I am rather late to the gate with these thoughts, in large part because I drove (well, rode my motorcycle) to St. Louis from Reno, which took 4 days to get home. More on that in a different post when I do the math from the trip video.
If you ask one of the teachers from my department about me, one thing almost all of them will say or agree with is that I hate paper. I hate paper note, paper suggestions, paper anything. I ask my department to submit everything to me through email, because I lose paper notes, throw away binders, and just downright hate keeping track of paper.
With that said, I admit I took 11 pages of notes, kept track of them through 4 days of a conference, and 2000 miles of motorcycle riding. This event meant that much to me, and that is saying a lot.
I am going to start on day 1 and work through all my notes. I am composing this more for myself than anyone else. Like all of my reflective posts, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else ever reads them. This is the place where I reflect and compose my thoughts for my future self (because if I do it on paper, it gets thrown away!)
Wednesday – A personal exploration:
To say I was nervous on Wednesday would be an understatement. I had just ridden 1900 miles over three days to meet with a group of people I had never met and only talked to through twitter, emails and blogs. Yea, I was nervous. You see, I am an incredible introvert. I attended a NCTM conference my first year as a teacher with 2 other teachers from my school. At the end of the conference, I had spoken with exactly 3 people in a meaningful way, 2 of which came with me. I attended sessions and sat in the back. I wandered the floor and just kind of nodded and said the minimum I had to.
At that point I realized that if I was going to become a half way decent teacher, I had to overcome this fear of putting myself out there. Even riding my motorcycle to the event is a sign of my hesitance to talk to people. I was riding alone, where the only conversation going on was inside my helmet. If I flew I might have to actually talk to someone (although I usually don’t when I fly, either.) This has been my most difficult challenge as a teacher, because it is so incredibly easy to just stay in my room and never reach out. I used to actually have it on my to do list every week, “Make contact with other teachers.” I don’t any more, but the tendencies remain.
So I walked into the hotel dirty and sweaty from riding in the heat and the first thing that happens is Lisa H. tries to give me a hug! Okay, ice broken, I can deal and grow.
After a shower so I was feeling like a human being again, a group of us walked up to the nearby mall and had a nice dinner at a southwestern restaurant and chatted. It was nice, and it gave me a chance to get to know people in a very casual way. It definitely was the right thing to do. I did think about staying in the hotel and sleeping, but decided otherwise. I am glad I did.
The actual events of the week after the break (warning it is long & detailed):
Thursday – Math & pizza:
Okay, onward to some math. In the morning we worked Exeter Math problems. I worked this day on the Math 3 problems. To say I am impressed with the Exeter problems is an understatement. It is clear that the problems spiral, are carefully designed to step the learner through the topics so they are discovering and explaining the easier steps as a means to accomplish the more difficult steps. The people I was working with were awesome, but I had questions on how the earlier problems were set up so decided that Friday I would work the Math 1 problems to see the progression.
A word of advice to any math teacher: Download Exeter Math 1, 2, 3. Read ALL the questions. Work selected problems. You won’t be disappointed.
In the afternoon we shared some “My Favorites” and then had some presentations by other teachers.
Some snippets and Favorites of mine from the “My Favorites”.
- Marshmallow Guns by Hedge. She posted how to make them here. They are fun, inexpensive and allow for data collection and probability up the wazoo.
- Elissa had an awesome insight. “2 Nice Things” Anytime anyone in her class says anything negative about someone, she fires back, “2 nice things” and the person that said the negative has to then say 2 nice things about that person as well. What an easy, fast and consistent way to create a positive learning environment. I love it.
- Shelli shared the impact the AVID program has had on her and her learners. It was really moving.
Next we got into the presentations.
Troy Stein, from TechSmith shared some difficulties his own kids have had learning, and then presented the SnagIt software package for making screencasts. It is incredibly easy to use and create really high quality screencasts. We actually all received a code so we can have a full copy for ourselves. Incredibly generous. Thank you so much. On the way home, I was telling my cousin this, and saying I was going to have to purchase a tablet so I can do some better screencasts and she gave me a Wacom Bamboo tablet. How generous is that! Now I have no excuses for working on some flipped classroom materials. It is going to happen. He also shared a website with us called Mathtrain.tv. It is a site for uploading videos that learners make. Very cool.
Next I went to Bowman’s presentation on using GeoGebra in the Classroom. I have used GeoGebra, and I like it. In fact, I won’t let our school purchase Geometers Sketchpad because GeoGebra is better in my opinion. I was interested to see how other people use it, and I was not disappointed. Bowman had some very nice tutorials (all posted on the wiki) that I will be directing my teachers to investigate. One use blew me away though, and that is combining, through the use of frames, GeoGebra and Google Forms. Imagine having a GeoGebra applet on the right, and questions relating to the applet on the left, and the learner can move the lines / dots/ sliders around and then answer questions. Beautiful. You can find full instructions by the person who thought of it, Dave Pugh, as well as a Handout giving instructions.
Finally, I attended James’ presentation on “Math Needs to be the Spark” on how he created interdisciplinary activities at his school and how he got the English, Social Studies and Science teachers on board. It was a very good presentation on how Math can be the spark to encourage the other disciplines to explore and create. One site he used is Walkscore.com, which measures your neighborhood’s “walkability”. I had to ask a really stupid question about a map similar to this map. It didn’t have the names on it, and it had many more little dots. I had to ask where Manhattan was on this map because the only thing I know about New York City is that Manhattan is in it somewhere. LOL. I felt stupid, but I had to ask. See, progress! Somehow, I don’t think I can use this site for Reno. My school is in the blue area circled, you know, the area that is solid Red, and is completely car dependent. The WalkScore for the North Valleys is 23, while downtown Reno is a 64. Good idea, but the Western US is not really set up for “Walkability” at all.
After the sessions, about 30 of us went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a tour. Let me just say the large scale production of alcoholic beverages is amazing. There is so much math in that place, and hardly any of it can be used in the classroom. So disappointed, intrigued, and amazed all at the same time.
Then we went to a restaurant called Pi Pizzeria. Yea, it was love. Pizza and Math. What more needs to be said other than 30 math teachers in a place that served Pizza and Math. I have a couple of nice things to use in the classroom and apparel from this particular, wonderful place. Yay. Although, I must admit we had a spirited discussion with some New Yorkers about whether the deep dish they serve is really pizza or not. We ended the discussion by agreeing you can’t compare New York and Chicago pizza, they are just too different.
Friday – Math & Baseball:
In the morning I switched over the Math 1 group. I really wanted to see where the problems started from and then develop towards. Again, I can not tell you how much I am impressed with the Exeter problems. The will have a really simple problem on one day. It seems almost throw away, it is so simple, and it has the instruction to “Explain Fully”. Heck, that explanation is simple. Wait, it is a little more complicated, …. okay the “fully explained” explanation is a bit more complicated than I thought at first, but it is done. Cool, move on to a more complex problem on the page.
Then look a day or two later, and BOOM! 2 problems that take that little explanation and now you have to expand on them in some complex scenarios. And then the next day you are working some very complicated problems based on the same, throw away, example. It is so cool to see the spiral and the very careful choosing that went on with the problem sets. I really would like a map of all the questions. It would take a long time to do, but it would be so worth it.
James showed us a board game he is creating on factoring radicals, and shared a company that creates the boardgames for you. It is called TheGameCrafter.com, and they will print your game, construct a box, and ship you the final product. Very cool. James has full instructions on the game on his site.
Next, Karim Ani gave a presentation on Mathalicious and using rich questions in class. Karim has come under fire recently for his critical comments on Kahn, and I think the entire thing is ridiculous. Karim is pointing out some very important deficiencies in the Kahn platform, and the people attacking him are clueless. In his presentation, he said that every teacher should be following EdSurge (website) or @EdSurge (Twitter). I wasn’t, and after reading their posts, I agree. Very cutting edge information that is relevant. He also demo’ed some touchpad software that allows you to use your phone to control your computer. It seems really simple, but when you are traveling and doing presentations, you do not want to also carry around a remote. Use your Phone as your remote! Here are links for IOS, and two links for Android One and Two. I am thinking about using one of these in class through a Bluetooth connection. Might be cool.
I gave a joint presentation on Google Docs with Julie. I don’t think it was all successful. The internet crashed as we were doing it, and we just didn’t have enough time to really make it work. There are links on the Wiki.
I then attended a session given by David. He spoke on “You might be a Mathematician if…”
It was a great presentation, but I don’t think he posted on it anywhere. I am going to email him and ask him to, and if he does I will correct this part. It as a great presentation on what is necessary to think like a mathematician; curiosity being a huge part. You can find the presentation on the Math Wiki. The essential “Be” statements are “Be Curious, Be Imaginative, Be Skeptical, Be Precise, Be Inquisitive.” The interesting thing about this set up is that Curiosity and Inquisitiveness are not the same thing. I think often they are merged, but David separated them with good reason.
A group of us went to the St. Louis Cardinals game that night. Cardinals won, which was nice to see the home team win. The stadium is beautiful, especially with the Arch as a backdrop.
Saturday – Math & Some more math
I stayed in the Math 1 session. The problems were calling to me, and I really wanted to look at the threading more. I kind of went off on my own tangent and bounced around. This concept of threading was really calling to me and I still am intrigued. Could I construct a thread map of the categories of questions? How much time would it take? How to categorize them? I think this will be a project that would have great benefits.
The My Favorites today were very impactful. Rachel shared the fact that she uses a placemat activity in her classroom that takes the placemat and divides it into 4 sections with a circle in the middle. The 4 learners each do their problem and in the middle add the 4 answers. At that point, Rachel just has to check the middle sum. If it is right, she can give them 4 more problems. If it is wrong, she just has to say, “The sum is wrong” and move on. The learners can then check their work and find the mistake together! How impactful is that. Very cool.
Max shared the idea of wondering and examining learner work together on the internet. Very cool, and based on some things he is working with on the Math Forum @ Drexel. I have been aware of this resource, but have never tapped into it at all. I think I might need to. Very cool work being done there by Max and others.
The main presentation of the day was given by Shawn Cornally of ThinkThankThunk. He has been doing Standards Based Grading for a long time, but does it differently. He does it Binary. He calls it BSBGwPBL; Binary Standards Based Grading with Project Based Learning (and waffles). He was not actually in attendance, but he skyped in. Very good use of the tech, and he created a Google doc in order to have more contact and feedback with the group. It was a good presentation on the topics of standards based grading and rich tasks.
Finally, I attended the Interactive Notebooks topic given by Megan. WOW. I am going to use them this year. I am not going to retype notes. Too many. But, I am going to put several links here on Interactive Notebooks. Go there. Read them all. Do them.
- Megan’s site links to the specific page for her I.N. material
- Math Wiki page from presentation – lots of files here
- Interactive Notebook Wiki
- Another teacher who does Interactive Notebooks
Sunday – The end of great 4 days
We had many MyFavorites this day, but I didn’t take good notes on them. I gave my take on imaginary solutions to quadratics, and I subsequently proved it to my satisfaction as well.
Here is a bullet list of the MyFavorites from Sunday:
- Teaching Student Centered Mathematics by Van de Waale
- “What do you notice” as a question prompt instead of “What do you know”. Lowers the barrier of entry and allows for more participation.
- Start a class w/ 4 boxes on the screen, and let them choose which box to remove, then ask the question, “What is this the ANSWER to?” Instead of asking them to come up with the solution, ask them to write the question! This suggestion came from Sam, and is how he starts his classes. Very cool.
- Jmap.org – I use this in my department already. Very good stuff.
- Socrative.com – using cell phones as well other devices to make your classroom more interactive.
- Self grading google forms using Flubaroo.com – I use google docs and forms a lot. Why not try this?
- Scriblar.com – online whiteboard? Nice.
And we ended with a song. A very wonderful song, captured forever on youtube.
In the end, it was a great 4 days. I learned a tremendous amount that will help my classroom. I don’t think I said anything too stupid (I hope). I am hopelessly awkward in social situations, but I think I came through okay.