Friday, February 7, 2020

My week at ICMI25

For the past week, I have attended the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction Study Conference at the University of Lisbon.  This lovely building has been a place where I have learned so much more than I ever expected from the math education research community.

The city of Lisbon is beautiful, full of a rich history and some of the kindest people I've ever met.  I am so very grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity and do not know how to adequately express my appreciation to the organizing committee or to the participants of ICMI25 for welcoming me into this shared learning space.

Today is our closing ceremony and I can't believe that the week is almost over and it will be time to go back to my classroom.  Please don't get me wrong - I miss my students, my family, my routines - but I have learned so much during this week and I don't want that to end either. :)

Last spring, when I was approached about attending ICMI25, I was extremely nervous.  I've never travelled internationally and what could I really bring to the table?  I have had the opportunity to learn with and learn from some of the greatest minds in math education research this week and I'm sure if I had known that prior to attending, I would have been even more nervous, and probably some major fan-girling would have occurred. :)

Some of my take-aways this week -

  • The food is amazing.  Last night, I had a pepperoni pizza that was quite good, even if I've not mastered the art of eating pizza with a fork and knife :)  Also, while I've enjoyed everything I've had, some things like cold cuts at breakfast or that bacon isn't the bacon of my world, has been interesting.
  • The people are even more amazing.  Over this week, I've had some very deep / rich conversations and I've learned that if you truly want to see some passionate people, just ask a researcher about their area of interest / focus in their research.  I've been so impressed by the work that is being done here and I've made some wonderful connections this week.  I look forward to the collaborative partnerships that will result from this conference.
  • Turning on the lights of the hotel room was about a 10 minute puzzle for me until I finally realized I had to insert my room key to make the lights functional :)
  • Coffee is a bit different here than back home and take-out coffee cups don't seem to exist in the hotel.  However, I greatly appreciated the daily coffee breaks for a shot of caffeine as I am working 6 hours from my normal time zone. :)
On a more educational note...
  • In my working group this week, I had the opportunity to learn from 18 different papers / presentations and I was able to take away something from every single paper, even if my take-away wasn't quite what the researcher had in mind.
  • The problems that I see in the USA aren't limited to the USA.  For example, one of the presenters spoke about teachers in her country using the mathematical representations from their textbook without really knowing WHY they are using them.  I think that is an issue we encounter as well and it's important to ask ourselves WHY is this the tool / representation that I am using to communicate with my students and fellow teachers?  What is the benefit it gives to build understanding?  
  • One of the most important learnings for me personally has been the defintion of collaboration as it applies to teacher development.   This gives me a much greater insight into how to define our district "collaboration days" and how I can take this information back to my school to strengthen our program.  
  • I'm fascinated by the idea of "Lesson Study" and want to learn more, especially on how to incorporate it into the realities of my teaching life.  From what little I've understood, it seems very time consuming for implementation, so I don't know how to incorporate it in a way that isn't quite so overwhelming.  There were several papers written about it, so I'm sure I'll be doing more reading over the next few weeks.
  • In a sense, this week has been very affirming to me from a classroom perspective.  I've read papers and listened to presentations regarding quality classroom questioning practices, anticipating student responses, peer feedback regarding lesson plans and assessment, multiple representations (graphical, tabular, verbal, algebraic, pictorial), and other topics that have been areas of focus for me over the years.  I've been glad to learn that I am on the right track regarding my own classroom practice, even though I have a long way to go.

There is so much to learn and so much that can be learned, that it can be overwhelming at times.  I want to implement all the things, but I know that's not feasible.  Over the next few weeks, I really need to focus on what I can do to take what I've learned this week and implement it in my context.  I need to go through the papers I've read and hopefully get a chance to read some of the papers from the other themes to narrow down to the top few things that I think can create sustainable and reasonable change in my classroom and in my site.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Reflections on Teacher Collaboration

This week, I have been attending the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) Study Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.  To say this place is stunning is an understatement.  I've never traveled internationally, but Lisbon is an absolutely gorgeous city and I am so honored to be attending this conference.

The theme of the conference is teacher collaboration and I'm here to share about the power of social media as a tool for teacher collaboration.  I'm surrounded by some of the top minds in mathematical education research and I have been soaking up every bit of knowledge that I can.

Throughout this week, one thought that continues to go through my brain is how to make better connections between the research that I am reading and learning about to my actual classroom practice and that of my district.  Obviously these researchers have spent many hours working with teachers in their study on how to improve their practice, but how does that research get into classrooms around the nation / globe?  What can I do to share what I've learned here with my colleagues back home and really work to increase our professional knowledge and improve student learning as a result?

The ultimate question I keep coming back to is this... what is effective teacher collaboration?  What does it look like?  What does it sound like?

The structure of the conference is unlike any conference I've ever been to, but I honestly love how it is structured and how it could be adapted to the classroom.  In my Working Group sessions, we have a variety of papers that were submitted detailing the research.  Each presenter has 10 minutes to present, then another participant has prepared a 5 minute response to the paper.  All of the papers were made available to us to pre-read and generate questions for the authors via a shared Google document.  As a classroom teacher, I can see a scaled down version of this model being used for classroom presentations, where students submit their project / paper / presentation, then do a short summary for the class, a peer reviewer gives a response, and everyone is asked to reflect via a Google document to ask questions.

During some of the presentations, I've definitely seen strong connections to topics discussed often in the #MTBoS, such as productive discourse among teachers via social media, vertical non-permanent surfaces, and the role of the "5 practices" model with anticipating student responses.  But again, I come back to the core question - what is effective teacher collaboration?

Is it a book study?  Is it a discussion on teaching methods?  Is it those 5-minute spontaneous hallway conversations?  I think it *could* be, but is that the norm?  How often do we sit down with our colleagues and truly lesson plan?  Not just pacing out the chapter / unit, but discussing appropriate tasks, quality questions, anticipating student responses?  How often do we really dig into the quality of our assessments or assignments?  Are we actually assigning "exercises" vs "problems"  (and what separates an exercise from a problem?).  Are we gathering and sharing and analyzing data to help us improve our instruction?  Are we recording our lessons and truly listening to the quality of the questions we are asking?

Now don't get me wrong - these things take time and as a classroom teacher, time is something that is sorely lacking.  I have 160 students each day, plus another 20 in my Advisory.  I have lessons to plan, papers to grade, plus other responsibilities at school and at home.  How can we build these structures to accomodate the realities of classroom teaching?  How can we put systems and processes in place that benefit student learning without putting unneccessary burden on the teachers?

I already have a list of topics that I want to discuss with my administration when I get home about this idea.  I would really like to see my site / department develop a theme-based model of a PLC where we are able to dig in throughout the year into some messy work centering around a topic of concern for our site / department.  We currently have 6 "collaboration days" built into our schedule, but after attending ICMI, I think there is so much more that we could be doing with those 6 days.

Thank you, ICMI, for this opportunity to learn more about teacher collaboration and what it can look like in day-to-day practice.  Thank you for providing access to research that impacts the classroom from around the world.  I am so very grateful for this opportunity to learn with and from so many amazing teacher educators and researchers.