On April 5th, 2017, I landed in San Antonio, Texas, for the very first time. Sure, I enjoy Tex-Mex, and yes, I was excited to roam the River Walk with the looming possibility of meeting Tony Parker, one of my favorite NBA guards of all time. But that’s not why I came to the home of the Alamo. I had embarked on this southwestern journey with a specific purpose in mind: to learn as much as possible about the vast field of math education. I had come, unequivocally, to milk the most talked about math education conference in the United States: the National Council of Teachers of Math’s Annual Conference!
The NCTM is the world’s largest mathematics education organization, boasting a membership of over 60,000 individuals. Each year, the NCTM hosts a massive annual conference that attracts nearly 9,000 math educators from across the globe to share their insights, strategies, and experiences to improve the entire education process for teachers and professors everywhere. Naturally, I had to be there.
I was beyond excited when I arrived in San Antonio. I imagine it’s the same feeling a budding musician experiences when attending the Grammy’s for the first time. The city’s conference center was filled with math wunderkinds and education superstars. I was elbow to elbow with esteemed research professors and secondary school math zealots that had so much to offer. As soon as I set foot in the main hallway, I immediately downloaded the NCTM conference app and began planning my tour of lectures. And let me say, this conference had an insane amount of lectures to choose from. At the end of each lecture, I perused dozens of lecture titles and descriptions before making a selection for my next stop. Of the many lectures I attended during the conference, there were three that stood above the rest. And by the way, this in no way means that the other lectures were not on the same level; this is simply a collection of three lectures that were particularly impactful for me given my ongoing efforts to use technology and games in concert with math education.
The first all-star lecture was given by Tinashe Blanchet, proud owner of a math education blog: http://mrsblanchet.net/. Mrs. Blanchet is a teacher brimming with passion and enthusiasm for math. But why, precisely, did I find her presentation so powerful? Yes, she is a charismatic and dynamic speaker, but what really intrigued me was her topic: math music videos. Mrs. Blanchet, like me, infuses math with music to maximize student engagement. She posts her math music videos on YouTube and has so far received great praise from students, parents, and teachers alike. Her presentation went through her process and many of her great works in this arena. It was amazing to hear her inspirational story, and I was able to glean a great deal about her methods when creating math music ensembles. Finally, it was especially nice to hear her reaffirm a hunch of mine: math focused audiovisual productions are extremely effective learning vehicles when executed correctly.
The next highly memorable experience was attending a lecture by Mary Kemper, another blogger who runs the website https://agreaterimpact.wordpress.com/. Mrs. Kemper gave a powerful presentation about integrating animation into math education. She made an excellent case for the use of quality video animations to augment comprehension of key concepts. She explained how using basic programs like Keynote and iMotion can provide potent opportunities to develop compelling animations that can drastically improve understanding and retention of all sorts of math concepts.
Finally, the most interesting and interactive of the presentations was given by Ralph Pantozzi, math teacher extraordinaire and recipient of the 2014 Rosenthal Prize for Innovation and Inspiration in Math Teaching. Mr. Pantozzi led a compelling and thought provoking exercise on the probability of flipping of coins in succession. The in-depth explanation of the entire presentation can be found in the podcast episode, but in short, it was an amazing classroom activity that not only engages a class but develops a deep and concrete understanding of probability and how it changes based on action. It was a great deal of fun to say the least, but the best part of the experience is that it gave me some amazing ideas to put into action as my class begins its study of probability.
All in all, it was one of the most useful and enjoyable conferences I have ever attended. I can’t wait until the next one, and I only hope that I too will earn an opportunity to share some of my insights and experiences with the math educators in attendance.
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