Friday, June 1, 2007

Small world

The second day of the conference is over. First of all I have to say that everybody was very civil so far, although there were some gentle pokes at the "other camp" and allusions to math wars, and who does what and how. Clearly, we do it right and they do it wrong, but the tone was leaning towards "we can still learn from each other". The last point actually brings me to some cultural differences I find in the two fields: mathematics and education. In my experience mathematics is very generous field. People do their work and are extremely open to sharing it, providing their written work, talking about it in private even if it's not really finished, sharing ideas and collaborating with others. Yes, there are some isolated cases that got press coverage lately that would imply otherwise, but that's what they are: isolated cases. My short experiences with education people was somewhat different. Maybe I have run into their isolated cases, you tell me. I'll mention two that happened today. We had a session in which University of Michigan people talked about their content course for elementary teachers masters program, and University of Delaware people talked about their preservice elementary mathematics courses. They seem to have been very similar to each other, and both seemed like very good ideas. So I said something to the effect that it wouldn't make sense for all of us who might be teaching these types of courses to reinvent a wheel, and would they be willing to share their materials. There was a noticeable silence before I got an answer that in short said "Yes, but only a couple of lessons". After the session I was approached by a person from, I believe, San Diego State, who said that they are about to publish some materials, and I should come to their session. That was great, but I suppose this is not a community that appreciates freebies :)

But to go back to my title. Half way through the day I ran into Yvonne (you will have to pardon the lack of linkage in this post), a graduate student from UCD whom I met at some math conferences couple of years ago. Turns out she's organizing Math Circles in Davis, and I will be helping with Teacher's Circles in Salt Lake City. She and her friend Brandy went out to dinner with us. Brandy turns out to be a grad student at UCD as well, but in math biology. So I mention that I know a professor there who is math bio, and she immediately tells me a name of another professor who used to be in Salt Lake when I was a grad student there who I remember moved to Canada. I guess it was too cold up there for him. With us at dinner were Sendhil, a math teacher, and John, a former high school math teacher who is now with Math for America, both from NYC. Sendhil was at the Math and Social Justice conference about which I first read at mrc's blog. Then we started talking about blogging teachers, so I mentioned Jonathan. Do I have to say that John knew him? Sendhil knew about Darren's class blogs. The world is small.


Darren Kuropatwa said...

It sure is a small world. I didn't know Sendil or Johnathan but I do now ... and through Johnathan's blog I've stumbled upon the carnival of mathematics which looks like great fun! Just added it to my blogroll.

Thanks for the tip. ;-)

jonathan said...

I worked with MfA for a couple of years. Funny that you would mention my name, funnier that it was to someone who actually knows me.

Actually, there are lots of policy type people, but are there lots of policy type people who stay in teaching?


Anonymous said...

I think one difference between mathematics and education is in the form of publication. There are research articles about education in journals, but when classroom materials are published they are often sold by a commercial publisher. It's probably harder to get them published if they have already been widely distributed for free, especially on the web, while math research journals hardly care at all how much you've distributed an article before publication.

Another issue is regarding credit. Research publications always cite their sources, but people using classroom materials don't. (Most people don't cite sources for problems or lesson plans on their class handouts.) This means if you distribute your curricular innovations widely, you run the risk that they will become widespread folklore before you have a chance to publish them, and you won't get much credit.

e said...

Darren, glad you found something of interest, especially since you've been a constant source to me.

Jonathan, I actually don't know how many policy people there are out there, but my guess would be that the ones who stay in teaching are few and far between. From what I understand teaching has a way of occupying majority of one's time and energy, and people who manage to get involved with other things (like yourself) are rare. I may be wrong, and maybe they just choose not to get involved with policy.

Anonymous, I realize that things are somewhat different with the materials, and I understand some of the motivation behind the attitudes. But that doesn't mean that I agree with them. It is my belief that people should be in education because their primary concern is education. So, their goal should be to educate people, and materials are but one way of doing so. I can't help it but feel that if educator's interest was primarily in selling their product and getting credit for it, then they are in a wrong field. Not that I think there is anything wrong with getting credit for person's accomplishments, but I think there are ways of achieving that without traditional publishing. Maintaining web sites with their materials, and building a community that gives credit where credit is due could be a good start. I try, as much as I can, not to assign textbooks for courses I teach, because they are too expensive, and education in this country is already overpriced. One last thing on sharing: I sure am glad I can use linux, geogebra, openoffice, ..... for free. Do I know who made those? No, but I sure am grateful for what they've done.