Monday, March 8, 2010

  • New math grad program aimed at teachers
  • Grads vote yes, twice; other notes
  • Perimeter plans to welcome Hawking
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

New math grad program aimed at teachers

A moment of affirmation came to Brian Forrest last April, during an event at Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing.

He had just given a well-received talk on the proposed new Master of Mathematics for Teachers (MMT) program to a group of 200 high school teachers. A few minutes later the pure math professor found himself out in the corridor being mobbed by audience members, answering deep questions about calculus.

[Forrest]“It was a moment that told me there was good reason why these people would want to be involved in the MMT,” says Forrest (left), the new program’s chair. “One thing about math teachers, and particularly the kind of person who will be taking such a program — they love their subject, and many of them miss it. That was the reaction we heard the most: these teachers really do want to get their hands back on math.”

The new online, part-time MMT program, approved by Senate last September, will be taught by faculty members in applied mathematics, combinatorics and optimization, computer science, pure mathematics, and statistics and actuarial science, and administered through the CEMC.

Ian VanderBurgh, CEMC director, estimates that Ontario Council on Graduate Studies approval could come as early as mid-May. Meanwhile, the program may be advertised conditionally, and students may be admitted “subject to approval.” A web link for information will go up on the CEMC website this month.

Word has already spread through the activities and contacts of the CEMC, bringing an eager response from “a strong cohort” of potential students, Forrest says. Part of the reason he believes the program will succeed is that CEMC’s many years of outreach to high school students and teachers have built up Waterloo’s reputation for excellence in mathematics education.

Another key reason: the MMT is different from most master’s-level math programs, which usually aim to prepare researchers and future professors. It’s also different from most professional development programs for math teachers, which usually focus on pedagogy. The MMT is specifically for high school math teachers who want to strengthen their knowledge of mathematics.

Its mode of delivery is again different. The only other master's in Canada aimed at enhancing the mathematics knowledge of teachers is an on-campus, lecture-format program at York University in Toronto, not easily accessible to actively employed teachers living outside the Toronto area. The MMT will be offered part-time, online and by CD-ROM, so that teachers living anywhere can more easily fit these studies into their busy working lives. They will have five years to finish.

The content will be both deep and broad, delving into the essentials of mathematics, such as number theory, geometry, and calculus, and the real-world applications. There will be course elements on image compression, cryptography, finance, statistics and medicine, computer graphics, the math behind sound and the fundamentals of music, and so on.

These are things that most math teachers would not have seen before in the classroom, and will now be able to use to engage and inspire their own students — and to answer the perennial question, “Why am I studying this?”

A planned course on problem-solving could be taught to people with almost any level of mathematical sophistication, Forrest says. There is an obvious application to competing in contests, but beyond that, “it’s at the heart of what somebody who’s interested in mathematics really wants to think about. It’s probably one of the courses that will get the teachers reinvigorated about doing mathematics themselves.”

People at presentations and open houses often ask him what you can do with a math degree. His answer: “Anything you want, provided you have the aptitude and can structure your studies to open those doors. These days, everything under the sun offers career possibilities for people with mathematical training. Part of our job is to make teachers who have been out of university for a while more aware of these new, exciting developments.”

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Grads vote yes, twice; other notes

In four days of online voting last week, graduate students gave approval to two proposals that will add to their nonacademic fees. The first question dealt with UPass access to Grand River Transit buses, similar to what undergraduate students already pay for; grads cast 1,199 yes votes and 727 no votes, enough to approve the plan and its $52.94-a-term fee starting in the spring term. The second question asked about support for the expansion of UW's health services, which undergrads endorsed in a vote last fall. The grad vote was 916 yes and 429 no; that project will lead to a fee of about $10 per term, starting two years from now. Results of the two referenda were announced on the Graduate Student Association web site, which adds that "Both referenda achieved quorum so both results are binding, pending ratification at a General Meeting."

“We are getting lots of questions,” says Eva Grabinski, a key figure in the Web Content Management System project that’s working to implement new software for maintaining UW’s hundreds of thousands of web pages. People “from areas across the university”, she says, are eager to know how they can start preparing to move their sites into the new web design and the new web content management system. To answer [CMS logo]such questions, she’s put a blog posting online. It says in part: “Start with a ‘web content analysis’. IST Client Services and the Waterloo CMS Project have developed a UWaterloo SEW course and a UWaterloo content analysis tool (i.e. a content analysis template in Microsoft Excel) to help you get started. When deciding when to do your content analysis, keep in mind the size of your website — obviously, the bigger your website is, the longer it will take to do a content analysis. You also want to give yourself some time to plan the sitemap for your new site and revise or create any required content for your new site; the content analysis helps you plan your new sitemap and identify what content you need to revise, delete and create. While the pilot website is scheduled for launch in Fall 2010, it will take quite some time to roll out the content management system across the large web-space of the university.”

The Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation will host a talk tomorrow on the relationship between technology and resilience. Victor Galaz, of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Sweden’s Stockholm University, will speak on whether information technology can really save planet Earth. The possible implications of abrupt climate change, "planetary boundaries" and the failure of international institutions to deal with multiple interacting global crises have gained considerable scientific and political attention over the past years. Few sustainability scientists, however, have elaborated another important global trend: the explosive evolution of, and cascading innovations in, information and communication technologies. What is the role of such technologies in dealing with the repercussions of rapid global environmental change? How can they build resilience in global environmental governance? The talk starts at 2:00 tomorrow in Tatham Centre room 2218; RSVPs (since the room, like the Earth, is of finite size) go to ext. 84490.

The Employee Assistance Program will offer a session this Thursday on career planning, under the title "The How and Why Behind Getting Started or Switching Gears”. It's an offering from Liz Koblyk, the recently hired "staff career advisor", says the EAP: "Have you ever wondered if you are in the right job? Are you wondering how to advance in your career? Are you in the process of looking for other jobs and need to brush up on your resume or interview skills? Or have you never thought about career planning, but think it may be for you?" At this brownbag seminar, it goes on, Koblyk "will talk about her new role on campus and provide an overview of why career planning is important and how it can help you, whether you are new to staff or have been here for a while, and whether you are a recent graduate or have spent a long time in the work force." Thursday's workshop will start at 12 noon in Davis Centre room 1302.

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Perimeter plans to welcome Hawking

Last week’s flurry of news stories about celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking ended with official denials that he’s going to “move to Canada” and make his new home at the Perimeter Institute just south of the main UW campus.

The excitement was started by Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper, which said Hawking would leave his life-long base at the University of Cambridge as a “protest” against British government cuts in science and education funding. A spokesman firmly denied that he has any such plans.

However, Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, will make an appearance in Waterloo this summer, Perimeter recently confirmed. Neil Turok, director of Perimeter and a former colleague of Hawking at Cambridge, said the famous scientist will “visit” in June and July “to conduct scientific research and participate in a televised outreach event”.

Said a news release: “The world’s most famous living physicist, Prof. Hawking has made several path-breaking contributions to theoretical physics. His visit to Waterloo will mainly focus on scientific research and private collaborations with other leading physicists at PI. Prof. Hawking will also take part in the institute’s award-winning outreach program by delivering a special lecture to be broadcast on TVO across Canada.”

Said Turok: “We hope Stephen's visit to Perimeter will be just the first of many. His ideas have had a huge impact on our basic understanding of the universe. He is an exceptional communicator, whether to other scientists or to the wider public. We are delighted he has agreed to deliver a televised lecture, to be shown across Canada. And we are looking forward to his impressions of the Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute, now under construction.”

Last October, when the expansion to the facility was named in his honour, Hawking said that "Our field of theoretical physics has been the most successful and cost-effective in all of science. Where would we be today without Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein? Many great challenges lie ahead. Where this new understanding will lead, is impossible to say for sure. What we can say with confidence, is that expanding the Perimeter of our knowledge will be the key to our future."

Perimeter is not a part of the university, but has close links through the cross-appointment of many faculty members as well as shared projects and a jointly operated master's degree program.

It will be the first Waterloo visit for Hawking, who uses a wheelchair and communicates through a voice synthesizer because of neuromuscular dystrophy. However, he already has many connections to the institute, the Perimeter news release noted: “Prof. Hawking holds a Distinguished Research Chair at PI, which will see him regularly visit for extended periods. He is also a Patron of the innovative Perimeter Scholars International, a Master’s course that nurtures future physics researchers, and will oversee a graduation ceremony for the first class of PSI scholars when he visits.

“Prof. Hawking was also Honorary President of the recent Quantum to Cosmos: Ideas for the Future festival, celebrating the 10th anniversary of PI, took part via video in the presentation 'Perimeter Institute — Past, Present & Future', and appears in PI’s award-winning television documentary 'The Quantum Tamers: Revealing Our Weird and Wired Future'."

It said a special PI presentation involving Hawking will be broadcast on TVO on Sunday, June 20 on TVO. “Something TVO does really well is to bring big ideas and bright minds into homes across Canada,” says Lisa de Wilde, the network’s Chief Executive Officer. “And they don’t come any bigger or brighter than Professor Hawking.”

Stephen Hawking, the release says, “has made several extraordinary contributions to fundamental theoretical physics, especially in establishing the classical and quantum properties of black holes and in building quantum gravitational theories of the origin of the universe and structures within it. His most celebrated work was the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, known as Hawking radiation.” He retired as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge — a position once held by Isaac Newton — last year when he turned 67.


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Link of the day

International Women's Day

When and where

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation announcement about JDRF Canadian Clinical Trial Network, 9:00, Davis Centre lounge.

Open classroom session with François Paré, French studies, hosted by Centre for Teaching Excellence, 11:45. Details.

Cultural Encounters, Encountering Cultures series: François Paré, French studies, “Minorities and Globalization” 4:30, Arts Lecture Hall room 113.

Waterloo Space Society presents James Sloan, earth and environmental sciences, “Satellite Earth Observation Missions and Climate Change” 5:30, Rod Coutts Hall room 306.

Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada alumni reception 6:00, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto. Details.

Iranian film “Offside” presented by Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, introduction by Alice Kuzniar, UW Germanic and Slavic department, 6:45 p.m., Princess Twin Cinema. Details.

Co-op job interviews for spring term positions, “continuous” phase March 9-31, rankings open every Tuesday and Thursday. Details.

Library workshop: “Data Retrieval from Statistics Canada Surveys” Tuesday 10:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Senate undergraduate council Tuesday 12:00 noon, Needles Hall room 3004.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Motivating Students” Tuesday 12:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Career workshops Tuesday: “Working Effectively in Another Culture” 2:30, “All About GMAT” 4:30, “Thinking about an MBA” 5:30, all in Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Arts faculty council Tuesday 3:30, Humanities room 373.

‘Free term abroad’ for math students at University of Haifa, Israel, information session Tuesday 4:00, Math and Computer room 5158.

Computer Science Club presents Brennan Taylor, “Software Transactional Memory and Using STM in Haskell” Tuesday 4:30, Davis Centre room 1304.

Etiquette Essentials: Dinner and workshop for graduating students, hosted by Student Life Office and Alumni Affairs. Tuesday 5:30 p.m., Festival Room, South Campus Hall.

Turnkey coffee house, benefit for Haiti earthquake relief,  Tuesday 6 to 11 p.m., Student Life Centre: “dance, poetry, music, magic and more”, donations accepted.

Stratford Institute Lecture: Colin Ellard, department of psychology, “You Are Here: Connections Between Psychology and the Design of Built Space” Tuesday 7 p.m., Stratford Public Library.

Stratford Institute pubic update Wednesday 5:30 p.m., Stratford City Hall auditorium.

‘Arcadia’ by Tom Stoppard, drama department spring production, preview by invitation Wednesday 7:00; public performances March 11-13 and 18-20, 8 p.m., Theatre of the Arts, tickets $12 general, students $10. Details.

Graduate Conference in Philosophy (17th annual), keynote speaker Mark Wilson, University of Pittsburgh, Thursday-Friday. Details.

Cultural Caravan performances by clubs, Thursday 6:30 p.m., Student Life Centre.

Employee Assistance Program presents UW president David Johnston and Richard Ennis, psychology department, “Hitting the Wall and Moving through It: Using community relationships and resilience for success,” Friday 12 noon, CEIT room 1015.

UW Music Club benefit concert Friday 7:30 p.m., Humanities Theatre, tickets $5; music ranges from Beethoven and Chopin to Latin rock and indie guitar.

Waterloo Space Society unveils its new telescope Friday 7:30 to 11 p.m., Waterloo Park bandshell.

Warrior Weekend events Friday and Saturday evenings, Student Life Centre, including Tamil dances, crafts, food, UW Breakers, jazz band, movies. Details.

Niagara Falls and winery trip organized by International Student Connection, Saturday, bus tickets $20 at Federation of Students office.

Opera Kitchener performance of “Madama Butterfly” Sunday 3 p.m., Humanities Theatre. Details.

Explorations 2010 visit to faculty of engineering for students in grades 6, 7 and 8 and their parents, March 15, 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. Details.

March break open house for future students and their families, Tuesday, March 16. Details.

Rainbow Reels Queer Film Festival sponsored by Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, March 18-21, Princess Twin Cinemas. Details.

First Robotics Competition Waterloo regionals, competition for high school students, March 19-21, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

Alumni outing in Calgary to Flames vs. Ducks hockey, March 23, 5:00 reception preceding game. Details.

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