Newsletter #50     ECML and the Joint Meetings

SOUND THE TRUMPETS!! POP THE CHAMPAGNE CORKS!!!! Creating a Community of Mathematics Learners is about to be joined by Extending the Community of Mathematics Learners. Alternatively put, our NSF project has been granted a much-desired opportunity to work with elementary school teachers throughout the same six districts in which we have already been working with middle and high school teachers. Since there are 2500 elementary teachers who teach math, in contradistinction to the 250 or so at each of the other levels, this really will be an extension, not a clone. In this case, the centerpiece of our efforts will be Developing Mathematical Ideas, using an excellent series of seminar materials with that title put out by the Educational Development Center. By way of preparation, a group of us worked through a bunch of the lessons at a three day retreat last summer, and I can testify that the video-clips and the transcribed elementary classroom conversations provided can provoke really interesting discussions, not to mention some heavy-duty thinking. We will run these seminars initially with a selection of teachers who are strong on both the teaching and leadership fronts, and then support them as they take the seminars back to their own schools and districts. And in the summers, we will provide week-long institutes to help deepen and strengthen the teachers' own mathematics.

We are excited!

Hmmm. That's a hard act to follow. However, at the risk of anti-climax, I'll go on to the news that was already in the works when the stellar bit above turned up--to wit, the San Antonio Joint Meetings. At last year's Joint Meetings I was impressed with the number of sessions on issues of education. This year it was more like stunned. Even if I had dropped a couple of my specific interests, I couldn't have made it to all the rest. Alternatively put, even with four of us combining our information at today's Brown Bag, a lot didn't turn up. But a lot did, so I'll get on with it.

The most striking single aspect was the prevalence and intensity, not to mention occasional acrimony, of interest in K-12 education. For instance, a two part special session on Mathematics Education and Mistaken Philosophies of Mathematics drew standing-room-only crowds throughout. I didn't get to any of them, mostly because of schedule conflicts, and partly because I didn't feel an acute need to have my blood pressure raised. By all reports, my suspicion that it would be was correct. Meanwhile, I stayed on in the MER (=Mathematicians and Educational Reform) sessions and heard about, for instance, a really exciting course for elementary school teachers at New Mexico State University, where pre-service and in-service teachers mix (as they do in our 497 classes) and where furthermore the mixture is formalized and cashed in on with an accompanying mentoring partnership between students in the class. That one I intend to keep firmly in view in the hope of doing some sheer imitating. I also heard some stirring doings from Oregon, as reported by Marj Enneking, and some cogent comments on standardized testing and gender differences in problem-solving. Andy Gleason from Harvard put in a very effective plea that we actually evaluate the impact of the current reform, rather than following far too many previous models by carrying an idea full tilt for a while, and then simply dumping it. Though he didn't seem to me to offer tremendously accessible instructions for how to do so. And Bill Davis of Ohio spoke to the issue with which I began this paragraph by pleading for the different factions with regard to the reform efforts to get together and do more of listening to each other and less of taking pot shots. We do, after all, share the same underlying goals almost entirely.

Elsewhere on the K-12 front, Ramesh attended a session at which the revisions to the NCTM Standards were discussed and various people suggested revisions to the revisions, while representatives of the writing team sat and madly took notes. And I got to a really excellent lecture by Jeremy Kilpatrick of the University of Georgia on the role of research in improving school mathematics.

But the presence of lots of K-12 stuff did not mean that there was a scarcity on other educational fronts. Jim King, for instance, reported having attended a whole raft of sessions and mini-courses on the teaching of geometry. He also pointed out that the woods were thick with sessions and mini-courses on teaching math using historical sources--a move for whose launching a lot of credit goes to our own (in the PhD-from-us sense) David Pengelley. And the MER sessions where Rebecca Tyson and I spent a large portion of our first two days were full of reports ranging from interesting new courses to programs to encourage women to get into, and stay in, mathematics.

And in case that wasn't enough variety, on Wednesday evening there was a staged and costumed reading about the Mathemtics of Lewis Carroll,with a packed and enthusiastic audience.

Add onto all that sunshine warm enough for eating lunch outdoors in shirtsleeves, and a Riverwalk connecting hotels, the convention center and a bunch of restaurants in such a way that you could go through the entire day without seeing a city street (I love San Antonio--you can pretend it isn't there!) and you have a straightforward recipe for a highly successful and enjoyable week.

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