Re-Launching Launchings

David M. Bressoud September, 2007

Launchings was inaugurated 2 1⁄2 years ago. A lot has happened since then, including my own election as the next president of this association, a responsibility that is both humbling and exhilarating. I am fortunate to have a long period in which to learn the job—my term of office does not begin until January, 2009—as well as a succession of outstanding current and former presidents and officers who have promised me their advice and help, and a very talented and dedicated corps of professionals at the MAA Headquarters.

The MAA is self-described as “the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics accessible at the undergraduate level.” The gathering and dissemination of information and advice for the teaching of undergraduate mathematics is an important aspect of this focus. It is the part of the MAA’s mission to which I am particularly drawn and to which I will be committing much of my own energies.

I see this as a time of great opportunity. Perceptions of mathematics among the general public are improving thanks to events such as the popularization of the proof of Fermat’s “Last Theorem” and the work of John Nash as well as a growing awareness of the role of mathematics in the biological and social sciences. Mathematics education is coming under increased scrutiny and is attracting the kind of serious funding from public and private sources that can make a difference. There are pressures for change in how we teach not just K-12 but all of mathematics. The challenge before us is to harness those pressures and the resources they release to productive and beneficial ends.

With opportunity comes danger. Over-simplistic analyses can lead to one-size-fits-all solutions that do more harm than good. Here the MAA has a critical role to play. As a society that includes most of those in the United States and Canada and many of those in other countries who care deeply about the teaching of undergraduate-level mathematics, the MAA is and has long been fully engaged in the exploration and assessment of ways of teaching, in research into how students learn, and in the dissemination of the knowledge that our members have collected. There is a breadth and depth of expertise within our organization that can be called on and coordinated to help direct the changes that are coming. My job as president will be to encourage and facilitate the emergence and dissemination of this expertise.

A big part of this job will be publicity, getting the word out about what is being done, what we know, what we need to know. Where are the successes and why are they working? Where are the failures and how can we avoid making similar mistakes? I intend to continue to use this column to spread this information. In the process, I hope that from time to time I can offer this column as a vehicle for MAA committees or special interest groups to share their insights.

Launchings began as a way to publicize and expand upon the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 and its two companions: the Curriculum Foundations Project that gathered reports from our partner disciplines about what they really need from their math departments, and the CUPM Illustrative Resources that illustrates how the CUPM recommendations have been realized in different institutions. This re-launching is, in truth, a continuation of this original purpose. The recommendations expressed in that Curriculum Guide form the bedrock of what I believe our curricula should be. The question before us now is how to articulate these recommendations in the face of new challenges and opportunities and in the unique circumstances of our own institutions. This is what I intend to explore in the future of these Launchings.

Access pdf files of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 and the Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines.

Purchase a hard copy of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 or the Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines.

Find links to course-specific software resources in the CUPM Illustrative Resources.

Find other Launchings columns.

David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and president-elect of the MAA. You can reach him at This column does not reflect an official position of the MAA.