Newsletter #57     Autumn Quarter Introduction

First off, a hearty welcome and a word of explanation to all newcomers to the math department. This is part of a series of newsletters of random length appearing at irregular intervals, whose only point of predictability is that they have to do with issues and events in the teaching and learning of mathematics, most of them based at the University of Washington math department. Since I have strenuous objections to junk mail, electronic or otherwise, this is the only one I will send out to "bboard@math". Hereafter they will just go to people on my "newsfolks" list. If you would like to be on said list, just hit the reply button (the one that DOESN'T go to all recipients!) and say "yes, please!", or something even more original, and I will add you to it. (Note to those who were on before: you still are!)

For the past several years what has triggered the first newsletter of the year has been some noteworthy educational-type event. So I was feeling a little distressed when no such trigger materialized, until it finally dawned on me that I have completely renormalized. The woods are thick with events any one of which would have caused me to whip out my e-megaphone just a couple of years ago and I've been acting unpardonably blase about the whole lot. So here are a few:

This quarter the department boasts not one, but two graduate seminars on educational issues. Not only do they both look to be really interesting, but both have great histories. One of them had its origins several years ago when a graduate student who was doing a reading course about math teaching invited two faculty members to join her for a weekly lunch to discuss her findings. After a while some fellow graduate students got wind of this and said "Me, too!", which launched a couple of quarters of regular highly informal meetings. Eventually it formalized a bit (one quarter we got all the way through Schoenfeld's Mathematical Problem Solving, for instance). We were beginning to feel, though, that we had reached the limit of our bootstrapping capacities, when Steve Monk returned from distant lands (well, New England.) He breathed new life into the whole scene in the course of last year. And this year he is running a seminar focusing on developing ways to understand students' mathematical thinking, which should be a doozy.

Meanwhile, starting in two years ago the department has been looking vigorously into its calculus program--the ups and the downs and the various options. Paul Smith wound up with a mission of finding out what was going on out there in the rest of the world. One of the things he found is that there are a bunch of people out there with really interesting things to say. So, being a man of action, he arranged to have a number of them come and say those things right here. Five really interesting speakers, when last I counted, and more on the invitation list, as I understand it. Judith Arms then took the steps to turn a speaker-series into a reasonable for-credit class, so that by a lightning calculation we have two graduate education seminars.

Two other news items are more on-going, but each with enough new developments to be worth a few words. For one thing, the NSF Project, CCML (Creating a Community of Mathematics Learners) about which I have been writing for several years, has now been joined by ECML (Expanding the Community of Mathematics Learners). In a small burst of acronymophobia we refer to them jointly as the CML project. The new portion works with elementary school teachers, using a seminar series entitled Developing Mathematical Ideas. Yesterday I had the priviledge of taking part in an extremely lively discussion of how to take the question "How many batches of cookies can I make if each batch takes 1/2 cup and I have 5/6 of a cup available?" and produce a visual representation which connects it clearly with the operation of multiplication or division. If you think that is a trivial exercise--try it!

On another NSF front, the PFF (Preparing Future Faculty) grant has a new development which still has a few question marks attached, but which I would like for people to be aware of anyway: it looks as if we will be able to use some of the funds to send or take graduate students to conferences and gatherings at which they can take part in some non-research-centered mathematics. Some of these I know about (like the splendid Community College Mathematics Conference in the spring) but others I am sure I don't, so I am very much up for any suggestions that come my way.

That's enough of the general, so let me give you one specific: the first speaker for the Calculus-Education seminar will be Deborah Hughes-Hallett. She will be here on Thursday, October 7. And not only will she be inaugurating the Calculus series, but she has also consented to inaugurate the Brown Bag Teaching/Learning seminars for the year. Since the calculus seminar is at 1:30, the Brown Bag will be at noon, so she can take a deep breath between (or at least a couple of shallow ones.) She offered me such a dizzying array of possibilities that I can't tell you yet what the topic will be, but this much I can say: SAVE THE DATE!!

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