Introducing QUINT PhD Fellow Alexander Jonas Viktor Selling
Having good teachers in upper secondary school inspired Alexander Selling to want to teach himself. Now he is researching how teachers set learning goals in mathematics.
Mathematics is a fascinating subject to Alexander Selling. Photo: Larissa Lily, QUINT/ UiO
Alexander Jonas Viktor Selling completed his master thesis in mathematical didactics at the University of Oslo in 2017. His PhD project compares how teachers in different Nordic countries set learning goals in mathematics education.
What led you to want to study goal setting?
Learning goals are the knowledge that students are expected to be provided with and to learn in education. They may focus on different things, such as subject content, competencies or skills needed later in life. Goals are often set by a curriculum or by the teacher.
I started looking at goal setting already during my master thesis. I wanted to see how teachers are trying to teach competencies in mathematics. That led me to look at learning goals, as they are the structure of the lesson, a way to organise the material being taught. I wanted to look at how teachers present the goals– are they explicit in what they are teaching, or are they implicit through the different tasks and activities during the lesson.
This is an important part of the teaching. It is important to show the students what we are learning really. I wanted to look at how teachers do it: is it clear or unclear, is the wording too advanced, can the students really understand the goal?Are we just doing procedures? Or are we looking for an advanced understanding of mathematics? Do we understand what we are doing and why we are doing it? Goals are a good measure of what a lesson is all about. I wanted to continue with that on my PhD.
Tell us more about your PhD project?
I’m going to look at goal setting in the Nordic context in mathematics education, as set by the teachers. What are they planning to do. I want to do it in the Nordic context, comparing between Sweden, Norway and Finland. My aim is to categorise how teachers are setting goals in these countries. This will also include some case studies later on that investigate what competencies we are looking at, and whether the goals are clear and explicit.
Can you tell us more about the Nordic relevance of the study?
We know there are similarities and differences between these countries. I want to look at what are these similarities and differences in goal setting. We have a Nordic model that is often talked about in articles and in research, but I don’t think it is that simple; even if we have this common ground, there are of course many differences as well. We can see Finland for example being very different from Norway and Sweden.
How is being part of a Nordic PhD network supporting your research?
It’s great to be able to discuss the mathematics parts with didactics. We have different ways of looking at things. Also having someone to support the research from the other countries, coming up with other articles and having a different point of view.
Getting to work with Jóhann Örn Sigurjónsson (QUINT PhD Fellow) from Iceland for example, and Berglind Gísladóttir (Assistant Professor at the University of Iceland). We talked about the PLATO manual when they were here. It was very interesting to be able to discuss our findings.
Having a group network is very important. Usually we just get to discuss with the whole group with all the subjects, but having this specific mathematics group is very important to really get a good grip of what’s going on with mathematics.
What first got you interested in mathematics teaching?
I always liked mathematics. But I also had some really good teachers in upper secondary school – not only in mathematics, but in several subjects and that’s what got me to want to teach myself. When I considered what subject I would prefer to teach, it was mathematics.
Even though I could have worked with mathematics in another field, I really wanted to teach. I love working in schools.
What do you love about teaching?
It’s great working with the students. It’s a very social job, you get to talk to students, get to help them understand mathematics which I think is a super fascinating subject. Not all students think that, but trying to help them understand usually also increases the level of interest, even for the least interested students. That kind of co-operation in teaching mathematics is very rewarding to me.
What motivates you and gets you up in the morning?
I got my dream job. It’s almost unbelievable that I get to do my PhD at such a young age. I have a chance to work with the project I wrote my master thesis on - LISA Nordic is an extension of the Lisa project - and I get to work with the people I met during my master thesis such as Kirsti Klette (QUINT Director) and Guri Nortvedt (Associate Professor at UiO), and that is unbelievably great working with them.
And I do drink a lot of coffee as well!