NCTM Member Interview
"When to give kids calculators is an issue that never seems to go away," remarks Jane Astor, an eighteen-year veteran teacher of high-school mathematics. "There’s an article about it in NCTM’s Mathematics Teacher magazine at least once a year." Jane has been a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for her entire teaching career, joining when she was still a student. Although many issues (such as the calculators) remain the same, she is unequivocal that the organization has helped her to stay current on best practices and new models.
She has been at Clear Creek Amana High School in Tiffin, about thirty minutes south of Cedar Rapids, for all but her first two years of teaching, which were spent in nearby Wellman. Jane recently took some time to talk to Family Education Network about her involvement with NCTM, the preeminent organization for K-12 math teachers.
Family Education Network (FEN): What are some of the benefits of being an NCTM member?
Jane: I really like the magazine Mathematics Teacher, which you get for free as a member. They do a great job covering recent issues on state and national levels, like the ongoing debate about standards. And I’m always interested in the discussions about how the teaching of math should change with the times, like how new technologies impact what concepts we should be teaching and what should be phased out. I also love the math problem examples that appear in every issue; I use them in my classes all the time. They have this calendar with a new math problem for every day.
Actually, I probably get the most out of the summer workshops that NCTM supports and notifies its members of. Like this summer, I’m taking a course called Calculus Enhanced with Computer-Algebra and Graphing Using the TI-92. Bit of a mouthful, but it’s really useful. Even though we’re using graphing calculators more and more, there is still so much about them I need to learn. I took another workshop last year on new methods of teaching statistics. I think I would simply be doing the "same ol’ same ol’" without the magazine and the workshops.
FEN: Tell us about the conferences. How many have you been to?
Jane: I have no idea. A bunch. It’s a bit pricey to go every year, mainly because of travel expenses, but I’m never disappointed when I attend. And as a member you get a discount on conference fees. I think I get the most out of the small group sessions where teachers talk about what they’re doing in class. I always come away excited to try something new. The hands-on workshops are very popular. Most often they involve new software demonstrations that you can play with on a computer. I really enjoyed one where we got to play with manipulatives, cutting up pieces of colored paper for a unit on fractions.
FEN: Do you recall any keynote speakers of interest?
Jane: I do remember seeing Zalman Usiskin. He started the University of Chicago Textbook Project and does all this great writing and research on teaching math using a problem-solving model. In this model, students are presented a complex problem and they not only have to figure out the solution, but they have to figure out what math concepts they need to learn in order to solve the problem. The classroom becomes much more student centered. I’d love to be able to teach more in this model, but it’s difficult when you have prescribed curricula and standards.
FEN: Have you heard about grants from NCTM?
Jane: Actually, I nominated someone just a few years ago for an NCTM Friend of Education Award, and he got it! He works as a math consultant for our Area Education Agency and is just an excellent resource. I always make a point to sign up for his workshops not only because of the valuable information, but because he also hands out tons of cool freebees like posters and whiteboard compasses.
FEN: What would you tell a teacher who is considering joining the NCTM?
Jane: It’s worth it. Math is changing so quickly. I really feel well-informed and in touch with my colleagues.