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Research Spotlight: Aki Murata

Q & A with Aki Murata, Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning
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What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

The focus of my research investigation is on how teaching and learning interact in elementary school mathematics classrooms. My main research questions include, How do teachers make sense of students’ thinking of mathematics? and How does that new understanding help improve their teaching?  Additionally, given how teachers learn, How can we support teachers in their learning processes to increase learning opportunities for their students of diverse backgrounds?

What makes your work interesting?

My research positions itself in the intersection of theory and practice.  I bring ideas from research and theory to classrooms, and what I learn from teachers and students informs the theory in return.  Also in the process, I get to work with many teachers and students!  Various professional activities in my life, such as teaching, research, writing, and providing professional development, all connect with one another in meaningful ways making my work very interesting.  In addition, I travel to different countries to work with teachers and students through lesson study (teacher professional development approach) as lesson study is adapted and implemented in different cultural contexts.  Moving a cultural activity to a new society reveals a lot about each society, and how it values certain aspects of education while deemphasizing others.  My international and comparative perspective helps to identify these cultural characteristics in order to support schools in different cultures improve their teaching and learning practices.

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What are you currently working on?

This is the final year of the NSF-funded research project (Identifying an Effective and Scalable Model of Lesson Study) investigating how lesson study was implemented in the state of Florida. Florida is the first state to adopt lesson study as a state-wide professional development, and that afforded an interesting research context for us.  My team and I have worked so far to collect various data, and this year we are producing numerous papers.  After the federal Race to The Top (RTTT) funding ended, we are now finding out how some districts stopped using lesson study (expected), while other districts are expanding lesson study (surprise).  For these districts that are continuing with the effort, administrators have been developing new forms of ownership to support teachers creatively, and teachers are continuing to make differences in their classrooms.  I also use lesson study with preservice teachers, and in my work with the UF Unified Elementary ProTeach (UEP) program, I will be expanding that work by coordinating lesson study projects, from undergraduate, to internship, and to early teaching career stages.  Since area schools are familiar with lesson study (due to the RTTT funding), I will be investigating teacher learning and development trajectories through different teacher career levels using lesson study.