It was an interesting opportunity for me to teach a graduate course at Chiangmai University in March 2009. The 26 students are all studying for a master degree in mathematics education. Some part-time students are doing coursework and need to do an independent study and the rest are full-time students who have to write a thesis. The three-day course aimed to help students with the construction of a research problem.
We spent some time identifying problems related to mathematics education. As the students are all school teachers in primary (grades one to six), middle (grades seven to nine) and high schools (grades ten to twelve), it was not surprising that most of the problems are classroom-related. We spent some time for the students to understand that the research problem is a culmination of their own personal experience and the literature. Their experience with the local situation as well as literature that describes the situation in Thailand (e.g. the TIMSS report) as well as previous studies done in Thailand and elsewhere on related topics are used to generate the content of their research problem.
For example, a student wrote that the primary-level students lack the ability to solve word problems in the topic of time. For example, third graders have difficulty in solving word problems that give the starting time of an activity, the duration of the activity and require students to find the end time of the activity.
This is a problem from the local situation. However, the research problem was still not articulated. For example, the research problem could be to investigate the types of difficulties students have when solving such word problems. A related research problem could be to use the findings from the earlier investigation to design instruction or remediation to help students develop the ability to solve word problems involving time, and to investigate features of instruction or remediation that are able to help students develop this ability.