The path ahead

The Great Adventure!

25 years ago this month, I was preparing for the April, 1990 NCTM Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the ripe old age of 38, I was in the process of a yearly tradition that would become a critical part of my professional life – The NCSM/NCTM Annual Meeting week. This would become the place where my friends and colleagues would gather every year as we learned from one another, and shared our knowledge and resources.

Back then, we did not yet have internet, twitter, facebook, texting or cell phones, so this opportunity to annually communicate and “Be” with other colleagues from across the nation was an imperative.

It was an incredibly exciting time too, as just the year before NCTM had launched The Curriculum and Evaluation Standards (1989) document, and the country was buzzing about the increased expectations and pressure on math teachers and students. How could we set such high standards for all math students? Various stakeholders went round and round on the debate for these new national standards. The Common Core debates today, pale in comparison to some of the rhetoric tossed out during the early part of the 1990’s. Standards were not yet an actual movement as they are today.


And yet, here we are 25 years later, and so many of the arguments about how to best teach children mathematics are still relevant and often repeated once again. Other than the advent of the intense use of social media, not much has really changed in terms of the mission and vision of what we should pursue.

The message I prepared for the 1990 NCTM Convention and Annual meeting was called The Great Adventure! I was into catchy titles like that because I was hoping it would draw a crowd to my room! It did not always work out that way, but I digress…

I began with a brief history on Mathematics in the USA. Here it is:

1960’s – The Age of Rebellion and New Math – Theme song of the decade “Born to Be Wild”
1970’s – The Age of Disillusionment and Back to Basics – Theme song “Born to Run”
1980’s – The Age of Information and A Vision of New Basics – Theme song “Born in the USA”

I then predicted that the 1990’s would become the decade known as the Age of Authentic Reform. Based on the new standards from NCTM, based on the extreme equity case mounted by the MSEB in their 1989 booklet Everybody Counts and based on the NCTM Teaching Permanence Standards about to be released in 1991 (As part of the writing team in 1990, I had some inside scoop on the new teaching standards), I declared in my message that in the year 2000, there will be a radically different reality of mathematics teaching and learning:

An Age of Authentic Reform. We really mean it this time!

The rest of my message that day (encapsulated to save you some time)

1. The Great Adventure Mission:

  • All students successfully doing mathematics using appropriate materials

2. Strategies to Achieve the Great Adventure Mission:

  • An authentic and salient curriculum
  • A vision of teaching that actively engages all learners
  • A vision of teacher leadership that fosters reflection, collaboration and self-efficacy

3. Student actions necessary to achieve the Great Adventure Vision:

  • Reason and communicate with each other
  • Work in teams with each other
  • Actively engage in the content with peers
  • Make connections and model with the mathematics lesson
  • Write about their thinking
  • Use technology

And students must do these things both during class and during their assessments. All of this was on my handout for this session on that April day in 1990.


I am pretty sure with some adjustment for 2015 language this exact same message would be of equal impact today. The Common Core standards, and the Mathematical Practices read and sound a lot like the messages from 25 years ago. It seems, we are all still on this Great Adventure of teaching and learning K-12 mathematics in ways that embrace and understand procedural fluency to be about problem-solving as much as it is about calculation (That age of “new basics” I mentioned almost 25 years ago).

Don’t give up on the Great Adventure of Teaching Math! It is not too late to start! Our mission for 2020 really is no different than it was in 1990. Which is as it should be.

How you move along the great adventure road can be wide and varied – but the mission down at the end of the road – actively engaged children learning college preparatory k-12 mathematics in a meaningful and engaged way – may that mission never change.


Timothy D. Kanold

Timothy D. Kanold, PhD, an award-winning educator, author, and consultant, is former superintendent of Adlai E. Stevenson High School District 125, a model professional learning community district in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

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