The benefits of international colleagueship: Perspectives on CERME7

I wanted to write a short reflection after the CERME7 Meeting in February – both as a way to share with those who could not attend the meeting and as a way to thank those who attended. Now it is mid-June and I am finally sitting down to concentrate on the reflection I want to share. (I needed the first 50 days of my summer to finally feel caught up on all of the tasks that I didn’t have time to complete by the end of the previous semester!)

CERME7 was my first CERME meeting and in just a few words, it was an amazing experience. It was slightly different from other international conferences I have attended. Logistically speaking, there were fewer plenaries and the large group gatherings were quite crowded. The most significant difference however, was the intensity of the working group sessions. With four “leaders” (Uffe Jankvist, Jan van Maanen, Costas Tzanakis; Snezana Lawrence was unable to attend and we missed her!) and 15 additional participants, each work session was intense – and crowded! (We were assigned a very small room to carry out our work.)

There were several aspects of CERME7 that were invaluable to me as a researcher who investigates the use of history of mathematics in teaching. First, the working group participants (and their paper and poster contributions) represented all but two of the nine themes presented in the original call for papers. This provided us with a broad foundation on which to base our small group discussions. Secondly, since the congress was organized by the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education, much of Europe and the UK were well represented, giving participants a sense of what both emerging and established researchers are pursuing in the HPM field. Lastly – and very importantly – the working group grappled with four general topics that are significant as we move forward in conducting research in the area of history of mathematics education and history in mathematics education. (These topics were reported by Uffe Jankvist in an earlier article.)

The importance of grappling with the four general topics is that within each smaller group that dealt with a different dimension of the overarching topic, really important questions were raised. Questions so important that they have the power to propel our chosen field of research to the mainstream, as opposed to its current special place in the margins of mathematics education research. Perhaps Tinne Kjeldsen captured the significance of where we are in this regard when she asked during one of our smaller group discussions: “Are we doing the “right” things? What are the burning questions for the field? What are the important questions to consider?” (I hope I quoted you correctly here, Tinne!) Tinne’s questions resonate with me, as I struggle to design research and situate my work so that it contributes something meaningful to the field of mathematics education. I often feel alone in this work in the United States. It is difficult to find colleagues with similar interests and who are in similar institutional contexts. I have been able to accomplish very little in my first five years as a university faculty member with regard to my primary research interests – and I have bigger goals for my work.

When I re-read the report of Working Group 12 from CERME7 however, I was reminded that I am not alone in this exciting work. Instead, my peer group is significantly larger than one country – it is truly international. Mustafa Alpaslan (Turkey), attended his first CERME in 2011 as well. When I asked him to describe his experience in the Working Group at CERME7 he wrote:

…the working group studies were intensive but the sessions were as valuable as gold for me. In addition to the discussions of the papers and their presentations, we…focused on general research issues.… I also admired the proficiency of the experts in our research field. [This] was a great chance for me to learn their ideas and knowledge on the use of history in mathematics education because there is no one who [completed a] PhD or prepared…important studies in [this field] in Turkey. I said that I should study so hard to be like them; they increased my motivation and desire for studying in this field.

Indeed, without a similar first experience with HPM scholars, I would not have accomplished what I have thus far. The questions we put forth in each of the four topic areas at CERME7 should be our manifesto of sorts for a way of working with each other in the years to come. Yet, even with the convenience and efficiency of email, electronic documents, and social networking sites, we still need to make the effort and connect with each other. (I’m guilty of becoming “too busy” recently!) So here is a challenge for all of us: If you read Uffe’s report, or if you participated in the CERME7 working group, or if you have attended an HPM conference in the last several years and someone’s work has interested you or is similar to your own or you just want to know more about it – contact them! Contact them today! Make the connections with like-minded colleagues and discuss how you might contribute to moving our field forward. Consider collaborating and then disseminating your work at two very important venues in 2012: ICME-12 (http://www.icme12.org/) and HPM 2012 (http://www.hpm2012.org/).

The colleagueship I share with so many in the HPM group and the connections I hope to develop are the best things about what I have chosen to do in my second career. It is an exciting time to be a part of how and why we conduct research in the history of mathematics education and the history in mathematics education!

Kathy Clark

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