Tuesday, 13 May 2014

OAME 2014 Ignite

Hope to have time to blog in full about the OAME (Ontario Association for Mathematics Education) 2014 conference this coming weekend.  If you really can't wait, you can always read my OAME 2013 posts... in the meantime, here's a teaser. It's the "Ignite!" session I went to on Friday.

Image pinched from Paul Alves
The "Ignite" session was explained to the audience first, in the following way: Presenters have 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. The topic can be anything from a love, a hate, a learning tip, whatever - and it was pointed out that practice is useful, as being ahead of yourself on the first slide could put you behind by the third. This conference style began in Seattle in 2006. In brief: "Enlighten us, but make it quick."

It tested my shorthand. Thoughts on that at the end.


1) Chris Suurtamm. (She also spoke at CMEF)
Topic: "Developing math thinking within communities of inquiry"

She used fractals as a metaphor. The idea is to create nested communities of learners which have "self similar" characteristics, the communities also being "dynamic" and "iterative". Mathematical thinking is at the centre of the learning. Noted that this is not easy (assigning homework is easier), but helps in adopting a stance of inquiry.

The same conditions for students can apply to teachers. Create nested communities of educators and value each others' stances of inquiry.

2) Marian Small. (She also spoke at our Regional PD)
Topic: "Developing a mathematical voice"

Our question styles reflect on us. Identify your questioning style, as this is what we sound like to students. Many of her slides presented a situation with two possible questions. For instance, given a number of shapes one could ask "How would you sort these shapes?" or "Which shape doesn't belong?". The first is more a DO IT question, the other more THINK ABOUT IT. (I rather liked the question 'A spinner has a few more reds than blues but a lot fewer greens, what does it look like?')

After many contrasting questions, we had a follow-up sheet to do ourselves and return to her. The idea is to develop a teacher voice that is NOT a textbook. To create a positive voice, be less directed, leaving room for interpretation/discussion/perspectives.

3) Dan Meyer. (I went to his OAME talk last year)
Topic: "Teaching the Boring Bits"

Any piece of knowledge is an outcome of the resolution of a problematic situation: Agree or No? A student starts class with a still mind (like standing water), then there's botherment (ripples), before a return to stillness. If something is boring (like vocabulary) see if you can first create that botherment, and activate a need for it.

For instance, copying a line/curve drawing may activate the need for a coordinate grid. Slides were shown to see if a student explanation could be matched with the resulting picture. (In one case, no.) Boring or not, there are ways to teach concepts using ripples in the water.

4) Dr Cathy Bruce. (See also tmerc.ca)
Topic: "Engage Learning that is: Interesting, Relevant, Deep, Creative, Lasting"

She hit us with 6 key ideas about learning...
1. Math is important.
2. Young children have tremendous capacity to learn math (and play with complex ideas).
3. Teacher efficacy in math is central to student learning (and leads to positive student efficacy).
4. Slow down to speed up. (Careful selection and observation matter.)
5. Concepts and procedures go hand in hand.
6. Spatial reasoning needs more attention.

5) Amy Lin. (she organized the Ignite session)
Topic: "The Element of Surprise & Wonderment"

Consider what's expected of us (memorizing?), then get creative instead. What happens when you're surprised? You pause. You wonder as to the cause. It gets you thinking. A possible surprising question: "Use one ball to demonstrate a linear relationship." Student quotes were also shown in the slides as to 'What surprised you the most about math class?' (Some responses may have been surprising to the audience?)

Surprises are also challenging to us as adults. It sparks curiosity. People also enjoy surprise endings.


6) George Hart. (georgehart.com - father of Vi Hart)
Topic: "Geometry Ascending a Staircase"

The topic is the name of a sculpture he designed at Duke University. He walked us through the process/plan of how it was created. It started with a drawing, a "four orb" plan with diameters of 4 ft, 5 ft, 6 ft & 7ft, slight changes between them. Designs were taken to a laser cutter, and a prototype was made. Then, 60 planes of identical pieces which had to fit precisely.

A "sculpture barn raising" was performed on campus, George providing instructions. It created community - a mathematical analogue to a ballet or opera - where appreciation comes from participation. The canvas being a geometric space also meant seeing things like where planes meet is a line. There were also engineering aspects like tensile strength and weight as the sculpture went up, see his site (above) for more.

7) Ruth Beatty. (I was shown some of her work last year)
Topic: "Rethinking 'Concrete' and 'Abstract' in Math Education"

In terms of representations along a continuum, the goal seems to be to move students from concrete ('specific/limited/immature') towards abstract ('general/more mathematical'). But this alienates many students. Time to rethink "concrete": All objects/concepts are constructed by us, and our understandings. The concreteness of an object DOESN'T come from the object, but from our understanding of it. (Eg. we define a "table" from our multiple experiences and interactions.)

Conversely, abstractness is tenuous and remote, and with no deep understanding, is not meaningful to us. (Slides included actual quotes from students on the subject.) Therefore, we should create multiple opportunities and engage in idiosyncratic ways to personalize what is otherwise abstract. Abstract concepts can BECOME mathematical objects, when we move from the abstract to the concrete.

8) Ron Lancaster. (Was at two of his sessions last OAME)
Topic: "Put on a pair of math glasses and go for a walk"

This is Ron's 32nd OAME, he's done over a thousand talks and clocked 1.5 million miles in flights. When he gets somewhere new, he goes for a walk, and his camera is his diary. Advice: Slow your pace. Stop, linger, be curious, wonder. Look with a math lens. Photos/videos can introduce a topic (and contain a story!). He showed many pictures. You don't even have to travel far (or can use the internet, but "we all need to walk more").

Ron has created 'Math Trails' many places in the world, and has a "Math Lens" column in the Gazette and with NCTM. Which others submit to. Images are a universal message. Slow down.

9) George Couros. (New for me!)
Topic: "Your Digital Footprint"

He started with a camera picture from the days when it took time for film to develop. He moved along to a video (unfortunately the sound didn't work) and asked what we're leaving online... as a teacher, as a person. Don't be blogging about whiny students (can lead to suspension); at the same time, "RateMyTeachers.com" puts our identity into the hands of students. What's part of your identity? He has #GeorgeTunes.

On the flip side, how do we empower students who are just being kids? "Facebook has rendered every 20-Year-Old Unelectable". Can we give kids a better footprint? #DigitalLeadership Because when you do great stuff, opportunities come to YOU, and he gave some examples (like a 9 yr old running a daily food blog to raise money). "As educators, you're doing amazing things with connections, help kids do it too." There's more on his blog.

ASIDE: Today's decision in a European court that people have the "right to be forgotten" will have some impact here...

10) David Petro. (I follow his Ontario Math Links)
Topic: "Recreational Reading for Math Teachers"

He prefaced his talk by warning "I'll talk so fast you can't understand", and noted how his page was on all his slides: http://bit.ly/oame2014ignitepetro. True to his word, every 15 seconds was a new book recommendation (or in one case "if you read only one book, make it these three"). Notably for me, the book "How to Lie with Statistics" from 1954 is still relevant today. As he said, check his website for the full set.


I rather liked it. Of note, each speaker introduced the next one, which was neat. There were also some clever conventions used, like Dan Meyer repeating a slide over 30 seconds, but with a lighter shading to warn that the answer was coming soon. The talks were also short enough that I could put my secretary "shorthand" to use, getting the majority of it down. Which itself led me to realize a couple of things... 1) squeezing in extra words during a lull is easier when writing than on a computer, and 2) I tend to slant up the page if I'm not looking as I write.

Possible improvements... well, the timing was such that there was an hour between the 5th and 6th talks, as the one slot section wrapped up early and the next started late (a presenter had to arrive). Since time was built in, I would have preferred more of it between each session, to digest or chat with a colleague, rather than having it all at the end. I feel it could also work as two single sessions, rather than a double, though I guess not knowing who will speak when makes that tricky. Relatively minor things overall.

Tips for future Ignite Presenters... sometimes it was awkward to have a wordy slide up, because my brain wants to read it, so I end up tuning out for a bit. Some of the best slide choices (for me) were more image focused. The fact that the slides were changing frequently meant I also tended to focus more on them, rather than on the presenters. (For instance, a colleague said David was very animated, moving around a lot. Totally missed that.) But that's all me - your mileage may vary.

Actual takeaways from the talks... since there isn't much time to pull you into the topic at hand, I suspect what will resonate the most with an individual is the things they are already thinking about. As such, I feel the math lens (8), the questioning (2), and the digital footprint (9) had the most staying power with me. But as I wrote this up, a lot of the other stuff did come flooding back (and little things, like Dan's image of ripples in the water, had tenacity). The other thing you take away is how passionate the speakers are about their subject, regardless of whether it's expressed in a more animated or subdued manner. That alone creates great atmosphere.

So there you have it! Hopefully you feel you've gained something from the second hand experience too. Feel free to post a follow-up comment!

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