Date: Mar 31, 1993 7:53 PM
Author: Evelyn Sander
Subject: Interview with Bob Devaney
Boston University professor Bob Devaney is in Minnesota this week,
as part of the Minnesota Math Mobilization program. He is usually
in Boston doing research in Complex Dynamics, but for his spring
break, he has chosen to travel around the state giving talks to
audiences of high school math teachers as well as some college
students. I had a chance to talk to him this morning immediately
before he left for Duluth.
Professor Devaney is concerned about the lack of
communication between high school math teachers and college
math teachers and researchers. "It's ridiculous to have two
groups of mathematicians so divided; for the most part, they
do not talk to one another. Most mathematicians at the college
level don't even know what NCTM stands for. And yet high
school teachers are the ones responsible for getting students
interested in mathematics."
What exactly is turning students away from math?
"Our society currently views it as acceptable to dislike math.
High school students decide math is boring so they're going to
stop taking it; their parents don't object. They say, 'I got by
with only eighth grade math, so my kids will be able to do
"Most high school teachers are afraid of changing the curiculum
to incorporate technology and modern mathematics. The lack
of communication with researchers makes it very difficult for
"These attitudes are part of why our country is in the state it's
in today. We need to make an effort to get students interested
again. I think it's time for mathematicians to do what everyone
else has been doing for a long time; namely, popularize and
How can we popularize mathematics?
Professor Devaney has been active in a program affiliated with
Boston University which works with Boston inner city schools:
"The purpose of the program was twofold; first, we wanted to
help the teachers learn to use the technology effectively.
The schools all had computers, but we had to find a way to
incorporate them into the curiculum.
"The second goal of the program was to add modern mathematics
into the courses. The teachers really resisted this, so in order
to convivce them, we formed an after school Chaos Club. Once a week
we would have some activity, usually on the computer. It was
always something fun but also always having to do with math.
The club was very popular with students. The teachers were
amazed at all these students staying after school to do math.
It was quite persuasive of the importance of this kind of material.
Now the teachers have taken over the club."
For the specific material that Professor Devaney feels is
appropriate for high school students, as well as a desription
of the talks he is giving in Minnesota this week, please see
the part two of this article.