Epistemological and historical perspectives on mathematics education

Credits: 10 HP or ECTS

Course code: UM007FN

Registration deadline: December 20th, 2020

Confirmation of acceptance: January 10th, 2021

On-line registration: link to registration


Course description

Mathematics education as a field of research is one of the largest, international sub-branches of educational research. Nowadays, it is a growing field not only in terms of the topics of research and publication, but also in the variety of theories and methods that it deploys. The course examines the formation and development of mathematics education as a field of academic inquiry from a historical and epistemological perspective. Historically, it is studied how mathematics education emerged in the context of the consolidation of educational and social sciences; the problem of the higher qualification (in colleges or universities) of mathematics teachers, both in particular national contexts and internationally; and the problem of the expansion of massive education systems providing mathematics to a wide number of the population. Epistemologically, the course explores how and why there have been different views on what is conceived as “research”, but also education in mathematics. Here attention is paid to the theoretical foundations for the understanding of the objects of research of mathematics education. In the course the epistemological and historical perspectives intertwine to answer questions about the constitution of the production of academic enquiry and its connection to the teaching/learning of mathematics in different educational settings.

The course will make participants acquainted with tools for understanding what it means to address the epistemological and historical dimensions of mathematics education in general. In particular, the students will be invited to clarify their own placing in an epistemological perspective and how it relates to their own research project. They will also be invited into an exercise of historization of the topic of their research as a way of experiencing the meaning of historical configurations in relation to defining and investigating mathematics education practices. The seminar combines individual study and writing, and intensive seminars with lectures and group discussions.

Expected results

After the course, it is expected that the students are able to:

  1. Construct an account of mathematics education as a field of academic research and of its constitution and development.
  2. Identify different epistemological positions and their implications in relation to their own research.
  3. Provide a limited historical contextualization of their own research objects.

Forms of participation

The course is designed in the form of two seminars and one examination seminar. In principle the seminars are going to take place on-line, unless corona-related recommendations from health authorities allow meeting face to face.

At the seminars there will be a combination of lectures and discussions, on the ground of readings and tasks of preparation that the participants have to bring to the sessions. There will be interaction between the lecturers and the participants. The course demands serious preparation for the sessions.


The course examination consists of a text that can make part of the students’ thesis. The text of an extension of max 6.000 words, can be a historization of the topic of study or object of study in the thesis, or an epistemological exploration of the theoretical and methodological position adopted in the thesis.

Course plan

Seminar 1. Knowing the narratives of mathematics education as a field of knowledge
On-line seminar during weeks 11 and 12, distributed as follows:

  • March 15, kl 9:00–12:00
  • March 17, kl 13:00–16:00
  • March 19, kl 9:00–12:00
  • March 23, kl 9:00–12:00
  • March 24, kl 13:00–16:00
  • March 26, kl 9:00–12:00

The course starts on the present of mathematics education research with its wide variety of defining research objects and perspectives, as well as aims. In this seminar the core of study is the relationship between a research object and a theoretical perspective, and how different theories offer particular definitions of what counts as mathematics education, what it studies, how it is studied, and for which purposes.

  1. Examining mathematics education as a field of research: What does it mean to talk about epistemology and ontology of a field of study? Why and how to do it from a historical perspective?
  2. The creation of the objects of study of mathematics education: From issues of mathematics to issues of learning
  3. A century of theories and methodologies
  4. Current tensions in the making of mathematics education research as a field

Seminar 2. Historicizing the narratives on the history of mathematics education
On-line seminar during weeks 15 and 16, distributed as follows:

  • April 12, kl 9:00–12:00
  • April 15, kl 9:00–12:00
  • April 20, kl 9:00–12:00
  • April 23, kl 9:00–12:00

Building on the first seminar, the second seminar opens the question of how come the epistemologies of mathematics education have been configured in such a way. In other words, by historicizing what counts as mathematics education form different theoretical perspectives, the rooting of such research in the institutions and trends in different periods during the 20th century will be explored.


  1. What does it mean to historicize mathematics education research? A critical comment on the historiography of mathematics education
  2. Mathematics education, the school curriculum and the making of the citizen
  3. Mathematics education and the raise of the social and educational sciences: the scientifization of mathematics education
  4. Mathematics education and social needs
  5. Beyond an internalistic perspective of mathematics education research

Examination seminar
May 20 and 21, 2021, from 9:00 to 16:00
Face to face or on-line, depending on the status of the corona virus.

For this seminar, participants will have the first draft of their exam text. The seminar has the purpose of presenting and discussing them, and giving feedback for the preparation of the final submission of the paper.

This seminar will be round up the topics of the course by connecting with the texts of the participants, and by doing reading and commenting of the texts by other participants. This is a form of not only gaining information on the varieties of topics worked by other participants, but also gaining competence in reviewing and commenting.

Delivery of written examination paper: June 14th 2021.