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					                          Reflections of an Outreach
                                     Mathematician
                                                                                                             Jerry F. Dwyer




The mathematics department of the University of                 home when I finally obtained a post in a mathe-
Tennessee at Knoxville has recognized the bene-                 matics department.
fits of an outreach program and has made a strong                  The new position at Tennessee offers much
commitment to outreach activities by hiring two                 freedom within the job parameters, and the op-
faculty members whose job title is “outreach math-              portunity exists to define the role according to
ematician”. The exact nature of this post is still              the particular strengths and interests of the in-
being defined by the actions of these new faculty               cumbent. This is one of the first such posts in a
members.                                                        research mathematics department in the nation,
    The new outreach position follows the usual                 and it offers much potential for innovation.
model for a tenure-track post: typically 40 percent
teaching, 40 percent research, and 20 percent                   Why Outreach?
service. However, the research expectations are                 There are many reasons for mathematics depart-
replaced by the requirement that the outreach                   ments to engage in outreach. The state of mathe-
mathematician develop a funded outreach pro-                    matics education at the K–12 level is important to
gram, act as liaison with the College of Education,             all college mathematics teachers. It is appropriate
offer mentoring to teacher trainees, and publish                that faculty from a major university mathematics
in scholarly outreach journals. Outreach for the                department be involved. Outreach to the commu-
University of Tennessee mathematics department                  nity is often the source of fruitful collaboration
is loosely defined as any activity that enhances the            between different departments on campus, and
teaching and learning of mathematics outside the                outreach activities lead to greater visibility for a
department, in particular in K–12 education and                 mathematics department. This increased visibility
community colleges. The official description of
                                                                can be part of a valuable recruiting strategy, and
the expectations is included in the companion
                                                                outreach plays an important role in attracting new
article written by my department head.
                                                                students. Finally, participation by mathematics
    I was hired in the fall of 2000 for one of the new
                                                                departments in K–12 and community projects of-
positions. My colleague Reid Davis was hired at the
                                                                fers valuable opportunities for graduate students
same time for the other position. I brought exten-
                                                                to gain beneficial teaching experience.
sive experience gained while developing outreach
programs at the University of Colorado, Boulder.                Challenges
I had worked in several engineering departments
                                                                A variety of subtle and interesting challenges have
for many years as an applied mathematician and
                                                                appeared in my new job. In many ways these chal-
produced related publications in the mechanics
                                                                lenges reflect a clash of cultures. The research math-
literature. However, I maintained a deep interest in
quality mathematics teaching and felt more at                   ematician often lives in a specialized culture, while
                                                                the outreach mathematician must understand and
Jerry F. Dwyer is assistant professor of mathematics at the     interact with many different cultures. The following
University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His e-mail                paragraphs describe the challenges associated with
address is dwyer@math.utk.edu.                                  the education culture, the humanities/liberal arts


NOVEMBER 2001                                                 NOTICES   OF THE   AMS                                     1173
       culture, the public school culture, the team re-             the most frustrating of all is when we make a class-
       search grant culture, the local community culture,           room presentation and the teacher decides to use
       and the campus administrative culture.                       that time to grade homework rather than partici-
          The kind of outreach work that I do is more               pate. What message does that send to the stu-
       common in colleges of education than in colleges             dents? This environment is foreign to me, for the
       of arts and sciences. Because relations between              schools I attended as a child in Ireland were pri-
       mathematics departments and education schools                marily places of learning.
       have often been strained or almost nonexistent, a                A major challenge in outreach work is the need
       mathematician feels wary when dealing with math-             to obtain funding. We teachers of mathematics like
       ematics education. Moreover, a mathematician is              to study mathematics and do mathematics research,
       hesitant to get involved in traditional mathemat-            but most of us do not want to be entrepreneurs and
       ics education work if departmental colleagues do             administrators: we do not want to spend our time
       not value such work and feel that it belongs in the          writing grant proposals. Dedicated individuals with
       education school.                                            few resources can accomplish significant mathe-
          Outreach work is more of a community-based                matical research, but outreach is a different story.
       and sociological endeavor than is mathematics re-            Although one may not need grant money to visit
       search. Reflecting this difference, scholarly publi-         schools, sit on committees, and write articles and
       cations in outreach include much description of              reports, often effective outreach work requires large
       planning, motivation, outcomes, and reflections on           teams of participants. The only way to create these
       experiences. Faculty from the humanities and lib-            teams is to obtain funding for salary support. More-
       eral arts are well versed in this type of writing. But       over, there are costs associated with organizing
       faculty from mathematics, science, and engineer-             events such as teacher workshops and meetings for
       ing are a product of a different kind of research cul-       parents, and grant money is needed to cover these
       ture. We have a different approach to conducting             costs.
       and reporting our research. For example, a mathe-                Another subtle challenge that I faced in devel-
       matician might want to publish in a scholarly jour-          oping an outreach program was adapting to the
       nal a report on educational activities. However, the         local community. Mathematical or scientific work
       mathematician may lack the background knowledge              is usually independent of the surroundings and the
       and be unwilling to spend the time on the literature         community. All that is required is some solitude
       review required for such a publication.                      and occasionally some equipment. Outreach work
          The main focus of our outreach is in K–12 edu-            depends essentially on making contacts in the
       cation, and I am currently paying special attention          local community and beyond. Thus, it takes much
       to elementary and middle schools. Achievement of             longer to initiate an outreach project than a tra-
       American middle school students is low, and there            ditional mathematical research project. Although
       are many reasons for this. It is not clear how the           traditional research is performed at all times of the
       problems may be tackled, and the magnitude of the            day or week, active outreach is restricted to the
       task can be overwhelming. There is a danger of try-          school hours.
       ing to solve all problems at once, which is not pos-             A final point about outreach scholarship is
       sible. Many of the issues are political in nature            worth noting. Because there is already a body of
       and are related to school boards and local cur-              literature and a community of practitioners in out-
       riculum on one level and to teacher training and             reach, college and university administrators may
       certification on another level. These are all beyond         have preconceived ideas about what an outreach
       the power of the mathematics faculty member.                 mathematician should do. However, my primary
       Furthermore, there is often little enthusiasm within         responsibility is to the mathematics department.
       the schools and districts where there is greatest            As my department sees the role of “outreach
       need. Some states have education as a low prior-             mathematician”, the word “outreach” is only the
       ity and then try to make up ground by demanding              descriptive adjective. Tension occurs because
       high-stakes testing, which is often opposed to               the outreach mathematician also needs to satisfy
       sound pedagogy.                                              the college as a whole in order to achieve tenure.
          A recent report (TIMMS, 1999) suggests that               This observation may help other mathematics
       American schools are often run as businesses                 departments in developing outreach positions
       which happen to have education as part of their              while remaining independent of preconceived
       role. My own observation is that education in the            outside ideas.
       school often takes a back seat to school lunches,
       class photos, flu shots, band practice, etc. Classes         Activities
       are regularly interrupted by public speaker an-              In this section I describe some concrete activities that
       nouncements. It is often difficult to arrange class          I have undertaken as an outreach mathematician.
       visits because students are going to the zoo or on           One of the most important of these is a series of
       some other field trip. Mathematics class seems to            classroom presentations that have been described
       be a low priority for school administrators. Perhaps         as “model” teaching. These presentations include


1174                                       NOTICES   OF THE   AMS                                 VOLUME 48, NUMBER 10
game playing and interactive teaching in a manner          foundations and corporations that may be able to
that is different from what the students usually en-       fund some of our local projects. The optimum use
counter. This style of teaching brings enthusiasm          of funds is in the area of personnel costs, as good
and content knowledge to the classroom, which act          teachers and visionary facilitators are the keys to
as motivation for the regular teacher. The feedback        the success of our projects. For this reason we
from these presentations has been very positive.           hope that we can hire some postdoctoral workers
Two important points have to be made here. First,          to assist and develop programs. The personal
it is critical that the university mathematician enter     beliefs, enthusiasm, and energy of the outreach
the classroom as a collaborator and colleague, not         facilitators are crucial to progress in these ventures.
for the purpose of “fixing” the teacher or doing a         There is definitely some sense that this work is
research study. Second, we must make sure that             personality driven.
we provide assistance without becoming immersed               One important role of an outreach mathemati-
in a particular school situation. The outreach math-       cian is that of representing the views of mathe-
ematician is a university faculty member with a fac-       maticians in the world of mathematics education.
ulty role and must not become a special version            Very often education committees lack adequate
of a middle or high school teacher.                        representation from the world of mathematics.
    “Service learning”, a component of some college        We cannot complain when decisions are made that
courses, means that students perform community             do not reflect our views if we have not bothered
service, which enhances their own learning in the          to take an interest in these matters. It is my in-
course (Kraft, 1996). In our lower-level undergrad-        tention to represent the mathematics department
uate courses we offer students the opportunity to as-      in several such roles.
sist in local K–12 classrooms. This strengthens our
                                                           The Way Ahead
relationship with the teachers and also increases
the awareness of outreach among our students. It is        I strongly believe in the importance of outreach,
hoped that these activities will give us greater visi-     and I will continue to pursue the activities de-
bility in the teaching community and increase our          scribed in the previous section. Although for the
own awareness of K–12 issues. All of this should           moment this will mostly be at a local level, I hope
give us greater credibility if later we wish to speak      that what we do at the University of Tennessee can
                                                           offer insights to other colleges and universities as
out on important curricular and pedagogical issues.
                                                           they develop their own outreach programs. Re-
    Building respect within the department for my
                                                           cent articles (Holland, 1999; Keener, 1999) address
role is also important. I have facilitated school vis-
                                                           many of the issues facing institutions as they try
its by my faculty colleagues. The average mathe-
                                                           to develop criteria for recognizing faculty partic-
matics faculty member is happy to visit schools
                                                           ipation in outreach. These challenges are common
occasionally and to reach out with his or her ex-
                                                           to many institutions across the nation. Here at the
pertise, but not to make the arrangements or to
                                                           University of Tennessee there is senior support for
deal with the logistics. The outreach mathemati-
                                                           outreach, and this support has now translated into
cian’s role in facilitating these visits is therefore
                                                           the creation of tenure-track outreach mathemati-
very welcome. Gaining respect for my work
                                                           cian positions and formal recognition of outreach
throughout the entire campus is equally important,
                                                           as a scholarly activity. I look forward to sharing our
and dialogue across college boundaries is also
                                                           experience with colleagues around the nation as
greatly enhanced by this new position. Especially          other mathematics departments begin to undertake
important is to foster good relations with the             similar ventures in outreach.
College of Education, which is a natural ally in
raising the standards of mathematics teaching.             References
    One of the primary ways to make an impact on            [1] B. A. HOLLAND, Factors and strategies that influence
K–12 mathematics education is to raise the content              faculty involvement in public service, J. Public Service
knowledge of teachers. We have already presented                Outreach 4 (1999), 37–44.
some seminars and are proposing a series of classes         [2] M. S. KEENER, Strengthening institutional engagement:
and workshops aimed at teachers from first to                   Addressing faculty issues to facilitate change, J. Pub-
eighth grade. It is important not only that these               lic Service Outreach 4 (1999), 29–36.
                                                            [3] R. J. KRAFT, Service learning: An introduction to its
classes contain substantial mathematics content but
                                                                theory, practice, and effects, Education and Urban
also that enthusiasm for mathematics is conveyed.
                                                                Society 28 (1996), 131–159.
Our philosophy that there is a beauty in the con-           [4] TIMMS, Facing the Consequences: Using TIMSS for a
ceptual understanding of mathematics must be                    Closer Look at United States Mathematics and Science
passed on. This is one area where mathematics                   Education, Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1999.
faculty can have a very positive outreach role.
    In collaboration with the College of Education
we have submitted a proposal to the National Sci-
ence Foundation for a Center for Teaching and
Learning. We have also begun to identify some


NOVEMBER 2001                                            NOTICES   OF THE   AMS                                            1175

				
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