TMC Reflections, Part Two

This was my third year in a row attending TMC and for the past two years I was co-moderating a morning session. (Thanks to both Tina Cardon (@crstn85) and Lisa Bejarano (@lisabej_manitou) for working with me the past two years!) While I enjoyed each of those experiences immensely, I must say that this TMC felt a little less stressful for me. There were a number of appealing sessions and two in particular jumped out to me. I was torn between Henri Picciotto’s (@hpicciotto) morning session called Advanced Transformations and the session run by Matt Baker (@stoodle) and Chris Luzniak (@pispeak) called Talk Less, Smile More: Getting Students to Discuss and Debate Math. I chose the latter and it was a pretty terrific way to spend six hours over the three days of the conference.

A little background into why I made this choice. Nine years ago when I moved north I made a commitment to blowing up the traditional rows/columns seating arrangement in my classroom. I had three years of small, moveable ‘pods’ of desks at my last school. Here, I had four years with two large conference style tables before asking for desks and now I am back to smaller pods. I have been explicit with my students about my expectation that they be active participants in the classroom thinking process. I think, for the most part, that I have managed this reasonably well and have generated interesting conversations in class. I believe that my students gain some important skills in being able to think out loud and I am certain that they all benefit from hearing so many voices. What I know that I do not do well enough is to decentralize myself in the classroom. Too often fantastic conversations from small pods gets directed to me instead of to the rest of the class. The students use me and their sounding board and as their speaker and I want to learn how to get out of the way ore often and figure out how to elevate small group conversations to the space of the entire classroom. The course description seemed to match this goal.

It was an extremely popular session and we were kind of crammed on top of each other in our classroom, but it helped to develop an easy, comfortable rapport in the room right away. So, my big takeaways are as follows:

  • have to figure out some strategy for randomizing groupings somehow. I want to balance what the research says with the norms of my school. I also have to contend with my weakness in bookkeeping. Not ever having a seating chart works well with my lack of attention to this sort of detail. Conversations in this morning session and vigorous twitter conversations have me convinced I need to do something. The big debate in my mind now is how often to shuffle the pod memberships.
  • One remark on twitter today really has me thinking. In debating randomizing seeing every day versus once per week, Anna Blinstein (@borschtwithanna) observes that daily regrouping seems to focus attention on mathematics conversation while weekly regrouping seems to focus attention on classroom discussion norms. I am inclined to think that weekly regrouping will work best with my student body and with their previous experiences. I want to foster some familiarity and comfort in small group conversations and I think that daily switching might make that challenging. I am open to being convinced otherwise.
  • I am inclined to ask my boss to have my desk removed from class so that there is no longer any centralized seat of power of any sort. I think that it would go a long way to creating the classroom culture I want if students came into class and everyone had the same desk.
  • I need to get in the habit of sitting down while a student is talking and have that student stand to make sure that attention is directed to the person sharing their ideas/questions rather than being directed at me to see my terrible poker face in action.
  • I have three large walls of chalkboards. I need my students up and at them regularly. I think that this might look different in my three very different classes that I teach, but this needs to happen.
  • I need to be careful and consistent about the use of language from me and from my students. Chris strongly advocated formal language from the world of debate where students make claims and support them with warrants. This feels like it would work particularly well in Geometry this year.


I need to be clear that some of these remarks/reactions are directly prompted by the helpful session that Matt and Chris ran but some of these are older ideas that have been clanging around in my brain. My reactions were given shape by the meaningful conversations we had together in this morning session.

4 thoughts on “TMC Reflections, Part Two”

  1. Hey Jim check out–I use it every day to randomize students–it’s pretty awesome! It will let you switch a kid or two even after pick the groups. I did blog about it once if you want to see how used it or feel free to ask!

  2. Oh Boy, I am taking inspiration from you. That has always been my dilemma. How to get those pods changed around efficiently and without too much crappy policing on my part (my students LOVE to jump ship and re-arrange themselves). I am very happy you shared this thinking and am grateful for Anna’s insight. PLEASE tell us what strategies you find for mixing it up. I am terrified. Esp. when it takes longer each year to remember names…did I hear aging?

  3. Thanks for posting your reflections on #TMC16. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I’m enjoying catching up through blog posts!

  4. Great post! I was thinking of having the table groups stay the same for a while, and doing random grouping for the vnps. However, I have no idea if that would work. I also need to remember to sit, and I think the debate format would really help with that-as you wrote. I just got an old art desk which I use as a standing desk… I’m wondering if I should just put a small table in the middle of the room… So many things to think about!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *