Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | December 28, 2008

Demographic change in maths education research

From a paper by Solomon Garfunkel:

It should also be said that if one goes back 20 years or so, most of the principal investigators (PI’s) on math education projects were Ph.D. mathematicians who had so to speak ‘given their youth to the devil and were giving their old age to the lord’. In other words, they had taken an interest in mathematics education later in their careers. And to be honest many other math educators were persons who had originally tried to pursue careers as research mathematicians but were unable to complete their degrees. In any event, the PI’s on these projects had extremely strong mathematics backgrounds.

In the U.S. at least, this has changed significantly. Mathematics education is now a well-established field unto itself and in many cases people highly successful in the field have relatively weak mathematical training. Increasingly, they are the principal investigators on new projects in mathematics education and they are the reviewers. They help decide what projects get funded and what projects don’t. And increasingly they are responsible for the Faffufnik-ChaimYankel Effect.


  1. The names used in the title are funny. I found the meaning for the Yiddish “Chaim Yankel,” but I can’t find any meanings for “Faffufnik,” nor can I find any different spellings that would give me a clue.

    Maybe it’s just a gibberish word. Any thoughts?

  2. There is no denying the demographic change. However I considered it unwise to focus on the teachers and educationalists too much. I have a doctorate in physics, and since last September I have been a trainee maths teacher. While at first I looked to the teachers as the problem and the answer, then to the exams, league tables and government interference. Now it is becomingly increasingly apparent to me the problem involves the attitudes of the pupils to maths. (I might even suggest that maths teaching has improved since the time I was in school.)
    What do I mean by attitude? In pupils of all abilities I see a confused set of values, although complex may be a better descriptor. I would argue that they are too aware of the weight of their scholastic ability, whatever their level, and this clips their wings. Putting myself in their shoes I can imagine how they tire of this weight.

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