A week has passed since I went to the annual California Math Council conference at Asilomar. It was my first time attending, and, my god, it got me fired up to get back to work teaching kids math. Luckily, my wait was only a matter of hours. In the past week, my kids got a whole new bag of tricks thanks to the amazing Asilomar presenters. Some highlights:

Dan Meyer‘s session on making math class more like the addicting video games that teenagers love was a winner. His strategies for turning what could be a boring lesson into a perplexing, engaging task are second to none. In the 12-student math support class I teach, where kids needed a lot of work with one-digit and two-digit multiplication, I scrapped my plan of a heavy day of repetitious multiplication exercises and instead started that class with a version of the question Dan posed in his session: find numbers that add to 25 and multiply them together. After a little time to play at this, I asked them to find the way to make the result as large as possible. This class (comprised 100% of students who have explicitly declared their hatred of math) was buzzing, with new “high scores” popping up all the time. One student raced to the board to show his answer (5 * 5 * 5 * 5 * 5 * 5); the other students – who usually will do anything to avoid listening to a math presentation – were closely watching and caught his error (one too many fives. nice try!). Once the raucous crowd died down and agreed that even with 5 fives, that might be the highest, one boy suggested splitting one of the 5’s up to 3 and 2. And the one-upping of high scores continued.

Andrew Stadel ran a great afternoon session in which he did a Dan Meyer-style three-act task. I run plenty of these in my classes, but Andrew brought some teacher moves to the structure that I found helpful: keeping most of his responses to student input short (like, one word), prolonged silent individual work time to start Act 2 (rather than diving straight into groupwork and having a dominating personality take over), a flow-chart for the task from the teacher perspective, and a graphic organizer for students. He also made a convincing argument for bringing estimation into the classroom (calling it “the gateway drug of math modeling”), and showed how easy it is to work estimation into class even if you can only spare 2 minutes of class time. These ideas helped make my classes more equitable, engaging and productive this week when we did Fry’s Bank.

Rick Barlow and my good friend Shira Helft ran a great session about structures that get kids talking, explaining and justifying math. I brought a version of one of the structures – Middle Bits – to my class this week to help students get better at explaining their work on the project we’re currently on. Middle Bits is great – I give them the question and the answer, and they fill in everything in the middle. Shira gave some very solid language to use when giving feedback on their writing, and then I provided the problems that were relevant to the class:


I could go on and on here, but I’ll stop. I should add briefly, though: I also co-led a session with Kyle Moyer called “Project-Based Learning for Mathematical Practices.” Working with Kyle to prepare and run the session – which will get its own blog post soon – was itself a great learning experience for me, in addition to all the other sessions I attended. All in all, Asilomar was a dream weekend. Sign me up for next year.