Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Abraham S. Fischler College of Education


Michelle Tenam-Zemach

Committee Member

Jennifer Gunter Reeves

Committee Member

Kimberly Durham


critical theory, culturally relevant pedagogy, mathematics education, professional development, social justice, word problems


As currently developed and written, mathematical word problems lack cultural relevance for an increasingly culturally diverse population in elementary schools in the United States. The design and context of mathematical word problems promote the norms, values, and beliefs of the dominant culture while potentially negatively influencing students from non-dominant culture engagement and achievement in mathematics.

The purpose of this sequential, explanatory mixed-methods study was threefold: to (a)examine in-service teachers’ preexisting beliefs about the relevance of social justice and culturally relevant teaching related to their mathematics instructional practices before receiving a synchronous online professional development program; (b) assess the impact of the synchronous online professional development program on teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices related to social justice and culturally relevant teaching in mathematics; and (c) understand in-service elementary math teachers’ perception of infusing culturally relevant contexts in mathematics on student engagement. Thirty elementary mathematic teachers with more than one year of teaching experience participated in the study. Quantitative data was collected via the Dispositions for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Scale and the Learning to Teach for Social Justice – Beliefs Scale and qualitative data was gathered through interviews.

Analysis revealed that although teachers did not score significantly higher on the DCRPS, or LTSJ-BS posttest compared to the pretest they felt that reframing word problems using culturally relevant and social justice topics would increase student engagement in the mathematics classroom. They expressed that utilizing these contexts would create word problems that are more relevant and relatable to students. A consensus amongst participants was that the synchronous online professional development program increased participants’ awareness of the messages word problems could potentially send to students. One of the study’s key findings is that teachers feel more comfortable using culturally relevant contexts than social justice contexts in mathematics. Teachers pointed at the lack of student maturity, parental conflicts, and state laws banning controversial topics as some of the reasons for not feeling comfortable using social justice contexts in their classroom. The synchronous online professional development was instrumental in teacher understanding and ability to reframe mathematical word problems.