Mathematics teachers all over the United States share the same concern as those in Utah: They agree that youngsters need to learn more math, through improved methods that make the subject more germane to their lives.
At the Salt Palace, where thousands of teachers from virtually every state are meeting and mingling during the 68th annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, their comments carry the same threads of concern, and the feeling of change is in the wind."This is an exciting time for math," said Theresa Norris of Cincinnati, Ohio. "I've taught 19 years and I'm excited about the changes that are occurring. We're teaching math from a practical point of view that makes it real to students instead of the rote, memory kinds of things."
Technology also has evolved to give teachers more tools to enrich their instruction, said Norris, who coordinates math and science programs for kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers in her school.
In the Salt Palace Exhibit Hall, teachers were deluged with ideas to make their math classes exciting. There were textbooks by the ton, including beginner books with intriguing titles such as "Shoes in Twos," "The Great Carrot Mystery," and "Mirror, Mirror."
Plastic has been used in ingenious ways to help children learn math concepts in the guise of play. There were blocks, geometric shapes, numbers galore, even necklaces of linked shapes.
Not to mention computer software programs, each touted by its sales representative as a way to draw students in, keep them fascinated and move them smoothly from one math concept to another.
Marvin Berglas had come 5,001 miles and approximately 200 yards (his estimate of the distance from London to the Marriott Hotel and from the hotel to the Salt Palace) to introduce American teachers to the Polydron, a plastic creation that can be joined and hinged to make numerous geometric figures.
The product was voted winner of the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Design Award as the best construction product of the year, said Berglas, who kept teachers coming around with dice games and demonstrations. The Polydron can be used for manipulation, counting, sorting, tessellation and a range of mathematical concepts, he said.
Charles E. Lamb of the University of Texas at Austin added his contribution to the discussion of how math should best be taught. As one of many presenters who addressed sessions, he stressed the importance of language skills as a requisite for math.
"If you can't read and write, you can never adequately learn math," said Lamb. Reading, for instance, gives the key to interpreting symbols, an important adjunct in deciphering math problems."
Raneva F. Lemon and Georgean McNaughton had not traveled far for the convention. Both teach in Utah's Wasatch District. They were proud, however, to be part of the host Utah affiliate of the national teacher group.
McNaughton had a family of seven children just about reared before she became a teacher. The family settled in Wasatch County after years of traveling the country - and the world - as her husband served in the military. With an opportunity to see education function in many places, she said she's impressed with Utah.