Notes on the 2016 NCTM Research Conference

Following my participation in 25 sessions at the ASSM Annual Meeting, the second leg of my big San Francisco conference trip was the NCTM Research Conference. As usual, the Research Conference overlapped with the NCSM Conference. There are a lot of good reasons to go to NCSM, but I figured that I'd take advantage of still having one foot firmly planted in the research world and get as much out of the RC as I could. (See here for more pictures.)

Monday, April 11

Cynthia Langrall
  1. "JRME: A Tale of Unicorns, Mastodons, and Ants" (Cynthia Langrall): In past years NCTM has had an opening plenary speaker from outside math education, but this year we were entertained by a — dare I say — fun talk by Cynthia Langrall about her perspectives on the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education (JRME). I saved my weird question for her until after she left the stage: "Why are NCTM article URLs so long, and why aren't there DOIs for the articles?" (Typical me, paying attention to details but probably not the details others are paying attention to.) Answer: NCTM isn't exactly Springer or Elsevier when it comes to journal publishing and it takes longer for them to figure these things out. Anyway, I made a personal recording of this talk and plan on listening to it again.

Tuesday, April 12

  1. "Activity and Impact of Elementary Mathematics Specialists in Rural Schools" (Patricia Campbell and Matt Griffin): This research involved hierarchical linear modeling and a bunch of statistical results that I didn't fully understand, but I did understand these findings: there was a tendency for math specialists to take on more non-specialist duties from Year 1 to Year 2 of the study, and no good reason to think more bus duty increases student math achievement.
  2. "Designing Professional Development to Support Teachers in Learning Trajectory-Based Instruction" (Jennifer Kobrin and Nicole Panorkou): In this session, Nicole described PD that included teacher task ranking activities, strategy identification activities, and video analysis, all designed to help teachers elicit and interpret student thinking in a geometry unit based on a learning progression on area. I'm not sure the learning trajectory focus came out in the session, as it felt like it could have just as easily been framed as a mathematics knowledge for teaching (MKT) session instead.
  3. "Research on Math Teacher Education in an Online Multimedia Environment" (Wendy Rose Aaron, Emina Alibegovic, Joel Amidon, Sandra Crespo, Amanda Milewski, Kristi Hanby, Crystal Kalinec-Craig, and Alyson Lischka): It's a LessonSketch party! In various ways, all the presenters used LessonSketch to help conduct some kind of online teacher education or professional development.

    Wendy Rose Aaron
  4. "Examining the Impact of Multiple Representations on Students' Achievement" (Raymond Flores, Fethi Inan, and Sunyoung Han): I'm always intrigued by negative results, so when this session description said their study showed an algorithm-focused approach outperformed an approach with multiple representations, I was interested. While that was indeed the finding, the study methodology was relatively weak: it was only a two-week study using a cross-over design (half the students got algorithms for a week, while the other have explored representations, and then they switched for another week).
  5. "Cracking Her Codes: Investigating Technology Boundary Objects Using Interaction Analysis" (Gretchen Matthews, Nicole Bannister, and Amber Simpson): I'm a fan of both cryptography and the theory of boundary objects, so this session drew me in. The presenters were clear that they were still in the thick of analyzing data and applying theory to it, and there was some good discussion about how boundary objects may and may not work well, and what some theoretical alternatives might be.
  6. "A Unified Framework of Teachers' Conceptions of Learning and Assessment" (Raymond Johnson, Frederick Peck, Derek Briggs, Jessica Alzen) Fred and I presented some findings of our work with CADRE, in which we noticed teachers having conceptions of learning and assessment that varied between what we called a "count up points" conception and a "developmental progression" conception. Fred did a great job with the first draft of our paper and we got some good feedback at the session, so I think this is something I'll be able to talk more about in the future.
  7. "Understanding Changes in Novice Teachers' Social Networks" (Anne Garrison Wilhelm and Dawn Woods) I met with some Reasearch + Practice Collaboratory during the poster session (they awarded me a travel fellowship to attend the conference) so I missed out on most of the posters, but did sneak in some time with Anne to talk about how new teachers often leave old advice networks behind in favor of smaller networks they build in their schools.

Wednesday, April 13

  1. "Examining the Impact of Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Coaches" (Patricia Campbell, James Tarr, Corey Webel, Kim Markworth, and Lynsey Gibbons): This symposium brought together a number of people who study specialists and coaches, and some of what I got out of it was simply a better understanding of different coaching models, such as team teaching and co-teaching. One surprising result: When time was tracked, sending elementary students to a different teacher for math actually took less transition time than having math with the same teacher in a self-contained classroom. However, self-contained teachers have more flexibility with their time and can extend math lessons in ways that can't be done as easily with specialists.

    Lynsey Gibbons
  2. "How Research into Second-Language Learning Might Be Useful to Mathematics Educators" (Brent Davis): This was the big plenary talk of the conference, where I became introduced to the great work of Brent Davis. I recorded it for Sam Otten's Math Ed Podcast so you can listen to the talk yourself if you'd like.

    Brent Davis
  3. "Measuring and Supporting the Improvement of Mathematics Teaching at Scale" (Mary Kay Stein, Richard Correnti, and Katelyn Kelly): In this session, "scale" means "state-wide," as the work involved getting some understanding of math teaching across the state of Tennessee for grades 4 through 8. They're using what they call "quadrant theory," where one dimension of the quadrant is divided into high and low opportunities for students to struggle meaningfully with mathematics, and the second dimension is divided into high and low attention to mathematical concepts. It's a bit of a gamble to boil down the quality of teaching into something so coarse, but it really helps to do this work at scale. It also leads to interesting thinking about teachers in each of the four quadrants, such as those who give a lot of attention to concepts but don't let students struggle with them.
    Stein and Correnti's "Quadrant Theory"
  4. "Measuring Teachers' Beliefs in Relation to Standards for Mathematical Practice" (Iris Riggs, Davida Fischman, Matt Riggs, Madeleine Jetter, and Joseph Jesunathadas): Development and validation of research instruments is really important, but do you know what I liked best about this session? The presenters were clearly enjoying themselves and I had fun watching them. That counts for something, right?
Positive: I didn't attend anything specific to teaching statistics, but there was quite a bit to choose from if I'd chosen to. It's really good to see the research community increase its stats education efforts because we have a lot to learn about stats ed if we're going to shift high school and college pathways to engage more students in statistics.

Negative: With NCSM in Oakland and the RC in San Francisco, the conference felt quite small this year. It just wasn't possible for people to quickly slip back and forth between the two venues.

Neutral?: Remember all that talk of "Grand Challenges" at last year's conference? I heard not one peep about it this year. Maybe that's a lost opportunity, but from the sessions I attended last year I didn't come away feeling very positive that a grand challenge was going to mobilize the organization. Math ed has plenty of challenges, whether we label them grand or not, and when the right one comes along we can be ready for it.