Catching Up

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:


About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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