Visiting Lecturer Dr Craig Pournara, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

From left to right: Kathy O’Sullivan, Dr Craig Pournara, Dr Ciara Lane and Prof John O’Donoghue

From left to right: Dr Craig Pournara and Kathy O’Sullivan, Coordinator PDMT

Dr Craig Pournara, from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, visited EPI•STEM from 13-16 August 2018. Dr Pournara is Director of the Marang Centre for Mathematics and Science Education at Wits University, and hosted a visit by Professor Merrilyn Goos, Director of EPI•STEM, in January 2018. We asked him about the goals and highlights of his visit.

(1) What was the purpose of your visit?
I came to EPI*STEM for 2 reasons. Firstly I wanted to see the PDMT course in action. Knowing that this is the last cohort, I was very keen to attend the Summer School and to meet some of the teachers and presenters. So it was important to visit in August 2018.  The second reason is more long term: we want to establish a collaborative partnership between the EPI*STEM Centre and the Marang Centre for Maths and Science Education at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Prof Goos visited our University in January this year and so this was a follow up visit as we build the collaboration.

(2) What were the most interesting/surprising/important things you learned while you were here?
I have been involved in pre-service and in-service mathematics teacher education for 20 years, and so I am very interested in teachers’ mathematical knowledge and how we go about doing professional development with teachers that is useful for their growth and that impacts on their students’ learning. While our local contexts are very different, there are many similarities. In both countries there are many out-of-field teachers who are teaching mathematics. They need support to develop their mathematical knowledge in ways that are useful for teaching. They also need support in mathematics pedagogy. The PDMT model has many similarities with some of our programmes although the mathematics that is included in the programmes is quite different.
Of course we also need to think about a version of PDMT for science teachers – there is a huge need in South Africa and I suspect it’s similar in Ireland.
As I sat in some sessions, I was challenged to rethink what is means to focus on the teaching of mathematics in the context of professional development. I think we underestimate what it takes to do high quality PD.
It was a privilege to meet the core team that runs PDMT and to hear from so many about the key role they play in running the course so successfully over many years. It was also a privilege to meet the extended PDMT team who support teachers during the year - so many committed and well-informed people with loads and loads of experience!
In meeting with Prof John O’Donoghue and Prof Goos, I was so impressed with the ways in which they have and continue to engage with many role-players in the STEM education space in Ireland – at the level of policy, research and practice. The PDMT is just one of the outputs of this kind of sustained engagement.

(3) What follow up or future collaboration do you envisage?
Our universities both have strong programmes in pre-service secondary maths and science teacher education. This is a great place to build our collaboration. We are planning for staff exchanges in the short to medium term. This will provide opportunities for colleagues to share about their research and teaching in STEM education. There is definitely interest in seeing what is similar and different about the schooling system in both countries and meeting teachers from different schooling contexts.  There is also much interest in sharing ideas and practices around professional development in both maths and science.

We will be seeking funding to make these collaborations possible. Hopefully this will then lead to postgraduate student exchanges. We have students in both institutions who are working in similar areas and researching similar problems.  As we continue to work together, we will look to combined conference presentations at international conferences.