Newsletter #147     Return to the Cyberwaves

I'm back! Operating on the principle stated by Miss Manners that one should never lead in with an apology ("Just start your thank you letter with, 'Dear Suzy, What a delightful evening we spent on your patio five years ago!'") I shall sweep the seven month hiatus under the carpet and dive right in with some of the accumulated good stuff. Topping the list are two books and a web site. Two of those three items are attributable to Jo Boaler, so let me start by introducing her: Jo is a mathematics education researcher of international repute. She is English, and her doctorate and early work were in England. In 1998 she joined the Education faculty at Stanford, rising from assistant professor to full professor on very short order. Unfortunately, her research results, which provide strong support for various elements advocated by the Reform sector, made her a target in the Math Wars. This, along with other factors (like being offered the equivalent of a MacArthur Genius grant) resulted in her to return to England, where she is now the Marie Curie Professor of Education at the University of Sussex.

One result of this experience was that she realized how little people understand of what we are doing and advocating, and how vulnerable that made England if the Math Wars jumped the Atlantic. So not long after her return she, in effect, knocked on the door of 10 Downing Street, sat Gordon Brown, its new occupant, down and laid out for him all the current issues in England's mathematics education scene. After two hours and a bunch of cogent questions, he said "I really needed to know this! And so do other people!" This launched Jo into a variety of public information events, and in due course led to her publishing a book: "What's MATH Got to Do with It?". The subtitle is a little less catchy, but serves to illuminate its purpose: "Helping children learn to love their least favorite subject -- and why it is important for America".

I was given a copy of the book last summer, and I knew it would be good, because I've read some of her previous work. I had no idea how good, though. She says all the things I have been attempting to convey for a number of years, and she says them lucidly, coherently and with research references and examples. On top of which, the book is fun to read. Several people who have approached it as a chore (or because they wanted to get me off their backs!) have commented that after five pages they couldn't put it down. You can find links to a book extract, Jo's home page and even an NPR interview with her at

Given that information, it will not come as a surprise that when the Transition Math Project (about which I owe you a whole nother newsletter) sent an invitation to join a webinar led by Jo Boaler and Ruth Parker on Using Research Evidence to Bring About Change & How to Best Engage the Public I accepted instantly, despite having no clue what a webinar was. Technologically it was a step into a whole new world. I wouldn't want to live full time in that world, but having a seminar with one leader in Bellingham, another in Sussex and participants all over Washington is not to be sneezed at. If we clicked on the little hand icon and got acknowledged by a leader, we could even ask questions and make comments, though I think most of us were a bit too wide-eyed about the whole situation to cash in on that option. In any case, the two presentations were both wonderful and inspiring, and the whole thing is now electronically available at (go to November events and click on "Recording: Business and Community..." .) 49 minutes in all, and good enough so that I have every intention of listening at least one more time.

My last book recommendation is simply of a book that I am having a blast reading and that I think makes a nice contribution towards getting the world at large to see some of the aspects of mathematics that make us love it, and that tend to be invisible to the naked eye (i.e., to those who view mathematics as a disconnected collection of rules to memorize.) It's "Coincidences, Chaos, and all that Math Jazz, Making Light of Weighty Matters" by Burger and Starbird. Brace yourself for a barrage of puns and stand by for a good time! You can read a few pages of it at

That was going to be the end of the line, but as I was typing an amusing encore turned up: check out !

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