I’m typing this up as I’m leaving in the airport because I didn’t have time the last night to type it up–too busy talking with awesome teachers and learning so much. So just a quick recap of some awesome things I learned.
In Activity-based Teaching’s morning session, we broke into disciplines (sorta) and worked on finding & creating a repository for the types of Activities that we discussed throughout this year. One neat one I found out about from Lori (@Akahouli) is the “spaghetti trig” where students break (uncooked) spaghetti noodles into pieces horizontally to reach different locations in the unit circle. The noodles are then graphed along a string taken & marked from the circumference at each point where the noodle touched. That’s a pretty cool discovery project for sin & cos on the unit circle.
Another Idea that came up from somewhere during the day (I can’t find out who said it!) was sometimes doing gallery walks instead of presentations. That way students doing the “same thing” isn’t a problem and students still get to be proud of their work.
At lunch I listened to several people talk about 3D printing and am excited to possibly write a grant for a 3D printer. At least now I have names of good 3D printers that teachers have used so I have a starting point.
The best thing of the entire conference was listening to Fawn Nguyen’s keynote. As Julie said, “Can you imagine being a student in Fawn’s class?!?” She gave great advice (understatement) and focused on how relationships are so important. It really spoke to me. I am fortunate to attend a school where the vast majority of the teachers are really good at making those relationships and caring about the students. As I think back over it, Fawn’s message is great to all of us during TMC because we often, and I speak mostly to myself falling into this trap, can look at lessons, ideas, technology, activities, etc. and try to find the “silver bullet”. But “nobody cares” about all that stuff, as Fawn would say, if you don’t focus on the fact that you are teaching people. The relationships must come first because that is the way that you will make the biggest life-changing impact on a child’s life and I completely agree with that sentiment. (I hope I paraphrased that part of Fawn’s talk well enough.)
In the afternoon, Alex Overwijk gave a session on vertical non-permanent surfaces & visible random grouping. Yes, every word in those mouthfuls are important for different reasons. One of the best times during that session was when one teacher said “but my classroom has x, y, and z” and other teachers started rattling off ways that they got around “x, y, and z”. This was actually why I came: to solve a problem of mine with this. Being a traveling teacher, I can’t just install whiteboards in my rooms. However, one cool idea that was mentioned was using command strips with hooks on the wall and drilling 2 holes near the top of the whiteboards. I plan on doing this immediately (first gotta buy a drill bit…) when I get back and this will make every wall of my classroom useable even though I share the class!! Wohoo!
He also gave some other good rules, such as “one pen”, “if it’s your idea, you can’t write it” and the fact that “leveling (getting everyone to the same place) is NOT THAT IMPORTANT”. Wow, I don’t need to kill good math conversations just to talk at the end of every class!
I went to the Desmos Flex session thinking I was a Desmos expert, but learned much more than I thought I would. One of the main things I learned was about the “Polygraphs” which I hope to use in activities coming up this year for many reasons.
That night Bob Lochel (@bobloch) challenged a group of us asking a very good question (I think he was playing Devil’s advocate). “How do you know that any of this (TMC) works? Where’s the proof?”
I can’t speak for TMC specifically because I haven’t gotten back into the classroom to see the results of what I plan to implement, but I have hunches about how I’ll be better. I’ve already written how the MTBoS has significantly improved my teaching, and that was written 1.5 years ago (and yes, the growth has continued, at least linearly since then thanks to the MTBoS). So I won’t rehash how the MTBoS has improved my teaching, but I will say that my teaching growth comes in periods of spurts and periods of stagnation. And those periods of growth can be linked directly to how much time I spend on the MTBoS (in any way: blogs, twitter, websites) vs. time away from the MTBoS. And now that I can put faces, names, and conversations to the people that I read and tweet with, I know that I will be more committed to interacting with all these wonderful people. Which will improve my teaching. So is TMC an effective way for the MTBoS to improve the body of teachers across the US & the world? I don’t know enough to answer whether or not that is being maximized, but in the vein of the starfish story, it has changed this teacher.