Henri Picciotto's

Math Education Newsletter

November 2017

Down to Northern California News


Retirement is finally kicking in, and the consulting work has slowed down. I'm scheduling some regular time to exercise, and (why not?) to paint. As for my math education work, I am shifting the emphasis to writing.

In this issue of the newsletter, I mostly talk about ways math teachers can connect. I'm a great believer in collaboration, and much of my best work over the decades has involved working on various projects with fellow math teachers in my own department, but also in the broader world of math education. I cannot recommend that strongly enough: few among us are better off working alone.

In any case, I hope you will find these notes, and the links therein, useful. Read on!



Apparently, the National Council of Teachers of Math is facing serious financial difficulties, which is leading to some soul-searching, and to much online conversation. I am in no position to provide a full diagnosis of the crisis, but as a long-time member, I thought I'd write about my relationship to the organization. I have done volunteer work for NCTM for many years: for two years or so, I edited the Activities department in The Mathematics Teacher, and since then I've reviewed many articles for the journal.

Still, I can't say that I have gotten a lot out of my membership. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that it is not truly a teachers' organization. Rather it is an organization of people who want to support the teaching of math, and it is largely dominated by academics involved in math ed research and teacher training. In other words, people who want to help math teachers, without being math teachers. Read my full reflections on this, starting here.

Speaking of NCTM, I have had four articles published in The Mathematics Teacher:

Math Teachers' Circles

In the past two or three years, NCTM conferences have included participation of the Math Teachers' Circles. I helped with the MTC presence in San Francisco (2016), and hope to again in DC this coming spring. MTCs are professional communities of teachers and mathematicians who meet regularly to do math together. I have been a presenter at four Bay Area MTCs, and I help coordinate the San Francisco MTC, which I attend regularly as a participant. (I hope that one or two people will step forward to launch a Berkeley MTC!)

Here are some blog posts about MTC meetings. I hope they motivate you to join a local MTC, or to start a new one in your area:

Cutting a rectangle into pieces that can be rearranged to make a square.

Before getting involved with MTCs, I had tried to set up a group along those lines, called Escape from the Textbook!. We had more or less quarterly meetings. I reported on one such meeting in three blog posts, starting here. Those meetings always struck a balance between doing math and discussing pedagogy. MTCs, in contrast, typically stay away from pedagogy, concentrating instead on problem solving and mathematical explorations. The idea is that teachers deserve to have a venue where they can do math for their own enjoyment. Moreover, in the long run, this involvement with math will pay off in the classroom.

Still, discussion of pedagogy is essential. Within a department, it can have an enormous impact by improving the overall program, as well as contributing mightily to each teacher's professional growth. Unfortunately, such collaboration is not always possible, so many teachers turn to online solutions. For that, I enthusiastically recommend the Math Twitter Blogosphere (#MTBoS), an informal network of math teachers all over the country, at all levels. You might also check out NCTM's new online forum, myNCTM.

Puzzle Creation

Curricular puzzles can be one area where mathematics and pedagogy reinforce each other. I have a bit of expertise in that arena, as puzzling has always been one of my pedagogical frameworks. Moreover, I am also a puzzle creator outside of the day job, as a cryptic crossword constructor for The Nation magazine. I wrote about puzzle creation in two blog posts, one about puzzles in general, and one where I go deeper and discuss the specific features shared by the best puzzles intended for the mathematics classroom.

My Web Site

My Web site ( contains hundreds of pages and PDFs. But it is a one-man operation, and largely stuck in a Web 1.0 model. Still, I'm hoping you can find your way around it. The navigation bar at the top of most pages should help, as it can take you to a Search page, or to one of three site maps. Also, if you hover over the tiny icons at the left and right, you'll find more helpful links. Try it:

I have also made it possible to have quick access to some of the site's main "Start Pages" right on the front page. I just added three more links there:


Check them out!

Northern California News

And now, for some local news...


I will be speaking on Geometric Puzzles at 1:30 in Sanderling, at the December 2nd Northern California meeting of the California Math Council. I hope to see some of you there! This is one of the great conferences, perhaps the greatest in North America, and the one I have attended by far the most often. This is the same topic, more or less, that I presented there in 1984, the first time I spoke at a math conference.


Bay Area Teachers and Mathematicians: Nine Northern California Math Teachers' Circles have joined forces, and have a shared Web site where you can find out about upcoming meetings in your area. The San Francisco circle will meet on December 9, to explore the mathematics of fair and envy-free sharing. See you there?


This is not yet completely confirmed, but it seems I'll be presenting two summer workshops in the Bay Area: No Limits! (Algebra 2, Trig, and Precalculus, with Rachel Chou, Aug 1-3), and Visual Algebra (grades 7-11, Aug 6-9.) More info in future issues of this newsletter!

If your school or district would like to host a geometry workshop or two, please get in touch. (Hands-On Geometry, grades 6-10, and/or Transformational Geometry, grades 8-11)

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