Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Math 2.0 – Making a Virtual Splash in San Diego?

This week I was reminded rather abruptly that Math 2.0* will most likely not be a major theme at the NCTM conference in San Diego next April. The reminder came in the form of a friendly email from the program committee that informed me that my proposal to speak there was rejected. Not that this was unexpected. I’ve been getting rejections more regularly than acceptances ever since 2004. That’s the year when NCTM stopped inviting affiliate groups (mine being CLIME) to host a session at the annual conference. I did argue a bit with Johnny Lott (the president at the time) that NCTM should allow the affiliates some perks since they do most of the heavy lifting for NCTM, but the decision to make conference presenting more of a free for all won out. You see once the main speakers are invited, the rest of the program’s participants (other than vendors) are chosen anonymously based on what is in the proposal. But I digress and this blog entry is not intended to be about my personal sour grape peeves. (Back to why no Math 2.0 focus in SD.) At the previous NCTM conference in Washington last April there were only 4 sessions that made any reference to Web 2.0. Mine was one of them. Since there was only 1 the year before, can we expect twice as many for the next year? Maybe. But I’m not that optimistic. Mostly because NCTM’s “powers that be” have been to preoccupied with putting out fires like the ongoing math wars with their publication of the Focal Points and their recent support of a national curriculum initiative by penning the Guiding Principles for Curriculum and Assessment which made no reference to technology’s role in the enterprise (see my previous blog entry “What’s Missing from This Picture”.) These reform initiatives though admirable I don’t think will do much to change the status quo. For the anti-reformers this is more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. Certainly not that bad, but not much of an effort to redirect the ship toward a more promising future with a stronger technology infrastructure.
It appears that technology as a Principle has not made much of an impact either. Technology continues to be relegated to a support tool status something that NCTM first decided to do in the early 1990s when it stated that using technology as a tool was OK to use in its position paper, but not technology all by itself. (It still is used that way. See 2003 version of paper.) So when technology as a Principle came on board in 2000 I thought, naively that this would encourage a paradigm shift to think of technology as a platform for all the other principles (equity, curriculum, teaching, learning and assessing) from which to build on and innovate from. But nothing of any substance has materialized since then. Nor will it any time soon. Not because it isn't important, but because its too disruptive.
When Seymour Papert first introduced the idea of a Logo Microworld** he was thinking how this could be framework for creating a new paradigm for the teaching and learning of math where teachers and students work as partners in the learning enterprise with emphasis on developing and nurturing the student's mathematical habits of mind which in turn illuminates content in more dynamic and personal ways. But Papert was marginalized as a utopian dreamer and his vision was mostly ignored. But today his ideas are more accessible than ever in this new dynamic world of Web 2.0. But is NCTM planning to encourage this? No, but they are not ignoring it either.
After NCTM I went to the NECC (National Educational Computing) Conference and found some of the energy that was missing for me at the NCTM gathering. There I found lots of math teachers who were very eager to use Web 2.0 tools in learning math. Unfortunately, the conference can be overwhelmingly technocentric and can easily be a turn off for an educator who is skeptical about over use of technology and its potential for improving students’ achievement. In other words as a colleague recently pointed out to me, "This Web 2.0 world is still a bit too wild and woolly." I agree. I’m one of the first to scream when a techy-type tells me that something non-intuitive is a no-brainer. But the potential is there and needs to be ferreted in a way that pushes the envelop in a more meaningful and disruptive*** way.
You may not have noticed but there is a groundswell of support out there by pioneers who are now blogging, tweeting, organizing social networks, creating alternative route conferences including a Math 2.0 group that convenes every Wednesday on Elluminate to discuss Math 2.0 issues. And that's not all...
How about a Math 2.0 Conference next April? I hope to help put together a “parallel conference” to showcase what Math 2.0 is all about around the same time as the April, 2009 NCTM conference. Please share your ideas of what this conference might look like it and how you might like to participate.
Meanwhile I'm starting a CLIME Wiki (my first) which will include notes on planning for this conference. I'll even try to explain all the Web 2.0ish terms as I go along. What's a Wiki you ask? Here's a Youtube video that will get you started. It has an example of how I hope we can plan for the Math 2.0 event next April.
The Wiki I will be using is at http://clime.wikispaces.com. For those of you are novices (like me) join and we can learn how to build one of these Web 2.0 things together. :-)
*I think of Math 2.0 as a contraction for "Teaching and Learning Math with Dynamic Software and Web 2.0 tools"
**A microworld is a software environment that encourages students engagement in learning math ideas in a empowering way. See Microworld
*** Disruptive as in the way it is described in "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns." See Edutopia article for a summary.


  1. I am certainly onboard for all things math and technology. Getting to San Diego might be an obstacle but I will work on that.

    I think a Math 2.0 conference could run just like NECC unplugged. Anyone who wanted to present could do so live in the lounge area or virtually through Elluminate. http://www.neccunplugged.com/

    I think you will find a great deal of support for this.

  2. Thanks, Ihor, for sparking this conversation! It was great to see Dave Powers take the initiative last year with NCTM Online and I hope we can take it further and use tools like Elluminate, uStream and SlideShare to not only bring as much as possible of what happens in San Diego to the rest of the continent but also provide a space for those who can't come (by dint of resources). I don't think NCTM has the money or time to devote to this so it's got to be coming from the grassroots. We are math teachers -- if *we* can't take the leadership role when it comes to melding technology & education (& conferences), who else could? We've dealt with pebbles, slates, abacus, slide rules, analytic engines, calculators... this Web2.0 is nothing in comparison :)

  3. I am in. Let me know what I can do to contribute.

  4. Thanks for your support. I'll be in touch with you very soon.

  5. Hi,
    This is a wonderful inspiration for me and yes people have so much to offer. Amazing information. This is really beneficial for beginners. I really admire this post.

  6. @Colleen - I'm planning for another unconference in Indianapolis next April. David and I will be in the exhibit hall again promoting Math 2.0 as we did last year in San Diego. We have the space. Now we need a plan of action as to what to do there. I'm reviewing what happened last year and will share my updated report with you'all. Your suggestions are most welcome!