On March 2, the Midwest Mathematics Meeting of the Minds Conference (M4) was held in Omaha.  In addition to much great learning, many of the ICTM Board Members were in attendance.  The learning was centered around the 3 books in the NCTM “Taking Action” series, as well as the 8 high-leverage Effective Teaching Practices.

DeAnn Huinker, K-5 lead author, started off the morning with discussion focusing on “Ambitious Teaching.”  These ideas included building on student thinking, developing deep understanding, student engagement, and boosting student confidence in mathematics.  Another robust conversation contained performance goals vs. learning goals. Performance goals are procedural demonstrations from students, where learning goals show what students should understand, and they may include connections among math ideas.  Other great topics of study included questioning strategies.  We also learned the difference between advancing questions and assessing questions and their importance in understanding student reasoning and thinking.  Different types of questions in mathematics portray gathering information, probing student thinking, making mathematics visible, reflection, justification and engaging the reasoning of others.  Finally, research was shared to show that a 3+ second wait time will increase both the number of students who respond and the length of the responses.

Peg Smith, 6-8 lead author, focused on representations and productive struggle.  She led us through the Cars and Motorcycles problem.  “There are 13 motorcycles and cars in the lot.  There were 42 wheels.  How many motorcycles and how many cars are in the parking lot?”  After working the problem and showing our representations, we analyzed student work samples, where discussion included understanding vs. efficiency with the representations.  Peg also shared the graphic of representations that includes Visual, Symbolic, Physical, Contextual and Verbal categories. Productive struggle was another topic of learning, and we solved another rich task, the Lifeguard Task.  Then we interpreted 5 teacher responses to struggle, which include telling, directed guidance, probing guidance, affordance and vague.

After lunch, Melissa Boston, 9-12 lead author, took the helm and focused on discourse and fluency.  We analyzed the Bike and Truck Task by studying a graph of distance and time.  Especially fascinating were the video clips from Ms. Shalunda Shackelford’s classroom.  We watched as this skillful teacher facilitated mathematical discourse.  The students had ample opportunities to clarify their understanding, prove their thinking, defend their ideas, and listen to the ideas of classmates.  It was obvious that the teacher had created an environment of safety with her students.  A good reminder was to refer back to the NCTM publication, “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions.” Finally, the key ideas with fluency from Briars are: 

1.    Develop conceptual understanding by building on informal knowledge. 

2.    Use appropriate tasks to develop these informal strategies to solve problems.

3.    Allow students to refine informal strategies to develop fluency with standard procedures, and compare and contrast different methods to solve the same problem.  All of these ideas will help to build fluency.

Woven through all three presentations was the idea of access and equity.  We studied three questions to promote equity in our classrooms. 

1.    Does each and every student have a voice in the math classroom?

2.    Who gets called on to answer questions?

3.    Whose thinking is pursued further (or disregarded) in small-group and whole-class discussions? 

We need to be conscious of these ideas as we include more discourse in our teaching.

Please SAVE THE DATE for next year’s M4 Conference in Ankeny on Friday, March 1.  Elementary presenters are Tracy Zager and Graham Fletcher, and secondary presenters are Robert Kaplinsky and Dan Meyer.  It’s going to be a great conference!


Shari Collins

NWAEA Regional Director