Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 141–172 | Cite as

Developing prospective teachers’ conceptions with well-designed tasks: explaining successes and analyzing conceptual difficulties

  • Eva Thanheiser


Several researchers have documented prospective teachers’ (PTs’) conceptions of various mathematical topics. However, less is known about how PTs’ conceptions develop. To address this gap, I designed two tasks with the goals of addressing the PTs’ initial conceptions of multidigit whole numbers and helping them develop more sophisticated ones. I examined how PTs’ conceptions changed while working on these tasks in two settings (a teaching experiment with 6 PTs and a mathematics methods course with 33 PTs) and modified the tasks on the basis of the results. Consistent with prior findings, this study showed that PTs entered with limited conceptions. This study showed further that (a) well-designed tasks (addressing the PTs’ incoming conceptions as well as focusing on the desired conceptions) can help PTs develop content knowledge, (b) conceptual difficulties may persist even with well-designed tasks, and (c) artifacts of children’s mathematical thinking can be used to develop mathematical content knowledge. Instructional implications are discussed.


Prospective teacher Teacher education Content knowledge Whole number Place value Task design 



I would like to thank my mentor and advisor Randy Philipp for his continued interest in my work and for the walks during which we brainstorm ideas. I would also like to thank Bonnie Schappelle, who has also continuously supported my work by sharing my interest and giving me feedback. In addition, I would like to thank Signe Kastberg, who helped with the enactment of the teaching experiment, as well as Briana Mills, Krista Stand, and Jodi Fasteen, who work(ed) with me tirelessly to understand prospective teachers better.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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