Teachers: Enhance math instruction at virtual conference - AZEdNews
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Teachers: Enhance math instruction at virtual conference

Teachers Collaborating At A Previous Year's Mathematics Educators Appreciation Day Conference. Photo Courtesy Of The University Of Arizona's Center For Recruitment & Retention Of Mathematics Teachers

Pre-K through college teachers looking for high-quality, hands-on math learning they can use in the classroom should register now for Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day held online Jan. 23, 2021 and free for all Arizona teachers and education leaders.

More than 600 teachers and education leaders have already signed up for this first-ever virtual conference that features more than 220 collaborative and interactive workshops ranging from increasing student engagement with choice activities, small group math, and project-based learning to teaching logarithms with the pandemic, looking at equity, equality and gerrymandering, and the math behind NASA’s space food and nutrition.

The conference is organized by the Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers at The University of Arizona’s Department of  Mathematics, which celebrates its 20th year of offering teacher training and leadership development statewide.  

“Our vision is really simple. An excellent math teacher for every child,” said Melissa Hosten,co-director of the Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers.

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“By partnering with the Arizona Department of Education, Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day is finally statewide with incredible outreach,” said Dr. Rodrigo Gutiérrez, co-director of the center.

“We’ve had great turnout for our workshops ever since last March, and now this conference is really the flagship experience,” said Dr. Gutiérrez, who taught middle and high school mathematics before becoming a teacher educator. “It’s a marker of a unique Arizona professional development experience. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Related article:
Register now for the 20th annual Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day conference

“We are so thankful that the Arizona Department of Education was able to use a portion of our CARES Act funding to support the University of Arizona’s Center for Recruitment and Retention to support math teachers across the state,” said Morgan Dick, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Education.

COVID-19 has caused teachers to totally rethink their teaching style to support the needs of their students, whether that’s in-person or distance learning, Dick said.

“The MEAD Conference will foster a collaborative community for math teachers specifically to discuss how they can support their students,” Dick said.

“Professional development opportunities, like the MEAD Conference, have been an important tool for educators for years, particularly for educators in rural, tribal and small schools,” Dick said.

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A collage of teachers attending Mathematics Educator Appreciation Day in past years. Photo courtesy Center for the Recruitment & Retention of Mathematics Teachers at the University of Arizona

“By having the MEAD Conference take place on a virtual platform, we are hopeful that even more educators will be able to participate, simply because they won’t have to travel and can participate conveniently,” Dick said.

“Despite not being able to gather in person, we are hopeful that this event gives teachers an opportunity to learn and collaborate with other educators they may have never had the opportunity to know otherwise,” Dick said.

What makes this conference different

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Melissa Hosten

What makes this conference and all CRR workshops unique is that educators collaborate, model and practice with each other, Hosten said.

“We don’t do webinars ever. We will never have you fully muted and totally controlled in an online environment,” Hosten said. “In fact, we require that every workshop that is provided by the CRR and provided at this conference be interactive with the participants. They need to be able to speak more than just in the chat. They need to be able to actively do whatever it is we’re talking about.”

If teachers hear a great idea they’ve never actually done, they may may not be able to roll that out in their classroom, said Hosten, a former elementary, middle, and high school mathematics teacher in Tucson and Chandler.

But if you give teachers an experience of what this is, then they know what their students are supposed to feel, how it’s supposed to look, and now that they have a visual and a physical experience of it, they can roll it out, Hosten said.

“Modeling is essential to everything we do,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.

The conference used to take place in Tucson High Magnet School, where “we’d take over an entire wing of the school and have 30 classrooms so that the actual sessions felt like a classroom,”  Dr. Gutiérrez said.

The conference promotes and models active learning, and “I think that’s why people are really excited to attend, because they’ve been sitting through webinars since March, passively watching and falling asleep on their computers. This is a different experience,”  Dr. Gutiérrez said.

The conference is an outgrowth of CRR’s teacher leader development program that “works with teachers to experiment within their classroom, thoughtfully to do iterations, to share,  and engage in conversation and collaboration,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.

What teachers should expect

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Dr. Rodrigo Gutiérrez

To ensure each session is interactive and collaborative, each session is limited to 60 participants, Hosten said.

That means there are twice as many sessions teachers can choose from this year than last year, Dr. Gutiérrez said.

To help teachers pick sessions in their interest areas, sessions are color coded by strand and grade level band, “band so they can find exactly what suits their grade and students in their area of interest,” Hosten said.

“Some strand include supporting emerging bilingual students in the classroom, active learning in the secondary classroom, and complex instruction that helps us figure out how to collaborate in classrooms with equal status,” Hosten said.

Teachers are encouraged to partner up with co-workers or school leaders to attend different sessions and share what they’ve learned afterwards, Hosten said.

“We’ve heard from more principals than ever before asking just how much does it cost for me to attend,” Hosten said. “You’re a leader in Arizona schools so it’s free. ‘No way,’ they say.”

“I, personally, have heard from two school board members who have said, ‘you know I’ve looked at your online schedule and is it possible as a school board member for me to attend?’” Hosten said. “And in that circumstance, again, they are leading in an Arizona school so they sign up as a leader just like a principal would.”

“I’ve never heard from a school board member prior to this year, and it’s exciting that they’re saying I’m going to be making decisions, I probably need to hear from people who are doing these things in the classroom,” Hosten said.

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Teachers collaborating during a workshop at a previous year’s Mathematics Educators Appreciation Day conference. Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona’s Center for Recruitment & Retention of Mathematics Teachers

“We’ve opened a networking area in our MEAD conference where teachers can pop in and group together and share their experiences and discuss different sessions that they’ve attended,” Hosten said.

Also, because CRR is committed to active learning, “we don’t provide any methods that encourage passive learning, so we don’t videotape any of our workshops,” Hosten said.

Dr. Gutiérrez said, “We expect attendance to be double or more what it’s been in the last few years, because of the remote nature making it more accessible.”

“Every year when it was in person, we’re working with teachers in Nogales and Benson and from all over the state, and it was like ‘Are we going to do the drive for the day or not?,” Dr. Gutiérrez said. “We would work with districts to see if they could pay mileage to get people here.”

To help the conference fit anyone’s lifestyle and work schedule there are six sessions – three in the morning, and three in the afternoon – and participants choose which three they’ll take part in, Hosten said.
“The keynote session is in the middle, right at lunch time, so no matter what you’ve chosen for your schedule the keynote fits with that timeframe,” Hosten said.

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Dr. Jennifer Bay-Williams

Dr. Jennifer Bay-Williams is the keynote speaker and she will discuss 12 fluency fallacies and their fixes.

“Every in-service teacher has read ‘Student Centered Mathematics’ from Van Der Waal et al. and she is part of the et al. Jennie Bay-Williams has contributed significantly to that series and that book,” Hosten said. “We give that book to our Professional Learning Communities , and so many people have been exploring her ideas.”

“Very recently she came out with a book about fluency and math games, and fluency without tears – how do we help kids become mathematically fluent, have fun, have it be meaningful, have it be tangible,” Hosten said.

“We are so excited to have this nationally recognized speaker – one of my math superstars – to speak to our entire group and help every teacher think about what fluency means and what it can look like in any grade,” Hosten said.

How the conference was developed

Dr. Fred Stevenson, who recently passed away, founded the Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers at The University of Arizona in 2001 to support Tucson-area middle and high school mathematics teachers.

Two years later, the center decided to expand its focus to help third-grade through twelfth-grade teachers develop connections and communities beyond their school district for support and to share ideas, and Dr. Stevenson started this conference, Hosten said.

“The idea is that teachers from the area would share their most promising practices in their classrooms with other teachers, and then university folks could come and share promising practices, ideas and research that would apply to third through 12th grade,” Hosten said.

Seventeen years later, CRR focuses on serving Pre-K through college math teachers statewide, Hosten said.

“Now, we’re cross pollinating community colleges, universities and school districts including charter schools and private schools,” Hosten said. “It has really ballooned to the entire math education community informing each other about promising practices, new ideas and research in a very interactive way.”

What’s next

The Center for the Recruitment & Retention of Mathematics Teachers is fully committed to hybrid-learning going forward, Dr. Gutiérrez said.

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The University of Arizona’s Center for Mathematics Teachers Recruitment and Retention’s co-director Melissa Hosten, co-director Dr. Rodrigo Gutiérrez, and program director Michael Perkins. Photo courtesy CRR

“I have a workshop on middle school games, and I would say that two thirds of people attending are from outside Southern Arizona,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.  “It’s people new to these experiences, and that’s the impact we’ve had very quickly this semester.”

For that workshop, Dr. Gutiérrez worked with three teachers – one who’s still teaching remotely, another in person and another in a hybrid learning format.

“With those teachers honestly speaking about their experiences everyone in the audience has something they can get from this,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.

“The word is getting out there and people are finding value in this high-quality professional development. They keep coming back for more,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.  

The goal is toidentify and support teacher leaders from all over the state to build capacity within schools and within districts so that down the line those teacher leaders become regional leaders “running sessions within their districts that are open to people in their region not just in their district,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.  

“That way, they are now part of the larger mathematics education community and elevating what teachers are learning through professional development,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.

“The point is people don’t have to keep coming back to us. The idea is that teachers are being developed across the state and raising the capacity for math instruction. These are the people who make the magic happen at these workshops,” Dr. Gutiérrez said.