SIAM News Blog

Mathematics Society Presidents Endorse Active Learning Statement

By Rachel Levy

In January 2017, David Bressoud will assume the position of Director of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS). He is taking over the position from Ron Rosier, who has run CBMS for roughly three decades along with Lisa Kolbe, who is also retiring. The core mission of CBMS is to bring together the presidents of mathematical sciences societies to identify issues of common concern and coordinate efforts to address them.  

The Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) sponsors a national survey of undergraduate mathematical and statistical sciences in the nation's four-year and two-year universities and colleges. The national data collected is on enrollments, curriculum, bachelor's degrees awarded, course availability, and faculty demographics. The survey also contains special one-time topics, which in the past have included: the impact of the calculus-reform movement, academic resources available to undergraduates, the mathematical education of pre-service K-8 teachers and the requirements of the national mathematics major. These data are available to academic planners at all levels and department chairs seeking additional resources from college and university administrators. Survey results are used at the state and national level to make a case for greater attention to and funding for programs in mathematics, science, and technology. CBMS also organizes forums on educational issues, regional research conferences. Publications include a series on Issues in Mathematics Education and the Mathematical Education of Teachers (MET II) report.

In recent years, the CBMS Council has focused primarily on U.S. education, including the Math 2025 report, Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and transitions from two-year to four-year colleges. Because the Council is comprised of presidents and executive directors from 17 mathematical societies (see list below), it can provide a productive environment to discuss educational curriculum and pathways from prekindergarten through graduate school.

In 2016, Ben Braun coordinated a team of society representatives (including SIAM Executive Director James Crowley and VP for Education Rachel Levy) who crafted a joint statement on Active Learning in Postsecondary Mathematics that was released this past July. The statement describes active learning, argues its importance, references published evidence of its effectiveness, lists society reports that have encouraged its use, and urges the following recommendation:

We call on institutions of higher education, mathematics departments and the mathematics faculty, public policy-makers, and funding agencies to invest time and resources to ensure that effective active learning is incorporated into postsecondary mathematics classrooms. 

The presidents of all of the member societies with strong interest in mathematics education, including SIAM President Pamela Cook, have signed onto the statement.   

David Bressoud’s blogpost discusses the statement and its connection to future efforts by CBMS:

I see this statement as an example of what can be accomplished when the mathematical societies look to issues of common interest, and I am looking forward to working with them to coordinate efforts that will help colleges and universities identify and implement locally appropriate strategies for active learning. 

I also hope to use my position to assist these societies in addressing the issues of articulation that so plague mathematics education. These include the transitions from two-year to four-year institutions, from undergraduate to either graduate school or the workforce, and from graduate school to either academic or non-academic employment. But the transition on which I am currently focusing my attention is from secondary to postsecondary education. This point of discontinuity is rife with difficulties for many of our students who would seek STEM careers as well those who have struggled with mathematics. It is especially problematic for students from underrepresented groups: racially, ethnically, by socio-economic status, by gender, and by family experience with postsecondary education. 

The solutions—for there will be many pieces to be addressed if we are to succeed in ameliorating the problems—will require strong and coordinated efforts from both sides of the transition from high school to college. I am very encouraged by the clear messages of support for this work that I have received from NCTM, NCSM, and ASSM on the secondary side of the divide as well as AMS, MAA, AMATYC, ASA, and SIAM from the postsecondary side. CBMS is uniquely situated to bridge their work.

While I expect my primary focus to be on educational concerns, CBMS has and must continue to work on all matters of common interest including public awareness of the role and importance of mathematics, advocacy for programs that improve opportunities for underrepresented minorities, and issues of employment in the mathematical sciences. 

Although a strong focus on U.S. education does not completely align with SIAM’s research focus, industry partnerships and international membership, a number of SIAM efforts have been highlighted at CBMS meetings. SIAM has been invited to share our efforts related to Mathematical Modeling Across the Curriculum (such as the Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Mathematical Modeling Education (GAIMME)) and our important role coordinating efforts to connect mathematical sciences in industry and academia (BIG Math Network). Furthermore, the successful inaugural conference of the SIAM Activity Group on Applied Mathematics Education indicates that education is of interest to many SIAM members. Upcoming collaborative initiatives include a new online Mathematical Modeling Hub, which will serve as a repository and online community. 

Learn more about Active Learning in Post-secondary Mathematics. 

The writing team was led by Ben Braun and included David Bressoud, Diane Briars, Ted Coe, Jim Crowley, Jackie Dewar, Edray Herber Goins, Tara Holm, Pao-Sheng Hsu, Ken Krehbiel, Donna LaLonde, Matt Larson, Jacqueline Leonard, Rachel Levy, Doug Mupasiri, Brea Ratliff, Francis Su, Jane Tanner, Christine Thomas, Margaret Walker, and Mark Daniel Ward. The presidents of the member societies made the final edits.

The 17 professional societies that belong to CBMS:

Primarily focused on post-secondary level:

Primarily focused on pre K–12 level: 

Primarily non-academic (and not engaged in the formulation or signing of the active learning statement):

Rachel Levy is SIAM VP for Education, as well as an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Harvey Mudd College.

blog comments powered by Disqus