Musings from the Beach

I’m back from my favorite conference, the CMC North Conference. It’s always held on the first weekend of December in Asilomar, California—put it on your calendar for next year! Spending the weekend in a beautiful environment among hundreds of enthusiastic math educators always rejuvenates me. As I walked around, I heard snippets of conversations about sessions:
“… proportional reasoning…”,
“… I like that visual model for completing the square …”, and other sharings about mathematics and pedagogy.

I did two presentations this year, including an Ignite! presentation (which I’ll blog about later this month), so I wasn’t able to attend any sessions on Saturday. However, on Sunday I attended Alan Schoenfeld’s keynote talk, Teaching Mathematical Sense-Making: Formative Assessment and the Common Core Standards. The CMC North Conference organizers will be posting his PowerPoint to the conference page, so be sure to keep an eye out for it.

Schoenfeld emphasized that formative assessment should help teachers (and students) better understand areas of student difficulty and adjust teaching accordingly. Weekly computer-based benchmark tests that assess narrow content objectives are not good examples of formative assessment—they do not advance the larger goals of the Common Core that students will make sense of mathematics, be able to solve non-routine problems, and explain and defend their mathematical reasoning. Schoenfeld pointed us to a fantastic resource, the Mathematics Assessment Project, which contains beta versions of Formative Assessment Lessons tied to the Standards for Mathematical Practice and the Common Core Content Standards. Yes, you can use the lessons with your students! Each lesson contains problems, sample student work to be analyzed by students (because students need to understand what “good” student work looks like), discussion questions, and teacher notes.

I’d like to give my thanks to the folks at the Shell Centre, the University of Nottingham, and U.C. Berkeley who created these materials and made them available to classroom teachers. I’d also like to say thank you to the volunteer staff of CMC North, who make this  wonderful conference run smoothly every year. Finally, a word of advice from a veteran attendee: If you come to the conference, make sure you leave time in your day for a walk to the beach. See you next December!

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