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The Desmos/Mathalicious happy hour in New Orleans on Friday was a great end to a long week of conferencing with math teachers, math ed professors, and the occasional vendor. My unofficial crowd estimate puts it at something like 50x the size of their 2014 event in Denver, CO.

The Desmos team and I wrote up some happy hour questions which were fun enough that several people requested the complete list. You should feel free to use them also. Please address complaints, quibbles, or corrections to Bill McCallum c/o Illustrative Math.

1. Math Homophones

All of the answers in this round are well-known mathematical words or phrases. (Example: "It lies under the mantle and belongs to use all" is also known as the "Common Core.")

  1. Bad news at the dentist for Salman. (A: concavity.)
  2. A ski run you feel really good about. (A: positive slope.)
  3. A lady’s partner who’s gotten some sun. (A: tangent.)
  4. Messages you send in the same direction. (A: parallelograms.)
  5. Treads on the Red October. (A: subtraction.)
  6. Mickey’s British mother-in-law. (A: minimum.)
  7. It said, “please come aboard two by two”. (A: arcsine.)
  8. A change to a military banner. (A: standard deviation.)
  9. Louisiana Governor Huey drawn and quartered. (A: long division.)
  10. An airplane bathroom that is not vacant. (A: hypotenuse.)


  • Answer to the question, “Have you seen a letter jacket belonging to one of the protagonists from Monsters University?” (A: isosceles.)
  • A condition in which you become a better dancer after having a organic beer. (A: natural logarithm.)
  • A matching outfit you’d wear in freezing cold weather. (A: polar coordinates.)

2. Kids Say The Darnedest Things

We asked four hundred 3-5th graders some questions about math. You're going to tell us what they said. We asked them …

  1. … who invented the Cartesian plane, a) Albert Einstein, b) Carter Von Ludvig, c) Rene Descartes, d) Eric Cartman, e) none of the above? What percent said the correct answer? (A: 9%.)
  2. … to name any mathematician. Name the top four answers for one point each. (A: In order of descending popularity, Albert Einstein, my teacher, Eric Cartman, Carter Von Ludvig.)
  3. … which is there more of, a) feet in a mile or b) pounds in a ton? What percent said the correct answer? (A: 57%.)
  4. … what their favorite number was. Name the top four favorite numbers of elementary students? (A: In order of descending popularity, 7, 10, 8, 11.)
  5. … which would you rather have: $100 or a stack of quarters from the floor to the top of your head? Which was the winner? (A: $100. That got 67% of the vote. Did they choose well?)
  6. … which was heavier, a) a ton of bricks, b) a ton of feathers, or c) a ton of kittens. What percent said “kittens?” (A: 5% The winner was a ton of bricks at 93%. Good job, kids.)
  7. … what was faster, a) the speed of light, b) the speed of sound, c) the speed of wind, or d) the speed of kittens. What percent said “sound”? (A: 25%.)
  8. … if zero was a) even, b) odd, or c) neither. What was the most popular answer? (A: In order of descending popularity, Even [46%], Odd [10%], neither [44%].)
  9. … what the biggest number is. Name the top four most popular answers for one point each. (A: In order of descending popularity, infinity, one hundred million, one billion, googleplex.)
  10. … to name the shape of a stop sign. Name any of the top four most popular answers for one point each. (A: In order of descending popularity, octagon, hexagon, pentagon, hectogon.)

3. Common Critters

Even though your students may struggle to meet the Common Core State Standards, some members of the animal kingdom are doing just fine. We're going to match a standard to an animal. You tell us if the statement is backed up by a scientific study or if we just made it up.

  1. Salamanders can "identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using matching and counting strategies." (A: True.)
  2. Ants can measure lengths indirectly and by iterating length units. (A: True.)
  3. Goats can prove the addition and subtraction formulas for sine, cosine, and tangent and use them to solve problems. (A: False.)
  4. Chickens can fluently add and subtract within 5. (A: True.)
  5. Octopuses can tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m. (A: False.)
  6. Dolphins can construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. (A: False.)
  7. Crows can use appropriate tools strategically.(A: True.)
  8. Owls can count out a number of objects from 1-20. (A: False.)
  9. Parrots can correctly name shapes regardless of their orientations or overall size. (A: True.)
  10. Spiders can apply the Pythagorean Theorem to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles in real-world and mathematical problems in two and three dimensions. (A: False.)

4. Music Round

We're going to play 10-second clips of famous songs. You need to name the number that features prominently in the song.

  1. "99 Problems," Jay Z. (A: 99.)
  2. "22," Taylor Swift. (A: 22.)
  3. "Jenny," Tommy Tutone. (A: 8,675,309.)
  4. "Take Five," Dave Brubeck. (A: 5.)
  5. "Summer of '69," Bryan Adams. (A: 69.)
  6. "Seasons of Love," Cast of Rent. (A: 525,600.)
  7. "A Thousand Miles," Vanessa Carlton. (A: 1,000.)
  8. "Sixteen Candles," The Crests. (A: 16.)
  9. "100 Years," Five for Fighting. (A: 100.)
  10. "American Pie," Don McLean. (A: π.)

I opened up the Computer-Using Educators annual conference in Palm Springs last month. That talk made its way online this week.

I started by describing why edtech presentations often make me aggravated. Then I described my "edtech mission statement," which helps me through those presentations and helps me make tough choices for my limited resources.

BTW. I was also interviewed at CUE for the Infinite Thinking Machine with Mark Hammons.

Featured Comment

Michael Pershan:

LOL. Funny stuff!

High praise.

David Cox:

I'm noticing that more kids are gaining confidence in looking for patterns, forming hypotheses and then seeing if they can make the hypothesis fail. The phrase that seems to be gaining ground when it comes to hypothesis testing is "wreck it" – as in, "Oh, you think you have a rule? See if you can wreck it."

There are two things I love about this:

  1. The phrase "see if you can wreck it," and the toddler-knocking-down-a-tower-of-blocks spirit of destruction it conveys.
  2. The fact that you are supposed to wreck your own conjecture. Your conjecture isn't something you're supposed to protect from your peers and your teacher as though it were an extension of your ego. It's supposed to get wrecked. That's okay! In fact, you're supposed to wreck it.

BTW. When David Cox finds a free moment to blog, he makes it count. Now he's linked up this spherical Voronoi diagram that shows every airport in the world and the regions of points that are closer to them than every other airport. "Instead of having to teach things like perpendicular bisectors and systems of equations," he says, "I just wish we could do things like this."

Of course you need perpendicular bisectors to make a Voronoi diagram, so David's in luck.

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.

I spent some time recently with the Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction department of Oakland Unified School District and I think they're doing some of the most thoughtful work around. They nurture their talent, celebrate successes, promote good ideas from within, and sustain what seems (to this outsider) to be a very health professional community.

Their Instructional Toolkit for Mathematics [pdf] deserves your attention. It describes their defining "strategies and experiences," including:

  • Number talks
  • 3-reads
  • Participation quizzes

I particularly like their "Evidence-Gathering Card," which grounds a lot of abstract ideas (like "A growth mindset matters") into "student vital actions."


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