mathematicsI have attended the past eight NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) conferences. The event has become an annual highlight in both my academic and professional careers. For me, the conference has always been about learning. There were some years when I savored a walk through the exhibit hall to discover the newest software and manipulatives, or the latest books and teacher resources. In fact I still get excited walking through the plethora of exhibitors to see how modernized technology continues to inspire a new vision of mathematics. There were other years, however, that while embedded in my academic pursuits, I was more engaged in the research pre-sessions where scholars put forth their studies and discussed areas for future research. There were even years when I found myself lingering behind in sessions to continue the conversation with educators while building new allies in the discipline. Based on my experiences I have come up with 5 reasons to make sure you are in attendance at the 2015 NCTM Annual Conference in Boston.

1. Collaboration: Imagine walking into a session and sitting at a table with four other people. As you engage in the session you begin digesting the information and sharing your thoughts with the table. Upon further introductions you find that you are sitting with a classroom teacher, a textbook publisher, and a college chair. This was me during a conference session on developing rigorous tasks. It was clear that the topic held significant interest to everyone at the table, yet from varied perspectives. We discussed mathematical tasks and whether they were rigorous or not, then attempted to add elements of rigor to the less meaningful ones. This work allowed me to see how each person defined rigor and its use in their current positions, and guess what…everything was connected! I gained insights that I hadn’t expected to see; understandings that I may not have valued before. The opportunity to collaborate is limitless, and continued collaboration only requires the exchange of information. I am still communicating back and forth with two of the participants at my table.

2. Inspiration and Renewal: You choose the sessions! Selecting what you hear, means you have an interest and connection to the topic. Each session then, becomes a moment that either inspires you to take a leap into unchartered territories, confirms the good work you currently do, or encourages you to continue pushing. And there is no better place to manage these emotions than in the midst of hundreds of mathematics professionals.

3. Build your capacity for pedagogy: Gaining new knowledge is maybe the biggest reason that attendees participate in the NCTM conferences. With each new buzzword in mathematics education, you are sure to find a conferences session outlining its pros and cons. Additionally, outdated initiatives are made clear by their omission from the schedule. If you go to the conference wanting to know more about some outdated term, you may not see it. This would be a clear indication that you may need to move beyond your understandings. You will; however be introduced to the latest trends in pedagogy that have replaced old ideas and furthered their impact.

4. Review Current Research: We always talk about “research-based” strategies. But does anyone ever read the “research?” During research pre-session and throughout the conference there are many presenters that share their current research and discuss implications for their studies. What an awesome opportunity to interrogate the dialogue and add to it; you may come back with your own “research-based” ideas.

5. Revisit with a former colleague: Chance meetings are my favorite! They are so full of surprise and excitement. Each year I have bumped into a former colleague and relished in a moment or two while catching up on their lives. NCTM draws attendees from all over the world. I once met up with my former department chair from my first years as a teacher. When I saw her at NCTM she was working with a math resources company abroad. It’s electrifying to know that so many of my colleagues are in this profession for the long haul and if nothing more, we may meet by chance each year at this conference.

Following my adventures at this year’s conference, I now have a memory of a year when my new position as an instructional coach guided my lens to search out opportunities to network and find out how other districts and schools best support their teachers. So, over the years, the benefits of my participation in the NCTM annual conferences has been enormous; and I can only hope that I have given mathematics educators some noteworthy reasons to join me next year!

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