April 28th, 2015
We are excited to have a guest blogger today: David Wees is a math teacher in NYC and he recounts Shadowcon — the alternative NCTM conference — for us.
Six calls to action at Shadowcon
Imagine six engaging speakers, each with ten minutes to convince you to make a specific change in your teaching. At the end of the night, you select which change you want to work toward, and ideally you take action. So describes the experiment in professional learning called Shadowcon, hatched by Dan Meyer, Zak Champagne, and Michael Flynn and shared for the first time at the NCTM Annual Meeting in Boston.
Kicking off the night was Tracy Zager, a mathematics educator who lives in Maine. Tracy shared with us her heartbreaking story of working with elementary school preservice teachers, a majority of whom have negative feelings about mathematics. She described how these feelings were very likely caused by the early experiences in mathematics and how too often these teachers use the same teaching practices that caused their own math anxiety, creating a generational cycle of fear of mathematics. Tracy called on all of us to break the cycle by opening conversations about our experiences with mathematics in school and to start closing the gap between school math and the way mathematicians experience math.
Next up was Elham Kazemi, a teacher-educator at the University of Washington. As part of her work, Elham collaborates with teams of elementary school teachers. Elham asked this thought-provoking question: “What would it look like if we designed schools to be places where teachers learn together alongside their students?” Teaching is complex work! Elham suggested that trying to learn how to do it alongside a colleague is best. Her call to action: Plan together, rehearse together, enact together, reflect together, and everyone improves together.
Laila Nur, a high school math teacher in Los Angeles, California, spoke about how she realized that her students talked much differently outside her class than within it, and decided to experiment with humor in her class as an antidote. Her takeaway from this experiment is that when kids laugh together and with their teacher, it helps break down some of the negative feelings associated with math. Her students enjoy class much more and consequently have fewer emotional barriers to learning mathematics. Her call to action is to incorporate humor in our classrooms, at least four times, and to see how that affects our students.
Kristin Gray, a fifth-grade teacher and math specialist, described how she pays attention to student thinking as evidenced by what they say and what they write and then journals what she notices. This stems from her genuine curiosity about her students’ mathematical thinking. She asked three questions, “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in the content you teach and how you teach it?” “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in your students’ math conversations?” and “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in the math work your students do each day?” Her call to action was for us to start a math journal and record our reflections about our students’ work and to share how this affects our teaching.
Christopher Danielson, a mathematics educator in St Paul, Minnesota, started by sharing a pair of stories with essentially the same moral: listen to your students. In the first story Christopher realized he had not heard something a student said and that the difference between what he heard and what was said was small but incredibly important. He also noticed that sometimes when we aren’t listening to students very well we can hear things and make assumptions about how they understand the world that just aren’t true. He implored the audience to ask follow-up questions when they think they understand what a student means, and then to share our reflections on any differences we notice between what we thought we heard and what the students actually meant.
The final speaker of the night was Michael Pershan, a mathematics teacher living in New York City. Michael has spent much of his career thinking about the mistakes students make and what they mean. He has also spent much of this past year thinking about the feedback teachers give students and how we can make this feedback more useful. He described four potential pitfalls of the hints we give, and offered us the final challenge of the night: to plan our hints in advance and then share the ones that worked so that we can collectively build a pool of effective hints to give to students when they are stuck in specific areas of mathematics.
The six speakers, with their six calls to action, were inspiring. It made me reflect on how I can incorporate their ideas into my own practice. Of the six calls to action, I will start with Elham’s proposal and find someone with whom to plan, rehearse, enact, and reflect on my lessons so that I work in less isolation.
Which call to action are you going to choose? You can see what others are doing on the Shadowcon website.
Entry Filed under: math