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The ALM bulletin is a bimonthly newsletter from Adults Learning Mathematics (ALM).
ALM is an international research forum bringing together researchers and practitioners in adult mathematics/numeracy teaching and learning in order to promote the learning of mathematics by adults.

ALM bulletin September 2019

ALM is a very important organisation that holds a unique wealth of research and practitioner experience in adults learning mathematics so I am both pleased and proud to be taking on the role of Chair of ALM. I hope to build on the work of previous founders, committee members and Chairs of ALM to enable the organisation to continue to grow as an increasingly important voice for adults in the world of research into mathematics education.

ALM has been very important in my academic life. It was the previous chair David Kaye who encouraged me to join ALM and attend my first conference in Philadelphia in 2008, where I presented ideas about my teaching experience in vocational subjects within Further Education. Since then I have contributed to most conferences and have always been encouraged by the positive support and interest generously given by fellow attendees, teachers, researchers and professors. In 2009 I decided to study for a doctorate and again received huge support from other members of ALM, generously giving their time, advice and at times much needed encouragement.

In the coming year I hope to see ALM continue to grow in membership and build our knowledge and understanding of this fascinating world of adults’ understandings of mathematics and numeracy.

This bulletin gives a taste of what we are currently doing as an organisation, but do remember that all our archive of work is available through the website - in particular the accumulated research in the electronic journal and conference proceedings.

I hope to see you at ALM 27 in Vancouver where we can continue to share our ideas and learning.

Beth Kelly (ALM chair)

ALM trustees

We published a list of the current trustees and officers in the summer bulletin. If you would like to know more about the current trustees you can find short summaries of their lives and interests on the ALM website at http://alm-online.net/about/alm-trustees/. These will explain why adult mathematics education is important to them and why they are involved with Adults Learning Mathematics.

ALM 26

After our fantastic ALM 26 conference in Lund, Sweden this summer, it is time to tidy up your long abstracts ready for publishing in the ALM 26 proceedings. If you presented a paper or led a session at the conference, you should have already received an email reminder. All revised papers for the proceedings need to be sent to linda.jarlskog@lund.se by September 30th at the latest.

ALM 27

Preparations are now well underway for our next conference, ALM 27, which will take place from July 7th – 10th, 2020, in Vancouver, Canada. Further details will be released on the website in due course but please mark the dates in your diary and start planning to be there.

Why adults say they are bad at maths

John Keogh writes about an issue that is a concern amongst many ALM members:

It really grinds my gears when I hear people in the public gaze appearing to boast about being bad at maths. My annoyance usually dissipates very quickly, but not on the last occasion. I was in a somewhat vacant and vaguely pensive mood listening to the radio on the bank holiday in the run up to the annual state exams in Ireland. I decided to write to the radio station as follows:

Hi Ciara,

During a recent show you were discussing how to respond to and support students as they endure state exam-related stress. In your opening remarks you mentioned that there were about 60,000 students expected to sit the Junior Certificate and about 60,000 for the Leaving Certificate which, by your “crap maths”, is 120,000 students.

Now Ciara, I cannot believe that a medical doctor could achieve a licence to practice without sufficient competence in mathematics and statistics. I am pretty certain that diagnosis and subsequent treatment decisions involve recognition of patterns and relationships, data handling and change, space and shape, in addition to numbers (all the big ideas in maths) and all at a pretty sophisticated level. I am sorry to say that admitting to “crap maths” is tantamount to confirming the myth that the population is divided into two cohorts, i.e. maths people and non-maths people, which gives people permission to stop trying. Imagine the response you would get if you were to say something like “I am crap at the reading and writing thing – but manage to succeed as a medical practitioner and broadcaster nevertheless”.

My doctoral research showed that people know more about maths than they think and use it more often than they realise. In my work with mature students returning to learning I am often told at the outset that “maths is my nightmare”, “I sucked at math” only to hear from the same students within a few weeks, “ I can do this now”, or “I used to think algebra was magic, but now I can do it”. The findings of my research show that being a ‘non-maths person’ is a mistaken self-perception which places constraints on a person’s life decisions, especially regarding their educational choices. Furthermore, and potentially more damaging, is that this self-perception can be transmitted within families and across generations and society. How often have you heard a celebrity say something like “ I was terrible at maths in school”? I think that allowing such a self-perception to persist, or even legitimising it (completely inadvertently I am sure) is a gross social injustice which must be addressed. I appeal to you to play your part. We live in a world that is peppered with schedules and timetables, discounts, interest rates, budgeting, saving, borrowing, politicking, persuading, promoting, shapes, spaces, measures, proportions, guidelines, weights, measures, distances, climate and other statistics, justifications, medications, warnings, limits, trends, probability, payment plans, fees, rates, penalties and so on. Most people dismiss this as common sense – anything but mathematics, based on the self-perception that they couldn’t ‘do’ it if it was mathematics.

All this is set out in “Adults Mathematics & Work: from Research into Practice” Published by BRILL and co-authored by myself, Dr Terry Maguire and Prof John O’Donoghue, if you want to check out the reliability/validity of this point of view.

The radio station invited me to discuss this on air the following day. Within two sentences, Ciara admitted that far from being ‘crap at maths’, she was pretty good at it and at the higher level to boot. She could not explain why she had been so self-deprecating and promised not to characterise her relationship with mathematics in a negative way again.

I would like to suggest that ALM members could be more proactive in challenging negative narratives around mathematics that are expressed in public fora, and maybe, just maybe, we could start to alter public perceptions.

ALM International Journal

The ALM International Journal is always looking for interesting research articles that are relevant to adult mathematics/numeracy education. Because we are an international group, we seek to learn about the issues, perspectives and research experiences of colleagues from different countries, different instructional settings, and different learning environments. You can go the Journal website: http://alm-online.net/alm-publications/alm-journal/ to find past issues, instructions for authors and a template to use to help format your paper.
Articles should be between 4000 and 9000 words, and may focus on
  • research and theoretical perspectives,
  • processes of adults learning mathematics in formal and informal learning settings
  • methods of professional development of educators who teach mathematics/numeracy to adults
  • debate on special issues in the area of adults learning mathematics/numeracy
  • critical analysis of course materials and tasks,
  • policy developments in curriculum and assessment
  • analysis of data from large-scale national or international assessments
Please consider submitting an article to the Journal. Submitted articles will be assigned to one of the members of the Editorial Team and then reviewed anonymously by two reviewers from the Adult Numeracy field.

By the way, if you presented your work at one of the recent ALM conferences, you may already have written a long abstract for the Conference Proceedings. You might also want to build on that document to develop an article for the Journal.

Feel free to send any questions to the Journal’s Editorial Team by writing to editor-ij@alm-online.net This is also the URL to use to submit your article.
We are looking forward to reading your articles.

The ALM-IJ Editorial Team: Javier Díez-Palomar, Jeff Evans, Linda Galligan, Lynda Ginsburg, Graham Griffiths.

Future bulletins

We hope that you are enjoying the regular ALM Bulletin. If you have news from your part of the world that may be of interest to our international community then please do get in touch with Diane Dalby diane.dalby@nottingham.ac.uk or send her a short draft item for the next bulletin by October 1st.

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