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Two quick meta-items about blogging from the last week:

  • I attended Twitter Math Camp 2014 in Jenks, OK, in which 150 math teachers who generally only interact online get together in person. I gave a keynote that could probably best be described as “data-rich,” in which I downloaded and analyzed details on 12,000 blogging and tweeting math teachers. Here are links to my slides and speech as well as the CSVs if you want to analyze some data yourself. (Who doesn’t!)
  • A doctoral student in Canada is interested in blogging as “unmediated professional growth” and sent me a survey about my blogging. Here is a link to my responses. How would you have answered?

NCTM 2014 Schedule

This is your official dy/dan conference planner® for next week’s conventions.

My Sessions

I’ll be doing three lecture-y things, then a panel with the #netkidz, then happy hour with our hosts, Mathalicious and Desmos.


The conference program is enormous. After making an initial list of every session I wanted to attend, I had three sessions listed for every hour of every day. Here’s how I decided where I’m going:

First, search for all the reliable people I’ve already seen or read.

That list includes:

Ani, Ball, Bass, Boaler, Callahan, Coffey, Danielson, Daro, Dougherty, Douglas, Garneau, Khalsa, Leinwand, Luberoff, McCallum, Mills, Milou, Murray, Olson, Pickford, Serra, Shih, Silbey, Wray, anyone from EDC, anyone from Math Forum, anyone from Conceptua Math, anyone from Key Curriculum Press, anyone from the #netkidz strand.

Then, admit your biases.

This year I’m partial to sessions on a) the transition from arithmetic to algebra, b) modeling with math, c) technoskepticism, d) technology.

In general, I shy from sessions on dead technologies and session titles with exclamation points. (Though exceptions have to be made sometimes!)

Use Google.

So I’m still looking at lots of session conflicts. There’s nothing quite as fun as discovering a new voice with new ideas at NCTM so I’ll head online and scan blogs, professional websites, or Twitter feeds. Occasionally, I’ll find the presenter’s slides online, which helps me make an informed decision.

How do you map out and prepare for an event as huge (in every dimension) as NCTM?

A Few Recommendations

I figure if you’re reading this you’re already going to Ignite, the keynotes, and the same #netkidz sessions I am. So here are some sessions I’m looking forward to attending that you may have missed. (Some of these are for ASSM and NCSM.)

Jere Confrey + Amplify

Jere Confrey has been working on Amplify’s tablet for the last four years as their chief math officer. She isn’t a technologist by training but obviously understands math and math education so I’ve been very curious to see what she’s been up to. She’s obliging my curiosity with three sessions at NCSM, all concerning digital curriculum.

  • Monday. 9:30AM. Using Digital Environments to Foster Student Discourse.
  • Tuesday. 11:15AM. Using Complex Problems, Rich Media, and Rubrics to Develop the Standards for Mathematical Practice.
  • Wednesday. 2:30PM. Jazz Fusion: Uniting Curriculum, Pedagogy, Assessment, and Teacher Support in a Tablet-Based Environment.

Treisman’s Back

  • Monday. 12:15PM. Navigating the Waters of Change and the Role of our Professional Organizations.

After his exceptional address last year, I don’t even check Uri Treisman’s titles or descriptions anymore.

Equity Strand

Treisman isn’t speaking at NCTM but we get Gutierrez and Gutstein in his stead.

Technology + Technoskepticism

I don’t know Kevin Lawrence but it takes some nerve to throw the gauntlet down at graphing calculators so I’ll hear him out. David Masunaga is just endlessly fun, which would be enough, but I’m especially interested in his provocation here. Former blogger Avery Pickford has a background in computer science so you know his technoskepticism comes from an informed position. Steketee and his co-speaker Daniel Scher both blog for Key Curriculum Press at Sine of the Times and their recent postings have been outstanding.

Judging Books By Their Covers

These were my favorite titles:

  1. Thursday. 2:00PM. The Mathematics of Casino Management. Micah Stohlmann.
  2. Friday. 11:30AM. Avoid Teaching Rules That Expire! Sarah Bush.
  3. Friday. 2:00PM. The Great Nutella Heist. Bonnie Spence.

Just Kill Me Now #1

Just Kill Me Now #2

What have I missed?

Also: be sure to say hello if we see each other.

And: I can’t recommend happy hour enough. It was one of my favorite sessions at Denver last year. Let’s make some memories.

PS: I may recap some sessions over at MathRecap. Toss your email address in the little slot if you’d like to receive those via email.

My 2014 Speaking Schedule


Hi there and happy 2014. I’m currently flying from sunny Mountain View, CA, into the heart of the polar vortex for some work with math educators in Madison, WI. That’ll be the first of 50-ish workshops and talks I’ll be offering over 2014. You can find the rest of that list on my presentation page. I’ve posted links to sessions that have open registrations. (Some later dates haven’t opened registration yet.) If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment here or an e-mail at Do say hi if we’re in the same area and tell me something interesting you’ve learned about teaching this year.

Great Palm Springs Action


I’m just now back from CMC South in Palm Springs where attendance was about 1,000 people higher than the organizers expected. My already-pretty-high expectations for California math education conferences were also exceeded several times over. What follows are resources and takeaways from the sessions I attended and from one I didn’t.

Robert Kaplinsky

Real-World Problem-Based Learning Using Perplexing Tasks

Robert showed us this image and asked us to figure out how much it cost.


I’ve seen his lesson plan before but it didn’t prepare me for how interesting the math became.

We used the In-N-Out prices for a hamburger, a cheeseburger (a hamburger + cheese), and a Double-Double (a cheeseburger twice over) to figure out the cost of the 100×100 burger.

Our calculation was exactly right but we arrived at it differently. I used a system of three linear equations. My seatmates used a bit more conceptual creativity and got the same answer with a lot less computation. Robert highlighted all of these methods.

My takeaway: it’s really, really hard to describe in a text-based lesson plan all the awesome, heady moments it may provoke. I knew the lesson would be fun and productive. I didn’t know it would be this fun and productive. How do we create lesson plans that convey all those highs, rather than just the nuts and bolts of their implementation?

Breedeen Murray

Telling Stories, Teaching Math

Bree claimed that stories are a useful medium for student learning. She backed this up with lots of citations that I hope she’ll share somewhere. [Update: She has.] She posed ideas for filtering our own lessons through the logic of stories – setting context, adding conflicts, etc. She closed by asking us try to create story-based lessons for exponentials and fraction division.

My thoughts went to St. Matthew Island, which I’ll link without elaboration.

Allan Bellman

Manipulatives vs. Technology: Bring Your Bias and an Open Mind

Great premise for a session:

Pose two lesson objectives. For instance:

  1. Students will be able to understand why the angles in a triangle always add to 180 degrees.
  2. Students will be able to understand how to calculate the shortest distance from a point to a line and then back to another point.

Allan then brought any resource you’d want, from low-tech to high-tech, everything from tracing paper and scissors to a class set of TI-Nspire’s. We used what we wanted to explore those objectives and then debated the merits of the analog and digital technologies.

The debate hit a high register pretty quickly. For the 180 degrees question, people tended to favor the diverse ways you could demonstrate it with paper. (Cutting, tracing, drawing, etc.) With the NSpire, you had one. You downloaded an applet from Allan and moved vertices around, watching the angle sum stay constant.

For the shortest path problem, most people preferred the calculator because you were able to set up the constraints and then drag a point around to see where the distance bottomed out. The only analog method we discussed was to draw the scenario and then use string to measure the different possibilities, slowly narrowing in on the answer.

For my part, I was bothered that we never discussed a) any other digital technology, aside from Texas Instruments calculators, or b) the cost of a class set of any kind of technology.

Granted, I probably make sport of Texas Instruments too much (and I’m hardly unbiased here) but truly I just find the user experience miserable. From the untouchable, low-DPI screens, to the time it takes me to find the right button out of the millions, to the mindless, button-pushing worksheets teachers have to pass out just to make the devices comprehensible, to the lurching way the cursor moves across the screen in Cabri, I find the whole experience pretty painful.

It would have been great to see the same problems approached with Geogebra or Desmos, for instance. Or even an Excel spreadsheet.

Then there’s the cost. All other things held equal, the high-tech solution will still cost thousands of dollars more per classroom. So we shouldn’t be talking about which solution comes out barely ahead of the other. Technology should shoulder the greater burden of proof here.

Michael Serra

Polygon Potpourri

Five interesting investigations with polygons [pdf]. Michael spent ten minutes prefacing the set, then let us investigate them for twenty minutes, and then asked a volunteer to debrief each one at the end.

If nothing else, it was a nice morning moment to talk about math with Internet friends. That was enough. But I’ve been struck also by how hard it is to make a given math concept more challenging for students and more interesting at the same time. We use bigger numbers. We mix in fractions and decimals. We lengthen the problem set. We time it.

For instance, once students understand how to find the sum of the interior angles of a polygon, it’s like, what do you do to make this more challenging and more interesting?

Michael introduced donut polygons:


Finding the interior angle sum of a donut polygon makes the original task more challenging and more interesting at the same time. In particular, it has a great stinger at the end when you find out whether or not a triangle inside of a pentagon has the same angle sum as a pentagon inside of a triangle.

Michael had two questions at the end that asked, basically, “Do your conclusions hold if there’s a dent in the polygon?” Then, “What about two dents in the polygon?” This messed me up a little bit, because, no, it shouldn’t matter, but then why would Serra include the two questions? Basically, Serra had your correspondent feeling briefly but completely off balance.

0.2.HO.Polygon Potpourri.CMC-S.11.2.13

Featured Comment


The absolute value was a pleasant surprise. Now I have ammunition when a student says, “When am I ever going to use absolute value?” “Well, when calculating the interior angles of a n-sided star polygon, of course.” ;)

Avery Pickford

Proof Doesn’t Begin With Geometry

Avery wins the prize for Best Session Description by sneaking in the totally droll line, “All hail CCSSM MP3.”

He briefly dinged two-column proofs, the Disaster Island where we usually sequester conjecture and argument. I’m all for broading and deepening the definition of proof but I think Avery stretched it too far to include skills like estimation and asking us to justify our answers to the Locker Problem. Is “justify your answer” any different than “prove your conjecture”?


Later, he got into territory I found challenging and really well-thought-out. He showed how simple puzzles like Shikaku could be used to introduce the difference between axioms and theorems. He showed a Shikaku puzzle and its answer (below) and asked us, “What are the rules here?”

“The numbers define the area of a rectangle” and “the side lengths of those rectangles are integers” are axioms, without which the game wouldn’t make any sense. Theorems are the consequences of the axioms, like “Prime-numbered areas result in long, skinny rectangles with side-length 1.”

He also used a variation on the old game Mastermind to create a class-wide context for conjecturing, contradicting, and proving. Great stuff. Wish you were here.

2013 Nov 4. Avery elaborates on all of this in a blog post.

2013 Nov 6. Avery continues his self-recap.

Brent Ferguson

Geometry, Numeracy, & Common Core: A Vigorous Hands-On Task

I didn’t actually attend Brent’s session, but he explained it to me in the coffee shop and I wished I had. Basically, you give your kids a number line with 0 and 1 marked off. What other numbers can they construct with a compass and a straightedge?

The other integers fall pretty quickly. A lot of irrational numbers fall when students learn the Pythagorean theorem. Trisecting an angle is impossible but trisecting a line is possible using similarity and the properties of parallel lines and the constructions are varied enough to be interesting.

This seemed like a task that could extend through a good stretch of a Geometry course, drawing in lots of conjecture and proof along with some good review of numbers and operations.

The odd thing: I found Brent’s personal description totally engrossing. But this is a really tough idea to sell in a 500-character workshop description.

Takeaway: I probably skip over loads of really interesting, but hard-to-describe sessions at conferences.



I’ll be giving this talk a few more times and then posting video here. I cited these resources. People were real nice to stop by even though it was the last session on a very pretty day. Thanks for the hospitality, everybody.

On April 19, 2013, the third day of NCTM’s annual meeting in Denver, Uri Treisman gave a forty-minute address on equity that Zal Usiskin, director of the University of Chicago’s School Mathematics Project, called the greatest talk he’d ever heard at the conference in any year. Stanford math professor Keith Devlin would later call it our “I have a dream” speech. At least one participant left in tears.

I’ve personally seen it three times. I got the video feed from NCTM and the slides from Treisman. I then spent some time stitching the two together, resulting in this video. His message is important enough that I’d like to use whatever technical skills I have, whatever time I have, whatever soapbox I can stand on, to help spread it.

You should watch it.

If you’re interested in equity, you should watch it.
If you’re interested in teacher evaluation, you should watch it.
If you’re interested in school reform, you should watch it.
If you’re interested in charter schools, you should watch it.
If you’re interested in understanding which student outcomes teachers can control and which they can’t, you should watch it.
If you’re interested in the trajectory of math education in the era of the Common Core State Standards, you should watch it.

If none of those conditions apply to you, well, I can’t imagine the series of misclicks that brought you to my blog. Watch it.

Here’s a fair enough summary from Treisman himself:

There are two factors that shape inequality in this country and educational achievement inequality. The big one is poverty. But a really big one is opportunity to learn. As citizens, we need to work on poverty and income inequality or our democracy is threatened. As mathematics educators … we need to work on opportunity to learn. It cannot be that the accident of where a child lives or the particulars of their birth determine their mathematics education.

That was his destination and the talk took only three stops along the way:

  1. What did education reform groups like Achieve, the Gates Foundation, et al, recommend in their “Benchmarking for Success” document in 2008?
  2. How does TIMSS and NAEP data contradict or clarify those recommendations?
  3. What should we actually do about equity, as teachers and citizens, if those recommendations prove unfounded?

Highly Quotable

  • [A]s math people we know that if we’re going to work on a problem, we have to formulate it clearly. And as math people are wont, we need to swaddle ourselves in the numbers and the data because that’s what gives math people direction, strength, and courage.
  • Let’s look at “Benchmarking for Success” and see its analysis of the problem. Then let’s look at the data and see how it actually lines up with what we know today. And then let’s see where we need to go to really enact the vision of NCTM for equity.
  • So the notion was: “Let’s focus on teachers as the central driver of reform and rethink how we evaluate teachers.” They had the view that teachers were the single most important in-school factor in student achievement. And math people know that was just an artifact of the way they modeled the problem.
  • I’m now going to show you two graphs that I don’t believe anyone in the math community has seen. It’s the PISA data disaggregated by child poverty rates.
  • About one half of students who go from high school to college are referred to remediation and mostly developmental math. Fewer than a quarter of those students will ever get a credential. Those students are more likely to end up with debt than a credential. [..] Those remedial programs are burial grounds for the aspirations of students. And it’s mostly math that’s the key trigger. 35,000 students in California two years ago repeated a developmental course for the fifth or greater number of times. So no one can say those students don’t have persistence.
  • So states – where you go to school – are a profound influence on what you actually get to know.
  • Low income student scores in Texas were the top in the country in 2011. It’s really good for Texas to be the top of the country. Because whenever Texas does something well, everyone else is positive that they can do better. When Massachusetts is at the top, people go, “Ah, it’s just Massachusetts.”
  • Again, two and a half years difference in opportunity depending on where you happen to go to school. This is something that, as a math teaching profession, we can influence. Poverty is something we need to work on as citizens. Opportunity to learn is something we need to work on as math educators. That’s a core message for this talk.
  • So you would think that charters would fix this. Almost all the charters in Texas produced 0% of students who are college-ready. There are a few of them – one KIPP, one YES Prep, one IDEA, one Harmony – that are pretty good. Most of them are well below the public schools. So this theory of Achieve, NGA, CCSSO, Race to the Top, that charters were the answer? Not so clear when you actually climb into the numbers. The reverse looks true.
  • When you visit most math classrooms it’s like you’re in a Kafkaesque universe of these degraded social worlds where children are filling in bubbles rather than connecting the dots. It’s driven by a compliance mentality on tests that are neither worthy of our children nor worthy of the discipline they purport to reflect. That is the reality. That’s something that we as math educators can control.
  • What this shows is that the current theory about school improvement – that charters, Common Core, value-added measures of teaching are going to solve the problem – is profoundly wrong. That doesn’t mean we can’t use the Common Core powerfully to reboot our systems but it’s not the solution to the basic problems of schooling.
  • Guess what? Poverty really sucks. It’s incredibly hard. All the lifespan studies going back to the 1920s show that poverty and youth is a very hard force. We need to build fault-tolerant schools and systems if we’re actually going to address equity.
  • Just think about it. The great majority of our children finish our schools positive that there’s a whole list of things they’re not. They come out of schooling believing they’re not mathematical, they’re not artistic, they’re not philosophical, they’re not athletic. And these self-imposed beliefs undermine your sense of personal freedom, the font from which all freedoms come.
  • You have to remember that when the Common Core was created, they didn’t come to NCTM. They got David Coleman to write it and he brought his friend Jason Zimba to do the math. They did not come to NCTM. It’s time for us now – the professional societies – to talk about what standards should be and how to reshape the Common Core so that it reflects our best practice knowledge of schooling. Hard message, but a necessary message.
  • What is the determinant of whether you have a high-skill job in the US? Overwhelmingly it’s mathematics. It’s the single biggest factor in upward social and economic mobility. It’s our beloved subject. It would be wonderful if it were music instead of math. Think how great the country would be if everyone were striving to learn to play an instrument instead of factor quadratic equations but the fact is it is our discipline that is the primary determinant.

Featured Comments

Bill McCallum, chair of the CCSS math writing committee, responds:

A beautiful speech by Uri and a great contribution by Dan to put the slides with the video.

However, the quote about how the Common Core was written garbles the history badly. Here is a summary of the process.

CCSSO and NGA appointed a work team of about 50 people—educators, mathematicians, teachers, policy people—and asked me to lead it. They also appointed a writing team of 3 people—Phil Daro, myself, and Jason Zimba—to draft the standards. We solicited progressions documents from selected individuals or groups in the work team. The three lead writers produced a first draft based on these progressions. There was also a feedback group of about 20 people. You can find the pdf with the names of all these people by googling “Common Core State Standards Work Team”.

Minor iterations of the standards were circulated to the working team for comment and critique, of which there was an abundance. Major drafts (about 3 or 4) were circulated to the feedback group and the 48 participating states, which also produced a huge amount of commentary. Finally, a public comment period starting in March 2010 elicited about 10,000 comments, of which we looked at every single actionable comment.

There were also numerous organization reviews, including one by NCTM. I spent a weekend in DC with a team from NCTM listening to their concerns, which resulted in significant changes to the standards. Jason and I also spent a weekend with teachers from AFT, one team for each grade band, who gave us detailed feedback that also resulted in changes to the document.

For more context, take a look at Jason’s Ed Week interview with Rick Hess.

Michael Pershan calls into question the data behind one of Treisman’s conclusions:

I’m now going to show you two graphs that I don’t believe anyone in the math community has seen.

That slide with PISA data is missing a bunch of countries. Where’s Japan? Where’s Hong Kong? Singapore? Canada?

All of these countries do well on PISA even though they have considerable child poverty. I put together a fuller picture of the data in this post, with links to the data that (I think) Treisman used.

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