From the Editors: Blog Update and 2016 Joint Meetings Highlights

by the Editorial Board

We want to begin this post with thanks to all of our readers and contributors — we appreciate your feedback and ideas through your writing, social media comments, and in-person conversations at mathematical meetings and events. In-person conversations have been on the minds of the editors recently because we had our first-ever in-person meeting as an editorial board at the 2016 Joint Meetings in Seattle.  This was great fun and gave us a chance to seriously reflect on our blog, its role in the mathematical community, and what we want to do over the next year or two.  In this post, we give a brief update about a change to the structure of our blog, followed by some highlights of our experiences attending the joint meetings.


As regular readers of our blog know, since we began in June 2014 we have been publishing articles on or around the 1st, 10th, and 20th of each month.  Starting with this post, we will be changing to a bi-weekly publication schedule.  Starting on Monday, January 25th, new articles will appear every two weeks.  If you want to receive notice when new blog posts appear, please subscribe to our email distribution list on the right-hand sidebar of the blog or subscribe to our RSS feed.

JMM Highlights

With so many excellent activities going on at the Joint Meetings, even with five of us we could only attend a small fraction of the offerings.  Given that, here are some of the highlights from our experiences.


It amazes me how much my focus at conferences has gradually shifted over time as I have progressed through the academic ranks.  As a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, I almost exclusively attended talks and chit-chatted with colleagues and friends during breaks.  Now, with many projects in progress with folks from around the country, and with several leadership roles, I feel lucky if I can choose one talk per day to attend!   I spend most of my time in meetings, but I enjoy this greatly.  I find it wonderful to connect in person with colleagues on various projects and committees, work and connect intensely for a bit, and then resume working remotely.  How wonderful this combination of modern technology and in person meeting can be when used well!

One of my main foci at the Joint Math Meetings was in my capacity as Director of the National Association of Math Circles (NAMC), one of the main outreach activities of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.  It’s great to see Math Circles growing and becoming more well-known across the country.  I strongly encourage you to become involved with an existing one, or to start a new one.  At the NAMC happy hour, it was particularly wonderful to meet Po-Shen Loh, coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad team that won the Gold Medal in 2015.  I’m particularly excited about his new Expii website that is posting a wonderful weekly problem set to engage kids of all backgrounds and experiences with mathematics.  

Another major focus for my time at the JMM consisted of events surrounding the development of the Mathematical Association of America’s Instructional Practices Guide. I’m honored and excited to be a part of developing this as an accompaniment to the decadal MAA Curriculum Guide.  At the JMM, we conducted focus groups, held meetings of the steering committee and advisory board, hosted a panel, and had several leadership team meetings.  The 2-3 year project is off to a great start!


The entire AMS Special Session on Essential Mathematical Structures and Practices in K–12 Mathematics featured mathematicians and mathematics educators talking with (not at!) each other about treating the mathematical topics that arise in K-12 with the rigor that they deserve.  Expect a post about this soon, focusing on ratio and proportion as an illustrative example, from some of the speakers. The panelists at the AMS & AWM Committees on Education Panel Discussion Work in Mathematics Education in Departments of Mathematical Sciences showed the different ways that mathematicians can be involved in mathematics education.  Yvonne Lai presented research she and her collaborators conducted on the mathematical knowledge for teaching at the high school level, and they will also be contributing a post here in the future.  I also learned more about Illustrative Mathematics, a community of educators collecting quality classroom resources that encourage mathematical understanding; their materials are easy to browse at their website.


The first JMM stop for me was a panel discussion on “Creating a meaningful Calculus I experience for students entering with high school calculus.” David Bressoud (Macalester) suggested that such students “don’t need a course of techniques — they need big ideas,” and presented an outline of his department’s course.  He also recommended Michael Oerhtman’s Clear Calculus materials for a laboratory approach.  Robin Pemantle (UPenn) described students’ backgrounds as “porous,” so that he and his colleagues offer a course which is ⅓ filling in holes in calculus, algebra, and even arithmetic, ⅓ topics (probability densities, differential equations) suggested by faculty in client departments, and ⅓  multivariable calculus.  Uri Treisman encouraged us to accept the fact that “it’s in the culture that you’re supposed to repeat calculus” after taking it in high school.  His response is to offer an introduction to university mathematics, rather than simply an introduction to calculus; he wants to “startle students” with the power of the subject and to emphasize proof and precision.  “Don’t make high school calculus the enemy,” Treisman insists; instead we should “work collaboratively with the high school teacher community.”

The premiere showing of “Navajo Math Circles” was a treat.  I’ve bought a copy for my department so that we can show it on campus.  The “extra features” page has some fascinating short videos that go beyond the film content.  


A highlight for me was a talk by Chris Rasmussen about teaching called “Advances in inquiry-oriented instruction at the post-secondary level: Student success and instructor practices.” This was in Alan Schoenfeld’s MAA Invited Paper Session on What Do We Know about University Mathematics Teaching, and How Can It Help Us? (which provided a number of insightful and thought-provoking talks). In his talk, Chris highlighted a few papers and projects that demonstrate the progress that is being made at the post-secondary level. It was exciting to see that there are quite a few new advances, and he cited some recent and upcoming papers that speak to this issue. I appreciate that there are opportunities for productive discussions about instruction at the post-secondary level.


I had two highlights from the 2016 JMM. First, I greatly enjoyed giving two talks about teaching, one as part of a Project NExT panel on broadening assessment in postsecondary education and another on the topic of growth mindset interventions to support IBL pedagogies in the MAA contributed paper session on inquiry-based learning. It was rewarding to have excellent questions and interactions with audience members, both in person and through email, following my talks. Second, I attended Alan Schoenfeld’s talk about improving K-16 mathematics, in which he described the Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) Math framework. The five dimensions of this framework strongly resonated with me, and I encourage all of our readers to visit the TRU Math website for more information. One of the comments that Schoenfeld made stuck with me: at this point in mathematics education research, we know what to do to teach right, and it is hard work to implement our knowledge. This led me to reflect on my belief that half of our challenge at the postsecondary level is to broaden awareness and understanding about what constitutes powerful mathematics classrooms — it is impossible to implement change for the better if we don’t recognize and value the complexities of our classrooms and our students’ learning.

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