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The Missing Link: Uniting Researchers and Practitioners for Mathematics Curriculum

A new report from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) aims to find common goals between mathematics researchers and practitioners.

"What have you done for me lately?"

That, says Michael Shaughnessy, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), has been the general sentiment between mathematics researchers and practitioners for years. There has been a communication disconnect between the two entities, as researchers feel their work isn't being consumed, and practitioners feel as though that research isn't relevant. For this reason, NCTM made it a goal to find common ground between these two types of mathematicians. The result of the organization's efforts is a report detailing ten questions to guide research for the coming years.

"Linking Research and Practice: The NCTM Research Agenda Conference Report," released May 10, highlights the work of a summer 2008 NCTM conference that brought together 60 mathematics professionals all of whom were prepared with guiding questions they felt were pertinent for studies and in the classroom. Smaller groups were created at the conference, mixed with both researchers and practitioners, to discuss their inquiries. By the end of the four-day conference, over 400 questions had been chiseled down to 10 research-guiding topics. The questions—covering such topics as professional development, curriculum and assessment—provide common areas on which both researchers and practitioners agree an increased amount of fine-tuned research is needed.

"The guiding questions are very broad," says Shaughnessy, "but they include subquestions and provide the framework for growth. For instance, when do ideas start to emerge in students? What do I tell a parent in this situation? What is known about the mathematics knowledge of elementary school teachers, or what is known in a particular area before entering middle school? This is the focused research that will start to evolve."

Shaughnessy sees major benefits emerging for district leaders from the dissemination of these findings. With more pinpointed research, district leaders and curriculum developers will have access to increasingly more relevant information. On the NCTM Web site, Shaughnessy notes, is a page entitled "Research, News, and Advocacy," that holds up-to-date releases for leaders to get research summaries of questions that concern them. NCTM hopes to tap into the research community to add to this collection and create a bigger library of information.

"District leaders, supervisors and even teachers don't have time to sift through long reports," says Shaughnessy, "but they will have time for brief abstracts of the reports. There's some key information there, and it's important to keep them involved in the communication process as well."

In addition to online summaries, NCTM is developing a wiki where researchers and practitioners can contribute new findings on the guiding questions. Shaughnessy hopes a social networking platform will develop within a year to increase communication between both groups.

Although progress has been made, Shaughnessy expects the development of these guiding questions to continue throughout the next five to 10 years. "It's a big first step," he says. "We're getting two-way communication going and identifying the common issues."

To read the full report from NCTM, visit