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