Now What? So What? Reflections from the International Mathematics Conference–Balatonfured, Hungary

Now what? So What? On our “three hour tour” on Lake Balaton, I had a conversation with colleagues from the conference. We had a conversation about what our next steps on this journey towards improving mathematics education might be.  The conversation began quite depressingly with “how is this conference any different than any other conference, where we talk about exactly the same content and continue to do exactly the same thing in our own settings with no real changes.

Two days later, at the plenary, Marjorie A. Henningsen, Grey Matters Education, Beirut, Lebanon. engaged us by creating a list questions.  The questions helped us all re-visit the paper presentations, and our individual responsibilities to improving math(s) education.

Questions relevant to the future of Math(s) Teacher Education inspired by the last few days (sessions and conversations):

  1. To what extent do our carefully structured and sequenced curricula build on children’s real life understanding and math competency or simply ignore it?
  2. How can we help teachers to be able to pose and frame good questions and problems in mathematics using diverse real REAL WORLD contexts? (not fake real world contexts)
  3. Gaps in content knowledge are well-documented by now—How much of a gap is OK to start teaching?   How can teachers become aware of their own gaps in knowledge and learn to take steps to address that? Do we have as good a sense of what teachers do know as we have about what they don’t know?
  4. What kind of knowledge is more important in maths teacher development: ways of thinking and dispositions toward knowing, or particular bits of knowledge?
  5. How can we interrupt the systems that produced us so that we can make change happen? Are we too immersed to see how—or even to see the problems?
  6. How do our “research-based” and presumed ideas of good teaching practice hold up in situations where children have real agency—when learning is more student-led than teacher-led? (e., How much of our work depends on the existing traditional classroom and school structures?)
  7. Some say multidisciplinary and/or transdisciplinary, mission-driven education is the future—what implications might that have for our work as maths educators and maths education researchers?
  8. How can we foster more fluid coherence among different phases of teachers’ developing professional identity as mathematics teachers (from preservice to induction to inservice experiences) so that beliefs and practice are more aligned?
  9. How can we foster a fuller understanding of mathematics as a human endeavor—a cultural production as important as other cultural artifacts?
  10. What is our image of the child in general and in relation to mathematics learning? Do we really believe in the agency of the learners in their own 
    Taken at Polya Conference 9/15/17

    learning processes? What does that image imply for teaching? (This question can be also asked about the image of the teacher held by teacher educators, school leaders and others.)

  11. Over the past thirty years a consensus has been forming around what needs to happen to make teacher preparation better—so why aren’t we all doin
    g it? How do we take all this common wisdom from our minds into our bodies, into our practice, into our hearts?
  12. What is the impact of the testing and textbook industries on maths education and maths education research? Does it have to be that way?
  13. Does every always have to be doing/learning the same thing at the same time all the time?

These questions were introduced and everyone chose and formed groups to discuss them “world café” style for 17 minutes. Then participants were asked to shift their discussion to sharing specific or concrete steps each person might ta

ke to make a change or to address the issues in these questions. In the final five minutes, four participan

ts shared their action plans.   45 minutes would have been a better amount of time for this to allow for more sharing. Participants seemed to enjoy it and found several of the questions provocative and resulting in a good small group discussion. Marj Henningsen


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