I promised to blog while I was at the NCTM National Conference…but I bet you can guess by the title that I was a bit overwhelmed! There were so many things to do and see – I didn’t even come close to accomplishing all that I wanted to. When I got back, I was quickly sucked back into my real world job…so I’m just now getting to post about my NCSM/NCTM experience!
My first day (Tuesday) was mostly spent traveling. I flew from Hartford to Chicago to Indianapolis. For anyone who has ever flown from Chicago to Indianapolis before, you know all too well that there is more time spent loading and unloading the plane than there is time actually spent in the air! The flight time was all of 34 minutes. To put that in perspective, the flight attendant barely had time to do a beverage service on the tiny little plane which only had 44 seats! She was buckling herself up in the jumpseat as we were hitting the ground!
After landing in Indy and getting settled into my hotel, I met up with Carole, a colleague from North Carolina whom I met while at the Professional Development for Mathematics Coaching workshop two summers ago. It was so nice to be able to catch up! Through her, I was also introduced to Jeane Joyner, the co-author of a brand new book titled INFORMative Assessment: Formative Assessment to Improve Math Achievement. We were all invited to attend an event celebrating the newly formed partnership between Scholastic and Math Solutions at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. To say the museum was impressive is a huge understatement. It houses the largest permanent installation of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculpture (Fireworks of Glass) which, besides the math stuff, is why I made sure to go!
We were served a fun dinner of sliders and “macaroni and cheese martinis” in the main atrium of the museum.
In the atrium was the most amazing clock I had ever seen! It was all run by water – Carole and I watched mesmerized as the time changed over to the next hour!
We got to see a few exhibits while we were there as well, including the Dinosphere and a Barbie exhibit. One of my favorite things was the jellybean art (see more here)!
Little did I know, thanks to Scholastic, I was going to walk away with a signed copy of Jeane’s book at the end of the night! I’m really looking forward to delving into it once things calm down here a bit. It may wind up being beach reading over the summer…
I spent Wednesday catching the last day of the NCSM (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics) National Conference. I attended three phenomenal sessions, two of which were led by Lucy West. The first was titled “Taking Coaching to the Systemic Level” and focused on building the capacity of teacher leaders and increasing understanding of truly effective mathematics instruction. (On a side note, we are actually working toward this in our district…in fact, we are holding a workshop this Friday to train 2 math leaders in each of our 11 elementary schools! I’m very excited about building capacity among our teachers to support one another!) The second workshop was titled “Three Voices, One Purpose: Principals Coaches and Teachers United in Mathematics Success.” This session focused on how it is necessary for all of us to work together in order to sustain high levels of mathematical achievement. It really got me thinking about how all stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process regarding the when/where/how/why of mathematics coaching in schools. To support this in our district, I will be looking at some survey data from administrators when planning my work for next year. The final session I was able to attend at NCSM was a second with Lucy West – and I’m really glad I went. It was titled “Addressing Difficult Issues in Coaching Conversations.” Although the teachers I work with have been wonderful, there are times when we all face difficult conversations with colleagues. Through examining the styles of both the coach and the teacher, as well as looking at the beliefs, content knowledge and disposition of the teacher to better “diagnose” the needs of the teacher in a coaching situation, some of those conversations can be made a bit easier. I am very much looking forward to reading more of Lucy’s work. Here is a link to an excerpt from her book, co-written with Fritz Staub called Content Focused Coaching.
After soaking in lots of learning, I decided to have a little fun and headed over to a baseball game! The Indianapolis Indians (the AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) have a stadium right in the middle of Downtown Indianapolis. For all of $14, I got a seat right behind the visitor dugout and enjoyed a great game! The stadium is beautiful – I highly recommend it if you ever visit Indy!
I spent the majority of Thursday morning in the Exhibit Hall. There were close to 200 exhibitors…talk about overwhelming! I decided I had to come up with some kind of system to help me figure out where to go, so I took all of the postcards and coupons I had gotten in the mail promising free stuff and went to those vendors first! By the time I had gotten through just two aisles, I had already scored a few bags full of books, pencils, lanyards, magnets…you get the idea. I sat through several vendor presentations to find out what they had to offer. One of my favorites was Conceptua Math. I had discovered this site not long before I headed to Indy and sent it on to my teaching colleagues, but here I had a chance to actually chat with the CEO, Arjan Khalsa, and see some of the new things he has in store for the site. Conceptua Math offers free fraction teaching tools for interactive whiteboards, and they are quite good. They also offer a subscription-based product with more bells and whistles. I highly recommend checking it out! I also saw a great product called CAVS from Northpoint Horizons. The CAVS system includes direct instruction in academic vocabulary using leveled posters, cards, and activities. I felt that this product would be especially helpful for ELLs and also those who struggle with math because of reading deficits. Naturally I saw some really cool technology stuff – including the Casio Prizm calculator. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of these (to keep!) and it is really impressive. It is well beyond what elementary students (or I) need, but for high school, this could be one amazing teaching tool! I’m looking forward to messing with it a little bit more to see if I can figure it out. After dumping my treasures back in the hotel room, I managed to make it to a few sessions in the afternoon. One of them was actually disappointing. It was titled “Strategies for Differentiated Mathematics Instruction” and the presenter was a mathematics education professor from the University of Florida. Based on our district goals, and my own personal goals as a math coach, I was hoping to walk away with some new ideas to pass on to teachers upon my return. The bad news is that I probably could have made this presentation myself – the only new thing I took away was one website (Prufrock Press). The good news is that means I am pretty solid in my knowledge of differentiation. In my years of attending conferences, there are always at least one or two that you walk away from. This was mine for this go-round. I did attend a very worthwhile session later in the afternoon titled “Cases for Coaches: Professional Development for Elementary Mathematics Specialists.” This session was led by NCTM past-president Skip Fennell, currently professor of education and coordinator of the graduate-level program in elementary education at McDaniel College. He is also the director of the ems&tl Project . Many states are putting into place a certification or endorsement requirement for elementary mathematics coaches and/or specialists. This project is at the forefront of developing and providing the resources necessary to address the needs of this growing field. There is a great discussion forum for sharing ideas, as well as a fantastic resource page. One of the things we talked about was what characteristics make people good (read: successful) math students. Below is a picture of the continuum on which we (the group) put these characteristics without any discussion – 1 for least successful, 5 for most successful characteristics.
After looking at the wall for a while, we began to discuss why people felt certain words belonged in certain places on the continuum. See what you think about where some of those words landed…do you agree? Do you disagree?
On Thursday night, I went to a “Tweetup” sponsored by McGraw-Hill. I got to meet some of the folks I’ve been corresponding with on Twitter over the past several months. I met a media consultant who just happened to pop in for the heck of it – and it just so happened that his son is studying math at IUPUI. I talked him into suggesting to his son that he drop by the NCTM conference on Saturday if he was able…thought it might spur him into investigating teaching as an option. As we all know, we need great math teachers! I also met up with many of the reps from McGraw-Hill and learned about some of the changes on the way for Everyday Math to address the Common Core. I got some important information that I will be sharing over the next few weeks. Best of all, I got to finally meet Dave Coffey – one of my frequent “Tweeps” – who is a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. We have been corresponding for quite some time, as he works with preservice math teacher and always has such great things to share. You can follow him on Twitter (@delta_dc) and make sure to check out his blog, Delta Scape.
On Friday, I attended a wonderful session with Pia Hansen, author of the Mathematics Coaching Handbook. Her session, “Making the Most of Coaching with Cohorts” detailed her work with one particular school district, and how they creatively used sub time and money to gather grade level teams several times per year to plan, execute, and debrief lessons, along the lines of a modified Japanese lesson study model (quick explanation here). When I first started coaching, there was no structure in place – it was kind of “make it up as you go” – which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allowed me to get my bearings and figure out some of the nuts and bolts. Now, heading into my third year and bringing a second coach on board, I’m looking for more structure and a better way to make use of the resources we have. Pia’s session really got me thinking about how to use cohorts…and I’m still thinking! My last session for the day was presented by another colleague of mine from the PDMC program, Susan Deese, and a teacher that she works with in Durham, NH. Their session, “Preplanning for Differentiation: Teaming with a Math Coach” explored yet another modified lesson study model, carving out time to meet and pre-plan lessons with intentional differentiation, teach/observe, and debrief. I am hoping to pick Susan’s brain a bit more over the summer about structure to help plan next year’s coaching for our district.
After what you can see was an exhausting few days, I packed up the majority of my goodies and sent them back to school by FedEx.
I decided to have a nice dinner at the brand new JW Marriott Hotel – it was built at the request of the NFL to provide another 1,000 rooms for the 2012 Super Bowl (that is…if the lockout is over by then).
This picture only shows about half of the hotel!! It just so happened that as I was sitting down, I overheard a discussion about a local (to me) store at the next table, and wound up chatting with a couple of teachers from one of the private schools nearby. Small world, as usual! We had a great conversation about their program, and I am sure we will cross paths again.
On my way to the airport on Saturday morning, I had one of the best conversations of the whole week. I met up with David Suarez, a teacher at the Jakarta International School in Indonesia, and Tara Perez, who teaches in Las Vegas. We had a fantastic discussion about differentiation and tiered assignments – yes, all on the bus to the airport! Check out David’s blog here, as well as his article When Students Choose the Challenge.
Now I’m sure you can see why it took me so long to get this post together… I hope you have found some valuable little tidbits embedded in here somewhere! Please comment or contact me if you would like more information about any of the resources posted here! I’m already looking forward to Philadelphia next year…and I will do shorter, daily posts from there! I’ve learned my lesson!!