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Frances Harper headshot

Frances Harper, PhD

Assistant Professor, STEM Education/Math


Frances K. Harper is an assistant professor of STEM (Mathematics) education at the University of Tennessee. Her research and scholarly program focuses on under-recognized dimensions of equity in mathematics education, namely identity and power, in mathematics teaching and learning. These interest areas concentrate in three large domains: (1) how teachers learn to shift traditional power dynamics in mathematics classrooms by adapting mathematics curriculum and instruction to build on historically marginalized students’ community and cultural knowledge and experiences, (2) how students negotiate their social and mathematics identities in contexts where teachers are making instructional efforts to attend to dimensions of identity and power in mathematics, and (3) how relationships among teachers and other stakeholders (e.g., administrators, families) influence efforts to shift traditional power dynamics in mathematics classrooms. These three domains allow Dr. Harper to combine her training in teacher education, mathematics education, and urban education. Her goal in this work is to provide information regarding mathematics teaching and systematic change that effectively encourages historically marginalized students to see their cultural, racial, and gendered identities as compatible with identities as capable learners and doers of mathematics. The common theme of her work has been exploration of social interactions among teachers, students, and other stakeholders that either reinforce or shift power dynamics within the traditionally white, masculine, and Euro-centric space of mathematics.

Learn more about Dr. Harper’s work here:

Professional Background 


Mathematics Teacher Education Research

Dr. Harper has explored how both prospective and practicing K-12 mathematics teachers learn to shift traditional power dynamics in mathematics classrooms by adapting mathematics curriculum and instruction to build on historically marginalized students’ community and cultural knowledge and experiences. In particular, she has produced scholarship related to how prospective elementary (Harper, Drake, Bartell, & Najarro, 2018) and secondary (Harper, Sanchez, & Herbel-Eisenmann, 2017) teachers of mathematics learn to integrate cultural, community, and linguistic funds of knowledge into mathematics curriculum and instruction. She has also looked at ways teachers incorporate explorations of social justice issues into mathematics lessons (Harper, 2019; Harper & Orr, 2015) because these types of explorations build on students’ cultural and community knowledge in ways that typical “real world” problems do not. Finally, she has examined how teachers learn to plan for small group work in mathematics to build on students’ mathematical, cultural, and social resources to ensure equitable access and learning (Crespo & Harper, accepted).

Research on Students’ Social and Mathematics Identities

This line of research explores the experiences of girls and students of color in classrooms where teachers are making efforts to shift the traditional power dynamics of mathematics. More specifically, Dr. Harper draws on sociocultural/political and critical theories to center students’ voices and experiences (Harper, 2019) aimed at understanding how they navigate sociopolitical dimensions of mathematics learning in relation to equity-minded teaching. In particular, she produced scholarship related to how Black gifted girls cope with perfectionism in mathematics (Harper & Anderson, accepted), how students negotiate mathematics engagement, identity, and agency in collaborative, social justice mathematics projects (Harper, 2019; Kim & Harper, 2019), and how interdisciplinary STEM learning supports historically marginalized students to develop positive mathematics identities (Harper & Deshpande, 2018). Dr. Harper sees this line of research as the heart of her research agenda.

Research on Teacher and Stakeholder Relationships and Influences

This line of research is newly emerging and inspired by Dr. Harper’s efforts to connect her teacher educator practice to community outreach. She received a Community Engagement Incentive Grant, which she used to develop an assignment for elementary mathematics methods to support prospective mathematics teacher to design and facilitate activities at family STEM nights hosted at local elementary schools. Drawing on her other lines of research, this assignment is framed as a way for teachers to integrate cultural and community funds of knowledge and STEM disciplines into mathematics lessons so that more students can see themselves as confident and capable learners and doers of mathematics. Moving forward, Dr. Harper plans to expand this line of research to explore the potential of different university-community partnerships to shift traditional power dynamics in mathematics.  

Current Projects

Exploring Teacher and Student Identity through Mathematics Tasks: A Lesson Study

Partnering to Support STEM Learning for Minoritized Youth and their (Future) Teachers

Preparing Lessons and Naming Strategies (PLANS) for Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice

STEM for Appalachia (SFA): Growing STEM problem solvers through books, storytelling, and family engagement

Student Experiences with Equitable Teaching in Mathematics

Tennessee Eastern & Appalachian Math (TEAM) Teachers’ Circle


Doctor of Philosophy (Mathematics Education), Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Master of Arts (Curriculum Studies and Teacher Education – Mathematics Education), Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Master of Liberal Arts (Mathematics for Teaching), Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Bachelor of Arts (Classics), Tufts University, Medford, MA

Professional Service

Institutional Service

Member, Diversity Collaborative in Education Committee, 2018 – present

Member, Clinical Assistant Professor in STEM Education Search Committee, 2017-2018

Disciplinary Service

Reviewer for Cognition and Instruction, International Journal of Educational Research, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Journal of Mathematical Behavior, Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Journal of Teacher Education, Mathematics Thinking and Learning, and Occasional Paper Series

Member, Psychology of Mathematics Education (North America) Steering Committee, 2015-2016

Member, Local Planning Committee for Psychology of Mathematics Education (North America) Annual Conference, 2014-2016

Community Engaged Service

Facilitator, Book Club on Mathematics and Play, Fair Garden Preschool, 2019

Facilitator, STEM in the Preschool Classroom Workshop, Knox County Public Schools, 2019

Presenter, Careers in Education, Sequatchie County High School, 2018

Awards and Recognitions

Semifinalist, NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, 2019

Fellow, Center for Inquiry and Equity in Mathematics Faculty Fellowship Program, 2019-2020

Fellow, Service, Teaching, and Research (STaR) Program, Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, 2018-2019


Articles in Refereed Journals

Harper, F. K. (2019). A qualitative metasynthesis of teaching mathematics for social justice in action: Pitfalls and promises of practice. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 50(3), 268-310.

Harper, F.K. (2019). Collaboration and critical mathematical inquiry: Negotiating mathematics engagement, identity, and agency. Bank Street College of Education Occasional Paper Series, 2019(41). Retrieved from

Plumb, A., Roberts-Caudle, C. Harper, F. K., & Jones, D. A. (2017). Flint, Michigan, water crisis: Connecting to local issues in mathematics classrooms. Teaching Children Mathematics, 23(9), 518-520.

Selected contributions to Edited Volumes

Harper, F. K., Drake, C, Bartell, T. G., & Najarro, E. (2018). “How I want to teach the lesson”: Framing children’s multiple mathematical knowledge bases in the analysis and adaptation of existing curriculum materials. In T. G. Bartell (Ed.), Toward equity and social justice in mathematics education (pp. 241-262). Springer. (Invited; Refereed)

Harper, F. K., Sanchez, W., & Herbel-Eisenmann, B. (2017). Doing mathematics across languages: Exploring possibilities for supporting emergent bilinguals’ mathematical communication and engagement. In S. Kastberg, A. M. Tyminski, A. Lischka, & W. Sanchez (Eds.) Building support for scholarly practices in mathematics methods (pp. 263-277). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Harper, F. K. (2016). Changing patterns. Changing my world?: Using my personal evolution of critical race consciousness in mathematics teacher education. In N. M. Joseph, C. M. Haynes, & F. Cobb (Eds.) Interrogating Whiteness and Relinquishing Power: White Faculty’s Commitment to Racial Consciousness in STEM Classrooms. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Harper, F. K. & Orr, S. (2015). Algebra and literacy: A social justice pairing. In J. C. Richards & K. Zenkov (Eds.) Social justice, the Common Core and closing the instructional gap: Empowering diverse learners and their teachers. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Recent Papers published in refereed conference proceedings

Harper, F. K. (2019). Using graphic elicitation methods to talk about social identities and mathematics. Mathematics Education and Society 10, Hyderabad, India.

Harper, F. K., & Deshpande, D. (2018). Social justice drive STEM: Achieving equity goals through integrated mathematics education. In T. E. Hodges, G. J. Roy, & A. M. Tyminski (Eds.), Proceedings of the 40th annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Charlotte, SC.

Harper, F.K. (2017). Coming to understand the big issues: Remaking meaning of social justice through mathematics across the school year. Mathematics Education and Society 9, Volos, Greece.

Recent presentations

Harper, F. K., & Hodge, L. (2019, February). Partnering to support STEM learning for minoritized youth and (future) math teachers. Individual session presented at the annual conference of Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, Orlando, FL.

Guzmán, L., Harper, F. K., Leyva, L., & Raygoza, M. (2019, February). A process of “becoming”: Transitioning into equity, social-justice oriented mathematics teacher educator roles. Symposium presented at the annual conference of Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, Orlando, FL.

Harper, F. K. (2018, November). STEM experiences for girls of Color in urban schools: Considerations for equitable mathematics engagement. Paper presented at a roundtable at the biennial International Conference on Urban Education, Nassau, Bahamas.

Anderson, B., & Harper, F. K. (2018, November). “I just get all stressed out”: Coping with perfectionism as a Black gifted girl in mathematics. Presentation at National Association for Gifted Children Convention, Minneapolis, MN.

Harper, F.K. (2018, April). Students’ negotiation of equitable strategies for collaborative math. Research report presented at the annual research conference of National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Washington, D.C.

External Grants: Funded and in Progress

Ho, A. (PI), Harper, F. K. (co-PI), & Hodge, L. (co-PI). (May 15, 2019-May 15, 2020). Tennessee Eastern & Appalachian Math Teachers’ Circle. Funded by American Institute of Mathematics. ($2,965).

Hodge, L. L., Harper, F. K., & Rearden, K. T. (July 1, 2019-June 30, 2019). STEM for Appalachia (SFA): Growing STEM problem solvers through books, storytelling, and family engagement. Funded by Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s 2019 Appalachian Regional Commission Grant. ($75,000).

Harper, F. K. (August 2018-July 2019). Lesson study collaboration with Vanderbilt University. Funded by Office of Research and Engagement at University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s SEC Visiting Faculty Travel Grant Program. ($1,143.26)

Harper, F. K. (July 2018- June 2019). Partnering to support integrated STEM learning for minoritized youth and their future teachers. Funded by the Office of Community Engagement and Outreach at University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Community Engagement Incentive Grant. ($1,900)

Harper, F. K. (August 2016- July 2017). Piecing together equity in mathematics education with patchwork pedagogy: An investigation of students’ mathematics experiences and identity development. Funded by CPM Educational Program’s Dissertation Fellowship Award. ($30,000)


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