Open peer commentary on the article “From Problem Solving to Problem Posing, and from Strategies to Laying Down a Path in Solving: Taking Varela’s Ideas to Mathematics Education Research” by Jérôme Proulx & Jean-François Maheux. Upshot: The aim of this commentary is to extend the work of Proulx and Maheux to include consideration of the teacher-observer whose role (in part) in the mathematics classroom is to ensure that curriculum goals are being met.
Research in mathematics education is a discursive process: It entails the analysis and production of texts, whether in the analysis of what learners say, the use of transcripts, or the publication of research reports. Much research in mathematics education is concerned with various aspects of mathematical thinking, including mathematical knowing, understanding and learning. In this paper, using ideas from discursive psychology, I examine the discursive construction of mathematical thinking in the research process. I focus, in particular, on the role of researchers’ descriptions. Specifically, I examine discursive features of two well-known research papers on mathematical thinking. These features include the use of contrast structures, categorisation and the construction of facts. Based on this analysis, I argue that researchers’ descriptions of learners’ or researchers’ behaviour and interaction make possible subsequent accounts of mathematical thinking.
Context: During the 1980s, Ernst von Glasersfeld’s reflections nourished various studies conducted by a community of mathematics education researchers at CIRADE, Quebec, Canada. Problem: What are his influence on and contributions to the center’s rich climate of development? We discuss the fecundity of von Glasersfeld’s ideas for the CIRADE researchers’ community, specifically in didactique des mathématiques. Furthermore, we take a prospective view and address some challenges that new, post-CIRADE mathematics education researchers are confronted with that are related to interpretations of and reactions to constructivism by the surrounding community. Results: Von Glasersfeld’s contribution still continues today, with a new generation of researchers in mathematics education that have inherited views and ideas related to constructivism. For the post-CIRADE research community, the concepts and epistemology that von Glasersfeld put forward still need to be developed further, in particular concepts such as subjectivity, viability, the circular interpretative effect, representations, the nature of knowing, errors, and reality. Implications: Radical constructivism’s offspring resides within the concepts and epistemology put forth, and that continue to be put forth, through a large number of new and different generations of theories, thereby perpetuating von Glasersfeld’s legacy.
Constructivism is a theory of learning, which claims that students construct knowledge rather than merely receive and store knowledge transmitted by the teacher. Constructivism has been extremely influential in science and mathematics education, but much less so in computer science education (CSE). This paper surveys constructivism in the context of CSE, and shows how the theory can supply a theoretical basis for debating issues and evaluating proposals. An analysis of constructivism in computer science education leads to two claims: (a) students do not have an effective model of a computer, and (b) computers form an accessible ontological reality. The conclusions from these claims are that: (a) models must be explicitly taught, (b) models must be taught before abstractions, and (c) the seductive reality of the computer must not be allowed to supplant construction of models.
This article discusses the central question of how to deal with the diversity and the richness of existing theories in mathematics education research. To do this, we propose ways to structure building and discussing theories and we contrast the demand for integrating theories with the idea of networking theories.
Open peer commentary on the article “From Problem Solving to Problem Posing, and from Strategies to Laying Down a Path in Solving: Taking Varela’s Ideas to Mathematics Education Research” by Jérôme Proulx & Jean-François Maheux. Upshot: After a description of Varela’s four key points to a science of inter-being: embodiment, emergence, intersubjectivity and circulation, three questions are asked and briefly explored: Are these key points illustrated in the target article? What is a problem? And what could classrooms look like where knowing is doing?
Open peer commentary on the article “From Problem Solving to Problem Posing, and from Strategies to Laying Down a Path in Solving: Taking Varela’s Ideas to Mathematics Education Research” by Jérôme Proulx & Jean-François Maheux. Upshot: Drawing from the ideas of Varela, Proulx and Maheux, I propose a theoretical framework to examine problem-posing and problem-solving and provide evidence for their ideas with examples of student work from their research studies. I will draw comparisons between the approach taken by the researchers to the constructivist approach I have taken in my studies of problem-solving and those conducted with collaborators. My intent with these comments is not to argue the merits of one perspective over the other; rather, I look to point out and elaborate on these differences and make some specific suggestions to the researchers.
Context: The paper utilizes a conceptual analysis to examine the development of abstract conceptual structures in mathematical problem solving. In so doing, we address two questions: 1. How have the ideas of RC influenced our own educational theory? and 2. How has our application of the ideas of RC helped to improve our understanding of the connection between teaching practice and students’ learning processes? Problem: The paper documents how Ernst von Glasersfeld’s view of mental representation can be illustrated in the context of mathematical problem solving and used to explain the development of conceptual structure in mathematical problem solving. We focus on how acts of mental re‑presentation play a vital role in the gradual internalization and interiorization of solution activity. Method: A conceptual analysis of the actions of a college student solving a set of algebra problems was conducted. We focus on the student’s problem solving actions, particularly her emerging and developing reflections about her solution activity. The interview was videotaped and written transcripts of the solver’s verbal responses were prepared. Results: The analysis of the solver’s solution activity focused on identifying and describing her cognitive actions in resolving genuinely problematic situations that she faced while solving the tasks. The results of the analysis included a description of the increasingly abstract levels of conceptual knowledge demonstrated by the solver. Implications: The results suggest a framework for an explanation of problem solving that is activity-based, and consistent with von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivist view of knowledge. The impact of von Glasersfeld’s ideas in mathematics education is discussed.
Discusses the implications of information processing psychology for mathematics education, with a focus on the works of schema theorists such as D. E. Rumelhart and D. A. Norman and R. Glaser and production system theorists such as J. H. Larkin, J. G. Greeno, and J. R. Anderson. Learning is considered in terms of the actor’s and the observer’s perspective and the distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge. Comprehension and meaning in mathematics also are considered. The role of abstraction and generalization in the acquisition of mathematical knowledge is discussed, and the difference between helping children to “see, ” as opposed to construct abstract relationships is elucidated. The goal of teaching is to help students modify or restructure their existing schema in predetermined ways by finding instructional representations that enable students to construct their own expert representations.
Problem: Ernst von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism has been highly influential in the fields of mathematics and science education. However, its relevance is typically limited to analyses of classroom interactions and students’ reasoning. Methods: A project that aims to support improvements in the quality of mathematics instruction across four large urban districts is framed as a case with which to illustrate the far-reaching consequences of von Glasersfeld’s constructivism for mathematics and science educators. Results: Von Glasersfeld’s constructivism orients us to question the standard view of policy implementation as a process of travel down through a system and to conceptualize it instead as the situated reorganization of practice at multiple levels of a system. In addition, von Glasersfeld’s constructivism orients us to understand rather than merely evaluate policies by viewing the actions of the targets of policies as reasonable from their point of view. Implications: The potential contributions of von Glasersfeld’s constructivism to mathematics and science education have been significantly underestimated by restricting the focus to classroom actions and interactions. The illustrative case of research on the application of these ideas also indicates the relevance of constructivism to researchers in educational policy and educational leadership.