Notes on the 2016 ASSM Annual Meeting

Prior to getting my new job as Colorado's mathematics specialist, I didn't know there was an Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics (ASSM). Such a group does indeed exist, with almost 200 members, and I joined them for our Annual Meeting in San Francisco in advance of the NCTM Annual Meeting and NCTM/NCSM pre-conferences. You can think of this as a pre-pre-conference, if you'd like, and it consisted of long days in hotel meeting rooms with some pretty good activities and speakers. Here's my rundown with some notes (more photos are here):

Friday, April 8

  1. New Member Orientation (Dewey Gottlieb): It's always important for organizations to make a good impression on new members, and ASSM has the good fortune of having Dewey Gottlieb be the one welcoming me and the other new members this year.
  2. PAEMST Coordinator Meeting (Diana Kasbaum): One of the duties that I share with Colorado's science content specialist is the coordination of recognizing the best math and science teachers in the state of Colorado. In this session, I got to know more about the program and some tips on how to select state finalists.
  3. Gail Burrill
    President's Welcome (Diana Suddreth) and Opening Keynote, "Mathematics Education at the State Level: What Matters Most" (Gail Burrill): After some opening remarks from Diana Suddreth (UT), ASSM President, Gail Burrill gave an excellent talk that, if I read between the lines a bit, went like this: "Hey! There's some messed up stuff out there in math education, and you all are in positions to help do something about it." Gail didn't deliver her talk in a pessimistic or accusatory way, but there was certainly a call-to-action feel for it that was greatly appreciated.
  4. Reception and Talk (Karen Greenhaus): The evening reception was sponsored by Casio and Karen Greenhaus gave a talk that was 95% about uses of ed tech in mathematics and maybe 5% about Casio.

Saturday, April 9

  1. Breakfast and Talk (George Khachatryan): George is a co-founder of ReasoningMind and he talked to us about his love of mathematics and the roles software can play in helping us learn.
  2. Business Meeting, Part 1: We reviewed, amended, and approved the minutes of the last meeting.
  3. "Action-Oriented Leadership Pedagogy Focused on Equity and Excellence in Mathematics" (Susie HÃ¥kansson): Susie gave an overview of equity issues in mathematics education, and referred to the new TODOS/NCSM joint position paper on equity.
  4. "Exploring the Imperative for Mathematics Education: Content Knowledge (Hung Hsi Wu): Wu's talk targeted what he called "Textbook School Mathematics," or TSM. In Wu style, he dug deep into the mathematics that we ask students to engage in and picked apart bits that are taught for reasons that have more to do with tradition than with standards, research, or good pedagogy. I was a little concerned that Wu was making a blanket judgment of textbooks, treating them all as equally good or bad, or that anyone seeing tweets of his talk would construe his message that way. Wu certainly wasn't saying that the solution lies in tossing out all textbooks, regardless of quality; instead, he was suggesting a massive effort to prepare a corps of elementary math specialists who have the pedagogical content knowledge to break with poor practices of the past. While listening to Wu I couldn't help but be reminded of Sfard's attention to processes and objects, Windschtil's "folk theories,", Erlwanger's "disaster studies", and Nix the Tricks.
  5. Lunch talk sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (David Dockterman): My memory is pretty fuzzy, but I seem to remember some talk of mindsets and number sense.
  6. "National Assessment of Educational Progress Update and Data Release" (Kim Gattis): This talk about the NAEP was just the kind of thing that's very applicable to those of us in these jobs, especially if we also do assessment work in our state departments.
  7. "Key Issues and Opportunities for ESSA and Life After the Mathematics and Science Partnerships" (Diane Briars and Ken Krehbiel): This update from NCTM leadership keyed us in on some aspects of ESSA with implications for math education, as well as some new initiatives and directions that we can expect from NCTM.
  8. "The Future of Engagement in Mathematics" (Eli Luberoff): Eli talked about how technology facilitates learning in mathematics, and engaged us all in a demo of Marbleslides.

Sunday, April 10

  1. Breakfast talk from Corwin Mathematics (Linda Gojak and Erin Null): After a mad scramble to get to the conference (I didn't realize BART didn't run early on Sundays, so I quickly found a train/bus combination), I arrived in time to see some of the Common Core teacher guides that Linda Gojak has been working on.
  2. Business Meeting, Part 2: This short meeting was a quick rundown of ASSM's budget and finances.
  3. "Mathematics Alignment Modules: Supporting the Professional Learning of Assessment Item Authors and Reviewers" (Shelbi Cole and Astrid Fossum): The title of this breakout session is somewhat self-explanatory, I think, and we referred to this document from CCSSO.
  4. Lunch talk sponsored by Big Ideas Learning (Denise McDowell and Mary Quadrini): More on mindsets.
  5. "Revising College- and Career-Ready Standards" (Deb Romanek, Joleigh Honey, and Robin Hill): This may have been the most valuable session for me, as it was great to hear about the experiences and get some advice from other math leaders who have or are revising their standards. My favorite quote from Deb: "We don't have new standards, we have revised standards, and I'm still waiting to fully implement the 1989 NCTM standards."
    Deb Romanek, Joleigh Honey, and Robin Hill
  6. "Principles, Principals, and District Leaders: Affecting Change in Mathematics Education" (Jennifer Curtis and Chris Avila): This talk had relevance to the Research + Practice Collaboratory, who awarded me a travel fellowship to help pay for the trip. There was talk I've heard before, such as the need for shared goals and responsibilities, and the design and use of tools to facilitate work, but I believe it was Chris who made the comment, "Everybody is about frameworked out," referring to the multitude of curriculum frameworks, PD frameworks, accountability frameworks, and other similar tools that education leaders are currently dealing with. That's not an easily solved problem, I don't think.
  7. "Pursuing Coherence" (Diana Suddreth and Dewey Gottlieb): Diana and Dewey's talk looked at right and wrong drivers of our work and how the affect coherence, based on work by Michael Fullan.
  8. "Coaching for Change" (Lucy West): Tired and hungry, I was fading by this point, but Lucy was still enjoyable to listen to. As an administrator in New York City, she oversaw the implementation of a massive coaching program. If I remember one story correctly, she said she was asked to find and hire 1800 qualified coaches to work in schools, to which she replied, "If there were 1800 qualified people out there ready to hire, we wouldn't have the problems we have." That meant for her, she had to design a focused and scalable coaching support system to help the coaches as the coaches did their work of helping teachers.

Monday, April 11

Dan Meyer
  1. Breakfast sponsored by CPM (Elizabeth Coyner): It's no secret that I taught using CPM, attended their summer workshops, and supported their status as a not-for-profit publisher. For these reasons, I feel I can offer a critique here, as I had a rather negative reaction to the very glossy promo videos we were shown. Maybe it's just me, but they came across as too polished and inauthentic and I worry they detract from the decades of curriculum design work CPM has done with teachers.
  2. Business Meeting, Part 3: The last of our 3-part business meeting mostly dealt with leadership recognitions and election results.
  3. "Scaling Up Digital Design Studies" (Jere Confrey): Jere did a wonderful job laying out a framework for understanding the landscape of educational technology. She organized tools into six categories, with pros and cons: (1) e-textbooks (2) rich and engaging problems (pro: interactivity, like Dan's work with Desmos; con: not clear how to sequence into a curriculum, no practice problems), (3) dynamic tools (like Desmos calculator, Tinkerplots, Fathom, Sketchpad, etc.), (4) OER resources (pro: can be creative and they're free; con: not sure how to sequence, fragmented, inconsistent, uncertain shelf-life, quality varies widely), (5) digital learning systems (like from Carnegie Learning, Khan Academy, etc.; pros: full-service; cons: often expensive, non-extensible), and (6) analytics system tools.
  4. "Math, Education, and Technology: Reasons for Pessimism and Optimism" (Dan Meyer): Dan's admitting that his thinking about technology is now at the same level of concern as he thinks about mathematics and education. In this talk, he described the high bar we should set for our math ed tech, and went into some details about where we're currently falling short.
  5. Conclusion of the Annual Meeting: My goodness, ASSM likes to give prizes, recognitions, and gifts to people. Not that it's a bad thing — in this group, people have a pretty good idea what each other are struggling with, and this is a way of showing each other support. We also heard a little bit about plans for next year's ASSM meeting in San Antonio.
Whew. Twenty-five sessions/events attended in less than 72 hours. I had no real desire to eclipse my record of 40 sessions attended in a conference trip, but at this rate with two conferences still to go that was sure to happen. Before I get ahead of myself, let me wrap up with one big positive takeaway and one big negative takeaway from my ASSM experience:

2016 ASSM Annual Meeting group photo

Positive: It was great to meet so many people who share jobs like mine. There really is no other place or organization like ASSM where I can do this. From starting the meeting with Dewey and Diana, to walking to the BART station after the closing with David and Robbyn, I really enjoyed getting to talk to people.

Dewey Gottlieb

Negative: The ASSM Annual Meeting is, by my standards, a very commercial-feeling, sponsor-driven affair. Yes, sponsors are asked to avoid blatantly making sales pitches during the meals they pay for, and most were pretty good doing so. I just happen to have an extremely low tolerance for these kinds of things. Part of it is a matter personal principle, and another part is a sense I've developed in the research world for maintaining one's independence and integrity. For me, that meant choosing not to eat any of the meals I was offered (some costing sponsors more than $100 a person) or taking any of the free materials. (Dewey, thanks for all the little Hawaiian candies at the tables — those calories kept me going!) I totally understand that ASSM needs to keep conference costs under control, and hosting a conference in downtown San Francisco is really expensive. For that, sponsors, I thank you — had registration costs been higher, I may not have attended. I also thank and appreciate the work of Tom Muchlinski, the primary ASSM member who works with sponsors, as he clearly has a more advanced set of skills than I do for this sort of thing. But I feel like the work of ASSM is in the public's interest and I wish it was sustained with public support. Sadly, our state budgets aren't designed to finance these kinds of events, so if I continue to attend the ASSM Annual Meeting I'll have to do so while wrestling with my conscience on an empty stomach.