RME4: Webb's Opening Remarks

Opening Session - Friday, September 27, 2013

David Webb - Executive Director of Freudenthal Institute US and Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Colorado Boulder

David Webb
David Webb welcomed us to the 4th International Realistic Mathematics Education Conference (#RME4) by addressing a shift in organizational structures. What used to be simply the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands is now the Freudenthal Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, and its American counterpart, Freudenthal Institute US, is now part of a larger CU-Boulder effort known as the Center for STEM Learning. These shifts reflect a desire to not just have cooperation between mathematics and science disciplines, but a perceived need to create innovative new STEM curricula along with the supporting frameworks, teacher education, and professional development to support it. Webb announced that earlier in the week that FISME and the Center for STEM Learning had formally agreed to collaborate, although we'll have to wait and see how this collaboration takes shape.

At its core, RME is a set of principles for curriculum design. It is sensible, then, to seek common ground in mathematics and the sciences for ideas upon which we can design curriculum. Some of that common ground is found in how we reason in math and science, and Webb offered these four activities:

  • Recognition of patterns
  • Making conjectures from observation
  • Reasoning from evidence
  • Generating new evidence

From these, we can think about how we consider the acts of modeling, problem solving, generalizing, and proving in both math and science. There are similarities and differences, and these things are meant as a starting point, not a definitive list. Perhaps the most fundamental RME principle is that of progressive formalization (see here for an example), so we must also think about how informal contexts can be used in both math and science, as well as the preformal models and representations that support more formal kinds of student thinking. Webb encouraged us to consider these RME traditions as we stretched ourselves beyond our usual disciplines, and with that the conference was underway.

NCTM Annual Meeting Fee Frustration (Updated 9-18)

I was recently informed by NCTM that my proposal to speak at the 2014 NCTM Annual Meeting was accepted. That's the good news. Unlike last year, when the conference was held in my backyard of Denver, I hesitated to accept NCTM's invitation to speak because of the costs involved. Registration fees, hotels, and transportation add up alarmingly quickly, especially for a graduate student getting by on a modest stipend and student loans.

Today I decided to accept the invitation and proceeded through NCTM's multi-step process. Step 1 was to accept, which was done with a quick login and a few clicks. Step 2 was to register for the conference. The registration fee for lead speakers is $281. Okay, but what are the fees for regular attendees? Here are the fees listed at http://www.nctm.org/researchconf/:

Fees at http://www.nctm.org/researchconf/, current as of 9/17/13.

Do you see what I see? If I were a regular NCTM member, the full, early-bird fee would be $345, which means the $281 speaker fee represents a $64 discount. That's a nice way to show your appreciation to speakers, isn't it? But what about student NCTM members? My full, early-bird fee is $172, which means the $281 speaker fee represents a $109 penalty.

Why is this? Does NCTM want to discourage students from presenting? I doubt it, but unless they get their fee structure sorted out that might be the result. I've emailed NCTM about this issue, and I hope they reply sensibly.

While I'm ranting, here's a selection of other things about this process that makes me mean:
  • Silly me did Step 1 before Step 2, which mean I accepted before checking out the speaker fee. Even worse, NCTM warns you that accepting then cancelling puts you in the NCTM doghouse and decreases the chances that any future proposals get accepted.
  • Too many policies at http://www.nctm.org/speak/neworleans/ disappoint me, such as:
    • Remember that recording of Steven Leinwand's talk I posted from the last Annual Meeting? That apparently is (or will be) against NCTM's wishes, as they state: "Written permission to tape or record presentations must be obtained directly from the speaker involved at least thirty days before the NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition. The request must contain a statement indicating the intended use of such a recording or videotape. The person making the request should also inform the NCTM Headquarters Office in writing at least two weeks prior to the NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition." I had Leinwand's permission to post the recording, but didn't get that permission from him in advance.
    • If you aren't a lead speaker, but a co-speaker, your registration rate is $344. Yes, a $1 discount compared to the regular, early-bird registration rate. That's like leaving your waitstaff a nickel tip. I'm assuming this higher fee applies to students, too.
    • Speakers must submit a written request to use any art related to the Annual Meeting. I can't imagine there's any real risk to just letting registered speakers download that from the password-protected speaker's website.
    • NCTM's idea of "going green" is to pick up your program book when you register so they don't have to mail it to you. This wouldn't have struck me as strange 10 years ago, but it sure does now. Why not try this, NCTM: Tell everyone that program books will be available electronically, and those wishing a paper copy can pay an extra $5 with their registration. That way you'll have an estimate of how many copies to print, and be "going green" 2014-style.

UPDATE! (Wednesday, September 18)

I received a reply this morning from Michael Barbagallo, Senior Manager of Member Services at NCTM. He said I can pay the student rate and not the speaker rate, but their system does not currently give me a way to register as a student until registration opens to everyone in November. For now I should confirm I will present (which I've done) and book my hotel room (uhh...can I just bring a tent and a sleeping bag to New Orleans?), then NCTM will sort things out in November when I register for the conference. It sounds like there's no automated way to do this and according to Mr. Barbagallo, "we have few students who speak." To that, I say to grad students: I know the culture of academia and research tells us that presenting at research conferences deserves higher priority than presenting at teacher conferences. Cultures can be changed and good things often come when they are challenged.