nctm Archives - The Jose Vilson


8 Things I Learned At the NCTM (or Planet of the 8s)

by Jose Vilson on April 15, 2008

in Jose

I have to tell you, I definitely felt like I learned a lot at the conference I keep telling you all about. I discovered a lot about my own teaching and how I’m doing a lot more right than I thought, but also found stuff that I need to work on more diligently. I suppose if I’m going to be in this as a career, I should learn a few things here and there.

Like I mentioned before, I took copious notes at the conference, hoping to not only remember what I was taught but also share with mi gente. I’ll try to make it brief and all notes are available in full if you ask, but here’s my summarized top ten:

1. Teachers don’t do a good enough job helping kids understand abstractly as well as concretely. (courtesy of Greg Tang, author of The Grapes of Math)

I totally see this. For the first decade and a 1/2 of my education, I knew what place value was, but I didn’t understand how it worked until I got into college, when I started learning more about binary systems as a computer science major. We need to push the kids’ thinking, and try to help them become more abstract thinking and give them a foundation for that thinking.

This man’s also the one that said, “What’s the 8th planet in our solar system? What, you don’t know? It’s Planet of the Eights! It’s a joke, don’t you get it?” Well done.

2. One person’s self-evident truth is another person’s unfounded theory. (courtesy of Julian Weissglass)

Weissglass used a historical analysis of the Constitution to concretely explain the last statement. If we understand the Constitution as it was written, then we’ll see that it didn’t apply to a huge section of America’s constitution. In other words, what some at the time may have considered a basic assumption for living may not have been so for another person. Actually, I want to write more about this later on (presses pause until Thursday).

3. Math, art, and technology mesh much more readily if we think a little more deeply. Just ask Leonardo daVinci. (courtesy of Nikki Blair)

4. Not only are we in the business of pushing kids to be better, but making it harder for them to be average. (courtesy of Larry Bradsbury)

If we want to become better teachers, we need a more systematic approach, by defining skills that we want the kids to learn, diagnose student needs, provide appropriate activities, evaluate student learning, reteach if need be, and maintain better student records.

5. Good feedback isn’t an easy task. (courtesy of Laura Maly and Sharon Kolade)

Just like the comments we leave in blogs, writing good comments on posts can change how the original writer improves or understands the task at hand.

6. Sometimes, it’s the kids that are at the highest levels that need the most help. (courtesy of Dr. Joyce Fisher)

With regards to ELLs (English Language Learners), sometimes they’ll be really good at doing math in their own language, but they’ll have a hard time translating that math knowledge into English because not every concept in Spanish has a cognate in English.

7. Broaden the question so more students have entry into the discussion. (courtesy of Marian Small)

This applies to everyone, but if we look at differentiated instruction, sometimes asking a specific question can really limit who will participate in the conversation. For some purposes, it may be good to target the question for a specific answer, but in general, making the question accessible to every student will allow even the low-level students to feel engaged in the conversation. So, for example, instead of asking, “Is 6 a factor of 54?” we might ask, “What relationships can we make between 54 and 6?”

8. Be careful with too many cultural references in your exams. (courtesy of Carol Caref)

Unfortunately, when it comes to tests, they’re often culturally biased without people even realizing it. Those biases can make the difference between students who excel in their tests, and those that understand the math but can’t grasp it because they don’t know what the dimensions of a house look like or how a mortgage works.

Also, I got to see David M. Schwartz work his magic with How Much Is a Million? and Nora Ramirez, president of TODOS (a group for teachers who teach Latino / Hispanic students) not only demo a lesson on proportions, but also explain the values of going her math teacher organization. The conference also gave me a good indication that, overall, I’m on the right track. I just need to keep plugging away.

I was actually a little disappointed that I didn’t see any of the prominent edubloggers either go to the conference or present at the NCTM, but I suppose with time that too shall pass.

jose, who will finally start using his SmartBoard …


No Really, Utah Was That Good

by Jose Vilson on April 14, 2008

in Jose

I can’t tell you how many preliminary reviews I got about Utah.

Most of them involving race. “Jose, just you being there will significantly increase the population of Black and Latino males there.” After all, Utah has a reputation for a lack of diversity. Some often jokes how Karl Malone and Bryon Russell were the only 2 Black folk in the entire state, and of course I laughed. Outside of the Jazz and their strong Mormon population, I didn’t really know anything about that state.

And I messed up.

I can’t tell whether it was just because the NCTM conference was such a big deal for the city or because I was just happy to be out of town, but Utah was thoroughly impressive. From beginning to end, I would have to rate it a 9 out of 10 in terms of the overall experience. For one, the hotel was awesome. Chase Suite Hotel was great. Complimentary breakfast, free wireless Internet in the main hall, and a suite with a whole living room, a penthouse set up, and individual bathrooms were just some of the highlights of that service. The people manning their stations were extra-cordial. Of course, we had a couple of snags here and there, but the good definitely outweighed the bad.

A restaurant I discovered there was The Training Table. I didn’t know that Utah was big on burgers until I got there. My group walked in, and we just sat there looking at what we assumed to be waitresses, but they wouldn’t move. Then there was this mysterious telephone in our booth. We picked it up, and just told the person on the other side our orders. About 15 minutes later, the phone beeped back at us, and we were a little startled. It was our food, and we had to go get it from the counter. Weird. But it was goooood. That burger was so nice, I had to get some twice. Mmm mmm mmm. Plus, when at my behest, we went back, that root beer float hit me lovely.

The convention itself was good, too, but I won’t get into that until tomorrow (Ed Post Tuesdays). What I will say is that the shuttles were on-time, and willing to stop wherever you needed them to. Even the last shuttle we took let us stop at different spots to take pictures of the scenery. As a matter of fact, I practically have my whole trip on camera. Peep it.

I’m telling you, people, if I actually knew someone out there, I’d be tempted to go back. Maybe.

But don’t think I’m in a hurry to try and move over there. It’s a nice place to visit, but I need that little buzz in my ear, the raw energy, and the everyday hustle-and-bustle of home. Just to tell you the kind of people I was working with there, though, we went to the Olive Garden and as we were sitting down, I was putting some stuff away in another chair. As I was doing that, I told the waitress that she could put down the menus, and she said,

“I can’t do that until the gentleman sits down.”

I blinked, looked around, and said, “Oh my goodness! I love UTAH!”

I must have been hungry or something. Or maybe it was just that awesome. Yeah, I think it’s the latter. Thanks for the hospitality, Utah.

jose, whose back almost went out from all the items he took away from the convention …

p.s. – Yes, that is Malcolm Gladwell in the first picture. And no, that’s not a wig on his head.


Notes from the NCTM: Malcolm Gladwell Speech

by Jose Vilson on April 10, 2008

in Jose

Mi gente,

I’m here in Salt Lake City, UT, in a nice hotel with some beautiful mountains in the backdrop. Despite what others may believe, I’m not remotely bothered by the lack of racial diversity in this town. It’s been great. Customer service has been good, the conference in general is good, and the hotel’s awesome. Yes, it’s also because it’s a break from the kids, but the more I go through the conference, the more I find myself thinking about my children in the classroom, the things I do well, and my weaknesses as I hope to finish up the school year strong.

I knew I was in good shape when my group went to the New Teachers’ workshop, and left a good 15 minutes later because we were already prepared. I scoured the program book for workshop and targeted a nice, solid set of topics I wanted to focus on to improve or enhance my teaching. We set ourselves up to watch Malcolm Gladwell (the author of The Tipping Point and Blink, the first of which I read). At first, we were very excited to go because 2 of us had already read his work, but what he had to say blew us away.

This little man with glasses, a fro, and a soft but firm tone to his voice, Malcolm Gladwell really had everyone captivated for a good hour. I’m not sure if the articles that came out got the main idea of his speech, but what I got from him was that, our society really needs to rethink the way we educate our children, especially when it comes to math. He used the example of Pablo Picasso and Paul Cezanne, two of the greatest artists of the last couple of centuries. While they both have very valuable contributions to the art community, they couldn’t be any more different.

Picasso is the “conceptual innovator,” a man who had a great idea, executed it almost perfectly, and then faded after a while. On the other hand, Cezanne, the “experimental innovator,” worked hard at his craft, and got better with age. To wit, Picasso’s most valuable work was done in his mid-20′s, and he never reached that level of success again. Cezanne’s most valuable work comes in his much later years, to the point that his later work is 15 times more valuable than his earliest work.

It takes hard work and persistence, then, be successful. He continued on into other examples include the Eagles (conceptual innovators) versus Fleetwood Mac (experimental innovators) and Herman Melville (conceptual) versus Mark Twain (experimental). Of course, he brought up some excellent points and stories to coincide with the examples, and had me enthralled all in all.

What gave me pause, however, was when he spoke of KIPP schools, and he brought that up because he discussed the Asian dominance in math (they make up the top 5 countries in math for any country). In particular, he demonstrated how study after study shows that, when it comes down to it, it’s because they don’t have this rush to get these objectives done, the teaching is slower, the students’ mastery dictates the pace, and the attitudes that the students come in with as they enter the school is much more deliberate and highly focused on academic success, which due to a multitude of factors, can’t be said for here. (In one of the studies, there was a 0.9 correlation between the countries’ populations who did well in math and the same participants’ persistence and dedication to filling out a really long survey), so “how well that country does well in math doesn’t have to be measured with math questions.”

He then continued to say that these KIPP schools somewhat take the same approach, extending school time to about 3 more weeks, encouraging kids to think more carefully about their school work. He did retract a little from discussing the KIPP schools because he understood the audience and how this model procures teacher burnout. My only thought and maybe disagreement with encouraging the KIPP school model is the following: how do we expect teachers to become the Cezannes of education if we extend the school hours, take away the unions, and only give teachers a break in August?

He actually continued to talk about how our society embraces the Picasso models, with more one-hit wonders than ever before in the music business (which is why it’s not thriving the way it has before), and the auto industry. I’m interested to see this and other topics discussed more thoroughly in his new book coming out in November, but overall, he completely wowed me with his insight.

I also got a chance to meet him and take a picture with him, which was cool, and it just kicked off a rather enjoyable stay over here overall. In the coming blogs, I’ll delve more deeply into his speech and the workshops I attended. In the meantime, riddle me this, my people:

Are you a Picasso or a Cezanne? Do you see yourself as someone who has a great idea, implement it, and flatten out for a bit, or do you keep plugging away until you get it as close to perfect as possible?

Malcolm answered this with a “Maybe I’m a Picasso, but I sincerely hope, as I get older, that I’m really a Cezanne.” That drew some laughter.

jose, who has never seen mountains like this …

editor’s note: I hope I didn’t misquote Gladwell; I was typing like a madman. Also, this is the condensed version of my rather copious notes.