Nov 112014

On this bright,cheery Veteran’s day I took some time to clean up my reader, delete a bunch of feeds that I don’t read any more, organize the math teacher and other teacher feeds a bit and catch up on a couple of posts that I saved but didn’t have a chance to read yet. Be aware that the following is not a happy one, but a frustrated one. You can skip to the bottom to see the conclusion that is positive if you like.


—- Really, I am setting up an argument here in the beginning and middle, the end has a positive message. Totally okay if you skip the argument. —


What got me started writing was a statement by Dan Meyer that he followed Peg Cagle because, “she understands the concerns of Internet-enabled math teachers and she also understand the politics that concern the NCTM board of directors.” (via)

I read the link about “understanding concerns” which led me to think about the organizations I belong to and send money to each year. And let me be upfront about this. I am a member of the NCTM and have been continuously since I was in grad school getting my teaching credentials. I am actually subscribed to more than one journal, and have attended a national conference, a couple of regionals, and a couple of institutes. I have had district funding for some of this, but the majority have been paid for by me with my own money. I am critiquing the organization from the inside, not throwing bricks from the outside.

Okay, with that out of the way. I looked up the NCTM and found that they follow only 226 people / organizations. That’s it. Some of them are classroom teachers, but the teachers are vastly the minority. They follow mainly groups, college professors, and reporters.


But they are a large national organization. They can’t spend the time to read all the chatter from practicing math teachers. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. What about my local groups? Well the Northern NV Math Council does not even HAVE a Twitter presence. None. Scratch them off the list. Is it wrong that they don’t have a presence? No, that is their choice. I joined them in the past and suggested it. They refused because, “teachers don’t have the time for it.” Oh well.

What about the Southern NV Math Council? They do have a Twitter feed. They must follow lots of math teachers and spread the wonderfulness that is our math classrooms? No.


They follow 83 accounts, very few of which are math teachers. They have only 25 followers. I guess they are only slightly more engaged with the math teachers in Las Vegas than the NNMC is in Reno. But the state organization is doing better, right?


No. They follow 83 accounts as well, virtually none of which are actual math teachers. I guess NV is a write off as far as math teacher engagement. I posted this frustration on Twitter, and Lisa Henry shared her state organization.

ohiomath  and I looked up the CA Math Council camath

Seriously folks. If the NCTM is wondering why math teachers are leaving and thinking it is not relevant, these screenshots encapsulate it pretty easily. These are organizations that are pushing to us, but not engaging with us. I only looked at number accounts they followed. Look at their tweet counts. The Nevada Math Council has 36 tweets? The CA Math Council has 552? They have  100,000 math teachers in CA, the birthplace of Twitter and they have only tweeted 552 times? The NCTM has 27,000 followers and have tweeted only 4500 times? Most of which are plugging their upcoming conferences?

But I did say I would look at all the organizations of which I am a professional member. Here they are; the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and the American Statistical Association.



The NCSM even follows me!? They follow MORE people than the EVERY organization listed above COMBINED! Now we know that following someone does not mean engaging with someone, but it is certainly true that you cannot engage if you do not follow. The chance of the NCSM engaging with math teachers (and look at who they follow, there are many math teachers in the list) is much higher than the NCTM, Ohio NCTM, CA NCTM, and both NV NCTM groups.

The ASA? I joined them to get some additional AP Stats materials through their magazines. They are a specialty group, but they still do a better job than the state general organizations. The general organizations that should be closer to us as math teachers.


—- Okay ,the positive that exists after the complaining. —

What really makes this important to me is we are forming a State Chapter of the NCSM. I volunteered to be a member of the committee. I did that a week ago before I thought of doing this comparison, but now I am firmly on the side of participating strongly. NV needs an organization that will engage and lead math teachers. We certainly are not getting either from the NNMC, the NMC or the SNMC. We get ignored and told, but not engaged.

What is odd is the leadership of these groups ARE math teachers. The leaders are people I know (at least in the NNMC) and yet they do not engage? This is a frustrating situation. How many other teachers are frustrated with their local group too?

I am going to send this post to the organizer of the NCSM so she knows where I stand and what I feel the problems are in NV. It appears this is not a NV problem, but a nationwide problem. It is not a problem of “Math teachers don’t have the time” like I was told previously. It is a problem of organizations that are supposed to be leading us, instead are ignoring us.

The new NV Chapter of the NCSM really does need to be a leader. The National NCSM clearly is trying to have more of a leader role than the other groups. I need to do my part locally to make this happen here too.


As a counterpoint to my complaining, here is my profile and a couple random profiles. Ilana Horn is a professor of mathematics education (I recommend following her if you don’t.) Dave is a teacher of high school math as well. I just picked them randomly out of my feed. Teachers do have the time. In the vacuum of leadership, we are constructing meaning on our own and further marginalizing the institutions that created the vacuum.



Nov 092013

Peg had a very busy Friday at NCTM Las Vegas, giving 3 different presentations in 1 day. The first was for newbies to the NCTM conference, the second was the resource presentation I already posted about, and then there was this presentation entitled: Pedagogical Judgment & Instructional Choices for Building Mathematics Classrooms.

I thought this presentation was the best one of the two I attended, mainly because it allowed the audience to get inside of her head and see what she thinks about. Short answer, she thinks about helping kids succeed. A lot.

That also means she is not thinking about BS like micromanaging homework, parents, etc. She thinks about how to support learners, how to know what they know, and how to demonstrate what they know.

This is going to turn into another “link fest” post because she cited some resources that I need to link to as I go. With good reason. She also could have used another 4 or 5 hours instead of the 1 she had. I would love to sit down with her and spend some time one on one just talking and learning from her.

Point 1: Management of Homework.

She started with a simple question, “Why are you assigning the homework?”

Are you assigning it for practice? Why? Are you assigning it as pre-learning? Why? Are you assigning it for some other reason? Why?

Are you THINKING about the homework you assign? Do you care more about the homework then your learners do? If so, you really need to stop and think about what you are doing.

This conversation immediately put me in the “Rethinking Homework” by Cathy Vatterott discussion that has occurred in my school and department. Other people mentioned Alfie Kohn’s “Rethinking Homework” article and discussion. I am embarrassed to admit I had not read that article, but I have rectified that deficiency.

Here are some quotes / statements on homework by Peg that I captured because they really struck home:

Distributed Practice not focused practice & one topic practice.  Focused practice does not show the long term results in research. [I would love to see and read the research, I am a research junkie.]

Assigning something the learners have never seen before is a way to get them to persevere.

Instead of reviewing, have the learners write the test questions. You will be surprised at how difficult they make the questions.

Turn homework into a way to take possession of their own learning. 1. Teach someone else how to do it. 2. Exeter type presentations

Teach parents to Ask, Don’t Tell. Teach the parents to ask questions instead of trying to help do the math and tell the learners answers.

Point 2: Putting work on your walls

Are you putting the perfect work on your walls? If so, think about what message that says to the rest of the class who are not there yet. If you only celebrate the perfect work, you are devaluing the work of the F, D and C learners. Their work is not important, so it does not count. Is that really the message you want to send?

Public displays of work should create an “Institutional Memory for the reminders of what happened in class.” That is a very different use of displays of work than most teachers do.

Point 3: Assessment

How do the learners inform what you do in the classroom?

At this point, Peg was running out of time and she listed off some resources that are impactful on this discussion.

Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black wrote an important article entitled, “Inside the Black Box”. (another source is Peg strongly recommends reading the thinking about the impacts of the article. A follow up article that should be read as well I think. “Working Inside the Black Box”

Peg also recommended Dylan Wiliam’s “Embedded Formative Assessment”. This is a book I have not read (shocking) and I know is very well regarded in the #MTBoS community.

And then Peg slipped in some gems on assessment, grades and feedback that where pure gold. Seriously, pure 24 caret gold. These are things she has done in her classroom to encourage learners to take ownership of their learning.

Give the homework back to a group, with comments only, no grades, and the comments written for the group on a separate page. The learners have to then go through everyone’s homework and correctly matchup the comments to the correct problem on each person’s homework.

On EVERY CHAPTER Test, Peg required (as in not optional) a correction and reflection. The grade was such, that if a perfect test taker failed to turned the reflection (because there was nothing to correct) they ended up with a 89% on the test.

Yes, that is correct. The reflection & correction was worth 10% of the test grade, and not doing it took you down an entire letter grade.

Again, no grades on the actual test handed back, only comments. They can look online for the grade or speak to you one on one if they want to know the score.

These are ideas I will be implementing.

Finally, somewhere along in the conversation, Peg plugged the PCMI, the Park City Math Institute as one of the absolutely best Professional Development she has ever done. I may have to look into it in a serious way. Especially since it is on my end of the country.

Nov 092013

Two weeks ago, I attended the NCTM Regional in Las Vegas. I took copious notes, and lots of pictures, and have sat on them since. I am going to do some posting tonight and tomorrow of the notes from the impactful sessions I attended.

First off, Peg Cagle and Diane Briars session on Resources for Teaching CCSS Math was excellent. It was a simple presentation to give, they put up a scavenger hunt of different books and websites the NCTM either has published, or will publish or the NCTM recommends.

Simple, but very full of content. I was trying to simultaneously tweet out the content so I ended up taking a lot of pictures of the posters. Most of the posters had QR codes on them so you could get the link on your phone and see the site.

I will post the best pics and links below the break. This will be a very picture heavy post. You can click in embiggen, but I did scan the QR codes from the smaller versions.

Continue reading »

Jul 292011

That really is the question posed by Dan Meyer in his opening keynote speech at the NCTM Reasoning and Sense Making Conference Institute. Honestly, I had never heard of Clever Hans, and unless you are a fan of esoteric German animal trivia, you might not have heard of him either. Clever Hans was a horse that had amazing powers of reading the people around him. The horse could do any math the audience could do.

I won’t bore anyone with the story, especially since Lisa Henry did such a great job explaining it on her blog, and Wikipedia and other sites have thoroughly explained it as well. The story is extremely relevant to math education today, and more importantly, important to the practice of math educators today.

As I was listening to Dan, I recalled a comment a learner made to me. I had just asked a learner, “Why” when she gave me an answer to something. The learner tried to explain, and couldn’t. Another learner came to her defense, and together they figured out she was correct, and they explained why. At that point, Learner 1 turned to me with a very angry look on her face (all made up, she is a great actress) and said, “Mr. Waddell. You tricked me. You are only supposed to ask why when we give wrong answers.” The class then went on to tell me that I have a great poker face, and that I am supposed to let them know when they get something right by smiling or something.

I had just accidently stumbled upon the Clever Hans Effect, and didn’t know it. I just wanted to know if the learner understood the problem.

Imagine that. The learners in the class understood the issue better than I, the teacher did. They were instructing me when it was okay to ask them if they were sure, and how to non-verbally communicate with them when they are supposed to stop clomping their hoof guessing the correct answer. Thankfully I ignored them.

I didn’t have a name to describe what occurred that day, but I do now, and Clever Hans will now and forever be in my first day of class discussion.

But of course, the keynote was far more than just a talk about a horse. It was about how to take a boring, dry, and thoroughly massacred problem, and turn it into something that might actually have some interest to learners.

Dan breaks his problem solving process into 4 steps.

1. Visualize

2. Abstract

3. Decompose

4. Verbalize

Of these, I personally find the Verbalizing of the problem the most important. Verbalizing a problem is asking the truly relevant and interesting question in just a few words. Taking a long and boring question from a text book (how about the “which cell phone service should I get that is now de rigour for textbook companies) and turning it on its head.

The new question should be something along the lines of:

1. What cell phone plan would you buy?

2. [insert some image of local cell phone advertisements here] Make the insert local, relevant, and complete.

3. And this is probably the most important part as a teacher. WALK AWAY for a bit and let the learners abstract the question. You see, the textbooks do that for the learners. They break the problem down into nice, clean, manageable chunks that are easy to digest. We need to let the learners look at the actual ads, the actual, messy, ugly details of the ad and decide for themselves what is important.

4. After that, then they will decompose the question and figure out an answer and then justify the answer.

Guess what, some may choose a plan I would not. The real question at that point is, “Why?” Did the learners overlook something, or did they just think the 2 gig plan fit their needs better than the 5 gig plan?

Why do I need to always decide for them?

And that is a great way to run a rich question with Reasoning & Sense Making. I will have more to say on this later. Right now, I am in Orlando, and some fun beckons.

After all, it is not always about the math. (yea, right!)