Saturday, February 4, 2017

CERME 10 Day 3

Day 3 consisted solely of TWGs and an excursion. The first TWG session was devoted to discussion on the draft chapter on this group for an ERME book. It was introduced by Uffe Jankvist, who has written the chapter with Jan van Maanen. I did not note down anything from that discussion - but I was perplexed to be put in an "old-timers" group despite this being my first CERME. :-) (My feeling of being "young" was destroyed due to my participation in similar conferences since 2000...)

The rest of the morning session was spent on participants sharing informaion on important publications that the others should know of. I have notes of this somewhere, but we were also promised an email later summarizing this.

The second session started off with Renaud Chorlay's paper, about using parts of Nine Chapters in teacher training. He has three goals for working with this problem (which may be a problem, as students often focus on at most one). Liu Hui gave two justifications for multiplication of fractions, the second of which could probably be used in teaching, in my opinion. The use of a semantic embedding (word problem) is a resource, but also a worry as it can decrease the generality. Renaud argued convincingly that this example can be useful for discussion with teacher students, even though (according to him) perhaps not useful for direct work with children. I am a big fan of Renaud's work and am happy that he is now working in teacher education, as it means that his work - which is as always historically solid - now includes sharp analyses of what might be the use of the historical examples in teacher education.

Next, Regina Moeller and Peter Collignon talked on their paper which concerns the work on infinity with children. The concept has a long history, while  teacher education students tend to have only the epsilon-delta based concept. (Of course, this is context-dependent - most Norwegian teacher education students would look at you wide-eyed if you mention epsilon or delta.) In their opinion, teachers need to know other conceptions that may be closer to the steps children go through. They look especially at Hilbert and Cantor - including the hotel of Hilbert, of course. The work can make students more aware that there exists different conceptions that they have not learned and to be more open-minded.

Then, Rui Candeias presented "Mathematics in the initial pre-service education of primary school teachers in Portugal: analysis of Gabriel Gonçalves' proposal for the concept of unit and its application in solving problems with decimals". This is part of a larger research project comparing different textbooks for teacher training. He presented in detail the steps adviced by Gonçalves. (Which makes me think that it could be a good idea to study historical teacher guides in Norway to point out to students the evolution of the field of mathematics education when it comes to concrete advice given to students.)

Maria Sanz gave the last presentation of the day; "Classification and Resolution of the Descriptive Historical Fraction Problems". She proposes a classification of the problems based on which methods can be used to solve them. It is unclear to me what this classification brings to the table - other aspects (known/unknown context, size of numbers, distractors included and so on) could be as important for practical use in classrooms. In the discussion, she was asked about connection to the mathematics education research on the same issues. It was also mentioned that in some countries they are "banned" from textbooks, while in others they are obviously not banned.

Some comments that turned up:
• What can these examples bring to teacher training? The common denominator seems to be that they are in a preliminary phase - but they can work to show students that problems are not something to be solved but rather something to be analysed to decide whether and how to use in their teaching.
• Could students solve and classify problems in the way of Maria themselves? Would that be more useful than being presented with a classification?
• History can be a good tool to connect algebra without the symbolism with algebra with symbols.
• A book by Brian Clegg on infinity was recommended.

I do think that a closer collaboration between maths ed people and history of mathematics people is called for. In some cases, we see discussions on how historical sources can be used in teaching of subjects where there exist a huge amount of literature in the field of mathematics education, but where this work is disregarded. This is every bit as bad as the huge number of papers in mathematics education that completely disregards the history of the subjects that they want to discuss.

This was the end of the third day. Well, not quite. I was lucky enough to take part on the "lavender walking tour", which was a walking tour of Dublin LGBT History. We saw the Oscar Wilde monument, the Parliament, Dublin Castle, the national library and many other places of importance. We got detailed and enthusiastic information on the liberation fight, including the disgraceful attitudes of the government when activists tried to save lives by distributing condoms (which were illegal at the time). Today, Ireland has moved in a liberal direction and is one of the few countries where gay marriage has been decided in a referendum - although relgious fundamentalists still have a role. The tour ended at a gay pub where we got to continue the discussion over some Irish refreshments.

CERME is the second big international mathematics education conference in less than a year with something concerning LGBT issues on or near the programme. I do hope that this is an emerging trend.

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