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.

An Organizational Perspective: ASSM Day 4, Costa Mesa

The 2021-2022 ASSM Board of Directors

The final day of the Annual Meeting of the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics was a short one, with two sessions of board business and two big presentations. We finished at noon to give people time to travel home or get to NCSM, if they hadn't left already.

Mike Steele

President Joleigh Honey led us through the first business meeting portion before handing things over to Mike Steele, who presented a session to get us thinking about how we can leverage state systems to help modernize mathematics learning opportunities for students. In a twist, he used some deficit framing to start his talk, and acknowledged doing so to help establish some contrast for the asset-based approaches that we'd be thinking about the rest of the session. There was some thought-provoking ways in which standards are positioned in the work that we do as state supervisors of mathematics, and I'm eager to go back to his slides and references and dig into that a little deeper.

Kyndall Brown

Our final presentation was by Kyndall Brown, the executive director of the California Mathematics Project. California is a large state with multiple layers to its school support networks, and there are many ways these work with their NCTM affiliate, CMC (which itself has multiple parts and events), and other organizations to improve math teaching and learning statewide. Sometimes the efforts are at a high policy level, such as the state math frameworks, and sometimes they operate on a small, local level, like a scaled-up lesson study project that takes the experience of single students as its focal point. Few of us have the size or number of resources as California, but all of us have some people and some organizational assets ("organizational assets" was the conference theme of the day) that can operate on a similar, if not scaled-down, fashion in our states.

New ASSM President Lisa Ashe

The last bit of business was to thank the outgoing board members and pass leadership of the organization to the new board members, including our new president, Lisa Ashe of North Carolina. As Joleigh mentioned, Lisa has been operating more like a co-president rather than a typical president-elect, so this is going to be a smooth transition. Lisa is also the first African American to be president of ASSM, so it's a wonderful accomplishment for her and a sign of progress for our organization. Lisa's first act was to gavel the meeting closed. See you next year in Washington, D.C.!

Getting Interpersonal: ASSM Day 3, Costa Mesa


Problem solvers solving problems

Today at the ASSM Annual Meeting, we elevated yesterday's theme of personal assets to become a theme of interpersonal assets. We'd get to that soon enough, but first, we started the day with some math. I don't know what it's like in other content areas, but it's seen as good practice to take on a math task or two in any sort of professional development with math teachers and educators, and for the most part, we really enjoy it.

Mary Mooney (WI) and Anne Wallace (NH)

After a break, we transitioned to participating in two Potentials of Practice. This was an opportunity for two members, one in an elementary group and another in a secondary group, to pose an issue that is challenging them while the rest of us listened before participating in a structured discussion to help bring clarity. The secondary group tackled a communication issue while the elementary group (I think, as I wasn't in that group) dealt with negotiating some tensions between teaching practices and assessment practices. It felt like a great example of using our interpersonal assets, as we all share similar challenges yet there's enough diversity across the group that new ideas could come to the surface.

Megan Franke

We stayed in elementary and secondary groups as we moved to breakout sessions, something we used sparingly in this year's program. Both leveraged assets local to the Los Angeles area. Megan Franke of UCLA joined us for a session called "Supporting the Mathematical Brilliance of Young People," in which we watched some amazing examples of student reasoning and learned the results of recent research that involved interviews of almost 500 preschoolers. Some of the key findings: Students are better at counting if there's some purpose to their counting. Researchers assumed that students could count further if asked to simply count out loud than if they were asked to count objects, but the opposite turned out to be true. And when given 8 little plastic bears to count, lined up in a row, the students showed less counting skill than when given 31 pennies to count from a pile. Maybe it shouldn't surprise us at this point, but this feels like another instance where the more authentic the task, the more students seem to shine.

Brian Lawler

In the secondary breakout session, Brian Lawler, Bryan Meyer, and Abi Leaf described their multi-year efforts at high school math reform in a session called, "Designing a System to Provoke Change - in Actions and Beliefs." I've seen them present multiple times before, so I spent more time in Megan's session, but I know they were able to synthesize and reflect on some things and I'm hoping to hear more about what they presented.

Rachel Lambert

The afternoon returned to sharing perspectives about what being an ASSM member means. To some people, it means an awful lot and they seem happy to share it. These moments tend to swing towards the emotional and away from the informational, which doesn't interest me, but not everything at a conference has to be for me. From there, we went right into a session that I think is going to stick with people for a long time. Rachel Lambert presented "Equitable Systems of Mathematics," but it could have been named something like, "Special Education Mathematics Instruction is Broken." Rachel is a great presenter and a straight shooter, and the evidence she presented made it clear that this really isn't a problem inherent in individual educators, either in the regular math classroom or in special education settings. It's really the interaction of many interpersonal and systemic factors, not the least of which is a seemingly incompatible set of theoretical perspectives driving practices on the two sides.

Shannon Olson (UT)

There's just a half day left of this year's ASSM Annual Meeting. It's gone by quickly and I think a lot of that comes from having such a tight program with high-quality sessions. And tomorrow's presenters aren't likely to be any different. Then it's on to Anaheim and NCSM.

Pondering Personal Assets: ASSM Day 2, Costa Mesa

The 2022 ASSM group photo. (Thanks for the photo-taking assist, Ken Krehbiel!)

I was a little skeptical when we the program committee discussed possible themes for this year's ASSM Annual Meeting, mostly because I've been to a lot of good conferences where the theme began and ended with a single line on the cover of the program book. And they were still good conferences! But thankfully, the other members of the program committee were more optimistic than I was, and they came up with a theme that focused on asset-based perspectives. Not only that, but we tried to tweak the theme for each day and have sessions to match. The theme for today was personal assets and we were on track right from the start.

Dr. Patrick Callahan of Math ANEX

Patrick Callahan gave a great session called, "Asset-based Assessments: Design and Systemic Impacts." Honestly, there's some low-hanging fruit here that works great for getting an audience of educators on the same page. The way we assess students -- with standardized and standardized-styled test, especially -- reflect deficit-based perspectives on what students know, or more accurately, don't know. Patrick had some really great examples, one of which was a composite area problem that could be solved by finding the sum of the area of two rectangles. When students get such a problem incorrect, and we don't look any further, we conclude students didn't learn. But when Patrick led us through a study of students' most common wrong answers, you got a much better idea of what students were bringing to the problem. Now, of course, nothing is perfect. Students who leave the answer blank or write "idk" still don't give you much to work with. But students who understand its a composite area problem but make a computational mistake are in a very different place than a student who multiplies all the dimensions together because they know when it comes to areas and rectangles, multiplying the length of the sides is how to get an answer. Along with some other helpful examples, Patrick helped us all think about better ways to use assessment results to focus on what students know, rather than what they don't.

Assistant Secretary Roberto J. Rodriguez

One of the perks of being in ASSM is that we bring in high-ranking people who understand our roles as state-level specialists who bridge the worlds of policy and practice. For this year's meeting, we were joined by Roberto J. Rodriguez, Assistant Secretary of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education. He covered a number of different national priorities and challenges, such as improving teacher recruiting and retention, the impact of the latest NAEP scores, and how the current culture wars are distracting from the good work that's being done and more good work that needs to be done. ASSM members use these visits to help press the USDOE on some issues, like the need for fresh approaches to accountability post-NCLB and why PAEMST awardees don't get more recognition.

NCSM President Paul Gray

We also received a visit from Trena Wilkerson, the president of NCTM, and Paul Gray, the president of NCSM. We got a sneak peek at an upcoming project that looks to build on the ideas of Catalyzing Change, and you can expect more to be shared as the week progresses and as work gets underway. We also got to see some of the new and upcoming publications coming from NCTM, and heard that they'll be refreshing their advocacy toolkit.

NCTM President Trena Wilkerson

Trena stuck around to deliver a second session, titled "Developing, Strengthening and Supporting Mathematics Instructional Systems Through Asset-Based Approaches." Again, fitting the theme for the day, we had time to listen, learn, and share with other members some of the ways we can recognize and build from the assets students bring to the classroom.

Christine Koerner (OK) and Diana Kasbaum (WI)

Lastly, we also took a few moments throughout the day to conduct ASSM business and reflect on our organization at 60 years old. Diana Kasbaum of Wisconsin shared some of her reflections, and Anne Mikesell of Ohio led an "In Memoriam" moment for a former member who passed last year. There's a timeline on the wall with some artifacts of annual meetings gone by, like copies of some old programs and other materials people gathered from past events. We each added ourselves to the timeline to mark when we each joined, and it's a skewed distribution, as you'd expect. I'm inching towards the veteran group at almost 7 years being a member, but that's a long way from the likes of Steve Leinwand and Cathy Seeley, who've been active for more than 30 years.

Back on the Conference Circuit: ASSM Day 1, Costa Mesa

Do I remember how to do this? Both the traveling and the blogging?
I'm in Costa Mesa, California, for the first in my tripleheader of math education conferences, the Annual Meeting of the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics. If you're not familiar with ASSM, that's okay. It's a small professional organization only open to people who have a job like mine, or to associate members who used to have a job like mine. For me, ASSM has the highest percentage of friendly faces and the most sympathetic ears of all the conferences I attend.
It was a challenging travel day. Security lines at Denver International Airport wrapped around the building, then our plane broke and we had to get a replacement crew. We finally were in the air after a 2.5-hour delay. Then I single-handedly battled California car culture by walking from the airport to the hotel. Navigating away from the airport on foot was a bit tricky and I admit there's not much beauty in walking alongside 10 lanes of traffic, but I'm glad I did it. If nothing else, it's a good way to get in lots of steps and it helped me deal with the carbon on my conscience after a flight.
With the delays, I missed the first half of the opening session of the ASSM meeting. When I got there, Steve Leinwand and Cathy Seeley were holding court, sharing stories from their many years of membership in ASSM, and sharing wisdom about what we can get from our time in ASSM and what opportunities we have to pay it forward. ASSM turns 60 this year and I enjoy math ed history, so I hope to hear more tales before the weekend is done.