My Favorites NCTM 2016

I attended NCTM 2016 in San Francisco last week, and it was AWESOME. I’m presenting a short My Favorites on Global Math Department tonight and Megan suggested a write a short blog about it – so here’s we go!

I really liked almost every session I attended, but the 2 I’m talking about are Cathy Seeley’s session and Marilyn Burns’ session.  Cathy’s big message is “Math is Supposed to Make Sense!” We want students to be able to distinguish evidence from anecdote and to recognize nonsense.  We want Math to Make Sense, because it is supposed to make sense. We want students to think about it and say, “wait, that doesn’t make sense to me”and stop and redo the work so it does make sense.  We want students to understand the concept behind the procedure, and ASK QUESTIONS when they don’t get it!

I think the problem is a lot of kids have asked questions when they were younger, and the teacher either didn’t have time, or didn’t really know WHY the procedure was done (as in ‘yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply’) so couldn’t answer the questions. Therefore the kids were just told to “do it like this” and the math didn’t make sense. After a few times asking questions and not getting answers they understood, or getting shut down, the kids stopped asking questions. And the math stopped making sense.  We need to help it make sense to them again.

Cathy wants these 2 signs in our classrooms (so start making them as soon as you’re finished reading!!):

1:  MATH is SUPPOSED to make SENSE

2:  In this class Mistakes are Expected, Inspected, and Respected!

A great resource for seeing how students learn is at her website  She showed a couple of videos that were really interesting  – Go check it out!

Another topic was comparing Japan and the US – and the teachers from Japan gave some of their observations I thought were interesting and true: “You quit teaching too soon and go on to the next thing.”, “We finish.” Finishing happens when students have learned, and learning is incomplete if students aren’t making sense of the mathematics they’re learning.

The Japanese teachers also had observations on Compassion vs. Challenge: “American teachers are soft.” To avoid frustrating students (and in my opinion their parents) we’ve too often told them everything they need to know before we let them solve a problem. Japanese teachers design tasks slightly beyond the ‘capabilities’ of their students-just outside their reach. They see struggling as an element of emotional strength.

She ended her session saying “We need Teacher Structured Classrooms, not Teacher Centered Classrooms”!

I bought a couple of her books in the Exhibit Hall: Faster Isn’t Smarter and Smarter Than We Think.

The big take-aways from Marilyn Burns session are: 1) You’re never too old to learn new things and to keep helping kids learn and love math! Marilyn has been a big name in math forever, and she’s tweeting, blogging and learning.  I hope to be able to do that for a long time too!

2) We need to teach math more like we teach reading and expect our students to have fluency with basic facts, love math, understand word problems, interpret and use patterns, explain in their own works, identify what’s important and not in word problems, and be able to work in groups and independently.  When we connect Number Talks and Writing we should help the kids talk/explain their thinking by asking: What did you do first? What did you do second? Why did you do it that way? This is a good way to help kids that aren’t used to articulating their math thinking!

There is a lot more to both of these talks, and you can find Every Handout and Presentation from NCTM and NCSM on Dan Meyer’s blog 

Go Check them OUT!

Oh, I also bought Marilyn Burns’ book About Teaching Mathematics (because it was 50% off, but still $45!). Yes, I have a problem buying books – or really no problem! (I bought others too….) It was a great 3 days.



About debboden

I teach middle school math in Thousand Oaks, California. I love my job! When I'm not teaching, or thinking about teaching, I love to ride horses, read, take Zumba classes and be with my family and friends.
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2 Responses to My Favorites NCTM 2016

  1. Sarah Harlan says:

    Wow! I’m impressed that you are a presenter on the My Favorites tonight. I really like the way you worded your Yes, but WHY? blog below. You are a rising star in the math teaching world! Love, Mom

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