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Freiburg, November - and the coldest I’ve been yet this year. However, the welcome was warm and the collegiality even warmer. I’ve written elsewhere about European maths education networks - what an amazing opportunity to meet and work with others from such a diverse group of countries. And the latest meetings at the University of Freiburg were possibly the most informative and thought-provoking yet.
The week began with the third meeting of the STEM PD centres. The UK was represented by colleagues from NCETM, the STEM centre and AFL, and me. In addition to the usual sharing of policy and practice, this meeting was the first where we discussed in detail how our EU funding, recently acquired, would be spent. A small group will now be setting up a website portal and putting together policy documents to inform our future work.
Next on the agenda was the second ‘Educating the Educators’ conference, with over 150 international attendees who were asked to engage with three aspects:
Personal dimension: Which roles, content and activities should be considered in PD for facilitators (multipliers) in professional learning communities
Material Dimension: What roles can materials play in professional development for maths and science teachers (classroom materials, face to-face PD materials and e-learning PD materials)?
Structural dimension: How may we establish adequate systemic project designs for scaling up and their evaluation?
As well as the usual keynotes, paper presentations and workshops, an invited subgroup met for a morning’s ‘policy seminar’. PD providers, researchers, national policy makers and representatives from the EU shared ideas and good practice in making connections between policy, research and practice in scaling up quality professional development. The connection between practice and research seems to be closing, but nearly all were frustrated by the lack of joined-up thinking between policy on the one hand, and research and practice on the other.
Why is it that the wealth of information, research, and evidence from practice is not taken into account by those who hold the purse strings? Why do governments keep replicating quick fix strategies when all the research points to the importance of building (and funding) sustained communities of practice? Why do they keep cherry-picking odd bits of activity from other jurisdictions and cultures and don’t put time and effort (and money) into designing a coherent professional development offer? It was all rather depressing…
Spirits were lifted, however, on the final day when we reflected on, and celebrated successes of, the mascil project. This maths and science project, using inquiry based learning to look at the world of work, has now finished. It has had some real impact on PD – in Turkey, for example, it has led to the setting up of a national network of Science Centres. And the website, containing a multitude of tasks and an evidence-based professional development toolkit, is going to continue to be available, so this is one European project that will be sustained.
So what did I bring back for Cambridge Maths? Additional experts for our International Advisory Board – some very erudite speakers there. A greater understating of the commonalities and differences between our different education contexts. But most of all, I think, the importance of connecting research, policy and practice. Which is what, at Cambridge Maths, we’re doing.