It’s not that I haven’t been writing at all. For example, I expanded on my New York Times letter from a while back and turned it into an Aftermath piece for Math Horizons magazine.
Then there was the public lecture I gave on campus at the end of October. I knew that there would be a broad range of mathematical experiences in the audience, and I wanted the talk to be interactive. This is a challenge every mathematician should take on at some point; it’s much different from giving someone at a cocktail party (do those still exist?) a vague idea of why you love math. I used fractions as the thread connecting assessment (formative and summative), procedural vs. conceptual understanding, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, and a little group theory.
At the end of my talk, among the questions from the audience was this, from a first-year student (not one of mine, but I hope to see him in a class at some point): “You talked about changes teachers are making to help students understand concepts and not just procedures. Is there anything being done in college-level math?” So, college-level math instructors, how would you answer that? I started out by saying that we have much more autonomy than public school teachers, which may be why there haven’t been large-scale organized efforts. I went on to say (if I remember correctly) that there are individuals and groups of college faculty thinking about and discussing these issues. I eventually worked my way around to saying that working with teachers has certainly improved my own teaching. Note to self: explain that in writing.
Here are a few items I’ve shared with my first-year seminar students recently:
- a new set of materials for supporting English Language Learners in mathematics;
- financial education problems of the week from the Math Forum for grade levels K through 12;
- an essay by Deborah Stipek entitled “Mathematics in Early Childhood Education: Revolution or Evolution?” (we’ve been doing a project in a local Head Start classroom);
- an blog entry at the Huffington Post from Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu;
- a writing assignment in the form of a letter that Kurt Vonnegut wrote in 1965 (yes, it’s about writing fiction, but I think I’ll quote the last three sentences every time I teach a FYS).