by Maureen McCaffery, Community Manager, TenMarks:
The TenMarks math curriculum team attended the NCTM Annual Conference early this month in San Francisco. The team met after the conference to share some of their key learnings and takeaways. Overall, they left the conference feeling inspired by the speakers and thankful for the chance to connect with math teachers around the country. Here are their top seven takeaways from NCTM.
1. Unintended Adverse Effects of Growth Mindset
Growth mindset has transformed how we think about math education and as a supporter of the “With Math I Can…” movement, TenMarks is a champion of this powerful research. However, as growth mindset has gained popularity, there are a number of adverse side effects. One of these side effects is that people will tell students that effort is all that matters instead of emphasizing the importance of purposeful practice and learning from mistakes. We also too often hear that people think having the right mindset will fix everything. In contrast, mindset is only one of the necessary components for students to persist with and master math. While we must recognize the powerful implications of growth mindset research, it is essential to understand the nuances and limitations of mindsets if we are to empower students with this type of thinking.
2. The Importance of Doing More with Less
How can we do more for students by doing less for them? By inspiring students to solve problems as opposed to finding the right answer, we put them in the driver seat of their own learning. One way to do less for students is to flip the widely accepted instructional model “I do; we do; you do” referring to Teacher, Group Work, and Student, to “You do; we do; I do.” This allows students to try to solve on their own first. Next, they turn to their group and try to solve together. Finally, the teacher can explain the concept and guide a conversation. Allowing the students to solve first without instructions from the teacher leads to multiple solutions and deep discussion about different strategies.
3. The Creation of a Culture to Embrace Frustration
It is not enough to tell students to persevere as problem solvers. Teachers must create a culture to support students as they work through frustration and tough practice while encouraging deep math discussion. Some ways to do this include providing frequent feedback, modeling discussion as a means to critique the reasoning of classmates, and providing enough time to work through complex problems. It is also essential to create classroom norms and encourage behavior to support this thinking. Norms include guiding students to explicitly listen to their peers and teaching students to support their own opinions with facts.
4. Movie Sequels and Math Questioning
A few universal truths separate good movie sequels from bad ones. These include "Don’t change what works," "Don’t force things that don’t work," and "Build on emotional investment that already exists." We can learn a lot from these lessons when we plan questions and tasks that build. Teachers can leverage students' existing interest and investment to ask richer questions and guide students to dive deeper. And like many sequel movie franchises, it is important to know when to stop. Repetition is often used as a form of solidifying ideas and concepts but like some movie sequels, they are simply repeats instead of drawing on strong elements from their original counterparts.
5. How to Heal Math Trauma
To access the parts of the brain that help us solve problems, you have to avoid simultaneously activating the amygdala. This part of the brain stores memory and emotion. When students have repeated negative stimuli, eventually, that amygdala gets triggered and students can no longer access the part of the brain that helps them problem solve. The only way to break out of this cycle is to have repeated positive stimuli that prepare students to solve the next challenge. It is our job as educators to create enough opportunities to encourage positive stimuli in this part of the brain. In addition, this brain research further supports takeaway number 3, Create a Culture to Embrace Frustration, and confirms the importance of providing a healthy learning environment that leverages discussion and reasoning as a form of support.
6. Mistakes as an Engine for Deeper Learning
Growth mindset research teaches us that mistakes are essential to student learning. But how can we create authentic learning opportunities through mistakes in math every day? One way is to celebrate mistakes by selecting one common misconception during warm up math. Educators can utilize these mistakes to encourage discussion and allow students to engage in “math disputes.” By taking time out of each class time to discuss mistakes as a learning tool, students will embrace mistakes as opposed to fearing them.
7. Fundamental Technology Gains
We can all agree that certain technology tools have forever transformed how we think about learning. However, tech for tech’s sake can be truly damaging if it doesn’t improve the teacher or student experience. Furthermore, tech is expensive. So, it can be a huge cost if it doesn’t actually improve learning. With that in mind, what aspects of tech are fundamental truths? Here are a couple we can all agree on: Devices are getting faster and cheaper; Ever increasing connectivity and computers will continue to improve and close the gap of understanding between teachers and machines.
We all agree that these takeaways can impact the way we develop curriculum to better meet the needs of teachers and students. Stay tuned to see how these findings work their way into TenMarks Math for Back to School 2016!
Maureen is a member of the TenMarks marketing team. Maureen taught early elementary students in the greater San Francisco Bay Area for three years, two of which as a Teach For America corp member. Before her time in the classroom, she worked for a number of years in marketing, business development, and finance at education-focused organizations. She received her MBA from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas and received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University. She is passionate about supporting teachers to ensure all students have access to the right resources and tools to reach their full potential.