Friday, April 14, 2017

Post Conference Debrief

Click above to see a more readable version.
This is a wordle of the 108 sessions that had a technology theme at the NCTM conference in San Antonio. If you eliminate the largest words (Students, University, CC [i.e. convention center], School, and Session) from the picture you start to see patterns that tell you something about one of the conference's main themes: Technology. So it's no surprise that it is the most dominate in the wordle.  The words learning, Learning and Learn tell you that the presenters want you to learn while you are in their session. How much did you learn? You can share your learning via a blog! Also you can "join" the MTBoS movement especially if you have never blogged before.

My “short” trip to NCTM

My plan this year regarding the NCTM annual meeting in San Antonio was not to go. I did my annual routine with the technology sessions making note of them via a CLIME blog. So I decided that would be enough since I started a very ambitious 8 week “course” entitled led by Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. But I changed my mind because David Wees was going to attend the NCTM affiliate events (At-large Caucus and Delegate Assembly) for the first time representing CLIME and I didn’t want him to go alone. So I made arrangements to stay only through Thursday morning and fly back home on Thursday afternoon. That was the plan until Delta stepped in and cancelled my flight. The good news was that I was now able to attend the conference on Friday. 

The highlights for me were:

Ed Burger (#580) - Very slick presentation (4 out of 5 stars). Mostly promoting his book “The Five Elements of Effective Thinking” One of the reviewers summarized it’s proposed strategy as Think…fail…question…understand…change…learn: the path to the genius of learning.

Patrick Vennebush (#294) - who works for Discovery Learning - (5 stars). He presented interesting and engaging  problems that use crowdsourcing.

Eli Luberoff (#458) - CEO of Desmos (5 stars) shared a new project with the audience: A Sketchpad-like Geometry component which got oohs and aahs from the audience.

Cathy Yenca (#529) (5 stars). Did a nice job of mixing a variety of online tools and activities to weave a nice presentation.

Dan Meyer & Robert Kaplinsky (#119) - How to Apply and Present at NCTM Conferences (on video) which I watched after I got home. Very valuable information for perspective speakers. Being able to watch videos like this after the event is very valuable. It extends the conference experience for those who missed the sessions in real time. I found myself rewinding the tape and making notes (which I wouldn’t have done in real time).

I went to a few more sessions with titles that included key word(s) such as crowdsourcing, productive struggle and “tools to transform learning” but wasn’t  impressed. I guess that will always be true at conferences. Though the titles/descriptions are attractive, they don’t live up to the hype that the title/description convey. For example:

Intro to Coding: Scratch session (#537). Unfortunately the “light” Wifi provided for the conference wouldn’t allow me to open my Scratch files. So I sat there frustrated. Left early.

If you have a great idea for a presentation don’t hesitate to submit a proposal for the next annual conference (Washington, DC April 25-28, 2018). Please submit your proposal by May 1 here

On the CLIME scene, David Wees and I will be reviewing/updating some of the initiatives for the upcoming year that David highlighted in his CLIME blog last year.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

NCTM San Antonio Conference Technology Preview

Last May (2016) I wrote a blog entitled Encouraging Effective Use of Technology in sessions at the NCTM Conferences. Some highlights follow.

Comments from that blog post:

David Barnes: I think that while some sessions need to put technology out there in front, what we should be working towards is sessions where it is seamlessly integrated as well. […] So the question for you and your crew [CLIME readership] is what makes a quality technology session? What does it need to do. […] And what are some things that it should not do?  What types of tech session would you be okay with saying that doesn’t really fit within the program?

Dan Meyer:  I don’t consider myself a technologist, though I do work for a technology company. But I love technology to the extent it energizes pedagogies that I love. […]  I never feel cheated by a tech session if the tech session focuses on larger themes that transcend tech brand or even technology itself. If it's a technology session I want to know what the big pedagogical ideas /before/ you show me how a particular tool can realize them.

So that brings me to the eve of of the annual NCTM meeting in St. Antonio. Do the tech sessions reflect our latest thinking on seamless integration that realizes big pedagogical ideas? After sorting out the technology sessions and reading them, I come to the conclusion that the answer to the question is: YES. First some data.

Total sessions: 772 (this number includes 64 exhibitor sessions)
Total tech sessions: 106 (includes 29 sessions not highlighted as a TECH session)

This is almost 14% of the total which is average for annual meetings. (The most ever was 38% in Philadelphia, 2012 the last time technology was a theme at an annual meeting.)


NCTM Conference app can be downloaded here. The app keeps improving all the time. You can see all tech sessions using the tech and tools filter.

Twitter handles instead of emails in session descriptions. What does this mean? Have we turned a page on communication? Aren’t emails more likely to be answered than tweets? Interesting question. I’ll try a little experiment by contacting the 50 technology speakers who listed their twitter handles and see how many responses I get. (If you get this link from my twitter feed please let me know. (@climeguy).)

BYOD. There are 12 sessions where the speaker(s) encourages you to bring your own device. This allows for audience participation which is a definite plus.

Key tech words/expressions. Desmos was by far the most mentioned tech application. Others included Geogebra, Scratch and Sketchpad. See a list of all the technology key words in the descriptions of the technology sessions here. (If any of the key words intrigue you can download either the PDF or Word document of all the tech sessions and search for it.)

Crash course in tech math ed. Imagine if you could take in all of the 106 sessions? You should be able to get college credit for that. Almost every possible topic in using technology in math classroom is there.

Here’s an example:

366 TECH Reimagining Curriculum-Based Mathematics Tasks with Technology. But where do you find tasks to fit your mathematical goals, or the time to add them to your lesson? Start with existing activities. BYOD. Sounds like my effort with CIESEmath back in 2007.

Not enough of ones like this:

59 PROF The Crafting and Use of Technology for Professional Learning A variety of digital formats for professional learning such as MOOCS, blogs, forums, and online courses with both synchronous and asynchronous designs have been tried in the past with varied success. This session will present research results and potential new possibilities for the future that allow teachers more control over their own learning.
Maarten Dolk and Cathy Fosnot

So I believe we have turned a corner in having sessions that encourage a seamless “integration” of technology in the classroom. What’s still on the back burner is discussing the future of technology in math classrooms where the focus is more on student motivation and collaboration. That’s what Maarten Dolk and Cathy Fosnot will be focusing on in their session on Thursday.

David Wees and I will be attending the Affiliates at-large caucus and the Delegate assembly on Thursday morning. More about that later.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Curriculum Reform Done Right

I recently reread Rick Hess’s book The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Ideas. In it Hess argues that “most of today’s reforms thought to be cutting-edge – merit pay, charter schools, extended school days and years, Teach For America – aren’t really cutting-edge at all. And in the long haul, most aren’t likely to result in significant change.” Also he says that “…most of our current strategies to get better teachers into classrooms, including alternative certification, are essentially just “throwing thimbles of water into a river” – which is a slightly more polite way of saying they’re totally inconsequential.”

Why? Because, Hess says, we aren’t willing to start from scratch in our thinking about what it means to be a teacher in the twenty-first century.

Of course in “starting from scratch in our thinking” is something that is tried frequently but always fails because the obstacles to real change (or common sense change in contrast to status quo change as Hess puts it) are so difficult, if not impossible. On my wish list of difficult/impossible, but transformative reforms is something that at its core makes sense to everyone involved that's interested in math education reform. 

My version of common sense reform is much “simpler” than what Rick writes about. It’s about dramatically improving curriculum materials for students. Isn’t it possible to create programs of study that students would actually enjoy reading? My current list of math books that I’m enjoying reading (and some re-reading) are:

Why do I reread them? Because like cinema and theater I love math when it is couched in a fascinating context. In other words because it is intrinsically interesting, engaging and challenging.

Why can’t student materials be written in this spirit? Hess says because status quo reformers just want to tinker around the edges of current textbooks which doesn’t stop alienating most students in their study of math. A colleague of mine Gary Stager (who is definitely a true common sense reformer) calls “curriculum” a dangerous idea. That’s because math curriculum in the form of textbooks are such an abysmal read for most students. And even the students that do well and like math usually are mostly influenced by good teaching that makes the drab material come to life. I’m really tired of the fact that Dan Myer has to make “fun” of actual activities in math books in his blog. (See

We have the talent to do better, but unfortunately not the will.

If you agree let me know and maybe we can start a movement protesting text book companies for their poor approach to writing textbooks. Instead of resigning to choose the best text out of all the bad choices offered, we force them (are you listening Pearson & McGraw Hill?) to start from scratch and come up with well written books/media that would inspire both teacher and student to read. 

Is this possible or am I just dreaming? I’d like to hear from you.

Hess, Frederick M. The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Ideas. Harvard University Press, November 2010. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Innov8 starts this Wednesday

This fall (in two days!) NCTM will host its new professional development conference in St. Louis, Mo. Innov8 is not a traditional professional development experience, this innovative and team-based opportunity is centered around acquiring the necessary skills to provide high-quality mathematics education for learners of all abilities. So bring your team and engage in a hands-on and interactive learning experience for math education.

If you are going to this conference I would love to hear about your experiences. I’ll be following on Twitter.

Friday, October 21, 2016

NCTM Phoenix Regional 2016 Technology Sessions

If you are going to Phoenix for the regional conference and are interested in attending some sessions focused on technology, you might be disappointed by the availability if you use the search by topic in the Conference Planner link. Why? Because there are only 19 sessions highlighted there.  I found that there are actually 48 sessions that highlight some form of technology in their descriptions. I list them here. The keyword breakdown is a as follows.

Also the deadline for voting for the Board of Directors starting in 2017 is October 31. Check out @Samjshah post describing the candidates. 

You need to be a member of NCTM to vote. This is an excellent reason to join. NCTM’s voting website is here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NCTM Events Fall, 2016

If you are looking for some informal professional development, get inspired about your work or just get away for 3 days, then the upcoming regional conferences will be well worth your while. First there are 2 regional conferences one in Philadelphia, PA and the other in Phoenix, AZ.

Highlights in Phoenix

The keynote will be an IGNITE session with seven past presidents of NCTM participating. Should be fun. Too bad it can’t be a debate.

Though technology is not a strand some of the highlighted speakers will no doubt share their expertise with technology in the classroom. The highlighters I’m familiar with are: Karim Ani (, Robert Kaplinsky (, James Tanton ( and Patrick Vennebush (

Highlights in Philadelphia

The opening sessions is once again an IGNITE session. This time it’s not the presidents though Matt Larson is one of the presenters. Each igniter gets 8 minutes and will preview some aspect of the conference. By now I’m all ignited out, but if you are a fan or new to this format, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Tools and technology IS a strand so there will probably be more technology sessions than is usual. I can’t tell you how many because the full list of speakers is not out yet. 

The highlighted speakers that I would go hear or recommend: Karim Ani (, Dan Meyer (, Sarah Bush (, and Tom Reardon (

Innov8: A New Conference Experience from NCTM

Also this year NCTM is rolling out a brand new and exciting conference called Innov8 which focuses on engaging the struggling learner.

November 16-18 in St. Louis, MO 


Use #NCTMinnov8 to get the latest updates and engage with others about NCTM's new learning experience on social media. A clarion call. I look forward to the twitter blogosphere continuing to become a growing trend as we go further into the 2016-2017 school year.

The new Innov8 conference experience is designed to support mathematics teachers and teams in identifying, analyzing, and planning for instruction and intervention around a self-identified problem of practice related to learners who struggle in mathematics. (more)

Annual Meeting in San Antonio
April 5-8 2017

It’s too late to be a speaker, but not too late to participate. See my blog entry about the conference.  It should be great.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What is a coherent pedagogical framework?

In a recent blog, Henri Picciotto (following a successful workshop series that he led) shared a participant’s comment. Henri writes:

“One of the participants in my Making Sense in Algebra 2 workshop had an interesting criticism. That anonymous participant pointed out that I presented no coherent pedagogical framework for the activities I shared. Good point! I did not present a coherent [pedagogical] framework because, well, I do not have one to present.”

I was puzzled. Which coherent pedagogical frameworks was the participant referring to? Webster states that a framework is a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text. For math education that structure is a curriculum. Pedagogical refers to the myriad of approaches that a teacher can take in presenting a curriculum to students. And a coherent pedagogical framework would be a pedagogical framework that made sense. So conjuring up the meaning of those three words together Henri continues with why he doesn’t have one to present.

“During my four-plus decades in the classroom, I've seen many math edu-fads come and go: new math, individualization, manipulatives, problem-solving, group work, constructivism, constructionism (yes, that's a thing), portfolios, complex instruction, differentiation, interdisciplinary-ism, backward design, coding, rubrics, problem-based instruction, technology, Khan Academy, standards-based grading, making, three acts, flipping, inquiry learning, notice-wonder, growth mindset... not to mention various generations of standards.”

So instead of following some fad-like frameworks, Henri says:

“We need to be eclectic, and select "what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles." Instead of rejecting the fads wholesale, we need to consider each one as it comes along, as all (or almost all) have some validity. Instead of shutting our classroom door and continuing business as usual, we should keep it wide open.  Without becoming a dogmatic across-the-board adopter of each pedagogical scheme, we need to learn what we can from it, and incorporate that bit into our repertoire. This is how we get the sort of flexibility that makes for good teaching. If we do that, our lessons will not fit a standard mold. Quite the opposite: they will depend on the myriad variables that make teaching such a complex endeavor.”

Like Henri I too have spent more than 4 decades working in math education. I’ve also worked with many of the edu-fads he mentions. In my private school teaching days I eclectically developed my own curriculum which included lessons borrowed liberally from Harold Jacobs’ “Mathematics: A Human Endeavor.” In fact, Harold’s work helped me to develop a coherent pedagogical framework - a classroom strategy model - that served me well in my modeling of how to teach coherent lessons to the teachers I worked with. My model went something like this.

Each lesson (approximately 45 minutes) had three parts.

The first part I called: Set the Stage. This part would motivate the activity that followed. (I never wrote objectives on the board.)

The second part was: Do the activity. Students would usually work in groups. They would discuss and record their findings on a handout I would give them. (See 5th grade example.)

Finally (and maybe most importantly) was Debrief. What did we learn today? This is where the objective is revealed or left open for further noticing, wondering and even debating.

This was the model I used with teachers who were teaching math in conventional ways. For teachers who were interested in exploring more innovatively, I modeled a collaborative project approach - usually referred to as Project Based Learning (PBL) which was an edu-fad back in the 1920s, but recently is undergoing a revival according to the Buck Institute. What I like about PBL is that it takes into consideration student interest. My example of PBL is the Noon Day Project which is a recreation of the measurement of the earth done by Eratosthenes in 200 BC. See my blog entry about it here.