This is a three item newsletter, of which the first item will be no news at all to those of you who inhabit Padelford -- possibly even those of you elsewhere on campus. It's sufficiently spectacular, though, so that I think all of us can enjoy another time through it. For the second year, our department entered two teams in the international Mathematical Contest in Modeling, sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications. Last year we merely did extremely well. This year, thanks to the fact that the teams, working completely independently, chose two different problems to tackle, we had two teams winning top honors -- a first in the entire history of the competition. Each one then proceeded to win an outside award from another organization (MAA for one and Institute for Operations Research and Industrial and Applied Mathematics for the other). And in case that didn't produce enough euphoria, all but one were local students and had had most or all of their education in public schools. Rose colored clouds are drifting out of the departmental windows -- especially that of Jim Morrow, who coached both teams.
This event did not go unnoticed -- it hit the Seattle Times and at least one TV station. It was also written up in the campus rag, and for that one I can give an easy connection: you can find the details at http://admin.urel.washington.edu/uweek/archives/issue/uweek_story_small.asp?id=1100
That's a hard act to follow, but I'll forge ahead anyway. For one thing there was a Brown Bag that should not go unmarked. Fred Holt, who got his degree from us a few years back, came to tell us what he has been up to since then. It was a lovely example of taking skills and talents for whose existence we probably can't take credit, but for whose honing and focusing I think we can, and doing great things with them that go way beyond anything we specifically set him up for. It had to do with taking software A that was designed to make program B work and realizing that modification C would produce improvement D which applied to much more than A. Or something like that. I trundled along with all the comprehension of a toddler at a picnic, but I could, at least, really appreciate the scenery we were tooling past.
Today, on the other hand, was an event for which I not only maintained a fair level of comprehension, but occasionally formed part of the (background) scenery. It has a history: in the early stages of WaToToM I got a request from the folks at Green River Community College to come to the year's gathering and make a small presentation. I responded with a slightly quizzical look, because I didn't particularly think of community colleges as having teacher education programs, but I very much liked and respected the folks making the request, so I said "sure!" Their presentation made one point that immediately struck me -- to wit, that a large percentage of graduates of the state's education programs begin their post-secondary education at community colleges. That made sense, and also gave a lot of validity to their goal of improving the teacher-preparation-preparation done there. For this they had a grant to run a project, Project Teach by name, which they were just then beginning to launch.
Since then they have reported every year on their progress, and every year I have become more impressed with their ideas and what they were achieving. So when they announced Washington State's First Community College Teacher Preparation Summit it took no effort to persuade me to attend it, especially since two colleagues (Judith Arms and Lisa Korf) were interested in going, too. That was today, and it was indeed a pleasure. Part of the pleasure was in seeing what they have accomplished, and part in seeing how enthusiastically it was received by others at the Summit, who represented quite a number of different community colleges. They have, for instance, set up a sequence of three mathematics courses for future elementary school teachers which represent precisely what WaToToM just requested, in a Position Statement, that the Higher Education Coordinating Board require of all students wishing to enter an Education program. They also have a nice recruiting program and a lively student club entitled Teachers of Tomorrow. And, as a sort of side mini-project, they are producing a series of modules in a bunch of different subject areas enabling instructors of college courses to connect particular topics or activities with Washington's Essential Academic Learning Requirement (the EALR's, pronounced "eelers", despite the fishy overtones.) These are in effect the state's version of the NCTM Standards -- the goals for teaching at each level of K-12 school. People concerned with the state of education often bemoan the cyclic nature of the problem: failures in educating young children carry through, stay with them, and blossom forth in the form of failures of teachers of the next generation of young children. It's a cycle that needs breaking at spot where there is a chance of breaking it. It seems to me that making college students -- even ones who aren't going into teaching -- aware of the degree to which what children need to learn is embedded in what they themselves are learning ought to produce perhaps not a break, but at least a nice little crack or chink in the cycle!