Why We Do What We Do: NCTM Day 4, Los Angeles

Data science panel with Mahmoud Harding on the microphone

I needed to sleep in a little and then pack my bags and check out of my hotel, so I didn't get to the convention center until the second set of sessions. I headed for a panel presentation about data science but missed the introductions. The program book said the speakers were Anna Bargagliotti, Mahmoud Harding, Hollylynne Lee, and Susan Peters, but I think that lineup might have changed. I've been in a lot of data science discussions over the past year so I'm not sure how much of this was new to me, but the Q&A revealed to me that there are a growing number of resources out there that a lot of people simply don't know about. (Note: datascience4all.org is a good place to start.) We really are still in the early stages of this, as was evidenced by one panelist explaining that he teaches in one of the largest districts in California, with 200 math teachers across 12 high schools, and he's the only one teaching a data science course.

Megan Burton

I've never been to the AMTE conference (that's the Association for Mathematics Teacher Educators) but I occasionally attend an AMTE-focused session at the NCTM or NCSM conference. I do that partly for the information, but partly to figure out if I have a place in that organization. As a math specialist in a state department of education, part of my role involves providing professional development to teachers and I occasionally get to work with licensure and endorsement policies for teachers. But unlike most (all?) of AMTE's members, I'm not a higher education faculty member charged with the education of preservice teachers. This session, led by Megan Burton, was titled "Mentoring, Challenging, and Empowering: AMTE's Standards for Preparing Teachers of Mathematics." I think I would have liked hearing about the standards, but the first half focused on mentoring and that's not an aspect of my job and therefore wasn't as relevant to me.

I might have stayed in the AMTE session until then end, but I wanted to catch a 30-minute session called "Creating and Sustaining a Free Mathematics Conference to Empower Educators." It was led by Cody Osterhout and Paul Volkert, two educators in a New York BOCES (bureau of cooperative educational services) who creeated a math conference with very simple and humble beginnings and have grown it over the past five years. I'm fortunate that our state math conference is well-established, but I wanted that 30 minutes to look at conferences through a fresh set of eyes and to consider what's essential and what's extra as we adjust our conference to meet changing needs and varying levels of participation.

José Vilson

I somehow made it all week without hearing about anyone who couldn't participate in the conference due to COVID, and then Eugenia Cheng, our closing speaker, had to cancel on short notice because she got COVID! I'm sure she wasn't the only one, but it was probably too much to hope for that nobody would get sick all week. So that left the program committee in a bind -- what can you do to replace a keynote speaker with about 48 hours notice? You take advantage of having José Vilson on your program committee, that's what. José's an experienced keynote speaker with experience on the big stage at NCTM, having delivered the Iris Carl address in 2019. He wasn't the most prepared, or dressed like he might have for a keynote, but he quickly put together a talk called "A Moment of Hope: Why We Do What We Do." The talked moved a bit like a series of Ignite sessions, with maybe 5-minute chapters highlighting different reasons for teaching and working with youth. Perhaps the most impactful was José's collage of photos of former students of his who have gone on to become teachers.

So long, L.A., and thanks for the bikes

The final bit of business to conclude the 2022 Annual Meeting was for Trena Wilkerson to hand over the presidency of NCTM to Kevin Dykema. Kevin is a middle school teacher from Michigan and has long been involved as an NCTM board member and as a member of various committees. It's always nice to see a teacher lead an organization of teachers, and I have a sense that Kevin is going to do great. There will be a lot of NCTM activities in the meantime, but next year's conference is set for Washington, D.C. We were there in 2018, which really wasn't long ago, but it's a great place for the conference because the population density is high and that helps improve turnout. I like visiting D.C., and there are still a ton of museums and cultural attractions I want to see, so I'm looking forward to it already.

From Business to Baseball: NCTM Day 3, Los Angeles

Trena Wilkerson (on her last full day as NCTM President!)

I started my day at the NCTM business meeting. I wouldn't recommend that most people go to the business meeting, but for the few of us who like getting an update on the health and direction of NCTM, it's the place to be. It's unfortunate to see that NCTM's budget finished in the red, again, but given how rough it's been with events and the pandemic, things could have been much worse. Membership stands at about 29,000, with about half of those opting for the essential membership tier.

Nicole Joseph

Next I went to the Iris Carl Address. This year's speaker was Nicole Joseph of Vanderbilt University, and she had a very well-prepared talk to help us confront some of the inequities and biases faced by Black girls. At the end, I noted that she charged her fellow researchers to push to do large-scale, quantitative research studies. She explained that while we've learned a great deal from the many small-sample, qualitative studies, if research is going to affect policy, state and national decision-makers are going to want big studies with some statistical power. I'm really not doing the session justice with my brief summary, so be thankful that this is one of the sessions that NCTM records and makes available to watch after the conference.

At noon I met up with my co-presenters, Fred Peck and David Webb. David was our advisor at CU Boulder and we've established this wonderful tradition of presenting together each year at NCTM. This was the first time we've seen each other since the San Diego conference in the spring of 2019, so we did a little bit of prep and lots of catching up with each other. Our 2:45 session, "Making Meaning of Systems of Equations with Contexts and Representations," went very well. We've done versions of this one before, and each time we seem to get a bit better at it. We had a good audience, but had room for more, and I think those in attendance got a lot out of it.

W. Gary Martin and Jean Lee

David and I caught the last 20 minutes or so of a late session called "We Need More Math Teachers! Changing the Narrative About Mathematics Teaching as a Career." Jean Lee and Gary Martin were the lead speakers for the session, and just with the bits we saw it was really useful. Essentially, they're involved in an effort to share positive things about being a teacher. And it's not just their opinion -- this is part of a broader project that has collected data and surveyed teachers and when you look at the data, the salaries, working conditions, and retirement benefits are more favorable than the news headlines might lead you to believe. I'll have to check out the materials later, and connect with some of the Colorado folks who are involved in the research.

It's time for Dodger baseball!

Finally, I got really adventurous with the Metro bike share system and pedaled up to Dodger Stadium to see the Dodgers play the Rockies. The bike ride was probably more memorable than the game, as the Dodgers had a 9-0 lead by the time I left during the 7th inning stretch. Afterwards, I biked all the way back to USC, which is about a 6 mile trip. Add that on top of an almost 17,000-step day, and I'm pretty beat. But just one half day left of #NCTMLA22, and then I can rest!

"It warms my heart": NCTM Day 2, Los Angeles

Kristen Faust

Today was Day 2 of the NCTM Annual Meeting and it was a very full day for me. I began in a session called "Opening Math Pathways to Each Student: Our Journey From One School to District Wide," led by Kristen Faust, Tracy Fischer, and Mary Richards of North Clackamas School District, Oregon. I'm seeking out these district-level stories about pathway reforms to better understand the challenges involved and get some insights from those doing this work. This group is four or five years into this process, and they've moved their middle schools towards more students in heterogeneous classes that are taught to grade level standards. Although the pandemic hurt them in a lot of ways, one way it helped is that it disrupted their traditional district tests that were used to determine middle school math course placement. So with no test, there was no placement, and no need to label some students as not worthy of grade-level work.

Mary Richards

Following that session I caught up with Fred Peck, my old CU Boulder grad school colleague who is now on the faculty at the University of Montana. We're co-presenting Friday and this was a good time to do some catching up and to work on our slides. The presentation is in pretty good shape, and it's a relief to know I won't have any late-night slide deck designing to cost me more sleep. Today was my 7th day in a row of these conferences, and it's tiring enough just sticking to a typical participant schedule.

By chance, I ended up having lunch with Sara VanDerWerf. Sara and I have connected in passing a few times over the years, but now that we're both math specialists in state departments of education we have a whole lot more to talk about. And talk we did! There are aspects of our work in state government that sometimes require some tricky navigation, and even though Sara has only been in the job for less than a year, she was describing things with some of the same language that I find myself using.

Ginny Stuckey

After lunch, I met up with Fred and we headed to "Expanding the Frontiers of Math Class," which was to be led by Karim Ani of Citizen Math. Karim led a great session at the 2019 ASSM Annual Meeting, and I was looking forward to seeing him again. Unfortunately, he had a change of plans and Ginny Stuckey filled in as his substitute. She was great! She also works for Citizen Math, and it made me glad that I didn't change my mind and opt to attend something else. Ginny gave us some decent, but somewhat ordinary examples of math tasks that use a problem solving context but keep the focus on the math. Then she contrasted that to a problem solving context where the focus stays on solving the problem, and the math is just a tool. The metaphor she used as looking at a telescope (some of which are quite beautiful!) versus looking with a telescope, which is ultimately what the telescope is really for.

Mark Russo

From there, I headed to another storytelling session about a district trying to reform math teaching and learning. Mark Russo works in a suburban school district in New Jersey and his session was called, "Catalyzing Change When Change is Hard." For me, I knew the "catalyzing change" in the title referred to the NCTM book series by that name, but it was a little delight of the day to hear several first-time attendees say that they knew nothing about the book, and were there simply because the title and description of the session drew them in. The highlight for me was being seated next to a high school teacher from Arizona, and the conversations we had during the turn-and-talk moments. She's in a school where most of the math department is just fine leaving things as-is, and she attended the talk to develop some greater powers of persuasion that she might use to get a reform movement going in her school. Oh, as a bonus, I think Mark Russo had the quote of the day, and it was something he said before the session even started: "I've heard more I do, we do, you do-bashing in one day at this conference than I've heard anywhere, and it warms my heart."

The next session I went to wasn't initially on my list, but I couldn't resist "Modeling as Storytelling: Developing Mathematical Identities With Students on the Margins of Algebra" by Kara Imm. Kara is part of the extended group of us who has ideas rooted in Realistic Mathematics Education. I'm connected through David Webb and the Freudenthal Institute US, while Kara is connected through Cathy Fosnot and Math in the City. Anyway, Kara's presentation was about a project that is stretching her beyond her RME roots. The title itself explains a lot, and like the previous session, Kara's generous use of turn-and-talks gave me ample opportunities to discuss issues of mathematical modeling and student identity with some of the other conference-goers nearby.

Zalman Usiskin

And finally, to wrap up the day, I went to "Circling Through a Century of NCTM: A Celebration Sprinkled With Music" with Zalman Usiskin. Zal has been presenting at NCTM for about 50 years now, and I couldn't think of anyone better to give a historical perspective of the organization. This talk was originally supposed to happen at the centennial meeting in Chicago in March of 2020, but that event was cancelled. Thankfully, the program committee and others encouraged Zal to deliver it now, more than two years later. Little did I know, but Zal is quite musical and has performed some songs he's written about math at select events in the past. He plays the piano, too, but tonight he had his cousin play who happens to be a world-class pianist. The history was rich and the song were often humorous, and as a lover of math education history it was time well spent for me. I wish I could sit with Zal for about a month and pick his brain about math ed history.

St. Vincent de Paul, which I pass on the way to my hotel

After all that, I grabbed an ebike from the Metro bike share system and made it back to the hotel. See, I told you it was a full day! And tomorrow will be, too. On top of my own presentation, there's the Iris Carl address, the NCTM business meeting, and a few other sessions on my schedule. But that's how these things go -- there's so much to see and do!

One Mathematics, Many Voices: NCTM Day 1, Los Angeles

Getting set for the big opening

Today was the first day of the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in Los Angeles. But before I made the long, long bus ride from Anaheim to L.A., I took in a couple extra sessions at NCSM.

Peter Liljedahl

I missed Peter Liljedahl's session yesterday when it filled up and they shut the doors, but he was kind enough to stick around through this morning and offer the same session again. Now that I've seen his talk, it's understandable why he's such a hit: he built up a solid research program, got some nice findings, he wrote some teacher-friendly books, and he's gotten lots of practice delivering his talk. It's an exceptionally strong bit of work. I was particularly persuaded by his bit on mimicry. I've been asked by math specialists how they can get teachers to stop relying on, "I do, we do, you do" as their instructional model. Sometimes we see this in elementary, where some reading programs promote that model as a form of effective instruction. I'm no authority on how well it works in other content areas, but it's not great for math, and Peter gave the most powerful articulation of why it's so inadequate. He says that when you use an "I do, we do, you do" model, what students are doing is mimicking, not learning. Mimicking can work for you in the short term, but not in the long term. In mathematics, students' luck with mimicking tends to run out by the time they're in Algebra 1, when they really need to be thinking and problem solving for themselves if they're going to be successful. I ordered Peter's books while sitting in the session and I'll be eager to dig into them when I get home.

Caity Larson

I stuck around for one more session, this time to hear a story about math reforms spurred on by Catalyzing Change. Caity Larson and Catherine Castillo were math specialists in Springfield, Missouri, who carried out a multi-year plan to reform curriculum and instruction in their schools. They were often met with resistance, but they steadily won over teachers and other stakeholders. But when it was time for all that work to pay off, district leadership put a halt to it. There were certainly positives in the session, but it also served as a cautionary tale. You'd never know it talking to people at the conference, but there really are people out there who don't want math teaching to change.

NCTM President Trena Wilkerson

After the bus ride from Anaheim to Los Angeles, I settled in at my third hotel of the week and then made my way to the convention center for the NCTM Annual Meeting. The first person I met was from Hawaii. And so was the second and third. Then there were more. Hawaiians are here in force! After some time cruising the exhibit floor, I headed to the opening session. There were lots of preliminaries to wait through, but I've found that those parts get better every year as you get to know more of the people and develop a greater appreciation for the work they do. Part of what lengthened it was that it was the first in-person annual meeting in more than three years, so they did things like take extra time to recognize previous lifetime achievement award recipients that we didn't get to celebrate during the pandemic. It was great seeing Elizabeth Fennema on the big screen!

Chip Heath

The keynote speaker was Chip Heath, a professor and author who wrote a book called Making Numbers Count. It wasn't a math education talk, really. It was more of a collection of interesting and educational anecdotes that illustrated the way we see numbers and how numbers help us make sense of our worlds. In particular, there were good examples of things where we don't have great sense when it comes to numbers, whether it's because the numbers are very large or because the numbers haven't been rounded to something memorable. Malcolm Gladwell was the opening keynote speaker when I attended my first NCTM Annual Meeting in 2008, and this felt a lot like that. I'm not sure it was the best possible representation of the conference theme, One Mathematics, Many Voices: Sharing Our Collective Stories of Rehumanizing Mathematics Teaching and Learning, but as a stand-alone keynote it had its own reasons to be engaging.

The Word of the Day is Invigorating: NCSM Day 2, Anaheim

Cynthia Callard, University of Rochester

It was the second day of NCSM, but my first day of NCSM, but still my fifth day of conferencing this trip. Got it? I hope so, because there's still 4 more days to go after this one before the trip is done.

Steve Leinwand

I started my morning at 8:15 with Steve Leinwand. I've seen Steve present plenty of times, and I think I was going less because I need to hear his message and more because I want to relate to the other people hearing his message so we can be on the same page. The topic was high school mathematics reform, or "invigorating high school math," as Steve and his co-author Eric Milou describe it. Steve didn't get into a lot of the nuts and bolts of what his ideal high school math would look like. That's not really Steve's style, and besides, he's written a book for that. Instead, what Steve does so well, is he gives an audience a moment to say to themselves, "See, I'm not crazy. Things are as in need of radical change as I thought they were, and Steve agrees with me." Validation like that can give ideas momentum, even if the ideas haven't been completely spelled out.

Mary Mooney

Following the session I ran into some of the Colorado crew: John from Greeley, Katie from Englewood, and the trio from Adams 12, Amanda, Stephanie, and Sherri. We reflected on what we'd seen and looked at what else we wanted to see. I was about to head to another session but ran into April Pforts and Mary Mooney, two of my ASSM colleagues. We talked right through the session, and I was thankful for it. Even though we'd just spent four days together at our own conference, there's still plenty we can share and learn with each other. Sometimes those moments are better than what's in the printed program, and this was one of those moments for me.

Rachel Lambert, University of California Santa Barbara

Together, we all shuffled off into a packed room to see Rachel Lambert talk about UDL math, which is — as Rachel simply puts it — her attempt at bringing together the principles of universal design for learning with mathematics. This is very much a work in progress, and I think it showed in the way Rachel relied on UDL examples that weren't math examples. I think we all have a responsibility for this work, even if all we do sometimes is to take the time to listen to our students who struggle and try to learn from them what it is about how we've designed our math classrooms that impedes their efforts to learn.

Ryan Gillespie, University of Idaho

I picked out a session in the afternoon that was the result of an NSF-funded project to develop the capacity and skills of mathematics coaches. It was led by Cynthia Callard and Jennifer Kruger of the Univeristy of Rochester and Ryan Gillespie of the University of Idaho. When the project was proposed about six years ago, it was rather innovative to rely on videoconferencing software for mentor coach and mentee coach interactions, and with the pandemic they watched what seemed innovative one day become commonplace the next. I think my main takeaway from the session was that their biggest success was simply making the program exist and giving it some structure. Coaching coaches while coaches were coaching teachers, and organizing them into video clubs with a process to help look for issues, is no easy feat. I suspect the research articles will describe some other details about coach-coach interactions that we didn't hear about in the session.

The rest of the day was spent in our regional caucuses and the business meeting. I connected with some other members from Idaho and Arizona in the region meeting and caught up with Amber, the math specialist from Cherry Creek. At the business meeting, NCSM leadership was happy to report that conference registrations exceeded expectations and their budget is well in the black this year. That was great news after paying a stiff penalty last year for canceling the conference in Atlanta. The large participation has been evident with how full some sessions have been. Peter Liljedahl's session was so full they shut the doors and turned people away, and thankfully Peter has agreed to return tomorrow to repeat the session for those who missed it.

Play ball!

I spent the evening at the ballpark watching the Oakland A's take on the Los Angeles Angels. I left at the seventh inning stretch, though, as the game was running long and I was running low on energy. Today was another 15,000+ step day and I was up late last night. Tomorrow, I think I'll go to Peter Liljedahl's repeat session , and that will wrap up NCSM for me as I make the way to Los Angeles for NCTM later in the day.