This January, MIND Research Institute hosted its first national ST Math Leadership Symposium. During our event planning, we went back and forth quite a bit on a virtual versus in-person gathering. While nothing could compare to collaborating with a group of outstanding ST Math educators face-to-face, we ultimately opted for a virtual setting.
Even with a virtual event, we were not prepared for how the start of the new year would unfold. Our educators faced so many challenges—staffing shortages, school closures, and more. Imagine our surprise on January 25 when over 350 educators showed up online to share their love for JiJi and grow even deeper in their ST Math implementation and usage! We couldn't believe it. My greatest takeaway from the ST Math Leadership Symposium was that our ST Math partners are the most dedicated, enthusiastic, perseverant individuals around.
Of course, with a conference theme of "The Quest for Next Level Learning," that wasn't my only takeaway. During the four and a half hours we were together, attendees were able to join an array of keynotes and sessions where we discussed data, best practices for new and seasoned ST Math users, the current state of education, and other topics.
Throughout the conference, there were a few recurrent thoughts shared by those in attendance:
How can we make sure that each and every student feels invited to develop a love and deep understanding of mathematics?
How do we use an asset-based approach to help facilitate student thinking, position students as authors of their own learning, and support students in discovering the greatness within themselves?
How can we leverage ST Math to empower students to own their creativity, provide a more equitable learning environment, and prepare all of us to solve the world’s most challenging problems?
Takeaway #1: Everyone Is a Math Person
Our day began with a dynamic keynote by our friend James Tanton. James (PhD. Mathematics, Princeton University) is a research mathematician deeply interested in bridging the gap between the mathematics experienced by school students and the creative mathematics practiced and explored by mathematicians.
James spoke on the topic of "Making Math Human," but his presentation actually began with an English lesson. The English language is quirky and full of nuances, yet we rarely hear someone claim, "I'm just not an English person!" James made the points that humans continually create, invent, and discover mathematics; humans continually use mathematics; and humans continually enjoy mathematics. Humans use math like they use English or language, so why are we so prone to math anxiety?
James's thoughts on making classroom mathematics meaningfully human really set the stage for the rest of the day. Encouraging students to see themselves as "math people" starts with a curious, enthusiastic, and joyful approach to mathematics—a very human approach.
“If English can be quirky and human, let's be quirky and human in math as well.” — James Tanton, Mathematician at Large
If, like me, you can't get enough of listening to James's passion for mathematics, I would encourage you to learn more about his work on the Global Math Project. The belief that everyone is a math person continued to be shared throughout the event. Here are some other sessions where this takeaway stood out:
Takeaway #2: Greatness Sits in Our Classrooms Every Day
Dale Steyn, one of the greatest cricket players in the world, said, “When you are in the company of greatness, there is only one thing to do: raise your game." That's exactly what MIND's Vice President of Curriculum and Instruction Twana Young encouraged conference attendees to do in her closing keynote. Twana's presentation was a powerful reminder of the student potential waiting to be unlocked by educators—a message that packed an even greater punch in our current climate.
Twana helped attendees think about strategies to support teaching mathematics in ways that promote agency, equity, and student voice with an asset-based approach. Some of the questions Twana’s keynote brought to light were:
What would our students do if they did not believe there were any limits?
What are the "soft" skills our students are developing; their assets, greatness, and opportunities for learning?
How do we control the messages we send to our students, and how do we speak from an asset-based approach?
Takeaway #3: ST Math Prepares Students to Become Problem Solvers
Of course, so many conversations at the ST Math Leadership Symposium centered around the ST Math program. How do we implement ST Math with fidelity? Which ST Math teacher reports can I leverage to learn this or improve that? How do I build math culture in my classroom?
Having worked for MIND Research Institute for over half a decade, I know the impact ST Math can make. What blew me away was hearing it from our educators—the ones serving as presenters and the ones in our audience!
Why 🧩 Talks? 'Anywhere & Everywhere!' ⚫️ Activator/Warmup ⚫️ Morning Message ⚫️ Build Class Culture ⚫️ Question of the Day ⚫️ Small Group Intervention ⚫️ Open Ended Problem-Solving Tasks ⚫️ Journaling ⚫️ Mini Lesson / Focus Lesson #NextLevelLearning#STMathpic.twitter.com/PyIYVGGGK7
Our educators enthusiastically discussed the ST Math features they love and use most, innovative ideas our own ST Math team hadn't heard before, and even had the chance to work through some common challenges together. Creating "JiJi culture"—a love for mathematics—was another popular topic. Attendees were exposed to resources that could help them build JiJi culture including social media, contests, activities, and printables for their classrooms/bulletin boards.
One of the most unique aspects of attending the ST Math Leadership Symposium was the opportunity to get a sneak peek of new and upcoming features for ST Math. Attendees tried a handful of the 40 games that will be added to the ST Math program in fall 2022.
Despite having so many different topics to discuss around the program alone, one thing was clear: our educators see ST Math as a necessary tool in their toolbox to grow students into powerful problem solvers. Not only does ST Math help students build deep conceptual understanding, it prepares them for future success in and out of the classroom.
What's Next for Next Level Learning?
There were so many great takeaways from the ST Math Leadership Symposium that there's no way I would have been able to share them all in one blog post! Thankfully, our ST Math team has been hard at work creating this webpage full of great resources from the day—including video recordings of all the keynotes and sessions.
A sincere thank you to every educator who joined us to share and learn. We appreciate you so much, and I feel like we just scratched the surface on many important conversations! Whether you attended this event and are looking for similar opportunities, or are wondering how you can get in our next symposium, keep an eye on your email inbox and our social media channels. We can't wait to share what's next!
About the Author
Kelsey Skaggs is the Communications Manager at MIND Research Institute. She enjoys highlighting the work of colleagues and partners who champion MIND's mission.