Saturday, February 4, 2017

CERME 10 Day 2

The second day of CERME 10 started where the first one ended - with a TWG (topic working group session). Please excuse my extremely short descriptions of the papers - the authors were just given ten minutes to remind participants of their papers as a basis for discussion, and I do not have the time to go back to the papers to give more detailed accounts. First, Kathy Clark talked on the very interesting TRIUMPHS project, a big design research project based on original sources. At this time, the project reports on a pilot study in the first year. I notice an inteesting focus on meta-discursive rules and on views of mathematics. They use Törner's aspects and his instrument - but the number of students included in the analysis at this point was small. It will be interesting to follow the project in years to come!

Rainer Kaenders talked about "Historical Methods for Drawing Anaglyphs". In this project, students draw 3d drawings using historical methods. The point was not to learn the methods, but to understand the mathematical principles in order to be able to do the drawings. Again, this was an interesting project giving ideas for working on geometry in new ways. Kaenders had used this in extracurricular activities with students, for which it seemed well suited.

Thirdly, Rita (Areti) Panaoura talked about the paper "Inquiry-based teaching approach in mathematics by using history of mathematics - a case study". In Cyprus, which has a centralized school system, history of mathematics is seen as a tool to investigate the mathematical concepts. She reiterated Siu's reasons that teachers hesitate in using HM.  She gave examples of teachers' attitudes and knowledge. Teachers could not connect the HM and the inquiry-based teaching approach which was also mandated. Understanding what teachers need in order to include history of mathematics in their teaching, is very important in order to implement HM in teaching. As such, I find this paper interesting. A participant questioned whether the use of Egyptian multiplication is helpful. I think that depends on the goal. According to Rita, there are no teacher guide saying what the point is, therefore it is difficult to see if the example is well-chosen or not - and difficult for teachers to use it in a meaningful way. Thus, this paper shows the problem of giving teachers resources without giving them the reasoning behond them.

The fourth presentation was of the paper "Teaching kinematics using mathematics history" (Alfredo Martinez). This is a paper concerning a reconstruction of a method of measuring time which Galileo may have used. Students were able to measure time using a rhythm, thereby being able to recreate Galileo's results. It is a bit unclear to me if this really fits in the history of mathematics group or would rather fit in a history of science group (at some unspecified conference), though.

Then there was a group discussion and sharing. Some points:
• It is a shame that the scaffolding was not there for the teachers or students in the Egyptian multiplication example to see the connection to our algorithms.
• What "scaffolding" is needed? Notes to teachers and workshops are parts of the project Kathy talked about. Also, use of history of mathematics should also be included in teacher training.
• A historical document is not necessary, historical problems (without giving the actual source) worked on with students are also useful. But what difference does the source make? (Of course, many authors have written extensively on this.)
• Can all topics be taught using history? Are there too big obstacles in some cases?
• Can we do good history and good mathematics at the same time? (My answer would be that we are never "perfect" in the classroom, teaching is always full of compromises. So there is a question of what is good enough.)
• The geographical and cultural distance is important. Is Greek mathematics more motivating for pupils in Greece?
• How much of the original context must a teacher understand?
• Choice of examples: should they be "exemplary" or could we have "fringe" examples? Papers that are most interesting from a historical point of view, may not be the best ones from an educational point of view.
• How do teachers come to have materials that they can use? And how do they (learn to) orchestrate the classroom experience?

Then, there was time for another plenary: Lieven Verschaffel on "Young children's early mathematical competencies: analysis and stimulation". Researchers today believe that children have a "starter kit", object tracking system and approximate number system (ANS). Gradually, there is a development towards a symbolic representation. There are significant correlations between numberical magnitude understanding and early mathematical achievement.

The ordinality aspect of number is neglected in the cognitive neuroscientific work. But research suggest stronger correlation/predictability between ordinal aspect and mathematical skill. For instance Hyman Bass argues for developing number based on measurement. Basing the number concept on cardinality means that later developments, such as fractions, will be more difficult.

There is also more interest in children's understanding of basic arithmetic concepts and relations. There is little research on the consequences of this for later mathematics learning. Nunes et al (2015) is an exception.

Other researchers have looked at pattern and structures. Mulligan et al (2015) is the most comprehensive, looking at children's awareness of mathematical patten and structure (AMPS). A related intervention study shows no improvement in general mathematics achievement.

The research studies mentioned so far look at children's abilities, not their dispositions.  (I.e. Asking children to look for a pattern, not measuring whether they see the pattern without a prompt.)

SFOR (spontaneous focusing on quantitative relations) - individual differences, and has a direct effect on mathematical results at end of elementary school. Several other such FLAs (four letter acronyms) were also mentioned- we do not know much about their development and interrelationship.

Then he went on to talk on domain-general (not domain-specific) abilities, such as attention, flexibility, inhibition, working memory etc. There is evidence of these abilities' importance - to a greater degree than domain-specific abilities.

Other aspects mentioned in the talk was the role of parents and early caregivers, preschool to elementary school transition, and the professional development of caregivers and teachers. He concluded by listing a whole range of important aspects which need to be further developed in years to come.

For the third session of the TWG, the first person was  Luciane de Fatima Bertin, presenting the paper "Arithmetical problems in primary school: ideas that circulated in São Paulo/Brazil in the end of the 19th century". She highlighted the notion of appropriation and the notion of purpose. The word "problem" is undefined, but seems to be synonymous with "exercise", so it has no connection to the modern understanding connected to "problem solving". There was no discussion in the journals analysed on the use of problems in teaching.

Asger Senbergs talked on his article "Mathematics at the Royal Danish Military Academy of 1830". His article is based on his Master thesis. The research was based on his curiosity about why mathematics became the main topic when Denmark created a military academy. The value of mathematics as a goal in itself was prominent - not just as a tool for action on the field.

Ildar Safuanov's paper "The role of genetic approach and history of mathematics in works of Russian mathematics educators (1850-1950)" was up next. The paper details early Russians ideas on the genetic approach. The genetic approach was connected to the idea that pupils should not just witness but also create mathematics, and was included in the guidelines for mathematics teaching after the 1917 revolution.

Tanja Hamman talked about ""Sickened by set theory?" - About New Math in German primary schools". The title is from Der Spiegel from March 1974 ("Macht Mengenlehre krank?"). She has looked at textbooks and teacher guides from West Germany to see whether the main ideas were present in the textbooks. Traditional education did influence the implementation, it is not possible to create a clean slate when dealing with teaching.

Then, it was time for group discussions. Here are some points from the discussion:
• Do we see history of mathematics education mainly as part of general history, part of mathematics education or as part of history of mathematics?
• It is interesting to look at historical cases to investigate conditions for ("successful") implementation of educational reforms. (Which is part of the value of history of mathematics education for teacher education?)
• How does it matter that a subject has a history? Does it provide a knowledge base to look at your subject?
• Who decides what are popular and unpopular subjects? What are the forces behind which topics are in vogue at a given time?
• When you know more about the past, you have more tools to deal with the present.
• New Math - was it never, anywhere, implemented as intended, with the intended outcomes?

Thus ended the second day of CERME. Although most participants probably continued their discussions into the early hours of the next day, I returned to my hotel room to prepare for the university board meeting next week. It is necessary to mention this, as some colleagues have developed an unhealthy interest in my nightlife while in Dublin... :-)

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