Friday, August 01, 2008

ICME Day 5 (Part 1)

On Day 5 of ICME11, I've so far only heard one talk. That was Jan van Maanen's excellent talk "Professional development of teacher educators, the ELWIeR initiative". Why excellent? Because it was funny, based on an important work and gave me useful information. It was not surprising that it was funny - Jan's talks are almost always entertaining. The project was a large one, but Jan focussed on two aspects - the development of new "handbooks" and on some of the research in the initiative.

Apparently, the textbook situation in teacher education has been quite different from that in Norway. In Norway, there are new textbooks "all the time", while in the Netherlands, Van Dormolen's 1973 textbook "Didactiek van de wiskunde" is still in use. The creation of the new handbooks has involved most of the teacher educators in the Netherlands, and has led to considerable professional development within the community. This of course makes me think of whether there may be a similar project that Norwegian teacher educators could collaborate on, to get similar positive results. At the same time, of course, I'm eager to see the results of the Dutch efforts - that is, I want to read the finished handbooks...

He also discussed some research findings, but I will not try to give an impression of them here. However, it is interesting to see that this research also focussed on teacher students' ability to understand the pupils' ways of thinking (just as at least two of yesterday's speakers). I'm happy to say that we have had at least some work on that with the students at my institution, although we could certainly do more.

It the final session of the TSG23, Bjørn Smestad (who happens to be me) held a talk on three years of student projects on history of mathematics. I was not too happy with the outcome of the talk - it went just as badly as I feared in advance. My idea was to look at some student projects that I've done with my students. In these student projects, the students were given little input from me (even though they could certainly have asked for more), and I therefore thought that the products of these projects could give an idea of the sorts of problems that also ordinary teachers in school might have faced if they had taken the curriculum requirements to include history of mathematics in their teaching, seriously. The discussion afterwards focussed more on how such students projects could have been done, however, rather than how teachers in schools might better be helped. However, as I'm having a talk on Monday with a similar question in the end, I may hope that that will work better...

Afterwards, there was more discussion on the way to go on. For me, it is clearer than before that we have to treat two issues seperately: on the one hand how we - as educators who are very interested in the history of mathematics - may include history of mathematics in our teaching, and on the other hand how we can help other teachers include history of mathematics in their teaching, preferably on a large scale (that is, not only five or six teachers supported by an expert, but thousands of teachers...) Both issues are very interesting, but it is not at all obvious that what a special person such as Jan van Maanen can do in his classroom, can be replicated by less knowledgeable teachers. On the other hand, neither is it clear that history of mathematics has a place in the teaching of uninterested teachers.

After this discussion, I had lunch and went to the computer room to write this and check my email...

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