Tag Archives: professional development

Recap: NCTM 2015, Boston

NCTM Boston CropI had the wonderful opportunity of spending a week in Boston for the 2015 NCTM & NCSM conference. I am recapping the NCTM sessions here, and the NCSM sessions in another post.

Since there was so much information, I have summarized each session with some simple (•) bulleted notes and quotes to encapsulate my major take-aways, and occassional a brief italicized commentary.

This was an enormously worthwhile trip. I highly recommend that you get yourself to San Francisco in April 2016, if you can.


NCTM President’s Address: Five Years of Common Core State Mathematics Standards — Diane Briars

  • Diane Briars“College and Career Readiness” in math calls for Statistics, Discrete Math & Modeling.”
  • Standards are not equal to a curriculum.
    We need to pay more attention to the tasks & activities through which the students experience the content, rather than simply focusing on the content itself.
  • 75% of teachers support Common Core, but only 33% of parents support it, and 33% of parents don’t know anything about it.
    So we have to get the word out.

What Decisions — Phil Daro (1 of 3 writers of CCSSM)

  • Phil Daro“Don’t teach to a standard; teach to the mathematics.”
    This was the most challenging statement of the conference for me, mostly because I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around it. I get what he means, but I have been so trained to state an objective on the board and bring closure to that lesson. He shared that Japanese lesson plans are simply descriptions of the math concepts of the unit rather than the typical American model of objective, examples and practice sets.

The Practices in Practice — Bill McCallum (1 of 3 writers of CCSSM)

  • MCCallumStudents understanding what WILL happen without doing the calculations is an example of Using Structure.
    I took this back to my classroom and immediately applied it in the students’ graphing of quadratic functions. One of the more practical things I took from the conference.
  • “A student cannot show perseverance in 20 minutes. It is done day after day.”
  • Noticing & Wondering applies to teachers looking at student work as well.
    Dr. McCallum was referencing an instructional practice made well-known by Annie Fetter of the Math Forum through which students are asked to closely analyze mathematical situations. He was calling on teachers to focus on and analyze student thinking (not simply answers) just as closely.

Five Essential Instructional Shifts — Juli Dixon

  • DixonShift 1: Students provide strategies rather than learning from the teacher.
  • Shift 2: Teacher provides strategies “as if” from student. “When students don’t come up with a strategy, the teacher can “lie” and say “I saw a student do …”
  • Shift 3: Students create the context (Student Generated Word Problems)
  • Shift 4: Students do the sense making. “Start with the book closed.”
  • Shift 5: Students talk to students. “Say Whoohoo when you see a wrong answer, because we have something to talk about.”
    I felt that I do all of these, but that I have been ignoring Sgift #3 this semester. Dr. Dixon compelled me to give this more attention again. 

Getting Students Invested in the Process of Problem-Solving — Annie Fetter & Debbie Wile

  • AnnieTeachers must stop focusing on answer getting before the students will.
  • Honors Students are used to a certain speed and type of outcome, so they need a different type of scaffolding when it comes to problem solving.
  • “If you are focused on the pacing guide rather than the math, you are not going to teach much.”
    This was one of several comments, including Dr. Daro’s, that bagged on the habit of being too married to a pacing guide of standards.

Motivating Our Students with Real-World Problem-Based Lessons — Robert Kaplinksy

  • Kaplinsky CroppedTo students: “I will only give you information that you ask me for.”
  • Chunking tasks (Teacher talks — Students Think/Pair/Share — Repeat) was demonstrated to allow student conjectures, critiquing reasoning and high engagement.
    Robert modeled his “In-n-Out” lesson. I have seen this several times, but I never get tired of it, because it is awesome. Every time I have witnessed this lesson, teachers cheer when the answer to the cost of a 100 x 100 Burger is revealed. I have never heard this from someone looking up an answer in the back of a textbook. Also, Robert expertly demonstrated how a lesson like this should be facilitated in class by chunking and by getting the students to think of what they need to know.

Getting Students to Argue in Class with Number Sense Activities — Andrew Stadel

  • vQWJdnFF“As the teacher, I feel left out if I don’t know what my students are thinking and discussing.”
  • Discussion techniques
    Andrew is known as Mr. Estimation 180.” In this session, he showed how to bring SMP #3 into a number sense activity. The new one that I learned from Andrew here was having students stand up … those that choose A face left, B face right, C face forward. Then find someone near you who agrees and discuss. Find someone who disagrees and discuss. That’s Bomb!
  • Calling for Touch Time with the Tools
    In other words, let’s get the kids measuring with rulers, constructing with compasses, building with blocks, graphing with calculators.
  • Chunking tasks to allow student conjectures, critiquing reasoning and high engagement, as I saw with Kaplinksy.

Using Mathematical Practices to Develop Productive Disposition — Duane Graysay

  • duaneDuane and other educators of Penn State created a 5-week course with the intent of developing a productive disposition in mathematical problem solving.
    There were a lot of data showing the effectiveness of this program which focused on teaching the 8 Math Practices. The most amazing and provocative result was shown by this slide in which student felt that the math was actually harder than they thought before the course, but that they felt more competent.

2015-04-18 08.46.25

(SA = Strong Agree, etc)


Shadow Con — A Teacher Led Mini-Conference

  • Michael pershan-219x181There were six worthy educators from the Math Twitter Blogosphere (#MTBoS) that each offered up a brief 10-minute presentation. The uniquely cool aspect of these talks is the Call to Action at the end of each. In other words, you have to do something with what you learned.
  • Michael Pershan’s talk: Be less vague, and less improvisational with HINTS during a lesson. Instead, plan your hints for the lesson in advance.
    This one resonated most with me, because I once heard that Japanese teachers have a small deck of cards with hints written on them. To draw a hint card, students have to first show effort and progress, then they may draw a hint card. They must use each hint before they may draw another. I accept Michael’s call to action.

 Ignite — Math Forum

  • IgniteThese were a series of 5 minute/20-slides mini-presentations that were more inspirational than informational. Apparently they are part of a larger movement (Ignite Show), but the folks at Math Forum have been organizing these Ignite Math Sessions at large conferences for a few years.
    If want to get fired up about teaching math, these sessions definitely live up to their name. 

Can’t wait for next year!

TMC13 Session Recaps

TMC DrexelIn my last post, I summarized the overall experience of Twitter Math Camp 2013 at Drexel University. Following is my recap of the sessions that I attended. This conference was unique in that I learned something significant in each session.

Geometry Break-Out #1, Megan Hayes-Golding @mgolding, GA & Tina Cardone @crstn85, MA

After the opening greeting, the first morning session was a choice of break-outs according to course (Algebra 1, Geometry, Stats etc). These were intended to be open-ended discussion/work sessions. In the Geometry session, there was an overwhelming need by the group to wrap their heads around the Common Core Geometry Standards. Megan & Tina wisely went with the flow, and had us jigsaw the standards in pairs and share out. It was enormously helpful for everyone. I was already very familiar with the standards, but I still learned something about the CC standards on constructions. Specifically, the standards not only call for the four basic constructions plus those involving parallel and perpendicular lines, but the students are expected to construct a square, equilateral triangle, and hexagon as well. This was time well spent, with the bonus of getting to know Edmund Harriss @Gelada, Jessica @algebrainiac1 and StephReilly @reilly1041.

Edmund ArtThrough out the weekend, I had extended conversations with Edmund from which I learned a great deal. Mostly because Edmund is a math professor and as he spoke of his work with the mathematics of tiling patterns, I felt my IQ rise just by listening to him. Much of our discussions centered around the American education, though. Edmund had an interesting perspective, because while he teaches at the University of Arkansas and also leads special math programs for gifted children, Edmund is British. From that experience, he had a great deal to share about “how to run standards based education correctly.” I hope he blogs about that soon.

“I Notice & I Wonder,” Max Ray @maxmathforum, PA

Max Ray is the “Professional Collaboration Facilitator” at the Math Forum at Drexel. In essence, he teaches teachers how to teach problem-solving. I had heard before of starting lessons with “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” This phrase, which was originated by Annie Fetter @MFAnnie, is intended to initiate student thinking on a rich and robust task. That seemed pretty simple, so I wasn’t anticipating much new learning here … Boy, was I wrong! Max started with a picture of 3 glasses and the phrase “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”

TMC glasses      TMC graphs

We were asked to ponder for a moment, then share our thoughts with our neighbors. (Think-Pair-Share).  “I notice they have different shapes. I wonder if they have the same volume. What kind of drinks go in each one?” Then he posted the picture of 4 graphs, and again posed the same questions: “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” The ensuing discussion resulted in everything from “I notice the graphs are different colors” to “I wonder if the graphs correlate with the filling of the glasses.” The thing that I noticed about this whole activity is that Max let us mull this over without offering a single number or formula. Nor did he offer a single answer to any of our wonderings. Two pictures and two questions occupied us for 15 minutes. In the era of rushing through content it was wonderful to be reminded that mathematics starts with an observation and a question. Speaking of questions, my group wondered what glass shape would correlate to the fourth graph… while Max stood at the front of room silently smiling.

“Practicing the 5 Practices,” Christopher Danielson @Trianglemancsd, MN

Christopher Danielson is a professor of mathematics at Normandale Community College and also teaches methods courses for elementary school teachers. He shared the research published in Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. In summary, the 5 Practices are:

5 Practices PicAnticipating, during planning, student responses to the lesson prompt
Monitoring students repsonses during the lesson activity
Selecting which student responses are to be discussed publicly
Sequencing those student responses chosen
Connecting the responses to each other and to the mathematical ideas

Chris emphasized that the first and last of these are the two most troublesome for teachers. Chris modeled all these principles by conducting a math lesson on fractions. He knew what the issues would be with the context. He called us specifically by name to present our responses in an order that allowed the discussion to develop from simple ideas to more complex. I was particularly impressed on how he asked us to compare and contrast the various strategies. This is where I personally saw that I needed to bolster my own efforts on connecting ideas in own my class discussions. I walked away with the understanding that while any class discussion is better than none, there truly is an art form to doing class discussion right.

“5 Ways to Boost Engagement,” John Berray, @johnberray, CA

I have to say that the number one way to boost engagement is to teach like John Berray. The joy that he has for the material and for his students was just bursting out of him. With that said, John had 5 other ideas on increasing engagement:

1) Turn the Mundane on its ear
2) Jump on the timely
3) Bring in the outside world
4) Unlikely objects arouse wonder
5) Spill some paint

Translation: 1) Make it fun, 2)Tie math to current events, 3) Use the internet, particularly video, 4) Be goofy, 5) Connect the material to kid’s lives.

The highlight of the session was John showing how to make a textbook problem more exciting (a textbook makeover). The sample problem asked how many ways are there to take a 10-question true-false test (assuming all 10 question are answered). John asked us, “Who wants a shot at the glory?” and offered $5 to anyone who can match his answer key exactly. We were all prompted to number our papers #1-10 and choose T or F randomly for each. Once we all had our answers to this hypothetical 10-question True-False quiz, we were all asked to stand up. He began to display 10 questions, one at a time, about the participants at the conference. This offered humor and another level of engagement, as we were all trying to guess correctly, even though we had predetermined answers. After the first answer was revealed, all those who answered wrong on the paper had to sit down. We were asked to notice how many were still standing. This routine continued as we went through the entire list. Nobody won. The obvious question is, “How many people would we have to do this with in order to expect a winner?” He had just turned the mundane on its ear.

Geometry Break-Out #2

Our group reconvened with a few new people joining in. It was especially nice to See Peg Cagle @pegcagle after so many years. While the first day was a working session, this day was all about discussion. The group really wanted to talk about how to teach all the standards we listed in the previous sessions, while instilling the CCSS Practices. Teachers shared their various ideas, experiences and techniques. There was also a question on grading practices that revealed the dark side of the MathTwitterBlogosphere … We can be a very opinionated bunch. The hot topic for us was standards based grading. This turned out to be a benefit to the new teachers in the room or to old teachers with open minds, because quite a variety of ideas and positions were shared. It was an engrossing conversation, because no matter the positions taken, they were all shared with a passion for teaching students rich mathematics. The end of session came way to soon.

“Still Keeping it Real,” Karim Kai Ani & Team Mathalicious, @Mathalicious, VA

Mathalicious offers engaging, innovative math lessons with a focus on “real-world” applications. Karim @karimkai led us through two Mathalicious lessons that were solidly based in mathematics and loads of fun. The first, Datelines, tied the age of potential dates to systems of inequalities. The age gap on a date becomes less of an issue as people get older. For example, a 24-year old dating a 20-year old is less awkward than the 20-year old dating a 16-year old. This is an engaging topic for teenagers that Mathalicious sets to a graph and poses critical questions according to a given rule on dating ages. Like I said … solid. The second lesson, Prisn, used Venn diagrams to analyze the probability of being wrongfully flagged by the governments PRISM program for mining data. This lesson was about as relevant as any can get. It allowed for rich non-partisan conversation on how much error the public will accept. As I told Karim, these lessons are sexy, but have a lot of substance. At the conclusion, he generously gave the TMC participants a free trial subscription to Mathalicious. I intend on checking out more of their work.

“Getting Students to Think Mathematically in Cooperative Groups,” Lani horn, @tchmathculture, TN

Ilani BookThis one was very special for me, because Dr. Ilana Horn was such an influence on the teacher collaboration model that we have implemented at my high school for the last 9 years. Back in 2004, I was about to be the Math Department Chair for a new high school and was speaking with Jo Boaler about collab models for teachers. She told me that the person to contact was Lani Horn at the University of Washington (She is now at Vanderbilt in Tennessee). A week later, I happened to be vacationing in Seattle, and Lani was kind enough to give up time to a stranger and talk about her doctoral research. She was gracious as well as knowledgeable.

So I was excited to see her again and share how her information helped lead my crew back home to be one of the highest performing schools in the county. She was pleased to hear the news. Her session this time was on student rather than teacher collaboration. The specific model she shared is known as Complex Instruction (CI), in which students are grouped heterogeneously, with intentional methods to have all students participate. The focus of Lani’s session was on how academic status affects student engagement during group work. She was very intentional in telling us that participation is hindered by this perceived status about smartness, which is too often defined in math class as “quick and accurate.” To help make it safe for everyone to participate, the teacher needs to redefine smartness by acknowledging and rewarding “good questions, making connections, representing ideas clearly, explaining logically, or extending an idea.” Lani shared a video of a group of students working on a math problem, and asked us our thoughts regarding each students level of participation. She also asked us to analyze the teachers interaction and prompted us for alternative responses. This analysis of the work done by each student debunked the conventional wisdom that non-participatory children are lazy, stupid or shy. I had learned as much from Lani Horn on this day as I did in our first encounter.

Due to another engagement, I had to fly home early from the conference so I did not get a chance to attend the last session on Friday or any on Saturday. I heard I missed some great stuff,  which I don’t doubt.

Twitter Math Camp (The Experience)

TMC_2013_PhillyIf I traveled across the country to see someone whom I met online, you might think I was nuts. So what would you think if I traveled across the country to meet 115 people that I met online? Well I did just that. I flew to Philadelphia to attend Twitter Math Camp 2013.

TMC is a unique conference for math teachers. Yes, it has your standard general session with smaller breakout sessions to choose from. What set this conference apart was that for the most part all the presenters, participants, and organizers (shout out to @lmhenry9 and @maxmathforum and company) knew each other … through Twitter. We all have been tweeting for various lengths of time. There was everyone from veteran tweeters to newbs. For me, it has been about a year. I am a moderate tweeter; I tweet some and I read some. For the most part, I still consider myself a novice Tweeter, but a veteran teacher (25 years). So did I why go out of my way to attend this particular math conference?

Because I suspected that this was a very special group of educators. I found that I was right. I spent two days with a large group of extremely intelligent, creative, sincere, committed math teachers. Actually, we were math ed geeks in the fondest sense. Between sessions and over meals and, of course, through tweets, we conversed about how “not to be sucky teachers.” I have never been around a group of people so hyper-focused on being nothing less than amazing at their craft, with the critical understanding that no one is.

What also drew us together was the desire to know the person behind the avatar and the handle, to make eye contact and have a conversation longer than 144 characters, and to party together in a basement bar in Philly (which is material for a post in and of itself). We were genuinely excited to meet those whom we follow, and follow those whom we met. The name on the presentation was as important as the name of the presentation. We wanted to learn about each other as well as from each other. And we did. And it was awesome.

I will recap the sessions that I attended in a subsequent post. For now, I want to impart a couple of thoughts.

1)  If you are not on Twitter, I strongly suggest you do so immediately. Just sign up and figure the rest out later. You can start by following me, @MathProjects, and then connect with the rest of the TMC community.

 2) If are on Twitter and aren’t sure whether TMC14 will be worth your time, let me answer the question for you… It definitely will be. I was skeptical until the first breakfast when I sat with a dozen fellow tweeps, and only became more convinced as the conference went on.

3) If you wanted to go this year, but couldn’t, I hope to see you at the next camp.

4) If I spent any kind of time with you in Philly, thank you for sharing your passions, ideas and friendship with me. I am already looking forward to next summer. In the meantime, may we all teach amazingly this school year.

3 Cool Sites That I Discovered

I have used three web sites for the first time at school over the last couple of weeks.

Estimation 180, Andrew Stadel

Elevator EstimationThe premise here is very interesting: Students acquire number sense better by making mental estimations, than from direct instruction. Since I teach an Algebra class to a large group of high-needs students, who have proven to lack number sense, I thought I would give this one a go. While the name of the site implies estimations for 180 days of the school year, we entered at day 75. The students were hooked right away.

The process that Mr Stadel offers is even more useful than the pictures that drive the site. I have my classes participate in the following manner. My students each record their own estimates, then pair up and record on a lapboard, and then as they hold up their boards, I announce the minimum and maximum values that I see. On the Estimation 180 site, I record either the median of these values or the mode if there is preponderance of one value. Depending on the spread, I decide the level of confidence (1-5), and then submit our collective response under “Great Oak” (our high school). This committment raises the level of engagement of the students, who really want to see how close we get to the actual answer.

The site offers a handout for students to record their estimates, and their margins of error for 20 days on each side of the sheet. The students are to average this margin of error at the end each page. This serves two great purposes: 1) Students must add and divide positive and negative numbers as well as practice calculating a mean, and 2) as students progress through the year, they can see if their estimations are getting anymore accurate (average margin of error getting smaller?).  In only three weeks, I have already seen my students posing more accurate numbers.

I have other processes that I also use as warm-ups, so I won’t be using all 180 days, but the mathematical gains and enthusiasm that I am seeing in my students will encourage me to use this site as often as possible. (Chris Shore’s 180Blog)

Graphing Stories, Dan Meyer & Buzz Math

The premise of this site is that students will develop understanding of graphing through visual contexts, in this case, through 15 second video vignettes. The genius of the site is the consistency of its structure.

Time GraphEvery coordinate plane is a one-quadrant grid with time as the domain, from 0-15 seconds. The range and its scale is left to be defined for each video. Each video is shown with a clock tracking the 15 seconds, then the video and clock are replayed at half speed. The answer is revealed by superimposing the grid over the video. The graph is drawn in real-time as the video plays out. There is a variety of the types of functions offered, as well as various degrees of difficulty.

In my class I used this as remediation for the most commonly missed question on the semester final, graphing from a verbal context. So I used only about 7 of the 24 videos offered, over the course of a few days. On the next quiz, students showed a drastic improvement in their ability to, graph both from verbal context as well as from given equations. (Chris Shore’s 180Blog)

Math Mistakes, Michael Persan

This site is intended for teacher use, rather than student use. Its purpose reflects the hyper-focus of its author: self-improvement. I used this site in my most recent math department meeting. I posed two entries from the site. One sample dealt with fractions, the other with graphing. The discussion ensued around two questions: 1) Why might the students be making these mistakes, and 2) How should we as teachers respond if this were occurring in our classes?

MM Number LineMM Graph

The conversation was brief, but very rich. I used it to encourage our PLC meetings to focus more on instructional decisions. It was very well received by my teachers.