NCTM Annual Meeting, Day 2

I finished my second day at the NCTM Annual Meeting; it was another great day full of learning.  I still can’t get over how much teaching experience and wisdom is floating around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.  It is amazing to think about how much learning and connecting is going on all around me, all day long.  So now I’m going to try to synthesize the highlights of my day.  I updated my post from yesterday about Day 1; I felt like it was lacking actual reflection, so I tried to dig a little deeper in this revision.

I started with a session on including writing in the math classroom.  While this may seem a bit odd at a math conference, this was one of several sessions about writing.  Apparently, it’s a thing.  After participating in the session, I can see the value of having students write in order to share their thinking.  You can really learn a lot about what they write about math.

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As I often do with sessions like this, I left feeling excited about what I just learned, but a little overwhelmed with how I was supposed to fit another thing into my already busy math class.  My second session, however, tied in perfectly with it; it was about the importance of formative assessments (assessments that affect how you teach based on what the students have learned and still need to learn).  The presenter talked about how important formative assessments are (of course, everything is important…you must include everything!), and how great it is to get into the minds of our students to see what they know and what we need to teach them next.  This was starting to sound familiar.  Then, I made the connection.  I already do formative assessments in the classroom.  If I replaced them with a rich mathematical task related to the topic we are studying, the students could write about it, instead of just solving more problems (side note: several presenters today talked about how bad it was for math to call the work we do “problems”; such a negative connotation!).  I could give formative assessments that involve deep problem solving as well as writing.  Check and check.

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I love when presenters leave you with a call to action.  That was a big thing at ShadowCon last night, and I really like that idea.  I also like that our presenter wants to know what formative assessments look like in our actual classrooms.  This isn’t some hypothetical thing that would be great in an ideal classroom; he thinks it will be great in your classroom, and he wants to hear about it.

I went to the Expo for the first time…it’s a little dangerous in there.  So many fun teaching tools and books!  I bought one book about fractions and decimals (the trickiest content for my 5th graders), and then I got a couple of fun games to review different math concepts.  My students love the “I have, who has” format, and the “stacks” are one big card sort, and I love card sorts.  The students have such great conversations when they are working through them.

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While it’s nice to come home from a conference with new ideas in my head, it’s also nice to come back with actual “stuff” I can use with my students on Monday.

The next session was about communicating with parents about math in your school.  The presenters talked about how to implement a parent math night (with lots of good suggestions and activities they have used in the past) and how to talk to parents about assessments if you don’t use grades.  Or even how to give more specific feedback if you do use grades.  Going “gradeless” and using standards-based assessments are very “in” in education right now, so this was an interesting topic to learn more about.  I liked how the presenters made an assessing system that is easy to follow and more objective.  I can see how using this would really communicate a lot to both parents and students about how students are doing with particular concepts.

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Fun fact: I posted these on Twitter (I have been posting a lot of things from my sessions), but these two pictures have gotten the most likes and reposts.  I have never been so popular on Twitter; apparently, other people are interested in standards-based grading and going gradeless too!

My last workshop of the day was a content-based session on order of operations.  I snuck into a 6-8th grade session (shh!) because I didn’t feel like I really did order of operations justice at the beginning of the year, and I am not sure how well my students really understand it.  Plus, this title is intriguing.  (The reference is to the common mnemonic device “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” for remembering what to do in order of operations: parenthesis, exponents, multiplication and division, addition and subtraction.)

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I left this session with some really good ideas on what to do instead of excusing my dear Aunt Sally and how to get my students to think more flexibly about the numbers they are using. One thing the presenter said that was interesting was that many of these types of textbook “problems” are actually just written very poorly and do a bad job of communicating what you are supposed to do with the numbers.  Order of operations is really just a way to trip up students, when the expression should be written more clearly by the authors.  So there.

Edward Burger gave a keynote address at the end of the day about how to help students think more effectively about math.  He was the first, and so far only, presenter not use a PowerPoint presentation, but he didn’t really need it.  He was so engaging and really got me thinking about how to help my students who get stuck when trying to solve word “problems”.  One strategy he suggested was to have students provide an answer that they know is wrong, and then explain why it is wrong.  This is an entry point into the problem, and students often see a way that it could be solved by talking through a way that it couldn’t be solved.

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I always tell my students that in order for me to help them with a “problem”, they have to do something with the problem first.  For students who were truly stumped, this would be a great way for students to get started on the problem on their own (they could even write about what they are thinking!).

Finally, the last presentations were told in a series of short, 10 minute flash talks.  Each presenter had 20 slides, and the slides changed every 15 seconds, whether the presenter was ready or not.  It was a fun and fast-paced way to end the day.

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We talked about working in an area of learning that is “hard”, the importance of play in learning, differentiation, introversion, all students can do the math, math mentors, math in the media, 12 steps towards accepting the challenges of teaching, math is all around us, and teaching and learning math in a circle.  It was interesting to learn about so many different things in such a short period of time.  The 3rd grade teacher and I left thinking about what we would talk about if we had to do one of these presentations.  So far, we haven’t figured it out.

It’s been an amazing two days.  I am sad that it is over tomorrow, but I still have a few more sessions in the morning to learn even more!

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