Following in Klein's Footsteps

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“I had a lot of fun there and it put me onto mathematics education as a profession”. Barton, bottom right, is now Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Auckland and currently Assoc'
iate Dean International for the Faculty of Science. His ICMI work is a voluntary addition. He is the first president from the southern hemisphere, and looks forward to increasing the involvement of teachers in the organisation.

ICMI was formed in 1908 and aims to improve the quality of mathematics teaching and learning around the world, partly by bringing together educational researchers, curriculum designers, educational policy makers, mathematics teachers, other mathematics educators and mathematicians.

“What makes ICMI different from other mathematics education organizations is its close ties with the professional mathematicians and mathematical educators and its breadth – thematic, cultural and regional,” he says.

Barton says the Klein project, which he also chairs, may be one of ICMI’s most interesting projects for New Zealanders. It was inspired by a 1908 book by ICMI’s founding president, Felix Klein, top right, written for teachers and linking what was taught in schools to the whole of research mathematics. The project will produce a book in several languages that summarises every major field of mathematics, resource DVDs for teachers and a wiki-based website that will be continually updated.

“There’ll be explanatory chapters, but it’s the linking that makes the difference. We’re anticipating up to 15 explanatory pages, with five to eight vignettes per chapter - examples of applications or a nice piece of mathematics, a particular proof that captures an essential idea of the topic.”

Barton has two goals during his three-year presidential tenure, which started in January. Firstly, he wants to help establish a secure financial basis for the organisation. Currently it is funded by small grants from its parent body, the International Mathematical Union, but it is not sustainable as a voluntary body. “ICMI has networks of mathemat
ics teachers in nearly every country, so we’re ideally placed to bid for and win development contracts in mathematics education,” he says.

The other is to strengthen ICMI’s activities in developing countries. “There is still a tremendous amount of work to do in Africa, but areas like the Pacific and some parts of Asia and South America still need international support.” A week-long invited workshop is being planned for teacher educators from Mali and neighbouring French-speaking African countries in September, “to build a network of educators with links to the developed world that will enable them to be self-sustaining.” Similar annual events are planned in English-speaking Africa and other regions.

ICMI also publishes regular conference and research
reports and newsletters. “ICMI Studies produce books that are state of the art for that area at that time.” Major studies have included mathematics and cognition, mathematics popularisation, assessment, gender and mathematics education, geometry, statistics and algebra teaching, university mathematics teaching, secondary teacher development, and digital technologies. These are gradually being made available free online.

ICMI also supports regional conferences on mathematics education. “There is a very strong Australasian group in mathematics education, the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (MERGA), but to link into major developments internationally, especially in Europe, Asia and North America you need the structure that ICMI supplies.”

Teachers and mathematics educators can keep up with what ICMI is doing by getting on to the New Zealand representative’s email list, or subscribing to the ICMI newsletter on the website.

See also

Experiencing Mathematics! An interactive virtual exhibition


Klein Project

NZ representative: Robin Averill,