What I Learnt from #rEDWash
“I’m hopeful. I know there is a lot of ambition in Washington, obviously. But I hope the ambitious realize that they are more likely to succeed with success as opposed to failure.” George W. Bush
Well, it has been officially one week since I took flight to D.C. to attend and speak at researchED Washington. And what a wild ride it was. I returned to class this week on a high – completely abuzz from meeting with people who were willing to listen about what matters in education.
I decided that I wanted to write a post about researchED, but wanted it to be more reflective in nature. So here are a few lessons that I learnt from researchED Washington:
Setting up routines is important.
I thought David Didau hit on a few important ideas in his talk Poor Proxies for Learning. One that stuck out to me was the idea that anything that occupies working memory resources reduces our ability to think, and that we need to think about something in order to learn it. I was wondering how do I lessen or eliminate unnecessary distractions in my own teaching? To me, this feels tied to Tom Bennett’s discussion about the three Rs of classroom management – the first R being routines.
Should I be more mindful of the routines that I am setting up in my college classrooms? How do I feel about technology? I am mindful to tell students that they need to think deeply about something to be able to learn it, and that cell phone use in class often leads to decreased learning capability – however, I don’t generally enforce non-use of cell phones in my classes. Would it be weird to get into a routine of no cellphones in class? This would help eliminate some necessary distractions and allow students to focus more on what matters – thinking about the mathematics we are working on. I need to spend more time on this as I move forward in the future.
Teachers don’t seem to be ready.
Maybe all of us that got together in Washington are those pioneers harvesting good things to come. But I look back, thinking to myself, “Geeze, where are all the teachers?” I like that the event had a mixture of policy-makers and experts in different fields that were interested in the future of education, but it still felt lacking in teacher attendance. Maybe I am setting my hopes too high, and that I should buy into the “Build it and they will come” mentality. Or is it that teachers in their current state, see little utility in an even like researchED? The NCTM regionals in Phoenix and Philadelphia occurred at the same time as researchED Washington, and their teacher attendance and ticket prices were much higher (researchED is a non-profit, thus ticket prices can remain low). Either way, I left the event thinking about what might make the event more useful for teachers. How do we truly make researchED a space in which practitioners can seize control of their own professional development, rather than it becoming an echo-chamber of like-minded individuals?
Good teaching boils down to more than jumping on the latest bandwagon.
One thing I really enjoyed about Cassy Turner’s talk was that she gave some indication of the power of the Singaporean mathematical ideas. The big take-away for me was that the bar-modelling, while a very strong visual in of itself, is not the end goal. The bar model is meant to introduce mathematical ideas in a visual way to allow for pattern recognition – movement to the abstract is always the end-goal. That is, there is a clear destination: building fluency with numbers or with algebra.
A potential problem arises when we adapt a particular soup de jour, without critically thinking about how it is connected to present or future mathematical ideas. Eric Kalenze discussed this through the lens of over-correction: an adaptation to a current problem without thoughtful analysis of what the problem entails. I feel like there are also connections to my talk on teacher training programs needing to contain horizon content knowledge, or knowledge of connections between mathematical ideas, and how one mathematical idea progresses to the next.
One of my highlights last weekend was responding to the question “So what do you make of Dan Meyer?” In my personal journey as a mathematics teacher, I find myself returning back, time and again, to the practices of Dan Meyer. So my response was that there is something interesting happening there – I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that I like, but I think it holds promise. Over the next month or so, I am going to spend some time reading up on some of Dan’s educational interests and trying to formalize some of the aspects of Dan’s teaching practices that I particularly enjoy, and maybe even some of the practices that I don’t. Be on the lookout for that over the holidays – and many thanks to Dan for supplying a few articles to start my journey.
It is intimidating to party with the cool kids.
While I like to pretend that I am as cool as a cucumber – I actually care a fair bit about how others perceive me. On bad days, it can be particularly challenging, as it becomes too easy to get caught up in the exhausting hustle of “How do others perceive me?” Perhaps the stress of preparing and presenting at the conference got to me, but I walked away thinking that I had let my audience down. One of my audience members left before I was able to finish. Was it because we started a bit late? Did that person really need a coffee? These things nag at me, and make me feel a bit disheartened. Maybe I didn’t deserve my spot alongside the other speakers? If I ever get to hang out with the cool kids again, one thing that I can guarantee is that I will make sure I am ready to play.
For those of you interested in the slides from my presentation, you can find them here: bridging-mathematics-mathematics-education.