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Boston Impressions
Posted:
Apr 19, 1995 10:32 AM


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 7th10th grade math teachers from 16 school districts in NJ) which uses technology as a catalyst for inservice 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 prealgebra experience. Also interesting was the fact that TSP gave you the FULL program as a demo. What's the catch, you ask? It will selfdestruct 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 TI92  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 TI92. The finale and "GWhiz" 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 handhelds 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 handhelds 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 TI92 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 kneejerk 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 recreation 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



