher leadership within Milwaukee Public Schools. The project brings 24 teachers from 10 schools together to conduct classroom action research to develop their content knowledge for teaching, which includes:

  • Building content knowledge for teaching in focused areas of mathematics and science;
  • Implementing research-based best pedagogical practices to improve student learning; and
  • Developing teams of teacher leaders who design and conduct action research projects that lead to iterative cycles of professional development within MPS.

The content on this site does not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

I was almost out. I had put in six years of teaching and was craving something more. I liked my job just fine but I wasn’t satisfied. My degree in ecology from a large research institution trained me to do research, but I hadn’t done much of my own since graduating. Sure, I had done some action research for my master’s thesis, but I craved something more substantial and consistent.

Then along came the Milwaukee Master Teacher Partnership (MMTP).

This program provided an extended professional development program for math and science teachers using Digital Promise’s micro-credential platform. MMTP promised to give us a platform for conducting research in our classrooms and developing our craft of teaching. Each year we would work towards four different micro-credentials related either to the theory or practice of teaching. I thought this might be the “something more” I had been looking for.

The micro-credentials, which provide competency-based recognition for the skills that educators learn, prompted me to delve deeper into the process of professional development. Because of the independent nature of these micro-credentials, I was able to take each one in the direction I felt most useful to me and my students. The micro-credentials also prompted me to formally evaluate my work and then present it to other teachers, leading to heavy reflection and offering accountability.

My first major micro-credential effort had to do with peer evaluation. I created a tool and process for my students to peer evaluate each others’ lab reports after I conducted extensive research into the literature and had exhaustive conversations with fellow teachers in the program. I then rolled it out in my classroom to determine how this new approach compared to just giving traditional feedback myself. I eventually learned that peer editing had the same impact on lab report achievement as teacher feedback. By presenting this work to my peers and leaders in the community, I got to share the experience and my expertise with others, giving me a feeling of validation teachers rarely feel.

As a bonus, my students got to experience research in a different way. They had designed and carried out experiments in class and even presented them at research conferences. But through this process they got to experience another part of the process: this time, they were the research subjects. They had to sign the consent forms this time (not just their parents); they had people from universities coming in to observe; and they got to see the results of the experiments conducted with them.

The micro-credentials also prompted me to formally evaluate my work and then present it to other teachers, prompting heavy reflection and offering accountability.
Nick Beerman

This change in dynamic reinforced that of all the relationships I must maintain as a teacher, the most important one is with my students. For me to do this work, my students needed to give me consent to use their work, including possibly showing it to others outside the immediate school community. This required trust between us. Hopefully, they saw my commitment to them—that I was actively trying to improve my craft as well as their educational experiences.

Over the last two years and the eight micro-credentials I have completed, I have explored many facets of teaching. Each year has brought about changes in my teaching and progress in my students. As a science teacher, it is extremely satisfying to investigate, experiment, and evaluate using the literature and data. It has engaged me more in my career and I hope it continues to keep a fire in my soul as I help students navigate their educational careers.

Teaching is a craft that can be enhanced by experimentation and analysis. Teachers must be given the chance to investigate problems, test out theories, evaluate their teaching strategies and reflect on their teaching.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee micro-credentials here. Inspired by this story? Explore micro-credentials today!

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