Summer 2001 Newsletter

Coalition Celebrates Twelve Years of Existence

The Vermont State Mathematics Coalition was founded in 1989 by John Devino (then President of the Vermont Council of Teachers of Mathematics), Bob Kenney (then Mathematics Supervisor for the State Department of Education), Ken Gross (then Chair of the UVM Mathematics Department), and Clint Erb, Professor of Mathematics Education at UVM, with the goal of enhancing mathematics and science education in Vermont.

Funded by a planning grant from the National Research Council, the Vermont State Mathematics Coalition was formed to bring together representatives from education, business and the public sector for the purpose of providing a statewide forum for addressing issues in mathematics education. The Coalition is a member of the National Alliance of State Science & Mathematics Coalitions.

This Newsletter has been developed to familiarize readers with Coalition projects and activities, and offer the opportunity for others to become involved in and support the work of the Coalition.

In This Issue

Summer Institute for Talented Students

Prior to 1993, there had been no summer mathematics program available in Vermont for talented high school students. To fill this void, the Coalition established a one- week residential High School Summer Enrichment Institute in 1993, which is now an annual event, directed by Tony Trono and Ken Gross.

Students in this unique program, which is held on the campus of the University of Vermont, participate in a series of courses and seminars that take them far beyond their experience in high school mathematics and science courses, and engages them in applications of mathematics and computing in a wide range of scientific and technological endeavors. The Institute is free of charge to the students. By any standard of judgment the students selected for the Institute have been truly exceptional.

Many foundations and businesses have provided financial support in past years including UVM, Mt. Mansfield Telephone Company, Vermont Space Grant Consortium, BFGoodrich Aerospace, the Merchants Bank, University Mall, the Windham Foundation, VISMT, the Physician’s Computer Company, NYNEX, National Life, the Howard Bank, Karl Suss Industries, Vermont Gas, and VT EPSCOR Computational Science and Engineering Program.

(See Krista Gile’s reflections)

Glenn Commission Proposes Blueprint to Improve Math and Science Teaching in 21st Century

Elected Officials, Educators, and Business

Leaders Cite Urgent Need toAct

"Before It’s Too Late"

The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, of which Senator James Jeffords was a member, released a comprehensive plan last September to ensure that every American student receives excellent instruction in math and science which is critical to maintaining the U.S. edge in the competitive global economy.

The report, entitled Before It’s Too Late, emphasizes that good teaching is key to improved student achievement. The Commission recommended programs that specifically target the existing teaching force and future teachers as well as the working conditions needed to support high quality math and science teaching.

"We as a nation must take immediate action to improve the quality of math and science teaching in every classroom in this country. If we delay, we put at risk our continued economic growth and future scientific discovery," said former Senator John Glenn, chairman of the Commission. "Here we outline a workable, balanced strategy that builds on what has been learned in the last decade, improves teaching, and thereby improves student achievement."

"The students of today are our employees of tomorrow. Preparing them for a future that is bright with opportunity and options is a responsibility business and government share," said Edward Rust, chairman and chief executive officer of State Farm Insurance Companies.

The report sets three goals and action strategies for meeting those goals. They are:

Goal 1: Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of math and science teaching in grades K-12

The seven interdependent action strategies suggested by the commission are:

Each state must immediately undertake a full needs assessment to determine what teachers require to deliver high-quality teaching.

Summer Institutes must be established to address professional development needs.

Local professional Inquiry Groups should be formed to provide venues for teachers to enrich their subject knowledge and teaching skills.

Leadership Training is needed to prepare facilitators for the Summer Institutes and Inquiry Groups.

A dedicated Internet Portal must be available to teachers so they can have access to and contribute to an ever-expanding knowledge base about mathematics and science teaching.

A non-governmental Coordinating Council is needed to bring together the above initiatives and to assess accomplishments.

High School Mathematics Talent Search

For the past seven years, the Coalition has sponsored the High School Mathematics Talent Search. This program provides interested high school students with four sets of challenging mathematics problems, which are distributed in October, November, January, and February. Each set consists of eight problems. Students have one month to work on each set of problems before submitting their work to the Talent Search Directors, Tony Trono and Dr . Ted Marsden.

At the end of the year, the students who have ranked in the top ten are awarded prizes, honored along with their parents and teachers at a dinner hosted by an area business (Green Mountain Power Corporation and the Physicians Computer Company have been recent hosts) and invited to attend the Mathematics, Science, and Technology Summer Enrichment Institute. Copies of the Talent Search are posted on the Coalition’s web site:

Expanding Horizons

The Expanding Horizons project recruits college faculty who make themselves available to give enrichment presentations in school classrooms on topics in mathematics and application areas. Now beginning its fourth year under the guidance of John Devino, Expanding Horizons publishes a brochure describing the presentations that are available, and distributes it to each middle and high school throughout the state. The program can also be accessed through the Coalition’s web page. The program’s goal is not only to provide rich mathematical experiences for Vermont students, but also to build partnerships between Vermont’s high school mathematics teachers and higher education. Current colleges represented include The University of Vermont, Middlebury College, Norwich University, Lyndon State College, and Castleton State College.

National Mathematics Competitions

Each year teams consisting of fifteen high school students from across the United States and Canada meet for a national mathematics competition. The testing sites at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas are connected by a telecommunication system, which enables all sites to have instantaneous access to testing results. The number of teams representing a state varies from one to four. For example, highly populous states such as New York send four teams to the competition, and smaller states like Vermont send one team. The Vermont State Mathematics Coalition has taken on the responsibility of selecting the fifteen best mathematics students from Vermont, choosing two mathematics teachers to serve as coaches (who provide practice sessions and problems for the team members), contacting school administrators to help finance the project, and arranging for transportation and housing for the Friday-Sunday competition weekend in early June.

Additionally, to prepare individual students for other national mathematics competitions, Dr. Sam Klein, a member of the Coalition, has offered free Saturday morning problem-solving sessions, to which students, teachers and parents are invited.

The School/Business Tutoring Project

One outcome of the Teacher/Business Internship Program was a close relationship between IBM and the schools of two IBM teacher interns - Essex High School and Colchester Middle School. During the summer of 1997, interns Steve Roberts and Rick Martin advised their mentors at IBM of the need in their schools for qualified tutors in mathematics and science. This interaction resulted in a cadre of over forty volunteers from the IBM plant in Essex Junction becoming tutors in those two schools, after receiving informal training in student learning styles and appropriate tutoring strategies.

In 1998 the project was expanded to include the middle and high schools in South Burlington. Resource materials are currently being developed to assist more businesses and schools across the entire state to participate in this project.

The Vermont Mathematics Initiative: A Statewide Mathematics Professional Development Program for Vermont Elementary Teachers

...for me VMI opened new horizons. The math that I loved came to life again.... As I was struggling to figure problems out each day at VMI I became aware of the difficulties children could find when learning something new...

-A Vermont elementary teacher participant

Now in its third year, the Vermont Mathematics Initiative (VMI) is a comprehensive, innovative, highly content intensive, mathematics teacher professional development program designed to ensure high quality mathematics instruction and high levels of student mathematics learning in the elementary schools across the state of Vermont.  The VMI represents a partnership of the University of Vermont, the State Colleges of Vermont, the Vermont State Department of Education, local school districts, and the Vermont Institute for Mathematics, Science, and Technology (VISMT). 

The VMI was brought into existence through the combined efforts of Ken Gross (UVM Professor of Mathematics and Education, and Director of the VMI), Bud Meyers, (current Vermont Deputy Commissioner of Education), and Marge Petit (former Deputy Commissioner of Education). Meyers and Petit became aware through state action planning institutes held in 1997-98 that Vermont’s elementary teachers had identified increased mathematics content knowledge as their greatest professional development need. Meyers and Petit then contacted Gross, who created the curriculum and its basic approach to professional development.

The need to increase the mathematics content knowledge of teachers can be traced to the late 1980s when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) published its National Standards For Teaching Mathematics, from which states developed their own "standards." Here in Vermont, the state adopted a set of standards for all subjects. For elementary teachers, the standards in mathematics now require much more extensive mathematics knowledge than in the past, far outstripping what elementary teachers learned in their own college education. For example, the Vermont Frameworks and Standards place a premium on students achieving a conceptual understanding of not only arithmetic and geometry, but such higher mathematical concepts as functional relationships, algebra, probability, statistics and data exploration, problem solving, and mathematical modeling. Yet, only a few years ago, elementary mathematics was for the most part confined to traditional arithmetic and geometry.

Upon the completion of the three-year VMI, program a teacher receives a masters degree in education from UVM with a specialty in K-6 mathematics.  There are currently 106 teachers enrolled in the VMI, who represent 77 elementary schools across the entire state.  After completion of the program,  each VMI trained teacher – working in concert with the school principal – will serve her/his school in enhancing the teaching and learning of mathematics. 
In essence, VMI teachers bring their new mathematics knowledge, leadership skills, and enthusiasm back to their schools, offer professional development for their peers and work to strengthen their school’s action plan in mathematics.  Through this two-tier approach to professional development, the VMI hopes to reach nearly all of the roughly four thousand elementary teachers in Vermont in relatively few years . 
According to Ken Gross, the adage that underlies the VMI approach is "competence leads to confidence."  He points out that it is important for  VMI participants to view themselves as mathematicians, to view mathematics as part of their lives, and to see the world around them in a mathematical light.  For these reasons the VMI curriculum is deep in mathematics content.  The more teachers feel comfortable with mathematics, the more they are able to effectively communicate their knowledge and convey their enthusiasm to their own students and other teachers in the school.  The VMI also incorporates components designed to enhance a teacher’s mentoring and leadership skills, and provides opportunities for the teacher leader and school principal to collaborate on building their school’s mathematics action plan.  
As one teacher noted in her evaluation of the VMI, "I have learned so much and have found a colleagueship that I didn’t think possible at this point in my career.  I have a safety net of support that I have never felt before.  Overall, VMI is the best thing to come my way, ever."

The Charles H. Stapper Teacher/Business Internship Program

Under the leadership of Charles H. Stapper, an electrical engineer at IBM, the Coalition founded the Teacher/Business Internship Program in 1992, designed to provide six-week summer internships for mathematics/science teachers at all grade levels to engage in technologically based projects at companies in Vermont. In addition to the summer internship, the program involved a yearlong commitment by the teacher’s school and the employer to enhance student learning through the outcome of the internship project. During the ensuing five years the internship program expanded to cover the entire state.

Following a tragic automobile accident in 1994 which severely injured Dr. Stapper, the internship program was renamed in his honor; and Executive Director Bob Chaffee took over the administration. In 1997 the Coalition turned the program over to the School-To-Work Initiative where it is now administered as the Vermont Employer/Teacher Internship Program (VETIP). VETIP’s goals focus on improving student learning through strong business/school partnerships, and in this way support the learning goals established in Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities.

Reflections on the Summer Math Institute by Krista Gile

I was an outstanding math student in my high school. In school, teachers had to teach to the whole class, and those of us who understood things more quickly than our classmates never had regular intellectual challenges. For me, the most important part of the Vermont Summer Math Institute was the opportunity to be part of a group of talented math students, and to participate in classes directed at students with strong math skills and intuition. These classes made me reach, as instructors presented material with the understanding that they were addressing a group with strong math skills. And my peers helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one who "got it." And sometimes I didn’t "get it" immediately.

There’s a feeling of fear and vulnerability that comes from watching a teacher and other students move on while you’re still unsure of the last point and too proud to admit it. This was the first time I had experienced this phenomenon that was so

common to many of my high school classmates. It is rare for very strong students in any field to experience this sensation. But if we top math students are to become the math teachers and professors of tomorrow, how will we understand our students without it?

I attended the first two Vermont Summer Math Institutes, during the summers following my junior and senior years. At the institute, I became part of a group of "math-advantaged" teenagers, and through the instructors and coordinators, we all became part of a group of people intent on learning and discovering the many forms and uses of mathematics. For the first time, we were part of an intellectual community... an experience most students don’t have until graduate school.

All day, we took classes that introduced us to aspects of our new community. The topics ranged from astronomy to fractals, to set theory, to dynamic systems. Our new math community had endless possibilities! In the evenings, we played math-based card games that would have driven "non-math people" to intense frustration. We told math jokes

that everyone "got," and, most importantly, we got to

know and enjoy other people who thought like we did.

After high school, I went to RPI to study Electrical Engineering. While I was there I had my first formal experiences helping others with math, both as a counselor at the summer institute, and as the undergraduate TA of an engineering course. As I interacted with students, I began to recognize in them some of the healthy discomfort I had felt at the Institute. I realized that teaching involves not just knowing material, but understanding both material and students so thoroughly that you can see where students are coming from and help them to understand. This realization would have been nearly impossible without the chance to struggle through a math class.

After a master’s degree in social science, I am currently living in Albany doing social services research. On the side, I teach math SAT test-prep, and math in an after-school program for at-risk girls. While I thought my research job was fairly non-mathematical, I’ve recently started learning statistics to better understand my project. It seems teaching, learning, and using mathematics are useful wherever I go, and are especially valued in my new intellectual community of social scientists.

The specific math skills I learned at the Vermont Summer Math Institute were useful. In particular, I remember feeling I had a leg-up on the rest of my college linear algebra classmates thanks to concepts presented at the institute. But after 7 years away from my high school summers, what has really stuck with me is the experience of struggling in a math class, the experience of taking a math class aimed at my learning level, and the senseof membership in a community of people comfortable with things mathematical. Although I am not now an practicing mathematician, these experiences helped set the stage for my current involvement in teaching mathematics and using it to shed light on the realm of social phenomena.

Executive Board


Executive Director:

Bob Chaffee, 7 Walnut Lane, Essex Jct., VT 05452
Telephone: (802) 878-4813

Committee Chairs:

How to Become Involved in the Coalition

To become actively involved in any activity of the Vermont State Mathematics Coalition, please print and complete this form and send it to:

Vermont State Mathematics Coalition

7 Walnut Lane

Essex Jct., VT 05452-4373





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Latest Update: October 30, 2003 by David Hathaway