NCTM San Antonio

April is always an exciting time of year for us because it means that the annual NCTM conference is upon us. This year we traveled to San Antonio, Texas to attend and present at the annual math conference. Patrick presented on “Why Algebra is Destroying America” and Solana and Jessica shared the lessons that they learned from leading the Smarter Balanced Performance Task Writing Project. The team attended a variety of presentations and came away with some new ideas and great things to think about.

One presentation that we found particularly interesting was lead by Dan Meyer and Robert Kaplinsky. Their presentation was titled, “How to Present at NCTM” and was thoughtfully tag-teamed to address questions about how the whole application process works, and things to consider to increase the chances of your submission being accepted. The catalyst and motivation for Dan and Robert’s presentation came from a tweet by Avery Pickford who had suggested that someone (a big name in the MTBoS community) present on how to be a presenter:


The presentation was hugely informative and Dan and Robert did an amazing job engaging the audience. The process that is used by the program committee when considering submissions really made us feel honored to have been accepted to present at NCTM in the first place.

That being said, we couldn’t help but notice that it seemed as though there were not very many people in attendance at their session, which was unusual for these two powerhouse presenters that often pack the house (disclaimer: Dan and Robert did present in one of the largest rooms at the conference, which may have contributed to the apparent lack of attendance). This got us thinking: “Why wouldn’t more people want to know about this topic?” Jessica, in particular, was curious about exploring this question.

When Jessica first started presenting to other teachers at professional development workshops, it was because someone with more authority and experience had asked her to. She credits Pam Hutchinson from the UC Davis Math Project and Josh Deis from the Sonoma County Office of Education for being the first people to give her the opportunities and platform to share her ideas and teaching strategies with other teachers. Jessica remembers that she was extremely afraid and nervous because she didn’t feel like her ideas were original or particularly innovative, but the response from participants was the exact opposite; they wanted to know more about Jessica’s teaching.

So, is this why there weren’t more people in attendance at Dan and Robert’s presentation? Do the majority of teachers believe that their ideas are not original or innovative? Are they too scared to share their ideas with their peers? Did they read Dan and Robert’s presentation description and think, “Nope! That’s not going to be me!” The community of math teachers that exists online, on Twitter, and other avenues would suggest otherwise. So, what’s the holdup?

We work with teachers from all over the world and it is our belief that there are thousands of teachers who have interesting things to share. Whether it’s a strategy for supporting English Language Learners, a cool way to teach fractions, or a grading process that yields a better representation of what the child knows, there are countless ideas from teachers that are worth sharing. So, why weren’t more of these teachers in attendance for Dan and Robert’s talk?

What if the thing that’s missing is a Pam or a Josh for these innovative teachers? What if teachers are willing to share in a safe environment like a blog, but lack the confidence to share their ideas at a conference because that comes with some admission of authority and knowledge? What if in the future, popular presenters like Dan, Robert, Jo Boaler, Andrew Stadel, and Fawn Nguyen said that they would present at a conference (like NCTM), but only as the co-presenter and someone else was the lead? Instead of the popular presenters sharing their own ideas, what if they chose a teacher that they’ve worked with or that they communicate with on Twitter to be the lead speaker in order to highlight what’s going on in their work or classroom? Maybe this is the boost that these innovative teachers need to take that next step to sharing their ideas publicly.

Jessica will be the first to admit that when Patrick Callahan asked her to present at a workshop with him, she was terrified. But with his endorsement, Jessica now has the confidence to speak to teachers from across the planet about her practice, and now even presents to folks at NCTM. All it took was a little boost from someone she admired in the math education community.

Jessica BalliNCTM