Newsletter #26     Joint Meetings

A few years ago, when Steve Monk gave an invited address, I began to suspect that the Joint Meetings were something I might really enjoy going to. As I found out more about MER sessions regularly going on there, the suspicion became more like a conviction. Finally this year I decided to see whether this theory held water, and I can now report with pleasure that it certainly did.

Given the NSF project, the fact that Jim King has recently revved up the Teaching Majors committee and the fact that this quarter I am teaching 170 (that's the big one for future elementary teachers), my K-12 hat was tending to obscure my vision in other directions, so my first instinct was always to look for sessions relating to that--and there were many. I think I most enjoyed the MER ones. One of them about Project PROMPT (= Professors Re-thinking Options for Mathematics for Prospective Teachers--not that they worked backwards from an acronym or anything) netted me a web address with some neat stuff:

I also enjoyed Ros Welchman's talk about the NSF Collaborative Grant she is coordinating. It seems that six (6) Institutions of Higher Education around the city of New York, with highly varied programs and student bodies, are attempting some coordination of their teacher preparation efforts. Ros reports that so far the single most dependable organizational principle is LUNCH. Knowing Ros, I expect it will get well beyond that, but it struck me as a very sound start!

Actually, K-12 issues were very much in the public consciousness throughout the meeting, because of the recent TIMSS (=Third International Mathematics School Study, I think) report, from which the US emerged looking pretty lacklustre. The cliche of the moment (which got that way, like most cliches, by slickly stating something that has a lump of truth in it) is that our curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. I gather there was a really excellent speaker on the subject of TIMSS before I got there. Might be worth finding out whobody it was and whether he is importable--I suspect many of us might be interested in what he has to say.

At the opposite end, in some sense, from the nuts-and-bolts sessions on teacher education were talks by Dr. Neal Lane, director of the NSF and Congressman George Brown, ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee . Not so opposite in content, though, because both emphasized the massive importance of issues of education in the current somewhat dicey state of the funding world. Brown had the most direct algorithm, though perhaps a slightly tricky one to apply: give the public enough education so they will vote the absolute idiots out of office and then Congress will be able to do good things. Not quite clear which curriculum decisions that dictates...

There were lots of other good talks and sessions, too--like for instance the lovely tribute to Paul Erdos--but like essentially anybody I have ever talked to, I got the absolute most out of scads of conversations. One of them landed me on a committee (well, that's one of the hazards!), but one I'm very pleased about: the AWM (= American Women of Mathematics) is setting up a committee on issues of education--should be decidedly interesting. Another, with Deborah Hughes-Hallett of Harvard fame, netted us not one but two potential Brown Bags. She spoke of someone in Electrical Engineering that I can't quite believe I've never met, but I intend to. Furthermore, she is bringing to Seattle for a AAAS meeting in February a batch of mathematicians from a wildly varied collection of countries, whose presentation to the AAAS is due to be a description of college education in their respective countries. Seems to me that could promote a really zippy discussion hereabouts!

I shall finish on a high Chauvenistic note, not about the (numerous) talks by members of the UW, Seattle U and Seattle Central faculties, but about the liveliest booth in the Exhibit Hall. Math 'n' Stuff was there, generally with considerable lines, and I took great pleasure in provoking envy by telling people that the store was just up the road a piece for me. Of course I proceeded to buy a slightly bulky puzzle which I then had to pack home, rather than just picking it up at 86th and Roosevelt, but you can't be logical all the time--not even at a math meeting!