Date of Submission



Implementation of innovative curriculum is posited as an immersion strategy with the potential to deepen the mathematical knowledge of in-service teachers. The impact of beliefs on teacher practice, however, can be a substantial constraint in this change process. The purpose of this research was to explore the impact of teaching an innovative mathematics unit on teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about mathematics and mathematics teaching and learning. Using a case study methodology within a constructivist epistemology, two Year 5/6 teachers were studied as they taught a rational number unit of work originally developed in the Netherlands, underpinned by Realistic Mathematics Education (see, e.g., Streefland, 1991). The interconnected model of teacher growth (Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002) provided the theoretical model of change in this study, and the mathematical knowledge for teaching model (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008) was used to analyse knowledge growth. The initial relationship between the case study teachers and innovative curriculum was pivotal in determining curriculum fidelity and the potential for meaningful change. Both teachers were very experienced and had volunteered for the immersion experience, but issues of trust and teacher authority constrained long-term change. Neither of the teachers in this trial took the full opportunity to learn afforded by the innovative curriculum because they did not seem prepared to reflect seriously on their established beliefs about teaching in general. One of the teachers was open to learning new ways to teach fractions and was pleased at the surprising responses of students he had previously considered lower achieving. This resulted in subject matter and pedagogical content knowledge growth, as he considered the problem-solving strategies promoted by the unit better than those he had used in his career. The second case study teacher’s negative attitude towards the innovative curriculum based on previous experiences overseas resulted in constant concern about extending higher achieving students. She found managing the dissonance of her goals for teaching with those of the innovative curriculum extremely difficult to reconcile, resulting in a reduced number of lessons taught, little long-term growth in knowledge, and no apparent change in beliefs. This research suggests that innovative curricula like those based on Realistic Mathematics Education have the potential to challenge the conceptual schema of teachers, but only if they are open to such experiences. Considering the resilient influence of beliefs on teacher practice observed in this research and its status in the change environment, strategies that both challenge and support teachers are needed if serious and sustained growth is to be realised.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


141 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education and Arts