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Teaching & Learning

April 14, 2004 3 min read
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Educators Take Break From ‘Math Wars’ at Calif. Gathering

More than 150 math educators, mathematicians, teachers, and policymakers gathered recently in Berkeley, Calif., for a “meeting of the minds” meant to bridge differences between divergent instructional philosophies.

The conference, sponsored by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, an independent research organization based in Berkeley, focused on math assessment.

The so-called “math wars” have pitted those taking a traditional tack that emphasizes basic skills, such as computation, against those who advocate that students gain a more conceptual understanding of the subject.

Attendees heard from a 6th grade boy whose level of comprehension of fractions illustrated the demands of instructional practices in the classroom. The boy showed an outstanding level of adaptive reasoning, according to Jim Lewis, a mathematics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. On the other hand, he said, the student “didn’t know a whole lot of mathematics.”

Meetings that involve participants with very different viewpoints are most productive when “they engage in something concrete,” said Deborah Loewenburg Ball, a professor of education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who interviewed the student. “They all know different things,” Ms. Ball said, and each person can contribute to a conversation about what everyone has seen and heard.

The March 7-10 conference was the first of what organizers hope will be a series of meetings on math education. One future get-together, say, could be centered around how much math teachers at different levels need to know and what they already know.

A Room of His Own

The International Reading Association has decided to provide a separate, albeit larger, venue for a presentation on reading research by G. Reid Lyon at the organization’s annual conference in Reno in early May.

After scheduling the controversial chief of the child-development and -behavior branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to speak at a ceremony honoring outstanding reading researchers and the IRA’s past presidents, some members complained.

Kenneth W. Goodman, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, and some colleagues argued that Mr. Lyon promotes a narrow definition of reading research to guide federal and state policies. (“Father of ‘Whole Language’ Rallying Against Reading-Group Speaker,” March 3, 2004.)

IRA officials decided that it would be more appropriate to give Mr. Lyon his own session that would allow more people to attend, according to Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director of the 80,000-member reading association.

“Upon examination, it seemed clear that not only did we need more space to accommodate those who wanted to hear Reid,” Mr. Farstrup wrote in an e-mail to Education Week, “but also clear that we were trying to do too much within the context of the traditional structure of the research- awards session.”

The Newark, Del.-based group is expecting some 20,000 attendees at the May 3-6 conference.

Video Lessons

Air, water, earth. Those are the themes of three lessons crafted by the creators of “POV Borders,” a Web site sponsored by the Public Broadcasting Service that features video clips and games, in addition to resources for teachers.

Just as the PBS television show “POV"—shorthand for the “point of view” camera angle—airs independent, nonfiction films, “POV Borders” is an interactive Web “series” that showcases video clips of people expressing their views on different topics.

“We have been going out of our way to develop new approaches to storytelling,” said Cara Mertes, the executive producer of the series, at www.pbs.org/pov/borders/2004.

As part of the discussion about air, for instance, the producers traveled to Los Angeles and videotaped interviews with celebrities and city dwellers on their opinions of hybrid cars, vehicles that run on gas and electricity.

The accompanying lesson has students identify air pollutants in their communities and explain how people are responsible for that pollution. Next, students are asked to use digital cameras to document some of those activities. The photos are later used for class discussions and presentations.

Future themes will focus on culture, a subject that, like the environment, is “specific enough that people can build experiences around it,” said Ms. Mertes, “but broad enough for general audiences.”

—Michelle Galley & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

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