Mathamazing

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On the first day of school, before kids came, before we really knew how our classrooms would look, the handful of Math teachers in our small school were told we would all be going to the Regional NCTM Conference in Atlantic City.  It is, after all, very close to our school.

At that time I would have never known how my day would look.  I wouldn’t have believed I could have taken so many good ideas from one event.  Yet, after a short time to process all of the amazing things I learned in a single day, I have some short reflections on the NCTM Regional conference.

First, math people are extremely intelligent.  Conversations I had with people during the day were generally at a very high level despite being mostly about primary math.  I was very impressed with the people I spoke to during the sessions.  I also got to spend some time with my friend and “edumath celebrity” Justin Aion.  His session on reflective blogging was by far the best delivered, and reignited my desire to reflect and write.

I had mixed feelings about the presenters.  While I took many good ideas from this event, most of the presenters did not bring the quality I was expecting from a national conference.  It wasn’t their content, simply their ability to disseminate information and facilitate discussion that (as a whole) I found slightly underwhelming.  Having been to many regional conferences and EdCamps, I was surprised that the quality of the delivery at NCTM wasn’t quite as strong as at smaller events.

The best thing, as with any event, were the conversations and ideas generated while interacting with other educators.  During sessions, while discussing with educators, I took away or developed several activities and ideas that I can put into practice immediately.  In addition to this I may have stumbled upon a good idea, Math Talks for Kids.  After talking with a great Math teacher from Connecticut about Math Talks and Math Workshop I was thinking of sharing them.  The original idea was class-to-class.  Instead I think we should create a place where we can keep a growing resource of Math Talks delivered to kids, by kids that cover major ideas and standards by grade level.  I plan on working on this in the coming weeks, starting with my own class!

Overall, despite a few surprises, NCTM was amazing.  This is my first year as a “math” teacher rather than a classroom teacher, but before having gone to NCTM I didn’t view myself as such.  Now, instead of being a classroom teacher that happens to teach math, I am sold.  As much as I loved teaching literacy, count me among the converted.  Teaching math is amazing and I am so excited to build my students’ love of math!  That ought to be enough to consider the Atlantic City regional NCTM- Mathamazing.

If You Build It, They Will Make

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Today I took 2nd Graders to our Makerspace.  It is extremely raw and unpolished.  We barely have the materials to open, but I had made a commitment to open this week.  I set out many of the materials, and just jumped in.

My first reflection was simple.  It will never be done, ready, or perfect.  If I didn’t jump into it today, we could have waited weeks.  Makerspaces are not about perfect, they are about working together to learn and improve things.  That is not only the goal for kids, but the goal for all of us.

When the kids were working on various projects and with different materials, I heard exactly what you wish you could…

“Can I stay here for recess?”

“Can I come back tomorrow?” (Tomorrow was Saturday)

“Wait, I have an idea…”

“What if we try this?”

“Can anyone help me with this?” “Yeah I will help!”

“I LOVE THIS”

It wasn’t perfect.  For starters I had 7 kids taking apart 2 objects with only 1 philips head screw driver.  They argued a little, and I really should have been ready for that.  Did it cause any serious problems? No, but it didn’t need to be.

I also had kids with great ideas to start designing 3D prints that were important to them, but we are having some minor issues with the extruders, and I didn’t have any software or web based sites ready for the kids to begin designing.

Finally, I had a crafting area without any paper! Yes, that’s right, no paper!  Oh well.  Kids designed and created on foam and felt.

In the end, the effects were instantaneous.  Within seconds they were working together, excited, discussing ideas, planning, and doing.  It was everything we hoped to cultivate over time, and all I had to do was provide the space, kids quickly took care of the rest.  It may not stay perfect, there will certainly be more troubles, things to learn and work through, but each challenge is an opportunity to model growth and learning for our kids.

Reflecting on #TechCSD at Colonial School District

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This past weekend I co-presented on developing classroom connections.  It made me think about how remarkable those connections have been.

Over a year ago I sat alone at a table, awestruck in some ways with the great leaders filling the room at EdCamp Leader in Philadelphia.  By chance, or fate, a pair of gentleman sat at the table with me.  I had no idea I would be meeting someone who would become a good mentor and friend.  Nor did I know that sitting at a table with Doug Timm and Tom Gavin would eventually lead me to Delaware’s Colonial Tech Conference, but the relationship I have developed with Doug is one I can’t imagine being without.

Last December I was thinking about how I could share a larger world with my class.  I was also looking for a new way to teach them about various holidays around the world.  Cue Rosy Burke and her class’s Holiday’s Around the World project.  Throughout the rest of the year we continued to develop a connection between our classes and one another.  Rosy is an amazing educator and through her own connections, she moved half way across the country to work at Doug’s school in Delaware.

In less than a year I made two very good friends, and those connections converged in Delaware this weekend.  It was an amazing day filled with learning, fun, and friendships.

Here are some simple take aways:

  1. Get your students creating content.  It doesn’t matter what medium you use, and it doesn’t matter where you choose to share it.

2. You have more impact on people than you know.  I said this many times on Saturday, and it could not be more true.  When Rosy and I first connected our classes, I had no idea how much her kids cared for mine. I also didn’t know (until she told me later) that our interaction gave her the motivation and confidence to reach out to even more classrooms with her kids.

3. Richard Byrne is the real deal.  Not only was he really friendly and personable, but he brought great resources and he walked the walk.  The most important messages I took from him included: More people will experience your students’ content if they create a short video than if they write a paper, and its important to share your work, (he has some resources that have been downloaded over 100,000 times, for free).

4. Colonial School District has some incredible things happening.  I wasn’t able to get down for the Friday tour, but through talking with educators from the district and seeing what they are trying to do, it is extremely impressive.

5. There is nothing more amazing than getting intelligent, passionate educators sitting around a table together.  The conversations I had while spending time with Rosy, Doug, Justin Schleider, Sarah Thomas, Nicholas Endlich, and Amanda Rogers (who came all the way from Texas and is AWESOME) were some of the most incredible and memorable experiences I will take with me.

The #techcsd conference was a model for any district or local area looking to start building and sharing out the positive learning that educators can, and will do.  I passed on two larger conferences to go there, and I am better for having done so.  I look forward to continuing with my old connections, and building on some of the new ones that I made over the course of the day.

We can all be better.  How we grow and how we learn with others is an important part of who we are, and where we will go in our futures.  This weekend went a long way to making me a better educator.