Friday, July 24, 2009

Going back six weeks...

So the end of school was a bit of a flurry and I left meetings early to head out to Park City, Utah (home of the Sundance Film Festival) to participate in the Park City Mathematics Institute for the seventh time. If you're a math teacher and never been... you're missing out!
I first attended PCMI in 2002 -- by pure luck. I was teaching Ontario's Linear Algebra course and stumbled across their webpage which discussed that summer's topic, Gaussian Integers. I cross my fingers & applied. After attending as a participant for two years I got invited back to help out as staff. It's a lot of work and I don't get all the fun that participants have but I learn about math and teaching and learning in a different way. And I get to work some amazing people, both staff and participants, and great friends.
PCMI is hard to describe. I call it "math camp" when asked just to make things easier. Let me try to be more descriptive since I have the time: PCMI is a three week residential program that has about 60 teachers participate in daily 2.5 hour problem solving sessions that build around a topic, an hour of pedagogy, a 2 hour small working group session in the afternoon on a topic specific to the teacher's classes and a variety of afternoon and evening sessions, lectures and activities on recreational or research mathematics.
While the teachers are doing their thing, there are also about 250 undergraduates, graduate students, university faculty and research mathematicians doing their own courses & lectures on a specific theme, usually tangentially related to the teacher's morning problem solving topic. For example, this year's topic was L-functions -- this is a cutting edge area in number theory (and is the hot new thing in cryptography). Next year, it's image processing. The addition of all these "real" mathematicians running around (and these are sharp folk... Clay Scholars, Fields Medal winners, Nobel laureates -there's no math Nobel but sometimes the topics cross science/economics boundaries) lifts the matheamatical conversation and is an important reminder that math is continually developing... and is crucial to both our day-to-day life and to our future. Plus all these smart folks reminds me what it's like to be a student in my class...
The applications come out in the fall... if you're a math teacher, you should apply. Three weeks is a long time but the Park City area is beautiful, the PCMI teacher community is amazingly supportive and the math is a lot of fun.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll describe what went on this summer at PCMI. I did twitter throughout so feel free to Twitter Search but I didn't have time to blog.
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