On March 11-12, 2011, around 650 teachers gathered at the Ramada Plaza Richmond West hotel in the West End of Richmond, Virginia for the 32nd annual conference of the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics (VCTM), a statewide professional organization of math educators. The theme of the conference was “Making Mathematics Monumental” — a reference to the many Virginians of note remembered when one drives on Monument Avenue in the city, as well as an allusion to the fact that with math, one can accomplish great things.
The Charlottesville Mathematics Examiner had access to all the concurrent sessions, which served the purpose of providing excellent professional development workshops to teachers, to the vendor exhibit hall, and to the Awards Banquet.
The exhibit hall featured approximately 40 different vendors, and really ran the gamut, from major textbook publishing companies hawking their wares, to publishers of supplemental instruction and consumable workbooks, to flashcards and various manipulatives, to new calculator technologies, and so on. Many school districts are in the process of adopting textbooks their teachers will use for the next seven years — which sometimes can become a controversial process. To help, some publishers at the conference were willing to ship sample copies of newly-written textbooks to teachers.
There were roughly 100 different talks the conference participants could partake in. These presentations covered every level of K-12 math teaching, and covered topics like how to engage students, how to play math games, how to use the Disney Channel’s cartoon Phineas and Ferb as a teaching tool, and how to integrate iPod touches in a math class.
Who Attended this Conference?
Various math educators attended the VCTM annual conference. The vendors in the exhibit hall seemed to cater to a largely elementary math audience, and it felt like most of the sessions were geared especially toward teachers of elementary school math. The teachers came from all parts of Virginia — Portsmouth, Richmond, Charlottesville, Loudon, Prince William, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Blacksburg, just to name a few cities and counties. The teachers there largely reflected the demographics of Virginia’s teaching force: predominately older white women.
Assessing the Math Culture
To an outsider who might have wondered into the hotel, this event might have looked like just another conference, with people milling around, having food and drink, and catching up with one another. If you told this person there is a conference whose participants are several hundred Virginia math teachers, what would come to mind? Most likely tests, calculators, chalk and chalkboards, and introverted types. However, upon closer examination, this is not the case. In fact, there is a vibrant math culture under the surface. Many of the conference attendees wore pins with the letter pi on them in recognition of the then-approaching Pi Day, which is today. (Recall, pi is the irrational number approximately 3.14; hence pi day is March 14.)
Furthermore, many of the sessions, like “Engineering with Phineas and Ferb,” required that teams of teachers work together to build a tower out of toothpicks, gumdrops, and marshmallow. Being in the exhibit hall allowed teachers the opportunity to rub shoulders with one another.
Finally, there is an anecdote that was told at the VCTM Awards Banquet. An elementary school teacher once won an award from the VCTM and her principal hung a sign outside of this teacher’s classroom that said “VCTM Award Winner!” A student approached the teacher in the hallway and asked what VCTM means. The teacher decided to ask her entire class what they all thought VCTM stood for. One student raised his hand and said VCTM means, “Very Cool Teachers of Math!” This story really seemed to capture the spirit of the conference: math teachers are really cool people.
The VCTM’s 2012 conference will be in Roanoke, Virginia on March 9-10, 2012.
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