Education Technology

Behind the Scenes of “Room To Grow: A Math Podcast”

Posted 06/17/2022 by Joanie Funderburk, Strategic Alliance Director (@JoanieFun)

Have you heard of “Room to Grow: A Math Podcast”? For the last two years, I’ve had a standing call on my calendar with Curtis Brown, the Math Segment Manager at Texas Instruments. Our conversation on these calls is typically focused on the challenges that math teachers face, and what we thought or had learned about these challenges through our own careers, both prior to and since working together at TI. Although we don’t consider ourselves to be experts in teaching math, Curtis and I have learned a lot from our classroom days, our time supporting educators across the country with professional learning, and the work we do with educators who use or want to use TI technology. In our experience, a faculty or department meeting that focuses on a single strategy, instructional resource or trendy idea hardly ever results in a change in classroom practice, and oftentimes these weren’t at the time or of the format that we craved for our own personal learning. Curtis and I have often talked about how and when we learned to be better teachers, and we agree that the best professional learning we experienced was when we had the opportunity to share ideas, discuss and learn with other educators experiencing the same challenges we were. Thoughtful reflection is also key.

For me, the birth of this podcast has been a professional silver lining from a challenging two years. This was an opportunity that might not have been, without the restrictions of COVID-19, that left us searching for new ways to connect with teachers during this very challenging time. Being able to work with a friend and TI colleague, Curtis Brown, on this new endeavor, has been an ongoing learning experience, and one I’d like to share more about with you!

As podcast fans ourselves, we thought it would be interesting and fun to put our discussions out into the world in the form of a podcast, providing anytime, anywhere access to ideas, questions and considerations for growing as a math educator. We keep each episode to about 30-minutes long, knowing that educators’ time is precious and knowing that concise, succinct ideas are appreciated.

Why is it “Room To Grow”?
We chose the title “Room To Grow” because we appreciate the double meaning: We want the podcast to feel like a metaphorical “room” where other math educators could join us in this space to grow together, and the name reflects our shared personal belief that there is always room for us to get better at what we do. The name is a constant reminder that we all can always learn and that our students can benefit from their teachers’ learning.

Years ago, I served as a district-level math content specialist. One of my favorite things about this position was that I had the time to read, research and learn — time I never had while I was in the classroom. Each week, I could sift through professional journals to find the articles with the best advice for a challenging issue the teachers in my district were facing. I could bring the most valuable resources to the teachers I supported, saving them from the hours I spent digging through the mediocre or irrelevant ideas, and just deliver the golden nuggets. Curtis and I hope that “Room To Grow” serves that same purpose for teachers who don’t have enough hours in the day to find the support they most need.

In preparation for podcast episodes, we listen to educators in our personal and professional circles, on social media, and through the NCTM discussion boards to determine topics that math educators are dealing with. We then individually explore resources around the ideas, draw on our personal experiences with the idea, and share preliminary thoughts with one another on a planning call. We create a very loose structure by identifying a few key ideas and a couple of guiding questions that we use while we record. We are careful not to have too much of the conversation while we are planning, because we want our podcast episodes to be authentic discussions rather than scripted talking points. We think it’s more interesting that way, and we hope our listeners agree.

The hosts

Behind the Scenes of Room To Grow: A Math Podcast.

Whether you have been a longtime listener of “Room To Grow” or are just getting ready to listen for the first time, we hope you enjoy and are challenged by the ideas we discuss. Knowing a bit about what each of us are bringing to the conversation might add an additional layer of learning and enjoyability, so let me tell you a little bit about our backgrounds.

Curtis has a background as an engineer. He actually built a laser in college. How cool is that! However, Curtis was called to be an educator and sought a math teacher’s license through alternative certification. He taught high school math and, in particular, was charged with building the pipeline of Advanced Placement® (AP®) students at his school. This work influenced his thinking about teaching and learning math to this day. As you listen to the different discussion topics we’ve explored in the podcast, you’ll hear Curtis’ beliefs in students’ ownership of their knowledge and learning. As an AP® Statistics teacher, he saw that when he focused on presenting relevant topics with explicit connections to the world, and supported students in naming, developing and formalizing their mathematical thinking, that the learning stuck with students. They recognized what they knew as their own knowledge, rather than a repository of information to regurgitate on an exam, then forget afterwards. Curtis is and always has been a self-described “tech geek,” intrigued by inventive ways to use technology to explore and make sense of the world, and that comes out when we talk about teaching and learning math.

As for me, well, I was born to be a teacher. At ten years old, I was playing school with my siblings and neighbors, taking attendance, giving spelling tests and making math worksheets in the make-shift classroom in my parents’ garage. In college, I majored in mathematics and was hired as a math teacher right after graduation. I taught high school math for just under 20 years, served as a district math coordinator for six years, then spent five years at two different national nonprofit organizations supporting math instruction and high-quality curriculum all over the country before joining TI three years ago. I hope that in the podcast you’ll hear my passion for ensuring that all students are learning, for teacher collaboration time, and for instructional approaches that allow students, rather than teachers, to carry the cognitive lift of learning math. I like to challenge unproductive beliefs that are obstacles to student learning, and I personally believe that even small efforts toward positive change can have a big impact. One of my favorite sayings is, “It’s easier to act your way into a new belief than to believe your way into new actions.”

Our hopes for “Room To Grow”
All in all, Curtis and I are deeply passionate about all teachers providing effective math instruction so that all students can learn math at deep levels, and we hope that “Room To Grow” can be a part of teachers’ journeys. We imagine that some educators might listen during their commute, while walking their dog, or while prepping dinner and just take in the conversation. We hope that those who support math leaders (for example, instructional coaches, department chairs, building or district administrators, etc.) might listen together with teachers and follow up with some discussion or a deep dive into the resources we reference and recommend during an episode. We hope that parents, pre-service and early career teachers, and education support personnel might listen to gain a better understanding of what teachers and students face while teaching and learning math to gain empathy or learn ways to support. We value your feedback and would love to hear other ways our listeners are using the podcast or topics you’d like to hear us talk about. In the end, we hope to spur conversation, new thinking, self-reflection and an openness to change and grow. We hope you’ll join us on our journey for improvement. So, let’s get growing!

We invite you to share your feedback, comments and suggestions for future episode topics by emailing Be sure to connect with us on Twitter and Instagram @JoanieFun and @cbmathguy.

About the author: Joanie Funderburk taught high school math for 20 years and has supported math educators across the country since 2015 through her work at Student Achievement Partners and Illustrative Mathematics. Funderburk previously chaired NCTM’s Membership and Affiliate Relations Committee and is the immediate Past-President of the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Funderburk’s passion for professional learning for educators and equitable math learning for all students continues to drive her work at Texas Instruments, where she serves as the Strategic Alliance and State Policy Director. She lives in Parker, Colorado, with her husband and dog. Follow Funderburk on Twitter and Instagram @JoanieFun.

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