Department of Education

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Please save the date for the next seminar with Dr Colin Foster, which will be online: Join Zoom Meeting

‘Problem solving’ is a key stated aim within mathematics curricula around the world. But the term is understood in starkly different ways, and problem solving is often felt to be conspicuous by its absence from much of everyday school mathematics. In this seminar, I will examine what problem solving might be and how it might be taught – assuming that it can. In particular, I will try to distinguish general from more specific problem-solving strategies/heuristics and consider when and how these might be learned. I will situate this thinking within our current work in the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University towards designing and trialling a free, fully-resourced school mathematics curriculum.

Dr Colin Foster is a Reader in Mathematics Education in the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University, UK. His research interests focus on the learning and teaching of mathematics in ways that support students’ conceptual understanding. He is particularly interested in the design of classroom tasks that enable students to develop the necessary fluency in mathematical processes that will support them in solving mathematical problems. He is also currently exploring the use of confidence assessment as a tool for formative assessment.

Shuyan is a doctoral student in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. She has strong research interests in the sociocultural perspective of learning, teacher education and teaching English as a second language.

Her doctoral research explores the processes of professional learning and identity development with the aim of strengthening the quality and agency of teachers. She focuses on offering empirical evidence to understand how language teacher identity is embedded in discursive practices and how the societal, cultural and institutional issues are played out in teacher education.

Prior to her doctoral study, she has taught English as a foreign language in China and received her M.A. degree in English Education with distinction at the Institute of Education, University College London (UCL).

Jisoo Seo is a DPhil student in the Department of Education conducting research in primary mathematics education.

Jisoo earned Honours Bachelor of Science with High Distinction (double major in biochemistry and pharmacology and a minor in psychology) at the University of Toronto. During that time, she worked as a mathematics tutor and observed how “mathematics often serves as a gate-keeper, an exclusive instrument for stratification, rather than an inclusive instrument for empowerment” (Stinson, 2004). Witnessing this unfortunate reality, she decided to join the field of education. After completing a Master of Arts in Child Study and Education at the University of Toronto, she worked as a substitute primary teacher for the Toronto and York Region District School Boards and as a research officer for the Robertson Program for Inquiry-Based Teaching in Mathematics and Science, University of Toronto. During her time at the Robertson Program, she worked in collaboration with schools, educators, community leaders, and students from First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario, focusing on early years geometry and spatial sense.

She later completed her MSc Education (Research Design and Methodology) at the University of Oxford with the vision of: 1) providing children from marginalized and underserved communities a more equitable and inclusive mathematics learning experience, and 2) doing so by developing, designing, and disseminating higher quality, research-based mathematics curriculum and pedagogical practices. She continues to work towards her vision as a DPhil student now.


Hawes, Z., Cain, M., Jones, S., Thomson, N., Bailey, C., Seo J., Caswell, B., & Moss, J. (2020). Effects of a teacher-designed and teacher-led numerical board game intervention: A randomised controlled study with 4- to 6-year-olds, Mind, Brain, and Education, 14, 71-80.

Hawes, Z., Moss, J., Caswell, B., Seo, J., & Ansari, D. (2019). Relations between numerical, spatial, and executive function skills and mathematics achievement: A latent-variable approach, Cognitive Psychology, 109, 68-90.



In the seminar, I will address first the different ways that mathematics teacher decision making has been conceptualized in the research literature and the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the research developed in the last decade in this area. Then, I will focus on the use of Activity Theory in studying decision making a) in the context of designing teaching and reflecting on it and b) in the on the moment situations. In the first case the emphasis will be given on the role of contradictions in the process of teacher decision making while in the second on the role of teacher emotions. The latter is an ongoing research of one of my PhD students. Teacher decision making is studied through actions, goals and how these are interrelated to the activity of mathematics teaching.


Despina gained her first degree in Mathematics from the National and Kapodostrian University of Athens in 1982 and my PhD in Mathematics Education from the University of Edinburgh in 1987.

“I worked at the Education Department of the University of Patras from 1989 to 2008 as a lecturer, assistant and associate professor and since 2008 I have been working as an associate and full professor at the Mathematics Department of the National and Kapodostrian University of Athens. I have also been visiting professor at the University of Georgia, USA) (Sept. 1993-Jan.1994), Oxford University, UK (Sept. 1997 – Jan. 1998), Rutgers University, USA (Sept. 2004 – Dec. 2004), University of Cyprus (Jan. 2005 – June 2005) and Linnaeus University, Sweden (2014-2020). My research interest is mainly on the development of mathematics teaching and learning and teacher development and in particular on the role of different contexts and tools in the classroom setting and on teacher collaboration. I have publications in international research journals, conference proceedings and book chapters. I am chief editor of the Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, member of editorial boards and teams and reviewer for international journals and conferences.”

Although research on the mathematics teaching and learning has made significant progress in recent years, it has had only limited impact on classroom instruction in many countries. I report on an investigation in which we collaborated with mathematics teachers, school leaders, and district leaders to investigate what it takes to improve the quality of instruction and students’ learning on a large scale. After giving an overview of our findings, which take the form of a theory of action for instructional improvement that spans from the classroom to system instructional leadership, I will focus on key supports for teachers’ learning.


To attend this Zoom meeting, go to

Zoom Meeting ID: 937 2756 2891            Password: 598344


Assessing ‘how science works’ in the classroom: Insights from a Korean high school

Wonyong Park

DPhil student, University of Oxford, Department of Education


The ‘nature of science’, or ideas about what science is and how it works, has been highlighted as a core element of scientific literacy by science education researchers. Although many instruments have been developed to measure pupils’ NOS knowledge for research purposes, minimal attention has been given to how NOS can be assessed by teachers in the classroom. In this qualitative case study, I bring together NOS and classroom assessment theories to investigate how three science teachers engaged in the formative and summative assessment NOS in a Korean high school. Implications for NOS research and teacher education will be discussed.


“I would (not) teach proof, because it is (not) relevant to exams” – Changing beliefs about teaching proof

Chun-Yeung (Gabriel) Lee

DPhil student, University of Oxford, Department of Education


Experts in mathematics education agree that reasoning and proof are essential and should be made central to learning mathematics. However, some school teachers tend to focus on procedural skills because of different beliefs unfavourable for teaching proof. To address the need to promote beliefs and attitudes that encourage teachers to teach proof, I developed and studied a series of extracurricular workshops, for preservice teachers in Hong Kong. In this presentation, I discuss the findings in relation to (changing) their beliefs about the relevance of proof and exams.


Zoom Meeting ID: 994 8163 8335, Password: 958790

Self-efficacy, an individual’s confidence in their ability to effectively execute a desired task, has long been recognised as one of the most important factors in human functioning, making it an attractive concept from the perspective of education. Questions such as: How does self-efficacy develop? or What are the factors contributing to self-efficacy development? have been the object of (mathematics) education research for several decades.

In this seminar, Karin and Gosia will present their most recent works in the field of self-efficacy, in which they focused on answering questions related to self-efficacy appraisal and development, while addressing issues revolving around the meaning, measurement and operationalisation of the concept. Karin will discuss how she used factor analyses to investigate the structural validity of Norwegian students’ level, strength, and facet-specific mathematics self-efficacy, and structural equation models to investigate changes in self-efficacy over time. Gosia will explain how, utilising an abductive interpretative phenomenological analysis, she engaged with ‘English’ pre-service secondary mathematics teachers’ meaning-making in the narrative process of their teacher self-efficacy appraisal.

This seminar will provide an opportunity to gain insight into the current state of the field of self-efficacy in mathematics education and engage in a wider discussion about different methodologies employed in search for answers to longstanding questions.


Tasks considered challenging or cognitively demanding are often reserved for only those students perceived by their teachers to be the most capable. More recently, challenge and struggle have become recognised as important elements of instruction that promotes conceptual understanding and higher order learning of all students. In this presentation, I draw upon an intervention study designed to assist teachers of 5 to 8-year-old students implement and develop pedagogy intended to engage all students in learning challenging mathematics. After outlining key elements of the study, findings from teachers and students will be presented to highlight the impact of the intervention.

Professor Janette Bobis is a mathematics educator and researcher in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She teaches in the areas of primary and early childhood mathematics education and curriculum studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her teaching, research and publications focus on two interrelated areas: (a)teacher learning in mathematics education, particularly knowledge, beliefs and practices of primary and middle years teachers; and (b)student learning, predominantly concerned with their motivation and engagement in mathematics and their understanding of estimation and mental computation strategies.


One challenge of mathematics learning is to see mathematics as a sensemaking endeavor – to not only connect concepts and practices, but become a problem solver, develop metacognitive understandings, and develop productive mathematical beliefs. Opportunities for such understandings are rare in schools. Moreover, understanding mathematics is only one component of effective or “ambitious” teaching – better framed as the creation of mathematically rich and equitable learning environments. The challenge is to create robust learning environments that support every student in developing not only the knowledge and practices that underlie effective mathematical thinking, but that help them develop the sense of agency to engage in sense making. This implicates issues of race and equity, which are a challenge not only in classrooms but in society at large; structural and social inequities permeate the schools, as well as below par curricula, assessments, and professional development. I point to existence proofs that at least some these challenges can be addressed, while documenting the substantial challenges to making progress at scale.