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Steven Watson


University Lecturer in Mathematics Education

Fellow of Wolfson College and Director of Studies for Education

E-mail Address


+ 44 (0) 1223 767584

For the latest on my research and thinking see


  • PhD (University of Nottingham)
  • MA ERM - Educational research methods (University of Nottingham)
  • MEd (Open University)
  • PGCE Secondary Mathematics (University of Sheffield)
  • MA Chemical Engineering (University of Cambridge)

Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

  • Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM)
  • British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics (BSRLM), membership secretary
  • British Education Research Association (BERA)
  • Fellow of the International Society for Design and Development in Education (ISDDE)
  • European Society for Research in Mathematics Education (ERME)
  • Mathematical Association (MA)

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Steve Watson taught mathematics and was head of department in secondary schools in North East Lincolnshire. Before becoming a teacher he worked as a telecommunications engineer.

As a teacher, Steve became interested in supporting the learning of disaffected and disengaged learners of mathematics. This led to teacher research in inquiry-based learning, problem-solving, student-centred approaches and teachers’ continuing professional development. He carried out research projects funded by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). He also organised local networks and worked with regional networks in collaboration with the NCETM.

In 2010 he joined the Centre for Research in Mathematics Education and the Shell Centre for Mathematics Education at the University of Nottingham in a full-time research role investigating the nature of teachers’ professional learning in the context of student-centred problem-solving and inquiry-based learning. In that time he was involved in other large research projects in professional development and design-based research including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded Mathematics Assessment Project in the United States as well as a European funded project on inquiry-based learning.

His interests include the design and development of professional development and design of research and evaluation approaches to professional learning and in particular the observation and analysis of teaching. He is also interested in the challenges of theorising professional learning and has used Social Cognitive Theory in the context of professional development.


I have used my expertise in professional development and pedagogy in consultancy projects with schools and academies. This has included developing bespoke professional development and advising on evaluation. I have also produced and led professional development programmes for secondary mathematics teachers in Qatar, Kuwait, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in collaboration with Cambridge International Examinations. Currently I am working with a number of Teaching Schools in England in producing and leading professional development related to learner self-efficacy, mindsets and mastery in mathematics. If you are interested in using my consultancy services, please contact me directly to discuss your requirements in the first instance, contractual arrangements are made through Cambridge University Technical Services (CUTs).

I am developing a new page for my consultancy work.

Academic Area/Links

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Research Interests

Mathematics Teachers' Professional Learning and Development

A Social Cognitive Theory approach

This is my main area of research and one in which I have done most work in recent years. I am particularly interested in the way in which secondary mathematics teachers implement pedagogical approaches that support students' development in problem solving. By problem solving, I mean having the strategies and dispositions to solve unfamiliar and complex problems, or problems where there may be a number of ways of reaching a solution. Teachers need to provide opportunities for students to work on problems and develop strategies and dispositions to persevere in finding a solution. However, we find predominantly, that mathematics teaching in schools is traditional and teacher-centred and focussed on teaching methods rather than strategies. My research has addressed why this is. I have considered the challenges teachers face in introducing opportunities for students to develop problem-solving strategies. My analysis, for my PhD research, of case study schools in the East Midlands show that 'traditional' classroom routines are established, transmitted and sustained culturally and historically. This also reflects the practical constraints that impinge on teachers' work and the institutions they work in. This led me to rethinking existing theoretical constructs that have been used in teachers' professional learning. The approach I use is based on Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory  this provides a framework for improving the design and effectiveness of CPD where there is need to implement challenging pedagogies. Journal articles on this research are in preparation presently.

Collaboration and knowledge transfer with IRISconnect

Related to the above research, I am currently working with Dr Phil Kirkman, on prototyping professional development materials based on video. We have recently been awarded an ESRC Impact Acceleration (£15,000 December 2014 to August 2015) award to develop the impact of our respective research into teachers' professional development. My research demonstrated the importance and value of video examples of challenging pedagogy in authentic classrooms. Phil has prototyped a system of multi-camera and multi-audio classroom recording. The playback allows teachers to take a virtual walk both spatially and temporally through illustrative quasi-real examples of ambitious and challenging classroom practice and mathematical pedagogy. Using Social Cognitive Theory and its emphasis on observational learning we offer a process and technology for transforming practice. We consider this virtually analogous to Lesson Study since the video provides a basis by which teachers can focus reflective questions based on the virtually-presented classroom. Through our ESRC project we intend to engage with potential collaborators, investors and end-users in order to develop a commercialised approach to support future development and research. Our external collaborators in this project are the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and Mathematics Education and Industry (MEI).

Pedagogical design using design-based research research and development methodology

This research builds on my experiences working with the Shell Centre at the University of Nottingham. The Shell Centre has an international reputation for developing outstanding mathematics learning materials that foster students deep understanding of mathematics and that encourage students to make connections between mathematical topics. Their developmental approach is underpinned by design-based research. This involves iterative development, testing, formative evaluation and re-design with concurrent theory-building and knowledge creation. The aim is to develop robust 'products'  as well as generate understanding of learning and pedagogical process. I have two projects that are based on these principles, the first is a sub component of the Cambridge Mathematics Education Project (CMEP) and the second is to develop computational thinking in the new secondary computing curriculum in England.

Theorising mathematics teachers' professional development and learning

My theoretical research arose from my study of mathematics teacher professional development. My initial interest was in Social Cognitive Theory and the relationship between the environment (social setting or institution), individual behaviour and individual cognition. Self-efficacy is an important component in Social Cognitive Theory and is key to understanding how teachers with similar pedagogic knowledge can perform differently. It is the belief a teacher has in their ability to

I am working on two sets of related questions, the first set are:

How does teachers' self-efficacy develop through preparation and in practice? And, what do we mean by teacher self-efficacy? What are the self-efficacious about? Also, what is the relationship between teacher self-efficacy and student mathematical self-efficacy and attainment?

The second set of questions are related to broader aspects of theorising the relationship between structure and agency. I have considered this from the perspective of Social Cognitive Theory and how this goes some way to relating individual behaviour and action in social settings and systems. My current interest is in relating this to other theory such as Activity Theory and Realist Social Theory.

Current Research Project(s)

  • NCETM Maths Hub self-evaluation project In this project I am developing materials to support Hub leads evaluate professional development initiatives (Work Groups) using a mixed-methods multiple case study approaches.
  • Underground Maths (formerly Cambridge Mathematics Education Project, CMEP). Underground Maths is a multi-million pound project to transform A-level (post 16 mathematics) and his lead by colleagues in the Mathematics Faculty. In this project I am working with Lizzie Kimber, Louis Major & Lyn Jones on instructional/ pedagogical design for A-level mathematics using a design-based research methodology. Principally we are examining the use of Underground Maths materials in real classrooms. We are also researching and developing professional learning for this project. The project is initially planned to continue to at least spring 2016.

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Course involvement

  • PGCE Secondary mathematics
  • MEd/ MPhil Mathematics Education, Researching Practice
  • EdD/ PhD Supervision
  • PPD Practitioner Professional Development Teaching Advanced Mathematics (TAM) programme

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Principal and Recent Publications

Journal Articles

Watson, S. (In review). Teacher beliefs and change from a social cognitive perspective: an examination of change in the context of professional development for mathematics teachers

Watson, S., Major, L., & Kimber, E. (In review). Rethinking teacher change: the challenge of implementing ambitious teaching in post-16 mathematics.

Watson, S. (In review). The impact of a university teacher education programmes on the practice of pre-service mathematics teachers: a case study of a programme in England.

Major, L., & Watson. S. (In review). Using video to support in-service teacher professional development: a systematic scoping study

Book Chapters

Watson, S., & Dawes, M. (2016). Learning mathematics: a cognitive focus. In S. Johnston-Wilder, C. Lee, & D. Pimm (Eds.), Learning to teach mathematics in the secondary school: a companion to school experience (4th ed.) (pp. 32-51). Routledge: London

Watson, S., & Crawford, M. (2016). Connecting leadership, professional development and affect. In B. Apelgren, P. Burnard, & N. Carbaroglu (Eds.), Transformative teacher research: theory and practice for the twenty-first century (pp. 73-86). Sense Publishers.

Book Reviews

Watson, S. (2016). Review of the book Algebra teaching around the world, edited by Frederick K.S. Leung, Kyungmee Park, Derek Holton and David Clarke, Rotterdam, Sense Publishers. Research in Mathematics Education, 18(2), 211–214.

Conference Papers

Major, L., Watson, S., & Kimber, E. (2016). Teacher change in post-16 mathematics: a multiple case analysis of teachers in the Zone of Enactment. Presented at the 13th International Congress on Mathematics (ICME-13), Hamburg, July 2016.

Major, L., Watson, S., & Kimber, E. (2015). Developing instructional and pedagogical design for the Cambridge Mathematics Education Project: A Design-based research approach. In Adams, G. (Ed.) Proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics (BSLRM) 35(2). BSRLM Day Conference, University of Durham.

Watson, S. (2014). The impact of professional development on the teaching of problem-solving. Proceedings of the 8th British Congress on Mathematics Education. University of Nottingham.

Nardi, E., Biza, I. & Watson S. (2014). What makes a claim an acceptable mathematical argument in the secondary classroom? A preliminary analysis of teachers’ warrants in the context of an Algebra Task. Proceedings of the 8th British Congress on Mathematics Education. University of Nottingham.

Watson, S. (2013). Understanding mathematics teachers’ professional development from the perspective of social learning theory. In: B. Ubuz, C. Haser, & M. A. Mariotti (Eds.), Proceedings of the 8th Congress of European Research in Mathematics Education (CERME-8), Antalya, Turkey  (pp.  3287-3295). Ankara: Turkey

Watson, S. (2012). The effects of professional development on teaching self-efficacy. In: The proceedings of the 12th International Congress of Mathematics Education, Seoul, South Korea.

Watson, S. (2012). Developing teaching efficacy for inquiry-based learning. The Fibonacci Project European Conference Inquiry Based Scienceand Mathematics Education: Bridging the gap between education research and practice, University of Leicester.

Watson, S., & Evans, S. (2012). Observing changes in teachers' practice as a consequence of taking part in professional development: developing a protocol for the observation of lessons In: C. Smith (Ed.), Informal proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning of Mathematics, University of Sussex.

Swan, M. & Watson, S. (2011). Designing professional development for mathematics teachers: A case study. In: Ubuz, B, (Ed.) Proceedings of the 35th Conference of the International Group for Psychology of Mathematics Education, vol 1. p. 414.

Watson, S. (2011). The influence of teaching efficacy and professional life-stage on secondary mathematics teachers' use of problem-solving in their teaching In: C. Smith (Ed.), Informal proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning of Mathematics, University of Oxford.

Textbooks and teaching materials

Steel, T., Thomas, C., Dawes, M., & Watson, S. (2015). GCSE Mathematics for AQA/Edexcel/OCR Higher/Foundation problem-solving book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Commissioned reports

Haßler, B., Major, L., Warwick, P., Watson, S., Hennessy, S. & Nicholl, B. (2016).
Perspectives on Technology, Resources and Learning: Productive Classroom Practices, Effective Teacher
Professional Development
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.

Haßler, B., Major, L., Warwick, P., Watson, S., Hennessy, S. & Nicholl, B. (2016).
A short guide on the use of Technology for Learning: Perspectives and toolkit for discussion. Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge.


Watson, S. (2009). Implementing collaborative planning in the mathematics department of a secondary school. Teacher Enquiry Grant Report for the NCETM.

Professional journals

Tomalin, J., Watson, S., Swan, M., Mason, J. and Watson, A. (2012). Mathematical friends and relations. Mathematics Teaching. 226.

PhD Thesis

Watson, S. (2014). The impact of professional development on mathematics teachers’ beliefs and practices (Unpublished PhD thesis). University of Nottingham.