On Saturday morning, I volunteered at the Math-in-Action Conference that Grand Valley State University hosts for Mathematics Teachers across the state of Michigan. The conference is designed to be an excellent source of professional development for teachers, where there are over 30 different work shops on various topics related to teaching specific concepts, and teaching resources for teachers to use in their classroom. There was a great amount of excitement in the air as math teachers remarked to me how they were genuinely excited about this conference and the previous year it had given them a fire to try some new things in their classrooms!
Not only was the conference beneficial mathematically, but it was also an amazing time to network with some great teachers and principals from around the state of Michigan. The opportunities for growth personally, and encouragement from other faculty and administrators at this conference were extraordinary!
Prior to this conference, my view of professional development was fairly poor. I saw professional development as something that was mandated by schools because they did not trust educators to seek out opportunities to continue to learn how to become a better teacher on their own. I thought continuing education was boring and an obligation that bothered teachers. What I saw at Math in Action was totally different!
I attended two sessions both led by Tara Maynard a leader on #miched. The second session involved Tara and Zach Cresswell as well! The first session was about thatquiz.org an amazing resource for formative assessments to ensure students are developing instrumental understanding and to check student understanding of operations and with potential for much more! ( I won’t go to much into this resource because I will be elaborating on it further in a future post) A second online tool she showed the teachers was socrative.com. I have seen Tara use this site in her class and it works super well with ipads! The program allows her to see all of the students answers instantly and answer questions anonymously in front of the class that students had on their homework or in general. Tara teaches in a flipped class set up which seems to be trending in education circles these days and for good reason. The flipped classroom allows educators much more time to spend with students developing their application skills and relational understanding of materials in class. There has not been much research done into flipped classrooms as of yet, but the research will be coming soon, and in some early research major successes have been made. Also, of worthy note is that nearly all educators (99%) said they would continue flipping their classroom according to the Flipped Network in a 2012 survey of 453 teachers in flipped classrooms. Obviously the Flipped Network is pretty biased, but this statistic is pretty staggering!
In the second session, I learned a lot about talk and discourse in mathematics! It was so cool to see how excited the teachers got and how much they enjoyed participating in a back to front game where one person faces away from the board and the other faces toward the board. The teacher then puts four mathematical words on the board and the students, in this case teachers, had to describe the words using the mathematical knowledge they have. In my case, I was with a principal who did not have much mathematical knowledge, so he tried to get me to say “vertex” by saying, “It’s like Texas with a v at the beginning”…”Only it’s just part of Texas”, I was so confused haha! I really enjoyed the activity and Tara and Zach explained how the teacher could help students clear up their mathematical terminology when they were stuck, like in the case of the principal and I it was obvious that he did not actually know what a vertex was, so a teacher could clarify to him what exactly a vertex is and how to explain it. By getting students talking about mathematical concepts a formative assessment of sorts can occur in the classroom where students can have a lot of fun and a teacher can collect a whole lot of useful information! The tool seemed like an awesome diagnostic tool to see what students know about the math terminology that will be used in a unit. The other variation of the game involved drawing, and modeling. The partner facing the board had to get the partner facing away from the board to draw the exact image of what was on the board by using mathematical language, but they could not see the drawing on their partner’s paper! This was very difficult, but the applicability for modeling geometrical concepts, and functions on a graph was clear! (Tara and Zach’s presentation can be found at bit.ly/cressmaynard15 )
Throughout all of these neat activities, I noticed how much the teachers were enjoying this day and getting more excited about their teaching! These were activities and methods they could practically move into their classroom and utilize immediately and they were fun! If students have as much fun with these activities as we were having and they learn as much as I felt like I was about sharing math discourse; I can only imagine the impact this day will have on their classroom!
I am looking forward to trying out a few of the many structural tips, activities and lessons I learned at the Math In Action Conference. The first is the flipped classroom. I think if the technology is available flipping the classroom is an excellent way to have more time to develop relational understanding in class. Also, as a teacher I have more time to help students with the concepts they are struggling most with. I look forward to using the back to back activity to challenge students to develop their mathematical discourse. This is one of the most vital, but under recognized areas of mathematics. In order to help students grow in relational understanding as teachers we must help students develop their mathematical discourse. Otherwise, they will struggle to actually understand the concepts we are trying to teach in the first place. When a teacher or student lacks mathematical discourse it is similar to being illiterate and trying to enjoy a book. We will struggle to understand mathematics without a developed discourse of math language. Besides developing math discourse through back to back, I look forward to having my students blog or do some sort of a consistent reflection on what they are wondering about in class or thinking about for fun in mathematics. These blogs or reflections give students a chance to have their voice heard and give me a better sense of what motivates them and what they are actually interested in. The blog will help me engage my students on an individual basis with much more efficiency and better encouragement! Without attending the Math in Action Conference, I would never have gotten these ideas for my future classroom.
So I have a new thought on Professional Development now and it goes like this…
You just need to find cool opportunities to do it like at Math in Action at GVSU! Professional Development is crucial to restore your fire for teaching, learn a ton, become a better teacher, and to encourage you while working alongside other teachers and administrators!