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Early morning in Atlanta

Took this photo from my hotel room in Atlanta the morning I gave my talk at the NCTM meeting. Not many people showed up because I was competing with Deborah Ball and Glenda Lappan, but there was the president of SIAM, who was about to give his talk on their new website, what is math good for.

Well, what happened in February? After the Banff meeting, on February 18, I went to the AAAS meeting in San Francisco, a session organized by Cathy Kessel about … what exactly? Some attempt to discuss the connection between higher mathematics and elementary mathematics. Tad Watanabe talked about Japanese treatment of fractions, so I followed suit with a discussion of division of fractions in various texts, and the mathematical pleasure and depth to be found in invert-and-multiply. Ours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply, goes the old saying, but ours is nothing but to reason why now that computation has been taken away from us.

On returning, on February 21 and 22, we had the Mathematician’s Corner planning meeting, where I foolishly agreed to write a grant proposal to further this activity. Had a very funny experience: the Instruction Colloquium had been Elon Kohlberg talking about Digiblocks, where I spent some time defending Investigations to him. The next day I was at the MC meeting defending the other way around. I don’t understand why two groups with such common interests—in mathematical understanding and student learning—can be so far apart. It’s like the old joke about two cultures separated by a common language.

Susan Jo Russell confirmed my sighting of Lazuli Buntings in the front driveway by saying she had seen a flock of blue birds while walking one morning in the Rillito. Abby was gearing up to leave around this time. In fact, the evening of March 1, the first night of the IME workshop on teacher preparation, we had a farewell dinner for her. She earned about $10,000 for this trip, on the higher side of what she and I had thought might be possible. On the flight over she sat next to a creep who tried to seduce her then followed her out of the airport, wanting to be her friend, but she gave him the slip.

March. Well, we had the first IME event, which went well enough, although there was too much time on presentations and not enough on interaction. But overall it was a success. Dan was there, oscillating between grumpy and engaged. He has gotten so particularly crusty bachelor in his old age, which could prove to be a real problem for the ATI. Another thing I don’t have time to think about right now. Mark, already condemned but not knowing it, hung around, not understanding his role.

March was also the time of the Arizona Winter School, much of which I could not attend because Roger Howe was visiting, also Deborah Schifter came to the Institute for those few days and Elon Kohlberg. Roger and I made progress on the MIME grant. At around this time I began to feel a threnody of regret at my slow but inexorable distancing from mathematics research. I hope I can come back to that. It was during this time also that I heard the memorable performance of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden by the Praczak String Quartet that I wrote to Pete about. The turn to tenderness at the beginning brought tears to my eyes, in much the same way as the opening pages of the Philip Roth novel I just read, Everyman, when the daughter Nancy pauses in vulnerable silence then turns to throw dirt on the coffin.

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About Bill McCallum

I was born in Australia and came to the United States to pursue a Ph. D. in mathematics at Harvard University, met my wife, and never went back. I am a professor at the University of Arizona, working in number theory and mathematics education.

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