Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, all education establishments have adopted some form of ‘blended learning’ and taken up online platforms and this has also been the case for conferences. Our commitment to our members and the mathematics education and research community at large, prompted us to organise our first virtual day conference.
Our day conference organisers, Marie Joubert and Geoff Wake worked tirelessly to find the best possible ways to make our first virtual conference possible. The first positive sign of this was how quickly all the conference places were taken up and the wide range of topics that were presented on the day.
We started the day with Geoff Wake’s presentation on ‘Case Studies: from Theory to Practice’. Geoff took us on a journey from what a case study is to how case studies can be applied in practice and some potential limitations as a research tool. This introduction to case studies was put into context by Geoff’s discussion on his comprehensive research work on GCSE mathematics in colleges.
After Geoff’s thought-provoking talk and very useful information for every new researcher, attendees went on to join one of our 4 virtual rooms.
The selection of topics was wide in terms of areas of research and in terms of age phases. One such talk was children’s understanding of mathematical concepts with a focus on metaphors at primary level. It was a very interesting perspective on mathematical concepts which started with a look at the contemporary theory of metaphors. Every concept is metaphorical and language students’ commonly use of words such as ‘how many’, ‘take away’, and ‘smaller’, implies metaphors. In order to analyse students’ understanding of abstract mathematical concepts, we need to interpret the metaphors students use. As participants, we were able to look at some extracts of Year 6 children’s exchanges in the context of fractions.
At secondary level, we were presented with students’ individual narratives in the context of GCSE mathematics resit. This session discussed the factors that shaped the dispositions that these students hold towards mathematics and any characteristics they might share. Seven GCSE mathematics resit students took part in this study and they were interviewed using a narrative approach. The session shared how these 7 students were able to reach back to their past experiences with mathematics and tell their stories. Early data analysis suggests that key factors in shaping students’ engagement with mathematics are their relationship with the teachers, b) teenage class distraction and c) the ability to transfer mathematical knowledge from classroom to exams.
Another morning session discussed a theoretical approach to understanding teacher differences. In this session we were presented with a powerful account of a doctoral research work with 3 Year 6 teachers in the context of fractions from England’s national curriculum when it was first introduced. What I found compelling about this talk was the presenter’s very articulate discussion of her ‘journey’ to find the most appropriate theoretical ground to help her analyse the data from these Year 6 teachers. The different approaches to teaching that the researcher observed led her to explore two theoretical tools. The first one, ‘history-in-person’ (Holland et al., 1998), allowed the researcher to understand why those 3 teachers taught as they did. The second theoretical tool, ‘internally persuasive discourse’ (Bakhtin, 1981), brought insight into how the teachers orchestrated discourses including those of teaching and accountability.
Another important and very relevant topic was the use of technology in mathematics education. One of these sessions presented the use and deployment of GeoGebra in the context of a mathematics lesson sequence with examples of exploring positions of straight lines. The other session that discussed the use of technology was entitled: Steam Education in elementary schools: A holistic investigation on technology enhanced teaching and learning from Johannes Kepler University Linz researchers. This session discussed how the research team used digital and physical modulation, augmented reality, and various educational technologies in order to investigate some different ways to engage pupils in an experimental approach as this is seldom seen in classrooms. The research team aimed to identify how pupils, teachers and parents perceive the learning through these new technologies and how it affects the learning and teaching. It was also interesting to see how the research team had to adapt their design and mode of delivery due to the lockdown and closure of schools due to the pandemic.
The event was closed with Jennie Golding’s keynote speech: ‘Is that OK?’ Conundrums of developing as an ethical researcher. This presentation made us all think beyond the standard ethical issues of research in mathematics education. We looked as some ‘what if’ scenarios and pressing ethical issues and considerations of research within the context of Covid 19. A key message from Jennie, that will be ever present in all new researchers’ minds, is that ethical research is bigger than a completed ethics form.
As my first experience of the BSRLM’s New researchers’ Day conference, I was extremely impressed with the high quality of the research presented, in particular, how these presentations were securely grounded in theory and the new researchers were fully aware of the importance to share their findings with explicit and sound links to theory. Another element that caught my attention, as it is a topic that I’ve worked on for some years as a primary school teacher and currently with pre-service primary teachers in England, is that fractions was the context used for several of the studies presented. The topic of fractions is such a rich context that can afford researchers a mathematical topic where their subjects/participants are able to be challenged which can result in new insights
BSRLM Online Communications Coordinator