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:

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Book Review: Math on the Move

One of the greatest benefits of my involvement with the online community known as #MTBoS, is the variety of perspectives that the educators, who make it what is it, bring to it. One such unique perspective is that of Malke Rosenfeld. Malke’s pedagogical focus is an interdisciplinary approach to learning which incorporates both mathematics and dance into what she calls “whole body math learning.”

Research has shown that “active tasks increased the engaged behavior of students both with and without disabilities. Downing et al. (1996) also found that opportunities to move around the room, use tactile and kinesthetic learning for hands-on activities, and have multiple response options increased the participation of all three students with autism in their study” (Katz and Mirenda, 2002). Because of this, I have been interested in Malke’s take on whole body math learning for some time. Which made having the opportunity to preview her upcoming book, Math on the Move, especially enticing. math-on-the-move

Malke has spent over a decade developing and refining the math and dance program called, Math in Your Feet. The book details the approach of Math in Your Feet, how the body can be used as a mathematical thinking and sense-making tool as well as highlighting various classroom applications.

She also manages to address the question, “How is this math?” Her answer is a nuanced one, but crudely paraphrased here, is that math is more than a set of discrete skills to be practiced 30 at a time on a worksheet. This includes spatial reasoning and problem solving.

Of course, as a special education teacher, I was drawn to the section entitled, “Considerations for Students with Particular Needs.” Here, Malke successfully avoids one of the major pitfalls of most books that propose modifications for students with special needs, by clumping these unique learners into one homogeneous blob called, “students with special needs.” She uses student-first language to describe methods that can support students with a variety of needs and strengths, such as: autism spectrum disorder, sensory defensiveness, auditory processing and language-related needs, physical and mobility challenges, attention issues, and cognitive challenges. She ends this section with how progress is demonstrated in the Math in Your Feet program, “…success is defined by a student’s growth compared with him- or herself.” Words that could make any special education teacher do their own happy dance!

3-Act Task: Finding a Balance

Standards:

1.OA.D.7

1.OA.D.8

Act 1

What do you notice?

What do you wonder?

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The First Day of School

I’ve never really written about what we’ve done on the first day of school before. Usually my excuse is that I’m too busy with everything that needs to get done in the first days of school. Then I read Tracy Zager‘s post about her daughter’s experience on the first day of school. After reading Zager’s take on first days of school, it made me think about how special educators handle all of the things that have to get done when classes start. Last night it was even the topic of the bi-weekly twitter chat for teaching math to students with disabilities, #SwDMathChat.

Needless to say, “There will be no talking;” “You may not work together;” and “I can not help you;” are not part of my first day of school lesson plan. In the past we have done engineering team-building activities such as The Marshmallow Challenge and The Cup Stacking Challenge. This summer during the first Mini NYC twitter Math Camp conference, teacher-educator Nicora Placa introduced me to the book, Designing Groupwork and the task, Master Designer.

Master Designer is a great beginning of the year task, because it highlights the following three groupwork behaviors, “Helping students do things for themselves;” “Explain by telling how;” and “Everybody helps.” These groupwork behaviors set a very different tone than “There will be no talking;” You may not work together; “and “I can not help you.” These three groupwork behaviors relate directly to math classes of all kinds. In my class, we want students to be trying math problems on their own, at least at first. We also want students to be able to explain how they solved (or didn’t solve) math problems. We also want students to see their classmates as sources of information and not solely relying on the teachers in the room.

Here’s how it went…

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This and That

As the school year winds down, it seems I’ve had less and less time for the ol’ blog.

So let’s get you updated!

First, I had the opportunity to write a couple of blog posts for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics blog. Here and here. Please, if you get a chance, head over there and leave a comment so the greater mathematics education community knows we care how students with disabilities experience mathematics in schools!

Also, I continue to write for the Global Math Department newsletter. Here’s the latest issue. You’ll always find good stuff in this newsletter, so I recommend you subscribe to receive it regularly in your inbox!

This summer, I’ll be attending and presenting at Twitter Math Camp, a math conference by teachers, for teachers!

Finally, I’ve been busy working with Illustrative Mathematics to create access for student with disabilities to their K-12 open educational resource (OER) curriculum. While working on this project, it is becoming apparent how great these materials will be when finished since everyone involved is already writing lesson and activities with universal design and accessibility in mind. I’ll definitely keep you updated as the project progresses.

Thanks for reading and for all your support!

Word Problems and the Problems with Words

Yesterday, I posted a new 3-act task on the blog. In the tradition of digital mentors like Graham Fletcher, Andrew Stadel, and Dane Ehlert, I will rarely post an activity on the blog that I don’t intend to use in my own class with students. Today, we did Make It Rain.

Here is what my students noticed during Act 1

  • There’s a lot of money
  • There are 20’s, 10’s, 5’s, and 1’s
  • There are more 20’s than 10’s

And here’s what they wondered…

  • How much money is there?
  • Why did it go from greatest to least?
  • Why was it being spread out?
  • What kind of bills were in the pile?
  • How many of each bill is there?

My students are used to analyzing their questions collaboratively. Some of the students noted that we couldn’t answer the “why?” questions without asking the person in the video, who we did not have access to (even though it was me!)

So, then our wonderings looked more like this…

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3-Act Task: Make It Rain!

Standards:

Act 1

What do you notice?

What do you wonder?

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