I did an ignite talk yesterday!

It was pretty scary. Having to speak in front of that many people, getting introduced by Matt Larson, having to come after all of these people you respect and not getting to control when your slides change. It’s impossible to just not think about the people. If you’re doing one of these, begin by choosing an idea that keeps you up at night. Make sure it’s a good one. You will definitely be nervous, no idea can fix that, but knowing that you are about to say something important will help you push forward. Especially if it is something that needs to be heard, and that won’t get heard any other way. I had a bunch of ideas which boiled down to the talk above, but I thought it would write a little extra about what I might have said if I had more time.

Initially the graph below was going to be my first slide but it’s too complicated. It’d take 3 slides at least to explain what google ngram is (a search of words and phrases in all the books that google has analyzed since 1800), I realized that this might eat too much time to include, but it’s still really interesting;

This graph shows how often the term ‘mathematics test’ appeared in books published in english over the last 200 years. ‘Mathematics test’, and similar terms like ‘math test’, ‘arithmetic test’, and ‘math assessment’ all seem to be non-existent until the mid-1920’s, implying that math tests weren’t part of school math education earlier. This means the engineers who built the railroads, engineered clocks, and laid out cities, were probably taught math without seeing a published ‘mathematics test’. The mathematicians before that time did their work with no one insisting they score a certain percentile on a collection of multiple choice items. It’s quite a contrast to the measuring stick mentality where math is only the test. If the only reason to take math is to prepare for the test that assures successful passage on to the next level, then we’ve turned this beautiful subject into Candy Crush.

What’s worse about this graph is the historical backdrop of the increase in mathematics testing. America was still unsure how all the recently freed slaves were going to integrate in society. At the same time racial hierarchies based on pseudo-science were being adopted by some as a way to reorganize society. This is also around the time that the eugenics movement was gaining prominence. Some of these tests were popular because they affirmed people’s beliefs that some races were better than others. Go read about the guy who made the SAT. These tests have a legacy of assigning privilege to certain racial groups, while making claims to be objective. Tests are probably better now, but given this legacy, and the outcomes, maybe it’s time to explore the idea that the tests might be the problem. However, there is a lot to unpack in the history of testing, and I only had 5 minutes to do this ignite so the ngram got scratched.

Pedagogy has also changed a lot since then. When I looked around for resources about why certainly been influenced by testing, and also by the need for matehematicians to outfit cold war defense contactors. The “traditional” or “Skill and drill” way of teaching that results is pretty sad. Paul Lockhart a lot about this in lockharts lament. It was long enough that it could be an ignite by itself, but just read the first bit if you haven’t.

If I had more time I’d talk about the compound benefits of cutlurally relevant teaching. Learners need to connect new information to the world around them. The brain learns through connection, not isolation. It’s literally a huge mesh of neurons and learning connects those neurons or strengthens those connections. If we are actively connecting the math part of the brain, to student’s culture and identity, when they are going to be more likely to think about math outside of the classroom. So if we can get kids to think about fractions when they are making empanadads or california rolls or bratwurst, they are more likely to master the concept than if they only think about it on test prep worksheets.

The idea of homework is really popular, We talk about flipping the classroom, but if we want kids to engage in mathematical thinking when they aren’t in our classrooms we should start by telling them connect math to things that they are already doing. Ask students to talk to the elders in their community about the math they use and bring that back in the classroom. Have students think about recursion when they go to get braids Put their world to work for mathematical thinking. This could be a whole other talk too. but I didn’t really have enough time.

Bethany Lockhart’s Shadowcon talk really connected with me especially the part about facing your fear. After her talk I worked her hashtag onto one of my slides.

Changing the way we talk about tests, bringing beauty, culture, and kids identities into the classroom is scary. To make progress we all have to face our own fears around these topics, often alone. Facing their fears and making a bold move is the only way to move past the problems caused by the measuring stuck mentality and the lack of culturally relevant teaching. Being scared will have to take a back seat to moving forward if we are going to change the way we think about math. Of course, I don’t know the right scary thing is for each person. People need to figure out what things are just outside of their zone of proximal development and do that, particularly in the form of CRP, particularly as it relates to changing kids relationship with math, andparticularly with changing the testing culture. What I would have loved to gone into more in my talk, and what I think Bethany did beautifully, was letting people know that the teachers are the ones to take risks and try new things.al

One more thing. #mathphoto18 was useful in coming up with the pictures that were used to visualize real world math connections. @erricklee did a great job facilitating that last year and I hope #mathphoto19 will be even better. Thanks to the following for taking the pictures that helped me make this talk: @alfgoralo, @MrsNewell22, @MNmMath, @carodumas29, @nadine1osborne, @debboden, @pinn,@ccampbel14,@mr_davis_math, @sagold, @BonnieUMontana, @wmukluk, @TheErickLee

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