The First NCTM Innov8 Conference: A Reflection

It has been a busy end to the first trimester, so this is the first time I’ve had to sit down and reflect on NCTM’s first Innov8 conference, held in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago. The focus of the conference was “engaging the struggling learner.” I’ll leave it up to you to define that term on your own, because it seems to encompass quite a vast swath of educational labels (e.g., “at risk,” “difficulty,” “intervention,” “tier 3,” “disability,” etc.).

As a special educator and advocate for students with disabilities, this conference was a breath of fresh air. It was refreshing for numerous sessions to relate in some way to the students who are in my classes. One of the major themes from this conference was what was truly meant by the term “struggling learner.” Fawn Nguyen broached this topic during her keynote:

Don’t we want our students to struggle productively? When does the struggle change from productivity to frustration? These continue to be good questions that teachers, parents, and students should strive to understand.

Another topic that came up during the conference was the frequent teacher refrain, “That may be a good task, strategy, mathematical topic, etc. But my kids can’t do that!” To which I only need to quote author Judy Storeygard‘s book title, My Kids Can: Making Math Accessible to All Learners.

I was extremely happy to get the opportunity to sit down with Judy and Myriam Steinback, from TERC Investigations PD, before their session on guided math groups, because of the “innov8tive” structure of this particular conference. A large section of the exhibit hall was turned into the “innovation lounge” where experts in a wide array of educational topics held court. I, like many other math educators, hope Myriam can one day get Judy on twitter and engaging with the #MTBoS.

Finally, I had the opportunity to sit down on numerous occasions with proponents of ambitious mathematics instruction, like Grace Kelemanik and David Wees. We discussed topics like the differences between instructional activities and instructional routines. Grace describes instructional routines as the consistently structured container in which instructional activities are placed in order for all students to have greater access to the mathematics of a lesson. We also discussed why instructional routines are a great way to engage students with disabilities or “the struggling learner.”

Melynee Naegle and I also led a lifesaver session about noticing and wondering as an instructional routine, if you’re interested you can see the slides here.

So let’s help Michael Pershan out! If you were at NCTM’s first Innov8 conference, what did you think was so “innov8tive” about it? What was your biggest takeaway? If you weren’t there, what would you want to know more about?

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