Mathematicians and School Mathematics Education: A Pan-American Workshop (14w5128)

Arriving in Banff, Alberta Sunday, January 26 and departing Friday January 31, 2014


(University of Toronto)

(Centro de Investigación en Matemáticas)

Patricio Felmer (Universidad de Chile, Member of the Chilean Academy)

(Boston College)

(The University of Arizona)


The objectives of the workshop are:

  • to share knowledge among mathematicians from different countries
  • about efforts at improving school mathematics education and learn from the experiences of others
  • to discuss strategies for effective involvement of
  • mathematicians in improving school mathematics education
  • to continue the development of a regional network of
  • mathematicians working in school mathematics education.

Although the problems of mathematics are universal, the problems of mathematics education often seem irredeemably local. However, insights gained from comparing situations between countries can be valuable in finding new ways to address local problems. Different countries have different stories of success in improving curriculum, teacher education, and national standards. It is not always easy for mathematicians to find ways of ensuring the mathematical integrity of these components of the educational system, while maintaining a productive collaboration with other important segments of the mathematics education community. As noted in the report \emph{Mathematics Education in Latin America and the Caribbean: a reality to be transformed} (

Indeed, if departments of mathematics throughout the region simply start trying to ``improve'' their teachers' training, without having a proper dialogue with them and summoning their cooperation, they risk fragmenting even further the process of teacher training. However, if departments of mathematics engage with the various agencies in their country, and establish a real dialogue with the teachers and summon their cooperation, there is a good chance that they can help unify and improve the process of training mathematics teachers for their country.
This workshop will promote the development of strategies for such dialogue, and will continue the formation of a growing network of mathematicians who can share expertise and solutions.

The conference is particularly timely because recent efforts have forged new and successful partnerships between mathematicians and educators. We describe some of these efforts and ways in which they could help the workshop reach its goals.

In Chile, mathematicians under leadership of Patricio Felmer have led the way in writing standards for the preparation of secondary teachers and in providing professional development for teachers to meet the new standards. Participants at the workshop would benefit from a comparison between this successful effort and efforts of other countries, to help discern what works and what doesn't.

In Brazil mathematicians have organized to write vignettes for Klein Project (see, accounts of modern mathematics for upper secondary teachers. The Klein Project ( is an initiative of the International Mathematical Union and the International Commission on Mathematics Instruction, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of Felix Klein's Elementary Mathematics from an Advanced Standpoin. It promises to be a strong vehicle for bringing the expertese of mathematicians to the school mathematics education enterprise, in a way that gives a voice to both mathematicians and teachers, and promotes productive dialogue. The workshop would benefit from learning about how the Brazilian effort succeeded in building a local network of mathematicians and educators.

Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia organize Mathematics Olympiads with the active participation of mathematicians; in Brazil the Olympiad reaches 19 million students through an innovative inclusive model. The workshop would benefit from contrasts between the different models and discussions of how best to set the level of Olympiad events so as to maintain mathematical integrity while attending to local needs and capacity.

In the United States, the writing of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics was led by a mathematician, William McCallum (one of the organizers), and included participation from many mathematicians; it has forged an unprecedented consensus between groups that have sometimes been at odds. There is much to learn about how such consensus was reached and how it can be maintained.

In Mexico, Carlos Bosch, a mathematician from UNAM, has been going out to rural areas and providing one-day workshops for elementary school teachers who, in many cases, themselves have only a middle school degree. This program aims to take a small step that can be replicated at a large scale; a valuable example for cross-national discussions at the workshop of how to strike a balance between scale and effectiveness.

These are just a few of the examples of programs that will form the basis at the workshop for sharing knowledge, developing strategy, and forming networks. The workshop will help to build a strong regional network of mathematicians who are committed to work in mathematics education and who are smart about how they carry out the work. Countries with a strong tradition of such involvement will be able to share ideas with countries where the tradition is just beginning to flourish and countries with widely varying conditions will be able to fund the underlying commonalities and thereby more effectively get to the root of the problem.