Plenary Speaker Profile (2014)
Glenn Stevens
Professor of Mathematics
Boston University
Mathematical Empiricism and its role in Education: a Case Study

At the beginning of the 20th century, E. H. Moore, who is is often referred to as the father of American mathematics, accepted a challenge from his University of Chicago colleague, John Dewey, to work out "the real correlation of mathematics with science" and subsequently introduced his famous laboratory method into the teaching of mathematics. While this experiment was eventually abandoned, the underlying ideas that E. H. Moore introduced continue even now to be influential in American mathematics via the work of his students, notably R. L. Moore and Arnold E. Ross, and many others.

The talk will focus on the ongoing work of Focus on Mathematics (FoM), a collaboration of mathematicians with teachers that is the centerpiece of a community of mathematical practice that has been evolving for over two decades in the Boston area. An important goal of the FoM community is to close the gap between school mathematics and mathematics as a scientific discipline, by supporting a culture in which practicing mathematicians and secondary teachers work together to improve both high school and university mathematics education.

That Focus on Mathematics has been deeply (if subliminally) influenced by the ideas of E. H. Moore can be seen in its commitment to the creation of authentic mathematical experiences that support mathematical habits of mind that are typical of seasoned researchers, including experimentation, and the development of keen skills of observation, to reveal sometimes unexpected underlying structures. Language is used not just as a means of communication, but also as a tool for articulating conjectures (scientific hypotheses) that can be further tested and eventually proved (or disproved) through further experimentation and careful mathematical reasoning. In the accompanying breakout session, the audience will be invited to engage personally in the investigation of particular concrete mathematical problems that illustrate these ideas.

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Glenn Stevens is Professor of Mathematics at Boston University (BU) where he has taught and conducted research since 1984. He earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Harvard University in 1981. His research specialties are Number Theory, Automorphic Forms, and Arithmetic Geometry. He has authored or edited three books and published numerous articles on these topics. Glenn has organized two major research conferences including the Conference on Modular Forms and Fermat's Last Theorem held at BU in 1995, and has delivered well over two hundred invited lectures around the world.

Over the past 25 years, Glenn has directed Boston University's Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS), a program for aspiring young mathematicians and their teachers (PfT). Since its beginnings in 1989, PROMYS has been sustained and enriched by two guiding principles: (1) a belief that mathematics is a deeply human activity best experienced within a richly interacting and mutually supportive community of learners; and (2) an emphasis on mathematical habits of mind that support independence and creativity in facing unfamiliar mathematical challenges.

Extending his work with PROMYS, Glenn was PI from 2003 to 2013 of the NSF-funded Focus on Mathematics partnership (FoM), a collaboration of BU and Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) with seven school districts and three universities that continues to offer secondary mathematics teachers authentic experiences of doing mathematics with each other and with mathematicians. Glenn is currently collaborating with mathematicians at EDC and St. Olaf College on Assessing Secondary Teachers' Algebraic Habits of Mind (ASTAHM) to develop instruments to assess secondary teachers' mathematical habits of mind.

He also currently serves as president of Math for America Boston (MfAB).