NCSM Takeaway: Teach all students for understanding through collaboration

The common thread of all of the NCSM sessions I attended is that we have to teach all students for understanding through collaboration.   All students deserve access to equitable math education.  It's not ok to dismiss the students who "just aren't as good at math" or who "won't go into a career needing math."  Matt Larson, and many other speakers emphasized that Math literacy is increasingly important in our culture and environment and we have to help students understand mathematics so that they can navigate this new world. 

We've traditionally placed students (and adults) into two categories, those who are good at math and those who aren't.  For the students who struggle in math, we are tasked to help them understand mathematics.  The math challenges they face are not their fault.  No one has helped draw the mathematics inside of them out.  Jo Boaler teaches us that brain science proves that all students can learn math.  Students may have failed at memorizing algorithms, but that doesn't mean that they can't "do" math.  These are the students who need to understand problem solving and critical thinking in order to succeed in school and beyond.  Then there are the students who are good at the algorithms, but they don't know what the algorithms mean, and they struggle to transfer their prior knowledge to new concepts.  These students might do well on tests, but they also deserve to learn for understanding, not performance. 

To teach for understanding requires a shift in the teaching methods that we've all experienced as students and practiced as teachers.  Ideas such as Open Middle (Robert Kaplinsky), Rough Draft Talk (Amanda Jansen & Michael Reitemeyer) and Sense Making (Annie Fetter & Joe Schwartz) all push students to think beyond a quick right or wrong answer.  In addition to increasing the depth of knowledge of questions we ask students, Sophie Murphy showed us that research says we also have to get students talking more in math class. 

To teach for understanding, true understanding by all students, we're going to have to disrupt the way we've been teaching for 50+ years.  In order to do this, to try new things in the classroom, we need a team.  We can't successfully teach all of our students in isolation.  The team has to be responsible for all students, not just the ones in their classroom.  The team has to support each other and help each other in planning and facilitating lessons.  Tracy Zager reminded us that teaching comes first and everything else (curriculum, standards, assessment) follows.  In order to keep teaching as the number one priority, teachers must collaborate and share their ideas with one another.  Steve Leinwand told us that this collaboration is done best with the support of coaches and Tim Kanold shared the importance of collaborative teacher teams giving all students access to an equitable and viable curriculum.

With the necessary focus on equity at NCSM, it is imperative that we think about how to help each of our students succeed.  Through the work of Hattie and others, we have research that shows us the best ways to teach our students for understanding.  We also have access to a rich community who has a wealth of ideas for delivering instruction (#iteachmath).  And we no longer are competing with each other to be the best teacher, but we're becoming stronger and better through collaboration.  With the supports and ideas of teachers and leaders in the math education community, we have a greater opportunity now than ever before to help all of our students become successful math students.