Newsletter #85     Two mini-bits

This is more like a mini-newsletter, but with a highly eventful week coming up, I can see the two items I have here getting totally swamped, and that would be too bad.

The first item is actually a follow-up from last spring. In May we had a splendid two day visit from Alan Schoenfeld, a major figure in mathematics education research and a crackerjack speaker. I reported on it in Newsletter #81 which is (blush) not yet attached to my homepage, but will be soon. In any case, one of his lectures was sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Education, and he was besieged at the end by folks telling him he must turn it into a paper. This he did, and he has just sent it to me. It is entitled "Making Mathematics Work For Our Kids: Issues of Standards, Testing, and Equity," and I think it's really excellent. Highly significant analysis of the current state of the world, education-wise. Also not at all hard to read -- admirably free of what I once heard described as jargonese. For my fellow Padelfordites I have left a copy on the table in the Math Lounge nearest the rack of published articles. To more distant folk I'd be glad to send a copy, if you send me a nice, unambiguous address.

The other newsbit is a report on last week's Brown Bag. A goodly bunch of us gathered before a VCR in the Math Lounge to watch a 1991 lecture given by Uri Treisman for a joint session of the MAA and AMS. He was as engaging, convincing and occasionally outrageous as always. His basic tenet is that our current structure at the level of university mathematics is designed to fit really gracefully into an era that is long gone. The underlying hypothesis (explicit or im-) is that classes graduating from our high schools are full of kids who are fired up for a career in math or science, and that they are coming flocking into our calculus sequences. This theory has two flaws. One is that for a multitude of reasons, of which we are responsible for some but not most, the percentage of graduating seniors who check the "I wanna be a scientist" box on surveys has plummeted. Something on the order of from 30% in the sixties to 2% now. The other flaw is that the ones who are indeed fired up to become mathematicians or scientists aren't coming into our calculus sequence at all, because they have polished the stuff off in high school. This is not at all to say that our calculus sequences do not have in them potentially excellent young mathematicians. They're there-- but they have to be recognized and reached and supported. Otherwise they will choose a major whose attractions are more obvious to them. Uri suggests that the best way to recognize a potential mathematician is to look for students who really like to be confused. His other suggestions were less catchy, but perhaps a little more compelling. At the university level, he made some cogent, though fairly familiar, comments on structure and the rewards system. At the departmental level he made some suggestions whose details have escaped me on teaching and supporting students. And at the personal level he put it the most lucidly of all: "Look, we are all in this because we love mathematics. We have to put our backs into showing our students that love and drawing them into it." --

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