ANN at 25

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” - Matsuo Basho

Greetings from your friendly neighborhood ANN historian! One of my goals as historian is to try and make our organization’s history more accessible to its current and future membership. I wanted to share some of the work I have been doing over the past year in looking back through the last 25 years. 

When we celebrate the 25th anniversary of ANN, what we are celebrating is the Working Conference on Adult Mathematical Literacy, which took place over three days in March 1994 in Arlington, Virginia. The seed for the conference was planted years before, in the early 1990s, when adult basic education teachers went to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and made a strong case for them to extend their agenda to include adults. Four years later, the conference took place, co-sponsored by NCTM, the Office of Vocational and Adult Education US Department of Education (OVAE), and the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL). 

In a 116-page document detailing the proceedings of the conference, the group describes what they were doing as a first step towards “ensuring that all adults in the U.S. can acquire the mathematical skills they may need to function on the job and in society, to achieve their personal goals, and to support their children’s education.” That proceedings document includes 11 mini-papers that came out of workshops and small group discussions. Those papers are divided into three sections. The first begins to define what numeracy means and what math adults need to know. The second looks at the current (at the time) system of adult education. The third examined best practices and the reform movement in mathematics education. 

About 110 people from over 30 states answered the call. About half of them were ABE/HSE/ESL teachers, trainers and curriculum developers directly involved in numeracy instruction. They saw their work as connected to both the K-12 math and the adult literacy worlds, but also recognized that adult numeracy deserved its own voice and dedicated community. And so, on what I like to imagine was a lovely early spring day, they made a commitment to each other, to the adult numeracy/HSE math teachers across the country then, and all of those of us who entered adult education math classrooms since. They became the Adult Numeracy Practitioners Network (ANPN) and wrote the mission statement that is still the guiding hand of our organization: “We are a community dedicated to quality mathematics instruction at the adult level. We support each other, encourage collaboration and leadership, and we influence policy and practice in adult math education.”

Among those founding members were:  Donna Curry (MA), Susan Cowles (OR),  Judith Diamond (IL), Marty Gilchrist (VA), Lynda Ginsburg (PA), Nick Lavorato (CT), Esther Leonelli (MA), Myrna Manly (CA), Nancy Markus (OH), Ellen McDevitt (PA), Pamela Meader (ME), Melissa Mellissinos (CA), Jim Parker (DC), Janice Phillips (IL), Margaret Rogers (CA), Kathy Safford (NJ), Mary Jane Schmitt (MA), Jean Stephens (OH), Rose Steiner (MT), Sally Waldron (MA), and Pam Wall (LA). 

To stay in touch, bring other teachers together, and improve their teaching practice, they established two mechanisms for communication: A quarterly newsletter and an electronic listserv. The first issue of the Math Practitioner came out six months after the conference in September 1994, and has been published three times a year since. The electronic listserv has existed in different forms - it was originally hosted by the Math Forum, and is currently hosted by LINCS, with the AskANN discussion group.  

After spending some time with the document of the proceedings in 1994, I thought dates and big picture events would help give me a basic structure so I started building a Brief Timeline of the Adult Numeracy Network with some important moments and links to seminal documents and the like. I also started paying attention to the names of contributors and citations and started searching for texts - articles, reports, essays, basically anything written by members of the network over the past 25 years. Soon you will be able to find our growing collection of these documents on the ANN website, divided into categories like: Best Practices in Teaching, Knowing Our Students, Making the Case for Numeracy, Towards Teachers to Developing Math Content Knowledge, Standards and Frameworks, Field Notes, Focus on Basics, and Policy Recommendations. 

There is so much in the documents we have collected that speak to our current issues in the field. For example, in New York State we are a few months away from shifting to the TABE 11/12. I’ve found a sounding board to think about this change in “Assessing Mathematical Knowledge of Adult Learners: Are We Looking at What Counts?” (1998) which suggests that adult education teachers and programs have a voice in assessment and in deciding what students should know.

Since it has been the voice of the organization from its inception, I was also very interested in the Math Practitioner. I’ve enjoyed the issues I’ve received since I became a member of ANN, but I was curious about the older editions. Fortunately, the ANN website has every issue of the Math Practitioner, going back to Fall 2002. (You can access all of these issues with your ANN login.) And because ANN has been so consistent in its focus on conceptual understanding, sense-making, and valuing the informal and alternative ways students solve problems, miraculously, none of it feels dated. It is full of great problems you can use in your next class certainly, but it is also full of the energy and joy of teachers comparing notes with each other, trying to find more universal truths in their instruction.     

Eventually, we hope to index all of the articles so they can be searched more easily. For now, it is lovely to login and read a random one. It is like stopping in at the coffee shop of adult numeracy,  filled with interesting people and conversations at each table. Make a pass through the place and then sit down at a table that speaks to your teaching. Tell them Mark sent you. One final note about the Math Practitioner: the first issue came out in September 1994 but the earliest issue I’ve seen is from Fall 2002. If anyone has any back issues, please contact me.

In the Spring 2010 issue of the MP, you can read a description of a storied moment in ANN’s history. It is the story of when Myrna Manly received COABE’s Mattran Award (something like an Adult Education Teacher of the Year Award). The speech has become known for Myrna leading the entire audience in saying, “literacy and numeracy,” making the case for both being equally important in the lives of adult students. Looking into the etymology of those words, I learned that literacy was first used in 1883 (interestingly, illiteracy dates back to the 1650s). If we were in a class, I’d ask you to make a prediction when numeracy first came into being, but since we’re not, I’ll tell you - 1957. Innumerate came into usage 2 years later, referring to “those unacquainted with the basic principles of mathematics”. Literacy had a 300-year head start before folks even thought to consider numeracy—we have some catching up to do. 

I still feel new to a lot of this, but as someone who has spent the past year looking back, there is one final takeaway I want to share. When you are a part of the Adult Numeracy Network, you never walk alone. People in this organization are passionate about math, adult numeracy students and each other. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I see further, it is because I stand on the shoulder of giants,” and the people who founded this organization created a legacy of collaboration that has only grown stronger over the past 25 years. They wanted us all to find each other. 

Moving forward, I plan to continue tracking down documents and stories. In addition to the various texts that remain out there, over the next few years I would like to organize an oral history project, connecting current ANN members with founding members and with each other. There is power in stories and in the human voice and I think an audio archive of our membership would honor the fact that we are unique in the United States and in the history of adult math education and we are stronger for the input of every member. If you are curious to find out more, please contact me -

yours in productive struggle, 


ANN Historian 

Everyone has a math story. What's yours?

In a recent issue of the Math Practitioner, Amber Fornaciari wrote about the power of having her students share their math stories. 

In the 25 years since ANN was founded, we have been a community dedicated to quality mathematics instruction at the adult level. As we look back and celebrate our storied history, it is also important to take stock of who we are right now. Take a few minutes and add your voice to the history of our organization!

Click here to Share your math story 

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