Jeff Connelly, Long Island, NY firstname.lastname@example.org
During the month of May, 2018, I found myself checking my emails a bit more than usual. I was eager to hear back from CPM as to whether or not I had been accepted into the Academy of Best Practice 4.0 program. When the email finally came with an invitation to join 31 other new teachers in Seattle, I was thrilled and extremely grateful for the opportunity. If anyone had asked me during June or July what I was most looking forward to, I responded by saying, “boarding my flight to Seattle.” It is funny because I had no idea what to expect and hoped that it would not be anything like previous professional development programs I had attended. I certainly did not expect to form such powerful bonds with total strangers, as well as, be assigned a critical friend who I look forward to growing with as an educator. I also did not expect that this would become one of the best weeks of my life.
The arrival day was a smooth travel day from New York to my dorm room at Seattle Pacific University, thanks to very clear instructions and communication from the people at CPM. I spent the day doing touristy things with someone who would become a great friend by the end of the week. The day ended with a meet and greet and an icebreaker that included the entire cohort.
The first day we were introduced to team roles and discussed the benefits of incorporating them into the classroom. It was an impactful and appropriate first day activity because we put the newly framed skill to practice by spending the rest of the week assigned to different team roles. The highlight of the day, though, was learning about algebra tiles—which is something I had only heard about previously. Diane Briars talked to us about the meaning of professionalism. I realize now that I am not only responsible for the learning in my own classroom, but for classrooms and mathematical learning around the world.
The second day of class focused on cognitive demand, assessment, and feedback. During our time with Aaron Brakoniecki we identified the features that a great story is comprised of. He spoke to us about how the sequence of events can impact the effect of a story. We connected these ideas to math stories, which is when my mind began reeling. I started to consider all the ways mathematical content can be delivered in such a way that the students remain curious, engaged, and eager for more.
After an exciting two days, we were all eager to see what the third day had in store for us. In the morning we focused on the idea of productive struggle and got to experience it for ourselves. We were led by one of our guests for the week, Tom Sallee, who presented us with one of his “Tom’s Problems.” We spent close to two hours working on this problem and part of that time included us participating in rough draft talk, which was something new to me. I enjoyed this approach to “Tom’s Problem” because it gave me the chance to brainstorm and share ideas without the fear of saying something wrong. It gave me time to process, make connections, and ask questions. This is one of the many things I will look to incorporate into my classroom. The captivation continued into the afternoon when we met with Dan Meyer, who has become somewhat of a celebrity in the math education world. Dan spoke to us about the element of surprise and its effect in the classroom. He led us through tasks and posed questions that hooked us immediately. We wanted to compare our predictions with others and were eager for Dan to reveal solutions. We were frustrated when our predictions were incorrect and celebrated when they were correct. This idea of mathematical surprise made great connections to the previous day’s focus on math stories.
Two major themes of the fourth day of class were equity and social justice. To lead us through these themes, we welcomed Nora Ramirez and Linda Fulmore into our classroom. Both presentations provided insight into major inequities that exist not only in mathematics classrooms, but in society as well. As professionals, we are responsible for addressing gaps in mathematics achievement expectations for all student populations, providing each student access to meaningful mathematics experiences, and working collaboratively with our colleagues to get rid of inequities in student learning. Both presenters reinforced key beliefs that education should be about learning, not achievement, and that in the end we want our students to become good people.
Waking up in disbelief that it was day five of class, our final day, we made our way to the classroom. Being told that Eli Luberoff, founder of Desmos, was going to lead us through the power of technology evoked tangible energy in the room. With an audience whose knowledge of and experience using Desmos ranged from novice to advanced, Eli certainly had his work cut out for him. He led us through activities and demonstrated how powerful Desmos can be used as a bridge to connect ideas with understanding. He left us with the desire to learn more about the use of his technology and how it can be further used as an effective tool for instruction. Another significant moment for me during Eli’s presentation was when he spoke about math being universal and the need for us to attack ideas, not people. This left me thinking of ways that I will emphasize both ideas in my classroom. After Eli’s presentation, we continued, just as we had everyday since Monday, exploring the use of algebra tiles. Our experience with the tiles ended with the beautiful topic of completing the square. I will never teach this topic in the future without the use of these tiles. They allow such an abstract concept to become concrete, visible, and accessible to all students.
The highlight of the week was being a student and having Karen, Sharon and Mark as teachers, and Mallory and Lucy as mentors. What made this week so valuable was that we were not only introduced to and informed about best practices in education, but we got to experience them for ourselves. We got to feel what it is like to be in a classroom centered around the students. We were given a safe space to share our ideas and have them be challenged. We participated in activities and truly worked collaboratively with one another. As students who are all teachers, we got to observe how the best practices are developed in the classroom. As everyone shared takeaways from the week it became common to hear how energetic this experience was. It was one of the first times I have heard teachers say they are eager for summer to end and get back into the classroom. In the end, it became clear that we were ready to catalyze change.
It takes a special person to have a genuine impact on people and ideas. During our week in Seattle, that’s exactly what you did while in the presence of your 31 peers, two mentors, and three instructors. You enlightened us with your responses, challenged us with your questions, and made us laugh with your unique sense of humor. We will carry out your mission and your contributions to math education will never end. Keep rooting for the Mariners!
With all our love,