Another year, another WaToToM -- or Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics, for the uninitiated (or acronym-resistant). With six previous ones under my belt, I went in feeling pretty confident that all would be well. Only one little aspect niggled a bit at me. We have increased our registrations to the point where I could completely discard my annual twitch about covering our deposit and where there was not one cry of "But why don't we have someone here from X?" ( there were some "Wouldn't it be nice to ...?"s, but that's another story) -- but this carries one unduckable consequence. We were obviously not going to be the intimate little group of yore. I needn't have fretted. A community of neat people can always manage to welcome in a few more neat people. It was only a bit larger than last year's, in fact -- which goes to show how a sufficient number of bits can add up to a batch!
Onward to details. I'll skip the recurrent ones, since they can now all be found in the old newsletters attached to the WaToToM web site I finally concocted (who, me, smug?) That's at http://faculty.washington.edu/warfield/WaToToM/WaToToM.html So what was new? Well, for a start, there was Quantitative Literacy. A trio of members had been at a workshop on the subject last summer (a whole week at Sleeping Lady, poor dears!) and volunteered to launch the rest of us into it. On Saturday morning they did just that. Thumbnail version: would you rather have K-12 graduates able to reason about right triangles or statistical data? Able to use the quadratic formula or able to keep their heads in an argument involving manipulation of quantities? The answer, of course, is and should be all of them! Furthermore, it is not an unreasonable goal. The snag is that we have been settling more and more into a pattern of holding up calculus as the shining grail, and the glare from the grail has cast a lot of other possibilities into the shadow. This is not a new thought, but it is now being given renewed emphasis and focus. One slant that I did find new and highly intriguing was the excellent notion that beyond putting contexts from outside the math classroom into what we do in that classroom (definitely a longstanding issue) we should be taking our mathematics out to other classrooms and helping teachers of other subjects enjoy rather than avoid the quantitative aspects of their field (respectable use of data in social sciences being an example that leaps to mind!)
Officially, quantitative literacy was the topic just of the first part of Saturday morning, but needless to say an idea like that, once it has entered the conversation, stays there -- that's what it's designed to do. The agenda, though, did move on. Saturday morning finished with a report from an old friend with a new perspective. Bob McIntosh came to us last year as a representative of OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction). Since then he has become the Mathematics Program Specialist of the North Thurston School District. He is finding the new position envigorating, enjoyable and exciting -- also challenging. Decisions at that level are not something we often have a chance to think about, and doing so was an excellent exercise. We went to lunch cogitating on that new perspective and then (after our usual ski, etc., break) returned to yet another. Three delightful teachers from Bob's new district took us through the measurement strand of the Trailblazers curriculum (one of the NSF- supported "standards-based" curricula) from Kindergarten through 3rd grade, with indications of where it goes thereafter. We didn't just hear about it, we got to estimate how many of these paper snails would go in that garden (inside a plastic-link chain on a rug), and figure how Goldilocks could resolve an argument among Reggie, Rupert and Ruthie Rectangle. We also saw how students had solved some of the problems posed, and what is being routinely asked of and received from them by way of mathematical experimentation and justification -- awesome.
After dinner came the usual "What's going on in your neck of the woods?" session, with the usual answer: "Lots!" Since we had solid representation from UW (including UW-Bothell), WSU (including WSU-Vancouver), Eastern, Central, Western, Seattle U, PLU, and a bunch of community colleges around the state there was way more information than I can attempt to reproduce, so I shall just say, with much pleasure, that the mathematics education scene in Washington is a lively one.
The Sunday morning session is where we roll up our sleeves and take a look at the system and what we think we should be doing about it. Rick Jennings, who has replaced Bob McIntosh at OSPI, kindly and courageously undertook to fill us in on the current state of the state as far as K-12 mathematics goes. One item of great interest was that in response to No Child Left Behind the state has created "mini-WASLs", to be given in the grades at which the WASL itself was not aimed (it was designed to be given in 4th, 7th and 10th grades). He thinks the minis do a pretty good job of building up to the existing tests and should reduce the jolt factor produced by the current set-up. A fascinating (to me!) connected issue is that it is as yet undecided whether in addition to the week or more devoted to this series of tests the schools will have also to devote a week to the giving of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (bubble-fill-in tests focused on computational skills). It seems that that decision will be made not by anyone anywhere in the educational field, but by the legislature -- and they are currently discussing it. Lobbying was not appropriate (or necessary!) there, and would be downright illegal here, but some of us consider this fact a call to action. It also turned into a call for a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but we pulled ourselves out of that and got back to addressing what might be more manageable issues. Last yea we wrote a couple of letters (one to OSPI and one to the HEC Board) only one of which was even acknowledged, and that one with rather back-of-my-hand-to-you overtones. So what can we do to improve our ability to have some impact? If we just stand in a corner and stomp our foot only the floorboards of the Sleeping Lady will be affected. Conversation swooped and swirled (and occasionally dived) but in due course we came up with a Plan, thanks largely to having not one but two OSPI-knowledgeable voices with us. There is someone at OSPI who has a finger on the pulse of this whole enterprise -- knows, for instance, which body makes what decisions, and whom to contact within that body. Not only that, but both of them agreed that he is definitely a nice guy. A field trip to Olympia for a suitable subset of WaToToM is now in the works.
So we rolled on out with some sense of accomplishment and even more sense of renewal and envigoration -- also with a comfortable knowledge that we will be seeing each other again in a year (February 4 - 6, to be precise) and communicating via e-mail from time to time between. After seven years we have developed a nice, secure, established sort of feeling. Not that we are so established that we're not up for anything new. The North Thurston teachers opened their session with a Math Round -- our first-ever musical endeavor, and we made the rafters rattle. If you've ever been to summer camp or had kids there, the tune will probably be clear to you. The words go
I love addition
I love subtraction, too.
Counting by fives is
Just what I like to do
Place value's lots of fun
I'm sad when Math is done.
M I love it
A I love it
T I love it
H I love it