Report on what happened at ICME-10 in Copenhagen & Reflections on the Congress (Steve Krevitsky, Middlesex Community College, Middletown, CT).

Member of Discussion Group (DG) 21 on two year colleges and other tertiary  institutions, and Topic Study Group (TSG) 20 on mathematical modeling and applications.
This was my fourth 4th ICME, having been to previous ICME’s in Budapest (1988), Seville (1996) and Tokyo (2000). I am thus a veteran of these congresses, and I was pleased to be a travel grant recipient once again.

As always, it was nice to meet fellow Mathematics Educators from all over the world, exchange ideas and experiences, make new friends, and renew old acquaintances. This is always a positive. Also, I hadn’t been in Scandinavia in 15 years, so it was nice to return to that part of the world.

I feel that I got the most out of DG 21, on Two-Year Colleges and other Tertiary Institutions. Many of the same people whom I saw at this same session in Japan returned, which helped in terms of the continuity of the group. The newcomers added quite well to this group. WeThus, we thus didn’t have to redo entirely what we did in 2000, because we had a useful summary and were. We were thus able to concentrate more on common issues and problems. One of the main foci of this was the difficult transitionies that students coming out of High School face in entering college. We called this the “transition phase,” and quite a bit of our discussions focused on this issue, including some of the papers that which were presented, in effect, by distribution. This seemed to be a universal problem for students, including the notion that there is a major shift in the thinking level required, as students advance from high school to college, as we expect more out of them at the two-year college level.

Another issue that surfaced at this session, as well as elsewhere in the conference, was the need to make math more relevant to our students lives, and tie math to social issues, among other things.

Yet another key issue was getting institutional support for making needed changes, and dealing with other obstacles that we face. Faculty workload is always important. We also need to address. Another common the issue was of adults in transition, which is a big concern issue for us in the community colleges. Also, finding out more about students’ learning styles, dealing with cultural differences, and other related issues, emerged as well. The notion of problem-based activities, developing more contexts for mathematics, mathematics and citizenship, were yet other topics for discussion.

There was also discussion about faculty development and other related issues, such as the usage of the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) Crossroads document. This is currently under revision, and is providing two-year college math faculty with some needed directions related to changes in curriculum, pedagogy, and so forth. I was able to present my paper on Math and
Baseball, which is my specialty. This is a way to make math more relevant to students by showing them how many formulas in baseball, such as Batting Average, Slugging Average, and Earned Run Average, have definite mathematics connections. This can help us justify why mathematics is useful. We need math.

We also talked about the attacks on formal math, and the gap between math and statistics. We heard from math educators from other countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan, regarding issues and concerns that they have. The Japanese presenter showed us, via the TI-83+ graphing calculator, how our voices could be visually viewed, using Fourier analysis. This was rather unique, and more such applications of appropriate uses of technology would be great for lower level classes!

In the last session of this Discussion group, we tried to focus on where do we go from here. We resummarized what we ha’d already covered, and came up with such ideas as: having a Discussion Group 21 website, making sure we keep up the dialogue between this and the next Congress, focus on a few very specific topics at the next Congress, and work to implement some things that people suggested here, such as: having more Learning Labs for students, creating more of a community of students, dealing with diverse learning styles, and maybe doing more regarding orientation and advising (not all countries do this). Hopefully, more good ideas will emerge as we keep this dialogue going!

I had mixed feelings about my Topic Study Group, #20 on Modeling. The session organizers summarized the papers, which I didn’t always like. Although they posed some good questions, I would rather hear from the presenters themselves (although authors did have a chance to respond to the audience’s questions). My paper, on a probability study of the US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship tournament, stirred up some controversy. While I think that people liked the idea, as a way to motivate students, a few questioned how these relative frequencies translated into probabilities. I answered these questions, and got good support from others at the session.

Other papers touched upon a variety of mathematics applications from physics and other arenas. One intriguing paper touched upon how math might have prevented the collapse of one of the fishing trades. Some of the good comments that were made noted how real world data are more meaningful to students, and that mathematics and citizenship were linked, so that students could investigate social issues and thus be more active (these themes of math and social issues came up several times at ICME). The paper on mathematical literacy caught my attention, as this is a big issue in our currently a focus in the community colleges system, as well as nationally in general. The issue of how to introduce modeling also came up for discussion. All of this was summarized in a Question and Answer format on the last day of this TSG. Included in this were comments on barriers to teaching modeling , and suggestions were made as to how to overcome these, such as: introducing it gradually, dealing with the risk and newness of it, dealing with the teaching culture, curriculum issues, and so forth. There was a sense that students can do modeling tasks and this! There was also a strong ending consensus that modeling should be related to the “real world.”

While I wasn’t sure that I really belonged in this session, I hope I can make use of the ideas back home (which will be easier for me to do from the discussion group).

It was good to also meet up with fellow travel grantees, and see what they were doing. The newcomers probably had more things to adjust to than I did as a veteran, but I did get to see who was there; it was a good, diverse group.

I did also like what I could see of the poster presentations, the Mathematical Circus, and other aspects of the conference. I collect mathematics books from other countries, so the Russian national display was good for me in this regard.

I enjoyed the chance to see Copenhagen as time allowed, and the excursion was also good. My group went to see the white cliffs of Mons, which is in southeast Denmark, right on the Baltic Sea. We walked up and down several hundred stairs, got to walk on the beach, pick up shells and fossils, and it was quite pleasant. This is also a good way to get to know other congress participants!

Some comments are in order regarding the atmosphere of the congress. While it was large, with over 2,000 attendees, I did think that people were generally friendly. As mentioned above, this situation might not have been easy for the newcomers, but I felt that I was able to blend in well. On the first night, at the University of Copenhagen, which was near my hotel, I met some nice people from Malaysia, and they invited me to a conference that they will have in 2007. I appreciated getting the transport pass from the congress organizers, as this really helped in dealing with what at first was a confusing bus situation at Lyngby Station, the S-tog stop north of the city center. The campus was large and confusing at first, but we got used to it, and it was very helpful to be able to check e- mail and keep up with things. Having lunch right there was also good, although other alternatives to the box lunches might have been a better choice.

Over the week, I met other nice people from Cuba, Venezuela, Korea, many European countries, Egypt, South Africa, and so forth. I feel that this is a very important part of these congresses. I definitely recognized some familiar faces from past congresses!

It also helped to get the mailings sent out to travel grantees, so that we knew what to expect, and I tried to help out the newcomers as best as I could.

I intend to disseminate what happened here in a variety of ways, be it through AMATYC and our affiliates, NCTM, writing for newsletters, and doing presentations., and so forth. I’m glad I went, and I look forward to the next one in Mexico in 2008.

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