Lessons Learned

One week and one nasty cold later, I think I’m ready to reflect on my talk at Asilomar.

Lesson One: You can never have too many copies! [except, of course, for when you do…] 

I wasn’t expecting very many people to show up at my presentation. Well, I was wrong–there were people sitting on the floor. So, I didn’t have enough copies for everyone, which was a bummer. But people were really nice about sharing with the people next to them, and that led to (in many cases) a good buzz of collaboration, which may or may not have happened otherwise. Of course, most people would have preferred to have 2 copies–one to work on and another clean copy to take home with them. As someone who regularly kills trees with all of the printing and copying I do, I try to avoid dumping a big pile of extra handouts into the recycling. If I had been better organized, I could have gotten my materials onto the Asilomar CD so that people could have had it electronically.  I usually wind up chucking the Asilomar CD, which may be part of the reason I didn’t get my materials submitted by the deadline. I put everything up on my blog, which is sort of the same thing, but it takes an extra step to get into teachers’ hands.

Lesson Two: Do More Puzzles! 

I was happy to hear from people that they wanted to do more puzzles. More math is always a good thing in my playbook. In an earlier quasi-presentation, I did three different puzzles in 90 minutes and wound up feeling rushed. Much of that was due to the particular puzzles I chose, and in retrospect, I probably didn’t actually have 90 minutes at the PDO session. I realized mid-way through my Asilomar presentation that I had started out my pacing wrong and I was going to wind up with a big chunk of unfilled time. I had a quick pow-wow with Avery and decided on a plan, but still wound up being done 15 minutes early. And the last bit kind of dragged. The hardest part about adding in another puzzle will be deciding which one to use…

Lesson Three: I need an extra power cord.

I remembered my dongle, but didn’t have a power cord for my laptop. Someone told me that I could borrow his power cord for my session. *Ahem* However, that didn’t work out. Which was bad, because my laptop will go to sleep, regardless of setting preferences to “don’t sleep,” when it doesn’t have a power source. This was a pain in the ass, and made me look totally unprofessional. I’m not a professional, and this was my first attempt at a conference presentation, so I was okay with this. And my audience was very forgiving. But I’m for sure bringing my own power cord to NCTM in April.

Lesson Four: Giving a presentation is kind of like the first day of school.

Having only gone up and facilitated stuff like this in front of people who I actually know (and who know each other) I sorta forgot that people–even teachers–get shy and don’t want to talk in front of a group of strangers. As one person mentioned in their comments, “whole group reporting can take away momentum/energy.” There was a great sub-set of teachers who said some really interesting and valuable things, but many people didn’t want to speak and the room sounded full of crickets to me on a few memorable moments. Funny thing was that I had participated in a session several years ago that used much of the same format for the last part of my talk (i.e. I shamelessly stole this section of my presentation from that workshop) and it worked really well with that group. One challenge was we couldn’t really do a gallery walk, since the room was on the small side and filled with lots of people.

Lesson Five: I had a really great time!

I was nervous before-hand, especially at lunch right before my session. But after it was all over, I was so glad that I had done this. This was an experience that I learned a lot from. And giving a presentation to my teacher-peers made me feel like I’d grown a lot professionally. There aren’t all that many steps in the teacher professional growth path. Student teaching, teaching for real, and then what? You can do coaching, or go into administration, both of which usually involve leaving the classroom at least in part. This was a great way for me to see external evidence of the fact that I have progressed beyond “beginning teacher.” Well worth the butterflies in my stomach.

I’ve already started thinking about what to propose for next year…I guess I’m hooked


Most of my feedback highlighted the lessons I wrote about above. But there were a few that I’m still mulling over [included here so I don’t forget ’em]:

  • expand the idea of a proof to other classes and proof types [emphasis added by me ’cause this idea is great].
  • want info about where to find materials.
  • more focus on [how to?] transfer [from] puzzle to 2-column proof.
  • more explanation of proofs in context of standards. basic proofs?
  • would like some discussion on how to scaffold the “proof posters” for students.

I’m not sure what (if anything) I’ll do to address these comments when I give my talk again. As with all critique, some of it you use, some of it you don’t–but it all informs your process. The fact that I’m not sure yet where to go with these comments speaks to the value in getting feedback like this. These people got me thinking about my presentation and how I can make it better, and I’m still thinking about it a week later. Thank you for that!

3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. ThinkFun games has a bunch of stuff you may have seen at the Julia Robinson festival in October, on teaching proof by means of their Chocolate Fix puzzles. Sounds like this might be a good thing to include. The nice thing about these puzzles is that they’re small so you can write down the whole proof. The bad thing is that it’s mostly casework which feels more like guess-and-check, or systematic elimination of possibilities, rather than the fun deductions you get from focusing your attention on the right bits of a Shikaku or whatnot.

  2. Loved reading your Asilomar reflection, Breedeen. Your honesty and ability to let others share in your professional growth comes at a timely moment. I’m giving a presentation in February at the Greater San Diego Math Conference (http://www.gsdmc.org/color_rev1_Final_w_2012_GSDMC_reg.pdf). The thought of it is exciting and makes me want to throw up in a bucket. I have no idea if three people will show up or forty, if I’ll be left with time or run out of it, and all the other wonderings that make me unsettled. But, like you, I’m throwing myself into the arena because in the end I’ll be better for it. So thanks for your post, it was encouraging.

  3. Very excited to read this reflection and to know that your presentation went so well! Of all the problems one could have in giving a presentation, being too popular is an exceptionally good problem one could have. The power cord and photocopies are minor implementation details that can easily be sorted out later.

    I’ll be very interested to hear how you recommend translating/transitioning from “puzzle” to more formal “proof,” especially vis à vis standards because there is not much that’s easily discoverable out there and you have figured out some really wonderful footholds for using logic puzzles, in my opinion.

    Congratulations on a great success!

    – Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

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