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Problems of Practice

All fellows successfully completed a teaching and learning project titled “A Problem of Practice,” as a very small scale “action research project” in their classroom. The leadership team shared with fellows that bridging theory and practice and engaging with research are ways we become more sure-footed as practitioners. As a means to authentically engage with what it means to be a reform-minded STEM teacher, fellows authored an original work that drew directly from their practice. They identified a “problem of practice” that they were wrestling with at the end of their STEM Teaching and Learning course. Each Fellow selected a deliberate classroom practice to focus and work on in their classroom and was asked to:

  • work to understand that problem of practice in their context;
  • utilize current research in the field to illuminate the problem of practice;
  • apply theory to flesh out deeper understanding;
  • instigate an approach to address the problem of practice in context;
  • provide an overview of their completed project during the final class in a ten-minute presentation


Problems of practice could have been any component of their STEM teaching that was problematized by the individual or in the literature. Fellows needed to provide a report from their study that was similar to what is found in practitioner journals such as NCTM (Teaching Children Mathematics or Mathematics, Teaching in the Middle School), or NSTA (Science Teacher or Science Scope). Prior to turning in a final report and presenting to their peers, fellows had opportunities to receive feedback on earlier drafts from their peers, their mentors, and the MTF leadership team. The report consisted of:

  • a description of the problem of practice and the fellows’ local context;
  • current research in the field that illuminates the problem of practice;
  • description of a theory or two to flesh out deeper understanding and why it makes sense for the problem of practice identified;
  • a description of the approach to addressing the problem of practice
  • outcomes and findings of the approach.


Fellows then provided a 10-minute presentation highlighting the major thrust of their project and the outcomes. Topics studied related to the following areas:

  • Seventh-grade students’ identity development in an inquiry-based science classroom working alongside scientists;
  • Providing effective feedback in a high school math class;
  • Developing growth mindsets in a 1st grade, 6th grade, 8th grade and a high school math class;
  • Implementing problem-solving and inquiry-based math instructional strategies in a 4th-grade class;
  • Influencing motivation in a 6th-grade math class, a Living Environment class, and an algebra class;
  • Building science vocabulary acquisition for English Language Learners;
  • Using academic discourse with kindergarteners;
  • Appreciating the value of mistakes and feedback in a 7th-grade math class;
  • Mathematics modeling as a way to build 2nd-grade students’ understanding of multiplication;
  • The use of discussion protocols in service of the practice of planning and carrying out investigations in Living Environment;
  • Applying self-determination theory to motivate 6th-grade students in science class.