We need a solid terminology to make people aware of mathematical learning difficulties
Riikka Mononen believes that research-based knowledge and teaching methods can improve children's skills in mathematics. At the same time, providing teachers with this knowledge and tools is needed.
Riikka Mononen, Associate Professor at the Department of Special Needs Education, UiO (Photo: Shane Colvin, UiO)
Before moving to Oslo and starting her work at ISP, Riikka Mononen worked as a University lecturer in special needs education at the University of Turku.
— While working as a special needs teacher, I became interested about how children learn mathematics, why some children struggle in their learning, and how we as teachers could best support children’s mathematics learning. Inspired by this, I started my PhD studies and focused on investigating the effects of early mathematics interventions, especially from the viewpoint of children performing low in mathematics.
At the same time, she was involved in the project called ThinkMath, developing teaching materials to support young children’s mathematics learning. Currently, all the materials are available in English and Finnish, and partly in Norwegian. All available materials are research-based, meaning they have run several research studies in order to see their effectiveness for children’s learning – both in Finland, Norway and in South Africa.
Flip the classroom and see numbers
— My main research focuses currently around the iSeeNumbers project, which is funded by the Norwegian Research Council. In this project we follow children’s development in mathematical learning from the first to third grade. We aim to find out and better understand the individual differences children have in their math development, and what mechanisms there are behind the math development, by focusing on the interplay between skills, such as mathematics, language and executive functions, motivation and well-being.
There are 265 children, with their parents and teachers, who participate in the study. On the project’s website you can find more information about the project, as well as information for the parents and teachers about the development of mathematical skills and mathematical learning difficulties.
Riikka's other ongoing projects focus on the development of teaching practices in higher education.
— In the Towards Flipped Learning project, we are trying a new approach in our teaching, namely flipped classroom. During the autumn semester 2019, our team is flipping the teaching on one course for master students at ISP. Instead of traditional lectures, we provide the students with short online video lectures before they come to a weekly contact session.
In these contact sessions, the students then elaborate and discuss more in depth about the weekly topic mainly in small groups. Evaluation of the students’ learning experiences during the course is a part of the project.
International collaboration is vital
The EduCo Project aims to strengthen the international higher education collaboration with HongKong. The objective is to develop and implement together educational activities for PhD students, like a new PhD course, increase student and staff short-term mobility between the participating universities, and initiate new research collaboration.
Good research questions take time
One of the key things that motivates Riikka is to help the children who struggle in their mathematics learning by proving relevant research-based knowledge and tools for their teachers.
— This is often a slow process, but I hope that having access to our research work and materials, and providing research-based teaching at ISP for future special educators, will take it a step further. I think that the more research-based knowledge and methods for teaching get to the school, the better the children will learn.
There are many unsolved issues in the area of children’s mathematical learning and learning difficulties. The new ideas and research topics may come from a variety of sources, such as reading a research article, joining in international conferences, from the practitioners' needs, or even from an inspiring chat with a colleague over a coffee. It often takes some time until the ideas are formed into good research questions, and you really get into investigating them in practice.
Awareness and reliability
The field of mathematical learning difficulties is a relatively young research area compared to the other fields within special needs education. One of the challenges, internationally, is to come up with a solid terminology and definitions that can be used in research and everyday language when talking about mathematical learning difficulties.
— There is still much research to be done in order to have good and reliable tests, which could be used for identifying the children and adolescents who have mathematical learning difficulties or dyscalculia. A step further is to find effective ways to support learning of these children. Finally, some work still needs to be done to make people aware of mathematical learning difficulties.