MAV’s Valuing of Mathematics

The MAV have started the engines for their 2022 Annual Conference. The organisers have already lined up an impressive list of speakers and, as always, the MAV have put out the call for anyone and everyone to present, at a cost of only $500 or so for the two-day extravaganza.

Of course, if planning to attend or present, one should keep in mind the theme and sub-themes of the conference:

The theme for MAV22 Annual Conference is ‘Valuing Mathematics in a Changing World’ and will focus on valuing mathematics across our education system and society.

Mathematics plays a crucial role in our personal, professional and civic lives. Mathematics is the foundation for responding to and managing societal issues, such as pandemics, environmental and social problems. At work, mathematics is used every day to communicate, plan, visualise, monitor, evaluate systems and processes, interrogate data and information, and predict outcomes in an increasingly information rich and technologically advanced society. At a personal level, mathematics is used in context and underpins our ability to make informed decisions about personal finance or health, and recreation where numeracy is required for daily life. Algorithmic thinking, often out of sight and out of mind from our day-to-day activities, underpins the new technology we see advancing around us.

As educators we want our students, parents and carers, and community to value and connect with mathematics in our fast-paced and changing world. We need to actively engage students and equip them to be problem solvers, and critical and creative users of mathematics now and in the future. This requires educators who are adaptable, innovative and flexible in their pedagogical practices.

Subthemes:

•  Improving individual and societal outcomes – valuing mathematics and numeracy in society and everyday life, and their many contributions to improving individual and societal outcomes

•  Achieving greater equity – valuing mathematics education as means for achieving greater equity in people’s lives, regardless of culture, background, and other factors

•  Technology to enhance investigation – valuing and exploring how technology enhances mathematical investigation and discovery

•  Exploring effective pedagogies – exploring effective pedagogies that engage and equip students to be problem solvers, and critical and creative users of mathematics

•  Valuing evidence – valuing evidence-based teaching and learning resources, assessment and professional development

Have fun. Learn lots of maths.

62 Replies to “MAV’s Valuing of Mathematics”

  1. Sessions at the MAV Conferences that focussed purely on mathematics have always been rare, and in recent years even rarer. Once upon a time there were always a couple (usually repeated) sessions that focussed solely on mathematics. Browsing my collection of past conference proceedings books, I’m reminded of presentations that explored:

    1) Subsets of the complex plane that explored interesting loci defined by equations such as

    \displaystyle |z - z_1| + |z - z_2| = k,
    \displaystyle |z - z_1| - |z - z_2| = k,
    \displaystyle |z - z_1| = \lambda |z - z_2|,
    \displaystyle \text{arg}(z - z_1) + \text{arg}(z - z_2) = \theta,
    \displaystyle \text{arg}(z - z_1) + \text{arg}(z - z_2) = \theta

    using algebraic and geometric approaches.

    2) Mathematical probability and statistics, with content such as
    The Weibull distribution,
    Counter-examples in probability and statistics,
    The algebra of random variables (where theorems for finding the pdf of the sum, difference, product and quotient of two independent random variables and functions of a single random variable were given and illustrated),
    The product and quotient of two independent Cauchy random variables.
    Probability and the Pell equation – experimental and algebraic approaches (this one never got published, the presenter provided a handout and explained that he had missed the submission deadline for the conference proceedings book by a couple of days and the deadline was final).

    3) Impossibility theorems for symbolic integration in finite terms.

    4) Marden’s Theorem.

    5) Interesting and useful theorems about polynomials (such as how to construct ‘nice’ cubics and quartics with rational (ideally integer) roots and whose first derivatives also had rational roots – very useful for CAS-free calculus assessments and connecting nicely with arithmetic sequences!).

    I learnt a lot from these sessions and found them thoroughly enjoyable. They were always very well attended. I still occasionally go back to the past Conference Proceedings to revisit the mathematics I learnt.

    Unfortunately, these sessions stopped. And so did my attendance. I’m not interested in infomercials, self-promoting educational fluff etc. I’d go to the Assessor presentations on the mathematics exams but these never went beyond what you could read in the Examination Reports and questions were typically deflected. They just made me angry and disappointed.

    A couple of years ago I met someone who used to give mathematical presentations at these conferences. I asked him why he stopped doing this. His answer was simple. He still had plenty of ideas to present. BUT …

    1) It was getting harder and harder to convince the MAV that such presentations were relevant (in the final few years before he pulled the pin he apparently was getting told that the mathematics he presented was beyond what a school teacher would be interested in),

    2) A policy change that required presenters to pay for attending the conference (presenters had previously attended for free on each day they presented). Charging the people who provided the content of the conference did not sit well with him.

    3) Travelling to Latrobe University was a pain in the neck, particularly when combined with 1) and 2) above.

    Of course, teachers are always free to give the feedback to the MAV that they want more presentations with actual mathematical content at the Conference. But teachers can’t even provide feedback to VCAA about far more important things … So the MAV Conference delivers what teachers deserve – infomercials and fluff. What Marty has posted is a stark reminder of this.

    1. There was one MAV conference when presenters had to pay a reduced fee, but it has not happened since. In other years, speakers did not pay for registration.

      In my experience, nearly all conferences do not reduce the registration fees for presenters other than invited speakers.

      PS The university is “La Trobe University” rather than “Latrobe University”.

      1. Fair enough … La Trobe. A bit sexist to me. Maybe the university should get woke and re-brand itself as Li Trobe …

        Re: “There was one MAV conference when presenters had to pay a reduced fee, but it has not happened since.”

        I doubt the person I spoke could be bothered to check if it continued to happen after the first time. One conference where it happened is one conference too many.

        Re: “In my experience, nearly all conferences do not reduce the registration fees for presenters other than invited speakers”.

        Then what happens is that uninvited speakers – who form the bulk of the presentations and therefore the bulk of the conference content and so in their absence there would be no conference – will have their own agenda (typically commercial, promotional or self-promotional). You’re not going to get speakers talking solely about mathematics, and such speakers will rarely be invited speakers.

        1. My favorite non-Marty session to this day (Marty’s sessions I have to put in a separate category for some of the reasons named above) was 2013: “Four interesting and useful theorems about polynomials.”

          The session would have been enough on its own but the conversations that followed (three other teachers from my school were at the same session, not by accident) led us down many fruitful rabbit-holes.

          So just in case the speaker for that session reads this blog…

          THANK YOU.

          1. My paper “An introduction to Markov chains” (MAV conference 2012) written with two colleagues has been cited surprisingly often.

            1. Terry, I’ve just gone to the 2012 Conference Proceedings and re-sighted your paper myself. It was an excellent paper in 2012 and it’s still an excellent paper today. Your style comes through very clearly, particularly towards the end. Such a shame that Markov Chains were deleted from the VCE syllabus at the end of 2015. We got all the confidence interval and sampling crap etc. in its place.

              I think your paper was slightly over-shadowed that year by a paper on Marden’s Theorem. I remember a lot of people – quite rightly – getting excited about this theorem. But that was 10 years ago and the theorem possibly seems less amazing today. Such a shame that ellipses are no longer in the Specialist Maths curriculum.

              1. Did Mathologer do something on Marden’s theorem at some point as well? I seem to remember the ellipse inside a triangle diagram…

                …posting the question here hoping someone will reply with the link…

                (And I will claim the time as PD)

          2. I’m quite sure the speaker reads all of Marty’s blogs. And I’m quite sure your thanks is greatly appreciated. And I’m very sure that the speaker greatly appreciated the support of all who attended each year – it was a tremendous group of like-minded mathematics teachers that loved mathematics.

            1. Unfortunately, many of those who were at the “probability and Pell’s equation” session have since retired. I do still remember the joy when an audience member realized the link to triangular numbers…

              …by the next morning one of my colleagues had even proved the relationship.

              Ah, the good old days…

              1. Indeed. I don’t think we’ll be seeing too many presentations like that at any MAV Conference for the foreseeable future and beyond. It would require a massive cultural shift. Professional development focussed solely on mathematics is unwelcome. In fact, it is seen as undesirable by most schools, who prefer instead to focus on the latest shiny new thing promoted by education ‘experts’ who are busy justifying their existence and promoting themselves. I’ve seen discrimination against teachers whose mathematics is strong, for the very reason that their mathematics is strong. We live in an age where mediocrity is valued more highly than excellence.

          3. Red,

            Sounds like an interesting paper… has the author published it on line ?

            While searching i found this rather comprehensive file on polynomials instead which list 31 theorems with some sketch proofs

            Steve R

            POLYTHEOREMS

            1. Good question Steve, I do not know. I have only what is in the 2013 MAV conference book, which may be available through MAV (probably for a price…)

              Wikipedia has a few nice pages on polynomials as well. Descartes “rule of signs” was a surprising result that produced some hours of discussion in my (admittedly very small) circle of interested colleagues.

                  1. Different audiences.

                    The Kermond paper is worth reading for the references alone. Chase some of them down and there is a lot of really interesting mathematics to be learned.

                    Of course, Kermond’s skill (my opinion) is communicating the ideas to those of us who have some difficulty remembering all of our university-level mathematics but who have not lost the desire to continue to learn.

                    MAV used to be the ideal place for this learning. I think those of us who haven’t retired have pretty much been pushed online. Progress there is annoyingly slower.

                1. Something interesting to me — this was the *fiftieth* conference?

                  The historian bug in me asks, how long ago was it that the name was accurate?

  2. Math teachers do genuinely enjoy mathematics. That fact is the motivation for the Klein vignettes that were produced a number of years ago, as a way to nurture this passion for mathematics in the teachers.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of doing what is now called PD, you could just spend a few weeks learning some cool math?

      1. I have a new approach to PD. Each term I read a book; I keep detailed notes in my notebook and brief notes in a Word file; at the end of the term, I store the Word file on my VIT portal as evidence of my PD. I asked VIT if this is acceptable and, they said that their only expectation is that I can justify the activity in terms of AITSL standards as required on the VIT portal. Attached is what I did in Term 1, 2022. I did not get as far as I wanted to, but c’est la vie.

        In this approach, I clock up the number of hours required for a year (20) in a term; the only cost to me is the price of the book; best of all, I learn what I choose to learn when I want to learn.

        In term 2, 2022, I have been reading about a topic rather than a single book. This will be the preparation for a paper at the MAV conference – if my proposal is accepted. However, now I think it might be better to stick to a single book for the term. I get distracted reading around a topic.

        ferguson

        1. Terry, your talks are always thoughtful and thought-provoking. Whatever you’ve been doing, do that.

          But, if you spend more than an hour worrying about VIT’s idiotic PD requirement, you’re nuts. Your contributions to this blog would suffice, and you don’t need to record anything.

          1. Thanks; I always take detailed notes on serious reading. To log it on the VIT portal takes only minutes/term.

              1. As a CRT or short-term contract teacher this is excellent for PD purposes. But any teacher in a permanent position or fixed-term contract (typically 1 year or more) will be doing this on top of the compulsory bullshit their school imposes.

                Terry, your idea is an excellent one but teachers in a permanent position or fixed-term contract should do it with the understanding that it is PD that will be unsupported and unrecognised by their school. They should be doing it purely for the pleasure of learning. Schools will not allow it as a substitute for the compulsory bullshit they impose on teachers in the name of PD. In fact, most schools would not even consider it legitimate PD, despite the fact that it obviously satisfies several ‘AITSL standards’ (see my earlier post). This is a significant contributing factor to the problem of teaching standards – the focus on shiny new things promoted by education ‘experts’ to the exclusion of valuing mathematical knowledge and understanding.

                1. Thanks JF. I am on a fixed-term, part-time, contract for 6 months. I do all the compulsory PD that the school offers – which is not a major burden; I do my reading PD as well. The PD offered by the school is designed to provide benefits for all teachers, whereas my reading PD is designed to suit me – it just happens to satisfy VIT requirements.

                  1. “The PD offered by the school is designed to provide benefits for all teachers …”

                    Yeah, I’ll bet.

                    1. Let me offer an example. At my school, we recently had a PD about how we deliver feedback to our students. The exercise ran over several weeks. Teachers were paired and they observed each other’s classes and provided comments on how they saw the teacher being observed providing feedback. I like being observed by another teacher, and observing another teacher at work. Did I learn something from this? Yes; it helped me to refine my ideas about providing feedback to students. This PD exercise offered benefits to all teachers.(There were also topics other than feedback – but this is the one that I chose.)

                    2. One phrase comes to mind here: “skill ceiling”. Pick any facet of education and you can invariably hone it, sharpen it, be more efficient, optimise your technique.

                      The game is one of compromise and priority.

                    3. Indeed. If only teachers knew how to give regular, quality feedback to students, standards would rise dramatically. What dunces we all are.

                      But seriously … Terry, you have the right idea. Just the wrong audience. What’s actually needed is for \displaystyle STUDENTS to do PD over several weeks on how to listen and then fricken well act on the regular, quality feedback they get given.

                      I have students who consistently ignore the same feedback I give them every time. I keep giving it and they keep ignoring it. The evidence is what they hand in for every assessment. I refuse to believe it’s due entirely to innate stupidity.

                      A simple example is following instructions in an assessment – both global and local.
                      An example of a global instruction is
                      “Unless otherwise specified, an exact answer to a question is required.”
                      An example of a local instruction is
                      “Give your answer correct to four decimal places”.

                      It is astounding how many students continually refuse to do this, despite being told – more and more bluntly – again and again.

                      95% of my feedback to students is do the set work, ask for help when you need it, take a decent set of notes, pay attention in class, follow the advice given on how to set out the solution to certain types of questions, and follow all the instructions given in an assessment. It’s amazing the improvement I see when a student actually acts on this feedback.

                      Perhaps students should pay teachers for each lesson, because they seem to pay a lot more attention to their paid ‘tutor’ than their unpaid dumbass teacher.

                    4. Indeed, Glen. The Law of Diminishing Returns comes to mind …

                      But school leadership and particularly the DET is more interested in the Law of Optics and Spin.

  3. FWIW, when you offer a workshop, you must align it with one of the five sub-themes.

    I guess that most things that do not fit the other four can be, more or less, fit:
    Exploring effective pedagogies – exploring effective pedagogies that engage and equip students to be problem solvers, and critical and creative users of mathematics?

    It seems like a strong attempt to control the narrative of the conference. But I guess it is their conference.

    1. Thanks, ST. Obviously MAV has long lost the plot, and the mandating of an official sub-theme for each talk is manipulative and insane. But does it really matter? Their hilarious choices of keynote speakers matters, but do the sub-themes matter other than to remind everyone that MAV is nuts?

      1. Personally, I think that the MAV needs to change its name to be more transparent about its true culture. It is NOT the Mathematics Association of Victoria, it is the Mathematics Education Association of Victoria – MEAV. Don’t pretend to be something you’re clearly not. The narrative of the conference and hence the culture of the organisation itself is very clear from the sub-themes and the choices of keynote speakers. There is no mathematics to see here. That’s fine, just don’t pretend that there is. Be real, not fake. You are MEAV, not MAV.

        Incidentally, does anyone know when was the last time a mathematician, NOT a mathematics education ‘expert’, was a keynote speaker? (I’m guessing it was Marty and Burkhart, at least 10 years ago)

        1. Hussain Tahir in 2015(ish) gave a presentation about the geometric shape known as the Abelos (shoe-maker’s knife). It was full of conics, proof by induction, history and was very well attended.

          Since then… I’m not sure.

          Maybe this doesn’t count as I don’t recall him being a keynote speaker.

          1. I met Hussain Tahir around that time; we had a meal together at his house; his students were fortunate to have such a dedicated, enthusiastic mathematics teacher.

            1. His book: “The Shoemaker’s knife: home of the conics.” is worth reading. It made me realise just how much geometry I never knew and how someone with a brilliant geometry-brain could bring such ideas together so quickly.

              Reminded me a bit of Hayam Rubenstein who lectured at The University of Melbourne during my undergraduate years.

              Marty has posted at length on the loss of lecturing as an artform so I won’t continue except to say that yes, I agree.

        2. Good question. One issue is that the MAV and the Australian Mathematical Society have often held their annual conferences in the same week.

        3. My mistake. 6 years ago … Marty’s last Keynote was the infamous 2016: “Same Sermon, New Jokes presentation”. And two non-keynotes: “The Joy Of Gambling” and “How To Teach Specialist Maths, If You Must”.

        4. @JF: Taking up your point, this term I am concentrating on teaching my Year 9 students how to “take a decent set of notes”. Early days, but they seem to be responding. Checking their workbooks weekly, and offering comments as I go around the class, seems to help.

    2. It’s common practice to have themes in conferences especially in the social sciences. Often the themes are broad and it takes only a little creativity to make a case for fitting in with one of the themes. Themes are also used to define the purposes of research activities in universities, and research grants generally. I am not saying that I agree with this practice, but themes are common.

      1. “Social sciences” is the key phrase (and also an oxymoron).

        The MAV Conference is a social sciences conference, mathematics has no relevance in it. The five sub-themes do not easily lend themselves to any presentation based solely mathematics. Which is another way of saying that mathematical presentations are unwanted. You could try and get really creative and stuff a square peg into a round sub-theme. Good luck with that.

        I’m OK if it’s called the Annual MEAV Conference. But not when it calls itself the Annual MAV Conference. None of the presentations I alluded to in my top post would fit. All would probably be rejected. (Unless you blatantly lied in the application and said it “valu[ed] and explor[ed] how technology enhances mathematical investigation and discovery”)

      2. Themes are fine. Stupid themes are not fine. And demanding some stupid loyalty attachment to stupid themes is (stupid)stupid.

    1. This is why I always miss the good old days.
      Not all past proceedings are,but some available online if one is determined enough to search for them.

    2. I remember there was a year when a CD-ROM rather than a hard copy of the Conference Proceedings was provided. This was not popular and did not happen again AFAIK.

      MAV has probably gone to (restricted?) digital access only. Obviously the bean-counters decided that it’s a lot cheaper to NOT provide a hardcopy. I don’t like this and would be yet another reason for me not to attend (if I didn’t have enough reasons already). I like a hardcopy that you can flick back-and-forth through, is not hard on the eyes and does not require a computer to access.

      On the other hand, maybe there’s nothing of substance to print anymore:
      2004: 612 pages.
      2014: 225 pages.
      There was a genuine effort to reduce the size of the book. Since most of the presentations are either infomercials, ‘fun learning activities’ or self-promoting ‘research’, there might not be enough substance to justify a hard copy. (And maybe presenters aren’t typing their presentations up as a ‘paper’). Judging from what I hear from people who attend (to have a nice time away from school for a couple of days), this is the most likely explanation. The Conference Proceedings used to be a good resource, back in the “good old days” as Lance so appropriately puts it. You would find a copy on the mathematics department book shelf of most schools.

      1. I’m not sure in general what would be the motivation for submitting a paper for the proceedings.

        1. I think one motivation might be to contribute to a resource that teachers and others can refer to down the track. Otherwise, once the presentation is done, the content of the presentation is ‘lost’. So if, for example, the presentation is mathematical (say, for example, the 2013 Kermond presentation mentioned above by another poster), the mathematics can be referenced and used by others immediately after the conference and even (in this case) 10 years later. I wonder how many shelves the 2013 Conference Proceedings is sitting on, its content just waiting to be discovered or re-discovered by mathematics teachers.

          1. Sure. But if you actually have something of substance/value/interest to say, wouldn’t a place like Vinculum be a better home?

            1. Maybe. But I still think there should be a formal ‘write-up’ of Conference presentations. At least, the ones that have some substance. Otherwise, I almost don’t see the point in presenting – just publish in Vinculum.

              1. I understand conference organisers’ desire for proceedings, but that doesn’t imply anyone else should share that desire. And, I don’t see the desire to give a presentation implying a desire to also write up the presentation for the proceedings.

                1. Publishing proceedings of conferences involves a great deal of work. Whenever I have been involved in organising conferences, I have suggested that proceedings not be published. Furthermore, an article in a journal is more accessible if the journal routinely goes to university libraries; proceedings tend not to go the university libraries.

                  Giving a presentation at a conference is a step towards writing a journal article because you might get useful feedback.

                    1. That would be because there’s nothing sufficiently worthwhile to publish.

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