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Reconstructing Mathematics Pedagogy from a Constructivist Perspective

Author(s): Martin A. Simon

Source: Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Mar., 1995), pp. 114-
Published by: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
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Journalfor Researchin MathematicsEducation
1995, Vol. 26, No. 2, 114-145


MARTIN A. SIMON,PennsylvaniaState University

Constructivisttheoryhas been prominentin recentresearchon mathematicslearningand has

provideda basis for recentmathematicseducationreformefforts.Althoughconstructivismhas
the potentialto informchanges in mathematicsteaching,it offers no particularvision of how
mathematicsshouldbe taught;models of teachingbasedon constructivismareneeded.Dataare
presentedfrom a whole-class, constructivistteachingexperimentin which problemsof teach-
ing practicerequiredthe teacher/researcher to explorethe pedagogicalimplicationsof his the-
oretical(constructivist)perspectives.The analysisof the dataled to the developmentof a model
of teacherdecision makingwith respectto mathematicaltasks.Centralto this model is the cre-
ative tension between the teacher'sgoals with regardto studentlearningandhis responsibility
to be sensitive andresponsiveto the mathematicalthinkingof the students.

Constructivistperspectiveson learninghavebeencentralto muchof recentempir-

ical and theoreticalwork in mathematicseducation (Steffe & Gale, 1995; von
Glasersfeld,1991) andas a result,have contributedto shapingmathematicsreform
efforts(NationalCouncilof Teachersof Mathematics,1989, 1991). Althoughcon-
structivismhasprovidedmathematics educatorswithusefulways to understand learn-
ing andlearners,the taskof reconstructingmathematicspedagogyon the basis of a
constructivistview of learningis a considerablechallenge,one thatthe mathematics
educationcommunityhas only begunto tackle.Althoughconstructivismprovidesa
useful frameworkfor thinkingaboutmathematicslearningin classroomsandthere-
fore can contributein importantways to the effortto reformclassroommathematics
teaching,it does not tell us how to teachmathematics;thatis, it does not stipulatea
The word "pedagogy,"as used above, is meantto signify all contributionsto the
mathematicaleducationof studentsin mathematicsclassrooms.As such,it includes
not only the multi-facetedworkof the teacherbutalso the contributions to classroom
learning of curriculum designers, educationalmaterials developers, and educa-
tionalresearchers.Mathematicspedagogymightbe operationallydefinedusing the
followingthoughtexperiment.Picture25 learnersin an otherwiseemptyclassroom.

This material is based on work supportedby the National Science Foundationunder

Grant No. TPE-9050032. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations
expressedin this materialarethose of the authorand do not necessarilyreflect the views of
the National Science Foundation.
The authorwishes to acknowledgethe helpful commentson early draftsof this paperof
DeborahBall, HildaBorko,PaulCobb,Steve Lehrman,DeborahSchifter,VirginiaStimpson,
ErnstVon Glasersfeld,TerryWood,andErnaYackel,as well as the contributionsto this work
of the CEM Projectteam of Glen Blume, Sonja Brobeck,Billie Mazza, Betsy McNeal, and
MartinA. Simon 115

The ingredientnecessaryin orderto initiatemathematicslearningis pedagogy.

This paperdescribes data from a classroom teaching experimentin which the
researcherserved as mathematicsteacher,the analysis of thatdata,and an emerg-
ing theoreticalframeworkfor mathematicspedagogy thatderivesfrom the analy-
sis. The papercontributesto a dialogue on what teaching might be like if it were
built on a constructivistview of knowledgedevelopment.The specific focus of this
paperis on decisionmakingwithrespectto the mathematics contentandmathematical
tasks for classroom learning.
This articlebeginswith an articulationof the constructivistperspectivethatunder-
girds the researchandteachingandthen providesa review of the pedagogicalthe-
ory developmentbased on constructivismthatprecededthis studyand contributed
to its theoreticalfoundation.The studyreportedhereexaminesthe pedagogicaldeci-
sions thatresultfrom the accommodationof the researcher'stheoreticalperspec-
tives to the problemsof teaching.

The widespreadinterestin constructivismamongmathematicseducationtheorists,
researchers,andpractitionershas led to a plethoraof differentmeaningsfor "con-
Althoughtermssuchas "radical constructivism" and"socialconstructivism"
providesome orientation,thereis a diversityof epistemologicalperspectiveseven
within these categories(cf. Steffe & Gale, 1995). Therefore,it seems importantto
describebriefly the constructivistperspectiveon which ourresearchis based.
Constructivismderives from a philosophicalposition that we as humanbeings
have no access to an objective reality,thatis, a realityindependentof our way of
knowingit. Rather,we constructourknowledgeof ourworldfromourperceptions
and experiences,which arethemselvesmediatedthroughourpreviousknowledge.
Learningis the process by which humanbeings adaptto their experientialworld.
From a constructivistperspective,we have no way of knowing whethera con-
cept matches an objective reality. Ourconcern is whetherit works (fits with our
experientialworld). Von Glasersfeld(1987, 1995) refersto this as "viability,"in
keeping with the biological model of learningas adaptationdeveloped by Piaget
(1970). To clarify, a concept works or is viable to the extent thatit does what we
need it to do: to make sense of our perceptionsor data, to make an accuratepre-
diction,to solve a problem,or to accomplisha personalgoal. Confrey(1995) points
outthata corollaryto theradicalconstructivistepistemologyis its "recursivefidelity-
constructivismis subjectto its own claims aboutthe limits of knowledge. Thus,
[constructivism]is only trueto the extent thatit is shown useful in allowing us to
make sense of our experience." When what we experience differs from the
expected or intended,disequilibriumresults and our adaptive(learning)process
is triggered.Reflection on successful adaptiveoperations(reflective abstraction)
leads to new or modified concepts.
Perhapsthe most divisive issue in recentepistemologicaldebates(Steffe & Gale,
1995) is whetherknowledge development(particularlyrelationalknowledge) is
116 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

seen as fundamentallya social processor a cognitiveprocess.The differencein the

two positionsseemsto dependon thefocus of the observer.The radicalconstructivist
positionfocuses on the individual'sconstruction,thustakinga cognitiveor psycho-
logicalperspective.Althoughsocialinteraction is seenas animportant contextforlearn-
ing, the focus is on the resultingreorganizationof individualcognition.
ForPiaget,justas forthecontemporary the"others"
radicalconstructivist, withwhom
socialinteractiontakesplace,arepartof theenvironment, nomorebutalsonolessthan
anyof therelatively "permanent" objectsthechildconstructs
withintherangeof itslived
Onthe otherhand,epistemologistswitha socioculturalorientationsee highermen-
tal processes as socially determined."Socioculturalprocessesaregiven analytical
prioritywhenunderstanding individualmentalfunctioningratherthanthe otherway
around."(Wertsch& Toma, 1995) Froma social perspective,knowledge resides
in the culture,which is a system thatis greaterthanthe sum of its parts.
Ourpositioneschews eitherextremeandbuildson the theoreticalworkof Cobb,
Yackel,andWood(Cobb,1989;Cobb,Yackel,& Wood,1993;Wood,Cobb,& Yackel,
1995) and Bauersfeld(1995), whose theories are groundedin both radicalcon-
structivism(vonGlasersfeld,1991)andsymbolicinteractionism (Blumer,1969).Cobb
(1989) pointsoutthatthe coordinationof the two perspectivesis necessaryto under-
standlearningin theclassroom.Theissueis notwhetherthe socialor cognitivedimen-
sion is primary,butratherwhatcan be learnedfromcombininganalysesfromthese
two perspectives.I drawan analogywith physicists'theoriesof light.Neithera par-
ticle theorynora wave theoryof lightis sufficientto characterizethephysicist'sdata.
However,it hasbeenusefulto physiciststo considerlightto be a particleandto con-
siderlightto be a wave. Coordinatingthe findingsthatderivefromeachperspective
has led to advancementsin the field. Likewise,it seems useful to coordinateanaly-
ses on the basis of psychological(cognitive)and sociologicalperspectivesin order
to understandknowledgedevelopmentin classrooms.
Psychologicalanalysisof mathematicsclassroomlearningfocuses on individu-
als' knowledgeof andaboutmathematics',theirunderstandingof the mathematics
of theothers,andtheirsenseof thefunctioningof themathematicsclass.Sociological
analysisfocuses on taken-as-shared knowledgeandclassroomsocial norms(Cobb,
Yackel, & Wood, 1989). "Taken-as-shared"(Cobb, Yackel, & Wood, 1992;
Streeck,1979)indicatesthatmembersof the classroomcommunity,havingno direct
access to each other's understanding,achieve a sense thatsome aspectsof knowl-
edge are sharedbut have no way of knowing whetherthe ideas are in fact shared.
"Socialnorms"referto thatwhich is understoodby the communityas constituting
effective participationin the mathematicsclassroomcommunity.The social norms

'Ball (1991) defines knowledge of mathematicsas conceptualandproceduralknowledgeof the sub-

ject andknowledgeaboutmathematicsas "understandings aboutthe natureof mathematicalknowledge
and activity:what is entailedin doing mathematicsand how truthis establishedin the domain.What
countsas a solutionin mathematics?How aresolutionsjustifiedandconjecturesdisproved?Whichideas
are arbitraryor conventionaland which arenecessaryor logical?"(p. 7)
MartinA. Simon 117

includethe expectationsthatcommunitymembershave of the teacherand students,

the conceptionsof whatit meansto do mathematicsin thatcommunity,andtheways
that mathematicalvalidity is established.
Itis usefulto see mathematics
as bothcognitiveactivityconstrainedby socialandcul-
turalprocesses,andas a socialandculturalphenomenon thatis constituted
by a com-
munityof activelycognizingindividuals (Wood,Cobb,& Yackel,1995).
We refer to this coordinationof psychological and sociological analyses as
"social constructivism."


Understandinglearningas a process of individualand social constructiongives

teachersa conceptualframeworkwith whichto understandthe learningof theirstu-
dents.Althoughthe developmentof suchunderstandings is extremelyvaluable,this
paper focuses on the question of how constructivism mightcontributeto a recon-
structionof mathematicspedagogy.How mightit informthedevelopmentof a frame-
work for fostering and supporting learners' constructions of powerful ideas?
Wood, Cobb, and Yackel (1995) assertthat
teachersmust... construct waysof learn-
a formof practicethatfitswiththeirstudents'
ingmathematics. Thisis thefundamental challengethatfacesmathematics teacheredu-
cators.Wehaveto reconstruct whatit meanstoknowanddomathematics in schooland
thuswhatit meansto teachmathematics.
As I statedabove, constructivism,as an epistemologicaltheory,does not define
a particularway of teaching.It describesknowledge developmentwhetheror not
thereis a teacherpresentor teachingis going on. Konold (1995) argues,"notthat
a teacher'sepistemologyhas no effect on how he or she teaches,ratherthatits effects
areneitherstraightforward nordeterministic." Thereis no simplefunctionthatmaps
teachingmethodology onto principles.A constructivistepistemology
does not determinethe appropriateness or inappropriateness of teachingstrategies.
Bauersfeld(1995) states,
Thefundamentally constructivenatureof humancognitionandtheprocessualemer-
genceof themes,regularities,andnormsformathematizing acrosssocialinteraction,
to bringthe[psychological]andthesocialtogether,makeit impossibleto endupwith
a simpleprescriptivesummary forteaching.Thereis no waytowardsanoperational-
izationof thesocialconstructivist withoutdestroying
perspective theperspective.
The commonly used misnomer,"constructivistteaching,"however, suggests to
the contrarythat constructivismoffers one set notion of how to teach. The ques-
tion of whetherteachingis "constructivist" is not a useful one anddivertsattention
fromthemoreimportant question of how effectiveit is. Froma theoreticalperspective,
the questionthatneeds attentionis, In what ways can constructivismcontributeto
the developmentof useful theoreticalframeworksfor mathematicspedagogy?
It is overly simplistic and not useful to connect constructivismto teachingwith
the romanticnotion, "Leavestudentsalone and they will constructmathematical
118 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

understandings." Likewise,"Putstudentsin groupsandlet themcommunicateas they

solve problems,"is not muchmorehelpful.Historyprovidesunsolicitedempirical
evidencewithrespectto theseapproaches. Generations of outstanding mathematicians
who wereengagedin mathematical problems,who communicated withtheircolleagues
abouttheirwork,requiredthousandsof yearsto developmathematicsthatwe expect
ouraverageelementaryschoolstudentsto construct(Richards,1991).Thus,although
it is usefulto havestudentsworkproblemsandcommunicateabouttheirideas,it does
not seem to be adequateas a prescriptionfor mathematicsteaching.The challenge
is, Howcanmathematics teachersfosterstudents'construction ofpowerfulmathematical
ideas thattookthe communityof mathematiciansthousandsof years to develop?
It is necessary[forthemathematics teacher]to providea structure anda set of plans
thatsupport thedevelopment of informed andreflective
exploration inquirywithouttak-
jectsthatstimulate students
to askquestions,
poseproblems, andsetgoals.Students will
notbecomeactivelearners by accident,butbydesign,through theuseof theplansthat
we structure to guideexplorationandinquiry.2(p.38 [Italicsintheoriginal])
Throughempiricaldataand model building,this study attemptsto examine the
process of constitutingpedagogicaldesigns.


Relativelylittle workin mathematicseducationhas focused on the development

of theoreticalframeworksfor mathematicspedagogyconsistentwithconstructivism.
This seems to be the resultof several factors:
1. It is only recentlythatempiricallybasedmodelsfor studyingmathematicslearn-
ing in classrooms have been articulated(cf. Wood, Cobb, Yackel, & Dillon,
1993). Earlierempiricalwork, which derivedfrom, and contributedto, epistemo-
logicaltheory,focusedon thecognitivedevelopmentof individuallearners(cf. Steffe,
von Glasersfeld,Richards,& Cobb, 1983).
2. Traditionalviews of mathematics,learning,and teachinghave been so wide-
spreadthatresearchersstudyingteachers'thinking,beliefs, and decision making
have had little access to teacherswho had well-developedconstructivistperspec-
tives and who understoodand were implementing currentreform ideas. As a
resulttherehas been a lack of connectionbetweenresearchon learning(whichhas
focusedon constructivism)andresearchon teaching(whichhas focusedfor themost
parton traditionalinstruction).
3. The need for pedagogicalframeworksis sometimesobscuredby the tendency
to assume thatconstructivismdefines an approachto teaching.

21interpretRichards'sstatement,"Studentswill notbecomeactivelearners..."as indicativeof his inter-

est in fosteringmoreindependentandreflectivemathematicalinvestigationsanddiscussionsamongstu-
dents.Froma constructivistperspective,studentsarealways activelearners;however,the natureof what
is constructedin differentclassroomcontexts may vary greatly.
MartinA. Simon 119

Despite these factors, some importantwork has been done in recentyears with
respectto rethinkingmathematicsteachingon thebasisof a constructivist perspective
(in some cases withoutspecificreferenceto constructivism).This workhas focused
on identifying the roles of mathematicsteachers and describing the nature of
"pedagogicaldeliberations"(Ball, 1993).
The Professional Standardsfor School Mathematics (National Council of
Teachersof Mathematics,1991)envisionsteachers'responsibilities in fourkey areas:
* Setting
* Stimulating andmanaging classroomdiscourseso thatboththestudentsand
theteacherarecleareraboutwhatis beinglearned;
* Creatinga classroom
teaching andlearningmathematics;
* Analyzingstudentlearning,themathematicaltasks,andtheenvironment in
orderto makeongoinginstructionaldecisions.(p. 5)
Cobb, Wood, and Yackel (1993) elaboratethe teacher's responsibilitiesin the
mathematicsclassroom.The teacherhas the dualrole of fosteringthe development
of conceptualknowledgeamongheror his studentsandof facilitatingtheconstitution
of shared knowledge in the classroom community. Cobb et al. (1993) have
demonstratedthatclassroomconversationsaboutmathematics,facilitatedby the
teacher, result in taken-as-shared mathematical knowledge. They have also
described a second type of conversationthat focuses on what constitutes appro-
priateand effective mathematicalactivity in the classroom. Such discussion con-
tributesto the constitutionandmodificationof social normsfor mathematicalactiv-
ity, the contrat didactique3(Brousseau, 1981).
Much of the teacher'sresponsibilitiesinvolve planning.However, the planning
of instructionbased on a constructivistview of learningfaces an inherenttension.
Brousseauemphasizesthatstudentsmusthave freedomto makea responseto a sit-
uationon the basisof theirpastknowledgeof the contextandtheirdevelopingmath-
ematicalunderstandings.If the situationleads the studentsto a particularresponse,
no reallearningof themathematical ideasunderlyingthatresponsetakesplace.However,
"if the teacherhas no intention,no plan, no problemor well-developed situation,
the childwill not do andwill not learnanything"(Brousseau,1987, p. 8-my trans-
lation).Underthese conditions,studentslearnotherthings,such as how to respond
appropriatelyto the teacher'sleading questions.
Brousseau(1983),Douady(1985),Lampert(1990),andBall (1993)haveconducted
investigationsinto the natureof pedagogical thinking and decision making that
contributeto teacherplanning.Brousseau(1987) assertsthatpartof the role of the
teacheris to takethe noncontextualizedmathematicalideasthatareto be taughtand
embedthemin a contextfor studentinvestigation.Sucha contextshouldbe personally
meaningfulto the students,allowingthemto solve problemsin thatcontext,the solu-
tionof whichmightbe a specificinstantiation of the ideato be learned.(Ball's [1993]

3Thecontratdidactiqueis also establishedby classroomroutinesthat are not explicitly discussed.

120 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

notionof "representational context"seemsconsistentwithBrousseau'ssituation.)The

teacher'sjob is to proposea learningsituationwithinwhich studentsseek a response
to the milieu,not a responsethatis solely intendedto pleasetheteacher.Fortheprob-
lem to fosterthe learningof powerfulmathematicalideas, the studentsmustaccept
theproblemas theirproblem4; theymustaccepttheresponsibility fortruth(Balacheff,
1990). Brousseaucalls this the devolutionof the problem.
The creationof appropriate problemcontexts(situationsa-didactiques)is not suf-
ficientforlearning.Brousseaupointsoutthatsituationsmustbe createdforthedecon-
textualizinganddepersonalizing of theideas(situationsdidactiques).Learninginvolves
being able to use the ideas beyond the narrowcontext of the originalproblemsit-
uation."Theteachingprocessshouldallowforthisshiftof pupils'interestfrombeing
practitionersto becoming theoreticians"(Balacheff, 1990, p. 264).
Also necessaryis what the Frenchresearcherscall "situationsfor institutional-
ization"(Brousseau,1987;Douady, 1985), in which ideas constructedor modified
duringproblemsolving attainthe statusof knowledgein the classroomcommunity.
This is consistentwith the notionof mathematicalknowledgeas social knowledge,
as knowledge thatis taken-as-sharedby the classroomcommunity.
Lampert's(1990) use of "problems"correspondswith Brousseau'ssituationsand
Ball's representational contexts.Lampertdescribesthepedagogicalthinkingin which
she engages to generateproblemsfor her students.
Atthebeginning of a unit,whenwewereswitching toa newtopic,theproblem westarted
withwaschosenforits potentialto exposea widerangeof students'thinkingabouta
bitof mathematics, tomakeexplicitandpublicwhattheycoulddoandhowtheyunder-
stand.Laterproblems werechosenbasedonanassessment of theresultsof thefirstand
subsequentdiscussionsof a topic,movingthe agendaalonginto new but related
mathematical territory.Themostimportant criterionin pickinga problemwasthatit
be thesortof problemthatwouldhavethecapacityto engageallof thestudentsin the
classin makingandtestingmathematical hypotheses.Thesehypotheses areimbedded
in theanswersstudents givetotheproblem,andso comparing answersengagedtheclass
in a discussionof therelativemathematical meritsof varioushypotheses,settingthe
stageforthekindof zig-zagbetweeninductiveobservation anddeductivegeneraliza-
tionthatLakatosandPolyasee as characteristic of mathematical activity.(p. 39)
Suchpedagogicalthinkingmustbe builton knowledgeof mathematicsandknowl-
edge of studentsandhow they learnmathematics.Ball (1993) pointsout thatteach-
ers musthave a "bifocalperspective-perceivingthe mathematicsthroughthe mind
of thelearnerwhileperceivingthemindof thelearnerthroughthemathematics" (p.159).
Steffe (1991) stressesthatthe teachers'plansmustbe informedby the "mathematics
of students.""Themost basic responsibilityof constructivistteachersis to learnthe
mathematical knowledgeof theirstudentsandhow to harmonizetheirteachingmeth-
ods withthe natureof thatmathematicalknowledge"(Steffe& Wiegel, 1992,p. 17).
Decisionsas to the natureandsequenceof the mathematicsto be taughtaremade,
according to Laborde (1989), on the basis of hypotheses about epistemology

4Althougheachproblemsolvermayconstructa somewhatdifferentunderstanding of theproblem,nego-

tiationcommonlytakesplacein the classroomto arriveat a taken-as-shared of theproblem.
MartinA. Simon 121

andlearning.Ball(1993)further natureof teaching:'Teaching

is essentiallyan ongoinginquiryintocontentandlearnersandintoways thatcontexts
can be structuredto facilitatethe developmentof learners'understandings" (p. 166).
Ball states that researchis needed to furtherunderstandthe pedagogicaldelib-
erationsin reform-orientedmathematics teaching.Buildingon theworkof theresearchers
citedaboveandstartingfroma socialconstructivistperspectiveon knowledgedevel-
opment,my papercontinuesthe discussion of pedagogicaldeliberationsthatlead
to the determinationof problemcontextsfor studentinvolvement.In particular,the
paperextendsthe notionof teachingas inquiry,examinesthe roleof differentaspects
of teachers'knowledge, and explores the ongoing and inherentchallenge to inte-
grate the teacher's goals and direction for learning with the trajectory of students'
mathematical thinking and learning.


This section focuses on datafrom a classroomteachingexperiment,in orderto
analyzesituationsin which a constructivisttheoreticalperspectivecame up against
the realities of real students in a real classroom. The nonroutineproblems of
teachingrequirean elaborationandmodificationof theoriesof learningandteach-
ing. When the researcher/theorist assumesthe role of teacherin a researchproject,
he is uniquelypositionedto studyin a directway the interactionof his theoryand
practice.Particularly,this reportfocuses on the teacher/researcher's
ongoing deci-
sion makingwith respect to the mathematicalcontentof the course and the tasks
andquestionsthatprovideda contextforthestudyof thatcontent.This sectionbegins
with some brief backgroundon the teachingexperiment.

The teachingexperimentwas partof the Constructionof ElementaryMathematics
(CEM) Project,a 3-year study of the mathematicaland pedagogicaldevelopment
of prospectiveelementaryteachers.The projectstudiedthe prospectiveteachersin
the contextof anexperimentalteacherpreparation programdesignedto increasetheir
mathematicalknowledgeandto fostertheirdevelopmentof views of mathematics,
learning, and teaching that were consistent with the views espoused in recent
reform documents (e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989;
1991). Data collection with 26 prospectiveelementaryteachers(20 of whom fin-
ished the program) proceeded throughouta mathematics course, a course on
mathematicslearning and teaching, a 5-week pre-student-teachingpracticum,
and a 15-week student-teachingpracticum.
Theresearchon themathematics courseandthecourseon mathematics learningand
teachingemployed a constructivist
teaching-experiment methodology,as described
by CobbandSteffe(1983)forresearchwithindividual subjects.We adaptedthatmethod-
ology to researchon classroom mathematics (in the mannerof Cobbet al., 1993).
The authortaughtall classes. Classes were videotapedand field notes were taken
122 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

by project researchers.Videotapesof classes were transcribedfor analysis. The

authorkepta reflectivenotebookin whichhe recordedhis thinkingimmediatelyfol-
lowing teachingandplanningsessions. Following each class the authormet with a
second projectresearcherto discuss what he and his colleague inferredthe con-
ceptualizationsof the studentsto be at thatpointandto planfor the next instructional
intervention.(Inthis section,"students"refersto the prospectiveelementaryteach-
ers participatingin the teachingexperiment.)These meetingswere audiotaped.
The teaching-experiment methodologyinvolves"hypothesizingwhatthe [learner]
mightlearnandfindingways of fosteringthis learning"(Steffe, 1991, p. 177). This
researchreportrepresents anextensionof theteaching-experiment
methodology. Whereas
the teachingexperimentwas createdto learnaboutstudents'developingconceptions
(ourprimaryemphasis),analysisof the decision makingof the teacher/researcher
in posing problemsis potentiallya rich sourcefor learningaboutteaching(Cobb,
personalcommunication).This paperis based on such an analysis.
Class lessons generallyconsisted of small-groupproblemsolving and teacher-
led whole-classdiscussions.No lectureswere given.Theprimarymathematicalgoal
of the course was for students to learn to identify multiplicativerelationships
(Simon& Blume, 1994a,1994b).Previousresearchon a varietyof populations(Hart,
1981;Inhelder& Piaget, 1958;Karplus,Karplus,Formisano,& Paulson,1979) and
ourpretestdatawiththispopulationof studentshadshownthatidentifyingratiorela-
tionshipstends to be difficult and thatadditivecomparisonsare often used where
multiplicativecomparisons(ratios)are more appropriate.The mathematicalcon-
tentof the coursebeganwithexplorationof the multiplicativerelationshipinvolved
in evaluatingthe areaof rectangles.

Data and Analysis

The datapresentedfocuseson threeteachingsituations,examiningtherelationship
amongthe teacher'sdecision makingand the classroomactivities.These dataare
from the first 5 weeks of the 15-weekmathematicscourse,the durationof the first
instructionalunit,andaretakenfromclass transcripts, theteacher/researcher's notes,
fieldnotesfromotherresearchers, andstudentjournals.Thefirstunit(eight90-minute
classes) focused on understandingthe multiplicativerelationshipinvolved in eval-
uatingthe areaof a rectangle.The threeinstructionalsituationsdescribedrepresent
the three subtopics of the instructionalunit. For each situation, a descriptionis
providedof the challenge that faced the teacheras construedby the teacher,the
decision thathe made to respondto thatchallenge, and the subsequentclassroom
interactionthat was constitutedby the studentsand teacher.
Note thatfundamentalto theteacher'sunderstanding of thechallengewas his con-
structivistperspective,which includedthe idea thatstudentsconstructtheirunder-
standings,theydo notabsorbtheunderstandings of theirteachers.Eachof thethreesit-
uationsrepresentsanattemptto promoteandsupportpowerfulconstructions. Whereas
tellingstudents whatthey shouldunderstand(a lecture is
approach) relativelystraight-
forward,developingsituationsa-didactiquesor representational contextsis complex
anduncertain.Inthislatterapproach,mathematicsteachingis continuallyproblematic.
MartinA. Simon 123

Therectanglesproblem.As theinstructor,I chose to beginthe explorationof mul-

tiplicativerelationshipsin the evaluationof areaof rectangles.My purposewas to
focus on the multiplicative relationshipsinvolved, not to teach about area. The
lesson I chose was one that I had used several times before with similar groups
of students.The lesson grew out of my observationthat althoughmany prospec-
tive elementaryteachersrespondto area-of-rectangleproblemsby multiplying,
their choice of multiplicationis often the result of having learneda procedureor
formularatherthanthe resultof a solid conceptuallink between theirunderstand-
ings of multiplicationandtheirunderstandings of measuringarea.Thislesson,which
was designed to foster the developmentof thatlink, was plannedto be completed
in one day, althoughI anticipatedthatit might continueinto the next class.
The lessonbeganwith a smallcardboard rectanglebeinggiven to eachof the small
groupsof studentsseatedat the classroom'ssix rectangulartables.The groupswere
challengedto solve the following problem.
Rectanglesproblem 1. Determinehow manyrectangles,of the size and shape
of the rectanglethatyou were given, could fit on the top surfaceof your table.
Rectanglescannotbe overlapped,cannotbe cut, norcan they overlapthe edges
of the table.Be preparedto describeto the class how you solved this problem.
Each groupof studentsused the given rectangleas a measureto count the num-
ber of rectanglesalong the length of the table and the numberof rectanglesalong
the width of the table and then multipliedthese two quantities.(For an extensive
analysisof the quantitativereasoninginvolved in this instructionalunit, see Simon
& Blume, 1994b.5)However,a few of the groupsraisedthe questionof whetherthe
orientationof the rectangleshouldbe maintainedfor the second measurement(see
Figure la), or whetherit shouldbe rotated90 degrees so thatmeasuringis always
done using the same side of the rectangle(see Figure lb).

Figure la. Maintainingorientationof Figure lb. Rotatingthe rectangleto measure

the rectangle. the adjacentside.

During whole-class discussion, students described how they had solved the
problem.Then,to focus discussionon the multiplicativerelationships,I askedthem

"5Much of the datafor this reportwas reportedearlierin Simon and Blume (1994b). The earlierarti-
cle focuses on the students'quantitativereasoning.This articlerevisitssome of the datato unpackthe
124 Reconstructing Mathematics Pedagogy

why they hadmultipliedthese numbers.Some respondedby sayingthat"itseemed

like theeasiestway,"or "inpreviousmathclassesyou learnedtheformulafor areas"
(Simon& Blume, 1994b).Otherssaidit works;the productis the same as the result
of countingup all the rectangles.I asked whetherthere was reasonto expect that
it would always work. Frommy perspective,it is fundamentalin mathematicsto
considerwhethera claim could be defendedthatthe observedphenomenonwould
always occurundera particularset of conditions.Most of the studentsseemedper-
plexed by this question.However, Molly explained:
Molly: Well,it wouldworkbecause,um,multiplying andaddingarerelated,in thatmul-
tiplyingis, is likeaddinggroups,andso it wouldalwaysworkbecauseyouaddthem
upto seehowmanyis inthesquareandtomultiply thegroupsthatgo likethat,that'll
alwayswork.Youwouldgetthesamenumber,I'msayingif youaddedthemorif
youmultiplied thatsidetimesthatside.Becauseyou'readding,I mean,you'remul-
tiplying of groupsbythenumber inthegroups,whichis thesameasadding
themall up.
Molly clarifiedherexplanationby demonstrating on the chalkboardhow eachrow
of rectangleswas a group(see Figure2) andthe numberof rectanglesin a row was
thenumberin eachgroup.Sheshowedthatsummingtherectangles in eachrow(repeated
addition) was to
equivalent multiplying the number in a row by the numberof rows
(Simon & Blume, 1994b).

Figure 2. One group offour rectangles.

The otherstudents'subsequentcommentssuggestedthatonly a few of themper-

ceived thatMolly's explanationhadadvancedthe discussionin any significantway.
Situation1. Whatinstructional
to constructunderstandings similarto Molly's?It wasn'tthatthe otherstudentswere
puzzled by Molly's explanation;they seemed unaffectedby it. They continuedto
respondto the question,"Whymultiply?"in ways thatindicatedthatthe question
didnotdemandforthemthistypeof justification.Responsesincluded"...'cause that's
the way we've been taught."and"... it's a mathematicallaw."Asking the students
for explanationsandjustificationswas not sufficient.Ourclassroomcommunityhad
notestablishedwhatcountsformathematical justification(Simon& Blume,in press).
It did not seem thatcontinuingthis alreadylengthydiscussionwould be fruitful.
MartinA. Simon 125

I had engaged them in a problem-solvingactivityusing a hands-onactivity and

fosteredcommunicationin small and large groups.Yet only a few of my students
showedevidenceof learningthe mathematicsthatI hadintendedthemto learn.The
challengethatI facedwas a productof bothcognitiveandsocialfactors.Cognitively,
the majorityof my studentswere employing a procedurethat was well-practiced
but not well-examinedconceptually.Socially, they did not have a view of math-
ematicalactivityin generalandof appropriate activityfor ourclassroomin particular
thatincludedthe typeof relationalthinkinganddevelopmentof justificationin which
I was attemptingto engage them.
I realizedthatthe developmentof normsfor classroommathematicsactivitywould
take some time. Such normswould resultfrom the activitiesin which we engaged
as a mathematicalcommunityand the discussions thatwe had aboutthatactivity.
Theircompetencein providingjustificationwouldgrowas theyengagedin discussions
in which the demandfor justificationwas consistentlypresent(Simon & Blume,
in press). Thus, from a social perspective,I needed to continuethe process that I
hadbegunwiththem.However,thisprocesscouldnothappenin theabstract. Particular
contentandtaskswereneededas the contextforthe constitutingof appropriate math-
ematicalactivity.Thus,I returnedto my role of problemposer,butthe questionwas,
"Whichproblems?"The traditionalapproach-assigning practiceproblemssim-
ilar to the originalone-seemed inappropriate.Afterall, the studentswere already
able to generatecorrect answers;the real problemwas understandingwhy mul-
tiplicationwas appropriate.I needed to find problemsthatnecessitatedan under-
standingof the linkbetweenthe solutionstrategy,countingthe numberof rectangles
along the length and the width and multiplyingthose quantities,and the goal of
determiningthe total numberof rectanglesthat could be laid out on the table.
To generatesuch problems,I made use of conceptualdifficulties thatI had pre-
viously observedamongstudentsworkingon RectanglesProblem1. Forexample:
Rectanglesproblem2. Bill said, "If the table is 13 rectangleslong and 9 rec-
tangleswide, andif I count 1, 2, 3 ..., 13 andthen again 1, 2, 3 ..., 9, andthen
I multiply, 13 x 9, then I have countedthe comer rectangletwice." Respond
to Bill's comment.
Problem2 seemed to engage studentsin makinga conceptuallink between the
goal of counting all of the rectangles and the prevalent solution strategy of
countingrectanglesalong the two sides andmultiplying.The following excerpts
from the class transcriptshow the development of these connections. (Note:
"Simon"refersto me, the teacher.)
Karen:Whenwe'remultiplying thirteentimesninewe'retryingto see ... howmanynines
thereare....So if I'mlookingatonenine,twonines,threenines,fournines,I could
findouthowmuchit wouldbe withthosenumbers, butif I'mlookingforthirteen
nines,I wouldwantto seehowmanyof thoseI wouldhaveif I wouldaddthemup
orif I wouldmultiplythemthirteentimes.Howmany-how muchwouldthatbe if
I hadthirteenninesorninethirteens? I'mlookingfortheamount-totalamountthat
thatwouldbe if I wasmultiplying howmanygroupsof thoseorhowmanysetsof
thosewouldI have,if I wouldaddeachoneof themupto getthetotalamount.
126 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

Karen has made some progress in justifying the use of multiplication. However,
Toni goes back to how one uses the formula appropriately. Her explanation is based
on her identification of the problem as an area problem and her knowledge of how
to measure length times width. Once again I attempt to refocus Toni (and, I suspect,
other students) on the underlying conceptual issue.
Toni: Whenwe're tryingto findhow manyrectangleswouldfill thatrectangle,we're look-
ing forthearea.Andwhenwe findareawe multiplylengthtimeswidth,andthecolumns
would probablyrepresentthe length and the rows would representthe width....
Simon: Why does thatwork,thatwhen we multiplythe numberof columnstimes the num-
ber of rows we get the area?
Molly: Well, I thoughtagain it referredback to when you're using a row to representthe
unitsin a group,andthe columnsto representthe numberof groups,andsince mul-
tiplicationis the same as repeatedaddition,that when you multipliedthe number
of unitsin a groupby the numberof groups,you wouldget the totalnumberof parts
in the whole.
Simon: And how is thatconnectedto this issue aboutthe corner?
Molly: Becauseit ... the comernot only representsa one, it'sjust one numberingof a group,
or it's also numberinga partof thatunit-a unit in thatgroup-so it's not, it's two
differentthings,just like when they were saying it's a row and a column, well, it's
two differentthings, it's a unit and also representinga group.
Candy: ...It makes it confusing to try to look at the length times the width.... You should
reallytreatit as so manysets or so manygroups,like nine groups..., thirteengroups
of nine. Thatway, you'renot even going to deal with the comerandyou won't even
have thatproblem.
Karen: Have we responded to Bill's problem about him thinking that he has double-
At this point, Karen brings us back to the original problem. For her, it is not enough
to decide whether one would be double-counting the corner rectangle; it is also impor-
tant to understand Bill's thinking, which led to his confusion.
Karen: It appearsto me thatBill's thinkingabout... countingby ones.... one representstwo
differentthings, but in his mind, at least from what he said, it appearsthathe only
sees one as representingone thing,andthatis a countingnumber.He thinkshe's already
Candy's and Karen' s comments seem to demonstrate an understanding of how
the counting (vertically and horizontally) and the multiplication are related. I
push for further verbalization of the ideas involved to ascertain whether others in
the class have constructed similar meanings. Many now insist that we are really
counting rows and columns. I suspect that some of the students have latched onto
the notion of rows and columns in an unexamined way. The shift from counting
boxes to counting rows and columns does not in itself lead to a connection
between counting the total number and the multiplicative approach. I refocus my
questions on this connection.
Simon: So I'm not countingboxes at all?
Class: No.
Simon: OK. Isn't it a little mysteriousthatwe're never countingboxes here and we wind
up witha numberof boxes?Does thatbotheranybody?We didn'tcountboxes here,
MartinA. Simon 127

we didn'tcountboxesthere,andwe windupwithboxesattheend.Tammy?
Tammy:If eachboxrepresentsa portionof therowso we'rereallycounting
justputtingthemin a set,insteadof individually.
Simon: OK,so whichwayareyouthinkingaboutthesetsgoing?[Pointsatdiagramon
Simon: So thisis a set?OK.So you aresayingthisis ninewhat?
Tammy:Nineseparateunitsinsideof a set.
Simon: ...OK. So hereI countednineboxesin a set andthenhereI'mcountingwhat?
Tammy: Thirteen.
Simon: Thirteenwhat?
Tammy:Boxesin a set.
[Ellen is shakingher head]
Simon: Ellen,youdon'tlikethat.
Ellen: If you'regoingto do it thatway,I thinkyouhaveto saythatyou'regoingto take
thecolumnasa set,nineboxesinoneset ... thenthethirteen intherowis thenum-
berof setsthatyouhave,so it's notactuallyboxes,it's thenumberof thatsame
typeof setthatyouhave.
Ellen'sfinalcommentevokedmanynodsof agreementfromherclassmates.I con-
sidered,however,thatfora studentto followanexplanationmightnotrequirethesame
level of understandingas would be needed to generate an explanation.Still, it
seemedclearto me fromstudents'verbalizations thatthenumberof studentswho were
seeing a connectionbetween multiplication countingthetotalnumberof rectangles
hadincreased.PerhapsProblem2 shiftedthediscussionfrommyproblem-justifying
the methodthatthe studentsbelievedto be valid-to a communityproblem-how to
accountforthe "doublecounting."Problem2 seemedto providea puzzlement,atleast
initiallyfor mostof the students.We cannotassume,however,thatall of the students
relatedto Problem1 as my problem,northatall of them owned Problem2.

Situation2. As we proceededto explorethe multiplicativerelationshipinvolved

in evaluatingthe areaof a rectangle,I came to believe thatthe contextin which we
were working (area) was not well understoodby many of the students. They
seemed to think about area as generated by multiplying length times width.
Althoughmy primaryfocuswas on multiplicative noton area,it seemed
clearthatan understanding of areawas necessaryin orderfor studentsto thinkabout
constitutingthe quantity(area)and evaluatingthatquantity.(See Simon & Blume,
1994b;and Thompson,1994, for explicationsof the distinctionbetween constitu-
tion and evaluationof quantities.)What action could I take as a teacher?
It seemedthat,if indeedthese studentswere unclearaboutwhatis meantby area,
the traditionalresponseof "reviewing"the idea would be inadequate.Surelyby this
time, theirjunior year of college, they had been presentat many such reviews and
had some ideas thatcould be built on. I chose insteadto pose a problemthatwould
push them to extend theirunderstandingof area.I posed the following:
128 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

The blobproblem:How can you find the areaof this figure?

Studentsgeneratedideas in smallgroups.Whenwe reconvenedas a whole class,

they sharedmany ideas. Two methodsstimulateda great deal of discussion. The
first was a suggestion that a stringbe put along the outline of the blob and then,
withoutchangingthe lengthof the string,reshapeit into a rectangle,a figurewhose
area we know how to determine. This method was based on an assumption,
eventuallyrejectedby the class, thatfiguresthathave the sameperimeteralso have
the same area.The secondmethodwas to cut out cookie doughof a constantthick-
ness so thatit exactly covered the blob. Then, cut the cookie dough into squares
of a given size. Roll up the remainingdough and roll it out to the original thick-
ness, again cuttingout squares,repeatingthis procedureuntil thereis not enough
dough remainingto make an additionalsquare.This methodwas acceptedby the
class as theoreticallysound;however, they predictedthatin practiceit would be
difficult to carryout accurately.
The problemgeneratedmore thandiscussion on the validity of these methods.
I perceivedthatthe contrastin the methodsproposedby the studentswould enable
us to considerthe issue of conservationof area,thatis, underwhatchangesin shape
the originalamountof areais preserved.This was a challengingcontextfor the stu-
dents to thinkaboutthe meaningof area.Considerabledialogue ensued in which
students seemed to be using the notion of area appropriately,comparing area
amongdifferentgeometricshapes,anddistinguishingit fromthe notionof perime-
ter that was broughtup by the stringstrategy.
Situation3. Following a discussionof why multiplicationwas used to determine
the total numberof rectanglesand afterour work with the blob problem,I raised
again the issue thatthey had broughtup in solving the originalproblem,whether
to turnthe rectangle(Figureib) or to maintainits orientation(Figurela). I demon-
stratedthe former,rotatingit 90 degrees to measurethe second side (as in Figure
ib). (Thequantitativereasoningbroughtto bearon thisproblemis analyzedin depth
in Simon & Blume, 1994b.)
Most of the students recognized that the method I demonstratedwould not
determinethenumberof rectanglesthatcouldfit on thetable.I thenaskedthemwhether
thatmethodtells us anythingaboutthis particulartable. (This questionis referred
Martin A. Simon 129

to as the TurnedRectangle [TR] Problem.)Consensusdeveloped in the class that

the numbergenerated was meaningless because the method generated a set of
I was surprisedby theirresponseandconcernedaboutwhatit indicatedabouttheir
understandingof the multiplicative (area) unit. I had posed this extension to
encouragean understandingof the multiplicativerelationshipbetweenlinearmea-
suresof the rectangleandareameasures.The measurementstrategyin questionand
subsequentcomputationwas identicalto whattheypreviouslyhadlearnedto do with
a ruler(procedurally).In priorcourses,whenI posed this question,severalstudents
understoodthatthe quantityresultingfrommultiplyingthe two linearmeasuresrep-
resentedthe numberof squareunits of areaon the table.The squareunithad sides
equalto the length of the rectangleused for measuring.(See Figure3.) Generally,
the discussion thatensued led to a consensus with respectto this point.

Figure3. Constitution
of squareunits.

However,unlikemy previousexperiences,no one in this class seemedto see this

methodas generatingsquareunitsof sidesequalto thelengthof therectangle.Rather,
they wereconfidentin theirview thatthe numbergeneratedby thismethodwas non-
sense becauseit resultedin overlappingrectangles.I triedin differentways to pro-
mote disequilibriumso the studentswould reconsiderthe issue. Towardthis end,
I posed the following question:
Outin thehallI havetwo [rectangular] tablesof differentsizes.I usedthismethod..
whereI measureacrossoneway,turnthe[rectangle], measure downtheotherway,and
multiply....WhenI multipliedusing[this]method,on tableA I got 32 as myanswer
and[whenI measured] tableB [usingthesamerectangleandthesamemethod],I got
22. NowwhatI wantto knowis, [havingused]themethodof turningtherectangle,is
tableA bigger,is tableB bigger,ordon'tyouhaveenoughinformation frommymethod
to tell?(Simon& Blume,1994b,p. 480)
The studentsreasonedthatbecause 32 is greaterthan 22, table A must be big-
ger thantableB. I probed,"32 whatand22 what?"They respondedthatthe 32 and
22 did not countanythingmeaningfulbecausethis methodcreatedoverlappingrec-
tangles (as in the upperleft-handcornerof Figure ib).
My attemptsat creatingdisequilibriumwith my currentstudents,a key partof my
theoryand practice,had been ineffectual.How could I understandthe thinkingof
130 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

thesestudents,andhow couldI workwiththemso thattheymightdevelopmorepow-

erful understandings?I had never encounteredthis pedagogicalproblembefore.I
had alwaysposed the problem(of turningthe rectangle)withinthe whole-classdis-
cussion, andtherehad always been some studentswho explainedaboutthe square
units to theirclassmates.I had assumedthatthe otherstudentsunderstood.
One advantageof our teachingexperimentdesign was thattime was structured
into the projectto reflect,in collaborationwith a colleague, on the understandings
of the students.Ourreflectionled to the followinghypotheses(developedmorefully
in Simon & Blume, 1994b).
As a resultof RectanglesProblem1, andbecausethe measurementwas still being
done usingthe cardboardrectangle,the studentsanticipatedincorrectlythatthe unit
of areawouldbe rectanglesof the size of the cardboardone. They consideredwhen
they lay the rectanglealong one edge of the table thatthey were makinga row of
rectangles,a set, an iterableunit. (The discussionof Problems1 and 2 had encour-
aged studentsto thinkof a row as an iterableunit;Molly's view of a unit of units
now seemedto be taken-as-shared.) Whenthey movedthe rectangledownthe other
side, they were countingthe numberof iterations.This way of viewing the situa-
tion was adequatefor the originalproblems,but inadequatefor solving the exten-
sion (TR) problemin which a unitotherthanthe rectangleitself was being created.
The studentswere not "seeing"thatmeasuringwith the rectanglewas a process of
subdividingthe lengthandwidthof the tableinto smallerlinearunitsandthatthese
unitstogetherimplieda rectangulararrayof units,the size of these unitsdetermined
by the size of the linearunits.
Having constructedhypothesesof the students'thinking,I still needed to gen-
eratean appropriateinstructionalintervention.I reasonedthatif studentshadmis-
anticipatedthe unit of area,assumingthatthe cardboardrectanglewas the appro-
priatemeasure,thenprovidingthemwitha contextthatdid notinvitemisanticipation
might give themthe opportunityto determinean appropriateunitof areabasedon
linearunits.Eventually,they would still need to sortout the probleminvolving the
turnedrectangle.This thinkingled me to generatethe stick problemfollowed by
modificationof the originalproblemturningthe rectangleproblem.
Thestickproblem.Two peopleworktogetherto measurethesize of a rectangular
region;one measuresthe lengthandthe otherthe width.They each use a stick
to measurewith.The sticks,however,areof differentlengths.Louisasays, "The
lengthis fourof my sticks."Ruiz says, "Thewidthis five of my sticks."What
have they found out aboutthe areaof the rectangularregion?
Studentsworkedthe stickproblemin groupsof three.Some of the studentswere
able to see how the use of differentsize sticks could be thoughtof as determining
an arrayof nonsquarerectangles.Toni beganthe class discussionas time was run-
ning out. Ellen picked up the discussion in the following class.
Toni: It wouldprettymuchbe thesamethingas a rectanglebecause... thewidthof the
thanthelengthof therectangle,
is smaller
rectangle I mean,
soit doesn'treallymatter,
thearea... wouldbe 20 [of thesesmallrectangles].
Ellen: I didn'treallyunderstand untilTonidrewthatdiagramon theboard,thatI found
MartinA. Simon 131

somethingoutaboutarea,andwhensheputthaton theboard,I realizedthatI had

startedthinkingthatyouwerestartingwiththeunit,andyouhadto startwiththe
unitto figureoutthearea.But... in mymindshesortof wentbackwards, sheended
upwitha unitof measurement by, um,makingtherectangle.
...Becausetheunityou'reusingis a rectanglethathasa lengththesizeof theone
stickandthewidththesizeof theotherstick,so you'resortof goingbackwards and
endingupwitha unitthatmeanssomething....(Simon& Blume,1994b,p. 489).
Throughthe discussionof thisproblemandan extensionquestionthataskedthem
to express the areaof Ruiz and Louisa's rectangularareain termsof otherunits, I
was persuadedthat most of the studentsunderstoodthe relationshipbetween the
linearmeasuresand the areameasuresin this context. The next step was to see if
they could use this understandingto revisitthe probleminvolving turningthe rec-
tangle.Wouldthe understandings thattheyhaddevelopedin the stickproblemallow
them to questiontheirassumptionof the cardboardrectangleas the appropriateunit
of measure?The revisedTR problemwas an attemptto maketheproblemmorecon-
creteby havingthem actuallymeasureout particularrectangularregionsusing the
methodin question.
Revised TRproblem.I used your [cardboard]rectangleandmy method(rotat-
ing the rectangle)to measuretwo rectangularregions;one was 3 x 4 and the
otherwas 5 x 2. Draw these regions (real size). Recordall thatyou can deter-
mine abouttheir areas.
Half of the small groupsdeterminedthatsquareswere useful units for describ-
ing the areasof the rectangularregions and could explain theirthinking.
Eve: First,whenwe starteddrawingit, we drewlike all the rectangles,OK?So it
showedtheoverlapping upinthecomer,butthenwethought justtakeawaytheover-
lapping..., andjustthinkof it as a side,likethisis a sideandthisis a side,likethe
sticksthatLouisaandRuizused,justto getthislittleedgerighthereas a stickand
thislittleedgerighthereasa stick,OK?...Sowhatit actually makesis squares,because
they'rethesamelength... youwouldn'ttalkaboutyourrectangles, 'causeit hasno
relevance.(Simon& Blume,1994b,p. 490-491)
Some of the studentswho had not previouslyseen the usefulnessof squareunits
in therevisedTRproblemdidso in thecourseof theclassdiscussion.However,a num-
berof students,who sawthatmeasuringin squaresworkedfortheproblem,wereunclear
how one would know "whento use rectanglesandwhen to use squares."

The discussion of the teachingsituationsis dividedinto two parts.The first part
examinesthe teacher'srole thatemergesin termsof the decisionmakingaboutcon-
tent andtask. This discussion,which focuses on the compositepictureof teaching
seen acrossthethreesituationspresented,leadsto thearticulation
of a modelof teacher
decision makingcalled the MathematicsTeaching Cycle. The second partof the
discussion highlightsparticularaspects of each of the situations(consideredsep-
arately),in an attemptto furtherelaboratethe role of the teacher.
132 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

As teacher/researcher, I began the mathematicscourse with particulartheoreti-

cal perspectiveson teachingand learning,some of which were articulatedearlier
in this paper.However,not surprisingly,these perspectivesdid not "tell"me what
to do as challengesarose.My responsesto these challengesoften werenot the result
of well-articulated models.Rather,theywereemergingpatternsof operationin prob-
lem situations.It is only througha posteriorianalysisthatthese patternshave been
characterized andusedto enhance,modify,or developtheory.Thus,thereadershould
keep in mind thatthe theoreticalaspectsof this section grew out of the dataanaly-
sis andwerenot necessarilypartof my explicitthinkingas I was planningandteach-
ing. Also, thesepatternsof operationwereestablishedoverrepeatedencounterswith
similarproblemsituations.I had taughtessentially this way for many years. This
particularteachingexperienceled to furtherelaborationof my teaching;the teach-
ing-experimentdesign led to a new level of analysis of the teaching.
In this section, I use the firstpersonsingularto referto my actionsandthinking
as the teacher.I use the thirdperson,often referringto "theteacher"to designate
ideasthatI am liftingfromtheparticularcontextin whichI was the teacher.Because
I was the teacherin these episodes, I use male pronounsin this section when refer-
ring to the teachergenerically.

Unpackingthe TeachingEpisodes: Developing Theory

This section analyzes the teacher'srole as decision makeras it emerges across
the threeteachingsituations.
The rectangleslesson was shapedby my understanding of the multiplicativerela-
tionshipbetweenthe areaof a rectangleandits linearmeasures.(The focus on my
personal knowledge does not discount that this knowledge can be viewed as
socially constitutedandtaken-as-sharedin the mathematicseducationcommunity.
Rather, it is expedient here to focus on my particularinterpretationof these
sociallyacceptedideas.) My previousexperiencewithprospectiveelementaryteach-
ers led me to hypothesize that my students would not share this knowledge.
Rather,I expectedthattheirknowledgewould be ruleboundandthatthe concepts
underlyingthe formulafor the areaof a rectanglewould be unexplored.The dis-
paritybetweenmy understanding, whichIjudgedto be useful,andmy sense of their
understanding defined my learninggoal for the first segment.
Note thathypothesesof students'understandings maybe basedon information from
a varietyof sources:experiencewith the studentsin the conceptualarea,experience
withthemin a relatedarea,pretesting,experiencewith a similargroup,andresearch
data.Initialhypothesesoftenlackdatathatareavailableas workwiththestudentspro-
ceeds. Thus,the hypothesesareexpectedto improve(i.e., become moreuseful).
Havingestablishedmy initial goal, thatstudentswould understandthe relation-
ship of multiplyinglength by width to the evaluationof the areaof a rectangle,I
consideredpossible learningactivities and the types of thinkingand learningthat
they might provoke.Following is a partialreconstructionof my thoughtprocess.
I suspectthatformanyof my studentsA = I x w is a formulathathasno conceptual
roots.Concreteexperiencewithareamightbe helpful.I needto keepin mindthatthey
MartinA. Simon 133

cometo thetaskalreadyknowingtheroteformula.A learningsituationthatdoesnot

looklike theirpreviousexperienceswithareamightpreempttheirresortingimme-
diatelyto roteprocedures.
Tilinga rectangular regionwouldprovidetheconcreteexperience. If I canenvisiona
situationinwhichtheyformmultiple units,setsof tiles,theymayseetheappropriateness
of multiplication,in essence"deriving"theformula.I willnotmentionareabutjustask
themto findouthowmanytiles.However,if theyareto makeconnections withI x w,
theymustdo morethancounteachtile.
If I givethemonlyone smalltile,theywillneedto lookforanefficientwayof deter-
miningthenumberof tiles-which will encouragethemto go beyondcountingall of
thetiles.If I userectangular
tiles,theywillnotbe ableto measuremindlessly; theywill
needto considerhowtheirmeasuring relatesto theplacementof thetilesonthetable.
Measuring witha nonsquare rectangleto determine theareaencourages a levelof visu-
alizationthatis notrequiredwhenoneusesa rulerto determinesquareunits,thatis,
theywillhaveto takeintoaccountwhattheyarecounting,theunitof measure,which
is basedon howtheyarelayingthetileson thetable.
The precedingthoughtprocessprovidesan exampleof the reflexive relationship
betweenthe teacher'sdesignof activitiesandconsiderationof the thinkingthatstu-
dents might engage in as they participatein those activities.The considerationof
the learninggoal, the learningactivities,andthe thinkingandlearningin which stu-
dents might engage make up the hypothetical learning trajectory, a key part of the
MathematicalLearningCycle describedin the next section.
Besides the teacher's knowledge of mathematicsand his hypotheses aboutthe
students' understandings,several areas of teacher knowledge come into play,
includingthe teacher'stheoriesaboutmathematicsteachingandlearning;knowl-
edge of learning with respect to the particularmathematicalcontent (deriving
fromthe researchliteratureand/orthe teacher'sown experiencewith learners);and
knowledge of mathematical representations, materials, and activities. The
MathematicalLearningCycle portraysthe relationshipof these areasof knowledge
to the design of instruction.
The only thingthatis predictablein teachingis thatclassroomactivitieswill not
go as predicted.Althoughthe teachercreatesan initialgoal andplanfor instruction,
it generallymustbe modifiedmanytimes (perhapscontinually)duringthe studyof
a particularconceptualarea.As studentsbegin to engage in the plannedactivities,
the teachercommunicateswith and observesthe students,which leads the teacher
to new understandingsof the students' conceptions. The learning environment
evolves as a resultof interactionamongthe teacherand studentsas they engage in
themathematical content.Steffe(1990)pointsout,"Aparticularmodificationof a math-
ematicalconceptcannotbe causedby a teacheranymorethannutriments cancauseplants
to grow"(p. 392). A teachermay pose a task.However,it is whatthe studentsmake
of thattaskandtheirexperiencewithit thatdeterminesthepotentialfor learning.
Studentresponsesto the rectangleproblemsled me to believe that studentsdid
not adequatelyunderstandwhatis meantby area.As a result,I generateda new learn-
ing goal, understandingarea.This goal temporarilysupersededbut did not replace
the originallearninggoal. Towardthis end I posed the blob problem,anticipating
thatthe studentswouldbrainstormsome ways to find area,discussthose ways, and
134 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

in so doing strengthentheirunderstandingof area.However,the specifics of what

happenedresultedin additional,unanticipatedlearning.First,studentsproposedthe
stringstrategy.On the basis of the understandingthatI had developed of the stu-
dents' conceptualdifficultiesin consideringthe stringstrategy,andon the basis of
the interestingcontrastthatI saw between the stringstrategyand the dough strat-
egy (as a resultof my own mathematical understandings), I revisedmy goalforinstruc-
tion once again. I now saw as the (local) goal facilitatingstudents'understanding
of conservationof area(not limitedto Piaget'sassessmentof the conceptwith chil-
dren).I intendedfor my studentsto deal with the question,"Underwhat types of
change in shape does the areaof a region remaininvariant?"
My interestin theirconstructinganswersto this questionwas basedon threefac-
tors:(a) I believed thatit would furthertheirunderstandingof area,my motivation
for posing the blob problem;(b) I saw an opportunityfor learningbasedon thejux-
tapositionof the two strategies-an opportunitythatI had neitherplannedfor nor
anticipated;and (c) I believed thatthe concept of invariance,which I had thought
aboutpreviouslyin relationto arithmeticconceptsbut not area,was an important
one. The thirdfactoralso pointsouthow my own understanding of the mathematical
connectionsinvolved is enhancedas I attendto the mathematicalthinkingof my
students.This evolutionof the teacher'smathematicalknowledgeis also revealed
in the analysisof the thirdepisode,the datainvolvingmeasuringwith only the long
side of the rectangle(TR problem).
My originalgoal thatmotivatedtherectangleslessonwas for my studentsto under-
standthe evaluationof the areaof a rectangleas a multiplicativerelationshipbetween
the linearmeasuresof the sides.Forme, as I beganinstruction,suchanunderstanding
involved connectingan understandingof multiplication-as-repeated-addition with
thenotionof identicalrowsof unitsof areaandunderstanding therelationshipbetween
linearunits andareaunits.The latterconceptwas representedby the issue of turn-
ing the rectangleto measure-I had not unpackedthis understandingfurther.
The classroomdiscussion,however,pushedme to reexaminethese understand-
ings andto furtherelaboratemy mapof the conceptualterrain.(Theuse of the term
"map"in this contextis meantto emphasizethatthe teacher'sunderstandingsserve
as a map as he engages in makingsense of students'understandingsandidentifies
potentiallearnings.)The students'misanticipationof the areaunit (assumptionthat
the areawould necessarilybe measuredin termsof cardboardrectangles)led me
to explorethe importanceof anticipatingan appropriateunit. Anticipatingthe area
unit seemed to involve both an anticipationof the organizationof the units, a rec-
tangulararray,and an understandingthatthe linearunitsdefine the size and shape
of the unitswithinthatarray.(Fora fullerdiscussion,see Simon & Blume, 1994b.)
Themultiplicative therefore,involvedthecoordination
relationship, of thelinearunits
to determine an area unit within an anticipatedrectangulararray.What I had
observedin my studentshad changedbothmy perspectiveon my students'knowl-
edge and my perspective on the mathematicalconcepts involved (my internal
map).This reorganizationof my perspectivesled to a modificationof my goals, my
plansfor learningactivities,andthe students'learningandthinkingthatI anticipated.
MartinA. Simon 135

The analysis of these teaching episodes has led to the development of the
MathematicsTeaching Cycle (Figure 4) as a schematic model of the cyclical
interrelationshipof aspectsof teacherknowledge, thinking,decision making,and
activity that seems to be demonstratedby the data.
The threeepisodes createa pictureof a teacherwhose teachingis directedby his
conceptualgoals for his students,goals thatareconstantlybeing modified.The orig-
inal lesson involving the rectangleson the table was not a randomchoice, nor was
it Chapter1 in someone'stextbook.The goal for anddesignof the lessonwerebased
on relatingtwo factors:the teacher'smathematicalunderstandingandthe teacher's
hypotheses aboutthe students'knowledge. I referto "hypotheses"aboutstudents
knowledge to emphasizethatthe teacherhas no directaccess to students'knowl-
edge. He must infer the natureof the students'understandingsfrom his interpre-
tations of his students' behaviors, based on his own schemata with respect to
mathematics,learning,students,and so on. It is implied thatthe teachercan com-
parehis understandingof a particularconcept to his constructionof the students'
understandings,not to the students'"actual"understandings.
As the teacher,my perceptionof students'mathematicalunderstandingsis struc-
turedby my understandings of themathematics in question.Conversely,whatI observe
in the students'mathematicalthinkingaffects my understandingof the mathemat-
ical ideasinvolvedandtheirinterconnections. Thesetwo factorsareinteractivespheres
of a teacher'sthinking(Ball's, 1993, "bifocalperspective"discussedearlier).
Steffe (1990) states,
Usingtheirownmathematical knowledge,mathematicsteachersmustinterpret
guageandactionsof theirstudents
knowledgetheirstudentsmightlearn.(p. 395)
The teacher's learning goal provides a direction for a hypothetical learning
trajectory.6I use the term"hypotheticallearningtrajectory"to referto the teacher's
prediction as to the path by which learning might proceed. It is hypothetical
becausethe actuallearningtrajectoryis not knowablein advance.It characterizesan
expected tendency. Individual students' learning proceeds along idiosyncratic,
althoughoftensimilar,paths.Thisassumesthatanindividual'slearninghas somereg-
ularityto it (cf. Steffe,et al., 1983,p. 118),thatthe classroomcommunityconstrains
mathematicalactivityoftenin predictableways, andthatmanyof the studentsin the
same class canbenefitfromthe samemathematicaltask.A hypotheticallearningtra-
jectoryprovidestheteacherwitha rationaleforchoosinga particular instructional
thus,I makemy designdecisionsbasedon my best guess of how learningmightpro-
ceed.Thiscanbe seenin thethinkingandplanningthatprecededmy instructional inter-
ventionsin eachof the teachingsituationsdescribedas well as the spontaneousdeci-
sions thatI madein responseto students'thinking.

61 choose to use "hypotheticallearningtrajectory,"

ratherthantraditionalterminology,to emphasize
aspectsof teacherthinkingthataregroundedin a constructivistperspectiveandthatarecommonto both
advancedplanningand spontaneousdecision making.
136 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

The hypotheticallearningtrajectoryis madeup of threecomponents:the learn-

ing goal thatdefinesthe direction,the learningactivities,andthehypotheticallearn-
ing process-a predictionof how the students'thinkingandunderstanding will evolve
in the context of the learningactivities.The creationandongoing modificationof
thehypotheticallearningtrajectory is thecentralpieceof themodelthatis diagrammed
in Figure4. The notionof a hypotheticallearningtrajectoryis not meantto suggest
thatthe teacheralwayspursuesone goal at a time or thatonly one trajectoryis con-
sidered.Rather,it is meantto underscorethe importanceof havinga goal andratio-
nale for teachingdecisions andthe hypotheticalnatureof such thinking.Note that
the developmentof a hypotheticallearningprocessandthedevelopmentof thelearn-
ing activitieshave a symbioticrelationship;thegenerationof ideasfor learningactiv-
ities is dependenton the teacher'shypothesesaboutthe developmentof students'
thinking and learning; furthergeneration of hypotheses of student conceptual
developmentdependson the natureof anticipatedactivities.

Teacher's learningtrajectory
knowledge Teacher's


Ae n of of classroom
Assessment activities

Figure 4. Mathematicsteachingcycle (abbreviated).

The choice of the word"trajectory" is meantto referto a path,the natureof which

can perhapsbe clarifiedby the following analogy.Considerthatyou have decided
to sail aroundthe worldin orderto visit places thatyou have never seen. One does
not do this randomly(e.g., go to France,then Hawaii,thenEngland),but neitheris
thereone set itineraryto follow. Rather,you acquireas muchknowledgerelevantto
planningyourjourneyas possible.You thenmakea plan.You may initiallyplanthe
whole tripor only partof it. You set outsailingaccordingto yourplan.However,you
must constantlyadjustbecauseof the conditionsthatyou encounter.You continue
MartinA. Simon 137

to acquireknowledgeaboutsailing,aboutthe currentconditions,andaboutthe areas

thatyou wish to visit. You changeyourplanswith respectto the orderof yourdes-
tinations.You modify the lengthandnatureof yourvisits as a resultof interactions
with people along the way. You add destinations that prior to your trip were
unknownto you. The path that you travel is your "trajectory."The path that you
anticipateat any point in time is your "hypotheticaltrajectory."
The generationof a hypotheticallearningtrajectorypriorto classroominstruction
is theprocessby which(accordingto thismodel)theteacherdevelopsa planforclass-
room activity.However,as the teacherinteractswith andobservesthe students,the
teacherandstudentscollectivelyconstituteanexperience.Thisexperienceby thenature
of its social constitution is different from the one anticipatedby the teacher.
Simultaneouswith andin interactionwith the social constitutionof classroomactiv-
ity is a modificationin the teacher'sideas andknowledgeas he makessense of what
is happeningandwhathas happenedin the classroom.The diagramin Figure4 indi-
cates that the assessment of studentthinking (which goes on continuallyin the
teachingmodelpresented)canbringaboutadaptations in theteacher'sknowledgethat,
in turn,lead to a new or modifiedhypotheticallearningtrajectory.
Figure 5 describes the relationshipamong various domains of teacherknowl-
edge, the hypotheticallearningtrajectory,and the interactionswith students.

Teacher's Hypothetical Teacher's

knowledgeof learning I hypothesis
mathematics \ trajectory of students'
\, knowledge
Teacher's ]0o
Teacher's theories
about mathematics
of I\I\
mathematical Teacher'splan I learning
activitiesand - forlearning and teaching

Teacher's Teacher's
hypothesis knowledgeof
of learning studentlearning
of particular
\ process content

Assessment of

Figure 5. Mathematicsteachingcycle. (The domainsof teacherknowledgealso inform"assessment

of students'knowledge"directly.However,becausethis was not the emphasisof the model, andin order
to simplify the diagram,those arrowsare not included.)
138 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

Beginningat the topof the diagram,theteacher'sknowledgeof mathematicsin inter-

actionwith the teacher'shypothesesaboutthe students'mathematicalknowledge
contributeto the identificationof a learninggoal. These domainsof knowledge,the
learninggoal,andtheteacher'sknowledgeof mathematical activitiesandrepresentation,
his knowledgeof students'learningof particular content,as well as theteacher'scon-
ceptionsof learningandteaching(bothwithinmathematicsandin general)contribute
to the developmentof learningactivitiesand a hypotheticallearningprocess.
The modificationof the hypotheticallearningtrajectoryis not somethingthatonly
occursduringplanningbetweenclasses.Theteacheris continuallyengagedin adjust-
ing the learningtrajectorythathe has hypothesizedto betterreflect his enhanced
knowledge.Sometimesfine tuningis in order,while at othertimes the whole thrust
of the lesson must be discardedin favor of a more appropriateone. Regardlessof
theextentof modification,changesmaybe madeat anyor all of thethreecomponents
of the hypotheticallearningtrajectory:the goal, the activities,or the hypothetical

OtherAspects of the Teacher'sRole

Each of the threeteaching situationsportraysparticularaspects of what teach-
ing, which embodies reformprinciples,might be like. I discuss a few of these in
this section.
The original rectangles problem was planned for one or two class periods;
instead,eightperiodswerespenton themathematicsthatwas generated.Experienced
teachersmight affirmthatit is difficult to determinein advanceexactly how long
it will taketo teacha particular betweentheamount
of timeanticipatedandthe amountof timespentin thiscase is well beyondtheimpre-
cisionof planning.Thisdiscrepancypointsat theexperimentalnatureof mathematics
teaching."Experimental"denotes the ongoing cycle of hypothesisgeneration(or
modification)and datacollection thatcharacterizesthe teachingportrayed.
In the firstsituation,involvingthe tiling of the tables,I, as the teacher,perceived
a lackof understanding amonga majorityof the studentsof the relationshipbetween
length-times-width the countingof all the rectangleson the table.My response
was to pose additionalproblemsbasedon students'conceptualdifficultiesthatI had
witnessedin thepast.I selectedthoughtprocessesthatI thoughtstudentscoulddeter-
mine as not viable, but that would likely be problematicinitially for them to
invalidate.(Rectanglesproblem2 is an example.) My rationalewas thatprevious
students'conceptualdifficulties(fromtheteacher/researcher's perspective)arepoten-
tialdifficultiesformy currentstudentsandrepresent usefulhurdlesforthemto encounter
in the developmentof more powerfulideas.
This approachrepresentsa sharpcontrastto the approachto instructioncharac-
teristicof traditionalmathematicsinstructionandrepresentedby mathematicstext-
books. Traditionalinstructiontendsto focus on one skill or idea at a time andthen
provideconsiderableroutinepracticeto "reinforce"thatlearning.The mathematics
is subdividedinto smallsegmentsfor instructionso thatstudentscan experiencesuc-
cess on a regularbasis. In contrast,Situation1 demonstratesa view of learningas
MartinA. Simon 139

one involving a complex networkof connections.Learningis likely to be fostered

by challengingthe learner'sconceptionsusing a varietyof contexts. The teacher
can be comparedto an athleticcoach who employs a varietyof practiceactivities
thatchallengethe athletes'strengthandskill, often beyond whatis requiredof the
athlete in competition (dribbling two basketballs while blindfolded, playing a
soccer game whereeach playermay not touchthe ball two consecutivetimes, per-
forminga figure skatingprogramthreetimes in a row with only a 2-minuterest in
between).These activitiesarenot aimedat constantsuccess, butratherat increased
competence. Growthis a result of challenge to body and mind. Conceptualdiffi-
culties thatI have previouslyobservedin studentsarenot to be avoided;rather,they
provideparticularchallenges, which if surmountedby the students,resultin con-
ceptualgrowth.ThisfitswithFrenchresearchers' notionof "obstaclesepistemologiques"
(Bachelard,1938, cited in Brousseau, 1983), thatovercomingcertainobstacles is
a naturaland essential part of conceptual development. These obstacles are a
resultof priorconceptsthat,althoughadaptivein earliercontexts,aremaladaptive
given the demandsof the currentproblemsituation.
A secondfeatureof the approachseen in Situation1 is subtler.As a teacher,I often
do not have a well-developed map of the mathematicalconceptualareain which
I am engaging my students;thatis, I may not have fully articulatedfor myself (or
foundin the literature)the specific connectionsthatconstituteunderstandingor the
natureof developmentof understandingin thatarea.Rather,as was the case when
I started the rectangles instructionalunit, my knowledge of what it means to
understandthe particularconceptmay be carriedin partby particularproblemsit-
uations.The kindsof difficultiesthatstudentsencounterprovideme with key pieces
of what it means to understand.Thus, in such cases, my operationaldefinitionof
understandingis the ability to overcome these particulardifficulties; I may not
have unpackedthe difficulties in orderto understandthe conceptual issues that
are implicated. Thus, even if I do not have a thoroughknowledge of what con-
stitutes mathematicalunderstandingin a particulardomain, having a rich set of
problem situationsthat challenge studentsand having knowledge of conceptual
difficultiesthatthey typicallyencounterprovideme with an approximationthatlets
me be reasonablyeffective in promotinglearningin the absenceof moreelaborated
knowledge.(Thisis not to suggestthatthe moreelaboratedunderstanding wouldnot
be morepowerful.)Indeed,engagingstudentsin these problemsituationsandwith
theseconceptualdifficultiesgives me an opportunityto learnmoreaboutwhatit means
to understandthe conceptsinvolved.
UnderlyingSituation2 is an idea thathighlights a differencebetween teaching
based on a traditionalview of learningand teachingbased on a constructivistper-
spective.Ratherthan"review"whatis meantby areaor assign"practiceproblems,"
my approachwas to challengethe studentsin a way thatmightpushthemto extend
their conceptions of area.The review-and-practiceapproachis based on learning
as improvingstorageandretrievalof receivedinformation.(AlthoughI am notnegat-
ing the importanceof memory,I contendthatit is not whatis most important,most
interesting,andmost problematicfor educatorsin the domainof mathematics.)My
140 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

approachin Situation2 reflecteda view of understanding as a networkof connected

ideasthatis furtherelaboratedas the understanding is used to solve novel problems.
Situation3 was the most difficultto analyze.I broughtto the teachingsituations
a view thatlearningis triggeredby disequilibrium.When the studentswere con-
vinced thatthe rotatedrectanglemethodof measuringandcalculatingprovidedno
usefulinformation aboutthetable,I triedin everywayI couldto provokedisequilibrium,
but to no avail. In-depthanalysisof the datasuggeststhatmy interpretations of the
students'thinkingthatled to theirconclusionwas notadequate.WhereasI hadthought
thatthey saw my methodas countingthe numberof overlappingrectangles,I now
believe that they were saying that the method involving turning the rectangle
countednothingbecausein the processI was overlappingthe rectangles.This sub-
tle differencein thinkingmay accountfor my inabilityto foster disequilibrium.
Havingfailedto promotedisequilibrium,I embarkedintuitivelyon anotherstrat-
egy. I backedawayfromtheparticularproblemto tryto focus on a partof theunder-
standingdemandedby theproblem.A posteriori analysissuggeststhatwhatI was doing
was fosteringthe developmentof knowledgethat,whenthe studentsreturnedto that
problem,mightcontributeto thestudents'experiencingcognitiveconflict.In thiscase,
if I couldhelp studentsbuildan understanding of therelationshipbetweenlinearand
areameasuresof a rectangle,theywouldthenexperiencea conflictbetweenthoseunder-
standingsandthe expectationthatmeasuringwith the cardboardrectangleresulted
in a measurement wherethatrectanglewas theunitof area.Thisteachingepisodeseems
to emphasizethatdisequilibriumis not createdby the teacher.He can tryto promote
disequilibrium. However,the successof sucheffortsis in partdeterminedby the ade-
quacyof his modelof students'understanding. It also seemsto supportthenotionthat
learningdoes notproceedlinearly.Rather,thereseem to be multiplesitesin one'sweb
of understandingson which learningcan build.

Constructivist views of learninghave provideda theoreticalfoundationfor mathe-
maticseducationresearchanda frameworkwithinwhichteacherscanunderstand their
students.However,constructivism alsoposesa challengeto themathematics education
communityto developmodelsof teachingthatbuildon, andareconsistentwith,this
theoretical Small-group
perspective. interaction,nonroutineproblemsolving,andmanip-
ulativematerialscanbe valuabletools in the handsof mathematicsteachers.Yet the
abilityto use thesetools is not sufficientto allow teachersto be the architectsof pro-
ductive learning situationsresulting in conceptual growth. Theoreticallybased
frameworksfor teachinghave the potentialto guide the use of these tools.
By what means can a teacher help students to develop new, more powerful
mathematicalconcepts?Novice teachers,who want theirstudentsto "construct"a
particularidea,oftenaskfortheideafromtheirstudents,consciouslyor unconsciously
hoping thatat leastone studentwill be able to explainit to the others(Simon, 1991).
Such an approachdoes not deal with a key question:If a groupof studentsdo not
have a particularconcept,how does a teacherworkwith themto fostertheirdevel-
opment of that concept?
MartinA. Simon 141

The principalcurrenciesof the mathematicsteacher(if lecturingis rejectedas an

effective meansof promotingconceptdevelopment)arethe posing of problemsor
tasksandthe encouragementof reflection.The dataanalysisdescribedin thispaper
andthe resultingMathematicsTeachingCycle addressthe issue of the processby
which a teachercan makedecisionsas to the content,design,andsequenceof math-
ematicaltasks.The modelemphasizesthe importantinterplaybetweenthe teacher's
plans andthe teacherand students'collective constitutionof classroomactivities.
The formerinvolves creationof instructionalgoals andhypothesesabouthow stu-
dentsmightmove towardsthose goals as a resultof theircollective engagementin
particularmathematicaltasks.However,the teacher'sgoals,hypothesesaboutlearn-
ing, anddesignof activitieschangecontinuallyas theteacher'sown knowledgechanges
as a result of being involved in the cultureof the mathematicsclassroom.
A goalstructureformathematics educationsuchastheoneelaboratedbyTreffers (1987)
is neededin specifyingpossiblelearningenvironments by teachers.Butthiselement
of possiblelearning
environments isjustasdependentontheexperiential
stitutelearningenvironments as thelatteraredependenton theformer.Mathematics
educators shouldnottaketheirgoalsformathematicseducationasfixedidealsthatstand
uninfluenced by theirteachingexperiences.Goalstructuresthatareestablishedprior
to experienceareonlystartingpointsandmustundergoexperiential transformation in
actuallearningandteachingepisodes.(Steffe,1991,p. 192)
Steffe's commentsseem to underscorethe cyclical natureof this teachingprocess.
The MathematicsTeachingCycle portraysa view of teacherdecisionmakingwith
respect to content and tasks thathas been shapedby the meeting of a social con-
structivistperspectivewith the challenges of the mathematicsclassroom.Several
themes areparticularlyimportantin the approachto decision makingrepresented
by this model.
1. Students'thinkingandunderstanding is takenseriouslyandgiven a centralplace
in the design and implementationof instruction(consistent with Steffe, 1991).
Understandingstudents' thinking is a continual process of data collection and
2. The teacher'sknowledgeevolves simultaneouslywiththe growthin the students'
knowledge.As the studentsarelearningmathematics,the teacheris learningabout
mathematics,learning,teaching,andaboutthe mathematicalthinkingof his students.
3. Planningfor instructionis seen as includingthe generationof a hypothetical
learningtrajectory.This view acknowledgesandvalues the goals of the teacherfor
instructionandtheimportanceof hypothesesaboutstudents'learningprocesses(ideas
thatI hope I have demonstratedare not in conflict with constructivism).
4. The continuallychangingknowledge of the teacher(see #2) createscontinual
change in the teacher'shypotheticallearningtrajectory.
These last two points addressdirectlythe questionraisedearlierin the paperof
balancebetween direction(some may call this "structure")andresponsivenessto
students,a creativetensionthatshapesmathematicsteaching.The model suggests
that, as mathematicsteachers, we strive to be purposeful in our planning and
actions, yet flexible in our goals and expectations.
142 ReconstructingMathematicsPedagogy

The mathematicseducationliteratureis strongon the importanceof listeningto

studentsandassessingtheirunderstanding.However,the emphasison anticipating
students' learning processes is not developed by most currentdescriptions of
reformin mathematicsteaching.Researchon how studentsdevelopparticularmath-
ematicalknowledge (cf. Steffe, et al., 1983, see pp. 118 & 135; Thompson,1994)
informssuch anticipation.Perhapsone explanationfor the success of Cognitively
Guided Instruction(Carpenter,Fennema, Peterson, & Carey, 1988), in which
teacherslearnedaboutresearchon children'sthinking(Carpenter& Moser, 1983),
is thatit increasedteachers'abilityto anticipatechildren'slearningprocesses.Ball
(1993) articulatesa similarposition emphasizingthe role of teachers'hypotheses
aboutstudentlearning."Selectionof representational contextsinvolves conjectures
aboutteachingandlearning,foundedon the evolving insightsaboutthe children's
thinkingand [theteacher's]deepeningunderstandingof the mathematics"(p. 166).
The datafromthis studymustbe seen in its particularcontext.The teachingprac-
tice was embedded in a teacher education program;the mathematicsstudents
wereprospectiveelementarystudents.As the teacher,I felt no pressureto teachfrom
a presetcurriculumnor to cover particularmathematicalcontent,a conditionthat
is probablythe exceptionratherthantherulefor mathematicsteachers.Mathematics
teachingwithotherpopulations Researchin other
involvesa setof differentconstraints.
contextswill informus aboutthedegreeof contextdependenceof theideasgenerated.
A possible contributionthatcan be made by the analysis of dataand the result-
ing model reportedon in this paperis to encourageotherresearchersto examine
teachers'"theoremsin action"andto maketeachers'assumptions,beliefs,andemerg-
ing theoriesaboutteachingexplicit.At theminimum,thepapershouldserveto empha-
size the need for models of mathematicsteachingthatareconsistentwith, andbuilt
on, emergingtheoriesof learning.Muchresearchremainsto be done to understand
the implicationsfor practiceof teachersholdingconstructivistperspectives.It is the
recognitionthatconstructivism doesnottellus how to teachthatwill motivateincreased
work in this area.
A well-developedconceptionof mathematicsteachingis as vital to mathematics
teachereducatorsas well-developedconceptionsof mathematicsareto mathematics
teachers. Informeddecisions in each case are dependenton a clear sense of the
natureof the contentbeing taught.Consideringthe MathematicsTeaching Cycle
as a way to think aboutmathematicsteachingmeans that teacherswould need to
develop abilities beyond those alreadycurrentlyfocused on in mathematicsedu-
cation reform, particularlythe ability to generate hypotheses about students'
understandings(whichgoes beyondsolicitingandattendingto students'thinking),
the ability to generatehypotheticallearningtrajectories,and the ability to engage
in conceptualanalysisrelatedto the mathematicsthattheyteach.This lastpointsup-
portsproposedreformsof mathematicsfor teachers(cf. Cipra, 1992; Committee
on the MathematicalEducationof Teachers,1991) andsupportsargumentsthatthe
mathematicalpreparationof teachersis farfrom adequateif teachersareto engage
in pedagogicaldeliberationsas characterizedin this paper.
Finally, it shouldbe noted thatthe role of the mathematicsteacheras portrayed
in this paper is a very demanding one. Teachers will need access to relevant
MartinA. Simon 143

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MARTINA. SIMON,Associate Professor,PennsylvaniaStateUniversity,Departmentof Curriculum
and Instruction,ChambersBuilding, 176, UniversityPark,PA 16802