Thursday, August 2, 2018


My favorite professional meet of the year has come and gone. Here's what I'm still thinking about... divided into everything else and the equity session, Take a Knee, led by Marian Dingle and Wendy Menard.

Necessary proviso: there is so much good at a TMC.  The signal to noise ratio is unimaginable compared to any other meeting/conference I've been to. I'm not trying to represent everything, and I'm skipping good stuff. This is literally what I'm still thinking about.

Everything Else

Desmos preconference: this was all about computation layer for me. Despite Michael Felton's great introduction last year I did nothing with it. Sigh. Now I feel like maybe I could, if I get some time to just process. There's a help forum, an improved Scavenger Hunt (which are the learning activities) and some documentation. Look at Chase's and Madison's Estimation Stations for what is possible. (Or watch their My Favorite on it)Plus Eli's description that computation layer is really about connecting pipes to send data. Connect a source to a sink. Christopher led a design session that covered their principles for building an activity and showed it in action in the activity Marcellus the Giant. That was also the first peek of Snapshot, an amazing new teacher tool. Turn any of the Desmos tools on or off at

Marian's keynote. Quiet, intense and personal. This is directly a challenge to the community of math teachers. Are we on the side of equity? Are we doing what we can? Do we even see the problems, issues and concerns in front of us. Please watch.

Amie Albrecht teaches a problem solving course where she is doing so much fabulous pedagogy. The course has explicit goals of learning to problem solve, and to be able to share that verbally/presented or in writing. Feedback before grading, reiteration with wider and wider audiences... just beautiful. Folder of resources. Some things I'm still thinking about for our teacher education classes and for the redeeming mathematics class. Part of it, the Back of Mathematics, she shared as a My Favorite.

I caught Robert Berry's keynote at Desmos and his afternoon session on day 1 on the NCTM's Catalyzing Change book. Honestly, because I am terrible at reading programs ahead of time, I was just surprised he stayed! He really participated and was great about connections between the MTBoS and NCTM. One of the cool things in Catalyzing Change is that the NCTM is against tracking of students and of teachers. Are the most effective teachers teaching all the students? I do think it is a huge mistake for NCTM to paywall their essential high school content in this book. The 1999 Standards and Principles were so formative for me, and so hard to get into teachers hands. One lesson I'd love for NCTM to get from the teacher twitter community is that shared resources increases buy-in and participation. Teachers are naturally community-minded, and if you make them welcome and support them they will join. (Opinion.)

Julie's keynote. I was in two minds here. One, appreciative audience in need of the message, and two, person speaking the next day having to follow Marian and this. Wurg. The impostor syndrome message was timely. And if an old man who speaks regularly and has taught for 30+ years feels that way... sigh. But also, as a teacher educator, her message about being a teacher leader was perfect. It's not about doing everything, it's about finding what you love, doing that, and sharing. It reminded me of Dave Coffey's favorite Teaching Gap quotation:

The star teachers of the twenty-first century will be teachers who work every day to improve teaching—not only their own but that of the whole profession. -Stiegler & Hiebert
Sasha Fradkin presented on impossible problems. I love the idea of learners doing the work of mathematicians, and showing something can not happen is just as important as finding out what can. But how rarely do we ask them to do that? I'm still tossing over in my head what the difference might be between doing a general investigation, and specifically asking for outcomes that can't happen. Sasha is the author of Funville Adventures, which session I missed, but be sure to check it out.

Brian Bushart is still developing numberless problems with the teachers and learners of Red Rock.  It's really impressive to me, that they are making some great improvements to something that was already fabulous. But he realized that some teachers were using the structure in a deficit mindset. And thinking about Rochelle Gutierrez's ideas about mathematics identity, they reframed the problems with a story telling lens. Just amazing. (His slides.)

Some My Favorites: (all the TMC18 vids from Glenn Waddell)

Take a Knee
I spend a lot of time thinking about this, and trying to educate myself. I try to use the understanding I build as an inclusion advocate at the university, and in my teacher education classes, as well as some local work in the community. Despite all the time I spend reading about this, I am constantly humbled by how much more there is to learn and work to do on my own thinking. Last year's TMC session by Grace Chen, Brette Garner, and Sammie Marshall revolved around connections between equity and the Standards for Mathematical Practice. Personal work included developing a checklist to get past our internalized schema, and 'equity eyes' -training ourselves to see. (All three are/were Lani Horn's grad students. Never wrote it up for the blog, bad blogger.) It revolved around developing equity eyes.  This year I got to see Calvin Terrell who sometimes refers to this work as decolonizing. Then a 5 week workshop at work was titled Decolonizing White Consciousness, which seemed timely. That featured work of Robin DiAngelo (watch this on white privilege), adrienne maree brown (read Emergent Strategy), and a variety of readings and videos around the idea of identity.

So the morning sessions for me came down to Take a Knee or Islamic Art, and I couldn't not join Wendy and Marian. (Session resources. Twitter - #tmcequity) Both were a part of the TMC17 equity session and Wendy & José Luis Vilson's Racially Relevant Pedagogy session at TMC16 is the single most affecting hour workshop I've ever been to.

Day 1 started with us introducing ourselves with our identities. This feels very odd if you're part of a group or groups that gets to take this for granted. Straight, more white than not, male... naming has power and self-naming invites vulnerability. The day closed with an activity for trying to suss out how central all these identities are to you. It was gently brutal. In between, we tried to figure out what take a knee even meant in the context of our work in math education. A theme that continued over the three days started here: equity for our students and what did that mean, and using our lessons as a way to be relevant and real with our learners. Both are a part of the larger discussion of how teaching is political.

Day 2 revolved around standards and methodologies. Teaching Tolerance's Common Beliefs help us understand how what teachers bring to the classroom influences what we teach, and the Standards for Social Justice are as good a framework as I've seen for how we should aspire to teach. Rochelle Gutierrez's article on Creative Insubordination (in here from TODOS) provided a lot to talk about. And we had an awesome poster session on that.

It's insubordination because we are consciously trying to work against the status quo.

Day 3 was preparing to go back into our worlds. We began with powerful identity statements again. "Because of my race I can..." Says something about a group of people that can share such things. We then worked in small groups on what we can do, short, medium and long range.  My group was thinking about math lessons that reflect and think about the diversity of our schools, communities and country.

For me:

  • Short: diversify follows on Twitter. I got some great suggestions in responses to this tweet, and from the hashtag #disrupttexts.
  • Medium: incorporate SJ standards into teacher training.
  • Long: transform colleagues. Makes me woogly just to say it.
Further reading: Kent Haines - Pedagogy and Equity, Dylan Kane - Disrupt Math, Michael Pershan (not even there!) - Power Works by Isolating.

Next Year
Still thinking about this. I've been lucky enough to go 5 years in a row - is it time to make space for someone else? Selfishly, it is amazing to participate. But there won't be space if all the same people always go. I'm also conscious of not being a classroom teacher, and the thought of taking that spot is chilling. Maybe the TMC Midwest will happen? And absolutely no judgment on anyone else who is a repeat attender - I am only trying to process this for myself. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey John,

    Thank you so much for sharing your thinking on TMC18. I did not suffer from FOMO, though it is weird to read all the reflections and think, "wait a minute, I wasn't there?"
    And alas, you hit on one of the reasons I stayed home. "How can we be more inclusive if we all go?" It is a confusing question, especially when TMC gives me so much validation. I am going to try to be my highest, mature self and say I am enough.