Reflections: SUMming up SUM Conference 2016

Reflections is a monthly column for teachers, by teachers on topics of interest to mathematics educators: reflections on classroom experiences, professional development opportunities, resource reviews, 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@smts.ca.


SUMming up SUM Conference 2016
Sharon Harvey

Well, I made it through my first Saskatchewan Understands Math (SUM) conference while being on the other side! The organizing side, that is. It is unbelievable how much work goes into making sure our SUM conference runs smoothly and delivers a fabulous experience for our attendees. So first, I want to thank the SMTS and the SUM Conference committee for organizing such a great event. And let me tell you—it was a great event!

So what makes our conference so great? (I know what you’re thinking: is she really going to write a whole column about how great the conference was that she helped organize? Yes. I am.)

unspecifiedI’ve been conferencing for years, and I’m sure many of you have as well. A great conference brings together opportunities for learners that span the philosophical, practical, and everything in between. It allows attendees to interact with each other, with keynotes, and with other presenters. This is exactly what we aimed to do with SUM Conference this year, as well as in the past. Here’s how I think we were able to achieve this:

1. Maximum Time with Max, Grace, and Peg
At SUM, each day’s morning session is two hours long, and allows attendees to choose from four options. Each keynote and each featured presenter run one of the sessions. This means that attendees can spend up to four hours with a featured presenter or keynote speaker (this year’s keynotes and featured speaker were Max Ray-Riek, Grace Kelemanik, and Peg Cagle)—and four hours of time to learn with an educational mastermind is nearly unheard of at a conference. These sessions were filled with great ideas and discussions, including how to learn with students, learn from students, and learn from each other.

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2. Sessions for Everyone
This year, SUM offered nine learning sessions in addition to the keynote sessions. During this time, attendees played with probability, learned to code, reviewed a variety of instructional approaches, and explored what makes a great resource… And that’s not even half of what was offered! Whether you came looking for an opportunity to discuss some aspect of your practice with other teachers, or something to use in your classroom on Monday morning—you found it at SUM! I spent my own time learning about the importance of communication in the math classroom, how and when to introduce coding, and how to facilitate a number talk at all grade levels.

3. The Panel
SUM runs all day Friday and until noon on Saturday (this year, it was held on November 4-5). I’m sure that you can imagine how tough it can be to get to the Saturday portion. And we get that. We really get that. But if you did, you were in for a real treat. The conference ends with a panel discussion that includes our keynotes, featured presenters, and some session presenters.  This year’s panel, as always, handled some deep questions and challenged our thinking with their responses. For instance, they gave us ideas for treaty education through math education, a list of books to investigate, as well as their wish list for curriculum. Lastly, they left us with a reminder that change in the classroom—especially the kind that ultimately has a positive impact on student learning—can often result in things getting worse before they get better… but to see its benefits, you just have to keep going.

unspecified2Clearly, I would mark the conference as a success. But would you? If you made it to the conference, let us know how you felt about the conference by filling out the survey emailed to you last week (you can also access the survey through the following link). Remember to also let us know who you would like to see as keynotes and presenters at future SUM conferences!

If you couldn’t make it this year, you can still read about some of the insights gained and see some photos of the learning in action by checking out the hashtag #SUM2016 on Twitter. Hopefully, this article has helped you see the value of SUM conference and inspires you to attend next year’s installment. We promise to keep you posted as we develop plans for SUM 2017!


Sharon Harvey has been a teacher within the Saskatoon Public School Division for eight years. She has taught all secondary levels of mathematics, as well as within the resource program. She strives to create an inclusive and safe environment for her students.

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