Curry School Researchers Land $1.35M Grant to Examine How Simulations Improve Math Skills During Teacher Preparation

Audrey Breen

The team is looking at improving general elementary teachers’ ability to effectively engage students with disabilities in mathematics instruction.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development have been studying how simulation-based teaching practice sessions can improve learning for students studying to become teachers.

The team, including Julia Cohen, assistant professor, and Vivian Wong, associate professor, along with Robert Berry, the Samuel Braley Gray Professor of Mathematics Education, was just awarded $1.35 million from the National Science Foundation. The team will build on their simulation research in the context of courses preparing preservice elementary school teachers how to teach mathematics.

Aimed at enhancing general elementary teachers’ ability to effectively engage students with disabilities in mathematics instruction, the grant will fund the development and testing of learning units for elementary mathematics methods courses.

“Nearly all teachers work directly with students with disabilities, a group of students who make up nearly 15% of the student population,” Cohen said.

According to Cohen, it is important for teachers who might not be trained as special educators to still have practice experiences supporting students with disabilities and developing strategies and skills that make concepts accessible to all students.

“Clinical placements like student-teaching cannot cover everything,” Cohen said. “Simulations can provide a valuable complement and practice space for pre-service teachers.”

The team will design a series of learning modules that will be incorporated in math methods courses for general education teachers. These modules will highlight research-based ways of making sophisticated math concepts understandable for everyone. The simulations will provide a chance for students to practice enacting or using those classroom strategies. All pre-service teachers will then get coaching and feedback on their teaching before trying those same strategies in their student-teaching placements.

“Our goal is to test whether the simulations and other supports translate into better support for special education students down the road,” Cohen said.