#TMC15 Day 1 – In which I realized how bad I am at public speaking

It’s that time again!  Twitter Math Camp 2015 is off and running. At the social hours last night I realized just how many people I met from last year and how many I know from online. It’s so great to see everyone again and be like “HEY! How was your year? What are you doing now?” There are so many brilliant people here and just being around them makes me want to be a better teacher.

For future reference as I go through this, the program is here.

For the morning session, I chose the “Activity-Based Teaching” workshop run by Al Overwijk and Mary Bourassa.  They started the session by showing a picture of a giant tree and just asked “What questions do you have?”

Can you spot the four climbers?

Can you spot the four climbers?

Then they randomly split us up into groups of three and had us choose three questions that we liked the most, and give reasons as to why.  We wrote our three questions on three separate sheets of paper and then did a sort of gallery walk to see what other groups had done. After looking at the other groups we had to pick one of the three questions for each group and give reasons, then return to our own questions and see which of our questions most people chose.  It was really fascinating to see both what questions were very common and what questions were very distinct.  “How tall is the tree?” was very common, but then there were also questions like “How is this tree different from other trees?” and “What do you see and what do you not see about the tree?”  After we made a final choice on the best question and put it on the board, we spent a few minutes just doing math. We could answer any question we wanted, and it was again super interesting to see the different directions everyone took.  A group of us tried to estimate the height of the tree using the little man at the bottom as a reference. Turns out we grossly overestimated the total height, but I blame some of that on weird picture composition.

But the best part was that working through these questions started an hour long conversation about what makes a good question and what makes a good math activity.  Just hearing a room full of quality educators talk about what makes a good question was so invigorating. I think we can all recognize a great question, but trying to come up with those questions is difficult. One thing Al and Mary mentioned that they did was to do this same activity with their classes to help get better questions out of the kids.  As Mary said, if the question doesn’t force you to show me what math you know, it’s not a good question.  Alex was telling us about how he only has activities in his classroom,and I’m super curious to hear more about how he gets that to work, and what effect that has on things like test prep.  I’m seriously thinking of having a very activities-heavy curriculum for my IB Studies class to help engage those students that haven’t traditionally loved Math but I need a lot more information about it.

Lunch was from the Fry Fry food truck. No lie, carne asada fries are delicious.

After lunch we had a short my favorites, with two dissertations, Chris Shore talking about some classroom engagement practices, and Jonathan Claydon talking about Varsity Math.  A rather entertaining little session, and now I know a new dirty term.

Then we had Lani Horn’s keynote talk about the mindset of good teachers and all the things that the #MTBoS can help us with.  I found the idea of Problem framing to be really powerful, because it can be really easy to asy “Ugh, these kids are so difficult” instead of “I’m having trouble engaging these kids, what’s something that could hook them?”  The differentiation between what good teachers do and what Great teachers do is going to be super important to keep in mind in November and February when I’m exhausted. If someone wants to make a poster for the wall behind my desk…

I then went to a short session by Matt Lane on the effectiveness in Video Games in the classroom.  I was expecting a session more like “These are some great video games you can use in the classroom” but it was more “Here are some video games, how can you apply math to them.” I think this is brilliant, but I also think it might be slightly more brilliant than me.  I had a hard time connecting to it, but I think a large part of my problem was that I had a session on right after and I was freaking out about it.

It’s difficult for me to write about my session on Socratic Seminars because I’m so hard on myself, and every stray blank stare makes me think the entire group hates it.  I also shot myself in the foot because, in an effort to have 100% participation, I committed a TMC faux pas and said “NO TWEETING”. The unintended side effect is that then no one tweeted about the session, which was an eerie silence. However a couple people have come up and said “I heard really good things about your session” so that’s good. I’m definitely glad I had them try a short seminar first because it put a lot more things into context. And I got some great ideas about other structures to try. For example, we could do a “Which one doesn’t belong?” seminar. I hope I can start collaborating with some of the participants so we can really get Math Seminars working in our school.

I forgot what a huge rush this conference is.  There’s so much information and so much excitement and collaboration. We go to dinner and half the conversation is the best way to teach proofs in Geometry. You get drinks at the bar and have conversations about some new activity that your teacher friend in Alabama just started.  My co-worker Kat came with me this year and even after only one day she said “I feel like I understand you and your teaching so much better.”  We’ve had a number of conversations about why these people aren’t the ones in charge of math education, and why more PDs aren’t like this. Twitter Math Camp is just an amazing experience and I’m so glad I came.

I have to stop now so I can pay proper attention to the My Favorites.  I just saw a venn-diagram with 7 sets and it blew my mind.  More to come later today, with constant updates on twitter.

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