National Summit on the Mathematical Education of Teachers

On November 2nd and 3rd, almost 300 participants and speakers gathered near Washington, D.C. for the National Summit on the Mathematical Education of Teachers. The Summit was an intensive two-day event, hosted and organized by the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences. The purpose of the Summit was to launch the document, The Mathematical Education of Teachers (MET), and to stimulate the mathematics community into making the mathematical education of teachers a priority for this decade.

Participants formed a diverse group, geographically (representing 35 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands), by specialty (mathematics, mathematics education, and education), and by affiliation (universities, four-year colleges and two-year colleges). Together, attendees heard some of the recommendations of MET, the challenges involved in implementing those recommendations, and efforts underway now at several institutions to improve the mathematics education of teachers.

The Summit consisted of plenary sessions, addresses, and working sessions. The plenary sessions and addresses were designed to frame the issues and problems associated with the mathematical education of teachers. The 18 working sessions were led by people from institutions that have had success improving that education. During these sessions, participants learned the specifics of a program and how a project could be applied at their own institutions. Topics from the working sessions were wide-ranging, and included elementary, middle and high school teacher preparation, and partnerships between higher education mathematics departments and school districts, schools of education and two-year colleges. Summaries and pictures from these sessions are at www.maa.org/cbms.

Some of the highlights of the plenary sessions and addresses follow:

  • The Summit began with remarks from Jim Lewis, who along with Glenda Lappan was co-chair of the Summit Steering Committee. Mindful of the duties and workload awaiting participants upon their return home, Jim asked people to keep two questions in mind during the Summit: What have we learned that should be shared with a wider audience back home? and What is our first action item when we return home?
  • Roger Howe, also a member of the Summit Steering Committee, pointed out that there are serious challenges facing the improvement in the mathematics preparation of teachers. For example, it would be desirable for teachers to know algebra, but many don't know arithmetic. He hoped that mathematics courses for teachers would be "rigorous and friendly" and that mathematics departments "get incentives right," that is, that the mathematics education of teachers not become a burden on those who have to develop or implement new programs.
  • Ed Ahnert, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation, spoke about the need ExxonMobil has for mathematics, science and engineering and that that need is shared by the country and its citizens. The Summit was supported by grants from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • William "Brit" Kirwan, president of the Ohio State University, began his talk by noting the "math wars" that have flared up recently. Kirwan said that he has seen wars fought for many reasons, but this is the first time that wars have been fought over mathematics education. He stated that "teacher education in mathematics should be a central mission of our mathematics and education departments" and outlined six strategies to improve mathematics education: reshape and restructure the undergraduate curriculum, increase diversity in mathematics departments, create opportunities for second career mathematics teachers (for example, people coming from industry), increase involvement with school districts and their teachers, increase research in mathematics education, and individualize faculty workloads.
  • Deborah Ball and Hyman Bass gave many examples to show how much mathematics a teacher must know to teach even the most basic arithmetic.
  • Judith Sunley, Senior Advisor to the Director of the NSF, listed five challenges faced by those who seek to affect change. Among those challenges: No one wants change (but a wet baby).
At the conclusion of the Summit, Ed Ahnert announced the recipients of ExxonMobil Innovation Grants. The $3000 grants are to assist the recipients in planning partnerships or other innovations which will then be supported by the institutions themselves or by other funding. The recipients of the first grants are: East Tennessee State University, Humboldt State University, Northeastern State University (Oklahoma), the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Southern Colorado.

--- Mike Breen, AMS Public Awareness Officer


American Mathematical Society