Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 2 - Critical Issues in Mathematics Education (MSRI 2013)

Interesting license plate in the MSRI parking lot.
The first talk of the day was about assessment, diversity, and equity.  We heard from the Algebra Project ( and recommendations for formative mathematics assessment for English learners (Judit Moschkovich, UC Santa Cruz).  This talk focused on formative assessment and what is essential for good assessment of English learners.  The are some very interesting and useful video clips at the Understanding Language website ( as well as research papers.  This is a great resource with separate resources dedicated to science, math, and English language arts.  The techniques discussed are very useful for assessing all students. Hints for writing good word problems:  changing passive voice to active, reduces nested and subordinate clauses, make the sentences shorter.  Language is more than just vocabulary---it's structure.  Maria Martiniello was supposed to attend the workshop, but encountered travel difficulties since she was coming from Venezuela.  By the way, Bob Moses, the founder of the Algebra Project, is attending this workshop.

After the first talk, it was picture time and then back into our groups.  The groups are now medium sized, each composed of three or four of our previous smaller groups.  The task before us was to discuss the assessment items that we created in our small groups or the difficulties we had in writing our  assessment items.  There were almost 20 people in our medium sized group.  We decided to focus more on the process of creating an individual assessment item rather than a specific item.  One point that was stressed was the importance (and sometimes difficulties) of linking assessment items to specific content and practice standards.

The next presentation was SBAC: Challenges taken on a progress to date (Shelbi Cole) (see  Only large projects such as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium can construct and maintain large item pools.  SBAC is a consortium of 21 states.  Released items and the summative assessment blueprint can be found on the SBAC website.  Just a reminder that the other assessment consortium is Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC (

After lunch, we organized into larger groups for debriefing what we did in our smaller groups.  Other than sharing the assessment items that we created in our smaller groups, we discussed how well things worked by bringing together small, diverse groups to write assessment items.  Personally, I think that it worked well.

The after lunch talk was given by Diane Briars, Broadening the conversation: issues and concerns.  Diane will be the new NCTM President-Elect in October.  For high-stakes testing at its worst, see the article in the Pittsburg Post Gazette,  Research shows that the more time that you spend doing test prep, the worse the test scores are.  Good instruction means good scores on well-crafted and meaningful exams.  The Math Reasoning Inventory has good formative assessment tools (  Much of what Briars said, especially about concerns and challenges, was not new, but she said it well and was pretty much on target.

The workshop concluded with a panel discussion and then closing remarks by Alan Schoenfeld.  The message from the panel seemed to be that we should focus on instruction.  This confirms my long held belief that if you want to improve education you will get the most bang for your buck by training your teachers better and rewarding them more.

Flying back to Texas in the morning.  At least I got bumped up to first class on both legs.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 1 - Critical Issues in Mathematics Education (MSRI 2013)

Normally, all of San Francisco and the Golden Gate is visible from MSRI, but not today.  It's foggy and rainy in the Bay Area today.  Fortunately, someone offered me a ride up the hill to MSRI, and I didn't have to do the 25 minute walk to catch the shuttle.

The basic format of the day is to alternate meeting in the MSRI Simons Auditorium for a one-hour talk with working in our breakout groups to design assessment items.  The talks included Dissolving the boundaries (Bill McCallum and Jason Zimba), Assessment in practice: Use, needs, and examples (Eyal Wallenberg, Melanie Smith, David Baiz, & Jonathan Osler), Assessing complex human practices (Eva Baker), Assessment ABCs: Purpose, design, and examples (Mike Briscoe, Guillermo Solano-Flores, & Ann Shannon), and PARCC: Challenges taken on and progress to date (Doug Sovde).  McCallum and Zimba set the general tone of the day.  Wallenberg, Smith, Baiz, and  Osler gave an a view of assessment from the trenches.  What problems arise in the classroom?  Do students lose interest or give up too soon?  Baker spoke on what we know and what we don't know about assessment design.  Check out or google for some of the other work that Baker has done on the content ontology for the CCSS at  One comment at the end of Barker's talk is that we do not align assessment with instruction in the U.S., although there are exceptions.

The first talk after lunch was Assessment ABCs: Purpose, design, and examples (Mike Briscoe, Guillermo Solano-Flores, & Ann Shannon).  See  It is worthwhile noting that certain items are nonnegotiable if materials are to be aligned with the CCSS.  Ann Shannon spoke on formative assessment.  Note:  The Shell Centre ( keeps coming up.   Check out the Math Assessment Project on the website.  They have an excellent collection of medium cycle assessment materials.  Most of the Shell Centre materials such as the The Language of Functions and Graphs (1985) is available for free download.  Originally, I had to pay for my copy.

The last talk of the day was PARCC: Challenges taken on and progress to date (Doug Sovde). See  There was a lot to digest here.

Our working group broke into two subgroups: an algebra subgroup and a geometry subgroup.  I chose the geometry group, not only because I am interested in geometry but also because it was the smaller of the two groups and needed more bodies.  In the end, the geometry group had four people while the algebra group was possible twice as large.

During the first meeting of the geomety group, we began by examining a grade 9-10 geometry project on tesselations, that one of of out teacher used.  We quickly agreed that tesselations offered an opportunity to explore what a student knows about polygons, regular polygons, interior angles of polygons as well as mathematical reasoning and proof.  For example, what regular polygons will tesselate the plane and what regular polygons will not.  During the afternoon session, we come up with a more focused assessment item involving regular hexagons, pentagons, and isosceles trapezoids.  I will try to put up a link later.

On a side note, check out the videos on compass and straightedge constructions at

The reception begins at 5:30.  The food looks delicious.

Day 0 - Critical Issues in Mathematics Education (MSRI 2013)

The Critical Issues in Mathematics Education Workshop 2013 at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute began yesterday evening.  This year's topic is Assessment of Mathematical Proficiencies in the Age of the Common Core.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics can be found at, and the workshop's website is  There are lots of interesting people here: Deborah Ball, Hy Bass, Bill McCallum, Keith Devlin, and Bob Moses to name a few, but the majority of the attendees are university faculty and K-12 teachers.

After introductions and an overview of what we will be trying to accomplish during the workshop, Deborah Ball interviewed Andrea, a bright 11 year-old, for almost an hour.  Among other topics, Deborah asked questions to find out Andrea's understanding of fractions.  My hope that is that there will be a video available at some point.  Similar videos are available elsewhere.

We broke into our individual working groups during the last part of the evening.  Each group is charged with writing assessment items or protocols for the CCSS.  My group will work on formative assessment for grades 6-8 and high school.  I am not sure that we came to any great conclusions during out 30 minute breakout session last night other than getting to know each other.