Nick Wasserman, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Teachers College (TC), traveled to Chile for three weeks in June to work with fellow faculty at Universidad Católica (UC) and Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (UCV) in connecting the advanced mathematics of abstract algebra and real analysis with the school curriculum of secondary teacher education programs.
During his visit, sponsored by UC, UCV, the Fulbright Program and the Santiago Center, Wasserman held meetings with professors’ working groups, led workshops with college professors that teach Mathematics Education, and had talks with researchers and graduate students in mathematics learning.
“Most secondary math teachers have to be math majors, and they have to take a lot of math courses. But lots of teachers say that those advanced math courses don’t serve them particularly well when they go into the classroom. My work is in finding ways to improve the preparation of teachers within those courses,” said Wasserman. “Here, I’ve been working with faculty members, hearing the issues they face, the local issues and experience, and we worked on designing some materials and activities that they can include in those courses, thinking specifically about the audience, with practical implementation for secondary teachers.”
The meetings included an exchange of experiences and ideas given the different cultural contexts. “I’m drawing on my own experiences to start the conversations, but I’m not teaching a class of ‘this is how you do it.’ It’s more like, ‘here are some ideas, you have your own issues, let’s figure out what makes sense in this context.’ The solution that I have is almost certainly not the same that they may need, it’s a different context, assumptions, structures and preparation needs,” the TC professor noted. “It’s about how their experiences shape how they think about teaching, in designing problems for students, how they differentiate what is important, and how they incorporate mathematical practices. How something is taught very much changes what you learn.”
According to the Fulbright application submitted by UC and UCV, in Chile the courses taught to prospective math teachers are highly focused on mathematical content yet lack consistent connections with school curricula, secondary students’ mathematical thinking, and the corresponding specialized pedagogical knowledge and teaching-oriented competencies. As such, making pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) connections for Mathematics Education students has proven to be a challenge. The objective for the project, then, was to generate specific learning resources to connect advanced mathematics with the school curriculum and Mathematics Education courses.
“Nick's visit has given us the opportunity to reflect on our teaching and the training we offer future Mathematics teachers. His expertise and the tools he offers provide a more lucid and thoughtful view of our students’ educational needs and, more importantly, ways to satisfy them from the very identity of the UCV’s Institute of Mathematics,” according to UCV Institute of Mathematics Professor Manuel Goizueta, who helped to organize Wasserman’s visit. “These have been days of very important academic exchanges that we hope will continue over time, providing continuity to this reflective process that we have begun.”
Wasserman's visit culminated in a conference at UC, held in hybrid format and open to the public, to which the community of mathematicians, mathematics educators, mathematics teachers in training and mathematics teachers were invited. "Professor Nick Wasserman's presentation was very interesting as he addressed topics that were very relevant to the training of mathematics teachers and their connection with advanced mathematical knowledge. There was a good amount of people attending in online format and a significant presence of people attending in person, thus achieving a successful conference," said Horacio Solar, Professor at UC's School of Education, who also helped organize the TC professional's visit to Chile.
In the long term, it is hoped that the project will generate spaces for mathematicians and mathematics educators to maintain dialogue, manage, and decide how to improve future teachers’ learning opportunities to connect advanced mathematics with the school curriculum at UC and UCV.