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The Bureau of Non-White Dude Math Education Keynote Speakers

At a workshop in New York City yesterday, I was complimented in the morning for my In-N-Out Burger activity (which was actually created by Robert Kaplinsky) and in the afternoon for my File Cabinet activity (which was actually created by Andrew Stadel). This mix-up will come as no surprise to either Andrew or Robert or anyone who has ever seen the three of us presenting at a conference together. This happens all the time.

Also this week I received an email from May-Li Khoe, a researcher at Khan Academy, reflecting on her experience seeing Fawn Nguyen keynoting CMC-North. Both May-Li and Fawn are Asian-American.

I did not expect to be so affected by having Fawn speak during the keynote. Obviously the content of her presentation made an impression on me, but reflecting back later, I realized that I have never seen anyone remotely resembling myself as a keynote speaker, at any conference, ever.

We want all students to see themselves as people who can do mathematics, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or any other variable. The power of mathematical thinking is good for everybody, and nobody should feel like their identity excludes them from that power.

The project of extending that access will require a diverse corps of teachers, which will require that a diverse corps of teachers sees teaching as a career full of advancement possibilities. Which means, among other efforts, that we need a more diverse corps of teachers speaking in front of large rooms of teachers.

So if you’re organizing a conference, I’m asking you to consider inviting any of the names below to give a talk before you consider inviting another tall, white dude. I’ll personally vouch for all of their abilities to deliver outstanding talks to large rooms of people. I have included Twitter contact information for each of them, along with websites and sample talks. I’m also happy to connect you with any of them personally. Let me know.

  • Maria Anderson. Applying research to instruction. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Harold Asturias. Teaching mathematics & academic language to emerging bilingual students. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Deborah Ball. Teacher development; mathematical knowledge for teaching. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Robert Berry. Formative assessment; equitable experiences for all math students; #blackkidsdomath. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Jo Boaler. Cultivating a growth mindset in mathematics. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Marilyn Burns. Helping students make sense of math. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Ed Campos, Jr. Technology integration. [Twitter, Web]
  • Peg Cagle. Creating engaging mathematical experiences. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Shelley Carranza. Technology integration. [Twitter]
  • Rafranz Davis. Technology integration; creating equitable experiences for all math students. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Juli Dixon. Teaching students with special needs. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Annie Fetter. Mathematical thinking and problem solving. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Kristin Gray. Creating engaging mathematical experiences. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Rochelle Gutierrez. Creating equitable experiences for all math students (and their teachers). [Twitter, Sample]
  • Shira Helft. Instructional routines that promote discourse and sensemaking. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Ilana Horn. Cultivating a student’s mathematical identity. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Elham Kazemi. Understanding a student’s mathematical thinking. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Jennie Magiera. Technology integration. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Danny Martin. Creating equitable experiences for all math students. [Sample]
  • David Masunaga. Mathematical inquiry, particularly in geometry.
  • Fawn Nguyen. Mathematical thinking and problem solving. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Cathy O’Neil. The powerful and sometimes pernicious effect of algebraic models in the world. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Carl Oliver. Integrating social justice and mathematics education. [Twitter, Web]
  • Megan Schmidt. Integrating social justice and mathematics education. [Twitter, Web]
  • Marian Small. Creating engaging and productive mathematical experiences. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Joi Spencer. Integrating social justice and mathematics education. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Lee Stiff. Technology integration; creating equitable experiences for all math students. [Sample]
  • John Staley. Teaching mathematics for social justice. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Greg Tang. Creating engaging and productive mathematical experiences for elementary students. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Megan Taylor. Creating engaging and productive mathematical experiences. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Kaneka Turner. Cultivating a student’s mathematical identity. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Sara Vanderwerf. Creating equitable experiences for all math students. [Twitter, Web]
  • Jose Vilson. Creating equitable experiences for all math students. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Audrey Watters. Analyzing technological trends and their effect on education and society. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Anna Weltman. Integrating creativity, art, and mathematics. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Talithia Williams. Statistics; diversity in higher education. [Twitter, Sample]
  • Jennifer Wilson. Helping students make sense of mathematics; #slowmath. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Cathy Yenca. Technology integration. [Twitter, Web, Sample]
  • Tracy Zager. Literally anything – have her read the tax code. (Also once her book comes out, your probability of getting her for your conference decreases asymptotically to zero. Buy now.) [Twitter, Web, Sample]

Add someone deserving or promising in the comments. Attach the same information you see above.

[Photos by Cathy Yenca and Kristin Hartloff.]

2016 Dec 14. The commenters have already caught a bunch of my really embarrassing omissions. Thanks for picking up my slack, everybody.

2016 Dec 16. In response to this critique from TODOS, I’d like to clarify that, yes, this list is incomplete, and my hope was that it would be made more complete in the comments. Additionally, my process in constructing the list is inherently biased towards a) speakers who have already given addresses to large rooms, which likely reflects the institutional biases of organizations who rent large rooms, b) speakers I have already seen, many of whom probably don’t challenge my privilege in ways I’d find uncomfortable, c) speakers who address secondary educators on themes of technology and curriculum design, themes reflective of my own disciplinary interests, d) speakers whom I could remember, which reflects my own lousy memory.

In spite of all those biases, I decided it was better for this list to exist than to not exist. I’m interested in hearing from TODOS (or anybody else) how this project could have done a better job advancing the interests of students and teachers of color.

Featured Comment

Elham Kazemi:

I was in graduate school before I had my first Persian teacher (if you exclude my education in Iran). It was an amazing experience, and I did every ounce of work possible in that class.

Shock and Disbelief in Math Class

Reader William Carey via email:

Last year I realized that Pre-Calculus is really a class about moving from the particular to the general. We take particular skills and ideas students are comfortable with — like solving a quadratic equation — and generalize them to as many mathematical objects as we can — solving all polynomial equations. As we worked our way through polynomials, we wanted to move from reasoning about particular quadratic equations like y = x2 + 2x + 1 to reasoning about all quadratic equations: y = ax2 + bx + c. For homework, the students had to graph about twenty quadratics with varying a, b, and c.

Then we got together to discuss the results in class. They remembered that a controls the “fatness” or “narrowness” of the parabola and sometimes flips it upside down. They remembered that c moves the parabola up and down. They weren’t totally sure what b did. A few students adamantly maintained that it moved the parabola left and right (with supporting examples). After about fifteen minutes of back and forth, we decided to go to Desmos and just animate b.

Shock and disbelief: the vertex traces out what looks like a parabola as b changes. Furious math and argument ensue. Ten minutes later, a student has what seems to be the parabola the vertex traces graphed in Desmos. Is it the right parabola? Why? Can we prove that? (We could and did!)

Previously: WTF Math Problems.

“All the time.”

David Cox:

Yesterday, a student gave me step-by-step directions to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I finished it, but had no idea what I was doing. At times, I just watched what he did and copied his moves without even looking at the cube in my hands.

When we were finished, I exclaimed, “I did it!”, received a high-five from the student and some even applauded. For a moment, I felt like I had accomplished something. That feeling didn’t last long. I asked the class how often they experience what I just did.

They said, “All the time.”

Featured Comment

Lauren Beitel:

Is there an argument to be made that sometimes the conceptual understanding comes from repeating a procedure, then reflecting on it? Discovering/noticing patterns through repetition?

Great question. I wrote a comment in response.

Engagement in Math: Three Places to Start

Mark Chubb, today on Twitter:

If a teacher sees students as disengaged and not liking math, what would be one good thing to watch, one good thing to read, one good thing to try?

Watch: Beyond Relevance & Real World.
Read: Why Don’t Students Like School?
Try: Estimation180.

Andrea Davis, later today in the comments:

Will you please give me the top three pieces of advice you have for the teachers of our youngest learners? We are K-6 and want to start now.

One, ask informal, relational questions (questioning, estimating, arguing, defining, etc.) as often as formal, operational questions (solving, calculating, simplifying).

Two, pose problems that have gaps in them – look up headless problems, tailless problems, and numberless problems, for three examples – and ask students to help you fill in those gaps. The most interesting problems are co-developed by teachers and students, not merely assigned in completed form by the teacher.

Three, before any explanation, create conditions that prepare students to learn from that explanation. These for example.


What are your suggestions for Andrea and Mark?

Featured Comments

Tim Teaches Math:


Let’s try to describe a big number using a small amount of syllables (Berry’s Paradox). For example, 777777 takes 20 syllables, but saying “777 times 1001” takes 15. For a number like “741” which is seven syllables, “Nine cubed plus twelve” is much better. More complicated expressions test our perception of order of operations. Have students come up with a scoring system to rank abbreviations.

Sarah Giek:

Read: Mathematical Mindsets
Watch: Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching.
Try: Number Talk Images

The Problem with Multiple Representations


I propose we add a representation to the holy trinity of graphs, equations, and tables: “backwards blue graphs.” Have a look.


Expert mathematicians and math teachers instantly see the uselessness of the backwards blue graph representation. It offers us no extra insight into or power over the data. But my suspicion is that many students feel that way about all the representations. They’re all the backwards blue graphs.

Students will dutifully and even capably create tables, equations, and graphs but do they understand the advantages that each one affords us? Or do they just understand that their grades depend on capably creating each representation?

At Desmos, we created Playing Catch-Up to put students in a place to experience the power of equations over other representations. Namely, equations offer us precision.

So we show students a scenario in which Julio Jones get a head start over Rich Eisen, but runs at half speed.


We ask students to extend a graph to determine when Rich will catch Julio.


We ask students to extend a table to answer the same question.


Finally we offer them these equations.


Our intent with this three-screen instructional sequence is to put teachers in a place to have a conversation with students about one advantage equations have over the other representations. They offer us more precision and confidence in our answer.

Without that conversation, graphs, tables, and equations all may as well be the backwards blue graphs.

Your Turn

The power of equations is precision. We put students in a place to experience that power by asking them to make predictions using the imprecise representations first.

In what ways are graphs uniquely powerful? Tables? How will you put students in a place to experience those powers?


Principles to Actions is great here:

Students should be able to approach a problem from several points of view and be encouraged to switch among representations until they are able to understand the situation and proceed along a path that will lead them to a solution. This implies that students view representations as tools that they can use to help them solve problems, rather than as an end in themselves.

Featured Comment

Sue Hellman:

I think an analogy here are the 3 ‘representations’ of location/directions provided by Google: a map, written directions, and street view. They all provide similar or at least related information but each offers advantages depending on the purpose and background knowledge of the user.

Katie Waddle:

I’ve noticed that kids who get the click that they all are connected understand stuff down the road a lot better, so I build in explicit teaching around seeing those connections (where is the y-intercept in the table? how can I see the slope in the equation?). It would be neat if kids could color code and write on things in this exercise, but computers are not good at letting you add stuff like that.