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How I’m Voting in NCTM’s Upcoming Election


Here is how I’m voting in the upcoming NCTM board election. Ballots close 10/31. You should vote too.

There are few issues in mathematics education that both matter a lot and that NCTM can directly affect. One issue in that subset matters most to me:

I care how well NCTM accesses the capacity of its members to help each other develop continuously as educators.

NCTM has the largest store of teaching knowledge of any math education organization in the world. Its 70,000 members comprise hundreds of thousands of years of math education experience. But NCTM accesses that capacity only sporadically. Fewer than ten times yearly at face-to-face conferences. Twelve times per year in its five journals. Occasionally in books and blog posts.

The only medium that will allow an NCTM member in Scranton, PA, to help another member develop continuously in San Diego, CA, is the internet. My tweeting and blogging colleagues know exactly what I’m talking about. They know the exhilaration of asking a question from a veteran and getting an answer in minutes. They know what it’s like to read someone’s interesting idea one day, try it out the next, and then offer the originator some useful feedback.

They’re developing, and developing each other, continuously. They don’t want to wait for conferences, journals, books, or blog posts.

So how am I voting? A few years ago, I’d vote for any candidate who even mentioned the internet in her candidacy statement. Now I’m looking for people who have a plan for helping NCTM’s members develop each other continuously. I’m looking for people who seem receptive to the experiments in online professional development Zak Champagne, Mike Flynn, and I put together annually under the name “ShadowCon.” I’m looking for people who understand that NCTM’s membership is underutilized for most of the year.

Here are promising excerpts from the candidates’ statements.

Robert Q. Berry III (President-Elect) [Twitter]:

Membership is a major challenge facing the Council. NCTM must rethink its membership model, working to ensure that longtime members continue to value NCTM while showing potential members the value of associating themselves with NCTM. This can done by tapping into their interests in social media and other digital technologies to promote interactive communities of professionals. Such efforts broaden the Council’s space for professional learning while maintaining meaningful engagement with the membership.

Nora Ramirez (President-Elect):

NCTM has the knowledge, experience, and skills to support both national and state affiliates in developing the abilities to advocate effectively for issues that are critical to them. Affiliates interested in this initiative would meet both face-to-face and online to learn, plan, and collaboratively develop or identify resources.

David Ebert (Director, High School):

NCTM needs to consider all forms of professional learning, including electronic learning opportunities, sustained yearlong professional learning, and joint professional learning opportunities personalized for the needs of the teachers within an affiliate.

Jason Slowbe (Director, High School) [Twitter, Web]:

NCTM should develop an online platform offering members a living portfolio for their professional development. NCTM already attracts top-notch speakers; now it should empower speakers with tools for building a following and facilitating year-round development. Attending sessions should be the beginning, not the end, of the conference experience. NCTM should enable attendees to pin, share, and discuss resources from within and beyond NCTM, including conference handouts, blog posts, articles, and student work. Integration with affiliate conferences and other stakeholders would connect teachers and grow membership organically. NCTM should leverage both the power of collaboration and its unique position as the world’s largest math education organization to influence more teachers and students.

Rick A. Hudson (Director, At Large):

Teachers today communicate in very different ways from the past, and NCTM must make use of the new media while building on its current strengths to reach a wider audience. For example, the quality of NCTM’s conferences is one of the Council’s greatest strengths, and we must think proactively about ways to share content from conference sessions virtually to reach a larger group of the membership and to extend the conference experience for those in attendance.

DeAnn Huinker (Director, At Large) [Twitter]:

A task force on building the next generation of teachers can consider resources, tools, and innovative ways to reach out to prospective teachers, such as providing access to blogs and online mentorships.

Daniel J. Teague (Director, At Large):

NCTM should take the lead in creating online and downloadable video courses (see Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Mathematics and Scott Page’s Model Thinking) to be used by individual teachers and departments for extensive work in these areas.

Desha L. Williams (Director, At Large):

Maintaining and expanding membership is a challenge for NCTM. The age of technology has created avenues for teachers to access information that was once available only within NCTM resources.

Vanessa Cleaver (Director, At Large):

Although I am a huge fan of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media, I believe that these sources are to some extent now meeting the needs of educators for interaction with one another and exchange of information in non–face-to-face settings.

That’s what matters to me and how I’m voting. What about you?

Featured Comments

  • Steve Weimar outlines NCTM’s current efforts towards helping teacher develop continuously online.
  • Cal Armstrong wants to see current or recent teachers in leadership positions
  • Brandon Dorman would like to see NCTM accredit its members using technology like Mozilla’s Open Badges.

Four Ways to Not Quit Teaching

Zach Cresswell:

If you had told me that it would take me five years of teaching to figure out how to mentally leave work at work then I might not have continued in this career. I’ve gotten incrementally better at it each year but this year I’ve committed to prioritizing it. Here are a few things I’ve learned that help me do that. I hope you can, especially if you’re just starting out, find a piece of advice that will help you live a more balanced life.

I’ve grown to admire a kind of teacher I used to disregard – the teacher who knows she could create a better lesson than the one she taught last year, who knows she could help a student bring a B to a B+ with after-school tutoring, who knows she could do wonders coaching the basketball team, and who makes a principled choice not to do any of that.

That principle is:

It’s better for me to do 90% of what I know I can do this year if that 10% I save for myself means I’ll still be a teacher next year.

Cresswell’s post exemplifies that self-discipline. His post is practical also. He offers four of his best strategies for making teaching sustainable. Comments are closed here, but I hope you’ll load up his blog post with strategies of your own. This job can’t have enough of them.

I Was Wrong About #BottleFlipping

I didn’t think there was a useful K12 math objective in bottle flipping. My commenters served their usual function of setting me straight.

I was asking the question, “Can you predict whether or not a bottle will land?” A modeling problem.

Commenters like Meaghan asked the question, “What conditions will set yourself up for success in bottle flipping?”

How much water in the bottle? What kind of angle on the toss? Clockwise or counterclockwise? These are statistical questions.

Paul Jorgens followed that angle with his class:

It started with an argument in class last week about the optimal amount of water in the bottle. Should it be 1/4 filled? 1/3? Just below 1/2? I told the group that we could use our extra period to try to answer the question. We met and designed an experiment. We thought about problems like skill of tosser, variation in bottles, etc. We started with 32 bottles filled to varying levels. During 20 minutes of class, 32 students flipped bottles 4,220 times. We the all filled in our data on a Google Sheet.


I meet again next week with the small group that had the idea. I think they want to produce something for school news. Did we answer the question about how much water to put in the bottle?

Check out the graph of their data.


The Paper Helicopter is a similar exercise in experimental design. These activities come from the same template. If we understand that template, we can swap lots of different questions into the experiment, including those that seem most interesting to students in this moment.

We can teach students how to use mathematical tools to answer questions that interest them. We can also assign detentions. If there’s any middle ground, I’m not seeing it on Twitter right now.

Featured Tweet

BTW. Here’s a Desmos activity you can use to facilitate data collection in your class. Your students add their data on the first screen. Then they see the sum of their class’s data on the second screen.

Ten Lessons from Ten Years of Blogging

One final indulgence for my blog’s tenth birthday: a list of ten lessons I’ve learned from ten years of blogging.

Figure out why you’re blogging. I started blogging ten years ago because writing helps me think and I needed some public pressure to think through my lessons at the end of the school day. Nowadays I blog because blogging makes me curiouser and wiser. I don’t want to say there are bad reasons to blog, but if you’re blogging first and foremost for fame, fortune, or readers, you’re going to feel very fried very quickly.

Find your cohort. Then encourage each other relentlessly. Ten years ago, my cohort probably included more administrators and English teachers than math teachers. The pool of edubloggers was so small we all followed each other, encouraged each other, and griped at each other. Find people who started blogging around the same time you did. For many people, your blogging and tweeting cohort will be the faculty lounge you’ve always needed and never had.

Be careful with auto-generated #content. For a long time people used plugins that would algorithmically attach a stock photo or a set of related links to your posts. Those have fallen somewhat out of favor, which is a positive development. If your goal for blogging is to develop your ideas or create a community, there just aren’t many shortcuts. Do the work.

Be the blogger you’d want to read. Figure out what you like about writers you read. As you work to develop your own style and voice, borrow theirs for awhile. Me, I like short sentences and clippy paragraphs. I like a mix of confidence and humility – someone who has strong opinions but holds them loosely. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously. I try to write a blog I’d like to read.

Be nice. No nicer. No, dude, you think you’re being nice but you’re still really crabby. It took me awhile to realize there were, like, actual people behind the screen names and web addresses. I still struggle to criticize ideas online in ways that don’t bum people out. Related: punch up or don’t punch at all.

Figure out what blogging measures in your life. If you find yourself not blogging after a good run of blogging, that may just mean you don’t have the time for it. But in my case I figured out that it meant I wasn’t learning enough. Lately it means I need to get into a classroom or I need to do some math. That’s valuable self-knowledge.

Tend your comments. I delete spam quickly. I delete abusive comments. Occasionally, I email people privately to let them know they need to be nicer. If someone has a typo or an unclosed HTML tag or a link that didn’t get formatted properly, I’ll often fix those. Delete comments that don’t add value or propel conversation – even complimentary ones! If someone posts something positive but unconstructive like “Agreed!” I’ll often email a quick thanks and then delete the comment. People will rise to whatever bar you set, so set a high one.

Learn from your readers. A healthy comments section is like a really smart extra brain you carry around all the time and can consult whenever you want. Also, when people care about you and know what you care about, they’ll send you articles and ideas and links they think will interest you. That’s crazy. It’s better than any existing recommendation engine. The brain you carry around with you spontaneously generates knowledge for the brain you keep in your head.

Amplify your readers. I pull interesting comments up into the body of the post itself and let people know I’ve done that. I try to do that quickly, before the post gets emailed the next day, so email readers understand how much I value my commenters and can benefit from their thoughts too. This process creates a bunch of interesting and virtuous cycles. One is that I get more (and more useful) comments the more people know I’m paying attention to them. Another is that the next generation of interesting math education bloggers is in your comments right now. So amplify them. Embolden them to set up their own project. (See also: Ten Years of Blog Comments.)

Turn learning into more learning. If you do all of this and you do it regularly, my guess is you’re going to get offered some interesting opportunities. For me, I was offered chances to study with great researchers, to design curriculum with great designers, and to work with great teachers all around the world. I went into all of those opportunities thinking, “What will I find here that I can share with the folks back at the blog?” Again, not for fame, fortune, or readers. But because I knew you’d all make me curious and wiser.

Related, but not algorithmically generated:

Featured Comment

Michael Pershan:

The advice I’d give others about comments is simply to ask for comments when you want them. The way blogs work in 2016, you probably don’t have very many people reading you via RSS and not so many people regularly checking your comments sections. You are probably connected to other educators on social media, though these people might not know that you want feedback on your ideas. If you invite feedback, though, you’ll get more of it. That’s my advice.

Ten Years of Blog Comments

My blog turned ten years old this month so you’ll have to allow me a couple of indulgences.

First, I set myself up with a new blog theme. (If you’re reading this via email or an RSS reader, you’ll have to click through to check it out.)

Second, rather than reflect on ten years of my posts, I wanted to reflect on ten years of your comments. Over the last ten years, 4,600 people have written 20,000 comments on this blog, spanning two million words, the very first of which was written by Chris Lehmann.

My goal in blogging is to become curiouser and wiser with every post. Some of that happens in the post itself – through research, analysis, writing, etc – but so much of it happens in the comments.

To offer one current example, I posted Cathy Yenca’s method for teaching zero exponents last week. Forty comments later, my commenters offered two more methods for teaching them and helped me see how all three methods are related. I’m curiouser and wiser now than I was forty comments ago. That happened because of all of you and I wanted to thank a few you of you personally.

Most Comments

For example, here are the ten people who commented most often in every year that I’ve blogged.

1Todd Seal84
3Jason Dyer74
4Jason Dyer53
5Bowen Kerins50
6l hodge72
7Kevin Hall46
8Kevin Hall39
9Ken Tilton49
10Paul Hartzer42

Longest Investment in My Work

And these are the ten people whose comments have helped shape my work for the longest span of time – from their first comment to their last.

1Karl Fisch9.2
2Tom Hoffman8.5
3Kate Nowak8.5
4Ian H.8.2
5Sam Shah8.2
7John Pederson7.8
8Michael Paul Goldenberg7.8
10Michael Serra7.6

Most Featured Comments

In 2011, I started to understand the gift of an active comments section, and how that gift needed encouragement and tending. So I began to add particularly helpful comments to the body of the post itself in a “Featured Comments” section. I made sure my commenters knew they had been promoted, hoping the endorsement would encourage them to continue bringing that kind of value.

These are the twenty people whose comments have been featured two or more times since 2011.

NameFeatured Comments
Bowen Kerins6
Dan Anderson3
Michael Pershan3
Barry Smith2
Bruce James2
William Carey2
Tom Woodward2
l hodge2
Larry Copes2
David Wees2
Laura Hawkins2
Jason Dyer2
Jason Buell2
Kate Nowak2
Michael Serra2
Nathan Kraft2
Ryan Brown2
Scott Farrar2

I sent a personal note of thanks to everybody mentioned in this post. Each person has made a significant donation of time, words, and insight to the project of making me curiouser and wiser.

Whenever people ask me how I got wherever it is I am right now, I always tell them about you, about how my ideas and thinking developed twice as fast as they had any right to. And I attribute that difference entirely to your time, words, and insight.

Wherever it is I’m going, I intend to get there exactly the same way.

Featured Comment


Congrats and well done! I think I remember that day back in 2007. I got to work, threw in a Nelly CD, fired up my Netscape browser and made my comment. Incidentally I drove the same Toyota Camry that I still drive to work. Later on I think I went home and watched Lost and then read about #hashtags