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TMC Day 2—we belong together

July 29, 2017

Here’s a moment—it happened in Ilana, Christopher and Lara’s season on Learning From Children’s Mathematical Play at Math-on-A-Stick. Last year, Ilania got an NSF grant to study Christopher’s amazing garden of mathematical delights, and see how students engage the mathematical ideas within. She and her grad students outfitted kids visiting the exhibits with head mounted GoPro cameras, and they are now spending their time analyzing the footage.

Lara shared one video with us of a girl trying to make a heart out of plastic eggs on a 6×5 cardboard egg carton. For 7 minutes, the girl was thoughtfully working her way through how to improve her heart design, moving eggs from place to place, apparently working with some notion of symmetry.

She filled in her heart, and then expressed some frustration, feeling like it just didn’t look right, and then she said “there isn’t a middle,” and tried to place an egg between columns 3 and 4. And then suddenly, she rotated the carton by 90 degrees, so that there were now 5 columns—and she burst out an exclamation of delight, seeing that she now had a middle, and could reconstruct a fully symmetric heart.

I tell you, for those 20 seconds where that little girl was finding the middle in this cardboard box, every single teacher watching that video in this session was enthralled, and we all cheered at the exact same moment.

This is surely one of many moments when you realize this is a community that has a deep bond, and really gets what it means to love the wonder and creativity of mathematics.

Ilana, Christopher and Lara’s session was fantastic, and they shared some fascinating early findings of how parents interact with their children in these nonschool math experiences. They categorize the interactions into Problematizing and Schoolitizing.

Screen Shot 2017 07 29 at 12 33 43 AM

I find it surprisingly hard to problematize with my own 6-year-old when I work with her on activities like this. Too often, I think I miss the hidden mathematical structure in what we are doing and often jump to the low hanging fruit of the school math that I’m so comfortable with. This is something I need to work on, and I want to keep it in mind for my classroom work as well.

Finally, I’ve been having a few more thoughts about the question I raised yesterday—why can’t I help outsiders to see how amazing this community is?

Do you know how hard it is to hire a math teacher? I’m thinking Holy Innocents is going to have a much easier time making a hire the next time they have a math opening, for the simple reason that 200 incredible teachers have benefited from the school’s amazing hospitality, and have seen the beautiful facilities. So why isn’t every school and college rushing to offer up their campus for TMC? And even simpler, why isn’t some smart administrator with a math opening wandering around the cafeteria looking to set up a few interviews. It seems like such a no-brainer.

I’m still pretty genuinely perplexed by this. At first, I thought maybe it’s the fact that I’m so enthusiastic about the MTBoS when I speak of it that I turn people off, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But I know there’s also a pretty big culture of “connected educators” that are way more enthusiastic than me about the power of connection to transform learning and none of them seem to recognize the truly unique sauce that is the MTBoS, that we are the embodiment of much of what they preach about.  In the rest of the world, it seems that successful institutions and groups get wide recognition both inside and outside the group, and usually more than a few imitators. But I don’t think the MTBoS is getting the recognition it deserves from the math education community or the wider world at large. And given the number of “where is the MTBoS of X field” tweets I see, there aren’t that many imitators either. Probably all of this is me just being too invested in this community and super appreciative of all it has done to push my own thinking. I doubt that there is one thing I can say to a colleague or administrator that is going to get him or her to suddenly change course and recognize this TMC as the future of professional collaboration, any more than there’s one thing I could say to get all my students to fully master Newton’s Second Law. MTBoS is an understanding we all have to construct ourselves, and the best I can do for anyone else is to share my own experience and serve as a patient guide.

It’s late, and I’m getting tired so I won’t be able to tell you how amazing Elizabeth’s (CheesmonkeySF) session continues to be amazing, and that the Talking Points Framework is a genius technique for getting everyone in the class to participate and explain their reasoning.

And I’ve got even less time to say that Clothesline Math blew my mind. I had no idea that you could tackle incredibly deep and challenging algebra, geometry, and statistics problems using a simple clothesline number line. I’m going to try to spend some time thinking about how I might adapt this tool for physics.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Cat Garland permalink
    July 31, 2017 5:01 pm

    Thank you for all your thoughts and reflections! I’m thinking the Clothesline Math structure may work well for TIPERS ranking tasks? At the very least, I made a note to myself at the end of last year that read, “Even though it’s highschool, put up a number line!”

    • August 1, 2017 1:44 pm

      That’s a great idea. I also think it might be useful for the difference between displacement and distance, as well as for “making” motion maps—especially using two clotheslines to do something like the patrolman-speeder problem.

      • August 1, 2017 8:08 pm

        Yes! I was also thinking it might help with the speeding up/slowing down misunderstandings when analyzing velocity graphs … so many ways this thinking tool could help!

        • August 1, 2017 9:22 pm

          Now we’re cooking. I could also see printing a bunch of small arrows of different colors, and then clipping them to points on the position markers to indicate the direction of the velocity and/or acceleration. This could be superpowerful.

        • August 2, 2017 6:25 pm

          YES! Really great idea with the arrows. Working up to putting on v and a vectors would be awesome, to really help students “see” what’s going on when numerically it doesn’t click right away. As an aside, when writing “Would you rathers” for my students today I included, “Would you rather be a vector or a scalar?” Super curious what they will say, after some experience with them 🙂

  2. July 31, 2017 5:29 pm

    I am thinking / hoping that … there will be smaller local TMCs. Though next eyar being in Ohio is kinda sorta close to here… but I think it’s gonna be harder and harder to get in.

    • August 1, 2017 1:43 pm

      At one of Flex Sessions on TMC attendance I went to on Saturday, Tina Cardone and many of the other TMC organizers said they’d love to support people who are interested in bringing miniTMCs to other cities, and they’ve already helped Michael Pershan organize TMC in NYC which is happening August 16-18 later this month.

      • August 5, 2017 1:53 pm

        I honestly don’t know if there are any folks near me … tho’ there have to be some up Chicago way … hmmm…. (I *think* CHampaign-Urbana is a pretty good place to convene because it’s just *cheaper* for everything and with a major University, we have good facilities.)

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