This Week at Global Math – 11/19/19


Edited By Casey McCormick  @cmmteach

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Online Professional Development Sessions


Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians

Presented by 

Shelly Jones

Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians is a children’s activity book featuring the important work, accomplishments and everyday lives of African American women mathematicians, including the women from the book and movie Hidden Figures. Although the book is geared to children in grades 3 – 8, it is appropriate for all ages. The book includes a portrait sketch and short biography for each of 29 featured mathematicians each followed by elementary and middle school activity pages. Learn about the creative work of several of the mathematicians featured in this book.

To join us at 9:00 PM EST for this webinar click here!

Next Week 

Blunt Observations and Practical Strategies

for Orchestrating Far More Impactful PD in Mathematics

Presented by Steve Leinwand

It is clear that what passes for professional development of teachers of math is seriously underperforming. Rarely does typical PD change teacher knowledge or classroom practice, which is why it so rarely improves student achievement. This presentation will take a careful look at why this is so and then discuss a set of accessible, but radical, changes in what passes for PD.

Register ahead of time by clicking here!

You can always check out past and upcoming Global Math Department webinars. Click here for the archives or get the webinars in podcast form!

From the World of Math Ed

Mutual Exclusivity in Math Education



I am an ENTJ. According to the test created by Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, this means that I am Extroverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Judging. I first remember receiving this label via the Myers Briggs test when I was 15. I remember resisting the labeling, mainly for the letter J. In my early years, I thought that this J meant that I was judgemental, which is the last thing a teenager wants to hear. I would much rather have received the polar coordinate, P, meaning that I was capable of perceiving, and I began cultivating this skill to overcompensate. Over the past 20 years, I have tried to develop this fourth personality domain in hopes of shifting my personality type to be an ENTP.  But, I took the test again last week, and, alas, I am still an ENTJ. 

As I settle in on the fact that, at least for me, Myers and Briggs were right about personality descriptors not changing despite time and concerted effort towards changing one’s mental function, I began reflecting on how my personality type, specifically my J-ness, may have impacted my love of mathematics, and encouraged my pursuit of being a math teacher. 

Western culture often portrays mathematics as a dichotomy, or two contrasting elements that are defined as mutually exclusive. For many of us, mathematics felt comfortable because of the present duality between right and wrong. I remember as a young mathematician telling my grandfather that I liked math because there was only one right answer to a math problem. This “objective” view of mathematics felt like safety to me, in my J-ness. It made the world look black or white; good or bad; and gave me a sense of up or down. 

In the beginning of my teaching career, when I taught students, my J-ness dominated how I viewed their work. When I walked up to a student working on a task or problem, my immediate inclination was to classify it using this dualistic lens of right or wrong. This meant that the language I used to address students sounded like, “Something’s not right here…,” or, “Let’s see where you made your mistake,” or, “Yep! That’s right!”

It wasn’t until about 5 years into my teaching career where my J-ness caught up with me when I met Anna. Anna was a mathemagician. Anna made more math look like magic than anyone I have ever met. When Anna’s hand shot up in class, my heart jumped down into my stomach and into my throat at the same time. You see, Anna’s exuberance in answering the mathematical questions I posed to the class brought on moments of panic because her way of thinking never matched my own. And it wasn’t just that. When I walked up to see how Anna had worked a problem, to me, the problem looked a lot like this: 

It often appeared like a tangled web of miracles and magic with mathematical symbols. And the scariest part was her answers were often the same as mine. 

One day in class, I remember asking a question and Anna zoomed her hand up. I called on her to respond and she gave an answer that matched my own, only to give a completely different path to the answer. I told her she was wrong. But Anna persisted. She requested authority and asked if she could come to the board and explain her answer. I granted her request, sitting on pins and needles that my lesson plan was shredding away and I was losing control. As Anna explained in all confidence her problem solving strategy, I started to hear something. It sounded like “Ahhhhh. Now I get it” and “Oh. That makes so much sense now.”

Still, my J-ness prevailed. I was like 


I started to stand up and take back control of not only my lesson plan, but my LIFE. But the chorus of the class pushed me to pause. A few minutes earlier, the whole class had been like a wild fire of hands and low dispositions with lots of “I don’t get its”. And then, I looked around to see students bopping into their practice problems like 


And so, I just stopped and let Anna be the teacher that day. 

Slowly, over time and with much concerted effort to learn, that class taught me that my dualistic thinking made me miss the mathematical brilliance of students like Anna, silencing and erasing the curiosity of hundreds of children that I had previously taught. I realize now that viewing mathematics as a mutually exclusive subject excluded my students from experiencing the magic that comes with mathematics, the feeling of joy and awe in seeing their thinking as more than right and wrong. Because I had classified mathematics in this objective way, because of my J-ness, I was incapable of approaching students with curiosity. Without curiosity about their mathematical thinking, their work looked like a jumbled mess of right and wrong moments instead of emerging understandings around new ideas and wonderings. 

I now see that our world is far less dualistic than I realized; that there is a gradient to most every system, structure, person, and thing. As an ENTJ, I have to work hard to see this third space, to approach every binary structure with a question instead of judgment so that I can value what, for me, was invisible for such a long time. And slowly, overtime I’ve begun to perceive this third space as where the math magic is happening. 



Now when I see student work like this, shared by Viv Watson


To me, it is more than an example of a REALLY AWESOME RESPONSE. This response presses me into my third space, into the gradient, into the space between to see that mathematics is bigger than what I think. It reminds me to pause on my J-tendency to classify the student’s answer as right or wrong, and be curious about what this student is teaching me about the mutually inclusive world we live in, and how math can help with that. 


Written by Lauren Baucom, @LBmathemagician

“Have you heard of Desmos?”

I was inspired to write this month’s article about something that I hear a lot of folks talking about… Desmos. People love it. That’s right, people. Not just us maths teachers, actual people. Who are these people? They are school administrators, sports statisticians, YouTubers, parents, and (most importantly) students. This matters a lot. These people are different from you and me. I am writing an article in a newsletter started by a community of like minded people and you are one of those like minded people reading this article. We are like minded due to the fact that we both like maths. We know that people don’t necessarily enjoy maths, and a rare few actually admit they love maths. Some folks might recall an experience or make a general statement about their genetic predisposition to be good at math or not, while others might just avoid conversing about it at all. People aren’t the same about Desmos. People who have heard about Desmos love Desmos. Love. People even wear Desmos merchandise and place stickers on their laptops like tattoos of their one true love. I even hear that some teachers roll up the bottom of their pants to show off their Desmos socks. People love Desmos. So, what’s all the hype about?


Millenial Math Nerd (Kelsey Anselmi) recently wrote a post, I love Desmos and I don’t care who knows it, in which she shares some great activity banks and tips for teachers looking to up-skill in their Desmos ability. In amongst her declaration of love towards the calculator, she wrote, “Believe it or not, there are still teachers out there who have NEVER heard of Desmos”. Attendees to CMC South last week would have been doing very well to be one of those teachers Kelsey described, with the search term, Desmos, popping up 31 times in the conference program. A lot of teachers are sharing their love for Desmos, and they’re all talking about it in the same way. They talk about the way it transforms the learning experience for students. They talk about how easy it is to use. They talk about how much their students love using the classroom activities. They talk about the audible groan from the students when you pause an activity from the teacher dashboard. They talk about how it has helped their students learn to love math. It’s inspiring to listen to a teacher whose practice has been significantly impacted by Desmos. 



In last week’s edition of the Global Math Department Newsletter, Benjamin Dickman, shared a thought I occasionally hear from fellow maths teachers. When talking about building some cool graphs on Desmos, Ben wrote, “These are all great, but they leave me [and I’m sure others] wondering about the creative process behind these graphs. This can manifest as inspiring – I’m curious about these great graphs and want to get better! – or as discouraging – these people are doing incredible work that is simply beyond me and anything I could make”. His #DesmosDemos suggestion was superb and I would like to reiterate his suggestion of checking out some of Andrew Knauft’s videos.

Teachers struggling to keep across the fast pace of Twitter feeds now also have the opportunity to ask some open questions to other Desmos users on the Desmos Educators Facebook group. This question from Ana Ri is definitely one of the most frequently asked questions of teachers searching for the right activity for their students:


Some great suggestions to Ana include using the Desmos Bank and searching Twitter, many people using the collections feature of Desmos to bookmark and sort these for easy access. The Desmos team has also replaced their bundles with collections, some of which feature newly public activities! Here are three extra collections from avid Desmos users, which I think are super handy:


How do create great activities you ask? Although it just had its third birthday in September, The Desmos Guide to Building Great (Digital) Math Activities is still a fantastic resource for thinking about building meaningful lessons on Desmos. As for the actual construction, I’d make a detour to to watch some great Activity Builder tutorials and stop by and activate Marbleslides, Card Sorts, and the Computation Layer. Once you’re done, flick out a tweet with the hashtag #ImproveMyAB to get some pro tips about taking it to the next level. Here are some extra spots that might help sharpen your building skills along the way:


Lastly, a lesson is only as good as its facilitation. I have modelled the ways I try to maximise the teacher dashboard to harness student input and mould the lesson around the students through PD I’ve run, but I’m often met with comments like, “you know your way around the dashboard so fluently, I don’t think I could use it that well with my students.” I think it’s important to think of a Desmos activity like any other teaching material you’d use with your students. I use teacher pacing to shepherd the class through an activity, giving time to screens that need time, snapshots and pausing to orchestrate productive mathematical discussions, and anonymise to create a safer environment for open opinions. This isn’t significantly different from my non-digital lessons, Desmos just makes it easier to achieve those goals of pacing, selecting and sequencing, and non-judgemental discussions. Sure class codes can be given out to students and the activity set to autopilot, but we know the occasional turbulence that can occur in a classroom environment, and we’re all better off with an experienced pilot at the helm. Here’s two must reads for those looking to get more out of their Desmos lessons:


So, that’s it! The hype, in my opinion, is completely worth it. Desmos is more than a calculator. It already has and will continue to change how we think about teaching and learning mathematics, and it’s more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.


Written by John Rowe, @MrJohnRowe

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