NCTM Gets It

Here are two reasons to be encouraged about the work and vision of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, followed by my hope for its future.

NCTM is obviously interested in recruiting new members, along with all of their new ideas.

Two years ago there was a panel discussion dedicated to technology in math education which featured a bunch of math Twitter-types. The following year saw an entire strand dedicated to ideas from those math Twitter-types. Then the math Twitter-types occupied the opening keynote at this year’s Nashville regional conference, immediately after which Robert Kaplinsky took my favorite photo from that conference.

Mark it, friends, or correct me if I’m wrong: that’s the first appearance of a current NCTM President at what the Twitter-types call a “tweetup.”

Just five years ago, these Twitter-types occupied the fringe. It’s so nice to see everybody making friends and learning from one another. This only bodes well.

NCTM’s new conference website has promise.

The history: Zak Champagne, Mike Flynn, and I ran Shadow Con as an experiment in extending the face-to-face conference experience. We offered speakers a more powerful platform on the web for interacting with attendees (live and virtual) than NCTM’s existing read-only conference program website.

We reported the results of that experiment to NCTM’s executive team and that was the last any of us heard from them until this year’s regional conferences when they tweeted out their new conference website. Look at it!

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The featured speakers at the regional conferences each get their own page on a WordPress installation. On first glance those pages look just like a conference website. Title, description, and time. Just the facts. But speakers can add files, videos, and other resources. Then there is a comment box where attendees can get in touch before and after the session.

A colleague of mine remarked: “It’s a mixed bag.” Yeah, but what a mix!

Out of the 28 featured sessions across the three regional conferences, seven presenters don’t seem to have visited their page. That lack of attention has basically zero downside. Their pages look just like they would on any read-only conference program website. Title, description, and time. Just the facts.

And across the other 21 sessions, there is a pile of activity!

All of this is possible without NCTM site’s but none of it is easy to do and none of it is easy to find.

So here is my hope for the future of NCTM conferences.

Extend this website to cover all presenters from all NCTM conferences and offer it to affiliate organizations for their conferences as well.

I want to click Annie Fetter’s name on one page and see all the talks she’s ever given, across geography and time, including five years ago at some random state affiliate conference I never knew existed.

I want to search for “Kate Nowak NCTM” in Google and find her past conference pages and also her upcoming talks.

Before I attend a conference, I want to locate presenters whose talks seem to provoke a lot of online discussion afterwards, and then attend those.

If NCTM makes this commitment, they’ll increase their value to current and prospective members several times over.

For current members, they increase the value of conference attendance and decrease the pressure on attendees to attend every session. (Expect the question “Will you be posting your resources to your page?” to float around Twitter in the weeks leading up to every conference.) The conference page will connect attendees and speakers in the twelve months between annual conferences.

Prospective members, the kind who wonder “Why NCTM?”, may start to land on conference pages more often than Pinterest boards when they search for resources. As those prospective members explore the resources on those conference pages, NCTM can recommend journals, articles, books, tasks, and other conference pages that may also be helpful. NCTM can point those visitors to upcoming conferences and sessions on those themes, converting non-members into members and members into stronger teachers.

Until future notice, I am a single-issue voter in all NCTM elections and this is my issue.

About 

I’m Dan and this is my blog. I’m a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

15 Comments

  1. “Extend this website to cover all presenters from all NCTM conferences and offer it to affiliate organizations for their conferences as well.”

    As an NCTM state affiliate president (FCTM) – I’ll be sure to keep pushing for this to happen my friend! There’s no doubt with the current and future leadership at NCTM, we can work to make this happen.

  2. I feel like the CMC South conference does a great job of facilitating this as well (http://cmcsouth2015.sched.org/) but perhaps the Sched page could use more. The IGNITE talks were Periscope’d this year (thanks Rosa @serratore4) and archived on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC80Yb2bBZYTaGRFYz_o9uUw)

    But I’d like to see more. At CUE conferences the emphasis on technology to enable access for students is obviously the main issue. Good folks like Alice Keeler and Jon Corippo attract thousands* of attendees because of their innovative mindsets and technical knowledge. Most of the math conferences I’ve gone too are still more amazed by it as opposed to expecting it (Fenton-led sessions aside).

    Interactive idea-sharing with intent for application are the whole reason I use twitter and even read your blog. I think sometimes in the math world we still hold up tech as an exclusive club – NCTM’s efforts like you mention will help make it more mainstream and seen by *everyone* that Collaboration is an easier first step to use technology even then using it in the classroom with students.

    I know my perspective may be skewed (or fresno-skewed as the case may be), but I do feel the work of Desmos/you/Kaplinsky etc to move the conversation beyond HOW do we use technology into WHAT we do with it to help teachers and students.

  3. Both of these changes are great. I hope they continue. NCTM needs a lot of new ideas, a ton of experimentation, and this seems like a good start.

    What else to try? Here’s what I’d urge:

    1. Redesign conferences so that attendees attend fewer sessions but spend more time meeting new best teacher friends.
    2. Find a bunch of bloggers and pay them free membership and an extra journal to blog about whatever they want for NCTM.
    3. Make local meetups/tweetups throughout the country happen.
    4. Fund and design a series of awards and professional distinctions that are only available to working teachers who are members of NCTM.
    5. Find a better PR strategy for publicizing whatever policy advocacy is happening from NCTM.

  4. When I became a teacher 8 years ago, it seemed all NCTM cared about was graphing calculators and technology. Use of pencil and paper was scoffed at, however in middle school and below a pencil can be a student’s best math tool. Has there been any discussion of this since? I’ve shied away for this reason. Technology has a place in teaching, but it’s nothing without fundamentals.

  5. Dan – Can I get an “amen”?

    I only joined NCTM two years ago, because I had not considered myself a “teacher of mathematics” as an elementary teacher who teaches all content. WHAT? Of COURSE I am a teacher of mathematics. Even though I live in Texas, I attended CMC North last year, a week after I discovered Jo Boaler via my Google search (“mindset + math” — who knew?!) and discovered she was a Keynote. You ALL rocked it!!! Plenty of sessions for elementary, and those that weren’t were absolutely relevant regardless of grade level. I will be attending again this year, and bringing my son (a HS AP Calc teacher) so he can experience this amazing “PLC.”

    Dan, I love what your group has done to broaden and strengthen the networking of professionals. Flattened organizations; social media; global societies; brilliant voices willing to innovate, take risks, iterate, and share…this will move the needle. Correction…this HAS moved the needle.

    Keep thinking and sharing!

  6. @Michael Pershan I think #4 (OpenBadges anyone?)and 5 of your points would be very interesting. On publicizing, perhaps work more with affiliates such as CMC as well to coordinate federal and state promotion. IE talk about legislative changes and connect those changes to classroom practice etc. Some of that I do see, but more could be done via social media as well.

  7. Michael:

    What else to try? Here’s what I’d urge.

    Yeah, but why? What are your priors for those changes? How do those changes help sustain a professional guild or its conferences?

    I overheard (?) your tweets about problem solving in an empty room at NCTM. Several of your suggestions in particular seem to flow from that vein. How do you know that’s something everyone needs rather than something that Michael Pershan needs?

    Brandon Dorman:

    I feel like the CMC South conference does a great job of facilitating this as well but perhaps the Sched page could use more.

    The Sched pages are purdy but there isn’t any way to comment on them, no way to host interactions between speakers & attendees. That’s a pretty big shortcoming IMO.

  8. How do you know that’s something everyone needs rather than something that Michael Pershan needs?

    1. Redesign conferences so that attendees attend fewer sessions but spend more time meeting new best teacher friends.

    This is my take about why people love the TMC experience.

    2. Find a bunch of bloggers and pay them free membership and an extra journal to blog about whatever they want for NCTM.

    My take on the blogosphere is that people prefer to follow individuals — people they can learn to trust and love — rather than group blogs.

    3. Make local meetups/tweetups throughout the country happen.

    This is my take on what people love about local tweetups that emerge from online meetings.

    4. Fund and design a series of awards and professional distinctions that are only available to working teachers who are members of NCTM.

    This is my take on part of what people enjoy about the experience of blogging and tweeting — the chance, as a classroom teacher, for your ideas to matter to other people and be recognized for excellence.

    5. Find a better PR strategy for publicizing whatever policy advocacy is happening from NCTM.

    This is because I don’t know what NCTM does with its policy stuff but apparently they do stuff?

  9. Sorry if any of that was sketchy — it was hastily typed before heading off into class — but overall I’m maybe thinking of the lessons for NCTM to learn from the MTBoS in a slightly different way than others are.

    Others are taking the lesson that these people matter, that their enthusiasm matters, that twitter and the internet more broadly matters.

    While not dismissing those points, I take different lessons out of my last six years online and as part of math teacher communities. The lessons I take are that relationships matter, knowing people matter, and that there is an intense felt need in the profession to share and reflect in the company of others. So my little list is an attempt to summarize this slightly more relationship-focused perspective.

  10. @Michael, thanks for the follow-up. I’m certain that extrapolating TMC preferences to NCTM priorities would make for very happy TMCNCTM members. I’m less certain about the other n-150 members of NCTM, though.

    I was also uncertain about the interactive conference program idea and it was nice to prototype it in a small and then a medium way. I wonder what we could prototype from your list, what would tell you, “Yeah, this idea has legs, or naw.”

  11. Your post summarizes my take as well. Diane Briars began the NCTM Nashville opening session by talking about bringing people together and how the lines between groups are blurring and our talk continued to support this belief. The conference was almost a Twitter Math Camp!

    It should be stated that the photo would not have existed without Lani Horn setting up the event, Mike Flynn for upping the reservations, Andrew Stadel for the brilliant idea to invite the NCTM leadership to come, and Eric Milou for his ever present support. It was definitely cool to have Diane Briars (NCTM) and Bob Doucette (NCTM executive director) there. I know Matt Larson (NCTM president-elect) would have been there too if it wasn’t for the massive storm.

    One thing I am very happy about is the merging of communities within NCTM program committees. I believe every single upcoming program committee has one or more people who are active on social media in mathematics. This is certain to further blend communities. We are so much better together.

    NCTM leadership continues to build bridges and be incredibly supportive of its members. Looking forward to continued growth.

  12. I don’t see this mentioned in your post, but in an email from NCTM today was this gem about St. Louis next year:

    “New Event

    Please note NCTM is introducing a NEW learning experience in St. Louis, Nov. 16–18, 2016. This new event will add an exciting, innovative, and fresh format to the current NCTM portfolio of conferences.
    St. Louis | November 16–18, 2016
    The focus is “Engaging the Struggling Learner.” Expect new presentation formats, speaker requirements, and hybrid proposal process to include crowd-sourcing for sessions and topics. More information will be available soon about the conference and the submission process for this focused event.

    Interesting.

  13. I wonder what we could prototype from your list

    I don’t think this would be so tough to do, and to an extent some of this is already happening:

    1. Try to revamp the networking lounge (in the exhibition center) at conferences.
    2. Hire a single blogger and give them the reigns of one of the blogs. I don’t believe JRME has a blog, which is a shame — maybe someone could do that?
    3. Pick a city, pick a weekend, try to host a tweetup there.
    4. Host a writing contest for classroom stories, or whatever.

    Just to clarify, this isn’t Pershan’s Grand Plan to Revamp NCTM. Just a bunch of small ideas that are in line with a particular vision of the future.