Doctoral Student Elizabeth Dyer Awarded NAE/Spencer Fellowship

Doctoral Student Elizabeth Dyer Awarded NAE/Spencer Fellowship

Elizabeth Dyer

Elizabeth Dyer, a doctoral candidate in the Learning Sciences program at SESP, was awarded a National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the coming academic year. Only 30 fellows were chosen from more than 600 applications from students at about 100 graduate institutions.

Dyer’s dissertation is focused on understanding how mathematics teachers learn from their everyday classroom experiences to become more responsive to student mathematical thinking.

Fellows are selected because of their potential to contribute to understanding of education. “The Dissertation Fellowship Program is part of the National Academy of Education’s effort to encourage outstanding new scholars from many disciplines to bring their insights to bear on issues related to education,” wrote Michael Feuer, president of the National Academy of Education (NAEd), in a message to Dyer. Fellows receive $25,000 awards and become part of a research community interested in educational issues, as they are invited to participate in meetings in Washington, DC, with senior scholars and NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows.

The first part of Dyer’s project looks at several high school mathematics teachers in relation to their responsiveness to student thinking. “I'll be identifying the specific ways that those teachers make sense of their experiences in the classroom and link it to the changes I observe in their teaching,” says Dyer. She uses wearable video cameras to have teachers save important moments during teaching.

Secondly, based on these findings, Dyer will design and test professional development to help high school mathematics teachers learn from their classroom experiences. Then she will test the professional development with high school math teachers to see how their teaching changes over time. 

Dyer’s in-depth study of teachers is particularly innovative because she uses a relatively new methodology, point-of-view observation. Teachers wear a camera during their lessons and save moments of video by pressing a button on a remote. “This procedure allows us to get a window into what moments stand out to teachers when they are in the middle of teaching and how they make sense of those moments. Currently, there is no other way to get this sort of access to how a teacher is thinking while they are teaching. This part is also particularly important because it identifies some of the mechanisms that cause teachers to change their instruction,” says Dyer.

The second phase incorporates a new way of thinking about professional development. “Currently most professional development brings teachers outside of their classrooms to learn knowledge or teaching strategies that they are supposed to take back and use in their classrooms to improve teaching. In contrast, this new model of professional development attempts to prepare teachers to learn from their everyday experiences in the classroom. In other words, it's focused on helping teachers learn through their teaching rather than learning about teaching,” Dyer says.

“If successful, this model of professional development could have huge implications for how we support and train teachers because this new model is more efficient and scalable than long-term professional development, and also positions teachers as the authority in their own improvement.”

Dyer received her BA in mathematics and astrophysics from University of California at Berkeley. Before starting the SESP Learning Sciences program, she was a research associate at Horizon Research, Inc., working on projects for math and science education improvement. She has also worked as a college-level physics tutor and study group leader, as well as a calculus and chemistry instructor for first-generation high school students in an Upward Bound program. At Northwestern, Dyer received a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship in Mathematics Education. 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 9/17/14