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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Presenting at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Council 2009

Washington DC is a gorgeous city!!!

It was an interesting experience presenting original material in a national conference. I was prepared for 25-30 participants and had developed the workshop with that in mind. The conference organizers placed me early afternoon on Thursday in a room with a capacity of almost 400! I had to spend most of Thursday morning trying to re-organize my presentation and traipsed around town to make more copies. In the end I had around 100 participants, so I was more than prepared with the copies but still not quite with the format of the workshop.

Overall, I would say that the workshop went fine, though not as I had planned. From what I could tell, many participants were positive and active with the materials and genuinely interested in doing Problems of the Week with their students. I have received emails of appreciation and further inquiry from teachers all over the country.

As a learning experience, you can’t cross a chasm with two medium steps, but rather with one large leap, so I have no regrets, but many points I will be reflecting on. The biggest take away is that our society has moved pretty far away from paper: the best workshops were Powerpoint visuals with email addresses and links to materials from websites. That is where I want to be and learned I should be.

As a networking experience, nothing beat talking to educators around the country to figure out our relative position in the bigger scheme of things. 8th grade algebra is not as widespread as I would have hoped. In other places, 7th grade is being taught algebra first, then repeated in 8th grade in order to pass the state tests. I found that horrifying. If there was one message to be taken from all the workshop presenters, it is that this should not be the case. But political realities are as they are.

I met one of the lead publishers for our Algebra program and had a conversation about their other work with 6th and 7th grades. I also talked with a staff developer for our current 6th and 7th grade program who gave me some very good tips about their website help for parents. Most importantly, I met the Problem of the Week team from out of Drexel University, who I have been talking and exchanging emails with for years. It was nice to put names to faces in this digital world.

I spoke briefly with the publisher of the TERC curriculum that the school adopted years ago. There is a newer version of the curriculum that I found engrossing and family friendly. I think we should consider using these materials in the 4th and 5th grades in the years to come and make an effort to properly learn how to use them to the best effect.

The single most exciting workshop I attended was called Using Web 2.0 to Teach Math 2.0. It was organized by a professor out of Washington State and three of her grad students. A key message is that students benefit when teachers learn how to use the communication capabilities of today’s Web. As one grad student said: “Email is so ‘last century’”. Each grad student showcased a particular project they used with their students that promoted collaboration and communication in the format that young people relate to, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and many more and cooler things. This workshop really spoke to me as I continue my blogging efforts and have incorporated Twitter as a principal source of professional development.

One interesting quote from an article they pointed to:

“We are challenged to think about how to best prepare our kids for the ‘hypertransparent and hyperconnected world’ in which they are going to work and play… in this environment, ‘how’ you do something is more important even than ‘what’ you do. If you’re not doing it skillfully, ethically, and transparently, you’ve be ceding success to those that do. It is not how good your resume is, but rather, how well you come out in a Google search that counts.”

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