Courtesy of Tracy Zager
Tracy Zager, a former 4th-grade teacher who now coaches math teachers, has written a book highlighting effective instructional strategies.

As California teachers prepare for a new school year, many may be searching for new resources to inspire them and help them up their games with students — especially in math.

Besides turning to districts and County Offices of Education for training and support, teachers eager to learn about innovative strategies being used across the state and country are joining conferences and chats — both in-person and online — where they can hear from top-notch educators and experts sharing tips, resources and personal experiences with their students.

One such former teacher-turned expert is Tracy Johnston Zager, who recently published the book, “Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms.” Zager is a regular presenter at conferences each year, including those hosted by the California Mathematics Council.

(To learn more about Zager’s book, a summer Twitter chat about it and math experts from California and the rest of the country, read EdSource’s Q&A with her here.)

Zager and some of the teachers featured in her book are also presenting talks during a “Build Math Minds Virtual Summit” this week, which can be seen here free through Aug. 7. Zager’s presentation, “Developing Risk Takers: Teaching Students to Give it a Go,” will be live-streamed at 10:30 am. Wednesday. She will discuss the need for student mathematicians to conjecture, embrace challenges and stick with them, and learn from mistakes. Participants can tweet questions and comments at #VMS17.

“In this session,” she said, “we will focus on instructional decisions and teaching moves that promote risk-taking and teach mathematical courage.”

Zager will invite participants to analyze students’ discussions and work, along with video and written classroom feedback, then think about how they could adapt strategies for their own classrooms. Zager explores risk-taking in chapter 3 of her book, which points out that it takes courage for students who don’t understand concepts to ask questions and teachers should help them figure out problems themselves.

“For our young mathematicians to tackle open problems, they must tinker with mathematics, make leaps, ask questions, share their ideas, and handle frequent failures in math class, and we must make them feel safe and encouraged to do so,” she wrote. “As educators, we must teach students how to engage in joyful intellectual play, flail, and even fail as they muck around with math, because that is how they will construct new mathematical understanding for themselves.”

Other presenters featured in Zager’s book who are participating in the virtual elementary summit are: California math experts Dan Meyer and Robert Kaplinsky, and author, blogger and educator Christopher Danielson, a former middle school teacher in Minnesota who is now a community college teacher working on courses for future elementary teachers.

Christina Tondevold, a math consultant and former educator in Idaho, created the virtual summit and will present a talk on strengthening students’ addition and subtraction skills. She said Zager, Meyer, Kaplinsky and Danielson are among her favorite presenters from conferences she has attended around the country since 2001 because they are passionate about their work, engaging, humble and “challenge attendees to bring ideas forward to make theirs better.”

“I have never once left any of their presentations thinking that I’d heard that before or that I didn’t learn anything new,” Tondevold said. “Tracy, Dan, Robert, and Christopher are always coming up with something new to help us open our eyes to what teaching math could and should be like.”

The California Mathematics Council hosts three conferences each year in different parts of the state. Zager, Meyer, Kaplinsky and several other math experts highlighted in Zager’s book will speak at the council’s Southern California conference Oct. 27-28 in Palm Springs.  (Another conference will be held Dec. 1-3 in Pacific Grove. A Central California event was held in March.)

Zager said her talk will focus on “making math class more like mathematics.” She said she plans to share techniques teachers can use to “validate and encourage” students’ curiosity about math.

“Mathematicians pose problems,” she said. “They frame questions. They wonder, and ask. In most schools, however, students have almost no opportunities to pose and pursue genuine mathematical questions themselves.”

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