Takeaways from Twitter Math Camp

Back from a few days in Minneapolis at Twitter Math Camp and thinking about getting ready for next year. Twitter Math Camp is a grassroots conference organized by mathematics teachers and draws a pretty neat group of teachers from across the country (apparently, it was supposed to be a cruise at first).

Here’s what I’m thinking about now:

1. Addressing knowledge gaps through differentiation: I attended a morning session that ran over 3 days run by Park Star about how to address gaps in students’ existing mathematics knowledge. My big takeaway was that I need to figure out exactly what my goals are for my kiddos. Once those are established, I need to go back and figure out what they should have learned beforehand in order to access that content. Rather than pre-assessing the material we’re going to teach (but, um, haven’t), we should pre-assess the material kiddos should have learned and then differentiate support before the unit begins so that all students have access to what we’re learning. This feels especially relevant since so many of our kiddos come to us with gaps and different understandings from their home countries. Park Star also did a great job setting up the session – there were a ton of interactive strategies that also gave people think time. Probably stealing most of them for my class.

2. Mathematics identities: I went to a session by Nicole Bridge about students’ mathematical identities, which is something I’ve been finding myself pondering lately.

Big takeaways:

  1. Identity is COMPLEX (sorry, but not really, for the all caps).

2. One can have multiple identities at once.

3. A mathematics identity comes from what a person thinks of their ability to do mathematics as well as how others perceive and treat them

(*these are largely paraphrases of a quote from Danny Martin, link to citation, albeit not to actual paper here). I’m still mulling 0ver how to talk about this with my students, but I think even talking about these 3 ideas could be both new and productive to them.

3. How do we  revise the Common Core State Standards?: I attended a session with Henri Picciotto about changes to the Common Core. Something I’m taking away from other conferences I’ve attended is to think about the Common Core State Standards and how they progress from kindergarten to 12 grade (this also ties in nicely to Tracy Johnston Zager’s keynote about elementary and secondary teachers collaborating). I’m planning to think more about which standards to focus on (we rarely get through all of them). Henri points out that we don’t currently have a plan to revise the standards (Henri’s thoughts are here, which seem like a great starting point). They are a great starting point, but, like all things, they can be better. There seems to be consensus that the standards need to be revised (although this is an assumption, perhaps a big one), but by who, when, and how all seem to be more nebulous. Wondering if anyone else has any ideas or insights here…

4. Social Justice and Mathematics have similar themes. I loved Jose Vilson’s keynote, which pointed out that many of the expectations that mathematics teachers have for their students are similar. We ask our students to solve complicated, real world problems that don’t have one single clear answer. Why can’t we do the same when tackling difficult issues?

There’s some good conversations still happening on Twitter now (look for #TMC16 and #1TMCthing). And, like all conferences, even if you weren’t there, you can still catch videos of quite a few of the keynotes and My Favorites presentations where teachers share their favorite aspect of their classroom (Go to #3 on I Speak Math‘s blog). There’s also a lot of good stuff on the Twitter Math Camp wiki.

10 Takeaways from NCTM

In the process of reflecting/blogging on Days 2 and 3 of NCTM, but here are 10 takeaways from NCTM (in no particular order and horribly paraphrased):

  1. Mathematics is plural. Even if that takes away from the 140 character limit.
  2. The term “English Language Learners privileges” the dominant language (and let’s be real, English is pretty messed up). Give props to emergent bilinguals, trilinguals, quadrilinguals…
  3. How do I convince my kiddos that they belong in a math class? However you feel about Jo Boaler and Railside, that school’s alumni can reflect and expound on their mathematics experiences. That feeling of belonging and mathematics learning is real.
  4. How can I protect and nurture my kiddos’ brains? Especially in a city that is as divided and inequitable as San Francisco and with students arriving from the violence and malnutrition of countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
  5. Talk less. If a kiddo can say it or show it, I shouldn’t be saying it or showing it.

  6. If a kiddo can ask about it or argue about it, it is real enough.

  7. Ethnomathematics: How do I take the countries my kiddos come from (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, China, Yemen, Russia, Palestine) and look for examples of math there?

  8. I lurk too much on Twitter. Just follow the people already.

  9. Reminder: I need to tell the story right. I need to look back at the standards.

  10. Reminder: There are more ways for families to support their kiddos than just homework support and back to school night.

3 Takeaways: NCTM, Day 1

Spending the last part of the week at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

3 Takeaways:

  1. Rochelle Gutièrrez‘s talk on Mathematics Teaching as Subversive Activity: I’m thinking about how mathematics affects student’s identity and the idea that mathematical ability is a perception but the trauma and status it affects are very real. Also, language-wise, I’m trying to get myself to say “emergent bilinguals (or trilinguals!)” and “mathematics” rather than “math” (I can’t quite say “maths” naturally yet). I think of Emilio, one of our kiddos who left school this year. I didn’t fully realize it, but English was actually his third language – he primarily spoke Mam, a Guatemalan indigenous language and learned quite a bit of Spanish in his time at our school. The idea of Emilio framed as an emergent trilingual sounds much more glorious than Emilio as a struggling student.
  2. The “Lessons from our Students: Stories From Railside High” alumni panel was AMAZING. I’ve heard so much about this school where Complex Instruction (challenging, structured groupwork with attention to student status) brought huge cultural and academic changes to the math department before it was crushed by district testing needs. But this was the first time I’d actually met any of the students. And it was AMAZING. They were all able to speak eloquently and thoughtfully about their experiences (one even brought all of her old math notes). It was also fascinating to see at least 3 of them involved in various aspects of education – policy, teaching and administration and to know that the experience they had their has really left a lasting impact. I only hope that my kiddos might be able to fully reflect on their mathematical experiences in such a similar way. (I also realized that many people might doubt Railside High as it is a pseudonym and therefore not Google-able.)
  3. I somewhat arbitrarily went to Mardi Gale’s “Algebra Intervention, Rigor, Problem Solving, and CCSM” as our school is struggling to raise scores on the mathematics SBAC. This talk got me thinking about how important it is to have multiple representations (which I try to think about often, but often drops off as the year wears on) and make explicit connections to prior knowledge. This feels especially important for supporting our kiddos who have interrupted formal education or had less rigorous schooling.
  4. The “Improving Student Outcomes through Family and Community Engagement” session by the Alameda County Office of Education is pushing me to think about what parent engagement can look like at home (rather than Back to School Night or homework help, as it is often envisioned). I’ve been putting off doing a survey of students about their home lives and should probably just do it.

Day 2, here we come.

Day 151: The One Where We Pronounce Pythagorean

Spent today doing a reading guide on the Pythagorean Theorem. Reading guides are a structure at our school where students read together. In most classes, they learn and practice common reading strategies like visualizing, making predictions and inferences, etc. In math, they do these things as well though we often walk them through math problems as we go.

I’ve felt very up and down about reading guides this year. For me, they are usually linked to a participation quiz where I narrate (and give points) for the positive behaviors students do (today it was: work in the middle, point to what you’re talking about, connect the area of the square to the side of the square). Up until recently, I’ve felt that I wasn’t able to intervene if students needed help (an ongoing struggle on my part), though I’m beginning to get a better sense of when to stand back and when to quickly step in. (I think. Knock on wood.)

Photo One: The Reading Guide and Tangramsreading about the Pythagorean TheoremThe part of me that signs all my emails “The Worst” (ie “Sorry I haven’t email back #ImTheWorst” or “Sorry I totally Second Year Teacher’ed you when I flaked out on Friday #ImTheWorst”) will also confess to not having read the Common Core progressions in-depth* (though make no mistake, I’m fond of them). So I’m excited that we actually talked a bit about how to show that the sum of the area of the squares of the legs is equal to the square of the hypotenuse (we did not at all describe it in those words). We had students cut out tangrams of the two small squares and try to put them together over the big square. Most students were able to accomplish this, with a hint or two. (In the end, a bit of struggling seemed important, though it also felt useful to show students the result if they hadn’t discovered it) Incidentally, the two constructed squares in this photo were made by two friends in different classes (One student built the pattern in the morning, which I showed to the student I have in the afternoon when they started to struggle. They seemed impressed).

Photo 2: Pythagorean PronunciationPythagorean PronunciationCurriculum partner and I occasionally talk about words that are hard to pronounce. Trigonometry (which we never even taught – we just left it at sine, cosine and tangent) would have been tough, parallelogram is tough, Pythagorean Theorem (let alone “theorem”) is tough. That being said, kiddos have been super down to try, including this student who took notes when I wasn’t looking.

Also, what has two thumbs and is rockin’ out in the kitchen to Billy Joel? Certainly not this guy…

*Just kidding, the ones for middle school geometry, where Pythagorean Theorem should be haven’t been written yet. Told you I hadn’t read them in depth yet.