NCTM Highlights

It is always so refreshing to get together and share ideas with like-minded people – passionate folks who genuinely want to see students learning and loving mathematics in a 21st-century way.  Here are some highlights from the 2012 NCTM Regional Conference in Dallas, TX:

1.  Scott Flansburg was the keynote speaker Wednesday night.  He IS the “Human Calculator”!  A section of his brain is 5 times the size of the average human’s.  He feels he has learned to tap into his gift of being able to do cumbersome mental calculations using this massive section of his brain, and uses this amazing ability to try to turn kids on to math.  His stories of losing everything and even being homeless for awhile, all in the name of pursing his passion of generating excitement about math with kids, left me inspired (while simultaneously questioning his sanity!)  Clearly, hearing him speak and seeing his gift in action, this guy’s tale has a happy ending!

2.  Dr. Eric Milou gave a presentation on teaching the iGeneration that made me want to stand up, numerous times, and say, “Yes!  You have it!”  He reminded us that our students come from a time in history where things like cell phones and the internet were already in place.  Our kids don’t know a time without these things, and their brains are literally developing differently because of it.  If we, as educators, don’t try to reach students in the “now” with “now” tools, we may miss a grand opportunity.

His suggestions for the classroom included embracing online gaming where students play other students in real-time for math skill practice.  He suggested using videos from YouTube and Dan-Meyer-like problem solving – playing into students’ curiosity to hook them with a simple 20-second video that gives just enough information to allow the students to generate the questions, and seek needed information to solve the problem.

He also shared these tidbits:

Arcademic Skill Builders (online gaming)  (Check out the video about three bad dates for an amusing way to help students understand ratios.)

Brian Regan (Just plain funny)

3.  Nadine Bezuk presented a model for comparing and ordering rational numbers that was so simple, every teacher I was sitting with couldn’t believe he or she hadn’t thought of it.  Nadine used a piece of string stretched across the room to provide a “clothesline model” to compare and order fractions.  Using her arms to estimate measurement, she talked us through accurately placing values on the number line.  Starting simply with benchmarks like 0, 1/2 and 1, she talked us through a mathematically-rich exercise leading to correctly placing fractions such as x/2, x/x, (x+1)/x, (x-1)/x and implications for placing such fractions if x were positive, negative, and so on.  A simple start ended with many a-ha moments for me, and I think my classroom will soon have a long, piece of string hanging somewhere (in compliance with our fire code of course!)  Here is a link to her resources and the Powerpoint she showed.

4. Dr. Timothy Kanold really got us all thinking about our assessments.  He also provided us with a tool to evaluate our own assessments which can be found at  His blog can be found at

5. Dr. Mark Ellis shared this video of teacher Marlo Warburton demonstrating her neat-o strategy for teaching mixture problems.  At first, I thought it was a spoof, because the way the teacher introduces the lesson is quite humorous… yet, the lesson unfolds with these adorably expressive students and proves to be quite successful after all!  I would love to connect with Marlo – she seems like a kindred spirit.

6.  Carolyn Williamson was my dose of brain research for this conference – oh how I love this stuff!  I was reminded about the “prime times” students remember what is taught when Carolyn referenced David Sousa and showed this graph (which I will use in my lesson on interpreting graphs with my 8th graders next week!)







To summarize, we remember best what is first, and we remember second best what comes last… and during that middle area right there?  Our audience of adolescents is what Williamson referred to as a “hot mess”!  I want to make a poster of this idea she also shared:

You can only keep 7 things in your working memory.  What are you going to do about it?

Williamson also discussed what rigor looks like, and shared this resource to further ponder the idea of rigor in our lessons.

7.  I am quickly becoming a James Popham fan as I strive to effectively use technology for formative assessment.  I learned about a FREE resource online that may be a HUGE help in “mining” the data of formative assessments in my own classroom.  Massachusetts teacher Barbara Delaney shared homework data and charming video snippets of her own sixth graders utilizing a FREE tool called ASSISTments.  I am inspired and curious about this tool, and may take Delaney’s advice to take a few “baby steps” to give it a shot.

And for my final highlight, I need a drumroll please… so kindly tap rapidly on the nearest flat surface before reading on…

8. Dan Meyer!

An inspiration to me for the past few years, Dan Meyer’s “Perplexity” talk stretched me most of all during this conference.  I have been excitedly celebrating “student engagement” and along comes “perplexity”… ahh, I have a lot to learn!  I could COMPLETELY relate to Dan’s “Perplexity Fairy” (a little not-so-imaginary voice that whispers bizarre-perplexing-everyday-mathematical questions in Dan’s ear without warning… the voice that makes you pull your iPhone out of your pocket and take pictures of things you see every day that you *know* may have some sort of significance in a who-knows-where-this-is-going-mathematically kind of way). I was so encouraged to know I am not the only person who is constantly taking pictures of things, or e-mailing and texting myself cryptic messages so I don’t forget an idea I am having that I know I will forget otherwise!  Yes!  I am on the right track!  I am on the way to finding my own Perplexity Fairy perched on my shoulder… but mine needs a little bit of basic training.

My problem is… all of these perplexing things are often held captive in my phone rather than being shown to my students (Here are a few potential conversation starters that I haven’t shown to kids.)  I think I have to step away from the pacing guide (I know!) and start to do some more real problem-solving every now and again.  *Whew!*

Thanks Dan – it was a pleasure to meet you today!


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4 Responses to NCTM Highlights

  1. Loved meeting you at the conference! I learned a lot and it was great to find another teacher doing the 1 to 1 ipad thing! I look forward to your posts!

  2. Cathy Yenca says:

    Great talking to you as well! I see you are also a blogger! Look forward to staying in touch with you!

  3. Cathy Yenca says:

    Here’s a link to the NCTM site with even more goodies to explore:

  4. Cathy Yenca says:

    Inspired to “dump” my digital photos somewhere, I recently created a resource! “The Math Cam” template is a great outlet for digital photos! Though I haven’t started using it yet with my students, I plan to soon! With the concept of “slope” on the horizon, I think students will easily be able to use their iPads to take some pictures around the school that we can analyze. In any case, this template can be used to encourage the problem-solving process with respect to a “real-life” photo. The Dan-Meyer part is that the students must generate the question(s) – we’ll see how it goes!

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