Saturday, February 4, 2017

CERME 10 Day 1

CERME 10 was my first CERME, taking place at Croke Park in Dublin. With a capacity of more than 80000, the stadium had plenty of space for the 800 participants. The opening ceremony included short adresses from various dignitaries (of course, including the leaders of the groups actually doing the work of preparing the conference). For instance, we learned how Hamilton got a key insight (concerning quaternions) by the Royal Canal (which passes just outside the stadium). In addition, there was some beautiful Irish music, of course.

The first plenary lecturer was Elena Nordi. Her title was "From Advanced Mathematical Thinking to University Mathematics Education: A story of emancipation and enrichment". She opened with an image from the Coen film "A serious man" - pointing out the popular conception of what university mathematics teaching look like: a professor filling a blackboard. University mathematics teaching today is much more varied than that - the demands on the teachers are quite varied. In her talk, she wanted to give an overview of the CERME work on university mathematics since the first CERME, in a way she called "impressionistic" and personal.

She pointed out that the field is quite young, for instance important papers such as Yackel & Cobb ("Sociomathematical Norms, Argumentation, and Autonomy in Mathematics")  arrived in 1996. She pointed out that research on university mathematics education has in this period been moving away from being a "hobby" done by mathematics professors without a connection to the general mathematics education research. However, she also mentioned how her field differs from other fields in that there is a less clear distinction between teacher and researcher - the university lecturers are also often researchers. However, she did not fully go into the implications of this.

Her (rapid) talk discussed a huge number of papers from different CERME conferences, pointing out developments. For me, who is not doing research on or teach advanced mathematics, the talk was so full of unfamiliar names and developments that I will not attempt to summarize here. Sadly, the speed of her talk also excluded some participants - not all of which speak English on a daily basis. (In fact, 50 countries were represented in the conference.)

The main feature of the CERMEs are the TWGs (Topic Working Groups), which one is supposed to stay loyal to throughout the conference and which takes up most of the conference time. The first session of the TWG took place at the end of the first day. Renaud Chorlay gave a quick introduction to the working of the group.

After we had all introduced ourselves, we were ready for the first paper. That was Elizabeth de Freitas' paper called "A course in the philosophy of mathematics for future high school mathematics teachers". She talked about a course she has given for three years ar Adelphi University in New York, which was actually an alternative to a history of mathematics course. One important aspect is the philosophical paper students have to write - where they have to take a stand and defend a position on one central question from the philosophy of mathematics. Maurice O'Reilly presented his paper on "Multiple perspectives on working with original mathematical sources from the Edward Worth Library, Dublin". He stressed the scaffolding of students' work - helping and encouraging the students reading unfamiliar sources (to them) in foreign languages. These were short presentations as we had all read the papers in advance. Then we started discussing the expected and actual impact of the teaching projects. The discussion centered on whether there are ways of collecting data and convince others of the potential value of such approaches. Here are some  points:
• The researchers had some data that could have been analysed to shed light on the potential. However, as some of the assumed values concerns students' long-term approach to and image of mathematics, maybe longitudinal studies are neccessary?
• In some cases, The visceral reactions of the students are powerful  but not measurable? Some participants in the group recognized their own reaction in students' reaction.
• The role of the teacher seemed to be different here than in "usual" teaching. The projects can give ideas on how to teach to avoid the students' imitation.
• There is a pull to prove effectiveness, but also a danger of being drawn into the metrics. We need more research that convinces others than ourselves, but we also need development and ideas that can later be explored more. So papers such as these are valuable although they may not convince others.

That was already the end of the first day at CERME. Three more blog posts will follow.

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