Episode #86: Catalyzing Change – An Interview with Robert Q. Berry

Jul 20, 2020 | Podcast | 0 comments


Today we’re speaking with Robert Q. Berry, he’s a past NCTM president, he’s a professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and author of numerous books and articles on equity issues in mathematics education. Stick around to hear Robert discuss math moments he’s had as a student and a teacher. We’ll dive into a book series he’s been working on: Catalyzing Change, we’ll answer questions like: why we need to spark wonder and joy in our students and how you can implement equitable teaching practices into your classroom.

You’ll Learn

  • Why the book series Catalyzing Change needs to be your “next book”;
  • Why we need to spark wonder and joy in our students; and,
  • How you can implement equitable teaching practices into your classroom.


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Robert Q. Berry…: How do we broaden the space of discourse so all students can have a sense of competence, therefor having a positive impact on their identity? It helps us think about some of the practices that happen in the classroom. If you’re only using hand raising as an acknowledgement for someone to contribute to the discourse in mathematic classroom, why? Are there other ways that we can engage students? Just raising awareness, having conversation. The last thing is then, how do we [crosstalk 00:00:26].

Jon Orr: Today, we’re speaking with Robert Q. Berry, a past NCTM president. He’s a professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and author of numerous books on articles on equity issues in mathematics education. Stick around to hear Robert discuss math moments he’s had as a student and a teacher. We’ll be diving into a book series he’s been working on called Catalyzing Change, Why We Need to Spark Wonder and Joy in our Students and How You Can Implement Equitable Teaching Practices Into Your Classroom. All right, let’s do it. Cue up the music.

Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce from TapintoTeenMinds.com.

Jon Orr: I’m Jon Orr from MrOrr-IsAGeek.com. We are two math teachers who together-

Kyle Pearce: With you the community of educators worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement, fuel learning, and ignite teacher action. Jon, are you ready to speak with the awesome, Robert Q Berry?

Jon Orr: Of course, Kyle. We are honored to bring on Robert for this episode.

Kyle Pearce: Before we dive in and get to our talk with Robert, we want to thank you for listening to us wherever you are in the car, at the gym, in the kitchen washing the dishes, or maybe on your prep time. If you’ve listened to us before, enjoyed the episode, and got some value out of it, we’d love to hear about it.

Jon Orr: We read all of the reviews on the podcast and right now we want to share one of those reviews. This one from SP5683, who what a name, on Apple Podcasts.

Kyle Pearce: “If I gave out podcast awards, this would be award winning. Not only a great start to your week, but truly a remarkable podcast that includes concepts, insights, application, and real business of productive struggle from the teacher’s perspective. I listen to learn, grow, and be challenged with team and presenters. It’s easy to leave with at least one nugget and multiple a-ha moments. The absolute biggest thank you for making my Mondays start with epic conversations around math.”

Jon Orr: Wow, that is fantastic. Nothing energizes us more to keep on recording episodes of this podcast than seeing those ratings and reviews come from all of you math moment makers out there.

Kyle Pearce: Have you taken 10 seconds to hit pause, scroll down in your podcast app, and tap five stars? Okay, you don’t have to hit five stars if you don’t think that’s accurate for you, but please do hit a star rating to give us that quick feedback. If you want to be a math moment maker hero, than take the extra two minutes to write us a short one to three sentence review.

Jon Orr: That would mean the world to us. Before we dive into this great discussion with Robert Q Berry, let’s take a moment to get everyone listening to stop and pause the episode if you have not already joined the waiting list to be notified of the 2020 Make Math Moments Virtual Summit happening November 7th and 8th of 2020.

Kyle Pearce: That’s right, Jon. Last November, we ran our first annual Make Math Moments Virtual Summit and had over 25 sessions from math education change agents from around the world including Jo Boaler, Robert Q Berry who we’ll be talking with in just a moment, Margaret Smith, Doctor Nicki Newton, and so many more.

Jon Orr: All that, and we did it free this year. We hope to top last year’s amazing lineup of speakers by bringing back as many of our presenters from last year as well as adding some new awesomeness to the cast.

Kyle Pearce: Take a moment, get yourself registered, and you’ll get details sent right to your email as they become available. Register now for that wait list at MakeMathMoments.com/Summit.

Jon Orr: That’s MakeMathMoments.com/Summit.

Kyle Pearce: All right, enough from us. Let’s get onto this fantastic conversation with Robert.

Jon Orr: Hey there, Robert. Welcome to another episode of the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast. We are so excited to have you on the show today. How have you been doing, especially in this COVID-19 era and the time that we’re recording this?

Robert Q. Berry…: I’m doing well. You know my family’s well. I would say that all three of my boys are home, my wife and I were empty nesters. Now, we’re no longer empty nesters.

Jon Orr: It’s busy now.

Robert Q. Berry…: It is busy now, but my boys are older so it’s going well.

Kyle Pearce: That’s fantastic. Well, we’re really excited to have you on the show today as Jon mentioned. Actually, you are coming off of the end of your term as NCTM president. A lot of different changes going on in the world of Robert. Not only passing the torch at NCTM, but then also having this everyone staying around home, but family’s home. Lots of changes there, I’m sure. I’m sure we’ll dive into that a little more. Before we do, can you tell us a little more about yourself? Jon and I know you very well. I’m sure many people who are listening also know of Robert Q Berry, but for those who don’t, can you tell us a bit about yourself and maybe start unpacking a bit of your math teaching story or journey?

Robert Q. Berry…: I was one of those kids growing up in school … I’m the oldest of five children. In school, I would say I probably was, the best way I can describe it is the forgotten kid. I didn’t get in trouble, I didn’t cause any trouble, I made decent grades, but I was easily forgotten so to speak.

Kyle Pearce: Nothing too bad happening, nothing too amazing happening, so they were like we can focus our attention elsewhere.

Jon Orr: Robert’s going to be all right.

Robert Q. Berry…: I guess that’s how I would sum up my K12 experience in terms of that. I come from a family of, I describe it as teachers and preachers. I have several uncles who are pastors of churches, I have aunts and uncles who have been classroom teachers. My pathway to education wasn’t that I sought out to become a teacher. In fact as an undergraduate, I started off in civil engineering. It was one of those things as I got further into the major, I realized like many undergrads, maybe this is not the thing for me. I ended up going to a counselor and said, “These are the courses I have, what can I do?” Really, not having any direction.

Kyle Pearce: Help me out here, yes.

Robert Q. Berry…: Yes, what can I do? I ended up finishing a degree in middle school mathematics and science. I actually became a certified math and science teacher, physical science teacher. When I student taught, I absolutely loved it. I student taught fourth grade at a school in Newport News, Virginia, and absolutely fell in love with these fourth graders. Had a phenomenal experience. I had two student teaching experience. One in the elementary grades, fourth grade, and one was at a middle school. It was actually at the middle school that I attended. My student teaching experience was solidified that this is the thing for me to do. Although, I’ve had educators in my family who’ve had impact on my life and I had teachers who had impact on my life, it was just one of those things, do teachers make a lot of money?

Jon Orr: I’m glad you said that. I was just about to ask, Robert. What do you think was it about that experience that solidified you into this? I’ve shared this on the podcast before that I completely agree that the lifestyle of a teacher, the ability for the job to tell you in your brain that you can provide for your family is and was for me a decision making factor to help me decide to go into that field. I knew that if I did this, I could provide for my family for a long time. I was worried about that. It can be and is a decision making factor about the money. What do you think solidified it about this student teacher?

Robert Q. Berry…: For me, both of my cooperating teachers were great people. When I student taught fourth grade, the teacher was excellent as well as the students. It was one of the first times I think I thought I was really good at something so to speak. I played sports when I was younger, things of that nature, I thought I was good at that, but for me this was something I thought I was really good at, the way that students and I connected. Then at the time, my cooperating teacher just reinforced that. Really, just offered my positive reinforcement. “You’re really good and you’re not going to have trouble getting a job.” I mean, she said all those kinds of things, but she really took care. At a middle school when I student taught, the same thing happened again. My first experience with elementary, my second experience was middle school. Again, same thing. I was reinforced, telling me how good I was at.

Robert Q. Berry…: What happened in my middle school experience, my cooperating teacher probably about two weeks in had a medical emergency and I took over the class. I am here a student who had class myself. I felt confident I could do it and I did it. It just made it pretty solid for me.

Jon Orr: I’m picturing all this and I know that teaching that first class can be quite powerful. I’m not the teacher in charge and I’ve got the class at my hands. I’m wondering what that looks like for an early Robert. Not the Robert that we have right now, the Robert that’s the president of NCTM and written all these books, but what did the first couple years of teaching look like for you? Were they awesome? Were you the teacher you are now? What did it look like?

Robert Q. Berry…: I wish I could get a do over for my first couple years. I know many people say that, but my first year teaching, I taught in a rural area of Virginia. I struggled a lot. I was in a middle school, but the thing that I love, I was part of a team that was pretty supportive. I would say my experiences throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to have people who were really open, really supportive, and who were great teammates and team members. I struggled, I struggled particularly with organizational issues. I say that because-

Kyle Pearce: You’re not alone.

Jon Orr: I still do.

Robert Q. Berry…: I love doing the work, but I didn’t like grading. Timeliness, summative feedback, and things of that sort, so I struggled organizationally. Over time, I got better with that in terms of managing my time. I also struggled somewhat with classroom management on some levels, but I think I got a quick handle on that pretty quickly. Probably, moving to my second year of teaching. My first year teaching, I taught in Central Virginia. Then, I left that school district and went to a different school district closer to my home town. The reason why I’m bringing this up is that the year I was hired, I was hired in a school where the principle purposefully hired African American men in that school. At that time given the context, it was unusual to hire that number of black men for school. What that did for us collectively, we were all first or second year teachers and we bonded. To this day, we’re all still close friends. The kind of bond that we developed in terms of supporting one another, calling out one another, and observing each others’ classrooms, we shared students, we moved students around. It was just that collective professionalism, collectivism that we had that maintained itself over years and years of experiences. Yes, I’m thankful for I was able to be put through that situation and where I was hired with a group of like minded people who supported one another.

Kyle Pearce: Something that’s jumped into my mind as you were sharing because earlier on you were discussing how you had some really supportive, here in Ontario we call them our associates. You referenced how they were really supportive and that likely impacted your decision almost like … maybe ignited your awareness that maybe I am going to be pretty good at this thing. I think back to my experience. I don’t know, Jon, if you can relate as well. I felt like I had really strong associate teachers as well and they were very supportive. They gave me a lot of really positive feedback. Yet, Robert, and I know Jon and I have both said, Robert said it and Jon and I have said that we wish we could do some do overs from those early years. It makes me wonder about the associate … teachers looking, and is it what they perceive to be effective instruction? Could they see maybe further into the future that they’re like, you’re not there yet, but I don’t want to tell you that because I don’t want to get you down, but I can tell that over time you’re going to be able to figure this thing out.

Kyle Pearce: To me, that’s something that is really interesting because I’m sure that interaction and the feedback they’re giving you, there’s a lot of descriptive feedback in the moment, then after you teach a lesson, that could really impact your own perception of whether this is going to be something you can do or not, and whether you’re going to be able to get into this field, get a job, and then obviously start to hone in on your craft.

Robert Q. Berry…: I mean, to respond to that for me, I think one of the things that supported that was I was willing to take risks sometimes that others weren’t willing to take. An example of that, you got to imagine I’m talking early to mid 90s. When you say bringing technology, you got imagine those old Apple IIes. I was willing to not knowing what to do, but try to figure out, get kids in the computer lab and just play around with different things, software, calculators, manipulatives, and tools. I mean, those things weren’t pretty prevalent at the time. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how to use those things, but in some way I thought they could help. I later figured it out, but this is where I think the do over came. I was taking risk with kids on things I didn’t have a full complete understanding about, but I knew they could help. I just didn’t know how they could help students in their learning and in their understanding, as I learned more and got better, I realized my mistakes back then. I think where my associate teachers saw some potential in me is that this guy’s going to try some things that might work, might not work, and he don’t seem to care.

Jon Orr: He’s a risk taker.

Kyle Pearce: Risk taker, innovator, right.

Jon Orr: It’s a huge indicator for sure. When you think back, Kyle and Robert, some of our past guests are big influencers like yourself. This is super common that when we talk to these teachers and educators, that common thread of risk taking comes out. Some of the biggest impact teachers are having on kids is because they’re taking risks. I know that I took a lot of risks early in my career to do a similar approach that you did, Robert, get technologies in the classroom. Kyle did the same thing. That risk taking gets also … the word I’m looking for is … I’m blanking on that word, but you really crave it, but you crave that risk taking because you can learn a lot from that risk taking. I think that goes a long way.

Kyle Pearce: It indicates that you’re a learner, right? You have to be a lifelong learner if you are acting innovative, if you’re trying new things, if you’re willing to take those risks, those are really closely aligned with this idea of lifelong learning. I think as educators, it’s so easy for us to get into this particular field, and in particular in math, and do things the way they’ve always been done. Even though we know there were kids sitting around as kids when we were in school that were not having the same experience that we had. That right there is a scary piece. I’m wondering while we’re talking back about how that impacts students, I wonder if you were to go all the way back to your own experience as a student, as a math student, and when somebody says math class … I know now because we’re math educators that we think of all kinds of things when we talk about math, but if you were to think back to your experience as a kid at 12, math student, it could be early on, maybe it’s later on, what memory pops out from that experience when somebody asks, Robert, about math class?

Robert Q. Berry…: I would say this. One of the things for me early on is … I hate to say this because it contradicts my philosophical thinking about learning, but I’m going to say it anyway. During that time when I was in third and fourth grade on the old time tests, we had to do a mad minute I think it was called where you have to do so many problems and I remember I was always one of the first ones to get done. I can remember you got so many stars, you got a free ice cream from the cafeteria. I was always one of those kids who got that. I benefited from that early on, which then I think … I’m going to say it this way, gave the perception that I was really good. I don’t know if I was really good more than I was really compliant, but it created other opportunities for me.

Robert Q. Berry…: I say that because I can remember in fifth and sixth grade, I was able to … I don’t know what it was exactly called, but I remember in fifth grade, there were these pieces that were sitting around in the classroom, it was a special class, and I created a fan. A personal fan that I could sit on my desk. I was able to create that in the classroom and I can’t recall if it was a battery and bulbs type of thing, but I created a personal fan that I had on my desk that was blowing at me. I created this in the classroom, and I can remember my classmates, my teacher thinking I’m so smart. For me, I was like, “I don’t know how I did it. I just try stuff, put stuff together, and lo and behold this happened.” If you take it apart, I don’t know if I could put it back together again.

Jon Orr: It sounds like, Robert, even back then you were the risk taker.

Kyle Pearce: Wouldn’t risk taking the fan apart though. That would be the way I would go too. I’m like, no. We’re keeping this together.

Robert Q. Berry…: Lo and behold, it happened, yes. I remember that experience, and the praise and pats on the back I got for that. I can remember my sixth grade teacher, her name was Mrs Cherry. I say that because my last name is Berry and I had Mrs Cherry as a teacher. She saying to me, “You’re going to be an engineer.” That had a profound impact on me thinking I’m going to be an engineer. I took that all the way through undergrad saying I’m going to be an engineer until I decided I was going to become a teacher.

Jon Orr: It’s interesting how those powerful praises and even I know that you preface this story with that goes against some of the beliefs you have now and this is actually very similar story to my memory that I’ve shared here before that I used to get stickers for taking math and doing math on my own, going above and beyond. Those stickers really-

Kyle Pearce: Now, you should feel ripped off, Jon. He was getting ice cream. You only got stickers.

Jon Orr: I know, I had to go to that school. It’s sometimes those things give us that courage to go forward and become those risk takers. I really identify with your story too. On this idea of risk taking and innovation that you’ve now clearly demonstrated, I think this goes a long way and you’ve clearly done this in your career. This moves us into talking about the book series that you guys at NCTM have been putting together, Catalyzing Change. We’d really like to move the conversation into talking about that, the middle school mathematics, the early childhood educator, or elementary program of mathematics, Catalyzing Change series. Before we get into talking about where this idea comes from and why you felt this was a necessary book to put out there, would you give our listeners who have not heard of this a little bit of a background on, what is this book series about? Almost like a little elevator pitch.

Robert Q. Berry…: Yes. Catalyzing Change is actually a three book series. The first book in the series Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics, Initiating Critical Conversations came out in April of 2018, the sole purpose … I wouldn’t say sole purpose, but the purpose of the series is to get teachers, educators, administrators, parents to have critical conversations on issues that impact the experiences of students in K12. In April of this year, Catalyzing Change in Early Childhood Elementary Mathematics and Catalyzing Change in Middle School Mathematics came forward as well. They were published this year. There were four big recommendations. The first recommendation was this idea to broaden the purpose of mathematics, of learning mathematics. In the high school book, I think there were three of them. One was to understand and critique the world, experience the joy, wonder, and beauty of mathematics, and expanding professional opportunities. You can imagine expanding professional opportunities may not be an appropriate conversation to have in early childhood elementary, but experience joy, wonder, and beauty would be an appropriate conversation. In early childhood elementary, it has that experience joy, wonder, and beauty. It also has this idea using mathematics to understand and critique the world. The same with middle school. [inaudible 00:23:32] what is the purpose of learning mathematics?

Robert Q. Berry…: The second recommendation’s about equitable structures. In high school, much of the conversation’s around tracking. We know that tracking perhaps, well in many places begin in elementary school. In some places, it may even begin in sooner settings than that. This discussion about structures around tracking, around ability grouping, around marginalizing students, and sorting students for whatever reason, having conversations around that and what it might mean. I know in the early childhood elementary book, there’s this discussion around, what is the purpose of this idea of assessments that happens when students enter pre-K classrooms? What are they being used for? Partly, it’s not to have a position positionality to say not to do these things. The idea is let’s have conversations on why you’re doing those things. If you’re doing those things to lessen opportunities for students, have a conversation about those things.

Robert Q. Berry…: The fourth recommendation’s about equitable teaching practices. These are overlapping with the eight effective teaching practices for NCTM in their principles to action, but particularly it focuses on the idea of mathematical identity and mathematical agency as a part of teaching and learning mathematics. We want all students to see themselves as doers of mathematics and that has a message across pre-K 12 and this idea of agencies of if I see myself as a doer of mathematics, then I will engage in behaviors that doers of mathematics engage. For the teacher, how do I create those structures in my classroom so that students can engage in those kinds of things? What kinds of tasks am I giving my students so that students can see themselves a doers of mathematics? What kinds of tasks am I giving students so the students can have a sense of agency? The fourth recommendation’s around mathematical understanding, which is around maybe content, central concepts and central content, the processes, and the practices. I know you said elevator speech, but that is a little bit more than elevator, but there.

Kyle Pearce: I think that beautifully describes the work and I love how linking it back to the equitable teaching practices and the eight practices from the Principles to Action book, which has really guided a lot of the work in my district over these past couple of years. We’ve been on a long journey, and right now we are just diving into those eight practices. I find that when you do those eight practices or when you at least have that awareness and you’re trying to work towards bringing those out in your classroom, of course trying to focus on all eight at the same time might be overwhelming for some, so picking one or two that they really want to dive deep in on. What I find is it almost naturally links to some of these other ideas that you’re bringing up. This idea of joy, the wonder, the beauty. Using math to critique the world. Then, something I find really interesting about that is that the last of the recommendations you bring up is this idea of math understanding where the content comes to life. I think right there we should all be pausing and thinking about that for a second.

Kyle Pearce: Jon and I bring it up all the time when we ask teachers in our workshops, we say, what do you want students to remember about your math class five years from now? Teachers hardly ever … I would almost say never have brought up something like quadratic formula or Pythagorean Theorem. They always bring up all of these other ideas that math is exciting, that it’s beautiful, that it can help you to look at the world through different perspectives. All of these things come out.

Jon Orr: Problem solving.

Kyle Pearce: Yes, but yet we hyper focus in on the content. Of course, we could talk about some of the reasons why that may or may not be, but I find this is really interesting and you brought out the high school version or the high school edition of this series first and I’m wondering, would that have been where you wanted to start intentionally because of some of these issues we have in secondary? It seems like in high school, this idea of equitable structures to me seems to be really something that we need to be focusing much more of our attention on. I’m wondering if you could speak to that a little bit more.

Robert Q. Berry…: Yes. The high school book, I have to acknowledge and give honor to Matt Larson who was the NCTM president before me because he really got the Catalyzing Change for high school off the ground. It was those things that were coming out. You can imagine the discussions around some of the big ideas that are happening in high school mathematics, some of the things that contribute to why students have differential and experiences in high school mathematics. Matt really elevate the conversation around those things. I just benefited from that because I picked up on that conversation and we aligned quite nicely in this idea. When you think about kids’ experiences and you think about wonder, joy, beauty in high school, particularly in math, do kids leave high school mathematics with that sense? If not, why not? Let’s have those kinds of conversations about that.

Robert Q. Berry…: Then, what happened as we begin to have these conversations with the Catalyzing Change in high school, I’ll be honest there was not a plan initially to do a middle school and an early childhood elementary book. That was not a part of the plan. As I began to give talks in different places, it became quite apparent that people were saying tracking doesn’t just start in high school, it’s starts in these other places. When are you guys going to have the conversation about that? All of these other issues how what happens in early childhood impacts the trajectory across K12 as it relates to the kinds of practices that happens in classrooms. When we think about those eight effective teaching practices, they’re not mutually exclusive. You think about discourse and how discourse has an impact on those who get the speaking math classrooms are often positioned as competent. How do we broaden the space of discourse so all students can have a sense of competence, therefor have a positive impact on their identity?

Robert Q. Berry…: It helps us think about some of the practices that happen in the classroom. If you’re only using hand raising as an acknowledgement for someone to contribute to the discourse in mathematic classroom, why? Are there other ways that we can engage students? How do we broaden the space of discourse so all students can enter into this space of discourse? Just raising awareness, having conversation, and then last thing is then, how do we then move to actions? At the end of each of the three books in the series, the last chapter does focus on actions. These actions are partitioned by folks. There are actions for administrators, there are actions for paraprofessionals, there are actions for teachers, there are actions for parents, policymakers. These actionable things that are related to the recommendations are there as well.

Jon Orr: Right. This brings up a lot of good things. Talking about actions specifically if I’m going to play the role of a teacher sitting back listening to this podcast right now, they’re thinking this sounds like a fabulous book to get my hands on, before I go grab it, what specific actions as a teacher might help me in the realm of the equitable teaching practices on identity and agency? What specifically, is it a lesson that you could go over or a couple tips that you could give the teachers to say this is the issue we’re trying to address. Here’s how you can do it in your classrooms, so that a teacher listening right now can go I can put this into action right now. Then, I can go grab the book and learn more.

Robert Q. Berry…: I mean, there are a couple of things that come to my mind. When I think about teachers broadly, in what ways in our practices do we connect the mathematics to students’ interest, the experiences, the kind of resources they bring with them to our classroom whether it’s linguistic, cultural, community resources? How do we connect what we’re doing in our math classrooms to connect to those things? When I think about young kids, what role does play have in my mathematic classroom? Play, you think about young kids, they come to schools with a sense of curiosity. That sense of curiosity, how do we take advantage of that in our classroom? How is that sense of curiosity connected to the joy, wonder, and beauty of mathematics? I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think they’re highly connected and I think we have to take advantage of those things. Think about young kids, they ask, why does this happen? What if I did this? How about if I did that? I mean, why not encourage that kind of sense of curiosity and build on that sense of curiosity in our teaching practice? I think that leads to discourse, when they ask those why and how type questions. How do we connect students to one another?

Robert Q. Berry…: That leads to practices in classrooms, what are we doing in our classroom that connects students to each other? Too often, discourse is this teacher to student or student to teacher thing, but how do we connect students to one another in the kinds of opportunities that we create in our classroom? I can imagine for me, it is connected to the kind of tasks we do, it is connected to discourse, it is connected to posing purposeful questions, all of those things and we can be explicit in the way we do that, but I think if we think of high level, I do think of when we think about children, I think of children as resources. I need to know my children well enough in my classroom whether they’re early childhood or high school students. Now, I would say young students or my students in high school, I need to know them well enough to know, what kinds of resources are they bringing to my classroom so I connect those resources to my mathematics teaching? If I don’t know them well enough to do that, I need to figure out how to do that.

Kyle Pearce: Robert, I think that’s such a great place to start because as I go and I reflect on the four recommendations and some of the pieces that you broke down for us earlier in the episode, I look at it and I think starting with curiosity because we are, humans are curious. Jon and I talk about this all the time. Our three part framework, we’re always talking about how sparking curiosity is something that we like starting with because if we can’t spark that curiosity in students by figuring out, how can I get someone to lean in on this idea, it’s really difficult to address some of those other pieces. For example, to actually help students to understand how to use math to critique the world around them and to start thinking about broadening the purpose of mathematics, I think we have to start with what we’re naturally curious about. Really, build from there.

Kyle Pearce: I feel like that’s a great place for all educators to think about because if I am hyper focused on math understanding and content in particular, then maybe what I have to do is go, okay. If that’s where I want to get to, now how do I get to the front of the line here and how do I figure out how to get a student to look my way when I want to introduce this idea? How do I ask more questions instead of giving more advice up front? How do we make this less about saying today’s lesson’s about adding fractions, I’m going to show you how, and really just presenting an interesting scenario for students to think about? I think that’s a great place for all educators to be thinking about. Even if we focused on one part of every single less on, how do we spark that curiosity, I think we’re going to start heading in the direction where we can start really putting some of those other pieces into place through Catalyzing Change as well. What do you think about that?

Robert Q. Berry…: When we spark curiosity, it’s amazing in my experience how kids ask those questions. They may work on a task and have a sense of curiosity, what if we try different numbers? Will it work all the time? I don’t know. Let’s see. I mean, that beats a worksheet every time. I don’t care who. It just does.

Kyle Pearce: I don’t know if my favorite phrase now in teaching. I would just give them the answer early on. Now, it’s like, I don’t know, or I say interesting. That’s the other go to. That’s interesting. I wonder. Go ahead.

Robert Q. Berry…: The curiosity and that sense of wonder meets itself in very interesting ways. Then, in my experience when students have a sense of curiosity, they share their curiousness with one another. Then, you can see kids rallying around each other. Well, you didn’t try this. Well, let’s try it. What if you did this? What if we turn it around like this? There’s a lot of things that happen I think that we have to consider and think about.

Jon Orr: It’s clear now for sure the way you just spoke about that why high school made so much sense to bring this book out first. Just thinking all the high school teachers, they’re all reflecting now on how hard it is to spark curiosity with students. Whereas younger students are pretty … like you suggested, they come in with so much curiosity, they’re just soaking it all up. For some reason, that fades and we want to prevent that, but bringing it back into high school is one of obviously your missions and one of our missions, missions of many teachers from around our part and your part. I’m wondering, Robert. What’s next on your plate? I know that you’ve done so much lately. You were gracious enough, kind enough, and generous enough to put together a session in our virtual summit last November on changing the narrative, black kids do math. That was a well received session in our summit. I wanted to thank you for that. Listeners who are a part of our academy can still go and watch that session, so that’s there. I’m holding a book in my hands right now that’s called High School Mathematics Lessons to Explore, Understand, and Respond to Social Injustice. Looks like you and a whole bunch of other educators collaborated on that book. What else is in your well? What else do you have coming up and you’re working on?

Robert Q. Berry…: The work that we did around that book for high school and social injustice, I’m also working on another book that focuses on access, equity, and empowerment. In that book, we are trying to be intentional to link teaching practice because people often ask, what does equity actually look like as a practice so to speak? We’re working really hard trying to be as overt as possible. Too often, we might hear a thing come around culturally relevant and culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy, I think for many educators there’s a lot of buy in around a theoretical lens around those ideas. What does it actually look like as a math teaching practice? We’re working on that. That’s the next piece or project I’ve been working on, to be as overt about what it might look like and what it could look like. There are other people who have done this work. There’s many who have done probably will do it better than I, but I do think that we need some guidance in the field around, how are we overtly connecting teaching practices to this theoretical thinking around culturally relevant and culturally responsive?

Robert Q. Berry…: My hope is just to provide some framing. Then, hopefully we can catalyze some things around that. I don’t know why I used catalyzed, but [crosstalk 00:39:18]. Right now, there’s a book. We’re working on a book for that. That’s in my math ed wheelhouse so to speak. Quite honestly, I’ve been away from my university for two years. I haven’t taught a course in two years. Teaching is one of the things I take a lot of pride in. I want to teach again, so I look forward to teaching a course. In fact, what this time has allowed me to do is to not go back to doing the things I’ve done previously in my courses. I’ve learned a lot being NCTM president and traveling a lot. I want to be able to go back and have my students have the benefit of the kinds of experiences I’ve had. The kind of people I’ve met connected to, so my classroom would no longer be just my classroom. I want to open that space to as many people to be a part of the courses I teach when I come back. I will be teaching a math methods course at my university not this fall, but next spring. By next spring, it would be two and a half years since I last taught a course. I look forward to getting back to teaching.

Kyle Pearce: You said you have the itch. You were out for a little while and you just want to get back in there. I think that’s fantastic that you’re going to be able to bring in all of those experiences to come back when you’re traveling around, seeing different conferences, meeting different people, and having different perspectives, it’s something that’s so great to share, so I’m sure that the students who get to have the privilege of joining you in your class in the spring, I’m sure they’re going to love it. Before we wrap up here, Robert, we can’t thank you enough for taking the time. We know how busy you are. Hopefully, things are a little calmer now that you’ve been able to hang up the NCTM hat for a little while, but where can people find more about Robert and some of the other things you’ve done? We will include all the links that we’ve discussed today, but if people want to take a deeper dive, where can they find more about Robert?

Robert Q. Berry…: I’m still on the NCTM board of directors, so you’ll still be able to find me on NCTM’s websites. Also, you can find me on my faculty page at the University of Virginia, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can also find me on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter. I have ebbs and flows, some weeks I’m overly active and some weeks I’m not as active. I try to have a presence on Twitter as well. I would say Twitter, then my faculty page, and NCTM.

Kyle Pearce: Perfect. I think on Twitter, you are RobertQBerry, so that’s easy enough for people to find. We will make sure to link up all those links, so the board of directors page, your University of Virginia page, as well as your Twitter profile. We can’t thank you enough on behalf of the Math Moment Maker Community and the NCTM community for all of your hard work and your continued work on the board of directors, so we want to thank you again for the time and we hope that we’ll be able to bump into you again at a live conference sometime soon. Hopefully, once these conferences get going again.

Robert Q. Berry…: All right, well thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Jon Orr: Thank you, Robert.

Kyle Pearce: We want to thank Robert again for spending some time with us to share his ideas and insights with us and with you, the Math Moment Maker community.

Jon Orr: Before we go, the 2020 Make Math Moments Virtual Summit is happening on November 7th and 8th. Take a moment to get yourself registered and you’ll get the details sent right to your email as they become available. Register for this year’s summit at MakeMathMoments.com/Summit.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome, they will get it right to their email like Jon said at MakeMathMoments.com/Summit.

Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don’t miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast platform.

Kyle Pearce: Also, if you’re liking what you’re hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach a wider audience by pausing now and leaving us a review on Apple Podcast, tweeting us at MakeMathMoments on social media, or joining our Facebook group Math Moment Makers K through 12.

Jon Orr: Shout outs and links to resources from this episode can be found at MakeMathMoments.com/episode86. Again, that’s MakeMathMoments.com/episode86.

Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, Jon, I’m Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: I’m Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: High fives for you.

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  1. Episode #168: Highlighting The Missing Voices In Math Education - […] Episode 86: Catalyzing Change – An Interview with Robert Q. Berry […]

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