Category Archives: Connecting teachers

Wrapping up the [#algorithmchat]

Intentions were good and initial interest was high for #algorithmchat.

And then people realized how incredibly boring algorithms are unless you’re really, really into them. And it was the end of the school year. Et cetera.

We did get a bit of Twitter back and forth, and Karl Fisch dove in twice. Which is awesome.

Let me know if I missed anything with the list below, which I believe to be the comprehensive collection of posts on the matter—in order by posting date.

Hopefully, this list will get others thinking and we’ll add to it. Find me on Twitter, or post your link in the comments.

May 6: Reading group. Overthinking My Teaching.

May 6: Algorithm nationThe Fischbowl.

May 12: Algorithms, quadcopters, and the CCSS-MThe Fischbowl.

May 15: Common numerator fraction divisionOverthinking My Teaching.

May 22: What is “the standard algorithm”?Overthinking My Teaching.

Various dates: Posts on algorithms. A collection of posts from David Wees: Thoughts from a Reflective Educator. [Technically, these were not written in response to our original article, but they certainly are on topic.]

Reading group [#algorithmchat]

The article, “Standard Algorithms in the Common Core State Standards” by Karen Fuson and Sybilla Beckmann, published in the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics journal last fall, was recommended to me this weekend.

It’s a weighty one, and relevant to conversations we have had on blogs and on Twitter in recent months, so I didn’t want to read it alone. I asked who was in for a reading group and got quite a few responses.

The article is available through Beckmann’s website (scroll way down to the “Some Other Papers” heading).

I have no experience organizing this sort of thing, but it seems that a hashtag is appropriate. I have investigated the matter and #algorithmchat is both clear on Twitter and communicates at least part of our purpose.

I considered trying to organize synchronous discussion, but it seemed too controlling and impossible to establish. So I vote we discuss by hashtag on Twitter. Anyone who ends up being moved to go long form can include include the #algorithmchat hashtag in a tweet to their post.

I have not read the article yet. It was passed along to me  by a colleague with whom I was  leading a professional development session. She really appreciated the comprehensive nature of the piece (again—it’s a long one).

I have respect for the work of both authors. Fuson’s clear research-based descriptions of what children have to do in order to understand “number” has been very helpful in the work I do with elementary teachers, and I used Beckmann’s Math for Elementary Teachers book for a few years in my courses, where I found it to be the best of the available formal textbooks for these courses. I no longer use a textbook for these courses, but if I needed to, I’d go back to hers for sure. I met Beckmann at a conference a few years ago and I found her thoughtful and open to conversations about learning (not always the case in mathematicians writing textbooks, I have found).

It will probably be midweek before I can carve out time to read the piece and weigh in. In the meantime, I encourage you all to dig in as you are able, say ‘hi’ on Twitter and pass along your longer tidbits in the form of blog posts, and (if you are so inclined) interpretive dance.

Oh, and invite your friends, relatives and enemies to the party. This will be fun.

Help some Minnesotans think something through, won’t you?

I spent some time on a conference call today as part of my duties as VP of math for MCTM. On the line were (mostly) elementary teachers and coaches. The fundamental problem at hand was beautifully stated by a participant:

If we want to grow wonderful, fabulous teachers, we have to make it easy for them to stay connected.

As the conversation proceeded, I found myself asking How does having organizations that are fixed in their physical location make sense in fostering these connections?

Several teachers described the kinds of connections and resources they would like to have access to, but that they do not (and hence why they are reaching out to MCTM and to the state department of education). These include (in no particular order):

  1. Both occasional synchronous and ongoing asynchronous communication among teachers and policy and content experts;
  2. Concrete resources for helping teachers move from a textbook-focused classroom to a standards-based classroom (especially a Minnesota standards-based classroom; we are not a Common Core state);
  3. A place to ask about something that happened in the classroom today and to get help with what to do tomorrow as a result;
  4. A way of promoting and organizing useful resources and filtering out the junk;
  5. A place to have longer conversations about bigger issues such as children’s long-term development of place value concepts or current research and curricular innovations relating to subtraction; and
  6. Video of classrooms in action—there seems to be a real hunger for seeing over reading classroom scenarios.

As I listened and thought about my own teaching, I became less and less convinced that a centralized resource is the answer to these needs. Indeed, the only need related to our particular state is number 2 above. But all of those other needs (and many of the general ideas underlying number 2) can be met by folks who have never set foot in our state.

I have built my own version of this support system online. Here’s how:

Blogs. Writing my own and reading those of others has generated tons of useful ideas for every aspect of my work. Just today, I took something from Chris Hunter’s blog to use with my College Algebra students, and I adapted Fawn Nguyen’s Google Form for my standards-based grading reassessment in all of my courses.

Twitter. Pretty much everyone whose blog I regularly read I also follow on Twitter. The reverse is not true, so Twitter expands my network. In the past week, I put out a general request with organizing my students’ reassessment requests and got reminded of Fawn’s system.

Also I have had several back-and-forth conversations with teachers on a range of topics. For example, I replied to the following…

Twitter facilitates a lovely combination of asynchronous resource-hunting and synchronous problem-solving. It can also be a tremendous time sink, so time management skills are essential.

Email. Back to asynchronous communication. Email for me remains a medium for having extended private conversations. I am not a fan of listservs, mailing lists or email conversations that attempt to involve more than about three people.

Experience. Having spent a couple of years in this space, I have developed a working knowledge of what’s available. I know who to ask about what’s happening at middle school, who to ask/read/recommend on assessment issues. I know who will give me a new perspective on social media use. I know who to talk to for questions about college teaching.

All of this reinforces the idea-for me-that the role MCTM could play in meeting this request from our members isn’t so much creating a space for interaction, as it could be facilitating teachers’ entry into this much larger space that already exists.

I have no idea what that would look like either, though.

How say, math-o-blog-o-Twitter-sphere?