Notes on the 2016 NCTM Annual Meeting

Following 25 sessions at the ASSM Annual Meeting and 12 more at the NCTM Research Conference, it was finally time for the big conference, the 2016 NCTM Annual Meeting and Exposition. While I pride myself in attending a lot of sessions, this year I needed a chunk of time on Thursday to finish preparing a session of my own, and on Friday I made a trip to the Exploratorium to see the museum and to visit my colleague and friend, Sara Heredia. Due to snow and Denver and a canceled flight, I got a chance to see San Francisco on a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon. But before all that, here are the sessions I attended, counting on from ASSM and the Research Conference (with more pictures here):

Wednesday, April 13

A fisheye view of the opening session
  1. Opening Keynote: "Inspiring Change: Creating the Next Generation of Mathematics Leaders and Learners" (Eric Jolly): I had never heard of Eric Jolly, but his bio made it clear he was the opening keynote more for his speaking ability and less his ties to mathematics education. His keynote was interesting, mixing fables, Cherokee lore, live basket weaving, and an optimistic story involving Hitler. Elements of the basket weaving were the best, and illustrative of how when we bring more people from different backgrounds into mathematics, our collective understanding and perspective of mathematics grows from their experiences.

Thursday, April 14

  1. "Discourse 3.0: Assembling Discourse, Access and Equity, and a Culture of Professionalism" (Beth Herbel-Eisenmann): Quite a few well-respected researchers have focused on classroom discourse over the past few years, but Beth and her colleagues are the only ones I know of who have paid particular attention to discourse at the high school level. We watched video of a teacher executing some pretty solid talk moves, and Beth announced that she'd just inked a publishing deal for a set of professional development materials aimed at high school math teachers.
  2. "Modeling Your Way to Understanding with Realistic Mathematics Education (Raymond Johnson, Fred Peck, and David Webb): That's me! Fred and I ran a workshop that used RME's perspectives on "modeling as organizing" (as opposed to "modeling as translation") and used a progression of tasks with polynomials with a room full of high school teachers. The session was a great reminder to me that RME is unknown to most teachers, and there's little reason I shouldn't continue to keep spreading the word in the future. This is also something I hope to write about in the future, so keep your eyes open for that.
The RME session Fred Peck and I did with many HS teachers

Friday, April 15

Uri Treisman
  1. "The Learning Mindset Movement and Its Implications for Addressing Opportunity Gaps" (Uri Treisman): This is the second time I've heard Treisman talk about mindsets, and I have a great appreciation for how he takes a view that goes beyond Carol Dweck's work and beyond simply fixed vs. growth. He's also not shy about describing the limitations of this work, something that I think might have been under-discussed in the mindset movement.
Exploratorium visit: I usually don't sneak away from conferences, but my friend Sara Heredia is a researcher there and she offered to give Fred and I a little tour if we came to visit. How could I pass that up? The exhibits were cool, but even better was watching Sara have fun like all the kids there, showing Fred and me what fun we could have surrounded by all kinds of math and science.

Sara Heredia showing off the giant mirror at the Exploratorium
  1. "A Brief History of Math Education: Lessons for Today" (Matt Larson): This was my first time seeing Matt Larson talk and I can say with confidence that I'm really looking forward to his leadership as president of NCTM. This talk looked at almost 200 years of cycles of math reform, in which calls for better outcomes drive new curriculum and methods, only to be pushed back by those with more traditional views. Larson asked us to all be "foot soldiers" in the battle for better mathematics instruction, and the strong language reveals the passion Larson brings to his leadership.
    Matt Larson
  2. "Build Capacity through Lesson Study" (Megan Gundogdu and Nicora Placa): I'd never met Nicora, and I'd never heard anyone talk about an attempt to really implement lesson study, so I'm extra-glad I attended this talk. In a new K-8 school in New York City, Megan, an assistant principal, and Nicora, a grad student and consultant, worked with elementary teachers to design, implement, and reflect/redesign lessons in a lesson study style. My favorite part: The lessons the group worked on weren't just taught by the teachers. Some of them were taught by Megan or Nicora while the teachers observed. Between this level of shared participation and responsibility and some efforts to shift school schedules and work structures, I thought this was an excellent example of the kind of work needed to make reforms like this stick.
  3. "ShadowCon 2016" (ShadowCon Speakers): I missed the first couple of speakers, but found a seat in the back row to see the last four speakers at ShadowCon. I tend to gravitate towards the informational rather than the inspirational, so I'm not sure that Ignite sessions and ShadowCon talks are really meant for me, but I still really like the idea of the event (although the name is silly and the event doesn't feel shadowy at all) and I wouldn't be opposed to having it morph into the NCTM Opening Keynote.

Saturday, April 16

  1. "How Research Can Impact Curricular Decisions in a K–12 Classroom" (Lori Hamada and Elizabeth Gamino): There were a lot of good-looking 8 am sessions, but I resisted attending one from a speaker I knew and instead went to this one because I'm very interested in how people take up research in classrooms. This session ended up with a table-full of attendees, mostly elementary teachers, and we watched video of some first-grade students first without any framework for discussion, and then using a framework that appeared in Teaching Children Mathematics, NCTM's elementary teacher journal. The article was based primarily on the Mathematics Recovery work from Austrailia.
  2. "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying the Math Curriculum" (Jason Zimba): It's politically difficult to highlight things that need to be cut from the curriculum, but it's pedagogically necessary if we expect to keep improving over time using limited time and resources. Jason Zimba described a number of examples, such as to avoid teaching too many methods for solving a problem, or treating all those methods equally. Also, procedures are for procedural tasks, not for making sense of concepts (like the vertical line test).
    An example of Zimba's advice to save the procedures for the procedural
  3. "Facilitating Meaningful Mathematical Discourse" (Megan Staples and Sherryl King): Why do I go to so many discourse sessions? Because I always felt my questioning strategies and discourse moves as a teacher were in need of improvement. I figure the more examples I see and the more experts I listen to, I stand a better chance of improving my skills with practice and Staple's expertise has impressed me ever since I read her 2007 article in Cognition and Instruction.
  4. "The Future: The Energized Educator" (Hill Harper): Could it be? Could it really be the end of the conference? It was, and it came with a high-energy speech about the need for energy to transforms institutions, people, and ourselves.
With my Saturday flight canceled, I found some Twitter friends to have lunch with (thanks again, Casey!) and then set off on a 9-mile walking tour of San Francisco: First down market to the Ferry Building, then along The Embarcadero and the Bay to Fishermans Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, then up the steep hills to the curvy bit of Lombard street and down Leavenworth Street all the way back to the Powell Street BART station.

Yerba Buena gardens


Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco sunset