Tag Archives: #NCTM16

Preparing for an Ignite: Slow Math

What makes you passionate about mathematics education? Suzanne Alejandre asked me this question a few months ago as she was preparing for the 2016 NCTM Ignite Talks.

Slow Math Doodle.jpg

This is Jill’s sketch from the Ignite session, highlighting the message from each of the ten speakers.

In an Ignite Talk, you get 5 minutes to share your passion using 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds.

I’ve been thinking about Slow Math for a while now. I started a Slow Math blog sometime last year. My family and I live on a farm and share lots of Slow Food meals with our family and friends. My husband is a minister, and he was awarded a Lilly Endowment clergy renewal grant several years ago to think about what Slow Church might look like. Why not Slow Math, too? I’ve said many times that using technology in the classroom slows me down – because I find out what students really know when I send them a poll during the lesson – because the dynamic action technology that we use to interact with data and graphs and geometry causes my students to ask questions that weren’t asking otherwise. Slow Math seemed to fit.

Now I had a topic, but even so, the thought of preparing for an Ignite Talk was daunting. Figuring out how to talk about Slow Math in 5 minutes was only part of it.

I have been learning to share stories from my classroom with others for several years now, but I almost always have my talks written out word for word, and I often use notes when I give them. I saw a Twitter exchange between Robert Kaplinsky and Andrew Stadel a few months ago about Weekend Language, and so I ordered my copy and read it. Which made the thought of preparing for an Ignite Talk even more daunting. I did it anyway.

An exchange with Tracy Zager over Twitter made me realize that it’s kind of like wordsmithing 20 Tweets – one per slide – as it apparently takes me about 15 seconds to read 140 characters out loud. For a week or so, I timed myself with the slides to be sure I had the timing right. I added a phrase. I subtracted two phrases. I added a word. I subtracted three words.

Once I had the timing right, I started memorizing, one slide at a time. I said it as I fell asleep at night. I was still saying it when I woke up in the morning. I said it in the shower (which made me look up the average shower length in the US … 5 minutes is below average). I said it once per mile every mile I ran. (I certainly don’t run 5 minute miles … just gave myself a break between practices.) I said it to my family before I left. I said it to Jill when I got to San Francisco. When we got to the session, I found out I was 9th. Against my will, I continued to say it while the first 8 speakers spoke. (Luckily I was able to watch them on video as they were released.)

And then it was my turn. After practicing so much, the experience was surreal. The audience reactions weren’t completely as expected. I heard a few gasps as I shared some of the troublesome #SlowMath tweets. There was a laugh or two, one expected, one not. Mostly I heard affirmation that maybe Slow Math could be a movement.

How have you already incorporated Slow Math into your teaching and learning? What can you do to further the Slow Math Movement? How can you make sure teachers and students know they have time to enjoy a slow math lesson, asking questions and engaging in productive struggle? Let’s continue that conversation at the SlowMath hashtag.

As the journey continues, I am thankful for the good work of our friends at The Math Forum, providing many opportunities for us to learn and think about math together.


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