Editors’ Picks 2020

One of the exciting elements of being the Communications Editor is that I get to connect people with the exciting papers in PRIMUS that I think will impact their professional work for the better. In support of this goal, Taylor & Francis allows us (Matt Boelkins, Kathy Weld, and me) to select papers each year as Editors’ Picks and makes them freely available for download to all without login, without requiring access to the journal.

This blog post is intended to share a little about the categories of Picks and why I am excited about these particular papers. In general, I am excited by papers that push the boundaries of the ways we often think about our work as faculty and challenges us to recommit to being our best. I think it’s also really important that PRIMUS, as the most visible journal that engages mathematics and pedagogy for a readership of mathematicians of all types, supports this broad community; so I’m excited that this collection spans so many of our various subdisciplines and professional responsibilities.

MOST READ: We select a paper that is already highly active in part because this activity is evidence that people are finding this paper useful and compelling. This suggests to me that the subset of people who already had access to this paper, and people who went out of their way to get this paper, believe that this paper needs to be ready by a wider cross-section of our community.

This year, we selected “An Introduction to Mathematics for Social Justice” by Catherine A. Buell and Bonnie Shulman. This paper is a challenge, call to action, and resources for faculty “interested in incorporating social responsibility, ethics, equity, and justice into their curriculum and pedagogy”. As an introduction to a Special Issue, this paper organizes and connects the papers in Volume 34, Issues 3-4.

NEW AUTHOR: Writing for PRIMUS is different from the writing almost all of us were trained to do, and it takes serious work to learn this new skill, whether the authors are junior faculty or more seasoned colleagues writing about the classroom for the first time. I am very grateful for the work of the editors and reviewers in supporting authors in this learning, but we also want to celebrate authors whose first contribution to PRIMUS is exemplary.

This year, we selected “The Eighth Characteristic for Successful Calculus Programs: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Practices” by Jessica Ellis Hagman. This article grew out of a large research project called Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus, which identified seven characteristics of these highly successful programs. This paper discusses how an eight characteristics fits into these findings and offers concrete examples to help readers understand the key definitions and department start to think about their efforts.

SPECIAL ISSUES: Guest Editors do a lot of exciting work in recruiting high quality papers focused on topical themes for PRIMUS, and this year we were spoiled for choice in terms of excellent special issues when selecting papers from special issues that we would like to amplify. These individual papers are great, but making them freely available also helps draw readers into the special issue in general.

This year, we selected “Mastery Grading: Build-A-Syllabus Workshop” by Emily Cilli-Turner, Justin Dunmyre, Thomas Mahoney, and Chad Wiley. This article asks faculty to consider key questions as they write a syllabus and build a course around mastery grading, which is especially useful to instructors new to this kind of structure. It reminds me a little of the “Design Principles” chapter of the MAA Instructional Practices Guide, but the questions are more focused because of the context of mastery grading. The author’s live workshop at the 2020 Mastery Grading Conference was a hit, and I’m glad PRIMUS can share a written form with even more educators.

EDITORS’ CHOICE: I see this category as our opportunity to assert a stronger editorial perspective into the higher education mathematics discussion. Is there an assumption that is taken as axiomatic that we need to reconsider? Are their voices that are not being heard? Where do we need to be pushed a little further out of our comfort zones?

This year, we selected “Everyday Examples About Basis From Students: An Anti-Deficit Approach in the Classroom” by Aditya P. Adiredja, Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux, and Michelle Zandieh. This paper grew out of a research project that got a lot of well-deserved attention in the RUME (research in undergraduate mathematics education) community a few years ago that found tremendous richness in the informal metaphors for basis used by students, who were women of color, in a Linear Algebra course. At the time, I remember thinking that I would love to try to run a version of the research activity as a learning activity in my future classes, but I suspected that I might have missed some subtle moves that produced such vivid metaphors in the original study. Not only does this paper take that next step of turning the research task into a learning task, but it also incorporates reflection from an instructor who was not part of the research about her implementation of the learning task.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Similarly to the Editors’ Choice, we select a paper from the Archives, perhaps because it was ahead of it time or has become highly salient again. Is there an idea from which we can learn without having to recreate it from the ground up?

This year, we selected “Teaching Real Analysis in the Land of Make Believe” by Julie Barnes. This papers helps ground the various key properties in Real Analysis in a common fairy-tale story world and leverages that narrative context to help students approach the roles and responsibilities of epsilon and delta. Readers who get excited by the story in this paper should also look for stories that use pancakes and a Mayan task more recently published in PRIMUS.

TEACHING DURING A PANDEMIC: We couldn’t select Editors’ Picks for 2020 without considering the pandemic!

We selected to highlight “Let Your Students Cheat on Exams” by Wes Maciejewski. Underneath the provocative title, this paper is really a critique of the idea that assessing students without access to resources, especially those like the ones they will use when they apply learning in the future, is both futile and counter-productive. This paper was not written about the pandemic, but the pandemic got a whole lot of people thinking in new ways about their assessment plans. I wrote more about this and other related papers in the recently released Curated Collection.

Please download, read, and discuss these papers, and please help us share these pieces of high quality writing widely! [And as always, MAA members can access all of PRIMUS, and we certainly hope that readers will encourage their institutions to subscribe to and support the journal.]

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