I’m currently attending the 13^{th} International Congress on Mathematics Education (ICME) in Hamburg, Germany, with well over 1000 math educators from around the world. Professor Gabriele Kaiser opened the conference with a statement of solidarity with Turkish mathematics teachers and researchers who at the last minute were unable to attend due to newly imposed government restrictions, and spoke very strongly about the importance of international cooperation and sharing as we work together to improve the way that mathematics is taught and learned.

This picture shows ICME participants at the opening ceremony, standing to show our solidarity with our Turkish colleagues.

The conference has been a wonderful opportunity to connect with long-time friends and to make new friends, all in the course of attending excellent presentations. I’ll mention two examples that stood out for me, one addressing the big picture of the role of math in society, and another addressing a specific problem of math education.

Bill Barton (from the University of Auckland) led off Tuesday’s sessions with a plenary on “Mathematics, Education, and Culture: A Contemporary Moral Imperative” in which he argued for mathematicians and mathematics educators to consider the way mathematics is used throughout our human culture, and to take a moral stand supporting positive uses of math and opposing negative uses (such as using mathematical algorithms to manipulating the stock market, or to build ever-more-dangerous weapons).

Yesterday Pat Thompson (from Arizona State) described a study that he and colleagues have been working on to investigate the function understanding of US and South Korean math teachers. They asked these teachers to fill out a survey that contained a number of different questions, one of which is shown below.

The questions were designed to reveal various aspects of the teachers’ understanding of function concepts and function notation, and revealed some surprising and even alarming misconceptions, particularly among the US teachers.

In Part 2 I’ll report on my own presentation. (If you want a preview, go here.)