Crossing My Fingers for Conference Season

Last year at this time, I applied to speak at two conferences (NCTM and CMC-N) with this proposal:

Tech in the classroom: What is it good for?
Tablets and Chromebooks are now commonplace in K-12 classrooms; free and cheap online resources abound. Yet turning flashy devices into learning of mathematics is tricky. This session will highlight ways technology can and should transform the math classroom – and just as importantly, ways that it can’t and shouldn’t. Participants will leave with free resources, and a deeper understanding of how to use appropriate tools strategically, just as we ask of our students.

As a teacher and math specialist at a fast-moving charter network in Silicon Valley, that topic that has been heavily on my mind for the past few years. At its best, technology in the classroom can make math more visible and intuitive for students, so that doing math feels more like play than work; it can make math collaborative and social; it can provide teachers with a window into students’ thinking about mathematics.

In short, that’s the edTech worldview I’ve developed over the years, and it’s helped me weed through the massive marketplace of products and platforms to find the diamonds in the rough. I hoped to make a case for this worldview in my session, or at the very least encourage educators to be critical consumers and develop their own worldviews.

Alas, neither conference accepted this proposal (though I did get to touch on this topic at a talk I gave at Desmos, and I ended up joining my colleague Kyle Moyer to present on a different topic for NCTM). So for this next round of speaking proposals, I’m scrapping the topic and proposing instead to speak to the question that got me interested in math education in the first place. This weekend I submitted the following proposal for three conferences (NCTM, CMC-N, CMC-S):

Where’s the Math?
An education researcher once observed a terrifying trend: “In U.S. lessons, there are the students and there is the teacher. I have trouble finding the mathematics.” The presence of procedures, rules, and numbers does not a math education make. Math is a verb; it entails exploration, creation, justification, and much more. Come learn strategies for designing a math classroom and curriculum where students can feel the exhilaration, frustration, and satisfaction of doing real math.

Learning Outcomes
Participants will re-assess commonly accepted norms of math classrooms. Two examples:
– Lessons are commonly structured as “I do, We do, You do,” which can strip away opportunity for mathematical thinking. Instead, try: “You, Y’all, We.”
– Teacher questioning commonly falls into the pattern of “Initiate-Respond-Evaluate,” which focuses the class on “answer-getting,” positioning the teacher as the arbiter of correctness. Instead, consider lines of questioning aimed at understanding student thinking.

How does your presentation align with NCTM’s dedication to equity and access?There is an unwritten ethos in many math classrooms that students must learn their “math facts” – procedures, rules, notation, etc. – before they can engage in deep mathematical thinking and problem solving. This misconception about student potential leads to students developing their own misconception about what math is and isn’t. That is an equity issue. ALL students – not some – can engage in mathematical thinking and problem solving. This session explores how to make that a reality.

Crossing my fingers!