Sunday, 31 December 2017

Thought Provoking Mathematics Educators

I have been in this game a while now.  I have the great privilege of working with mathematics educators around the world and visiting schools of all types.  Invariably, whenever I meet a maths teacher or teacher educator, I learn something new about mathematics teaching.  I love this.  I am a bit of a knowledge junkie – I am absolutely addicted to learning.  I also love having my views, opinions and thoughts challenged, so that I must consider why I believe something to be true and either change my views based on new information or defend my views because they are well founded and right.  I love debate, love having my perspective shaken.  I read everything.  As a long-term sufferer of awful insomnia, I spend most of my nights, lying next to my snoring better half, reading, reading and reading.

I thought it might be a useful thing to capture here (I will continue to expand the list) a few of the people in mathematics education who leave me in awe at their knowledge and intellect.  These are the people who, without fail, always offer new insight and make me really think.  These are the people who have blown me away at various times and helped to keep me addicted to learning more.

Please note, this blog is not intended as some kind of league table of maths educators, it is not a list of the top maths teachers nor is it meant as giving out gongs.  It's just a personal list of the people who have made me think.  I'm sure you'll have your own list; why not add some reflections to the comments section of the people who have made you think?

So.. in no particular order, here are some of my inspirations...

Margaret Brown.  A huge intellect, Margaret has a knowledge of mathematics education systems and implementation matched by few.  Her insight into how to make mathematics teaching impactful is equally as impressive.  All communicated with a friendliness and warmth.  Working with people like Hilary Shuard and Anita Straker, Margaret defended and massively advanced effective systems of mathematics teaching in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a time when Ken Clarke appeared to be on the full offensive against sense.  Margaret’s research and writings are of huge importance in the canon of our profession and always add to one’s thinking.

John Mason.  I know of few people with John’s capacity to be simultaneously awe-inspiringly intellectual and graciously humble.  A terrifically nice person, with a depth of knowledge about how to communicate mathematical ideas.  I always enjoy speaking with John, but I recall a particular meeting 10 years or so ago in our Soho offices, when we were beginning to create a thing called the Mathemapaedia.  The table was surrounded by maths education heavyweights debating mathematical concepts and related pedagogies.  The knowledge in the room was incredible.  John waited patiently for a natural pause in the debate and added just a few words, which instantly made us all reflect and delve deeper.  This is John’s greatest skill – to make one consider one’s own thinking and actions further and deeper.

Pete Griffin.  A gentle, thoughtful and thought-provoking intellectual.  Pete not only knows a vast amount about mathematics teaching, he also has a deep understanding of how to educate mathematics teachers.  A conversation I had with Pete around a decade ago, in which he described the layers of learning about mathematics education, had a profound effect on me and took my knowledge of teacher education to a whole other level.

Richard Perring.  Richard pretends (or perhaps genuinely believes) that he is not on the same level as some of the big thinkers in maths education.  This is simply not true.  I have spent many a day with Richard talking about how to communicate new mathematical ideas to children.  His genius in being able to visualise and bring to life new ways of enabling children to learn is second to none.

Anne Watson.  A towering intellect, Anne has been responsible for adding huge amounts of new knowledge to the canon of maths teaching.  Often working with her partner, John Mason, Anne’s work is continually surprising and challenging.  Her depth of thought is remarkable and her commitment to maths specific pedagogies and practices make one stop to think carefully (for example, her reminder of the errors in popularised versions of Variation Theory, which made me reconsider the entire theory and discover far more impactful applications to the subject of mathematics teaching).

Hugh Burkhardt.  Hugh was a longtime collaborator of the late, great Malcolm Swan.  My first experience of working with them, some decades ago now, involved testing learning activities developed by Hugh in the classroom and providing feedback about what happened in the pupils’ minds.  Hugh’s approach to learning design is unequaled by anyone in maths education – each ‘lesson’ taking vast amounts of time and R&D.  Together with Malcolm and others, Hugh was responsible for the greatest work in the history of maths education, The Shell Centre.

Bernie Westacott.  And finally, a special note for the maths educator who has had the greatest impact on me of late.  I guess because those of us interested in maths education research and evidence all read the same books and attend the same talks, it is rare for me to sit in a workshop at an event and be blown away by novel, intelligent thinking.  Without fail, every time I hear Bernie speak, this is what happens.  He has an incredible insight in to early learning in mathematics and has extended and developed ways of communicating mathematics ideas that blow my mind.

If you are involved in mathematics education, whether just starting out or long in the tooth, I would encourage you to speak to, read and learn from the people listed above.  Continuing to challenge your own understanding of what makes for effective mathematics teaching won't just make your teaching better, it's also jolly good fun!