We both attended the keynote on the first day, as well as an “advanced bansho” session on Day 2. In addition, each of us attended one other session, and spoke with a number of attendees on both days. Our own session, entitled simply “Smart Bansho”, had about 30 attendees.
A conference of this size tends to surface a number of common themes; it seems that many of the sessions, key notes and casual conversations with colleagues at lunch generate similar “big ideas”. This year, I came away from the conference thinking about these two things:
1. Social Justice has landed in the math classroom! The keynote on the first day spoke explicitly about this, several workshops addressed the topic specifically, and many others embedded it or referred it in their sessions. I will blog on social justice in math in a separate post.
2. The math processes and “big ideas” in math are critically important to a cohesive presentation of the math program by teachers; we need to stop focusing so much on individual expectations, and rather consider how we can best weave these together to facilitate our students in developing a sense of the grander scheme of things. Already some schools and school boards are using the math processes rather than the overall or specific expectations to report on progress in math. The processes are inter-strand; communication or reasoning do not just live in “Number Sense” or “Geometry” but transcend many or all five strands of math, as do good, rich problems which help students develop these skills.
The trouble of course is that as the thinkers in the intellectual organizations and the practitioners in the classrooms come to recognize how to do things well, they/we are stifled by archaic institutional structures. A simple example is the Ontario Report Card. How, dear readers, am I to realistically track and report a discrete mark for five individual strands of math in a program that effectively integrates across strands and processes? How do I transform my detailed, individualized observations of each student's strengths and needs into a generic chunk of text that can be plugged into the limited box provided on a report card designed for the masses?! (I asked one of the presenters at a workshop this question -- her reply was that she "doesn't worry about report cards too much". Easy for her, I commented to my table group; she hasn't had to write them in almost 20 years!) When do I get to meet with colleagues down the hall and across the province, on a regular basis, so that effective practices can be meaningfully shared amongst the people who use them daily with real students in real classrooms?!
Although the impossibility of the task at hand can seem overwhelming at times, it is nevertheless exciting to attend a conference like this and take in some of the many tools, resources and ideas that are constantly being developed in mathematical instruction. I am left with lots to think about.