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May 28, 2012

MassMATE (Massachusetts Mathematics Association of Teacher Educators) held its sixth annual conference at BSU, where more than 250 math education leaders from across the commonwealth learned about engaging students in math under the new Common Core State Standards.

The common standards initiative is a state-led effort that provides a consistent framework for teachers to prepare children for college and the workforce. Massachusetts joined 46 other U.S. states and territories in adopting the common standards in 2010.

MassMATE President Paula Sennett said this year's conference, themed, "Teacher Leaders Making it Happen: Bringing the Guiding Principles and Standards for Mathematical Practice into the Mathematics Classroom," aimed to give participants necessary resources for helping alleviate student math anxiety. "We're looking to do away with this generation of math-phobics," she said. "We want to make math come alive for these kids."

Mathematics educators at the conference included some K-12 math teachers and college professors, but were primarily math specialists, administrators and other professionals.

The idea is that the education leaders will return with new ideas and resources for the teachers at their schools, said co-organizer [b]Dr. Polina Sabinin[/b], assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, who is former president and current conference chair of MassMATE. "Our primary mission is to create a forum for ideas and support," she said, adding, "We also hope participants are establishing connections with colleagues in the area."

Keynote speaker was Steve Leinwand, who delivered a lively talk, "The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Hopes, Fears and Challenges as We Enter This Brave New World," which focused on the core standards, math anxiety and best teaching practices, among other things.

While he noted the importance of the common standards in providing structure, he told the educators in the audience they should always rely on their instincts and personalities in the classroom. "Standards don't teach -- teachers teach," he said.

He said dedicated teachers can help fight one primary problem among today's students: boredom. "We need to give students a reason to care," he said.

Melissa Worthy, who works for the Bi-County Collaborative in Attleboro schools, benefitted from the "Exhibits and Networking" part of the day, where vendors displayed their textbooks, resources and classroom innovations. That session introduced her to new teaching tools, such as Digi-Blocks, a hands-on system for teaching elementary mathematics. "A big thing is some of these tools help relieve math anxiety and help the students think mathematically,' meaning they can apply what they learned in the real world," she said.

Vendor Ben Bosley, a math tutor, had the opportunity to show off his original card game, Math Twister, which involves students solving equations competitively. His game is another example of a classroom tool the event exhibited to keep young students interested in math. "Teachers are always interested in having a game that's going to help their students learn," said Mr. Bosley. "This fills that niche."

MassMATE provides a forum for mathematics educators to communicate with each other and collaborate with other groups interested in teaching mathematics in Massachusetts. (Rob Matheson, '07, G '12, University Advancement)

Participants during the 'Exhibits and Networking' session
Ben Bosley (right) explains his Math Twister game to participants
Steve Leinwand

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