Newsletter #2     Brown Bag on Manipulatives and Victoria trip

I shall start with a reminder (in case you don't make it to the end of the newsletter): this week's colloquium, which happens tomorrow at 4:00 in Sieg 134, is very much on the teaching/learning front. Professor David Clarke of the University of Melbourne will discuss some of the consequences of applying constructivist theories to classroom practices--issues, for instance, of lecturing vs. the alternatives. His talk is entitled "Why don't we just tell them? Pedagogical Honesty in the Mathematics Classroom."

On to the past: last Thursday's Brown Bag deserves all sorts of reporting, only it's basically impossible to do it in two dimensions. People brought in a number of nifty objects which they use, or have used, or plan to use in teaching. Jan Ray in particular brought a splendid collection of inventions which SCCC faculty members use to de-mystify dealings with the third dimension (including a project involving coordinatizing the interior of part of a cardbooard box which she and Jim King have been alternately elaborating.) She also mentioned a resource book of projects and worksheets along these lines of which she has a copy. I failed to nab the reference, but would happily do so if anyone so requests.

Approximately ninety seconds after the end of the Brown Bag was the start of the Great Victoria Exodus. Under the auspices of the Pew grant, seven graduate students and I joined several thousand teachers of all levels from kindergarten through college for the annual conference of the Northwest Council of Teachers of Mathematics--two days of workshops, talks and discussions. Each of us picked up ideas, notions and tidbits of varying degrees of applicability, which we swapped around during sundry meals and ferry rides. More to the point, though, we had a chance to be part of a different mathematical world, from which students emerge into our august portals, and in which there is a lot of lively mathematical and pedagogical activity going on. It may prove a little tricky working hubcap patterns or the symmetries of a quilting block into a calculus course, but issues of engaging students' minds and encouraging student creativity start with the very young and never end.

Details from the conference may turn up in another newsletter or even in a Brown Bag (will you come if I promise to show you how to make a Maori headband?) , but one that Fred Holt picked up seems most thoroughly universal in its levels of applicability, and worth a spot of cogitating for all of us:

There are seven Myths of Mathematics which are firmly believed in by an appallingly large percentage of our students (in fact, of the world at large):

  1. Mathematics is static.
  2. Mathematicians are 1-dimensional.
  3. Theorems come ready-made.
  4. Mathematicians never make mistakes.
  5. Math teachers solve every problem perfectly.
  6. Mathematics is for boys.
  7. Every day new poems and novels are written in English; every day current events contribute to History; every day new discoveries further the Physical Sciences;

BUT Mathematics has been finished for a long time. Maybe Fermat's Last Contribution is to make at least a few people think twice about #7!
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