Newsletter #88     A Joint Meetings Cameo

I really didn't expect this year's Joint Meetings to turn up in a newsletter, since their timing was such that I could only put in a cameo appearance. As it turned out, though, even a slightly partial day has a lot to offer if the intensity level is high enough. The day started with a breakfast meeting of the AWM Education Committee (for those of you who may doubt my capacity to attend a breakfast meeting I will add that I'm actually the one who scheduled it.) Since this is a committee that tends to function virtually, it was very nice to have a conversation face-to-face even though only about half of us could be there. I learned a lot -- I think we all did -- and a number of ideas were brought up and bounced around. Probably the most specific was a plan to collaborate with NCTM, and in particular to offer a session at next year's meeting (it's way too late for this year's.) I also learned of a whole raft of women's organizations about the which I know far less than I ought, and of some about which what I knew was nothing at all. Of those I am assembling an annotated list which will appear on these same channels when the assembling is complete.

My major magnet for the past several Joint Meetings has been the special sessions of the MER (Mathematicians and Education Reform), and I had correspondingly shed a gentle tear over the fact that I couldn't make it at all this year -- and then two chinks appeared in the day's schedule, and I got to zoom up and sneak in for a couple of bits. I hadn't even looked at the program, and was therefore especially delighted to find Gail Burrill at the microphone as I arrived, shortly thereafter to be joined by Deb Hughes-Hallett and Joan Ferrini-Mundi and a very articulate young woman from Japan whose name I didn't get. They were part of a panel on the international perspective on mathematics education. Gail's final sentences were a very heartening observation that while we may indeed have our share of problems, our international colleagues are also conscious of a lot of good things going on here, too. We needn't kick ourselves absolutely full time. Deb, I think, had talked about an international conference on teaching at the undergraduate level which happened in summer of '99, about which I have drooled every time I have heard it discussed. Not just because it was on Samos, but because of the list of luminaries who attended. There's another one this summer. On Crete... Of the question-and-answer session my chief memory is of an answer to some question about the Japanese teaching force. "No," the young Japanese woman replied, "In Japan, if you are not really well prepared you just don't teach." Yes, well, we do have areas in which some of our weaknesses are a bit glaring.

My actual reason for being in San Diego was a lunchtime meeting of the AWM Executive Committee. Same deal as the first meeting, writ large: a chance to be in the same room with a bunch of people with whom I do a lot of e-mail "meeting", and a chance to learn a lot.

I finished the day with an AWM panel discussion session on how to encourage women to go into and stay in mathematics. Cathy Kessel led off with the results of some studies on gender comparisons. I missed part of her talk, having gotten lost in the convention center (it's not as complex as Padelford, but everything is on such a huge scale that a little confusion can result in a remarkable amount of mileage!) but got enough to know that Cathy is someone at whose feet I decidedly wish to sit when it comes to learning about research on that topic. One of the following speakers told us about the WES project -- University of Wisconsin's version of a Treisman program, which (characteristically) is aimed at underrepresented minorities, but has proved highly beneficial to women of all backgrounds. Another discussed the University of Nebraska's graduate program, which is wonderfully, and highly effectively, supportive of women. And another, representing the K-12 aspect of the job at hand, just about had me standing and cheering. Not only did she articulate with marvelous clarity the exact position I espouse with regard to the mathematical education of future elementary school teachers, but she thanked the AWM for keeping her and her colleagues in touch with goings on at the university level, and especially "the people who write the education column." That's me!

And on that high, keen (all right, self-congratulatory!) note, I shall sign off and finish preparing tomorrow's class. --

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