Resources from Nebraska Summit on Math and Science Education

Mona Toncheff presents “Disrupting Unproductive Mindsets and Practices using Strengths-Based Teaching" on Saturday morning on Zoom.
Mona Toncheff presents “Disrupting Unproductive Mindsets and Practices using Strengths-Based Teaching" on Saturday morning on Zoom.

Wendy Smith, research professor in the Department of Mathematics and the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, warmly welcomed the 125 conference attendees on Saturday, June 4. Attendees were composed of science and mathematics teachers, district curriculum coordinators, Nebraska Department of Education curriculum specialists, and University of Nebraska faculty who hailed from one end of the state to the other, from Omaha to Hemingford. Download resources and slides from the Summit.

Dr. Smith was followed by Beth Lewis, CSMCE’s senior advisor for secondary science education and associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education, who delivered brief remarks. Dr. Lewis thanked the conference participants “for devoting your time and effort after another long school year in which there have been innumerable challenges…we are reminded once again of human fragility and the harm that hate and gun violence continues to inflict on our youngest members of society. Thank you for your care and compassion for your students, their families, your colleagues, it is essential, you are essential.”

Lewis described the conference as an opportunity “to reflect and to act in favor of enacting mathematics and science education to be in service to all of our students, their families, and our local communities,” and posed the question, “How do our students see themselves in their academic lives?”

Plenary Speakers
Dr. Hortensia Soto
A Summit pre-session on Friday, June 3, was led by plenary speaker Dr. Hortensia Soto of Colorado State University. Dr. Soto’s presentation engaged participants in activities which (literally) got the audience out of their seats to use physical movement for learning mathematical concepts. The presentation employed a philosophy called embodied cognition that hypothesizes the benefits of body-based learning. One of the activities required participants to act out a 45-degree rotation of a quadrilateral about the origin on a 20’ x 20’ coordinate grid! Dr. Soto also gave an address during the Summit titled “Compassion in & Access to Learning Mathematics (CALM)” which discussed ways to create a space where all students, including those who have been historically marginalized, are supported and given a voice in their learning.

Dr. Felicia Moore Mensah
The Summit’s first keynote speaker was Dr. Felicia Moore Mensah, professor of science education and the chair of the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her address, titled, “I Didn’t Know Inclusion was for Science and Mathematics, Too,” called for equity and the continued need for inclusive teaching practices, specifically culturally relevant teaching, and a multiculturalist reframing of traditional science and mathematics education. Dr. Mensah is also the current co-editor of the highly ranked Journal of Research in Science Teaching and director of the Center for Innovation in Teacher Education and Development at TC. Dr. Mensah’s research interests are in diversity and social justice education with an emphasis on improving science experiences for PreK–12 teachers and students in urban classrooms. After her keynote address, she presented a well-attended breakout session in which participants, including the 12 new UNL National Science Foundation Noyce Master Teacher Fellows, discussed a wide range of challenges and solutions to broadening students’ participation in STEM. Dr. Mensah provided examples of the contributions of women in science such as Barbara McClintock, and in mathematics, including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Dr. Mensah wrapped up the session by commenting that, “Inclusive teaching is good teaching….we can use our knowledge about students’ lives to design student-centered instruction that builds on what they already know while stretching them beyond what is familiar to them.”

Mona Toncheff
Saturday’s second keynote speaker was Mona Toncheff, past president of the National Council for Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM). Her presentation, “Disrupting Unproductive Mindsets and Practices using Strengths-Based Teaching,” exhorted educators to become “strengths spotters” in the classroom. Changing mindsets to focus students’ strengths allows educators to build upon them to empower students and improve student learning. Toncheff shared a framework for developing NCSM’s foundational elements of an asset-based classroom (equity, beliefs, relationship, and vision) and strategies for disrupting practices that inhibit equitable education in STEM. Her keynote was followed by a breakout session that addressed the inequities of tracking students in mathematics classrooms and shared strategies for encouraging stakeholders to end this practice. Toncheff indicated an important first step for ending tracking is to “choose your why” and use research and data to identify the primary reasons why tracking is problematic at a given school.

Dr. Amanda Morales
Dr. Amanda Morales delivered the lunch plenary session, "DEI in Math & Science Classrooms: The Courage to Move from Theory to Practice." An associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education, Dr. Morales engaged Summit participants in an activation-connection-affirmation activity designed to highlight the paradoxical problems of invisibility and hypervisibility. After participants jotted down some words and phrases related to each (activation), Morales shared related research findings of how invisibility makes people feel silenced, dismissed, and ignored, while hypervisibility places a disproportionately heavy burden of responsibility on those from historically marginalized populations (connection). Finally, she shared actionable strategies to combat both invisibility and hypervisibility (affirmation), including: sharing power, normalizing errors as part of learning, engaging in courageous conversations, fostering competence, celebrating differences, culturally responsive pedagogies, and balancing teacher instruction with student exploration.

Afternoon Sessions
Science Lesson Share-a-thon
In the afternoon over a dozen science teachers shared successful lessons with conference participants in an exhibition format. Numerous other teachers visited the tables and gathered ideas for science lessons to try in their own classrooms. UNL science education doctoral candidates, Elizabeth Hasseler and Justin Andersson, co-organized the session.

Setting Science Education Priorities for Nebraska Town Hall
Christine Gustafston (NATS president, Millard Public Schools); Audrey Webb (NDE science specialist); and Beth Lewis (UNL, professor science education) organized this session for over 40 conference participants in the final session of the conference. They were joined by NATS past-presidents Betsy Barent (LPS Science Curriculum Coordinator) and Jodi Bahr (Harvard Public Schools, NSTA District XI Director) in providing an update on recent developments in science education across the state. They also identified opportunities for leadership and the dire need for recruiting new and retaining current science teachers.

Nebraska Department of Education Mathematics Standards
Deb Romanek, mathematics education specialist in the Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment, at NDE discussed the insights the Math Standards Revision Team members have gained by serving on their teams and what suggestions are being proposed at their level to the current 2015 Nebraska College and Career (CCR) Mathematics Standards. Attendees broke into two groups, elementary/middle-level and high school, to give feedback to the writing team members.