The Math Forum

Craig Russell . . .

April, 2011

How did you come to the Math Forum event/opportunity/site?

I read something on the MSTE ListServe about a project of the Math Forum to catalog technology tools used in math education (the Math Tools project), and at the time I was searching for ways to improve my own use of technology in teaching.

What did you think you were going to get and be able to offer?

I didn't think I could offer much, though I had taught using spreadsheets and some other software applications; I hoped to find out "what was out there."

And what did you end up being able to offer/share/produce?

I learned that I could figure out how to apply tools or software to my teaching, and I could develop and share lessons that incorporate technology. I could think about how teachers could use technology (and help to disseminate advice), as well as how to involve students in using technology; to make technology an integral part of instruction, rather than an ancillary or add-on. I could sometimes help to tease out the mathematics behind a tool, to think about how students with different capabilities might use the tool in different ways.

And what specific experience or interaction led you to be able to do that?

The first ToolFest was a real eye-opener. Colleagues in my small building had only limited experience with technology, and we had just begun to have (slightly) more access to technology for teaching, so talking with others who taught in different technology environments (not only the Math Forum staff, who were real experts, but other teachers who were learners like me) was a great help. Talking to the developers about their ideas behind different tools, exploring prepared "lessons," and increasing my own comfort level from the "safety" of such a supportive environment was invaluable.

Did you do different activities with the Math Forum? Has your participation or role evolved?

I have participated in professional development courses, I have been involved in many discussions (most centered around the MathTools site), I have had students do Problems of the Week (and have used them with math teams at school). As part of an NSF grant, I worked on various professional development courses and moderated a few sessions of one of them. I have submitted lessons to the Teacher Exchange, I have submitted several tools to the Math Tools site, I have evaluated several other tools, I have worked to catalog some of the tools submitted by others. I have also found myself reflecting on Math Forum ways of thinking and learning, adapting those methods to my classes. I have made presentations at state math conferences based on experiences with, or lessons learned via, the Math Forum.

What does it mean to you professionally?

My experience with Tool Fest was profound. It radically changed my approach to professional development, it made me feel more a part of a community of math educators (rather than just a spectator to the community). It has impacted my students because Math Forum experiences have shaped the way I ask questions and structure class time. I have borrowed the problem solving rubric, helping students to think about productive ways to solve problems. One experience I treasure was taking an online professional development course alongside colleagues in my building--the types of discussion we enjoyed during that course have become much more common, and are professionally rewarding.

And where are you going next and how might the Math Forum figure in that?

I only wish I knew. I am always seeking out new ways to learn and grow, and my experience with the Math Forum has provided a benchmark against which all other opportunities will be measured. When I first got an email from Suzanne, a person rather than an entity, the Math Forum transformed from an impersonal monolith of mathematical and pedagogical knowledge into a very human (and amazingly small!) group of real people with real ambition to make a positive difference in how math is taught. These are not "worksheet" people, these are "how can you think?" people.

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