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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sign of the Times: Symposium highlights Latin America's growing mathematics prowess

"Leadership in mathematics education may still be dominated by the United States and Europe, but math researchers, teachers and students in Latin America and the Caribbean are asserting themselves on the global stage." according to TC Columbia University

Photo: From left, Patrick Scott (Ed.D. '80), Professor Bruce Vogeli and Hector Rosario (Ph.D. '03)

The region is now home to a wealth of journals and organizations for mathematics researchers and educators, and has seen an explosion of virtual communities and information sharing along with a revitalization of math education programs. In 2014, symbolizing this wholesale transformation, 35-year-old Artur Avila of Brazil became Latin America’s first recipient of the prestigious Fields medal for his work in the area of chaos theory.

Such was the backdrop for the Symposium on Math Education in Latin America, which brought the region’s leading lights in the field to TC on Columbus Day. The event, chaired by Bruce Vogeli, Clifford Brewster Upton Professor of Mathematical Education, was TC’s second annual international mathematics education symposium. It also marked the publication of Mathematics and Its Teaching in the Southern Americas, an anthology edited by Vogeli, Héctor Rosario (Ph.D. ’03), and Patrick Scott (Ed.D. ’80) that examines the progress the region has made over the past five decades.

“I felt that there was something to be said by my colleagues in Latin America concerning their successes,” said Vogeli. “This gives them a voice of their own.”

Many of the work’s contributors—from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, México, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela—presented at the symposium alongside TC faculty members Alexander Karp and Henry O. Pollak (honoree at the 2013 symposium).

“Where you have different cultures you have different views of mathematics,” said Brazil’s Ubiratan D’Ambrosio, a pioneer in the field of ethnomathematics who spoke via Skype hook-up to receive TC’s 2014 International Mathematics Education Achievement Award. His views were echoed by Eliana D. Rojas of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, who contributed to the anthology her study of Chilean programs, and whose current focus is Latin American students who have immigrated to the United States. “The population of Latino students in the U.S. is growing,” said Rojas, who has been federal funded since 2011 to train a cohort of education professionals to work more successfully with Connecticut’s ELLs (English language learners) in Connecticut, which has the largest math achievement gap in the nation. “In 2011 they were 9.1 percent of the student population. By 2015, one out of five students will be an ELL. We need greater context assessment and evaluation in order to build bridges between Latin American students and their teachers in this country.”

Vogeli believes that understanding the prior math preparation of immigrant students from Latin America can provide important opportunities to foster their inclusion and success in U.S. classrooms. “There are different recipes for long division in different countries,” he says. “If a Guatemalan student demonstrates her method of long division to a U.S. class, it can be a source of learning and cultural pride.”


Source: TC Columbia University

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