Date: Apr 19, 1995 10:32 AM
Author: Ihor Charischak
Subject: Boston Impressions

In response to Ed Dickey's request for sharing thoughts on the NCTM meeting:

Thank you Ed for inspiring me to do more than just "lurk" on this listserv
but actually post something about the NCTM meeting. (I wonder how similar
this is to talk radio where the estimate is that only 1% of listeners
actually call in. I'm one of the 99% there as well.) I would like to give
you my impressions/reactions to the Boston meeting. But first let me tell
you my biases/interests in choosing sessions, etc.

Back at Stevens Institute of Technology I manage a three year NSF funded
mentorship project (40 7th-10th grade math teachers from 16 school
districts in NJ) which uses technology as a catalyst for in-service
professional growth. The teachers learn to use a variety of technologies in
their classroom and then share their knowledge with their colleagues. So
I'm partial to interesting uses of technology.

I'm interested in making the mathematics experience meaningful for the
average middle and high school student mostly because I was one of those
students that didn't "get it" for much of my high school and part of my
college years. I worry that much of what we have children learn in Algebra
and beyond is not really well understood and just becomes a hoop for them
to jump through. We may appreciate the power of software and calculators in
graphing fancy functions, but I don't think most students share our
enthusiasm or appreciation. Its neat to watch, but how deep do they dig?
(It's a little like watching Forest Gump shake hands with Jack Kennedy or
what Bert Waits did in his session. See below.)

I like to see and share examples of good classroom practice. (This usually
requires the showing a videotape.) Since most presenters do not model how
to carry out the ideas they are presenting, it's rare to see good examples
of classroom practice.

An aside about getting on the program......
For a number of years I was consistently being invited to present at the
annual and regional meetings. Lately there has been a dry spell... I was
curious about what had happened... While in Boston, I got a possible
insight. It dawned on me that the only thing that was different about my
presentation proposal was that I added an equipment requirement - I needed
a VCR. Could it be that the VCR allotment was up when they got to my name?

Nine years ago I attended a special meeting at the annual NCTM meeting in
Washington for people who were interested in Logo (organized by John Van de
Walle). There was lots of interest so we agreed to organize. Two years
later this group now known as the Council for Logo & Technology in
Mathematics Education became an affiliate group of NCTM and I became its
president. Three years ago we pushed for a technology advisory group. The
upshot was a technology task force that updated the NCTM position papers on
technology. We are now faced with new challenges as the technology matures
and differentiates. In my search for finding out what roles CLIME can play
in supporting the effective uses of technology in mathematics education
within the NCTM umbrella, I've been slowly learning about how NCTM works -
which in many ways is still a mystery to me. But now with the Internet and
with the sharing of Ed Dickey and Skip Fennell and others I realize I now
have a forum for more rapid learning.

Conference highlights:
Meeting Anne Fetter was a treat. She stuck a yellow ribbon on my name tag
which had minimal impact. Someday when most people are using email we'll
reminisce fondly about these early pioneer years. Have you noticed that
quietly email addresses are starting to appear everywhere?

New software I liked: Graph Action from Tom Snyder Productions. (Not to be
confused with their Graph Club which has been around for a while). I found
out that George Brackett was the author and that it was part of the Jostens
software package which may be why it has some similarities to Joe's walk in
Algebra by Broderbund. (For those of that like a traditional approach to
Algebra - you and your kids will really like Algebra - a simulated textbook
with "hot" pages.) What Graph Action does is generate graphs based on
stories that you compose - a nice pre-algebra experience. Also interesting
was the fact that TSP gave you the FULL program as a demo. What's the
catch, you ask? It will self-destruct on September 1, 1995!
Other Software highlights: Tabletop - a dynamic database program - from
Broderbund - is wonderful. A really exciting way to do more data analysis
in the classroom. Nick Jackiw's sharing of Version 3.0 of the Sketchpad at
the user group meeting; and the software built into the TI-92 - for both
Algebra and Geometry.

I attended two sessions that focused on classroom practice and teacher
reflection (Lynn Gray from San Jose State and Karen Schultz from Georgia
State U.). They were sparsely attended. This feeds my pessimism about
genuine change actually happening in the classrooms. I think teachers have
to examine and reflect on their practice and be willing to experiment with
alternative strategies. From my experiences of giving talks that have the
word "pedagogy" in the title and the evidence here, there does not appear
to be a great deal of interest in being introspective about one's practice

Then there was Bert Waits and his presentation/promotion of the TI-92. The
finale and "G-Whiz" highlight of his talk was graphing a complicated
function in three dimensions and showing it rotate. Certainly it made me
and probably the rest of the large audience want to run out and get one of
these devices (but, alas, we have to wait till at least December). I do
question the premise of his talk that this device will significantly change
the way Algebra is taught and the way students learn. If he means that
there will be bigger (slightly) and better hand-helds in the classroom,
then he is right. But will the quality of the learning also improve, I'm
not as optimistic. (Reminder - my bias is toward the lower 90% of the
students who don't take to math like a duck to water.) That will depend on
whether the improved hand-helds will influence classroom discourse and the
activities that teachers choose to do with students. Though I personally
can't wait to get a hold of a TI-92 I actually hold more hope for a program
like TSP's graph program because I think it can directly impact the
majority of students understanding of the graphing process. We take for
granted the importance of graphing. But students secretly hold the
question: "Why do we always have to graph everything? Many don't really
understand. (I was surprised to find out at one point from some of my
students that the reason graphing was important was because it helped them
get a good grades!) Unless we really address these kinds of questions, this
generation of students will follow in the footsteps of their innumerate
predecessors and continue to fear flying in airplanes (unaware that its
more dangerous to drive a car) and go out and buy lots of lottery tickets
that they can't afford because they really believe they got a chance to
win!

I continue to be impressed with the books that Heinemann puts out. I
picked up "Chance Encounters" from the EDC project >Seeing and Thinking
Mathematically<. I hope this will inspire my middle school teachers to do
more with probability at the middle school level. Another Heinemann book
that I found fascinating starts off with a rather uninteresting title
"Fractions, Decimals, Ratios & Percents" but ends with a wallop - "Hard to
teach and hard to learn?" After reading many of the case discussions and
sharing some of them with my middle school teachers, I've had much to think
about. Anyone out there familiar with this book? I'd be very interested in
your reactions.

Then there is the Internet and its role in math education. Only 7 sessions
(less than 1% of the total) discussed this topic. Since we (Stevens) have
another NSF funded project devoted to the Internet it is becoming more and
more a part of my life. But this time around I'm not a knee-jerk devotee
like I was when the microcomputers first came out. Actually this Internet
movement reminds me a lot what was going on in the early 80's when micros
were first appearing in schools and many people were learning BASIC and
being stymied by the jargon.... well, its deja vous all over again... Also
reading Peter Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil" keeps one sober... But at the
same time (and this is what makes it exciting) there is enormous potential
for wonderful things to happen. For example, I participated in the noon day
project (the re-creation of Eratosthenes' measurement of the earth
experiment via the Internet) with two of our teachers. It was truly a
memorable experience.

But what I find really special about the Internet is having this
opportunity to debrief the conference with colleagues who are struggling
with many of the same issues that I am. The machinations of the NCTM
organization remains somewhat elusive (from how presenters are selected to
why Apple was discouraged from setting up a lab(?) - hopefully, someone
reading this will know why.) It has taken me 7 years (since our group
became an affiliate) to know what I know about NCTM; with email I hope my
learning will be greatly accelerated.

-Ihor Charischak
Stevens Institute of Technology