by Dave Bailis, STEM Content Director, Westchester K-12 Publishing Services
A couple of days spent in Washington, D.C., enjoying the beautiful, sunny spring weather, the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) national conference was perfectly timed and located. My colleague, Tim Cross, Westchester’s Business Development Manager joined me for this conference.
As a former math teacher, and Westchester K-12 Publishing’s STEM Content Director, my excitement level for a math conference is probably greater than most. Alright… MUCH greater than most. But there was a palpable buzz and an amazing energy surrounding mathematics curriculum at this conference, where thousands of math teachers attended sessions, and vendors displayed their math-oriented products, and that simply cannot be felt anywhere else.
The conference kicked off with the introductory session, where we heard the latest NCTM news, were introduced to the year’s lifetime achievement award winners (who I will talk about shortly) and then moved on to the keynote speaker. Tim and I managed to find seats near the back of a packed auditorium, and I took a quick moment to just sit back and listen… listen to the chatter of thousands of math professionals reuniting with old friends, talking shop, and sharing their experiences. As a former teacher, I know full well the opportunity to share in this way is crucial not only for academic growth and professional development but is always a lot of fun as well.
The current NCTM president, Matt Larson, gave a state of the union address (state of the math union, anyway), which sounded both promising and hopeful about the future. Matt then introduced the two remarkable lifetime achievement award winners, Carole Greenes and William Speer. They were both very dynamic speakers and inspiring teachers… teachers who had changed the way that so many of their students felt about and approached math. Equally impressive for me, is that each of them has been a part of the NCTM organization for over 50 years!
Carole Greenes spoke about her experiences as a young woman educator in the male-dominated university-level math world, and how she combined her love of acting and presenting (along with a healthy amount of humor) to help her students grasp difficult concepts in a meaningful way. William Speer shared with the audience how he inspired students to become excited by and truly enjoy math. He also spoke of the loss of his wife a few years previous, and when he dedicated his award to her, there was not a dry eye in the place.
The keynote speaker was Christopher Edmin, an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Christopher spoke about the context in which we teach students information. “When we teach,” he summarized, “we must be aware of the students’ context around learning, and we must also be vigilant to not make snap judgments of the students’ math abilities based on race, gender, or background.” He was a truly inspiring and uplifting speaker, whose evangelical style captured the hearts and minds of all those sitting in the auditorium. He was simply extraordinary!
The next day, Tim and I walked the floor of the exhibit hall where the vendors displayed every kind of mathematical treat imaginable. Surveying the current landscape of mathematics education, and seeing what is being done out there is always one of my favorite parts of any conference, simply because of all of the wonderful, inventive ideas people put into action. From large publishers to small start-ups, every manner and method of delivering math curriculum to students in an interesting and thoughtful way was present. Print and digital, older students and younger students, teachers and parents, no curricular stone was left unturned.
During our time on the exhibit floor, we tried to experience as many of these materials as possible. Many of the exhibitors were the creators of their unique materials as well. Brimming with pride and excitement, they showed us their products that in some cases they had been working on for many years. I found these individuals to be especially passionate about their products, and it definitely added to the energy of the room and of the conference overall.
The city of Washington, D.C., was the ideal location for the NCTM national conference. Members of NCTM visited Capitol Hill prior to the opening of the conference to advocate for further legislation supporting better teaching of math in the United States. It was encouraging to be surrounded by educators who clearly care so deeply about not only their own students, but also students across the country, and who want to make the learning of mathematics a more enjoyable, exciting, thoughtful, and educational experience for teachers and students everywhere. Thanks for putting on such a great conference, NCTM!