Monday, April 24, 2017

My NCTM Experience Part 2: Jo Boaler

       The very first day of the NCTM conference, I was so excited about all of the sessions that I forgot to leave myself time to eat lunch.  That's not even true--I knew that I hadn't left a lunch break but I just couldn't help myself!  Jo Boaler was speaking at 12:30 and I was NOT going to miss that.  It as well worth it (and I did manage to find time to eat a quick sandwich after Jo spoke).

     Earlier this year, I read Mathematical Mindsets and it was a truly amazing read.  Listening to her talk was equally amazing.   Jo talked about many of the points from the book but I also had a few different take-aways.  Here are some of the most important points I took away from this hour.

1.  "If you're not struggling, you're not learning."--I talk a lot about making mistakes with my kids at school, and I think I have done a decent job of helping them realize that mistakes are a good way to learn.  But this phrasing helps me realize I need to take that message a step further...I need to normalize the struggle, and not just the mistakes (or right answers).




2.  "Math is not about speed, it is about depth and multiplicity of ideas."--Again, this is not a new message for me, but hearing it at this session just helped reinforce how important this is.  According to Jo, much of math anxiety onset begins  with timed tests. Interestingly, she said that math anxiety most affects the high achievers.  This matches with my beliefs....I've always been one to give kids as much time as needed.  Looking at this made me realize that although I have never really associated  speed with being good at math, this is not something that I talk a lot to the kids about.  I need to do a better job of verbalizing this message to my kids....math should be about deep thinking and understanding over speed.


3.  Teach kids to be skeptics--I love this idea.  What a great way to encourage great discussion and listening skills.  Jo gave three levels of being a critic.....convince yourself, convince a friend, and convince a skeptic.  I'm trying to figure out exactly how to incorporate this into my classroom norms for next year, but I definitely love this idea.

4.  Math freedom--This was one of my biggest take-aways.  Jo showed several clips of kids from her summer math camp, and so many of them talked about freedom being the reason that they liked the camp when they didn't like math in school.  Jo expanded on this idea into two types of math freedom:  organizational freedom and math freedom.



  • Organizational freedom included several things such as how you handle talking, sharing, recording, spending your time and movement in your room.  I'll be honest....this one gives me pause as a classroom teacher.  I understand that kids like freedom in moving around and how they spend their time....but I also know that in my classroom, structure and procedures have always been a bedrock that help my room run effectively.  I don't want to discount this idea, but I do think it is easier to do some of these things in a summer camp setting versus a regular classroom setting.  This is one I will take some time to reflect on this summer and think of ways that I can use this.
  • Math freedom included things like interpretation of problems, how kids see problems, learning new ideas, how we think about mistakes, and ideas about inquiry and creation.  I really loved this idea of math freedom....that kids begin to see math as a subject that is not just a set of rules, but there is freedom about where to start and how to proceed.  I want kids to see that math can be creative in how you think about a problem and that it needs to make sense.
I was so inspired by all of these ideas that since I've gotten back, I've taken Jo's free online course for students call "How to Learn Math for Students".  It had such great messages for students that I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate this awesome material into my classroom next year.  I also enrolled in "How To Learn Math for Teachers and Parents".  This one was not free, but I'm so excited to see what else I can learn.  I've just started the course, and I look forward to all that I will learn.

I'm already starting to have some ideas about how I want to change up some things in my classroom next year.  One definite thing is that I will be starting next year with some form of the free online course.  The other big thing I have been considering is changing up how I do homework.  I really want to make it more self-directed...I think I'll blog more about this idea later as it is still forming in my head.  I just know that I'm wanting to move towards something that is differentiated and puts it to students to examine where there are at and push themselves.

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