Reflections: 10 things I learned at #NCTMannual

Reflections is a monthly column for teachers, by teachers on topics of interest to mathematics educators: lesson plans, book/resource reviews, reflections on classroom experiences, and more. If you are interested in sharing your own ideas with mathematics educators in the province (and beyond), consider contributing to this column! Contact us at thevariable (at) smts (dot) ca.


10 things I learned at #NCTMannual
Amanda Culver

Last month, I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few days in San Francisco for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Meeting and Exposition. This was my first experience at an NCTM Conference, and it won’t be my last! My days were full of sessions and I overbooked myself, because there were multiple sessions I wanted to go to that were scheduled at the same time. However, all of the sessions that I ended up attending were awesome (well, with the exception of one, which I walked out of because there weren’t enough materials for all participants; no big deal – I went teacher crazy at Target!). The amount of swag at the conference was ridiculous – my suitcase was bursting with all of the notepads, bags, pencils, pens, ribbons, pins, and t-shirts that I picked up. So many t-shirts!

2016 May - swag bag

Teachers love free merch!

Of course, the swag isn’t the only take-away from a conference like this. I got to meet passionate math teachers from around the world, and I got a closer look at math education in the United States. If I had to summarize it in one word: interesting. For example, it’s interesting that in the United States, geometry and algebra are separated into separate subjects (while they are integrated here in Saskatchewan) and that there seems to be more of a focus on statistics. I found this quite exciting!

A lot of the sessions that I chose to attend to were sessions about problem solving, as I work with a lot of really great students who are always looking at ways to improve their problem-solving skills. I tried out one of the problems I grabbed from a session on my first day back to class, which I’ll share below (you can find the answer at the end of the post). I’ll admit that, initially, I only got half of the answer, and I thus had the same experience as my students did when they later tried the problem.

The three side lengths of a triangle are all integers. If two of the sides are 6 and 8, what is the ratio of the number of possible obtuse triangles to the total number of possible triangles? (Problem courtesy of McKendry Marano)

Through the #MTBoS (MathTwitterBlogosphere), I discovered that many educators were sharing their lists of things that they learned at NCTM. So, I figured I’d try my hand at it, too!

10 Things I learned at #NCTMannual, in no particular order

  1. Teachers love free stuff.
    Seriously. Teachers were grabbing HANDFULS of free merch.
  1. Dan Meyer is a wonderful giant.
    And I have a selfie to prove it!

    2016 May - dan meyer

    Yes, he really is that tall!

  1. The history of logarithms interests math teachers.
    This particular session (presented by Michael Manganello and David R. Miller) was so packed, they had to turn teachers away! I was lucky enough to get a spot and revisit the idea that logarithms are used to simplify operations, rather than complicate them.
  1. Never say anything a kid can say.
    You’re supposed to challenge them! Don’t give them answers – make them work. Or, use it as an opportunity to use (new) math vocabulary.
  1. Courage = heart-ful; it takes courage to try new things.
    Latin “cor” = heart. Etymology is pretty neat. Thanks, Hill Harper, for sharing this!
  1. Math still challenges me, and I love it.
    I don’t often challenge myself with math, which I need to start doing more frequently! I love that it makes me think and get out of my comfort zone.
  1. Students are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
    Like, really. They can do some pretty neat stuff! Have you ever needed help solving a tech issue? Or want to see different ways of approaching a math problem, which perhaps you didn’t think of? Ask a student! For example, that triangle problem I shared? Teachers went straight to calculations and “math-y” answers. Some students just drew it out!
  1. American math is a dichotomy between Algebra and Geometry, which seems like it would create gaps in knowledge.
    It seems like a good idea to separate the two, as more time could be used to build and practice those skills, but it’s like separating verbs from nouns when trying to learn a language – you need them both, working together, to really become fluent.
  1. American math curricula include things I wish we’d cover in Canada, such as more in-depth geometry and statistics.
    When I saw that matrices were taught in America, I remembered that I learned matrices in grade 12, too. But we don’t teach it anymore (at least, not in Saskatchewan).
  1. Textbook questions are so wordy – rewrite questions! It’s easier to add than to subtract.
    Word problems are where many students get lost… heck, sometimes I even skim over them because there’s too much to process! If we take away the text and leave the image, we can develop the questions. Or better yet, the kids can start to develop the questions. This takes a lot of practice, yes, but it is a simple and quick way to build great question sets. (Yes, I did listen to what Dan Meyer was saying… I wasn’t being a complete fangirl!) [Watch Dan’s talk from NCTM Annual 2016 on this topic hereEd.]

Answer to problem: 6:11


2016 May - profileAmanda Culver has been a French and mathematics secondary teacher within the province of Saskatchewan for four years. She aims to make her classroom a safe and supportive space to be and to learn mathematics. Amanda’s closet is full of math t-shirts, and she got a “pi” tattoo on Ultimate Pi Day. Needless to say, she loves math!

2 thoughts on “Reflections: 10 things I learned at #NCTMannual

  1. Suzanne Alejandre

    Amanda, I didn’t notice a Math Forum purple ink pen in your photo of swag and so I’m not sure if you stopped by the Math Corner. I’m thinking, though, you might find at least some of the links on this page http://mathforum.org/nctm/ interesting since we focus a lot on problem solving. Thank you for a window into your first NCTM experience! ~Suzanne

    Reply
    1. Amanda Culver

      Hi Suzanne,
      The purple pen is in my purse and is used frequently! A lot of the pens I got were scattered throughout many bags (I probably have about a dozen that didn’t make this picture) 🙂
      Thanks for the link – we’ll make use of some of the problem solving resources during our upcoming Math Camp and with our math club next year!
      Amanda

      Reply

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