Monday, July 14, 2014

Diane Briar's Core Truth

Diane Briars
At the last NCTM conference in New Orleans (2014) Diane Briars officially became the 48th president of NCTM. One of her mandates as president is to support the roll out of the CCSSM and look at it as a cup half full rather than half empty. In her first president's message entitled "Core Truths" she does an excellent job of presenting the CCSSM as an opportunity for the math community to build on and create curriculums for their districts that empower students and teacher to learn and teach math. About the backlash to the Standards she writes:
"With respect to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), what I find most troubling is that much of the rhetoric is based on false or incomplete knowledge about the standards and their development, or it confuses the standards with implementation activities, issues, and policies, including testing policies. Such arguments have little potential to improve mathematics education. Distinguishing CCSSM facts from fallacy is essential both for implementing the standards effectively and for engaging in thoughtful, reasoned critique of them for future refinements."
This is true. In its purest form who could argue that a coherent set of standards would not benefit math education. However, the opponents have some relevant points to make and these are not addressed in her message. It's also not in her role as president, which is too bad. It would have been nice if she had acknowledged the concerns that more than half of the teachers polled in the study Diane mentions have about the standards and how these concerns can be addressed. My main concern is that the standards will be perceived as merely a list of objectives. Unlike the Standards of 2000 which had some spirit and lots of good examples this latest version is more like a set of to dos which teachers in their busy lives will complete in a more rote manner. The Principles to Actions does a little to help, but the examples in that book are not all that interesting. The chapter on technology is excellent in that it appeals to the power of Web 2.0 to transform math education. None of this powerful trend in technology is mentioned in the standards. I'm sure that Diane is aware of this being a long time supporter of technology in math education, but her main purpose in her Core Truth message is to address the negative spin as indicated in her closing remarks that describe the three pronged approach to support CCSSM which I quote below. (It's times like this that I miss the possibilities that Steve Leinwand might have brought to the table as president.)

Here is Diane's closing comments.
"The Common Core State Standards represent too important an opportunity to squander because of rhetoric based on incorrect and incomplete information and public confusion of the Common Core State Standards themselves with shortcomings in their implementation. NCTM has developed a three-pronged approach to support the CCSSM: 
1. Clearly describe and publicize the practices, policies, programs, and actions required for successful implementation of CCSSM through wide dissemination of Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. NCTM cannot do this alone. Our Affiliates and their members are important partners in this effort. 
2. Enhance and expand our professional learning opportunities related to Principles to Actions and implementation of CCSSM at our conferences and institutes and in our journals, and continue to build our collection of relevant professional learning resources. This spring, each NCTM committee developed specific plans for this work. 
3. Actively advocate for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, correcting misconceptions, clarifying confusion, and highlighting ways in which CCSSM supports students in learning more and better mathematics. Most important, we need to help parents and the broader public become aware that the conceptual understanding and habits of mind—for example, problem solving, reasoning, and perseverance—that CCSSM calls for are essential for students’ preparation for their futures 
This third prong requires all of us, especially teachers and parents, to personalize CCSSM by describing its benefits for their students and children. I strongly urge you to get involved in the dialogue. Correct misconceptions. Separate standards from implementation issues. And highlight the benefits and opportunities that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics afford to increase the mathematics learning of all students."
I'm an optimist at heart and I wish Diane a successful term as president.

You will find the Diane's entire message here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When Am I Ever Going to Need This?

Jordan Enberg writes in “How Not To Be Wrong - the Power of Mathematical Thinking”  that the best answer to the age old “When am I ever going to need this” question is: tennis. If you want to play tennis you have to do a lot of boring practice to get good. The implication being that you should practice math because it builds up your thinking muscles. That is probably true. For those that play a lot of tennis and work at the skills needed to get better I assume that they really WANT TO play tennis. Enberg’s analogy to math flops because most students once they reach their teenage years would rather take out the garbage than do math.* The problem with it is that there are other more interesting ways to build the same muscles especially for those students more interested in the softer sciences. Children will build their math power if they see a reason to do it. Just because math is cool to people like Jordan Enberg and many others (including me) who want students to really, really like math, It isn’t going to work unless the students see a need for math. 

My favorite example for this is Green Globs (see my blog about it.)  Green Globs is terrific at motivating students to learn how functions work. But the joys of learning functions is not the main reason they want to learn about them. I always tell my students that the reason they should learn about functions is because in two weeks they will be involved in the Great Green Globs Contest and will need to learn to play Globs well enough to help their team win the contest. Since the math in Globs is intrinsically interesting for most students, they are willing to learn what it takes to do well - just like in tennis. In that blog entry I told you the story of Guillermo the failing math student who managed to get a perfect score of 8191 points by knocking down all thirteen globs with one function. What I didn’t tell you is how many students were inspired by Guillermo to improve their scores because they really wanted to learn the math needed to score higher. Now winning the Green Globs contest is a small incentive compared to how we want math to inspire students to really want to do something significant in the world. What is it that inspires kids to want to learn important math that will help them to achieve their personal goals? By creating real world projects as the central goal of curriculums! The math curriculum that almost everyone uses was set up in 1892 by a group of academics known as the Committee of Ten and hasn’t really changed in over a hundred years. Isn’t it time that something new, that students WANT TO buy into becomes the default curriculum? A curriculum that will encourage areas of study that students are passionate about.

At the college level, Roger Schank has “built story-centered curriculums meant to teach practical business by creating simulated experiences. The idea is to deliver it online around the world, using mentors who speak the students’ language. No classes. no lectures. No tests. Graduates get an MBA degree […] The idea is to help people launch their own business or go to work.” (page 58 - Teaching Minds.)

This doesn’t mean that the conventional curriculum doesn’t work. My Columbia Prep teaching days made me realize that there were plenty of students who wanted to take on the Royal Road to Calculus and I say more power to them! What I’m suggesting is what Ronald Wolk writes about in "Wasting Minds: Our Education System is Failing and What we Can do About It." We should develop an alternative curriculum that empowers students to really take advantage of math in ways that are appropriate for them.

*Karim Ani of said this during his presentation at the NCTM conference in New Orleans last April.

Roger Schank. Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science can Save our Schools
See also Roger’s blog about how to redesign high schools. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Mathman Retires

"How can I motivate my students to get more interested in doing math?" was the question I posed to Don Cohen back in 1972 at a Saturday morning math workshop in NYC.  "The problem is that your kids are not really doing math," Don replied as we strolled down a picturesque Greenwich Village street. "What you need to do is get your students to create their own math. But first the teacher needs to do the same. That's the purpose of the workshop I am leading here." That one comment has stayed with me ever since as I continue my effort to inspire teachers to aim for that vision for themselves and with their students.

After 38 years of math tutoring, Don Cohen will hang up his hat as "The Math Man" at the end of this month. (Read more)

You can hear Don interviewed by Maria Droujkova at a Math 2.0 Webinar back in 2010 where he talks about his experiences with Calculus by and for Young People.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Accolades to NCTM for Tools and Technology Addition in Final Form

In the original draft of the Principles to Action that was available for review this statement appeared on page 81 of the Tools and Technology section:
"While non-mathematical technologies and tools (e.g., word processing, presentation, and communications software) have a role in the mathematics classroom (Cohen & Hollebrands, 2011), they provide a more supportive role and do not have the direct potential to promote student reasoning, sense making, and mathematical thinking found in mathematical action technologies."
In the final version (now available from NCTM in book & eBook form) which I highly recommend purchasing*, the paragraph above was replaced with the following on page 79-80:
"Non-mathematical technologies and tools (e.g., word processing, presentation software, and communications applications)  can also support interactions in the mathematics classroom (Cohen & Hollebrands, 2011). For example, student responses to an interactive poll can be quickly gathered through the use of either a dedicated clicker system or applications on a range of mobile device platforms, to provide teachers with informative information that may help guide instruction.  Interactive whiteboards, document cameras, and web-based presentation applications can help students communicate their thinking to classmates and receive constructive feedback. Students sharing of work can occur beyond the boundaries of the face-to-face classroom through the use of secure Web-based platforms to post and comment on student-made podcasts, digital images of student work, and student presentation files. Students might use text messaging, cloud-based shared documents, virtual whiteboards, blogs, or wikis to collaborate on mathematical problems within the school or with students in other states or provinces or even countries (Rochelle et al. 2010). By making use of these electronic tools, students have a greater sense of ownership of the mathematics their learning, since the applications promote a sense of shared enterprise in the learning of mathematics. 
Finally, a wide variety of web-based resources support the teaching and learning of mathematics. Teachers are increasingly using personal and shared pages to organize and categorize the resources they find most useful. These lists allow them to quickly locate resources that they have found useful in the past and share these with others through social media. Their capacity to do this represents, in a sense the virtual opening of the classroom door to allow for collaboration among classrooms and teachers. Furthermore teachers can organize shared pages to enhance communication with their students and their students’ parents or caregivers."
Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All
(2014: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston, VA. p. 79-80)

Thank you NCTM for making the chapter on Tools and Technology relevant to today's Web 2.0 world!

*the eBook version is available for $4.99 ($3.99 if you are a member).

Wanna do Games, STEM and Mr. K

At this week's Global Math Department session, Tim Kubinak shared something "outrageous" that he does with his students on Fridays. He let's them play games for up to 45 minutes. The actual time depends on how well their group did on their math during the week. What games and why? "Let's face it," Tim said, "We're not good at teaching problem solving. We're good at teaching them to solve problems, but not problem solving. If we want to teach them problem solving, we have to exploit their interests. And that's what games do for kids." For that reason Tim makes available a variety of player games for his students. The main goal is to learn problem solving with a STEM theme. He calls it PYG (Play Your Games) which is a gameplay program designed to exploit the interests of students, within the context of reinforcing STEM methodology and problem solving acuity. Students work in groups of three. The amount of time that students are engaged in these activities is determined by results on these quizzes.

Tim has assembled an ecletic collection of playergames, hand held devices, MaKey MaKey touch pads and BYODs as part of his platform for teaching problem solving. Time frame is usually 8:15-9:00 when groups meet to get their equipment for game play. They check on the chart to see how much time is allotted to their group. They are also responsible for filling out the PYG sheet which has instructions for helping them make their session productive.

Though I do the question the method used to determine time for playing (the high scorers get the most time), Tim treats it as a game and I'm sure the kids are motivated to do better on the next grading period so they get more time the following Friday.

The open time for game playing with appropriate rubrics is an appealing way to engage students.

To learn more about Tim's class listen to his webinar at GMD.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Global Math Department Launches

Global Math Department
Are you tired of your math department meetings? Are they prone to put you to sleep? Well, there is a cure in the clouds. Its called the Global Math Department and it is housed conveniently on the Web as part of the community.

GMD’s About page tells you all you need to know about the group:
We are math teachers who share what we've learned, cause we don't want our classes to suck the energy from students. Professional development among friends, not just colleagues. Fun! Immediately useful! Interesting!
Reading that intro I bit and attended their weekly meeting last night. Chris Robinson, a middle school math teacher from northeast Pennsylvania, was our host and introduced the evening’s presenter Ilana Horn a researcher at Vanderbilt University.
Her topic was: Findings from Research.  Tonight, she presents five findings from research that have influenced how we think about teaching. Ilana Tweets at @tchmathculture and blogs at

You can experience this lively presentation and chat with a small, but very active group of math educators who attended here.

To become an active member of the Global Math Department go here and sign up and subscribe to their newsletter.

It was fun being a participant and I look forward to future sessions and will comment about them here at CLIME central.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

NCTM 2015 New Members Resolution at Delegate Assembly?

After the panel discussion on Friday at New Orleans Conference a young teacher LeAnn Allen approached me and asked me how she can get more involved in NCTM. I shared with her that membership in NCTM would be a good first step and shared some of the benefits of being a member. I didn't think much more about it until I read her blog post which I share with you here:
NCTM 2014 left me ON FIRE. (Almost literally, it was so hot walking around on Saturday.) But seriously, it left me hungry for more: more PrBL in my classroom, more student conversations, more teacher online collaboration, more ed conversations, more all of it.
One conversation that I am glad to see continuing is the one centered around getting younger teachers in the classroom to participate in NCTM. An NCTM rep said the average member of NCTM is 57. Whether or not that statistic is true, here is what I’m interested in exploring from that conversation. 
A lot of young teachers I personally tried to cajole/blackmail/etc into coming to NCTM wanted to come, but couldn’t find the $$$. So, how can we make that more accessible to them? Give a “new teacher” discount” a la student discount (how do you define/prove “new teacher”)? Give a first-time attender discount? Give scholarships? A quick look at the NCTM page gave this single conference scholarship for first-time attenders as well as a similar one for prospective teachers. There’s also some other grants and scholarships but most of them have a requirement that you have to have been teaching for at least 3 years (which disqualifies me until next year). What if MTBoS banded together to come up with a scholarship or 2? I’d be willing to chip in a few bucks. 
April 14, 2014 at 8:30 pm
As a first time attendee, I was also energized, and frustrated with the lack of younger membership and participation at NCTM when it clearly has so much to offer. That said, I think back to Dan Meyer’s point at the start of his talk (you were there, right?) about whether the conference would exist in a few years as we gain the capability to do that over the internet for next to no cost and with more accessibility. I think that might be the direction I’m heading — GlobalMathDepartment, twitter chats, etc.

This is obviously a major concern of NCTM. I'm wondering if the Affiliate-at-Large groups (hopefully soon to be called Special Interest Groups) could address this issue through a resolution at the next Delegate Assembly meeting in Boston.

Any ideas or thoughts on this?

Ihor Charischak
Council for Technology in Math Education
White Plains, NY