Category: conferences

Total 78 Posts

[NCTM16] Beyond Relevance & Real World: Stronger Strategies for Student Engagement

My talk from the 2016 NCTM Annual Meeting is online. I won’t claim that this is a good talk in absolute terms or that this talk will be good for your interests. I only know that, given my interests, this is the best talk I have ever given.

My premise is that we’re all sympathetic towards students who dislike mathematics, this course they’re forced to take. We all have answers to the question, “What does it take to interest students in mathematics?” Though those answers are often implicit and unspoken, they’re powerful. They determine the experiences students have in our classes.

I lay out three of the most common answers I hear from teachers, principals, policymakers, publishers, etc., two of which are “make math real world” and “make math relevant.” I offer evidence that those answers are incomplete and unreliable.

Then I dive into research from Willingham, Kasmer, Roger & David Johnson, Mayer, et al., presenting stronger strategies for creating interest in mathematics education.

My call to action will only make sense if you watch the talk, but I hope you’ll take it seriously, give it a try, and let us know how it goes.


BTW. I’ve already received one email asking me, “Wait? Are you saying never make math real world?” No. My principles for instructional design often lead me to design applied math tasks. But “make math real world” isn’t a great first-order principle because, as a category, “real world” is poorly defined and subjective to the student.

Featured Comment

Dan Smith:

This was a really helpful talk in illuminating why it doesn’t work to simply drop a mundane math task into some sort of “relevant” or “real-world” context. And it was great that you didn’t stop at deconstructing these unhelpful approaches, but instead went on to share specific ways to think, steps to take, and tools to use to increase engagement and thoughtfulness in our math classrooms. A very natural follow-up to the famous “Math class needs a makeover” talk.

Every Handout & Presentation From NCSM & NCTM 2016

It will probably take more than one post to unwind my last week of conferencing, but let’s start here. I sent a script through the conference programs and pulled out every uploaded handout and slidedeck.

After skimming through every file, I’ll note that the uploads skew heavily towards primary. So if you’re looking for those resources, you’re in luck.

In case your interests follow my own, here are the presentations and papers I’ve pulled aside for a closer reading:

NCSM Annual Meeting


NCTM Research Preconference

NCTM Annual Meeting


If you find any material you recommend, please highlight it in the comments.

Video Games & Making Math More Like Things Students Like

Here is the talk I gave at CMC-North last weekend: Video Games & Making Math More Like Things Students Like.

Students generally prefer video games to our math classes and I wanted to know why. So I played a lot of video games and read a bit about video games and drew some conclusions. I also asked my in-laws to play two video games in front of a camera so we could watch their learning process and draw comparisons to our students.

These are the six lessons I learned:

  1. Video games get to the point.
  2. The real world is overrated.
  3. Video games have an open middle.
  4. The middle grows more challenging and more interesting at the same time.
  5. Instruction is visual, embedded in practice, and only as needed.
  6. Video games lower the cost of failure.

Featured Comments:

Tim brings storytelling to the conversation:

As one of those weird AP Lit and AP Calc teachers — and a gamer — I think “story” is key in video gaming. Psychologists (like Willingham) and sociologists talk about the “story bias” of the brain. Nearly all long video games have a heavy story element. You are a character embedded in a story, be it open-ended or scripted. So often when I’m frustrated with bad game design I’ll push through because I’m committed to the story. So often when I finish the “missions” I give up on the well-designed “side-quests” because the story has rushed out of the game and it’s just a task-garden again.

I’ll play Angry Birds for a few minutes. I’ll play Temple Run till I beat my friend’s score. But I won’t put 20 hours into a game until I find a story I want to be invested in. (In the same breath, I’ll say that — in the sense of “story” that Willingham uses it — Angry Birds and Temple Run have their stories, too. Far more than many “story” problems in math books like to pretend that have.)

Not sure how you get rich story into math. How to become characters whose adventures we become invested in, not the scripted Jane who is trying to maximize the area of his pasture or the open-ended John who is trying to find a good way to estimate the number of people in a photo.

Anyway — the first lesson I learn from video games is: humans will spend hours on a good yarn.

My Panama Canal metaphor was just a joke from the onset so I had to admire Joshua Greene’s continued debunking.

A+ Job, CMCN14

This was supposed to be a brief preamble to a post about what I learned at a recent conference, but it ballooned into this long, glowing mash note to the conference itself. You should find some way to attend next year.

California Math Council’s conference in Monterey, CA, last weekend was the best conference PD I’ve ever experienced. Your mileage may have varied depending on your session choices (or whether you were even there) but every. single. element. fell into line for me.

  • Great evening keynote with Tony DeRose of Pixar. (Shorter version here.) I love keynotes that are just outside, but not too far outside our discipline.
  • An excellent pick of four sessions on Saturday. There were at least three great picks in every block. Painful choices. I went out for a few names I knew would be fun (Lasek, Fenton, Stadel). But I also ventured out for a name I didn’t recognize (Barlow) and learned an enormous amount about math teaching as well as about how to talk with math teachers about math teaching. I’ll share some details in a later post, which was supposed to be this post until I got all breathless about the conference itself.
  • The Ignite sessions on Saturday evening were best-in-class. They were all entertaining and interesting, which is unusual enough, but three of them drew standing ovations. Five minute talks. Standing ovations. A standing ovation off of five minutes. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you see them later.
  • The community. I get such a charge off the crowd that assembles on the Monterey Coast annually. I walked around Point Lobos with mentors, broke bread with peers, and met lots of new teachers from local programs. One of the keynote presenters and I both gave talks we had already given elsewhere and we both noted how charged up the crowds were, how great the vibe was, relative to those other venues. No idea why, but I’ll take it.
  • The venue. Unbeatable.

So great job, California Math Council. Everybody else: be sure to sign up to present and attend next year.