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"Reaching out more to parents" Panel discussion of the Society for Didactics of Mathematics

2021-03-15 Currently, the pandemic and increasing digitalisation pose enormous challenges to civil society. How can (digital) mathematics education contribute to educating responsible and creative agents who can meet these challenges? What about research and teaching in times of Corona? These were the questions that participants addressed on the podium of the 1st online conference month of the Society for Didactics of Mathematics (GDM, Gesellschaft für Didaktik der Mathematik).

[Translate to Englisch:] Mathematikdidaktik ©Marvin Sokolis
[Translate to Englisch:] Mathematikdidaktik ©Marvin Sokolis
[Translate to Englisch:] Mathematikdidaktik ©Marvin Sokolis

About 400 experts in didactics of mathematics will present and discuss their findings in various formats, which have as their motto "Changing Perspectives", throughout the month of March. The conference, which focused on two core days with five keynote lectures and the panel discussion, was organised by Cathleen Heil and Silke Ruwisch, Professor of Mathematics and its Didactics. The conference month was supported by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Science and Culture.

The panel discussion took up the conference motto "Changing Perspectives" and focused on digitalisation issues. In addition to Maike Schindler, Professor of Special Education in Mathematics (University of Cologne) and Kathrin Padberg-Gehle, Professor of Applied Mathematics (Leuphana), Stefan Ufer, Professor of Didactics of Mathematics (LMU) was on the panel. Ekkehard Winter, Managing Director of the Deutsche Telekom Foundation, acted as moderator.

The panel agreed that mathematics teachers had reacted to the new everyday school life with a lot of commitment, creativity and innovative teaching tools, but that much was still rather on a provisional basis. Padberg-Gehle pointed out how many devices parents currently have to keep on hand so that children can participate in lessons. The variety of different learning systems, which are often used simultaneously even within a single class, makes it even more difficult. "Microsoft Teams, IServ, Zoom and more. Sometimes it's significantly easier for parents and children if assignment sheets are simply emailed." Schindler added that while almost all students had a mobile phone, not all had a computer or printer at home. Some of the children and young people therefore missed out on many good teaching concepts. Children with special needs were even more disadvantaged. Differentiated attention to the different needs of pupils in inclusive teaching had virtually been non-existent digitally. Ufer argued: "For digital learning to be effective, it needs parents who give their children motivational support. Working towards this is a challenge for both teachers and parents. It is necessary to significantly reach out more to parents, to support them, to accompany them."

Winter regretted that there is still almost no reliable empirical data on digital mathematics teaching. However, initial surveys have been conducted. These showed that pupils' mathematics learning time has roughly halved since the beginning of the pandemic. "This is a huge problem, as learning time, together with prior knowledge, is the most important indicator of learning success," Ufer remarked. Schindler added that the remaining learning time was used differently than it was before March 2020. In distance learning, procedural rather than conceptual tasks played a role. Current digital mathematics teaching left little room for application or problem solving. Language played a major role in mathematics teaching, as did creative-conceptual processes such as building ideas and the desire for discovery. "These facets of mathematics learning are currently difficult to realise.

The situation was quite different in mathematics didactics teaching at universities. The panel agreed that here the transition to online formats had worked out smoothly on the whole. However, the teaching medium preferred by students changed over the last few weeks. "In the beginning, students preferred videos and lecture-style PowerPoint presentations. Meanwhile, they prefer synchronous formats that are conducted live," said Padberg-Gehle. This was possibly due to the fact that live teaching offered structure in the everyday life in Corona times, which otherwise required a lot of self-discipline. Another argument in favour of this was that the participation rate in courses was consistently high. Ufer added that online teaching also changed the previous role of the teacher: "Sometimes an illusion of competence is created by thinking, 'I was there, something will have stuck'. For me as a teacher, the questions ‘what do they need me for? Do they need me to explain something or as a contact person for questions?' are of importance. There is much more variance in e-learning in how teacher presence should be used."

How about scientific conferences during the pandemic? E-conferences save on travel costs and emissions, lower participation barriers and - experience to date shows - reliably guarantee knowledge transfer. What would then be, the panellists asked, an aspect of face-to-face conferences that was important and that could hardly or not at all be reproduced digitally? It was networking. A key function of conferences was that scientists got to know each other, inspired each other and formed alliances. This was much more difficult digitally, especially for young scientists. Winter suggested a solution: "At face-to-face conferences, established scientists are in the foreground and young scientists are on the sidelines. This structure would have to be reversed for online conferences: The established are connected anyway, hence digital formats should be organised around the young researchers."

Silke Ruwisch, head of GDM Months is very pleased: "'Changing perspectives' was a well-chosen motto for the event. The individual mini-symposia and events confirm this. As a result, there was and still is sufficient room for the many and varied changes that current mathematics teaching is facing: Language is being given more consideration, for example, by asking how mathematical learning can be designed for non-native speakers. Inclusive learning settings, from elementary to higher education, where learners work on a common subject but at different levels, and new methods such as eye tracking are accessed for exploring mathematics learning."