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Culturally Relevant Curriculum Materials in the Age of Social Media and Curation

by Sihua Hu, Kaitlin T. Torphy & Amanda Opperman - 2019

Social media and other virtual resource pools (VRPs) have emerged as spaces wherein teachers can connect with other educators and acquire curriculum materials. Though teachers actively engage online, seeking and accessing alternative curriculum materials, little is known about how these efforts may impact culturally relevant education for students with diverse languages, literacies, and cultural practices in the classrooms. Situated in Ladson-Billings’s work on culturally relevant pedagogy, this chapter outlines a framework for selecting and evaluating culturally relevant curriculum materials and applies it in a prominent virtual space: Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). We find that there is a lack of opportunity for deep engagement in culturally relevant education as evidenced in resources found on TpT. This finding suggests unique challenges as well as opportunities for educators and researchers to leverage resources and knowledge from the cloud to the classroom. We conclude with a discussion of these challenges and opportunities from the perspectives of four groups of actors: (1) the creators and curators of curriculum materials, (2) the prosumers who proactively seek out resources and leverage VRPs, (3) the educators who commit to preparing or guiding teachers using VRPs, and (4) the researchers who study the virtual space for education quality and equity.

Since the 1990s, there has been a progression in education toward valuing the languages, literacies, and cultural practices of students in teaching and learning (Paris, 2012). Among the scholars who have contributed to the movement of cultural pluralism in American education, Ladson-Billings (1995a, 1995b) has laid foundational work on the theory of pedagogy that embraces multiethnic and multilingual values in education. While some scholars who contributed to developing the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) focused on practices and what teachers should be doing in the classroom to be culturally responsive (e.g., Gay, 2000), Ladson-Billings provides a vision of teacher posture and paradigm with regard to cultural relevance (Aronson & Laughter, 2016). Specifically, in her formulation of CRP, Ladson-Billings called for pedagogies that empower students with various cultural backgrounds in their formal schooling. To enact CRP, three goals should be achieved through the school environment and classroom activities: (1) students should be able to achieve academic success regardless of their differences of category (e.g., race, gender, language, community); (2) students should maintain and develop their cultural competencies, that is, to recognize and honor their own and others cultural beliefs and practices; and (3) students should develop a sociopolitical consciousness of the inequitable social order and be able to critically recognize, evaluate, and critique the status quo in active pursuit of social justice. In delineating the three elements that CRP encompasses, Ladson-Billings sought to influence teachers attitudes and dispositions undergirding their pedagogy to achieve the goal of culturally relevant education (Aronson & Laughter, 2016).

To date, culturally relevant education has been one of the top priorities in schools and districts. The majority of the mainstream commercial textbook programs, however, still largely represent a monocultural and monolingual way of teaching and learning (Gay, 2000). In response, many districts seek to infuse CRP by incorporating culturally diverse content from various sources (e.g., books and mass media) as a way to help students assert their powers, attitudes, and experiences in education and beyond, in the present and in a forward-looking space (K. D. Gutiérrez, 2008). Given that teachers may have students with a wide range of culturally diverse backgrounds, it is unrealistic to expect a single source of culturally relevant content to meet all the different student needs and provide students with a comprehensive profile of their own culture and other cultures. As a result, some of the work to construct and enact an appropriate curriculum and provide culturally relevant experiences for students in classrooms falls to individual teachers, rather than occurring at the district or school level. As Gay (2000) put it, Teachers should routinely use a combination of resources to teach about ethnic and cultural diversity (p. 121). Furthermore, she argued that educators should be diligent in ensuring that curriculum content about ethnically diverse groups is accurate, authentic and comprehensive (p. 142).

More than a decade after Gays (2000) discussion of sources of culturally relevant content for curriculum, virtual spaces have risen as a powerful source for knowledge, information, resources, and human interactions. Traditionally, scholars who examine curriculum materials and teachers uses of them tend to focus on those published textbooks or resources developed by experts such as curriculum developers or teacher educators (e.g., Thompson & Usiskin, 2014). Our conception of curriculum materials in this chapter is aligned to Remillard and Hecks (2014) conceptualization of instructional materials in their framework of curriculum and its components. According to these scholars, distinguishing the designated curriculum, such as the textbook provided by the district, from instructional materials allows their conceptualization of curriculum to account for several contemporary characteristics of these resources resulting from an increasingly global economy, digitization, and the use of the world wide web to disseminate and access resources (p. 710). Similar to mass media and how it has perpetuated and fostered various languages, literacies, and cultural practices, the Internet changes how people access and share knowledge and resources, and brings people from all times and spaces closer to each other (Wellman & Hogan, 2004). As an emergent phenomenon in education, there is growing attention to how teachers turn to one another in virtual spaces to share resources, including curriculum materials and knowledge about teaching (Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Hu, Torphy, Opperman, Jansen, & Lo, 2018; Kelly & Antonio, 2016; Ranieri, Manca, & Fini, 2012; Rehm & Notten, 2016). Within particular virtual resource pools (VRPs), a rising concern among educators is that those curriculum materials available to teachers online may not be of high quality (Loewus & Molnar, 2017). One piece of empirical evidence legitimizing this concern is Hertel and Wessman-Enzingers (2017) investigation of resources related to negative numbers within Pinterest, a popular social media site where teachers seek out and share curriculum materials. These authors called into question the problematic nature of certain mathematics resources being shared as an illustrative case of low-quality curriculum materials in the space. Although teachers are actively engaging in social media and other VRPs to seek and access alternative curriculum materials, little is known about the nature and quality of those materials shared widely online and how they may impact CRP and student experiences in the classroom.  

In this chapter, we offer a framework on CRP and how it can be applied for the selection and evaluation of culturally relevant curriculum materials in mathematics online. This framework is aligned to Ladson-Billingss (1995a, 1995b) conceptualization of CRP, which focuses on describing teacher posture, or particular ways of thinking and teaching that a teacher might adopt as an embodiment of CRP. We examine a sample of instructional activities from a prominent online platform to illustrate the utility of the framework as a tool to (1) provide insights into the current state of culturally relevant curriculum materials within the virtual space, (2) identify challenges and opportunities in practices to leverage virtual spaces for cultural diversity in learning mathematics, and (3) discuss how teachers and researchers can be supported with research tools to better engage in the space for culturally relevant education. We ground our framework in Ladson-Billingss theory of CRP because we also view the goal of evaluating curriculum materials to be, in part, reflective of teachers own attitudes and dispositions toward multiethnic and multilingual values. The Internet fosters easy access to a large corpus of diverse resources and facilitates connections among people with a wide variety of perspectives and expertise. Accordingly, we believe that VRPs are potentially powerful sources for curricular materials, especially for culturally relevant education. We argue that conceptual frameworks and research-based tools, such as the one introduced in this chapter, are needed to support researchers and teachers in understanding and potentially leveraging the spaces for high-quality, culturally relevant content and CRP in the classroom. In the next section, we describe our framework and how it guides our assessment of curriculum materials online.


Based on the theoretical statement of CRP from Ladson-Billings (1995a, 1995b), our framework highlights three criteria in the instructional tasks that afford culturally relevant practices: (1) opportunities for all students to experience academic success, (2) opportunities for developing and maintaining cultural competence in relation with oneself or others, and (3) opportunities for developing a critical consciousness. Additionally, we acknowledge that cultural competence in the second criterion is a relative construct for students with certain languages, literacies, ethnicities, and cultural practices. One would create a piece of curriculum material for CRP with particular students and their cultures in mind. Similarly, one can only evaluate the level of cultural relevance in the activity with their own students and their culture(s) to attend to as well. Therefore, we chose a cultural reference group for our examination and evaluated the extent to which the identified cultures and contexts found in the activity were culturally relevant in relation to our chosen group. Specifically, we incorporated the metaphors of seeing ones own culture in a mirror versus seeing others cultures through a window (Dominguez, 2016; R. Gutiérrez, 2007, 2015; Style, 1996) in the framework as a way to distinguish the kinds of cultural competence one seeks to cultivate in students with the use of certain curriculum materials, given the known local context. A mathematical activity with rich elements in developing and maintaining cultural competences can be a window and presents opportunities for teachers and students to look out for solutions to the mathematics problem drawing from others cultures. In addition, a mathematical activity can also be a mirror and presents opportunities for teachers and students to look into what they have known from their own cultures and community, and how that knowledge is relevant in solving the mathematics problem. In this process of connecting with others and reconnecting with self, what constitutes a window or a mirror can be readjusted according to readers local contexts (Dominguez, 2016; R. Gutiérrez, 2007, 2015; Style, 1996). As part of the reflection process, considering the position and scope of the cultures as windows and/or mirrors is an important orientation we seek to foster in educators with the use of this framework. The framework and think-aboutthose self-guiding and reflecting questions to meet each criterionare presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Conceptual Framework for Evaluating Culturally Relevant Curriculum Materials




Opportunities for students to experience academic success


Does it foster a growth mindset (the idea that all students can achieve academic success, given proper supports) or a fixed mindset (the idea that each student has a static, innate ability level that limits his or her ability to reach academic accomplishments)?


Is there an awareness that students may need different academic supports?


How does the resource account for the need to respond to students different needs? Is it sufficient?


How does the resource foster (or create opportunities for teachers to foster) sustainable confidence/agency?


What are the end goals for students? Are the supports in place intended to help all students achieve the same learning goals, or are expectations lowered for some students?


Opportunities for students to develop and/or maintain cultural competence


Seeing ones own culture in a mirror


Seeing others cultures through a window


Are any cultural markers or referents (e.g., language, foods, or markers of experience that are particular to a culture) present?


To what degree are the cultural referents embedded in the mathematics tasks? Could the cultural referents be removed from the tasks without fundamentally altering them, or do activities naturally draw on cultural referents?


Opportunities for students to develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order


Do students get to see mathematics as a powerful tool to understand, analyze, and critique social phenomena?


Do students get to reassert and reaccentuate their present and future power, capacities, and attitudes in changing the society?

Using these three guiding criteria to understand the potential for cultural relevance in materials, we developed an analytical procedure to evaluate the extent to which sampled online resources meet the criteria. In the scoring rubrics (see Table 2), we noted whether the aspect of cultural relevance evaluated is absent (Level 0), is at the surface level that does not concern the use of math necessarily (Level 1), or requires deep exploration and problem solving with mathematics (Level 2). We also noted whether the materials explicitly negate students opportunities to engage in learning experiences along any of the criteria (Level -1). Additionally, to evaluate the second criterion, one would choose a referenced cultural group to evaluate the kinds of cultural competence one seeks to cultivate in students.

Table 2. CREAT Framework Scoring Rubrics

Criterion 1Opportunities for all students to experience academic success





Negation of any level below

Teacher or task explicitly restricting a particular group from engagement; lower expectation for certain students


No mention of expectation for all students

Goals of the activity are mentioned in a generic way or focus on the mathematics content only, such that it is unclear what the expectations are for different students and how they can achieve academic success


Acknowledge explicitly that all students can achieve academic success

Generic descriptions on the goal of having all students to be academically successful without elaboration of pedagogies to achieve the goal. The success can be described in general in mathematics, or specific in this mathematics activity


Respond to different needs of all students; fostering sustainable confidence in all students

Specific descriptions on how to facilitate students achievement of achieve high expectations, and actions to differentiate instruction

Criterion 2Opportunities for students to develop and/or maintain cultural competence

2a. Seeing ones own culture in a mirror





Negation of any level below

Explicitly racist or praising one culture above others; cultural supremacy


Absence of cultural referents

Cultural referents not mentioned, only generic or mainstream referents are present


Presence of cultural referents for own/other underrepresented cultural groups

Meaningful objects to certain cultural groups are present, but the cultural context is not deeply embedded in the mathematics problem and can be irrelevant to the work of solving it


Deep and meaningful engagement with cultural referents

The presence of the cultural referents has a purpose and meaning behind, and they are relevant to the mathematical problem solving

2b. Seeing others cultures through a window





Negation of any level below

Explicitly encourage a monolingual and monocultural way to learn mathematics


Absence of cultural referents

Cultural referents not mentioned, only generic or mainstream referents are present


Presence of cultural referents for other underrepresented cultural groups

Meaningful objects to certain cultural groups are present, but the cultural context is not deeply embedded in the mathematics problem and can be irrelevant to the work of solving it


Deep and meaningful engagement with cultural referents

The presence of the cultural referents has a purpose and meaning, and they are relevant to the mathematical problem solving

Criterion 3Opportunities for students to develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order





Negation of any level below

Actively reinforces inequity and stereotypes across cultures and social stratification


Absence of actionable social justice context in the mathematics problem

The context of the mathematics problem does not reflect any social inequalities


Opportunities for students to experience the current social order by being exposed to the context

Generic descriptions of the presence of inequity and biases in the current social order. The goal may be to help students recognize social inequalities but not in relation to the mathematics


Opportunities for students to challenge the status quo of the current social order by critically reasoning through the mathematics and the context

Specific descriptions on how to facilitate students  ability to understand, evaluate, and critique the status quo of the social order using mathematics as a tool


In this section, we illustrate descriptive results of using our framework to evaluate culturally relevant materials in mathematics from a prominent VRPTeachersPayTeachers.com (TpT). TpT is a platform where teacher-authors may sell, or share for free, teaching materials, including printable classroom décor, lesson plans, and tasks or activities, among other things, and other users may purchase and download these resources. Users may choose to follow a particular teacher-author to receive updates when that teacher-author has added a new resource to his or her store. Users may also share and save those curriculum materials to other social media sites such as Pinterest to diffuse resources and for later access. As an eBay for teaching, with some functions of social network sites, this platform is the hub for more than 3 million curriculum materials and 4 million active teacherpreneurs who are trying to exert autonomy and take on leadership within their profession (Shelton, 2018; Shelton & Archambault, 2018; Torphy, Hu, Liu, & Chen, 2017). In addition, according to a national survey conducted by the RAND organization, the majority of K12 teachers turn to VRPs such as TpT and Pinterest for Common Core State Standardsaligned curriculum materials (Opfer, Kaufman, & Thompson, 2016). Because TpT is a prevalent source of curriculum materials available to teachers, examining the potential for cultural relevance in the resources available within this resource pool offers insights into the state-of-the-field of online curriculum materials and teacherpreneurship in the space (Shelton, 2018; Shelton & Archambault, 2018; Torphy et al., 2017), and helps us understand the scope of their impact on classrooms and students.

We used particular search terms (and their variants) related to CRP on TpT to identify curricular materials that were tagged by the creators themselves as having the potential to afford particular aspects of cultural relevance. This generated 937 returned results. Curriculum materials may come in various forms, such as posters, anchor charts, specific instructional activities and their design, physical resources to support the enactment of an activity, and so on; they may or may not directly engage students in doing mathematics. Therefore, as a sampling criterion, we only included curriculum materials with specific mathematical activities that could be used with students, and we excluded those posters for display only and those pedagogical tools for teachers lesson planning (a comparable analogy using textbooks would be to include those activities in students workbooks but not those found only in the teachers guide). Overall, as shown in the list of search terms and corresponding sampled resources in Table 3, we identified 29 curriculum materials in total within the returned results, with representative examples from each of the search terms.

Table 3. Summary of Search Terms for Cultural Relevant Curriculum Materials and Results

Search Keyword

Number of Search Results

Number of Sampled Resources

cultural relevance/culturally relevant/&



cultural responsive/culturally responsive/&



growth mindset



learning about culture



social justice



We chose to operationalize our rubrics to examine those sampled materials in relation to African American students in our analysis. Although we acknowledge that African American culture itself is not monolingual and monoethnic (for example, African American students may come from a family with Caribbean origins and speak Spanish as their first language), we tried to anchor our evaluation by drawing on those general characteristics of this cultural group as rooted in their historical experience of oppression and exclusion from American mainstream culture. Some examples of what we considered to be referents of African American culture include the presence of African American people in illustrations, references to prominent African American historical figures and their contribution to antioppression movement, and references to art forms such as hip-hop that are popular and prevalent in many African American communities. The results of the evaluation of those 29 sampled curriculum materials are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Evaluation of materials tagged as culturally relevant on TpT with the CREAT framework


Overall, the culturally relevant content found on TpT was lacking, in terms of the number of returned results in proportion to the overall amount of resources and the quality of those materials in terms of the potential for cultural relevance. Among the 3 million resources available on the platform, only 937 resources returned as a result of our search for culturally relevant materials. In addition, even though these resources are tagged as related to cultural relevance by creators, many of them show no explicit evidence of cultural relevance among one or more of the dimensions we evaluated. As seen in Figure 1, among those 29 resources we assessed, 17 do not show any evidence for opportunities for all students to experience academic success; 26 do not incorporate any cultural referents relatable to African American students; 12 do not incorporate any referents to other cultures; and 24 feature no explicit opportunity for students to develop critical consciousness about the social order. We even found two examples of curriculum materials that exert stereotypical roles for African American students; they emphasized that those students can learn algebra only through practical word problems because they are not good at the abstract ways to do math. Moreover, those word problems featured in the materials are far from authentic real-world situations that require complex mathematical reasoning using students contextual knowledge. In these instances, the prescribed pathway for a certain group of students in terms of mathematics learning actually undermines opportunities for all students to be academically successful.

To further illustrate the use of our framework and what we discovered when applying it to a sample of resources found within TpT, we provide here two example scoring tables and rationales. The first task is titled Mrs. Greenburgs Messy Hanukkah: A Math Performance Task (n.d.). This material features a series of word problems related to the book Mrs. Greenburgs Messy Hanukkah. Students are asked to use the quantities specified in the recipes in the book to solve word problems in the performance tasks. The scoring rubric for this task can be seen in Table 4. This resource earned a score of 2 along Criterion 1 because it provides specific guidance for teachers on how to engage students at multiple levels of rigor without lowering the expectations for certain studentsall students are expected to meet at least a baseline level of understanding through this task. Because there are no cultural referents meaningful for African American students to draw on in doing the task, it earned a score of 0 for Criterion 2a; it does not hold up a mirror in which African American students can see themselves reflected in the curriculum. However, the task does contain specific referents of Jewish culture, such as the holiday Hanukkah, latkes, and illustrations featuring characters who are explicitly identified as Jewish within the narrative. In this way, the task provides a window into Jewish culture for African American (and indeed, all non-Jewish) students. Yet, these Jewish cultural referents are all essentially surface level; the mathematics that students are asked to do within the task is somewhat divorced from them, and the mathematical problem solving would be virtually the same even if the cultural referents were removed or replaced. Additionally, the task provides no support for students to acknowledge or critique existing power structures related to the Jewish community.

Table 4. Example of Scoring With Mrs. Greenburgs Messy Hanukkah: A Math Performance

Applicable Criterion


Evidence from Materials

C1. Opportunity for All Students to Experience Academic Success



The level of rigor and overall difficulty is determinative on the detail given in the instructions, the factors/multiples of people attending, and amount of scaffolding provided by the teacher. For high rigor simply state the passage and question, and provide no further details.

The lesson goes on further to explain ways to engage multiple levels of learners.

C2. Opportunity for Developing or Maintaining Cultural Competence

2b. Seeing others cultures through window


Presence of cultural referents from the Jewish culture, such as:

- latke recipe

- number of nights on Hanukkah in relation to recipe

- illustration of Jewish woman in kitchen

- illustration of Jewish mother and daughter

- menorah

However, there is no discussion of why Hanukkah is important, is eight nights, or why it is important to have family included during the holiday. The substance of Hanukkah is somewhat lost and is not inherent or necessary to the task.

The second task is titled Social Justice Multiplication: Racial Profiling (n.d.). This material introduces students to racial profiling and asks students to calculate multiplication math facts to fill in the blank of sentences in order to learn about the facts about this phenomenon in society. The scoring of the activity is presented in Table 5. This resource earned a score of 0 along Criterion 1 because it does not include any explicit acknowledgement of students different academic needs. The resource also earned a score of 0 along both Criteria 2a and 2b because of the lack of cultural referents from the home culture of African American students or Latino students (the other cultural group mentioned in the task), although the task does discuss that people from these two racial groups are more likely to be stopped by the police. The presence of that discussion earned the task a score of 1 along Criterion 3 because it does support students in acknowledging and understanding the current status quo related to law enforcements disproportionate targeting of these groups. However, there was no explicit support to help students critique that social order. For instance, students may believe that the practice of racial profiling is effective and the inevitable thing for police to do, and completing this task would not push them to challenge that belief. If the task had, for instance, included some analysis of statistics indicating ways in which racial profiling is inefficient or ineffective, or that focused more explicitly on the injustice of this practice, it would have earned a score of 2 along Criterion 3.

Table 5. Example of Scoring With Social Justice Multiplication: Racial Profiling

Applicable Criterion


Evidence from Materials

C2. Opportunity for Developing or Maintaining Cultural Competence

2a. Seeing one's own culture in mirror


While the task mentions African American people and describes experiences with police that are more common for African American people than for White people, it does not include cultural referents for the home culture of African American students.

2b. Seeing others cultures through window


While the task mentions Latino people and describes experiences with police that are more common for Latino people than for White people, it does not include cultural referents for the home culture of Latino students.

C3. Opportunity for Developing a Critical Consciousness



By focusing on the ways in which African American and Latino people in the U.S. are disproportionately targeted and negatively affected by police and the justice system, the task provides opportunities for students to experience the current social order, but there is no explicit support to help students question, challenge, or critique that social order.


From our illustrative use of the CRP framework to characterize a sample of curriculum materials on TpT, we gain insights into how social media and VRPs may contribute to the spread of culturally relevant education via the diffusion of curriculum materials from the cloud to the classroom. In addition, we have presented these descriptive results about culturally relevant curriculum materials accessed through TpT to demonstrate the state-of-the-field of this virtual space as a potential source for culturally relevant content. But we also see the lack of opportunity for deep engagement in some important aspects of cultural relevance, as evidenced in curriculum materials found on this widely consulted online platform. This phenomenon presents unique challenges as well as opportunities for educators and researchers to leverage resources and knowledge from the virtual space. Lane, Boggs, Chen, and Torphy (2019, this yearbook) discuss the various meta-curation models in the space and prompt us to think about how the broader mechanism may help teachers and teacher educators reduce the search and verification transaction costs in order to locate worthwhile resources. In this chapter, we highlight the role of teachers and teacher educators as agents in this process and how these actors may influence the space as creators, curators, and prosumers of online curriculum materials. Next, we discuss some implications for different actors in the space based on our findings, and we initiate a conversation about future research directions.  


In the context of this grassroots phenomenon of teachers turning to teachers (Shelton, 2018; Shelton & Archambault, 2018; Torphy et al., 2017), curriculum material creators and curatorsthose who organize a collection of resources thematically to share them widelyplay important roles in the process of distributing teaching knowledge about different languages, literacies, and cultural practices of students. In the case of promoting culturally relevant content and pedagogies, these creators and curators have the capacity to bring in a diverse spectrum of cultural perspectives based on their own expertise and their experiences working with a wide range of students. While mainstream curriculum programs may present a neutral way of teaching and learning mathematics because of the publishers strategies to widely distribute them in the market, culturally relevant content online can be supplemental to the official curriculum. However, as is the case with other sources and media for culturally relevant education, the realization of CRP calls for a wider variety of cultural backgrounds and perspectives to be represented in the pool of contributors and resources in this new type of media (Gay, 2000). The descriptive results of our analysis of curriculum materials found on TpT suggest that the lack of high-quality, culturally relevant materials may be the biggest challenge when it comes to leveraging virtual spaces to support teachers in engaging in CRP at the moment; the resources may be scarce, not diversified in many ways, and lacking in opportunities for students' deep engagement of culture in conjunction with a specific subject area.

This lack of rich opportunity for CRP and learning in the curriculum materials within TpT may also be related to the pool of content contributors. One of the greatest challenges in the teacher workforce facing the United States is its lack of diversity, including, but not limited to, racial diversity (Bireda & Chait, 2011). For example, in 2011, 84% of K12 teachers in the United States were White, whereas non-White students have become the majority in the student population. Furthermore, 84% of K12 teachers are female (Feistritzer, Griffin, & Linnajarvi, 2011). Although we know little about the comprehensive profiles of these creators and curators of curriculum materials online, it is very likely that the pool of content contributors has a similar racial and gender composition to that of the teacher workforce across the nation. Accordingly, a similar conundrum facing this group of creators and curators in terms of the lack of diversity may still apply. To fully realize the potential of the online space for cultural relevance education, more variability in experiences and expertise is called for in the pool of content contributors.

To help improve the quality of existing culturally relevant curriculum materials within the space, we also urge creators who seek to share their knowledge and practices to help other prosumers understand the contexts in which these materials were developed. For example, a creator who is also a teacher could discuss these questions in his or her presentation of materials online: Who are my students? How did the activity work with them? Why do I think it worked? By highlighting the conditions and contexts in which these teacher-authors work and create the materials, others can better understand the intended use of the activities and decide whether and how they would like to proceed with them.


Ideally, curriculum materials are educative in the sense that they are supportive of both teachers learning and students learning (Ball & Cohen, 1996). Although the creators of online materials are mostly teachers, this expectation and design principle may not be in place for them because they are unlikely to be trained in curriculum development and/or CRP. Accordingly, the assessment and sharing of worthwhile curriculum materials require additional quality vetting procedures and decision-making processes from teachers who actively seek out the resources in the role of curator and the role of prosumerthose who actively seek out curricular resources and leverage them in practice. We believe that assessing curriculum materials found online can add value to teacher learning, as long as teachers make informed decisions based on a set of criteria that align with their (and their districts) vision of instruction in the classroom. In terms of CRP, this decision-making process involves the acknowledgement and assessment of their own students diverse backgrounds and cultural practices and how those can be incorporated in the learning of the subject area with the materials. As teachers navigate through VRPs oceans of alternative curriculum materials created by others who may have different contexts, their understanding of their own students could help them see how their local contexts are similar to and/or different from the ones embedded in the materials and in what ways the materials can be used in their own classrooms. In addition, teachers could benefit from having some guidelines for engaging with particular aspects of cultural relevance and for determining ways that students can engage in learning about cultures and subject matter coherently and comprehensively in mathematics (Drake, Land, & Tyminski, 2014). The framework for evaluation of culturally relevant content we presented in this chapter is an example of what a guideline situated in research-based theory and evidence could look like. We consider the framework and its associated tools as working principles to be revised and refined in future endeavors with teachers. For example, one use of our framework we envision is to have teachers use it as a guideline to engage in conversations and reflections with oneself (Hu & Torphy, 2018). Yet, we believe that learning how to use such frameworks and tools should be grounded in similar experience in prosumers teacher preparation and professional development. This leads to our discussions of the implications for teacher educators in the next section.


For teacher educators who are involved in teacher preparation and/or professional development, they should seek to prepare and guide preservice and in-service teachers in wise use of VRPs and social media, including how to make informed decisions and conduct analysis of students and school contexts with regard to CRP. As mentioned earlier, this framework can be operationalized as a professional development tool for teachers to have reflective conversations with themselves in order to inform their decision making. Furthermore, this professional development tool also can be used to facilitate teachers and teacher educators conversations with one another to reflect on their practices and orientations toward multicultural and multilingual values (Hu & Torphy, 2018). Guidelines and tools similar to the one presented in this chapter are needed in the support structure for preservice and in-service teachers throughout their preparation and career development for teacher learning. These guidelines and tools can be of great use to teacher educators and professional developers as they help teachers identify concrete pedagogical moves that enhance their mathematics teaching repertoire and elaborate specific considerations in their online curriculum materialsseeking behaviors. This kind of support will be particularly essential for promoting culturally relevant education because it draws on educative materials from a wide range of sources to enable sustainable teacher learning with habits of mind.

Another potential way for teacher educators to engage in the space is to contribute to the creation and diffusion of worthwhile culturally relevant curriculum materials. Oftentimes, we see thoughtful analyses of teachers CRP in their classrooms by teacher educators and scholars in journal articles for practitioners and researchers (e.g., Ensign, 2003; Tate, 1995). Teachers as prosumers within VRPs can benefit enormously from those featured curriculum materials with exemplars of high-quality content and enactment of CRP. Because reaching practitioners has been a persistent struggle facing the educational research community (Zeuli, 1994), the virtual space may help change the situation. With the scale and the mechanism of resources and knowledge diffusions within the VRPs, we may expect wider access to research-based evidence than the traditional media if teacher educators and other educational researchers could find ways to actively engage in the diffusion process.


As a newly emergent research space, social media and education open up many directions for researchers and educators who are committed to transforming practices with research-based evidence. Existing research has drawn on a range of theories to examine the phenomenon of social media and education, including, but not limited to, organizational theory (e.g., Hashim & Carpenter, 2019, this yearbook), social capital theory (e.g., Supovitz, Kolouch, Daly, & Del Fresno, 2017), and community of practice (e.g., Macia & Garcia, 2016; Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016). At the intersection of culturally relevant education and virtual spaces, our work is the first effort to operationalize a measurement based on the theory of CRP in order to examine curriculum materials online. This contributes to our limited but growing understanding of the connections from the cloud to the classroom. To better understand the impact of these online curriculum materials, measurements to assess quality are needed to examine the relationships between these curriculum materials and other constructs of interest, such as student learning outcomes and teaching practices. With our framework and associated tools, our aspiration is to draw on what we have known regarding both VRPs and CRP to reflect deeply about what could be done in order to support preservice and in-service teachers in leveraging this new source of curriculum materials. As discussed earlier, the issues around the quality of materials shared online is still largely in question within research, and there is concern about the quality of those resources. As more studies on the quality of online curriculum materials are called for, we also recognize the difficulty of evaluating those curriculum materials at scale because of the large corpus of discrete curriculum materials available within and across VRPs. New analytical methods involving data mining and machine learning may help advance our understanding of the vast amount of curriculum materials online and help us get a sense of their landscape and quality (Karimi, Derr, Torphy, Frank, & Tang, 2019, this yearbook). Also, quality can be defined in many ways, and which definition is the most relevant may vary greatly within and among researchers and practitioners. For example, one may try to assess the quality of online materials to see the cognitive demand that the mathematics task requires of the students (Hu et al., 2018); in this case, quality is defined as the level of cognitive demand rather than the extent of its cultural relevance for CRP. In assessing the quality of online materials, the research community also needs to consider the variability of perspectives in evaluating material quality and make great efforts to understand how practitioners may define quality and what they need in their school and classroom.

Future research in the space of social media and education may pursue a variety of directions in relation to CRP and beyond. There are other important questions with regard to different actors in this space, such as students and district leaders at all levels, and how they can benefit from and/or leverage the virtual spaces for culturally relevant learning and education policy. The virtual space as a new media can be connected to different existing lines of educational research, and it invites those educational researchers to extend their works in new contexts and practices. As a field, we should be (re)vetting theory and (re)constructing knowledge so that we can leverage the most current research evidence to support the improvement of education in practice.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 14, 2019, p. 1-22
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23043, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 10:47:17 PM

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About the Author
  • Sihua Hu
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    SIHUA HU is a postdoctoral fellow on the COHERE project at Northwestern University. Her research examines various dimensions of mathematics teachers’ teaching quality and how teaching quality is related to teachers’ social networks within school walls as well as in the virtual space. Dr. Hu was a co-PI for an American Education Research Association conference convened in October 2018 at Michigan State University on social media and education. She holds a PhD in mathematics education and an MS in statistics from Michigan State University. Dr. Hu’s recent work with colleagues titled “What Do Teachers Share Within Socialized Knowledge Communities: A Case of Pinterest” was published by the Journal of Professional Capital and Community. In that article, Hu and colleagues characterized the types and the cognitive demand of the mathematics curriculum materials curated by a sample of early-career teachers within Pinterest and explored how early-career teachers made connections among these different kinds of resources with a new methodology: epistemic network analysis. A recent publication is: Hu, S., Torphy, K., Opperman, A., Jansen, K., & Lo, Y. (2018). What do teachers share within socialized knowledge communities: A case of Pinterest. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 3(2), 97–122.
  • Kaitlin Torphy
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    KAITLIN TORPHY is the lead researcher and founder of the Teachers in Social Media Project at Michigan State University. This project considers the intersection of cloud to class, the nature of resources within virtual resource pools, and implications for equity as educational spaces grow increasingly connected. Dr. Torphy conceptualizes the emergence of a teacherpreneurial guild in which teachers turn to one another for instructional content and resources. She has expertise in teachers’ engagement across virtual platforms, teachers’ physical and virtual social networks, and education policy reform. Dr. Torphy was a co-PI and presenter for an American Education Research Association conference convened in October 2018 at Michigan State University on social media and education. She has published work on charter school impacts, curricular reform, and teachers’ social networks, and has presented work regarding teachers’ engagement within social media at the national and international level. Her other work examines diffusion of sustainable practices across social networks within The Nature Conservancy. Dr. Torphy earned a PhD in education policy with a specialization in the economics of education from Michigan State University in 2014 and is a Teach for America alumna and former Chicago Public Schools teacher. A recent publication is: Hu, S., Torphy, K., Opperman, A., Jansen, K., & Lo, Y. (2018). What do teachers share within socialized knowledge communities: A case of Pinterest. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 3(2), 97–122.
  • Amanda Opperman
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    AMANDA OPPERMAN is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on the decision-making and teaching practices of mathematics teachers, particularly alternatively certified teachers. She has presented and published work related to teachers’ use of social media, novice teachers’ lesson planning practices, and preservice teachers’ developing conceptualizations of classroom culture. One recent publication, titled “What Do Teachers Share Within Socialized Knowledge Communities: A Case of Pinterest,” featured the results of work by Opperman and colleagues to categorize the type and rate the cognitive demand of the mathematics teaching materials selected for saving and sharing on social media by a sample group of early-career elementary teachers. In the article, Opperman and colleagues also used epistemic network analysis to explore how the teachers drew connections between these resources. A recent publication is: Hu, S., Torphy, K., Opperman, A., Jansen, K., & Lo, Y. (2018). What do teachers share within socialized knowledge communities: A case of Pinterest. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 3(2), 97–122.
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