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Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

Math and Science Education: A Field at the Heart of Two Fields

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Math/Science Education is a field centered on the rigorous scientific investigation of issues that are at the intersection of educational research and research in math/science content domains. For example, researchers might ask:

  • When do issues of gender identity arise in elementary math classrooms?
  • How do middle school teachers think about natural selection?
  • What misconceptions do high-school chemistry students have?
  • Why do college-level physics classes have such high fail rates?
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What are Some Common Research Areas?

Learn about some of the common research threads in the math/science education literature. Then, dive deeper by reading journal articles from our faculty, graduates, and current students.

How do students think about particular concepts in topics like algebra, calculus, natural selection, forces, and energy? What are the common misconceptions in student reasoning?

McNeill, K. L., & Vaughn, M. H. (2012). Urban high school students’ critical science agency: Conceptual understandings and environmental actions around climate change. Research in Science Education, 42(2), 373-399.

Lobato, J., Hohensee, C., & Rhodehamel, B. (2013). Students' mathematical noticing. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(5), 809-850.

Wawro, M., Sweeney, G. F., & Rabin, J. M. (2011). Subspace in linear algebra: investigating students’ concept images and interactions with the formal definition. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 78(1), 1-19.

Mordacq, J. C., Drane, D. L., Swarat, S. L., & Lo, S. M. (2017). Development of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Using a Design-Based Approach. Journal of College Science Teaching, 46(4), 64.

What do teachers and teaching assistants learn during professional development? What are promising ways to train prospective math and science teachers?

Nickerson, S. D., & Whitacre, I. (2010). A local instruction theory for the development of number sense. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 12(3), 227-252.

Whitacre, I., & Nickerson, S. D. (2016). Investigating the improvement of prospective elementary teachers’ number sense in reasoning about fraction magnitude. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 19(1), 57-77.

Lamb, L., Philipp, R., Nickerson, S., Ross, D., Vaughn, M. H., & Williams. K . The SDSU Noyce Mathematics & Science Master Teaching Fellowship Program SDSU Noyce Fellows. Funded by the National Science Foundation and Qualcomm.

Philipp, R. A., Ambrose, R., Lamb, L. L., Sowder, J. T., Schappelle, B. P., Sowder, L., Thanheiser, E., & Chauvot, J. (2007). Effects of early field experiences on the mathematical content knowledge and beliefs of prospective elementary school teachers: An experimental study. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 438-476.

How do departments and institutions change to improve math and science learning for their students? What characteristics are common to successful math and science departments?

Bressoud, D., & Rasmussen, C. (2015). Seven characteristics of successful calculus programs. Notices of the AMS, 62(2), 144-46.

Bush, S. D., Rudd II, J. A., Stevens, M. T., Tanner, K. D., & Williams, K. S. (2016). Fostering change from within: Influencing teaching practices of departmental colleagues by science faculty with education specialties. PloS one, 11(3), e0150914.

Daly, A. J., Moolenaar, N., Bolivar, J., & Burke, P. (2010). Relationships in Reform: The Role of Teachers' Social Networks. Journal of Educational Administration. Volume 48(3), 20-49.

Apkarian, N., Bowers, J., O’Sullivan, M., & Rasmussen, C . (in press). A case study of change in the teaching and learning of Precalculus to Calculus 2: What we’re doing with what we have. PRIMUS.

What teaching practices in math and science classrooms promote equity and diversity? How can educators design curricula with these goals in mind?

Aquino-Sterling, C., Rodríguez-Valls, F., & Zahner, W. (2016). Fostering a Culture of Discourse in Secondary Mathematics Classrooms: Equity Approaches in Teaching and Teacher Education for Emergent Bilingual Students. Revista Internacional de Educación para la Justicia Social, 5(2).

Deemer, E. D., Thoman, D. B., Chase, J. P., & Smith, J. L. (2014). Feeling the threat: Stereotype threat as a contextual barrier to women’s science career choice intentions. Journal of Career Development, 41(2), 141-158.

Ellis, J., Fosdick, B. K., & Rasmussen, C. (2016). Women 1.5 times more likely to leave STEM pipeline after calculus compared to men: lack of mathematical confidence a potential culprit. PloS one, 11(7), e0157447.

Reinholz, D. L. (2017). Co-Calculus: Integrating the Academic and the Social. International Journal of Research in Education and Science, 3(2), 521-542.

What practices have been shown to be particularly impactful in math and science classrooms? How do teachers develop classroom communities that that enculturate students into the norms and practices of mathematicians and scientists?

Reinholz, D. L. (2015). Peer-assisted reflection: a design-based intervention for improving success in calculus. International Journal of Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, 1(2), 234-267.

Zahner, W., Velazquez, G., Moschkovich, J., Vahey, P., & Lara-Meloy, T. (2012). Mathematics teaching practices with technology that support conceptual understanding for Latino/a students. The Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 31(4), 431-446.

Hammer, D., Goldberg, F., & Fargason, S. (2012). Responsive teaching and the beginnings of energy in a third grade classroom. Review of science, mathematics and ICT education, 6(1), 51-72.

Seethaler, S., Czworkowski, J., Wynn, L. (2017). Analyzing General Chemistry Textbooks’ Treatment of Rates of Change Concepts in Reaction Kinetics Reveals Missing Conceptual links. Journal of Chemical Education.

How do teachers come to notice and respond to their students’ mathematical or scientific reasoning?

Jacobs, V. R., Lamb, L. L., & Philipp, R. A. (2010). Professional noticing of children's mathematical thinking. Journal for research in mathematics education, 169-202.

Jacobs, V. R., Lamb, L. L., Philipp, R. A., & Schappelle, B. P. (2011). Deciding how to respond on the basis of children’s understandings. Mathematics teacher noticing: Seeing through teachers’ eyes, 97-116.

Nickerson, S., Lamb, L. , & LaRochelle, R. (2017). Challenges in measuring secondary mathematics teachers’ professional noticing of students’ mathematical thinking. In Teacher noticing: Bridging and broadening perspectives, contexts, and frameworks (pp. 381-398). Springer International Publishing.

How can technology improve and reshape the educational landscape?

Matt Anderson: The Learning Glass. A tool that allows educators to face their audience and maintain the human connection in teaching.

Joanne Lobato: Project Math Talk. Online mathematics videos that feature pairs of students in unscripted dialogue as they resolve mathematical struggles.

Bussey, T. J., & Orgill, M. (2015). What do biochemistry students pay attention to in external representations of protein translation? The case of the Shine–Dalgarno sequence. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 16(4), 714-730.

Bowers, J., Bezuk, N., Aguilar, K. & Klass, S. (2011). Designing applets that instantiate effective mathematics pedagogy. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 19(1), 45-72. Waynesville, NC USA: Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education

Soto, M., & Ambrose, R. (2016). Screencasts: Formative assessment for mathematical thinking. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 21(2), 277-283.

Tools of the Trade

Explore some of the qualitative and quantitative tools used by researchers in mathematics and science education.

Video Analysis

Videotape subjects to study their thinking through gesture, gaze, and utterances


Use structured-clinical or think-aloud interviews to discover how subjects reason


Ask subjects to share their opinions, ideas, and thinking

Statistics/Data Science

Run hypothesis tests, calculate effect sizes, and use the predictive power of machine learning

Social Network Theory

Uncover the macro and micro structures among members of an educational community


Move beyond a single finding and do research on existing research

See some of these tools in action in the following works by our faculty.

Halter, C. (2008). The Reflective Lens: The effects of digital video analysis on preservice teacher development. VDM Publishing.

Daly, A. J. (Ed.). (2010). Social network theory and educational change (Vol. 8). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Datnow, A., & Park, V. (2014). Data-driven leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Quarfoot, D., & Levine, R. A. (2016). How Robust Are Multirater Interrater Reliability Indices to Changes in Frequency Distribution?. The American Statistician, 70(4), 373-384.