Melissa Sommerfeld Gresalfi

Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University

The core assumption that organizes my work is that students generally do what they’ve been given opportunities to do. Thus, if we find that most students struggle to engage in rich mathematical problem solving, or wait to be told what to do, it is likely the case that they have only had chances to engage mathematics by listening and practicing. If we want them to do something different, then we need to design different kinds of learning environments.

In my research I explore how to reorganize learning environments so that students have chances to engage in mathematics with agency and authority. My work is both observational and interventionist, but in all cases considers how designs and classroom climates create chances for students to play and explore mathematics. Throughout this work, I try to better understand how our experiences doing mathematics shapes not only what we know, but who we come to be.

My early work focused on how elements of classroom systems interact, with the goal of better understanding how students get positioned or characterized with respect to the practices of the classroom. Building on these studies, I began to work on designs to support a different way of engaging mathematics, working both with teachers and with curricula with the goal of broadening the opportunities to learn that were available. My current projects focus on the role of play and exploration in supporting student problem solving, looking at play in different ways and across different contexts.