Notes from the final plenary session at PME-NA

The final plenary session at PME-NA was “Reexamining some widely promoted ideas: What do we know, and what do we believe?” by Suzanne Wilson and Deborah L. Ball. They started off by talking about urban myths vs. knowledge. After having described these two concepts, they listed seven popular themes in our field that they wanted to discuss in relation to those two terms – urban myths and knowledge.

The first theme they started discussing was teachers’ mathematical knowledge. They started off by presenting some of the main issues in the discussion. Do teachers need college level mathematics courses to be properly prepared for teaching? Knowing the material in depth, knowledge beyond the curriculum, perspectives on mathematics as a discipline are some aspects to it. There also seem to be an unclear relationship between academic study and SCK, PCK. Another perspective is that mathematics needed for teaching is not well-aligned with curriculum for college level mathematics.

SW had some interesting reflections about how PCK was picked up really fast after having been presented by Lee Shulman in 1986, and now it is all about MKT and everyone is talking about, measuring MKT. DB had this notion of “alphabet soups”, which I liked, referring to all these acronyms (MKT, PCK, etc.), and the question was raised: have we done ourselves any good by doing this?

High-quality field experience was the next theme for discussion. A widely promoted idea is that teacher candidates need to spend extensive time in classrooms. In this connection, it is important to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Other points in the discussion are that time is important, but an often neglected issue is detail about the clinical curriculum; there is also an underdeveloped pedagogy for clinical teaching – often left to personal preference. Finally, there is the issue of confounding “practice” as a form of learning with “field” as a setting. DB made a nice parallell to medical training, where students never start working with real patients – they start training o something else.

The next theme was “effective professional development”. A widely promoted idea in this connection is that “one shot” sessions are ineffective for teacher learning. Many believe that it takes time to learn teaching, but then again, important things CAN be learned from one single session. It matters more how it is taken up and used. The problem, SW argued, is not the “one shot”, it is more related to the content and the larger context.

A next, and very much related theme, was the pedagogy of teacher education. Teacher educators’ teaching should, according to a widely promoted idea here, model the pedagogy that they are teaching as teachers. This is, of course, related to the common saying: “we should practice what we preach”. One problem, or issue, that comes in here is that teacher education students ARE NOT K-12 learners. Teaching mathematics is, DB argued, a different subject than teaching the teaching of mathematics – it is not only that the students are different, the subjects are different – so the pedagogy is not necessarily appropriate. Teaching to teach is different from modelling the teaching!

After having discussed these issues, they returned to a discussion of whether or not it is a matter of best practices or urban myths, and whether or not there is a dichotomy between the two. They pointed our attention to the importance of being skeptical about what we think we know.

At the very end of their presentation, DB said that they seem to disagree with themselves on some of this, so I am not sure I have been able to capture everything that was said correctly here either – so, please consider this as my personal (possibly faulty) notes on this :-)

My own presentation at PME-NA 2012

Yesterday, I finished my own presentation at PME-NA in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I presented a paper on behalf of my colleague, Janne Fauskanger and myself. The title of our paper (and my presentation) was: "Wrong, but still right" – Teachers reflecting on MKT items. Obviously, I was a little bit nervous before the presentation – positive kind of being nervous, that is – but I ended up enjoying both my own presentation and the following discussion/comments session. If you want to see the slides I made for the presentation, you can download them here. I also made audio recordings of my presentation, so when I get home I plan on embedding the audio and the slides and post them here. So, stay tuned for that if you are interested :-)

For now, I just want to thank everyone of those who came to my presentation! Thanks a lot for all the positive feedback, the comments and the questions!!!


Jere Confrey's plenary at PME-NA

The second plenary at PME-NA was “Articulating a learning sciences foundation for learning trajectories in the CCSS-M” by Jere Confrey. In her presentation, Professor Confrey explained how the learning trajectories were connected with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Having been a member of the National Validation Committee for the Common Core State Standards, she was able to give some more personal (and very interesting) insights into the development of the common core standards. The details are laid out in her paper (see the proceedings). As part of her talk, she also shared some of her own experiences with the math war that appears to be going on (and which Jo Boaler talked about in her plenary yesterday). Having listened to her presentation, however interesting it was, I am happy to be a spectator from another country - both when it comes to the CCSS and the ongoing math wars :-)

Towards the end of her presentation, she shared some ideas about the importance of unpacking. She argued, and I very much agree, that interpretation of the standards really matters. She also returned to one of her main issues in the development of the standards, where she had argued strongly about defining multiplication as repeated addition.

The last couple of minutes, she shared some very interesting information about the development of a tablet-based curriculum (see the Wireless Generation website). She also argued that this would change research, and we need to mobe on this! Personally, I would have liked to listen to an entire plenary on this, but then again I'm not the one who makes the calls :-)

Jo Boaler's plenary at PME-NA

The 34th annual conference of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME-NA 2012) takes place in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The conference started today – Thursday afternoon – with a plenary lecture of Jo Boaler. Boaler is professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, and she is one of the most prominent researchers in our field of research. The topic for her plenary lecture was: "Scaling up innovation: using research to make a difference".

The two main foci of her talk was on research design and the communication of research results. Our aim is for research to have more impact. A question then is how to conduct research so as to have more impact on practice?

An interesting observation that she made: researchers who are critical about teaching as telling, often do the exact same thing when communicating the results of their research to teachers. We need to translate our research results into “records of practice”, as argued by Ball and Cohen (1999). In her presentation, she showed us a couple of video records. These records were discussed, and she pointed at the potential of such records in order to change practice.

When it comes to communicating research, she her own experiences with talking to politicians, writing books for a broader public, contacting the press etc. Through her experiences from radio interviews etc., she learned about how many people have bad experiences with mathematics.

Towards the end of her talk, she connected these ideas about communicating research with her own experiences from the attacks that had been made on herself and her research over the years (see e.g. this link for more about this). This became a very personal talk in which she not only shared her own bad experiences, but also shared a lot of interesting thoughts about the question she posed in the beginning of her talk: how can we design and communicate our research in order for it to make more impact?