"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!