Reflections on a Conference: MidSchoolMath 2019 National Conference
When travel becomes a part of your professional life, you look forward to destinations as much as you do dates. There are towns with landmarks you’ll take selfies with, cuisines you can’t wait to partake, cultural references you seek to identify with or relate to. You find bucket list cities you’ve only envisioned on desktop wallpaper graphics or romanticized and glamorized settings for breathtaking media narratives. They represent the moments when you convince yourself, “I’ve made it.” But those aren’t the towns that keep you coming back. It’s the places where you’ll sometimes find yourself because of circumstance that unexpectedly offer something you didn’t know you were longing for. Locales so unique in their values and awareness that you both take home a minor shift in your persona, and lament missing something you only heard about later. Such is Santa Fe.
The 2019 MidSchoolMath National Conference marked my third visit to New Mexico’s capital within the last calendar year, kicking off with my first session as a national presenter at last year’s MidSchoolMath conference and returning for La Cosecha in November. Back in town to debut my new session on Co-Crafting as a Mathematical Language Routine, I felt an inclination to self-reflect on the path I’ve taken since branching out on my own and taking ownership of both my own professional development and networking as a burgeoning education influencer. Each trip is uniquely marked by my interactions, and in the spirit of Josh Zagorski and Howie Hua, I sought to share some of the rich and most memorable professionals I had the honor to engage with. Kevin Simpson Kevin exemplifies the type of entrepreneur I aspire to become down the line. Independent and dynamic, I first interacted with the founder of KSDLGlobal at last year’s conference. As one of the figureheads of MidSchoolMath and the conference itself, he was everywhere. When not role-playing as a Western settler for the conference’s wildly engaging and hallmark interactive task, Kevin hosted sessions for math leaders and aspiring consultants and otherwise independent contractors. He was also kind enough to attend my session and not only provide meaningful feedback but also shout it out during the closing keynote. He’s based out of Los Angeles now, and that proximity to Bakersfield presents some wonderful collaborative potential. Ryen Jackson I was introduced to Ryen at one of Kevin’s sessions, and was immediately wowed by her poise. Ryen’s been consulting out of Florida for a few years now and was on point with clarifying the need to brand myself if that’s my goal. “They know my hair, and make sure you got that card to put in that hand when you meet them!” The point was to make sure that you have a way to let people remember you (can’t be hair for me), and then make sure they can connect with you: leave them with something they didn’t come with. Her communication style and presence commands the space, as someone who is proud of the influence she projects on math and educational entrepreneurship. Christine Nordman (@ChristineNN14) & Whitney Spawn Christine and Whitney seemed to be everywhere I went; from seating assignments on our connecting flight to deboarding said flight due to mechanical issues to attending each other’s sessions, all the way through to the first leg of the voyage back. Their session on categorizing standards by rigor launched a rich discussion at our table regarding whether standards could fall neatly into columns as conceptual, procedural, or application-based, or whether it was likely that there were components of two or three inherent within a single standard. Steve Leinwand (@steve_leinwand) One of the perks of working with the student radio station at Northeastern was access to promotional tickets for shows that came through Boston. I still vividly remember my experience leaving a Flaming Lips show, as a sensory experience that left me emotionally wrought, wide-eyed, jaw agape, yet elated. For math educators, this is the feeling of a Steve Leinwand session. I had his session tagged on my conference schedule, but I was stunned to see him peek into my room as I was setting up my A/V with a clip of “Do The Math” playing. Steve had wonderful things to say about the program and was happy to hear I would be presenting at ASCD, expressing, “We need guys like you up there to represent math.” We shared a fondness for Santa Fe and the conference itself, in which he as well referenced me by name in his session. MidSchoolMath is deservedly gaining a reputation as a destination conference, with its laser focus on 5th-8th grade math instruction, the calibur of speakers it invites (Jo Boaler this year, Geoffrey Canada as next year’s keynote and a full-day session with Dan Meyer for the 2020 session, as well as expanding with a regional conference in Atlanta), its intimacy through manageable attendee numbers and setting, and as a playground to see new ideas before you see them at your local professional development setting in one form or another. As far as the reception to “The Craft of Co-Crafting” session, the feedback was almost entirely positive, and an encouraging sign that there’s demand for effective and meaningful discourse in math classrooms across the continent. So if you need me, you know where to find me...especially next March.