A day that begins with this view on the way to breakfast is full of promise. And my first day at PCMI was full of a lot of math and a lot of collegiality. I’m still trying to sort through it all before the next one begins. It’s late, and this is unedited. I’m trying to document this whole experience for myself, so I apologize for any typos or rambling sentences. I always try to make my posts ‘sing’ a bit, but I’m don’t think I’ve hit that mark.
The morning session – “Some Applications of Geometric Thinking” – had participants working on some interesting problems, looking for patterns in simple problems which were clues for more challenging questions. I love the way the problems were scaffolded. It was interesting to note the different work habits and paces of my colleagues at the table, and I encountered my own frustration at having some ideas and discoveries shared before I was able to work towards them. An important part of this process is not only to do math, I think, but also to simulate a problem-solving classroom environment, so this frustration provides an opportunity to gain some insight into the student group work experience, as well as my own ability to counter it in myself. I’m looking forward to digging into it again tomorrow.
The second half of the morning was spent on “Reflections on Practice”, the theme of which is Eliciting Evidence of Student Thinking. We analyzed a video-taped rich middle school classroom activity in which students explored how changes in the shape of a quadrilateral affected its area, similar to a problem we had explored in the morning. Student thinking at several levels was apparent throughout the video, and we discussed and shared this evidence in both small groups and as a whole class. We examined some written student work, noting the difference in our own styles of analysis. I’m looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes.
In the afternoon, we were broken into working groups – I have been assigned to a small group that has been tasked with framing an online Geometry course for teachers to address the some of the content shift in the Geometry Common Core standards – to alleviate some teacher anxiety, address some possible misconceptions or murky areas, and provide ideas for weaving these ideas into the classroom. Today we
played explored transformations with patty paper – trying to stay away from coordinates – and examined how transformations could be used to prove theorems. The challenge of reshaping proof as it is taught in high school to include transformations as well as forms other than two columns is another big issue for many teachers, and a topic we are going to continue to address.
The rest of the day was devoted to self-replenishment and fun. After a rousing session of creating stellated figures out of Zomes for the PCMI float in the Park City 4th of July parade, I managed to get to the gym at this lovely resort and take a dunk in the pool (although at 95+ degrees all day, the water is more like a warm bath). The opening dinner was followed by even more bonding over Zome building.
There are so many nuances that I am processing – the wide range of attendants at this huge math event which from undergraduate math students barely older than my own, graduate students and math professors, the teachers from all over the country who readily share their stories and ideas, and the warm and welcoming organizers of this event who make even the newcomers like me feel as if they have been attending for years. But I have 3 weeks to make sense of this wonderful experience, so I’ll stop here for now.
So I got on the plane, took my happy pills, drank some wine, and just by putting one foot in front of the other, arrived in Salt Lake City. Being late was actually a hidden bonus – the rooms are not ready at the resort, and the folks who came on the 7 am flight have been sitting in the hotel lobby since noon.
The Zermatt Resort in Midway, which is all things Tyrolean, is approximately an hour away from Salt Lake City. I rode over here in a van filled with undergrad and graduate math students, who were interested in hearing how a high school teacher keeps her students engaged in an age of cell phone ubiquity. I shared my strategies for using cell phones for instructional purposes (which, truth be told, only work some of the time), and had the pleasure of turning them on to Desmos and Kahoots.
Once we arrived at the resort, I immediately began chatting with other teachers – a surprising number from New York – who were waiting for their rooms. (The front desk keeps giving away banana bread in lieu of room keys.) Conversation was easy and interesting – we all teach math, we’re all engaged in our teaching of math, and motivated to share and improve the quality of the experience we give our students. The math students, on the other hand, are busy doing math already – reading papers, sketching out problems and proofs. It’s a major nerdfest here in the lobby of the resort, and I’m loving it.
Barely decompressed from the end of a harrowing school year, I am off to Utah for PCMI, the mega Math Teacher conference. I’ve been fortunate to be accepted with a scholarship after my second go round at applying, and thus am waiting at the airport for my rebooked flight to Salt Lake City. Why rebooked? A series of unfortunate events, as they say – a wrong turn on the way to airport, almost putting me on the Verazzano Bridge rather than the Belt Parkway, which made me miss baggage check, and a double scrutiny by security – those graphing calculators, you know – caused me to miss my flight, the first I have taken in many years. Yes, dear readers, I am a flying phobe. I had picked the earliest direct flight possible to avoid having an expanse of time at the airport during which my anxiety could begin to brew.
A kind agent rebooked me on a flight not too far in the future, and waived the rebooking fee as I somewhat hysterically told her my tale of woe at security. My husband returned to the airport with my large bag (he was going to somehow figure out how to ship it to me), which as it turned out was overweight. We tried removing things, but worn out by the mornings events, I opted to shove everything in to the bag and pay the fee.
So I have re-checked in to my flight, bag all tagged and on the vast conveyor which will hopefully put it on the right plan, using my complimentary 30 minutes of wi-fi to write my first post in 2 months. I purchased a book of Sudoku which are too difficult at the moment, and I am debating the timing of using my happy pills so I can be preferably asleep for the bulk of the flight.
It’s been a year in which I tried to do too much – way too much – and achieved a bunch of it at the expense of my free time and personal life. I completed an online Multivariable Calculus class, earning me enough higher math credits to apply to the Math for America Master Teacher program. I met several financial goals required to maintain my home [long non-bloggy story] through a lot of private tutoring and per session work for the Department of Education. I improved the Regents performance of my Algebra 2 students – a goal which was important to my school, and to my students’ transcripts. And my Geometry Fundamentals class – all three sections of it – completed the Mondo Choice Board final, further refined from last year’s launch. Oh – and last but certainly not least, I have made my attendance at PCMI happen.
As I mentioned, this all came at the cost of my personal life, the reparation of which will take time, but the summer is long (although never quite long enough…). I’ve learned a lot this year about what works and what doesn’t, what I can do and what I can’t, and I’m ready, for the moment, to set all the what ifs and ‘what I should be doing’ thoughts, and immerse myself in what I am sure will be an unforgettable personal and professional experience.
I just have to get on the damn plane.