Submitting a Conference Proposal

April 25, 2017 at 8:59 pm 1 comment

Rejection stings. Really. It hurts more than simply avoiding issues altogether. Then again, each rejection is easier to take than the last one, so it stands to reason that the more you submit proposals, the easier it is to be rejected!

My first submission to a conference was to NCTM in 2004 and I got in. I had no business presenting at a national conference but I gamely set out to Philadelphia to share one of my favorite units for incorporating tangrams and geometry into an algebra unit. I woke up early on Saturday morning and did my first ever professional development in the 8 am slot at the secondary location. I know now that only dedicated intrepid souls attend that session and I am eternally grateful to those 40 or so souls who made my day that April morning.

But, yes, rejection followed. I have been rejected by PME-NA, AMTE, NCSM, and NCTM. But I have also been accepted by PME, NCTM, NCSM, but not AMTE (career goals!). And I have also realized that rejection is not a rejection of ME, but of THAT topic in THAT program, something I learned while on the 2017 NCSM program committee. Maybe the timing was wrong for my topic or my description wasn’t enough information. Maybe there was something that I didn’t yet understand.

Here is my advice for putting together proposals for NCSM, NCTM, or even for your state conference. These points may be different from those made by Robert and Dan here,  and 14 of their friends here, but if it gives you the boost in confidence you need to take the leap, make it so. (If you do get accepted, be sure to follow up with Dan’s presentation advice here.)

  1. Strands: Read the strands carefully. They are there because the program committee identified a need in the community and chose to highlight these areas of interest. The NCSM Program Strands and  NCTM Program Strands can be found here. There are clues to what is desirable to the program committee just jumping out at you!
  2.  Initiatives: Each organization has a focus area that is easy to find on their website. A quick review of NCTM’s top-sellers list shows what interests your audience.  NCSM has been driving an emphasis on leadership in equitable mathematics through monthly e-newsletter articles all year long. Check out the Call for a Collective Action that has also been driving most of the organizations in mathematics education for over a year now.
  3. History:  Look at last year’s program for clues. Scan for sessions that might relate to the current year’s strands that interest you. Are there proportionally more or fewer sessions? If one strand has significantly fewer sessions than the others, odds are good that fewer were submitted. That is an opportunity for you.
  4. Language: Refine your language. If your session talks about “carrying the one” in addition or if you talk about helping “low kids” and “high kids” in your session, you are sending a message that your content may not be current.  Most materials have re-conceptualized addition to include language about decomposing and recomposing numbers. A hard light on deficit thinking has started chipping away at sorting students and instead there is a focus on what all students can add to the classroom community. These are not just superficial changes in language, but rather important shifts in thinking. Be aware!
  5. Specificity: The easiest proposal to reject is the non-specific do-gooder. Here is an example: “Come to this session to learn more about discourse in the classroom as students engage in productive struggle while learning fractions.” Who is talking? Why is this a meaningful change? Does this presenter know something that I don’t already know? How is productive struggle encouraged? And for NCSM proposals there are additional questions: Are there quick strategies to adopt or would I have to reconfigure our whole curriculum?  Are these strategies that I can present to teachers? Is this scalable to the district level?  How is this different from the simlarly-named session I attended last year?
  6. Criteria: Each conference has a set of reviewers who will read your proposal, evaluate it, and score it. They will read dozens of proposals so make it easy for them to evaluate yours. Read the criteria/rubric for acceptance because it tells you what the organization values. The criteria/rubric for NCSM can be found here. (p.4) and here for NCTM.
  7. Practice: Write three versions of your proposal and share them with a trusted colleague. Refine, revise, and try it with another audience (eg. an administrator, a math supervisor, a colleague of another grade, in the #MTBoS, etc.). In the meantime, submit to local conferences and get really good at presenting!

In summary, try a submission this year. Try again next year. Lather. Rinse Repeat.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Reflecting on #MTBoS, NCTM, and NCSM

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. ems2006  |  April 26, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Good advice!


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