Overdue TMC15 Reflections, Part One

So, after spending four days in California in the midst of the inspiring MTBoS crowd at TMC15 I flew to Florida to catch up with my family and spend a week on the Gulf there. Got home on Sunday and I am finally clearing my head out enough to throw in my two cents on the whole experience.

Many of you reading this are familiar with the format of TMC either because you were there or have already read some of the other reflections out there.

I was fortunate enough to be the co-leader of a morning session this year with Lisa Bejarano (@lisabel_manitou) exploring Geometry. We had a great group of eight colleagues who were energetic and eager to share ideas and questions about teaching this course. I had a blast working with them – and with Lisa, who is fantastic! – and I certainly hope that our participants felt the same way. We worked together Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings from 9:30 – 11:30. I walked away with a commitment to working in the rolling cups activity into my curriculum next year and to playing with proof blocks this year, I have two new colleagues on my Geometry team at school this year and our Geometry team (five of us at my school, including the middle school Geometry teacher) have already been having some lively conversations via email. My brain is bubbling with questions and energy that I normally do not have at the beginning of August. Nothing like spending six hours with creative, enthusiastic colleagues to stimulate my mind!

After our morning sessions we have lunch and the week held some great treats. On Thursday I sat to call my wife after my morning session and Megan Schmidt (@veganmathbeagle) summoned me to accompany her and two other pals to a lovely vegan restaurant nearby. One day I went to In n Out and got coached by John Stevens (@Jstevens009) on the proper Cali way to order. One the third day I sat on the sidewalk eating my food truck food while engaging in fantastic conversations with Jed Butler (@mathbutler) and Michael Fenton (@mjfenton) On all of these days I was so taken aback by the warmth and friendliness of people I had only met for a day or two last summer or had never met physically before at all. I was also taken aback by the lovely weather. After living in FLA for 35 years and enduring summers of unbelievable heat AND humidity this felt like heaven. The sky was blue, the air was warm but not heavy, and the evenings were cool and clear.

After lunch we were treated to keynote speeches each of the three days. Two of those speeches knocked me out. Ilana Horn (@tchmathculture) spoke about professional communities and the differences between local communities and virtual ones. At least these are the points that resonated with me. She spoke of the different ecology of our home school/district than that of the conversations among the MTBoS, through our blogs and on twitter. This really has me thinking. As a department chair I have seen sharing resources as one of my responsibilities. Ilana talked about being sensitive to differences in our local culture and after her speech Max Ray-Riek (@maxmathforum) made an analogy that is still resonating in my head. He made a comparison between trying to implement an activity from a source such as NCTM’s Illuminations and implementing an activity from a virtual colleague in the MTBoS. He talked about how activities from the MTBoS come with a sense of personality and context that is missing from something from a source such as NCTM. However, it occurs to me that if I share a resource from a MTBoS colleague, my local colleagues have no sense of context the way I do. These activities may be no more meaningful to them than an activity from a publisher or Illuminations. I need to be careful here and note that Max was not in anyway bashing NCTM, nor am I. He was just pointing out that activities are more meaningful when there is some context in which to place these activities – some way to envision what carrying out this activity looks like. If I borrow (steal?!) an activity from Kate Nowak or Sam Shah or Dan Meyer I feel like I have some basic understanding of what these people are about and why/how these activities are written. If I share these with my colleagues without providing some background context then I am not supporting my colleagues as well as I should. I also came away from her speech with the concern that I am spending time and energy in developing my online relationships and that by doing so I am taking energy away from my home team. I want to pick Prof Horn’s mind about these questions and I need to work hard to find the appropriate balance this year.

Friday’s keynote was delivered by Christopher Danielson and it was delightful. He spoke about finding what it is we love about teaching and making sure that we spend more time and energy on that. He spoke of his love for ambiguity and talked lovingly about finding open spaces and places where there are multiple ways to see a problem, where there may not be A correct way to do things. His phrase opening the presentation was – Find What You Love, Do More of That. A simple and powerful message. One I hope to be able to bring back home – tying in to my reaction to Prof Horn’s speech the day before.

Afternoons were filled with choice sessions and I will write about those tomorrow I hope.

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