NCTM is Its Members

  • By Matt Larson, NCTM President

    Matt-Diane-2016AM-revisedWhen I was asked and agreed to be on the ballot to run for president, I knew that if elected, I would make membership one of my highest priorities. Like most individual membership organizations today, NCTM has found it challenging to attract and retain members. Our gradual decline in membership has several causes—the booming information age that has now made specialized content widely available at no cost, a generational trend that finds individuals disinclined to join formally organized organizations, and a definition of community and sense of belonging that are evolving. While all of these are understandable, we are a professional organization that seeks to continue to be viable and address its mission, so we must give our members what they want and need, and we must make the value of membership worth the cost.

    Given these trends and challenges, it’s more important than ever that we identify membership needs. I urge you to let us hear from you, our members, about what you want and expect from NCTM. If you have been a member in the past, but you didn’t renew your membership, why not? If you don’t see the value of being an NCTM member, what can we offer or produce that would be valuable enough for you to want to become a member?

    One comment we’ve heard about our journals is that they don’t include enough information about recent developments and provide little that reflects the news. We want to address this issue while balancing it against the considerations surrounding peer review and supporting the quality that have always been hallmarks of the journals. On another front, we’ve also recently begun to put in place ways to extend the experience of our attendees at NCTM annual and regional conferences so that they can continue to engage with what they saw and heard after the meetings have come to a close.

    As I look forward to hearing from you, I’m pleased to be able to report to you that some groundwork has already been laid to answer these questions and better fulfill your needs. I want to be sure that you know of one recent development that holds great potential for NCTM. Last year’s merger of the Math Forum with NCTM offers us opportunities expand our offerings but also to reach a population that may not be as familiar with NCTM’s rich history and what it has done and continues to do for mathematics education. Bringing current Math Forum members into the NCTM fold not only potentially extends our reach and enriches our offerings but also brings us an already vibrant community whose members can engage with one another and with NCTM members under the bigger NCTM tent. We are working on ways and means of making the most of this new, larger membership. One thing we hope this union will bring us is a stronger sense of community and ways to expand existing communities and create new ones that will share thoughts and ideas with NCTM and one another.

    Also last year, an outside independent assessment of NCTM membership was conducted, and findings and recommendations were presented to the Board and staff. Since then, we’ve formed a standing Membership Committee to oversee the development of programs and activities to address those recommendations. One of the most compelling ideas is to establish a core brand and overall member experience that reminds teachers of why they teach mathematics and communicates the passion and commitment that teachers feel for their profession and their students. Another recommendation is to reduce barriers to engaging with NCTM—whether the obstacle is the cost of membership, a complicated membership renewal process, or limited opportunities for direct contact with NCTM programs and services. And finally, a possibility that we are looking into is how we could strengthen and deepen the relationship of NCTM with its more than 230 Affiliates.

    One of the ways of engaging directly with NCTM is through volunteering. Volunteer opportunities abound at NCTM and range from reviewing journal articles to helping at an annual conference to serving on an NCTM committee or working group. This service not only benefits NCTM but also engages individuals with peers, builds new professional networks that expand and may eventually be a route to leadership positions and opportunities. One of the president’s most important responsibilities is annually appointing members to NCTM standing committees, and these are the lifeblood of the organization’s work. If you’re interested in becoming more engaged with NCTM, please let me know.

    I look forward to my two years, to meeting many of you at conferences or in other contexts, and hearing from you through social media (@mlarson_math) or other means. You have my word that during my term I will do all I can to increase the value of NCTM membership—both to strengthen the affinity of our current members with NCTM and to attract new members. 

    With this President’s Message we’re introducing one new way of increasing member engagement by allowing NCTM members to post comments on the President’s Message page on the website.  I am committed to monitoring and replying to the comments posted on that page.  I also welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions at president@nctm.org.

    Being NCTM president is a great honor, but it’s also humbling. I see my time as a small slice in the long continuum of influential leaders of the world’s largest organization dedicated to the teaching and learning of mathematics. I view this opportunity with humility but also a sense of excitement and possibility. 

    Finally, as I succeed Diane Briars, I want to express my appreciation for her exceptional leadership over the last two years. We have been extremely fortunate to have had Diane as NCTM President. Diane has been a vocal, highly visible champion of NCTM’s Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, and she has advanced NCTM’s strategic priorities on several fronts. She has been an influential, persuasive voice of the organization to many audiences, and we all owe her our gratitude.


    Archived Comments:

    Robert Kaplinsky - 5/17/2016 4:18 PM
    Thanks for making this a public conversation, Matt. I appreciate that NCTM is trying to mold itself to its members and not vice-versa with hopes of being a more inclusive organization. The two sites meetings.nctm.org and www.nctm.org/Get-Involved pages are great starts. I have lots of ideas for improvement so I'll send some thoughts your way.



    Cathy Lynn Seeley - 5/17/2016 9:19 PM
    Great start, Matt. It sounds like your priorities, and the actions of the Board, are moving in the right direction. Thanks for being another positive force for change. Like you, I applaud Diane's contributions and appreciate her service. Let's do even more than keep the momentum going, let's charge onward and really tap the potential of this powerful organization and its membership!



    Monique Lynch - 5/17/2016 9:56 PM
    I agree with Cathy - great start! I am really looking forward to seeing what occurs during your presidency. I joined as a student teacher when the original NCTM standards were published and always felt that NCTM was the "mother ship" sending me guidance when I felt like an alien in my school. NCTM certainly has an impressive history, and it will be exciting to see what's next. Lead on, Matt!



    Lisa Henry - 5/18/2016 9:19 AM
    This is a wonderful way to begin, Matt. I agree with many of the comments above mine, so I will try not to repeat. :-) Like Monique, I also joined as a student teacher as well and at times, it has been difficult to continue to maintain my membership. I look forward to being part of the conversation about how NCTM can help to build the community of mathematics educators. I look forward to good, productive conversations and a stronger NCTM. Thanks to Diane for her leadership and service and best wishes to Matt as you begin your term.



    Tammy Jones - 5/18/2016 12:29 PM
    This is a much needed and overlong conversation. Thank you for beginning it and opening it up to the membership! Having been introduced to NCTM as a student member at George Peabody College for Teachers 40 years ago, NCTM has been the one constant in my mathematics educational career. I have always looked first to NCTM for professional information, gold-standard resources, new ideas, and for a network of like-minded mathematics educators. “On the shoulders of giants…” continue to move us forward Matt!



    Robert Balwinski - 5/18/2016 2:39 PM
    Just an anecdote from a life member who taught HS Mathematics for 23 years and was a Mathematics Consultant for 8 additional years (in addition to 9 years at MI Department of Education): During my last year 2007-2008, I was a contracted Mathematics Consultant for a nearby ISD....Intermediate School District that serviced several local school districts in two counties. A year long series of mathematics teaching workshops were held once a month on Fridays. The teachers resented being out of the class and complained about how nobody was working on the classroom issues they presented but only on making them better mathematics teachers, so to speak. At one of the final meetings, a representative of some mathematics curriculum group asked the audience who belonged to the NCTM? Only my hand went up.......not even the hand of the other mathematics consultant I was working with. The representative then asked who belonged to the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Again, only my hand went up. Nobody there.........all HS mathematics teachers.......belonged to any professional organization and, again, most were resentful of this professional development opportunity. I quit this contacted position soon after and told the ISD Superintendent that my salary could best be used elsewhere. That is how my 40 years in education, 31 in the field of mathematics and the teaching of mathematics came to an end.



    Matthew Larson - 5/18/2016 5:11 PM
    Cathy, Monique, Tammy, and Robert K: Thanks for your thoughts and for taking the time to comment and be part of the conversation. Indeed, many monumental and noteworthy events in mathematics education have occurred over the years, and NCTM has certainly been a part of many of these events. But there is much that needs to be done and there’s considerable opportunity to build that sense of member value and community as we collaboratively work on these issues. I’m thankful for your continued support and I most certainly welcome your thoughts and feedback along my journey as NCTM President!



    Matthew Larson - 5/18/2016 5:15 PM
    Robert B.: First off, thank you for 30 plus years improving the lives of students in mathematics education and your continued dedication to NCTM. Your story and experience while consulting is unfortunate. With the ever increasing demands of being a math teacher, lack of time is a factor. But we can view that as an opportunity! Did you watch Andrew Stadel’s inspiring Ignite! talk from the NCTM Annual Meeting in San Francisco (http://ow.ly/3OkL300lfWd)? We need to encourage teachers to find ways for time constraints to improve their art of teaching! I look forward to working together with the math education community to find ways for members like yourself, with a unique and invaluable perspective, to serve as a mentor to others. Thank you again for your thoughts and I look forward to creating that need — and more importantly, that desire — for members to be a part of NCTM and the math ed community.



    Sharon Stearns - 5/18/2016 6:07 PM
    One group that I suspect is not well represented is the elementary educators. I join NCTM about 15 years ago right out of college, but I only keep my membership for a couple of years because I did not find enough relevance for my population that I was teaching. After hearing Diane Briars speak at a conference a year ago, I joined again last summer and have been delighted with the middle school publication. I have successfully referenced several of your resources and articles for professional development in my district and have encourages teachers, especially grades k-6 to check out all the things you have to offer. Also, the national convention seems very impressive, but have you ever had any thoughts about smaller regional conferences where more people would be able to attend? If the goal is to support educators, would it make more sense to go to them and have smaller events?



    Matthew Larson - 5/19/2016 4:05 PM
    Sharon: Yes, we have regional conferences that are about one-fourth the size of the Annual Meeting. This year's fall Regionals are in Phoenix (October 26-28) and Philadelphia (October 31-November 2). In addition, this fall we launch a new conference concept with Innov8 in St. Louis (November 16-18), which will focus on single topic: supporting students who struggle with mathematics. Thanks so much for utilizing our resources in PD and encouraging other teachers as well.



    Matt Bigger - 5/24/2016 1:49 PM
    Thanks Matt for being intentional and reaching out. I originally joined NCTM while in training at Vanderbilt. Once I reached the classroom, I rarely had time to read Mathematics Teacher anymore and I wasn't able to go to the conferences as they were far away and I didn't expect my school to pay for the expense of conference fees and travel, and didn't feel like I could afford it personally and didn't want to miss school days. After my first year teaching, it didn't seem worth it to be a member anymore. I recently rejoined, as I have now moved into a coaching-like role. I have more time now and enjoy looking through the journals for ideas on content. A couple tensions I have still felt with my membership: 1. I knew about Illuminations as a resource for activities/lessons/projects, but was really surprised when I took the McKinley Advisors survey to see a list of 10 or so sources for classroom activities, all of which were unknown to me other than Illuminations. I don't understand why these resources would be in separate places, or why there isn't a more capable search function that would allow me to browse through these resources by Common Core standards, grade level, Math Practice Standards, etc. 2. I work mostly in low income schools, and often feel this tension where the ideas I get from NCTM or teachers' blogging don't seem appropriate for the students that attend my schools. For example, I tried to find articles recently about strategies for teaching high level math content to ELLs while supporting their language needs. There seem to have been a few within TCM and MTMS, but I only subscribed to MT, where I was only able to find one (from the most current issue). Additionally, it just seems to me like the audience for many of the resources I find through NCTM is more targeted towards an idealized, suburban world.



    Matt Bigger - 5/24/2016 1:49 PM
    Thanks Matt for being intentional and reaching out. I originally joined NCTM while in training at Vanderbilt. Once I reached the classroom, I rarely had time to read Mathematics Teacher anymore and I wasn't able to go to the conferences as they were far away and I didn't expect my school to pay for the expense of conference fees and travel, and didn't feel like I could afford it personally and didn't want to miss school days. After my first year teaching, it didn't seem worth it to be a member anymore. I recently rejoined, as I have now moved into a coaching-like role. I have more time now and enjoy looking through the journals for ideas on content. A couple tensions I have still felt with my membership: 1. I knew about Illuminations as a resource for activities/lessons/projects, but was really surprised when I took the McKinley Advisors survey to see a list of 10 or so sources for classroom activities, all of which were unknown to me other than Illuminations. I don't understand why these resources would be in separate places, or why there isn't a more capable search function that would allow me to browse through these resources by Common Core standards, grade level, Math Practice Standards, etc. 2. I work mostly in low income schools, and often feel this tension where the ideas I get from NCTM or teachers' blogging don't seem appropriate for the students that attend my schools. For example, I tried to find articles recently about strategies for teaching high level math content to ELLs while supporting their language needs. There seem to have been a few within TCM and MTMS, but I only subscribed to MT, where I was only able to find one (from the most current issue). Additionally, it just seems to me like the audience for many of the resources I find through NCTM is more targeted towards an idealized, suburban world.



    Matthew Larson - 5/25/2016 10:09 AM

    Matt Bigger: Thank you for re-joining NCTM and congratulations on your coaching role! We are working on improving the friendliness of our website and that includes consolidating many of our resources under the Classroom Resources link on the homepage of nctm.org. In addition, we have recently published some e-books that do link a variety of our resources, as you suggested, to the Common Core standards. You can review these at:
    Discovering Lessons for the Common Core State Standards in Grades K-5 (PDF)
    Discovering Lessons for the Common Core State Standards in Grades 6-8 (PDF)
    Discovering-Lessons-for-the-Common-Core-State-Standards-in-Grades-9-12 (PDF)
    These documents are hyperlinked and will take you directly to our resources if your membership includes access to the particular journal. I also want to draw your attention to some recent publications and co-publications that address access and equity issues, including support for multilingual students:
    The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics for English Language Learners: Grades K-8
    The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics for English Language Learners: High School
    More Lessons Learned from Research, Volume 2
    The Impact of Identity in K-8 Mathematics: Rethinking Equity-Based Practices
    Math Is a Verb: Activities and Lessons from Cultures Around the World
    Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Conversations with Educators
    I hope you find some of these resources helpful to you in your new role. Matt L.



    Teresa Gonske - 5/27/2016 7:56 PM
    As someone who works with traditional aged college students to prepare them as math teachers, I appreciate the attention to new generational trends and ways to support and encourage the passion and commitment they have. My students appreciate NCTM for the easy online access to resources of quality they can trust and for the inspiring teaching & learning ideas they get from Illuminations and journal articles. Indeed these young future teachers get excited about finding the latest ways to interface using apps & interactive technology, but it is not only the newest material that has great impact on them. I've seen them get quite excited about content they find by going back into the journal archives to issues of Mathematics Teacher from over a decade before they were born. We study the principles and standards from PSSM in our curriculum & standards course, and during one class this past semester I was surprised to notice nearly all the students had a hard copy of the book with them. This struck me as quite odd because for years we've accessed online through student memberships and this cohort is especially digitally savvy, so I purposely asked about it. The students' response was that they really liked studying about the standards, were learning so much from the content examples, and they wanted to be able to mark it up, highlight, and keep it for a reference to use later and so they all bought the book version! Thanks NCTM for both new and old ways of helping teachers, also both new and old, catch the vision for what rigorous, engaging mathematics content should be and what effective teaching & learning should look like.

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