This year I am not writing this up as a general newsletter. I'm sending it straight to WaToToM itself, to remind those who were there what we did (and let them have a chance to correct me!) and to fill everybody else in on what we came up with.
It would be reasonable to suppose that after twelve previous gatherings, and with fewer issues at a boiling point at the state level than sometimes, this year's gathering would be a little humdrum. Reasonable, but wrong. The group that gets itself to Sleeping Lady just doesn't do humdrum. Our numbers were down a bit, particularly after a couple of last minute cancellations, but our energy was right up there.
Friday night's introductions had a slight new wrinkle: as always, people paired up with someone they didn't know (if possible!) and introduced each other. We used always to go for finding something far out the two people have in common, and that pursuit was still fair game, but this time we added the alternative of finding out some interesting hope or dream or plan our partner had. Got some nice ones that fed later conversations -- that wrinkle is a keeper.
Saturday morning's math start was Pass the Pigs -- a nifty game of probabilistic brinksmanship that I picked up from a colleague. Oinks were still resounding when I decided it was time to head into the more serious stuff. The initial chunk of conversation was based on a big January shindig to which I was invited as representing WaToToM. It was put on by the Partnership for Learning, for which I have a great deal of respect, and it involved several impressive presentations that I came away feeling youall ought to know about. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to sort out the flood of information, so it was a very good thing that some folks present at Sleeping Lady knew much more than I. The central issue was the New Teacher Project which seems to be being enthusiastically touted at the upper reaches. It exists to bring career-changers into science and math teaching along what sounds like an apprenticeship route, with the virtue of lots of mentoring. Some Colleges of Education have apparently responded with fear that they will be out of the loop, but a WaToToMite who had been though an early iteration of the project praised it highly. Seems a prime place for us to keep ourselves informed and make sure we stay tuned to ways to cooperate. The other big item was a new STEM (= Science,Technology, Engineering & Math) Initiative that is currently in the process of rolling out a STEM Center. I have been hearing about this at meetings of the Washington State Education Coordinating Council for many months and can testify that it is being spearheaded by some very fine folks. What I haven't been able to sort out is which road the rubber will hit and what direction the whole deal will take. Another one to keep our eyes on. Concluding this rather amorphous paragraph, I'll just recommend that you all take a look from time to time at the Partnership for Learning web site: http://www.partnership4learning.org/
And while we are on the subject of web sites, have a look at ours: www.washmath.org. It has come a long way since last year's meeting and embodies many of the excellent ideas that came up then. Now, on the other hand, after the discussion that occupied the second half of Saturday morning, we have a bunch more great ideas. Some of them are ones that every one of you could help with, to wit, ways of drawing in the viewer and helping him or her understand what it is that we value in a classroom so much that we are hurling our lives into promoting it. Specifically
A) We want to replace the box in the upper right corner that leads with "What is Reform Math?" by something that gives instant access to some videos of students engaged in and thinking about and enjoying some good, serious mathematics. Ideally we want a bunch of such videos in which the actual manner of teaching varies a lot -- we're not about promoting one kind of teaching, but rather one result of teaching. So anyone who can show me a link to such a video -- one that we can show without breach of copyright and that people can look at and recognize what they are seeing -- will earn undying gratitude from one and all.
B) We need is some good stories. Data we've got, though I think they could be made more evident. What we don't have is simply a bunch of quotations of people -- students, parents and teachers -- who have had a good experience with inquiry-based learning. We all hear them -- it's the kind of thing that fuels all of our work -- but we tend not to document them. Please, could you each do a spot of documenting and zap the results to me to send to our webmaster? It would increase our effectiveness many-fold.
Those were the ideas that call for action from WaToToMites. Others -- like archiving out of date cool items -- went straight to our wonderful webmaster, who has begun instituting them already. Have a look!
Saturday afternoon began with a tale of two books. The first tale was told by Karen Smith, who worked with the Washington School Research Center studying the current state of mathematics education in and outside of Washington with an intensive review of literature and a lot of interviews. Their end product was a book entitled Winning the Math Wars, with a lovely subtitle of No Teacher Left Behind. Major conclusion, which resonated with us all, was that fiddling with curricula is in effect peripheral -- what we really need to do is support and work with teachers. The position is beautifully articulated and supported in the book, of which she kindly gave copies to all present. I recommend it to the rest of you -- easy to read and full of valuable insights, not to mention a whopping bibliography. You can get it from UW Press or (sigh) way cheaper at Amazon. The full set of authors is Martin Abbott, Duane Baker, Karen Smith and Thomas Trzyna.
The second book tale was told by Judith Arms, who used Jo Boaler's What's Math Got to Do with It in her Math for Elementary Teachers course. The resulting student comments indicated a considerable leap forward in their perceptions of what teaching and learning are about. One student, in fact, read the book just before the quarter began and felt it really opened her up to learning from the class. I have burbled about the book before, and will probably do so again, so I'll just point out that if you don't already have it, you can get that one from Amazon, too.
The rest of the afternoon was allocated to Greta Bornemann, who is our official representative from OSPI. Unfortunately she succumbed to some goshawful bug and just couldn't make it. We were rescued by Cheryl Lydon, who is the math coordinator for the ESDs and works very closely with Greta. Greta filled her in on a lot of what she planned to say and to ask, and Cheryl did a yeoman job of channeling her. I won't attempt to reproduce the sequence of questions and chunks of information, because with a computer in front of you you are better off checking out a highly relevant website that Cheryl pointed us to: the OSPI Educator Resources webpage ( http://www.k12.wa.us/Mathematics/Resources.aspx ). I will point to some specific items on it:
Changes for 2010 and Beyond describes what is happening on the assessment front, especially at the K-8 level. I note in reading the description that it has a paragraph explaining that there will, of course, be testing of the standard algorithms. Along with that I will convey the message from Greta that we should please not get too tied up in that but rather use our energy where it will have more impact.
OSPI Common Core Standards website ( http://www.k12.wa.us/Corestandards/default.aspx ) which has a link to a draft of the College and Career Ready Standards, which look really good, and ways to link to the draft of the K-12 Standards, which will have a very brief window for much-needed public input, starting very, very soon.
Cheryl also brought some questions from Greta about what would be important for a K-8 math specialist to know and be and do. Everyone piled in and produced a list of ideas and suggestions that Cheryl duly collected for Greta -- I do hope they are useful!
Saturday evening, thanks to Audrey Jacks, we cashed in on a unique combination of circumstances: the ground was dry, the air was clear and not too very cold, the moon was full and Sleeping Lady has a fire pit right by Icicle Creek. Our Saturday evenings are always inspiring, as people talk about new initiatives, or about new developments in old initiatives, or sometimes casually mention things that are routine to them and awesome to the rest of us. Snowy mountains and a frothy creek glowing in the moonlight did the inspiration no harm at all!
Sunday morning got off to a slightly grim start. There's a mess going on in Seattle, and it has implications throughout the state -- in fact, the country -- so we decided it had better be brought up. So first Robbin O'Leary described the months long process she took part in in which a large committee of teachers and parents followed a carefully laid out and meticulously obeyed procedure to produce recommendations to the School Board for high school curriculum choices. Ultimately she was on a subcommittee that worked on texts for AP statistics and calculus, but the rules and procedures were laid out and followed identically. The committee studying curricula for algebra and geometry recommended the curriculum published by Key Curriculum Press entitled Discovering Algebra and Discovering Geometry. This recommendation did not please Where's the Math, so the school board meetings at which it was discussed were, to say the least, heated. Ultimately the Discovering series was indeed chosen, and it has now been purchased and is in use throughout Seattle. Where's the Math responded by filing a suit on the basis that the decision was arbitrary and capricious. Since the procedure had been so meticulously followed, few of us took the suit seriously. We were therefore startled when it was not thrown out before a hearing, and stunned when the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. I think her instructions were that the Seattle School Board should look at some more curricula. In terms of Seattle schools, I think the damage will be contained. The school board just filed an appeal, and it's hard to imagine that the case will come before another judge who feels that a law degree entitles him or her to declare how mathematics should be taught ("The court finds that this is an inquiry-based curriculum"). On the other hand, the campaign to promote fear and discord just got a terrific boost. School districts all over the country are bracing themselves for similar law suits, and questioning the safety of trying non-traditional curricula. One more successful attempt to distract everyone from working together in support of good teachers and good teaching. So we need to be aware.
You can get more details from the website Key Curriculum Press has put together on the subject: http://www.keypress.com/x24956.xml . There are some terrific letters of support there from mathematicians like Alan Schoenfeld and our own Jim King and from high school teachers like Teri Hulbert (whom I happen to know and think a world of) and many others. Key is also looking for mathematicians who would be willing to field some questions from anxious folks -- if any of you feels like leaping into the breach you would be much appreciated.
We then took several deep breaths and got our blood off the boiling point, which was essential for our final task of the week-end. This was a task that grew out of the January Advocacy Workshop run by the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession that I tried to get a flock of us to attend. Owing to some timing misfortunes the flock was not huge, but Ken Marks and I were there and then at Sleeping Lady, and we put our heads together to connect things up. The underlying need that we came to terms with at the workshop was to articulate a central message of the heart of WaToToM's beliefs. With that articulated, we will then all be in a far stronger position to communicate in the specific contexts in which the need arises to do so. This is a non-trivial task. One of the deep joys of WaToToM, and in particular of our gatherings, is the degree to which our goals and hopes and dreams resonate with each other. But when you try to articulate such a resonance it's an immense challenge. We need a focussed statement, but not a sound bite. We need something with substance but not a list of required ingredients. We need to be idealistic but keep our feet on the ground. We need ... you get the picture. So for a considerable chunk of Sunday morning we alternated discussions at tables and discussions all together and we generated a large number of really excellent ideas. Ken is going to compile our ideas, and then the discussion will be broadened. Which brings us to the final developments of the morning:
1) We have an on-line discussion site at wiggio, set up by Dan Finkel. It is invitational, and so far invitations have gone only to folks who were at Sleeping Lady, but they will come very soon to all the rest of WaToToM. Our hope is to pursue this and many other issues that are important to us, in an easy, interactive way. So stay tuned for your invitation and please do accept it. You can set things up so that you get notifications but don't drown in e-mails.
2) We decided that our Sleeping Lady conferences are awfully far apart, so we plan to have a meeting in conjunction with the Northwest Math Conference (http://49thnwmathconference.org/ ) October 7 - 9 in Spokane. Still figuring out timing and format for that -- we can use wiggio to discuss how to do it. We will also do a presentation there introducing WaToToM to the wider world of mathematics education in Washington. Again the format is unclear, but I'm signing us on, so start thinking!
That's it! One more great conference, or gathering, or whatever we want to call it, and one more batch of ideas and plans to think about and, let's hope, act on!