Saturday, February 4, 2017

CERME 10 Day 4

The first TWG session on Saturday consisted of four ten-minute presentations, followed by discussions. As I had one of the presentations, it's a bit hard to give details on them (one does get a bit too occupied with one's own presentation in such circumstances). They were:
• Rodolfo Fallas-Soto: "Variational strategies on the study of the existence and uniqueness theorem for ordinary differential equations"
• Me: "Design research with history in mathematics education"
• Antonio Oller-Marcén: "Analyzing some algebraic mistakes from a XVI century Spanish text and observing their persistence among present 10th grade students"
• Katalin Gosztonyi: "Understanding didactical conceptions through their history: a comparison of Brousseau's and Varga's experimentations"

In the discussion, some of the points were:
• Tradition and contextualisation are important - the traditions researchers come from are important (in the case of my design research project). It is important to be clear about the context of them (but on the other hand, it is also important for design research projects to consider and describe which context they may be relevant for).
• There was a chicken-and-egg-discussion on what comes first in historical research - the question and/or method or the data. (Arguably, all the world is data - or; you can say that they only become data when they can be helpful in answering a question someone poses.)
• In what way do theoretical frameworks "work"?
• What to do once epistemological obstacles are identified? Should we face or avoid them (until students are "hungry" - why feed them if they're not?).
• Design research - can it be called a "theoretical framework" (as the chairs did in their framing of question for the group discussion). (My answer would be no. A participant also said that it could rather be seen as a framework of aspects to be thought of in such projects.)

The next part of the programme was a plenary panel. The panellists were Marianna Bosch (Spain), Tommy Dreyfus (Israel), Caterina Primi (Italy) and Gerry Shiel (Ireland). The topic of the panel was "Solid findings in mathematics education: what are they and what are they good for?" Marianne Bosch was the chair. The background for the panel was EMS' series of articles on "Solid findings in mathematical education". "Solid findings" are defined as important contributions, which are trustworthy and that can be applied. The panel wanted to examine the notion of "solid finding" and consider possible utilities and weaknesses.

Tommy Dreyfus pointed out that there are not many review articles in the field of mathematics education. The European Mathematical Society (EMS) decided to help remedy this. (The articles are in the Newsletter of the EMS issues 81-94.)

One example: we know that many students "prove" a universal statement by providing examples, across many age levels and countries, including teachers. We call this "empirical proof schemes". But to be called "solid", an explanation is also needed, and here the explanations are varied. But the main criteria for being "solid" holds. Another example: concept image. Students tend to think with their personal image rather than the definition. This occurs at all levels, in many countries, for almost 40 years and across many topics of mathematics. These are often formed by prototypes. Instruction plays a (limited) role. These findings can be considered "solid".

Solidity cannot be "proved", expert opinion is crucial, and experts from several fields should be consulted.

Caterina Primi talked about how psychometrics could contribute to solid findings in mathematics education. We often measure something else than the trait we are interested in - for instance signs of anxiety, even though it is the unobservable trait anxiety we are interested in. Of course, we can create instruments to try to measure the trait based on them, and these can also be used to find differences between groups. (And so on. It is hard to see how this rather elementary discussion of psychometrics contributes much to the general discussion of solid results - unless her talk is an implicit argument that psychometrics are more important than other research approaches to get solid results - as many would of course say about their own pet approach.)

Gerry Shiel's perspective was whether outcomes of international assessments (PISA) can contribute to evidence-based decision-making. Are PISA findings solid? On the one hand, it is huge (more than 500 000 students have contributed to it). He gave an introduction to PISA and how it tries to be an evidence-based series of studies including testings. He gave an example of how Ireland's performance in TIMSS changed over time, with a significant dip in 2009. This dip has not been explained. Ireland rebounded, while other countries had a dip in 2015 when digital testing was done. Also, Ireland has an increase in the gender difference between boys and girls, which is hard to explain. PISA results are used to inform policy - and PISA surprisingly tries to impact teaching directly by publishing their speculations on what can be inferred by the data.

In the discussion (which did not work very well, because of a somewhat confusing combination of "questions" from the floor and "questions" sent electronically), it was asked "solid for whom" - implying that what is solid for researchers may not be solid for teachers (and vice versa). This is an interesting point. Gabrielle Keiser mentioned that we need some methodology for writing review papers - it is a very difficult task, and for instance quantitative analyses are not always helpful.

(But in hindsight, it is easy to see that this topic invites people to promote their own research or conception of research...)

The last part of Saturday (before the gala dinner) was the last session of the TWG. First, there was a part where participants talked about planned or ongoing projects with calls for cooperation. Then we talked about future conferences, where I presented the plans for ESU8 in July, 2018. Plans for the HPM satelite conference to the ICME conference in Shanghai 2020 were presented - it will be somewhere in Asia. Then the process of the proceedings were discussed, and finally there was discussion on the report of the conference, the result of which will of course be seen in the proceedings of the conference.

Due to travel arrangements, for me the conference ended with the gala dinner on Saturday evening (which had much Irish music and rather less talk). Thus, this is the place for summarizing the experience. This was my first CERME conference, and I realized that CERME is not really one conference, it is rather ~25 mini-conferences under one roof and with shared amenities and a few common talks. This means that it in one sense is an intimate conference in the same way as smaller conferences are. However, getting the intimate feel demands some consicous choices - not to switch groups no matter how interesting the talks going on elsewhere are, and to try to socialize with people in the group and not be tempted to only socialize with the people you already know. Then, the CERME experience is quite different than for instance ICME, which is a smorgasbord of interesting talks where you risk never running into the same people twice (even though even ICME has some working groups, of course, so I am exaggerating a bit).

Dublin was great, the LGBT guided tour was great and the atmosphere throughout was also great. I did learn some new things during the conference, of course, but most importantly, I think, it solidified my determination to try to focus more in the future. I want to spend my research time to get deeper knowledge in some areas rather than having many parallell projects with different foci. I'll see how this works out...

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