Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Paradigm Shift at NCTM

As I was preparing for a talk on Math Future about my recent book, I was struck by the interesting, but contrasting parallels between the impact that Seymour Papert's Logo movement and the emergence of Dan Meyer and his 37,000 followers on Twitter made on NCTM.

In 1986 at the annual meeting of NCTM in Washington DC, John Van de Walle organized an after hours meeting for attendees who were interested in Logo. According to my count there were about 125 educators in attendance. As a result an organization called the Council for Logo in Math Education (CLIME) was formed which eventually (in 1988) became an affiliate group of NCTM. Our hope was that Logo would enter the mainstream of math education and be promoted by NCTM. And, especially, NCTM would invite Seymour Papert to be a keynote speaker at an NCTM conference. The movement was a disappointment and Papert never spoke at an NCTM conference. There were many reasons but generally I would say that NCTM was not ready to support this disruptive innovation at that time that was focused mostly on computer use and was considered inappropriately technocentric.

A more recent “disruptive” activity is what Dan Meyer has brought to NCTM. Using the power of blogging Dan has become the pied piper of mathematics education reform. In Boston his sessions were filled to capacity and NCTM supported his after hours Shadowcon event. This is all good stuff. I’m all for it. I’m just disappointed that Logo didn’t get its due way back when.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Geometer's Sketchpad User News

As you may know Key Curriculum was folded into McGraw Hill last year so now it's more difficult to find out what's going on in the Geometer's Sketchpad community. Fortunately, Dan Scher and Scott Steketee keep the spirit of this great piece of software alive with their blog where they present excellent ideas for teaching math with Sketchpad.  The one pictured on the left is named Around and Around: Investigating Multiples. Click here for more details. If you are so inclined comment on their website and thank them for their efforts!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Boston Math Conference - Friday Morning

On Friday morning I was following a trail of people leading me towards the 9:30 session lead by Dan Meyer. I walked into the ballroom and it was completed packed. So I checked in next door (Ballroom A) which also had hundreds of seats, but were mostly empty. The title (Stop answering questions - countering the Google Generation) intrigued me so I sat in but still thinking I would eventually go next door (Ballroom B) for Dan’s inservice-like session about building better lessons involving modeling. But I wound up staying to hear a most interesting session not so much about stopping answering student questions but rather leading discussions with questions that the teacher poses that keep students from asking questions that lead to dead ends. The model for the teaching was the answer to Jon Ail's question. (See image.) It struck home because teaching with questions was my main method of modeling an effective way to generate a discussion with students. This means that you avoid answering questions of students that would take them of the hook for productive thinking. For example, giving answers to problems that students might have come up with on their own. Caveat: thinking for students can be painful if the context is not within their zone of proximal development said Jon Ail one of the session leaders. So the questions teachers ask must be carefully, contexually crafted.

I'm sure Dan's session was very enjoyable session for his participants, but he probably had a lot of answers to offer. I was more intrigued with how questions can deliver productive discussion and resolution. Actually this is also Dan's message which he posts on his website: Dan Meyer - less helpful.

See Jon Ail's and Tifiny Howard's slides here. Thanks, Dan for making the slides easily available.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

MTBoS and other NCTM Boston conference adventures

"We are math teachers who share what we've learned, cause we don't want our classes to suck the energy from students. Professional development among friends, not just colleagues. Fun! Immediately useful! Interesting!" So starts the description of MTBoS a 
The chart
refreshing new movement in the NCTM world. Armed with a table in the exhibit hall at the annual NCTM meeting in Boston this fledgling group of young social network activist teachers are slowly yet exponentially changing the face of math education. At least that's how it appeared to me every time I passed the booth and could barely squeeze in to say hello to the latest facilitator (of which there were many) at the booth. Led by Tina Cardone's enthusiasm the MTBoS booth was the best place to visit. What did they have to offer? Lot's of free stuff that members created and shared passionately with visitors. "Do you tweet? Do you blog?" If no was the answer then newbie visitors were given a 5 minute overview of the advantages of these socially viable venues. I'm sure many "joined" the movement and signed their names on the chart with their new twitter handles.
At the MTBoS booth

Tonight MTBoS will be doing a webinar having participants share their experiences at the conference. Click here for details.

I hope to "see" you there!

More NCTM conference adventures in my next blog entry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Goodbye, math and history: Finland wants to abandon teaching subjects at school

Jerry Becker sent me this.
Goodbye, math and history: Finland wants to abandon teaching subjects at school

By Kabir Chibber
Finland already has one of the best school education systems. It always ranks near the top in mathematics, reading, and science in the prestigious PISA rankings (the 2012 list, pdf) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Teachers in other countries flock to its schools to learn from a country that is routinely praised as just a really, really wonderful place to live.

But the country is not resting on its laurels. Finland is considering its most radical overhaul of basic education yet-abandoning teaching by subject for teaching by phenomenon. Traditional lessons such as English Literature and Physics are already being phased out among 16-year-olds in schools in Helsinki.
Instead, the Finns are teaching phenomena-such as the European Union, which encompasses learning languages, history, politics, and geography. No more of an hour of history followed by an hour of chemistry. The idea aims to eliminate one of the biggest gripes of students everywhere: "What is the point of learning this?" Now, each subject is anchored to the reason for learning it.

Pasi Silander, Helsinki's development manager, says the world has changed with the spread of technology and many of the old ways of teaching have no practical purpose. "Young people use quite advanced computers," he told the Independent. "In the past the banks had lots of  bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed."

Many teachers in Finland, many of whom have been teaching single subjects their whole careers, oppose the changes. It is not hard to see why. The new system is much more collaborative, forcing teachers from different areas to come up with the curriculum together.  Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki's education manager and the person responsible for reforming the system in the capital, calls this "co-teaching" and teachers who agree to it get a small bonus on top of their salaries.

Kyllonen told the Independent: "There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s-but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century."
Later this month, she is proposing that the new system is rolled out across the whole country by 2020. Will the rest of the world follow the Finns' lead?


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Goal for Math Education: A Wannado Curriculum

In a post last July Raymond Johnson includes 11 major problems in math education that Hans Freudenthal outlined in an ICME talk in 1980. One of them struck a chord with me. Here’s Raymond’s take on that problem:
How do we create contexts for mathematizing? I think there's been a wealth of work in this area, from work based in Realistic Mathematics Education, work on word problems like that from Verschaffel, Greer, and de Corte, and, most recently, Dan Meyer's work. I could go on, as there are many more examples, and perhaps future work will give us a clearer picture about which contexts work best and why.
For me the answer lies in effective curriculum that students actually want to do. I take as a model children’s books that make math come alive for children. The Librarian who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky comes to mind. This could be the nucleus of a chapter in the curriculum unit about how Eratosthenes in 220 BCE measured the circumference using only sticks, shadows and brains. Students can recreate this measurement by participating in the Noon Day project sponsored by CIESE/Stevens every March and September and can learn a lot of important math in the process.

Harold Jacobs wrote a wonderful textbook back in 1970 called Mathematics: A Human Endeavor* which was described as a textbook for students who didn’t like the subject. The book went through 3 editions. Subsequently he wrote a high school level algebra and geometry book that were in same spirit.

Curricular student engagement is the key. Unfortunately all the good stuff that’s out there is considered side dishes or dessert to the main course which is usually boring to the population of students who need more support and encouragement in doing math.

Textbook companies who produce the main courses are not helping in this regard. We need a new paradigm of textbooks that children actually look forward to reading. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change from the textbooks that continue to be as much fun for children as taking out the garbage?

* (A 4-star review on Amazon:) I'm a 36-year old homeschooling mother who had done calculus in high school and college, and mechanically got some right answers, but never knew why. I hadn't bothered to slow down and notice the beauty and power of the language of mathematics. In his textbook, Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, Harold Jacobs smashed my lack of confidence into a million pieces. He showers the student with so much real-life relevance and humor, that even a slight amount of curiosity about the subject bears delicous fruit. Working through this book will convince any human being, of almost any age, that he or she is a born mathematician.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Blended Learning - the new technology revolution in math education(?)

I’ve been reading Michael Horn’s new book Blended - Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools and realize that we now have new buzz words for what used to be called "Integrating technology into the classroom" (ITC). Now there is a nomenclature for ITC which include sustaining models such as station rotation, lab rotation, and flipped classroom which adhere to traditional educational goals and disruptive models such as individual rotation, A La Carte and enriched virtual which offer students alternative paths to learning 21st century skills in a more open ended, student driven way.

There's a lot to digest here and I'll have more to say about this in future blogs. For a comprehensive overview of the various models of using technology in the classroom I recommend reading Classifying K-12 Blended Learning by the same authors.