I am currently on my way … to Anaheim for this year’s Achieving the Dream conference. On Wednesday, I will have a poster at the “Emerging Ideas” event (11:00am) about the Mathematical Literacy course (and the AMATYC New Life work); Thursday, I am part of a workshop (1:45pm) on developmental math … my part is the Math Lit course, and we will have extended time for discussions and questions. This is my first “AtD conference”, and I am really looking forward to the opportunities and dialogue.
So, I have been thinking about how progress is made in academia — about how a basic change is accepted by large numbers of faculty and implemented at their college. The AtD “mantra” uses phrases like “move the needle”, “acceleration”, and “progression with completion”; within the official communications of AtD and related foundations (Lumina, Jobs for the Future, etc) these phrases are repeated, and much conversation centers around engaging faculty in this work. Parallel to this, the groups provide some outstanding professional development on theory and practice related to developmental education.
My hope is that the work of the New Life project touches and excites the values and beliefs of mathematicians and math educators. Certainly, part of this is developing a better set of vocabulary phrases to communicate about our values and beliefs; the name ‘mathematical literacy’ is one effort to develop such a phrase. However, vocabulary alone does not produce any change of significance; many prior efforts have failed because a new phrase was layered on to an existing curriculum (like ‘basic skills’, ‘application focused’, ‘mastery learning’).
I am convinced that our survival depends upon basic changes in our curriculum — and in our ideas behind the design of the curriculum; I believe that these basic changes will only happen as we all engage in conversations and even arguments about what things mean and what is really important. Sure, we will need some resources, which means that we need to convince foundations and grant sources that our work is important; this will mean the strategic uses of phrases like “algebraic reasoning” and others like we use in the New Life work. However, this is much more about our profession and our work together than it is about better words.
Progress occurs after dialogue; progress will happen when we actively seek to engage all members of our profession in a deep conversation about purposes and values, goals and beliefs. Indeed, nothing can stop progress from happening if we can do so.
If you are coming to AtD 2013, I hope we have an opportunity to have some of that conversation!
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