Newsletter 124    WaToToM the Eighth [2/8/05]

This is a one-topic Newsletter, and a great topic it is: WaToToM the Eighth, which just finished happening. After last year's super-abundant population (we nearly overflowed into Leavenworth itself!) a return to the numbers we had before made for rather a mellow gathering, though not for any lack of conversation -- if ever there was a group of people of whom any random subset could be depended on to dive into some interesting topic, WaToToM is it!

It comes to me that some people have joined this newsgroup since last year and could well be totally mystified. Better I should start from scratch: WaToToM stands for Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics. It is a group of people who for many years worked in splendid isolation in colleges and universities all over the state, with quite remarkably little idea of what each other were doing, or what problems we shared, or what ideas we could pick up from each other. In 1998 we decided to alter this state, and accordingly a bunch of us arranged to get together at the Sleeping Lady Conference Center in Leavenworth. From the word Go it was clear that this was a good idea -- it was tremendously exciting to meet each other and begin to find out what was going on at each other's institutions. Even at the start we had representatives from a respectable selection of places, and that representation has gotten steadily solider, until now we dependably have folks from the mathematics and/or mathematics education departments of all of the state universities except (oddly!) Western, and from several community colleges and private universities (notably Seattle U and PLU). Evergreen and Heritage and a couple of others have appeared and hope to reappear. We also now predictably have someone from OSPI (the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), which is a tremendous boon. In short, we have built us a community, and we are thoroughly enjoying it. Every year we learn some new things, and also take up some conversations exactly where we left off with them. And since WaToToM the Fourth, or thereabouts, every year we decide on a certain number of issues on which to exercise the voice we are beginning to have. We are even getting to the point where every now and then somebody hears us. The next step is to get to where they not only hear us but maybe even do something about it -- we're working on that.

There's more about the past at our web site:, so I shall return to the present, or rather the immediate past.

Friday evening is always a celebration of being together and of having succeeded in getting there (the last person arrived just a couple of hours before Blewett Pass was closed by snow!) We savored out first Sleeping Lady spectacular dinner, then reconvened in the Quail, which was our meeting cabin for the duration, to sit around a fire in a wood stove and introduce each other.

Saturday morning always starts with something mathematical and amusing. This time there were two somethings. The first was one that I picked up at a session on assessment at a conference last summer. I thought it would be engaging. As I hauled people kicking and screaming (metaphorically speaking) out of their discussions to go on to the next topic, I decided it was definitely a keeper -- which means I won't unveil it in here until after Math Day! The other something was one that I mentioned in last week's Newsletter. Art Mabbott gets the credit for our having that one -- he read the Newsletter and instantly zapped me an e-mail requesting that I bring it along. Net result was that a number of us really want to dig further into the materials for Bob Moses's Algebra Project, from which it was taken.

With our brains duly waked up, we then headed into the meat of the morning, which was Bill Moore's presentation on the work of the Transition Mathematics Project. The transition in question is that between high school and college or university. If anyone initially doubted the need to work on it, the statistics Bill presented put those doubts to rest. Having duly shaken us up with those, he went on to describe the work the Project is doing. One part is to develop College Readiness Standards, which include not only mathematical topics but a bunch of attributes like perseverance and intellectual curiosity (our two elementary teachers noted with amusement that those attributes were precisely the ones they were working on -- some needs start early and never end!) Just writing the Standards isn't nearly enough, though -- if they gather dust on multitudinous shelves nobody will gain much. So the Project is also working on many issues. To quote (modulo possible glitches in my note-taking) Bill's final comments: the critical issues to address are

  1. Building ownership and buy-in across Washington higher education
  2. Drafting effective messages and multiple communication tools
  3. Clarifying implications for diagnostic assessment and higher ed placement testing
  4. Developing/aligning standards for basic curriculum materials and teaching approaches.
Merely those. Definitely a project to keep one's eye on -- and to assist when one can.

Saturday afternoon always starts with a long break to clear our minds and to celebrate being in such a gorgeous part of the state. A lot of good conversations happen, too, not to mention some good naps. Then we reconvene for the session that helps keep us grounded, which is always led by some K-12 teachers. In this case Megan Kelley from T.T.Minor School and Neill Warfield from Spruce Street School talked to us about some amazing professional development at T.T.Minor ( a version of Lesson Study) and a form of preparation that was of great benefit to Neill's teaching no matter what his school and level. Then both, who are experienced and enthusiastic users of the TERC Investigations in Number, Data and Space, led a lively discussion of its strengths and its demands.

After (yum!) dinner, we sat around and found out what's new around the state. There are a lot of exciting developments all over. It seemed to me (though this could, of course, have been wishful listening) that we heard about appreciably more collaborative efforts than we used to. For sure we heard about a lot of really interesting projects in one stage or another of development.

Sunday morning began with a number of interesting and rather general discussions, several of which it would have been fun to pursue for the whole morning. One particularly intriguing one that got cut off at the knees was a response to a challenge from Rick Jennings, formerly a high school teacher and now at OSPI: what do students really, really need from an Algebra course? What about Algebra is important to a student who is college bound? How about to one who isn't? That question really deserves thinking about. We couldn't do it then, though, because we needed to get to specific action-possible issues. We wrenched ourselves away from generalities and finally got ourselves into the appropriate mode -- for the last hour the nuts and the bolts were zinging through the air. We resolved on a couple to work on (one nut and one bolt?): renewed efforts to get the ear of the HEC Board about the miniscule requirements currently in place for mathematics courses for future elementary teachers and looking into what we might possibly do to influence the state's use of a certification test for teachers that is completely at odds with all we are trying to teach them.

And, of course, one really crucial item: getting ourselves set up for WaToToM the Ninth in 2006!