Sunday, April 16, 2017

My NCTM Experience Part 1: Dan Meyer

I feel so lucky to have been sent to the NCTM Annual Conference in San Antonio last week by the KATM Board.  I am going to do a series of blog posts about my favorite sessions and biggest conference take-aways.  I'm starting with one of the last sessions that I went to.  

 Last week I sent an email to the generic Desmos email.  Imagine my excitement when I not only got the answer I wanted, but the email came from Dan Meyer!  Yes, I in my own geeky kind of way was soooo excited.  Fast forward to the NCTM conference when I was talking to another math teacher who starts to tell me about someone (can't remember who!?!) and said, "She's my math crush.  Who's yours?"  And while I may not have thought of it in those exact words, I had to admit that it was Dan Meyer.  Now fast forward to the 8 am session on Saturday morning of the NCTM conference....what a way to start my day!

Dan with Kira and me.  He has perfect long arms to take a selfie!
The title of the session was "Math is Power, not Punishment".  The big idea of the session was based around the idea that we need to create intellectual need in our students for what we are teaching them.  As Dan said, "Math is the aspirin, but what is the headache?"  He had some really great, quick activities to illustrate this point.  The most powerful one involved the coordinate plane.  Dan started with a slide of a bunch of dots on the screen and told us each to choose one of them.

Then the screen changed....all those dots were there, but there was a bunch of others.  Dan got a couple of volunteers from the audience.  Volunteer #1 had the job of trying to describe which dot was hers to volunteer #2...and let's just say that was a tough job!
Then it was Volunteer #2's turn, and here is what happened.  I thought this was a great illustration of the idea of creating intellectual need.

The examples that Dan used in the presentation were very meaningful for me as a middle school teacher....the need for the coordinate grid, and another activity that looked at the value of combining like terms before solving equations.

This idea is not just powerful for secondary teachers however.  As I left this session with my K-2 Math Enrichment colleague, it got us talking about a lesson she had been telling me about earlier in the day.  She had done a lesson using non-standard measurement units, such as hands, feet and so on. As she and I talked, we realized that this lesson on non-standard measurement units would be a great way to create intellectual need in her students.  See what headaches can be cured by using standard measurement units.

As teachers, we want to help our kids find the easiest way to do things.  But perhaps we are taking some of the value of process away by not letting them experience some of the headaches first.
This is truly a powerful idea....that if kids see the value of what a method saves them it will be more meaningful to them.  Think of all those things you teach.....why did mathematicians invent those things?  What headaches did they help cure?

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