Mathematics Conference on "Problem Solving" Draws Capacity Crowd to RIC

A capacity crowd of mathematics teachers from throughout New England attended the mathematics conference “Problem Solving: At the Heart of the Common Core,” which was held last month at Rhode Island College.

The keynote address was presented by Joseph Malkevitch, a professor from York College, City University of New York, who spoke about fairness. Malkevitch selected his topic not only for its prominence in discrete mathematics, but also for its wide-reaching applications in law and society.

Malkevitch challenged the audience to consider how to “fairly” compensate the many people who lost homes and property in Hurricane Sandy, and he linked that question to similar ones that occur in settlement of estates and bankruptcy proceedings.

Participants also were offered a choice of 15 sessions on various topics that included forms of rich problem solving tasks and resources for the common core state standards (CCSS) in mathematics.

In addition to Malkevitch, presenters at the conference included Margaret Kenney, who has conducted several National Science Foundation-funded programs in discrete mathematics for secondary teachers, and Joseph Rosenstein, director of the leadership program in discrete mathematics at Rutgers University and recipient of NSF-funding for the discrete mathematics program for K-8 teachers. 

Several presenters were Rhode Island teachers who have been involved in problem solving and critical thinking grant projects at RIC, led by Mary M. Sullivan, director of the RI STEM Center and professor of mathematics at RIC.

Phil Capaldi and Jay Juhnowski , both teachers in Jamestown, R.I., involved the audience with rich problem-solving tasks so they could experience the power of the CCSS for themselves, while Cranston teachers Cristina Bello, Sandra Dadona, and Marie-Elaina DiMaio explored rich mathematical patterns  that build fluency in decimal arithmetic and place value.

Providence mathematics coach Cheryl McElroy involved participants in exploring iPad applications to support students who struggle in mathematics.  In a session presented by Gail DeRobbio and Deb Lancia, both from Cranston, R.I., participants assumed the role of “junior architects” as they completed tasks that span the geometry domain in the CCSS.

 Sullivan explored the mathematics involved with and classroom uses of QR codes to engage students in rich tasks that embed not only the CCSS but also the framework for 21st century learning.

Sensitive to the stress that many teachers have when it comes to implementation of the CCSS in mathematics, “doctors” Linda Bello and Rosemary Reardon, teachers from Cranston, R.I., developed a powerful resource list of CCSS support that is available on the Web.

Mary Lurgio, a teacher in Smithfield, R.I., linked the ELA and math CCSS in her session, focusing on integrating instruction in fractions with literature.

Rhode Island College mathematics faculty member Lisa Humphreys demystified the parabola for attendees at her session through an exploration of the links between a discrete approach with the traditional approach. 

James Bierden, emeritus mathematics education faculty member at RIC, showed how teachers must make sense of the first mathematical practice standard “problem solving,” noting that it is “the heart of CCSS.”

Presenters Joan Martin, Kit Norris and Steve Yurek, all from Massachusetts spoke about CCSS practices during their sessions.

The conference was organized by Sullivan; Margaret J. Kenney, professor of mathematics at Boston College and a RIC honorary degree recipient in 2012; and Janice C. Kowalczyk, retired coordinator of the leadership program in discrete mathematics at Rutgers University, who is now assistant to the director of the RI STEM Center.

It was supported by the Rhode Island Mathematics Teachers Association. RIMTA President Gina Kilday received additional support for the conference from RIMTA members Donna Gattinella, Sue Osberg, and RIC faculty member Donna Christy