Geoff Krall with Two Great Posts Recapping NCTM

Here on Jo Boaler’s talk, and here on Dan Meyer.

On Jo Boaler:

I was in the talk for the first 25 minutes. Jo is great, and I appreciated what she had to say (and was looking forward to a number talk that I think was coming based on the handout?) but I took her MOOC over the summer, and didn’t want to miss Eli Luberoff and the Desmos presentation. From Geoff:

I’ve been thinking a lot about “death knells” recently, things that basically signal there’s virtually no going back. Remediation is a “death knell” for many students. Very few students who are labeled as needing remediation ever get caught up with their peers, fewer still ever exceed their peers. Some of that may be the remedial label itself, much of that is the methods in which these remediation classes are taught.

“These kids are so far behind, we need to do more traditional math to get them caught up!”

That is a sentence uttered by someone who doesn’t understand irony, and yet is the pervasive “methodology” (if one can call it that) for reaching students who are “behind.” The same math that got these kids behind in the first place … but more of it. More packets, more computerized instruction, more “I do/you do.”

I’ve heard enough “but these kids lack the basic skills to do complex math” to last a lifetime. First off, if you ever said “these kids” around Kelly Camak, you would probably never be heard from again. Second, the experience of doing challenging, fun, creative math is exactly what “these kids” need.

Jo Boaler shared a video of “these kids” in one of her Summer sessions. The students in the video persisted on a pattern problem for, according to her, 70 minutes. We saw about 5-7 minutes of three students working on a pattern, doing complex algebra, sharing ideas, and being 100% fully engaged in math. An individual problem packet would have not fostered that level of mathematical engagement.

Love this. The solution to kids being behind is not more practice, it is the desperate need for those students to make sense of math and believe in their own efficacy as problem solvers. Lacking prerequisite skills does not mean students can’t access big ideas, but it does mean that we need to pay particular attention to the conceptual knowledge these students have to make sure that they are wrestling with key ideas. The solution is not more practice of basic skills. There is no math gene; that student can learn math if we give them the appropriate supports.

Next up, Dan Meyer:

I was in this talk, and really enjoyed it. Big ideas here:
I focused mostly on what Dan had to say about feedback — making it visual and embedded in practice, and giving students opportunities to apply it right away at a low cost.

Geoff focused on a different aspect of the talk: point number 2 (the real world is overrated) and the audience’s response to it. I was absolutely one of the audience members applauding Dan’s point; the high level of engagement I see in “fake world” tasks like covering a filing cabinet in post-its, or which diagram is closest to three-fifths. These questions are perplexing and provoke valuable mathematics, but they are not problems that real humans in the real world need to solve. While I stand by the value of these tasks (and I’m sure Geoff does as well), he makes the valid point that it’s a bit troubling to watch hundreds of math educators cheer the value of tasks that don’t come from the real world. The real world does engage students, and it gives value to the field of mathematics education, in a way that teaching problem solving and quantitative reasoning in general cannot. While I don’t know if this will affect my day-to-day practice, I do want to heed Geoff’s advice to think twice about abandoning the real world as I plan mathematical experiences for my students.

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