Saturday, February 2, 2013

Math Connect Conference - University of Calgary

I never thought I'd willingly attend a mathematics conference and actually really enjoy it.

Today, I attended the Math Connect Conference at the University of Calgary, and listened to Brent Davis, Carol Dweck, Rafael Nunez, Daniel Ansari, John Mighton, Diana Chang (OISE) and Elisha Bonnis discuss mathematics education.  Thought-provoking, interesting, relevant, and timely, it was fantastic.

"How might we engage with one another to improve mathematics teaching and learning?" was the guiding question of the conference.

Carol Dweck discussed the fixed and growth mindset ideas of intelligence, which was very interesting.  I've already ordered her book!

She stated that there were three main guidelines in the different approaches to learning:

1.  Look smart at all costs (Fixed mindset) vs. Learn at all costs (Growth mindset)
2.  Learning should come naturally (Fixed mindset) vs. Work hard, effort is key (Growth mindset)
3.  Hide mistakes, conceal difficulties (Fixed) vs. Capitalize on mistakes, confront deficiencies (Growth)

She also discussed the need for a change in the way that we praise students.  Intelligence praise such as "wow, you must be really smart!" instantly made kids "non-learnersm" they wanted a task they could do perfectly, so as not to look dumb.  Meanwhile, process praise such as "wow, you must have tried really hard" encouraged students to continue to try and learn, and they actually enjoyed the difficult questions that they were given.

Carol Dweck stated that struggle should not be a bad word, that students should be taught to persist regardless of setbacks. Kids should identify their weaknesses and work to overcome them.  We should transform the meaning of difficulty, embrace learning and growth and understand the role of effort and change.

Elisha Bonnis also made several interesting points about math learning and teaching during her talk.  She emphasized the importance of practice; our brains need practice to make connections and new neural pathways.  Elisha also emphasized the need to explicitly teach math concepts in order to give kids the tools that they need to discover and create.  She stated that it was not that students had a range of ability in math, but rather that they had a range of math experiences.

During her talk, Elisha quoted John Mighton, who said that "there comes a point when you decide that either you are stupid or the subject is."  Most students choose to believe that they are stupid, not realizing that their mindset is inhibiting their ability to learn and grow.

I have many more notes that I'd love to share, but instead of making this a regurgitation of my notes, I'd like to suggest that you check out #MathConnect on Twitter for the general gist of the conference.  There were quite a few of us tweeting today and it was great to connect with my colleagues about this important issue in education.

Thank you to the organizers for a wonderful conference!  I can't wait to see what happens next in this conversation.

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