Introducing QUINT PhD Fellow Jóhann Örn Sigurjónsson
Once an aspiring mathematician, Sigurjónsson is now studying the quality of mathematics education in Iceland.
Sigurjónsson has been fascinated by numbers since he was little. Photo: Sólrún Svana Pétursdóttir
Can you tell us about your background?
I am a mathematics teacher and computer scientist. I have been fascinated by numbers since I was little.
- When I was six years old, there was a so-called „dótadagur“ at school, where every student brings a toy from home. Most boys brought action figures. I brought my abacus.
I had told my parents that I wanted to be a mathematician when I grew up. I excelled in the subject throughout compulsory school, but when I got to upper secondary school the grades went down and the interest as well, leading me away from fields related to science and technology. Thankfully, my interest was renewed in the later years. I am deeply interested in what caused the six-year-old aspiring mathematician to be led astray from his ambitions. Was it purely personal inclination, or did it perhaps have something to do with the quality of teaching?
What is your PhD project about?
I am researching teaching quality in mathematics education in Iceland. In addition to studying the impact of teaching quality on student learning and comparing instructional practice to other Nordic countries using video data, I will research a professional development initiative which also uses video, providing a repeated measure of the same teachers that take part in the original data collection.
Can you say a little more on why the main topics of your PhD study are relevant?
I am specifically interested in the domain of intellectual challenge, i.e. how much cognitive demand teachers place on students. In my master thesis I found evidence that there is a lack of such activity in remedial courses in upper secondary school in Iceland. It will be interesting to see the case of lower secondary schools and compare it to the other Nordic countries.
- I feel that it is common for people to have a skewed image of what mathematics is all about, perhaps because of the way the subject is often taught. I believe that teaching with a proper amount of cognitive demand supports student learning and reveals the true nature of mathematics to students, which is more profound than some textbooks make it out to be.
What are you hoping to find out?
I hope to find examples of quality teaching where justification and students‘ deep understanding is central. In order to improve the quality of mathematics teaching in Iceland, it will be very valuable to have quality examples of teaching for conceptual understanding. I think video can be a more powerful medium than text for demonstrating the quality of such instructional practices.
How is being part of a Nordic PhD network supporting your project?
The Nordic network provides both structure and great support that is invaluable for guiding me in my studies. Having many people working with the same data also provides plenty of feedback and better informed decisions in how to approach both data collection and analysis. I imagine the experience would be vastly different if I was doing an individual project on the same subject.
What do you like to do to relax?
I like music, both listening and playing. I have my own band called Dynfari that has released several albums and played all over North America and Europe. Though the touring part is not exactly a relaxing endeavour, I find great release in the creative process, composing new works and playing my instruments. For leisure, I also play video games with my partner.