RME4: Webb's Opening Remarks

Opening Session - Friday, September 27, 2013

David Webb - Executive Director of Freudenthal Institute US and Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Colorado Boulder

David Webb
David Webb welcomed us to the 4th International Realistic Mathematics Education Conference (#RME4) by addressing a shift in organizational structures. What used to be simply the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands is now the Freudenthal Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, and its American counterpart, Freudenthal Institute US, is now part of a larger CU-Boulder effort known as the Center for STEM Learning. These shifts reflect a desire to not just have cooperation between mathematics and science disciplines, but a perceived need to create innovative new STEM curricula along with the supporting frameworks, teacher education, and professional development to support it. Webb announced that earlier in the week that FISME and the Center for STEM Learning had formally agreed to collaborate, although we'll have to wait and see how this collaboration takes shape.

At its core, RME is a set of principles for curriculum design. It is sensible, then, to seek common ground in mathematics and the sciences for ideas upon which we can design curriculum. Some of that common ground is found in how we reason in math and science, and Webb offered these four activities:

  • Recognition of patterns
  • Making conjectures from observation
  • Reasoning from evidence
  • Generating new evidence

From these, we can think about how we consider the acts of modeling, problem solving, generalizing, and proving in both math and science. There are similarities and differences, and these things are meant as a starting point, not a definitive list. Perhaps the most fundamental RME principle is that of progressive formalization (see here for an example), so we must also think about how informal contexts can be used in both math and science, as well as the preformal models and representations that support more formal kinds of student thinking. Webb encouraged us to consider these RME traditions as we stretched ourselves beyond our usual disciplines, and with that the conference was underway.