Mathematics newsletters as professional aids to teachers
Jursa, Ronald Jack
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Statement of problem - It is commonly agreed upon in educational circles that professional growth is an essential factor to the development of sound and efficient teaching. Among the several state and regional associations of mathematics teachers, mathematics newsletters or bulletins maintain a place of importance as professional aids in that they serve as a major means of communications between the professional group and the individual teachers. Despite the fact that more than twenty associations of mathematics teachers publish a newsletter or bulletin of some type, relatively little attention has been given to this area of activity. Except for occasional material in The Mathematics Teacher, no detailed study of mathematics newsletters is available. It is the intent of this project to analyze and summarize the status of mathematics newsletters as they exist today. The survey is primarily of a quantitative nature without particular reference to qualitative ratings of the newsletters individually or as a group. Three important aspects of any journal or bulletin are its purposes, its content, and its means of publication. It is to these three areas that the major portion of this thesis is confined. The analysis of the mathematics newsletters with respect to their purposes, content, and means of publication was conducted from three significantly different points of view - the author's, that of the editors of the newsletters, and that of the readers of the newsletters. Author's analysis - Newsletters were obtained from twenty different associations for use in this study. Only regularly published newsletters directly related to a professional organization were utilized, thereby excluding student journals or special communications not regularly a part of the sponsoring organization's program. Copies of the available newsletters were examined to determine the types of articles included, the percentage of space devoted to each major classification, and the essential physical features of the publications. A wide range of articles was found in the various newsletters, and twenty-one principal types were drawn up as covering the entire gamut. News of the activities of the sponsoring organization and articles on methods of teaching were found to be the two types most frequently encountered in the newsletters. Everyone of the twenty newsletters examined contained news of its sponsoring organization with the percentage of space devoted to this type of article varying from eleven percent to ninety-five percent of the total space in a newsletter. The variation found in the styles of the newsletters was as marked as the difference in the types of articles used. The dimensions of the newsletters ranged from 6 X 9 inches to 8 1/2 X 14 inches, with 8 1/2 X 11 inches the most popular size. The least number of pages in any of the newsletters was two, and the greatest number of pages was thirty-two. Only four of the associations used covers for their newsletters and in only six cases was any color used. Three methods of printing were found to be utilized among the newsletters with stencil the most common method. Offset and letterpress were the two other styles of printing. Editors' evaluations - A questionnaire seeking pertinent information about his publication was sent to each editor of a newsletter, snd seventeen replies were received. The editors agreed that a wide range of articles would be desirable in their newsletters, but noted that in any single publication such a wide spread of material was not to be found. As expected, news of activities of the sponsoring organization was given as the most frequently used item. With respect to the purposes of their newsletters, the editors felt that they were operating on specific, well-defined objectives, and that their efforts were being justified. The most often mentioned objective was that of providing reports on the work of the sponsoring organization, an objective which is borne out in the previously reported content of the publications. Publication data received from the editors revealed that average circulation per issue varied from 100 to 1000 with 300 as a median figure. The frequency of publication ranged from one to four issues per year with two issues being the most common practice. The median cost per issue of the newsletters surveyed was thirty dollars. The editors stated that the major difficulty experienced in their work was apathy on the part of teachers, while financial restrictions were also frequently mentioned as troublesome. Readers' evaluations - Questionnaires similar to those used in questioning the editors were sent to a small sample of readers of each of fourteen newsletters for which readers' names were available. Every one of thirteen suggested types of articles was considered worthwhile by a large majority of the readers who were polled. Announcements about workshops and conferences, reports of activities of the sponsoring organization, end news about teaching aids were the most frequently supported categories. From these results it is evident that the readers, like the editors, were virtually unanimous in the belief that news directly related to the activities of the parent organization deserved primary attention in the newsletters. When asked for their reactions to their newsletters, approximately two-thirds of the readers stated that they read the publications thoroughly, and a somewhat smaller percentage indicated that they considered the newsletters as an aid in professional growth. The readers were virtually unanimous in their feeling that they were free to contribute material to their newsletters, but only slightly more than sixty per cent felt that their newsletters were being managed on the basis of the readers' opinions. The most important contributions of newsletters in the eyes of the readers were the building of professional spirit and the aiding in classroom teaching. The most often mentioned criticism was that of inadequate content, but there was little agreement as to what constituted adequate material. Conclusions - Unquestionably the major purpose of mathematics newsletters as determined by this survey is the professional improvement of teachers of mathematics with the resultant raising of the quality of mathematics instruction. Editors and readers are largely agreed that the newsletters are making a significant contribution in the area of the teaching of mathematics and in serving as a common bond uniting mathematics teachers. Although the range of articles found in newsletters is wide, virtually all types may be considered in one of three categories - those directly relating to the professional body sponsoring a publication, those concerning the actual teaching of mathematics, and those of a personal or recreational nature. The opinions of the editors and readers vary somewhat as to the popularity and usefulness of the several types of articles. The editors gave high ranking to articles dealing with the sponsoring organization whereas the readers expressed preference for methods of teaching and teaching aids. This divergence of opinion suggests that perhaps some newsletters are not providing the type of material desired by its readers.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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