Back in September 2011, I applied to speak at the NCTM Regional conference. My proposal was about deepening the connections between math and literature that many of us have made in our classrooms. I wasn’t an expert on the subject, but it was something I was interested in and something I’d be interested in seeing a presentation on myself. So, bolstered by the spirit of WordCamp and the idea of an unconference, I figured I’d just send in the proposal and leave it up to NCTM to decide whether I was qualified or not.
Surprise! They decided I was qualified! So I read furiously through all the literature I could find and pieced together a presentation.
October approached. I flew to Dallas. I sweated.
I wanted us to have a common text to anchor our thinking, because I know I have a tendency to get excited about ideas and I wanted to keep us all centered.
We read Extra Yarn, then discussed the math we could pursue through it. Attendees saw questions my students had generated based on state power standards and posed their own problem situations. They also got to explore the resources I brought as examples and ask questions about other mathy-bookish activities we’ve done, like What to Do About Alice.
There were a goodly number of people in the room and the feedback I got was positive, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed and underwhelmed when everything was said and done. I finished early, I was sweaty, and I left feeling disoriented. I felt the same as I do when I’ve had a lackluster lesson in class, where the kids gained new understanding, but no one’s riled up and having their minds blown.
I decompressed, ate, and finished out my day. At least my outfit was killer.
The next day, I heard Dan Meyer speak. Full disclosure: I am one hundred percent in love with Dan Meyer’s mind. And also a little bit in love with his 6’7″-gangly-math-nerd aesthetic. I’ll talk more about what I learned from him in a different post, but right now I want to focus on what his presentation did for me as I was reflecting on my own.
What made Dan Meyer such an incredible speaker? I’d argue he set the stage with a crystal-clear thesis. If someone asked me what Dan talked about, I’d immediately say “Finding, recording, and solving perplexity.” Then I could explain further when people asked what perplexity is, etc.
I’ve definitely been thinking about clarifying my thesis in terms of Bucky Book, but for my presentation I was thinking more in terms of an “idea” versus a “thesis.” If I could summarize my presentation, it was basically, “Here is this idea of using literature with math, and here’s what I’ve done and what I’ve learned.”
That was a cool idea, yes (in my humblest opinion), but it wasn’t crystal-clear. Narrowing down everything to one focused, concise thesis would have been HUGELY helpful. Yes, I gave neat information and useful resources, but when you left the room, I don’t think that you had anything comprehensive that would fire you up.
I could keep going, but at this point it seems more self-indulgent rather than reflective. I’d appreciate any feedback or advice you have.
At any rate, it’s something to ponder next time I present, particularly relevant with EdCamp Seattle next weekend. (YOU’RE COMING, RIGHT???)