It finally happened! The news accumulation reached a point where it blew a circuit breaker and nothing at all got written about any of it. Circuits are now reasonably patched up, but I may have to send the news on the installment plan to keep them that way.
I'll start with an item that has no place in the chronology and constitutes a bit of a boost for my own particular interest: for years I have been mentioning to people that a primary occupation for me is working with and translating Didactique, to which the common (and quite understandable) reaction is "Didacwhat??" I have also been running into folks who do indeed know what Didactique is, and have even found the book about it that I helped edit and translate in the 90's -- but have found the book very tough to get into. Inspired by both of these, I have written something that was originally to have been a paperback book, and then turned instead into a web publication. It finally got actually hooked up to the web a few weeks ago, with the title of "Invitation to Didactique". You can find it at http://www.math.washington.edu/~warfield/Didactique.html -- and I invite you to do so!
Now back onto the calendar -- the only hope of coherence. My last newsletter hit the screen in mid-May, after which there came a month when all of the (numerous) goings on consisted of either continuations or preparations, not anything newsletterable. This ended rather abruptly on June 20 with a nine day marathon involving a set of four highly contrasting and excellent events. Details of all four would transfer the circuit-overload from me to you, so I shall thumbnailify.
Event the first: the initial meeting of the steering committee of Project TIME (Transitions in Mathematics Education). This is another of Green River Community College's marvelous productions, this time with the support of the Transition Mathematics Project The TMP's goal, as described on its website (http://www.transitionmathproject.org/) is to set the standard for student success -- specifically a standard that will allow a student entering college to succeed there. Two years of intensive effort have produced a document that has impressed everybody I've talked to about it, with a description not only of the mathematical competencies needed but of the student attributes that must accompany them (ability to persist even if they haven't solved a problem in five minutes, to handle frustration, to be curious, etc.). Unfortunately, simple existence of the document doesn't butter any parsnips, so now the effort is to do something to make teachers, parents and students aware of the standards in question and help students achieve them. Project TIME came into existence to further that effort. Some of how it intends to do so is already in place, and some is under design, but it all rests on establishing solid communications between high school and college/university faculty members. I'm looking forward to playing my part in that. Details will no doubt follow!
Event the second: a special institute for TEAM-OP. That's the project I described in Newsletter 120 (http://www.math.washington.edu/~warfield/news/news120.html) in which an interdisciplinary bunch of us works with a group of teachers from small, underserved rural school districts on the Olympic Peninsula. Our basic format has been to have two week summer institutes at UW's ONRC campus in Forks with follow-up visits during the year by a pair of graduate students who are very much part of the planning and teaching staff of the institutes. At last year's institute we became aware that while some of the teachers had fine support from their principals, others found themselves at cross purposes or worse and wound up hobbled. It didn't take very profound analysis to recognize the source of the difficulty: our major thrust has been to model and encourage hands-on, inquiry-based teaching, which is totally unfamiliar to many administrators. Fortunately (from our point of view) that problem is not restricted to rural districts. In fact, it's pretty universal. As a result, it has been worked on for several years, and at least one person has developed a considerable expertise in dealing with it. That person is Dr. Gini Stimpson, and we had the great good fortune to nab her and get ourselves onto her calendar. Thanks to that, we were able to run a three-day workshop specifically for principals. It was a fascinating experience -- at times a bit harrowing, but in the end extremely satisfying. The proof, of course, is in the pudding, otherwise known as the school year, but our impression was that things should go better for a batch of our participating teachers.
Event the third: Green River strikes again. This time they were simply the hosts for a workshop sponsored by AMATYC (American Mathematics Association of Two Year Colleges), but it wasn't by chance that they got the host-ship. They observed a number of years ago that a large proportion of the people who go into elementary teaching in Washington get into their programs via a community college. Their conclusion was that community colleges should start paying attention to how they were doing the preparation, and figure out how to do it best. They put together Project TEACH (Teacher Education Alliance of Colleges and High Schools) and did great things with it. WaToToM has been watching and cheering and wishing we could get our institutions to require of future teachers the courses that they have put together to make up their "core preparedness" program. They have also persuaded a bunch of other community colleges to put together similar programs. So when AMATYC proposed to offer a workshop of professional development for teachers of teachers, it seemed clear who could house it and make it work. And make it work they certainly did. When I turned up on the very last day (frustrating not to be able to be in two places at once!) the participants were still lively and involved and clearly soaking up ideas. I spent the first chunk of the afternoon fulfilling a request that I clarify somewhat the current state of K-12 education and what is meant by "Math Wars", but then had the good fortune to be able to work through one of my favorite probability problems with them, too. An excellent lot -- and an excellent idea to offer professional development at that level. Why should only K-12 teachers benefit from it?
Event the fourth: a change of pace. Also, thank goodness, of location. The first three had me doing more driving than the previous six months. This one was on campus. The College of Education had a three day retreat at the Waterfront Activities Center. I think my circuits were already beginning to register overload, because my memory of details is sadly skimpy. What I do remember is the overall aim and organization, because both impressed me a lot. This was one of the periodic overhauls of the Elementary Teacher Education Program. Any respectable program does something along those lines from time to time. Far too frequently, though, the overhaul turns into the classic category of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Put less superciliously, program revisions run aground on the inevitable fact that serious changes involve parting with some things that are going well along with the things that have shown themselves to be ineffectual, or have become that way over time. This overhaul is being done from the ground up. Groundwork was laid in seminars and working groups for months before the retreat. The retreat itself involved a huge spread of people -- faculty members and graduate students from what seemed to me to be most of the departments within the College of Education, teachers and administrators from a number of schools, faculty members from Arts and Sciences (actually, only Judith Arms and I were able to make it, but many had been invited). The discussion was mostly not at the nuts and bolts level -- in fact occasionally a bit far into the clouds of glory range for my tastes -- but every bit was taken seriously, and a structure had already been set up for turning all the theory into a draft program to be considered in the fall (an already constituted committee was visibly gearing up for a heavy-duty summer.) I shall be fascinated to watch what comes of it, and very much surprised if what comes isn't a thoroughly revised and very interesting program.
A week after that I was in Prague, helping Guy Brousseau prepare and deliver the opening plenary address for the PME (Psychology of Mathematics Education) meeting there. PME does great meetings, predicated on the theory that people like not just to hear about ideas, but to discuss them, and Guy, in my (totally biassed) opinion, did a great plenary address (also findable at http://www.math.washington.edu/~warfield/Didactique.html) but enough is enough -- it's time for the send button!