Building on MOSTs: Investigating Productive Use of High-Leverage Student Mathematical Thinking is a collaborative project among researchers at Brigham Young University, Michigan Technological University and Western Michigan University that focuses on improving the teaching of secondary school mathematics by exploring the teaching practices that allow teachers to elicit and take advantage of MOSTs.

We have developed an initial theoretical conceptualization of a productive way teachers can coordinate their work around MOSTs—a teaching practice we refer to as building. Our current conceptualization of building includes four subpractices:

  1. Make the object of consideration clear (make precise)
  2. Turn the object of consideration over to the students with parameters that put them in a sense-making situation (grapple toss)
  3. Orchestrate a whole-class discussion in which students collaboratively make sense of the object of consideration (orchestrate)
  4. Facilitate the extraction and articulation of the mathematical point of the object of consideration (make explicit)

Although this conceptualization of building and its subpractices makes sense in theory, our experience studying MOSTs suggests that the practice is seldom enacted in classrooms. We thus will study the practice of building on MOSTs by working together with teachers to generate and then analyze instantiations of the practice.

During the first year of the project, we developed and piloted MOST-Eliciting Prompts (MEPs)—brief mathematical undertakings that have a high likelihood of surfacing particular MOSTs as students share their thinking in response to the prompt. These MEPs were developed by drawing on our prior work studying MOSTs, the literature, and our own teaching experiences. MEPs were constructed around broad mathematical ideas so they could be "dropped into" different 6-12 grade classes at almost any time during the year.

After the MEPs were developed, we held a teacher-researcher retreat with a group of 13 teacher-researchers (TRs) in summer of 2018 and taught them about our theorized building practice so they could create instantiations around the MEPs in their classrooms. During the second year of the project, the TRs engaged in cycles of (a) implementing a MEP, (b) providing initial reactions and feedback, (c) participating in a small-group debriefing meeting, and (d) participating in a large-group research meeting. The goal of these cycles was to capture increasingly better enactments of the building practice.

Our Current Work:

We are in the middle of the third year of our project where we are coding and analyzing the enactments of building that were generated by the TRs during the second year of the project (2018-2019). We are examining the data to identify and make sense of the various aspects of the different building subpractices. We will use what we learn through this data analysis to refine our theorized building practice and to prepare for another teacher-researcher retreat in the summer of 2020.

In addition, some of our TRs are participating in a "book club" in the spring of 2020. The book was written by the PIs (with Laura Van Zoest taking the lead) and pulls together the ideas from the various research papers that have been written about MOSTs. The book is intended for a practicing teacher audience to help them better distinguish between instances of student thinking that should be built upon and thinking that should not. This book club has two purposes: 1) to help the TRs better understand how to identify MOSTs that we are asking them to build on, and 2) to elicit feedback from the TRs on the book itself.

The core research questions of the project are:

  • What does it look like to build on MOSTs in a way that coordinates the core principles underlying their productive use?
    Our work to answer this research question will involve analysis of records of the teacher-researchers' attempts to implement the building practice during six MEP enactment cycles. Drawing heavily on the procedures we have established for analyzing MOSTs and for analyzing teacher responses to student thinking, this analysis will have two main foci. The first focus is understanding whether our current building prototype—including the four building subpractices—satisfies core principles of quality mathematics instruction that we have gleaned from mathematics education literature. These principles are that student mathematics is at the forefront, students are positioned as legitimate mathematical thinkers, students are engaged in sense-making, and students work collaboratively. The second focus is understanding whether there are other collections of subpractices that also satisfy the core principles. In answering this research question, we hope to better understand how the coordination of subpractices produces the teaching practice of building.
  • What are variations in how enacting the building subpractices coordinate the core principles?
    Our work to answer this research question, like the previous research question, will involve the retrospective analysis of records of the teacher-researchers' attempts to implement the building practice during the six MEP enactment cycles. However, to answer this particular question we will focus specifically on the enactment of each of the subpractices of the teaching practice of building on MOSTs. By focusing on these subpractices, we hope to better understand what the individual subpractices look like, and which enactments of these subpractices do and do not work well.
  • What are teachers' experiences in attempting to build on MOSTs?
    Our work to answer this question will involve the ongoing analysis of the teacher-researchers' attempts to implement the building practice and their reflections on these attempts during the six MEP enactment cycles. This work will include watching MEP enactment videos and reviewing teacher feedback to select segments or collections of segments that will be the focus of group discussion among the project PIs and the teacher-researchers. Subsequent analysis of teacher feedback and meeting discussions, as well as the video of the MEP enactments, will allow us to ascertain what aspects of building are particularly accessible or challenging, and consider how teachers can be supported in their enactment of building on MOSTs. This analysis will also inform the ongoing planning of our work, including modifications to the building prototype and the work we do with the teacher-researchers to prepare them for future MEP enactments.


This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, grant #'s:

WMU DRL-1720613
MTU DRL-1720566
BYU DRL-1720410

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.