Homework Grids

What it is: A document we give to students at the beginning of every unit that details the homework assignments and dates for assessments through the end of the unit.

HW Grid Preview

How it came to be: At TMC a few years back I heard about Henri Piccioto’s lagging homework philosophy, and I really wanted to implement it into my classroom. I managed to sort of do it with my co-planner in IB Math SL a few years ago, but I didn’t love my implementation. So when I started teaching Algebra 2 I pushed my co-planners to adopt the system in a smarter way. I don’t remember if it was originally from Kat or Eric, but one of them came up with the idea of collecting all the homework assignments at the beginning of the unit into a grid so we wouldn’t have to be constantly going back and looking for assignments, especially when lagging work.

How it works: For each class, students will have a “New”, “Recent”, and “Lagging” homework assignment. The new content is on what we learned that day, the recent content is from the previous day, and the lagging is from 2+ days earlier. It also lists the lesson the homework came from and the due date.

After Kat and I sit down and map out each unit, we take turns making the grid. First you put in any holidays, tests, and quizzes, and then find homework for each lesson. For example, let’s say we have have a factoring lesson on Monday. For the “new” assignment on Monday we pick problems that are a little easier. No tricks, just sort of basic problems. The “Recent” assignment for Tuesday will be medium problems. Maybe a few tricks, or just numbers that aren’t as comfortable. Then the “Lagging” is where we can put some of the more involved problems.

This is all in addition to a full DeltaMath assignment that is due the night before the summative assessment for each unit.

HW Grid closeup

What’s great about it: By picking all of the homework assignments at the beginning of the unit, we don’t have to worry about picking homework every night. In the past I’ve found that’s one of the things I tend to forget, which results in kids just not having homework. It’s nice to check that off at the beginning and not worry about it. This is especially true with spiraling review, which would probably go by the wayside otherwise.

It’s also helpful for thinking through the whole unit again. We do a lot of thinking obviously when we create our curriculum map, but seeing the problems in the book helps me to get my head around the unit, and forces me to see how the book explains things and where I need to be explicit that we’re diverging from the book.

Some kids also really like having all the assignments, so they can sit down one weekend and just do all the work. It allows them to look at their whole week and say “Ok, I don’t have time on Thursday night, so let me do my work on Wednesday” or something. Granted they need a little bit of practice thinking about that (which we do a terrible job of giving them) but hypothetically it’s there.

And by posting all of the assessments at the beginning, it keeps us honest about the dates. The grid says there’s a quiz on Monday, so there’s a quiz on Monday. It sort of forces us to stay on a schedule. Sort of.

What’s not great about it: The downside to assigning all the problems before the unit starts is that if we don’t get to certain topics, or underestimated the difficulty of a problem, we don’t catch it until kids start asking questions. We always say “This unit we’re going to check each assignment the night before!” but then we never actually do. The nice thing is we use Edmodo, so we can always post “Just kidding, problem 6 is awful, don’t do it”.

The other issue is the book we were using for most of last year wasn’t really aligned to our curriculum, so finding problems was difficult, and the problems we did find were crap. We now have new textbooks that are aligned so hopefully that problem will go away, but it is something to be wary of depending on if you use a textbook.

It also is at least an hour’s worth of work. I don’t think it takes longer overall than finding assignments each day, but doing it all upfront does require a solid chunk of time, which can be a little mind-numbing.

General homework philosophy piece: The goal is for kids to have less than 30 minutes of homework a night. They have a ton of other assignments in other classes, so I don’t want any of my kids working for hours on math. I even tell them at the beginning of the year that if they’re honestly working and focusing on their assignment, and it looks like it’s going to take them significantly more than 30 minutes, that they should stop. And if that happens consistently, they should come talk to me (because either there’s a lot of things they’re struggling with, or we did a terrible job of assigning problems). We want the kids to spend a few minutes every night thinking about and practicing math.

I will admit this is something I struggle with every year. I think the extra practice is important, but then I also think that kids need time to be kids, and three hours of homework on top of a long commute and whatever the hell else they have going on isn’t actually doing any good. I try to compromise by just not making nightly homework worth very much. Overall homework is just 10% of their final grade, and for my class each nightly homework assignment is 2 points. And I don’t check if it’s correct, just if it’s complete. So realistically if they miss an assignment or two, it doesn’t matter. I think DeltaMath is better practice, so I weight those assignments at about 20 points.

Of course the fact that I don’t check for correctness, coupled with the fact that we seldom take time to ever talk about homework problems in class, I think encourages academic dishonesty with some students. And I am very upfront about that at the beginning of the year. I tell them that I know they could copy answers from a friend, or from the back of the book, but at the end of the year cheating to get credit on a 2-point assignment will just hurt them when they have a test that counts as 40% of their grade. All that said, I do think we need to find time to go over homework assignments in class, at least once a week.

life happens pass

I also give kids a “Life Happens” pass, an idea I got from Chris. Once a semester they can hand in their pass and it excuses their homework. Alternatively, they can put it on their desk as an “I don’t want to talk today” note (they still have to do the work, I just won’t call on them). I want to update it a little bit this year to make it easier to use, but here’s a screenshot.


Files:  Sample homework grid from our Rationals Unit

Life Happens pass

@Desmos Graphing Projects for #alg2chat

What it is: Two graphing projects using Desmos that allow students to be a little bit more creative in math class while also learning something. The first asks students to graph a few letters of their name. The second asks them to make a “Logo” for themselves. Both tasks were designed for our Algebra 2 Honors class. Once they had completed the Desmos graph they had to submit the link to a Google form that also had reflection questions they had to complete (For the record, I have more “Logo” screen-grabs below than names because I worry about student privacy).

desmos logo

How it came to be:  Last year I became a Desmos teaching fellow, and I really wanted to get more Desmos into our classroom. I had seen “Graph your Name” activities before and I really liked them. By making this a take-home project, we were able to do Desmos without worrying about managing computers in our classroom, and we gave kids a chance to be slightly artistic in a class where they previously haven’t had the option. I created all the documents for the first project and my co-worker Kat created the documents for the second one.

Alisa Name

When we use it:  We give the “Graph your name” project during our first unit on the “Tools of Algebra 2”. By that point we’ve reviewed Domain and Range. We presume linear functions are previous knowledge, and don’t require kids to use curve letters (but celebrate them if they do).

Jason Name

We give the “Graph your logo” project after we’ve finished with the functions part of the year (so right before we get into probability and statistics). The idea is kids will have a whole host of functions at that point which they can use to construct their logo. It’s sort of a capstone to all the function work we’ve done over the year.

What works well:  It gets kids much more comfortable with Desmos, for one thing. My constant refrain from the beginning of the year is that their graphing calculators are kind of like stupid cows: They can be really useful if you tell them exactly the right way to do things, but you shouldn’t trust them over yourself. I don’t have to give the same speech about Desmos, and I think they like that they can just play.

Anna Unicorn

Both activities also get kids more comfortable with domain and range restrictions. I only have anecdotal evidence, but conversations with students could now be rooted in “When you wanted your ‘M’ to be only so tall, what did you have to limit?” Kids still made mistakes with domain and range, but conversations went so much better.

In the reflection for the logo project, kids also mentioned how thinking of all the different functions (and looking through the roadmap) and how they could change them really helped them to review for the Regents exam. I also think it really drove home the idea of transformations for the kids. They can just keep using (h, k) form for all their functions and be good to go.

Grace umbrella

A lot of the feedback we got from the Google Form indicated that most kids really enjoyed the chance to be artistic and creative. Several of them struggled during the logo project because their logos were too complex, but they all seemed to get something out of it and enjoy the project.

We did a gallery walk on the weird day of school after the Regents exam, and kids seemed to enjoy looking at everyone’s work and showing off their own.

For grading I created a Google spreadsheet with some fancy formatting that made grading actually go really quickly. Then I created a mail-merge from that spreadsheet so we could give kids their scores quickly.

What we want to change:  For the “Graph your Name” function, it was too easy to get 100%. I can hear several of you saying “Well, if they did great work, what’s wrong with that?” There’s a whole conversation I could (should?) have about my philosophy towards grades, but for this particular project I felt such high scores indicated a poor rubric. As Rhonda Bondie phrased it in an ALL-ED workshop I went to last fall, we assigned more to completion than to thinking. For the “Graph your Logo” project we did a much better job with the rubric and being specific about what we wanted, but there are still places we could have been more specific (for example, what does “professional presentation” actually mean?). Also I just sat and talked through this whole thing with Sam and he basically pointed out “If they’re doing all the things you want them to do, who cares that they all get full marks?” I think I just needed a better way to differentiate kids that did the bare minimum that was asked and kids that went above.

Kelli logo

We also ran into some troubles with kids wanting to use functions that we didn’t study this year. Circles came up early on, but then they started to ask about Tangent functions and conics and one student even asked about polar coordinates. On the one hand it was really fantastic that they were so curious and looking up these other functions, but we worried that kids were using functions they didn’t fully understand. After fielding a bunch of questions we basically said “Any function you use that we didn’t explicitly study this year will be counted in a separate ‘Non-Algebra 2’ function category, even if they’re all different.” So basically if they used circles and a tangent function, we only gave them credit for one of the required six.

Geoffrey Pikachu

It’s also worth saying that academic integrity was a concern for me throughout the entire process. To counteract it we had students sketch their logo on a sheet of paper when we introduced the project, but that brought it’s own problems. Kids couldn’t think of a good logo to draw, so they wasted a lot of that time that was set-aside for them. Then they felt really self-conscious about being poor artists. Then they all realized their “Logo” could be any image they’d ever seen, so we got a flood of requests to change their design. But at that point it wasn’t always clear if their redesign was something they were going to do themselves, or something they found online. Plus I got real sloppy and inconsistent about how I would accept design change requests which gave me a headache when trying to grade. And it also feels really shitty when you see an amazing project and your first thought is “Did they copy this from somewhere?” One fix we will do for next year is to have them think through some things that represent them the night before we introduce the project, so they can come to class with a list of some things to try to draw. I also want to simplify the proposal form so that there’s only one graph, and my feedback can be a lot more specific about whether its approved or not. I think the reflection questions could also be changed slightly to get them to articulate their struggles a little bit better and give us an idea of what work they actually did. Is it offensive to say “Write something here that will convince me this is your own work.”? Honestly I don’t have good answers for this point. We just kind of accepted that the benefits were outweighed by the potential issues.


Files: I’m not really sure how to share Google forms, so I hope these links work.

“Graph your Name” assignment sheet

“Graph your Name” submission form

“Graph your Logo” assignment sheet

“Graph your Logo” draft submission form

“Graph your Logo” submission form

“Graph your Logo” grading spreadsheet

5 years down

Welp, I’ve now been teaching longer than I’ve done anything else in my life since elementary school. And every time I start this post I write like a paragraph and then just stare at it because I don’t even know what I want to say.

What I feel most acutely at this point in my career is the dichotomy between feeling really good at certain parts of my job, and feeling like I still have no idea what I’m doing.  Five years in and I can plan a lesson in half the time it took me my first year (or at least plan a much better lesson in the same amount of time). I know how to build relationships with most kids, and I know how to control most classrooms. This past year I’ve led workshops at Math for America and continued to do the morning session at Twitter Math Camp. I’m a Desmos certified presenter. I’ve been a grade team leader and I’m the new UFT chapter leader. I have Experience and Knowledge and maybe even some Authority on a few things.

*Insert clever “WTF?!” meme here that I couldn’t find in a cursory interwebs search*

It’s so weird when someone tweets “Oh, you should talk to @stoodle! He knows about that!” I’m not going to pretend that on some level it doesn’t feel good. It feels like my hard work has paid off. I’m incredibly insecure, and this feels validating. But then I also think about what my classroom is actually like on the day-to-day and it all feels…misplaced. I’m trying to avoid a full-on “imposter syndrome” post, because other people have done it better, but I am here to say it is real, and it is so stressful at times.

Because the key words above are that I can connect with most kids. I can control most classrooms. And even then, the words “at my school” need to be inserted. I’m exceptionally fortunate to work at a great school with great kids and great staff.  But this year I’ve been thinking back a lot to my first year, in no small part because Math for America selected me to tell a story (embedded below) about what a god-awful experience it was. And when I think back to that year, I constantly wonder if I’m truly a Good Teacher, or if I’m just a good teacher for the kids that I have. If it’s the latter, it’s not nothing, but it is something I’m acutely aware of.

MƒA Thursday Thinks: The Story Collider – MƒA Master Teacher Matt Baker from Math for America on Vimeo.

Even in my current environment I have lessons that bomb, and I have exchanges with students that haunt me for months afterward. I’m pretty good with the content I’m teaching (at least as long as no one asks too many questions about Stats), but I’m not pushing my content knowledge past high school. I’m not doing enough of the work for equity that I see many, many others doing online. I don’t connect with all my students, and some of my classroom policies aren’t as evolved as I want them to be. I’m terribly slow with grading and even worse with providing meaningful feedback and a space to reflect on what feedback I do give. There are dozens of other things I could add to this list. Teaching is just such a massive job it’s impossible to ever be great at all of it. But it’s really easy to be aware of what you’re not great at.

This last year was the hardest since my first. Three weeks into the school year, when I was home over a long weekend, my mom had a stroke, which she died from a week later. I missed two days of school because I was sitting in the ICU with her, and then two more days because we had her funeral. I don’t know if I will ever forget spending the night in an uncomfortable chair in the ICU grading papers. And even though she wasn’t a healthy person, it was all so unexpected and just…exhausting. I have a draft of a blog post I tried to write last November titled “Running on Empty”. I wasn’t my best self in the classroom, and I certainly wasn’t my best self in planning meetings. Teaching is exhausting on a good day, and I had a whole string of bad days. By January I came as close as I’ve been in a long time to saying “Fuck this” and looking for other work, but I knew a lot of it was just emotional trauma and I needed to stick with it. Well, and find a therapist, but who has time for that?

Then in late February one of my students died, which of course threw everything off kilter. I am not a good enough writer to describe what it’s like to be a teacher in a classroom and a school that has suffered such a loss. Exhausting and frustrating and awful and sad and confusing and weird. Especially when you’re a teacher that was already emotionally spent for the year.

But despite all of it were the workshops that got good reviews and the great relationships I was building with the kids. I got chosen to be faculty declaimer, which was an honor. And things slowly got better. I’m no longer thinking of quitting. Granted this next year has a bunch of challenges with our schools budget and overall morale, but I think I’m in a place to deal with it. And I’m constantly building my network to help me get there.

My current plan is to stay teaching in New York for at least another 5 years, so I can get that pension. After that we will see. Maybe back to school to get an Ed.D, maybe teach abroad. Maybe just keep on keeping on. But until then I’m going to keep growing and learning and fucking up and fixing. At least until I win that Powerball money.

#alg2chat: Function Roadmap

What it is: A packet which contains all of the functions we will be studying during the year, with space to fill in features of each function. Each function has the same features listed to help students look for similarities between different functions.


How it came to be:  At my first ever TMC I went to a morning session all about Algebra 2 run by Glenn and Jonathan. During that, Glenn shared this “Describe Functions” worksheet he gives his students for every function they look at over the year, and it’s really stuck with me. The last couple times I’ve taught Algebra 2 I’ve wanted to do it, and this past year my co-planner Kat was game. She by far did most of the work with formatting this, and was a fantastic thought partner for all of it.

When we use it: At the beginning of the year in our “Tools of Algebra 2” unit. It’s after we’ve introduced all of the different vocabulary, and we have them complete it for a linear function (Constant function is pre-filled as a model, as below). Then we come back to it during every unit once we’ve introduced the basic graphs for the new function (generally we start with graphs then move to equations).

roadmap model

What works well: Kids have some sense of where we’re going for the whole year starting in September. They can flip through the packet and see some of the crazy functions and be curious about them. Kids knew what a sine and cosine function looked like all year, and so it felt less crazy when suddenly we had waves. It also allows us to preview certain vocabulary earlier in the year (like asymptotes) even though we don’t get to them until December. When we get to new functions kids can fill in a lot of information already, and then we can have really interesting debates about equations for asymptotes and domain and end behavior. Plus it allowed us to tie every function back to transformations with (h, k) form, creating a better through-line for the content. It also served as a great reference material for them throughout the year. When we did a Desmos graphing project at the end of the year, kids also said they used their roadmaps a lot to figure out what different functions they could use, which then also helped them review for the end-of-year tests.

What we want to improve:  The information included was really awesome, but because it was spread out over 6 pages the connections weren’t always obvious. We’re discussing trying to move everything to one page to make the connections easier, but I’m not sure if that’s physically possible without cutting out some of the content. For example, the “other graphs in the family” section would have to go, but that’s maybe ok because they didn’t do a great job with it even though they’d seen several examples. I think this was partly because when we’d give them time to fill this out, we’d also go over the answers, but we never went over those graphs. Because those weren’t explicitly given to them, they didn’t fill them in. I also wish that, when talking about symmetry, we’d gone with “Odd/Even” instead of just “Yes/No” because that distinction was something they really struggled with later in the year.

File:  .docx filepdf version

Also, a link to Kat’s blog just to shout-out her awesome work.

#TMC18 Reflections

Man, remember in the old days (two years ago) when I used to write a blog post for every day of TMC? Ahh to be young and so full of energy again.

Twitter Math Camp was, as it has always been, a much needed refresh. From pulling in to Cleveland on Monday night to pulling away on Sunday afternoon, it was time spent with some of my favorite math educators, talking about this crazy thing we do.

At the Desmos Pre-Con we found out about their new Snapshot feature (which I even got to try out during our morning session) and then I spent some time refreshing myself on Computation Layer. I had been so excited about that last summer, and then never went back to it. I also got to see Julie and Jonathan’s session on assessment in Desmos, which was interesting but I can’t figure out the logistics of for my classes yet. But the coolest part of that day was at the happy hour, Julie and Glenn grabbed me to get some dinner out front, and Robert Berry (the new president of NCTM) came with us. It was just a very weird (but awesome!) thing to sit and talk to him about the current state of the organization. And then a bunch of other people kept joining our group. It was a really nice night.

As with the past two years, Chris and I led our morning session on debate and discussion in the math class. I was very overwhelmed by the large number of people we got on our first day (32!), especially given how many were TMC First-Timers. But everyone seemed to get a lot out of it. Leading those morning sessions is really rewarding, but also really exhausting. After the first morning I was so wiped that I wasn’t a good audience member for a really amazing keynote, and I skipped the first afternoon session and speed dating. I think being overwhelmed by the large group then made me really self-conscious, which is really the most exhausting thing. But I shook it off and the next two days went really well.

For afternoon sessions, I went to Emily’s talk about teaching abroad (a possible 10-year goal for me) on Thursday. Then on Friday I went to Chris’s clothesline math session, (which continues to both blow my mind and intimidate the hell out of me), followed by Anne and Christina’s “Next Top Model” session. I went purely for the name, but it actually fit a lot of pieces into place by walking through how kids are taught multiplication and division from elementary school using the area model. On the last day I went to Tina’s session on unveiling the magic of tricks, which led to a 30 minute conversation about why “Keep Change Flip” actually works, which let me tell you is not intuitive to me at all. To finish it all out I chose the Islamic Geometry flex session, just so I could get a chance to play with math a bit. Annie and Megan and Steve led us through some really simple constructions that made beautiful patterns. Mine looked like shit, but it was fun to just play a bit.

Other highlights, in no specific order:

  • My coworker Maggie came to her first TMC! That now makes four out of our five member department. One of us! One of us!  She says she got some great ideas from her morning session, and we’re already talking about how we’re going to hang the whiteboards up in our room.
  • All three keynote speeches were really fantastic this year:
    • Marian did a great job of calling us all out to de-center ourselves in our math class (video and transcript).
    • Julie drove herself a little crazy writing this awesome keynote about the imposter syndrome that we all feel. (video)
    • Glenn, John, and Edmund gave a talk about appreciating the math that exists all around us in a more meaningful way than “Hey, numbers!”. (video)
  • My #1TMCThing for this year is to find more tangible ways to shout-out and support students, inspired by Allison’s “My Favorite” initially, and then further inspired by Eliza’s.  I love the idea of little physical things that I can give students to redirect and support them without everything having to be so verbal.

My own “My favorite” ruined my streak of not crying at TMC. I don’t like to be publicly emotional, but I did need to say Thank You to the community. I wouldn’t have made it through without the MTBoS.

This TMC was a little weird for me, because I was very aware of the fact that I’m not a newbie anymore. And after my really rough year, it was hard for me to be super-sociable with new people I didn’t know well. When I get exhausted and overwhelmed, I tend to drift back to my old friends at TMC, which then makes me feel a little guilty. But I am also learning more and more that I need to start prioritizing self-care if I want to keep doing this teaching thing. While writing the morning-session-blurb-rap with Chris and helping Julie prepare for her keynote, I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in months, doubled-over in tears. And those were the moments that made TMC a refresher for me. At this point in my career I am familiar with a lot of the big ideas in pedagogy. When I go to TMC I very rarely see something completely mind-blowing that I’ve never seen before that radically changes my entire philosophy of teaching. Not that everything I do is already amazing, I just know what’s out there and choose small parts to implement each year. Chris described it as a logarithmic curve of PD. So instead TMC for me is now about the relationships with people that sustain me when the rest of my life is trying to tear me down. And I think next year I need to focus on that part of it, and not feel guilty about it.

Next year we’re going to Berkeley, CA. Hopefully I get to see all those west-coast folks I haven’t seen since 2015. Specifically Fawn.


Intent vs. Impact

So, last week I wrote a tweet that I regret, and I’m going to try to talk through why I regret it without sounding too much like a stupid white man.

At the end of the last full day of #TMC18, I was driving a few people back to the hotel. They all happened to be white folks (which is statistically likely given how many white folks were at TMC18). Three of them asked me to stop at the gas station next to the hotel and let them out so they could buy wine. The whole spectacle was ridiculous, and we were all joking about it. And because the jokes were funny at the time, I tweeted something like “Nothing says success quite like letting three blond white women out of the car at a gas station to buy booze.” It was tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic, pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation. I realize how cliche it is to say “anyone who knows me knows…” but that’s what I was thinking at the time. The tweet got some likes, some people laughed about it at game night, and I didn’t think anything more of it.

A couple days ago, as we’re all coming off the post-TMC buzz, one of the people in the car at the time reached out and said that while they thought it was funny at the time in an isolated space surrounded by dear friends, it was cringe-worthy when posted to the whole online Twitter-verse. That the tweet, read by someone new to TMC or new to the MTBoS or that has never met me in person, could be off-putting and offensive.So I deleted the tweet. But that feels kind of “Sweep-under-the-rug”ish, so hence this post.

I don’t understand how I currently have over 1600 followers. That is insane. I’ve only been teaching for 5 years. Then, recently, a couple people have described me as a “leader” in the MTBoS, whatever the hell that means. But all that does mean something, and my words absolutely mean something. I can’t keep tweeting as if I’m this little newbie teacher with just personal friends on my timeline that know me and know my sense of humor and my values (assuming of course that my sense of humor and values aren’t problematic in a variety of ways). I absolutely see how someone that followed me but didn’t know me personally could read my words and think “Wow, this guy is kind of an asshole” and then feel unwelcome in a space I very actively try to make more welcoming. They could get the idea that I value having white friends in my car over just having friends in my car. They could interpret that I am not sensitive to issues of race. And they would be perfectly justified in wondering why I even brought up race in the first place. I’ve done enough self-reflection the last few days that I don’t have a good answer for that.

If someone read those words and felt unwelcome or put-off or somehow othered, then I was an asshole, and I’m sorry. I could easily play it off as just sarcasm, just a joke. That was certainly my intent. But if the impact is bad, then none of that matters.

Maybe nobody took offense. I don’t know. I prefer to believe half of you just mute me on Twitter during TMC. But apologizing and learning to avoid this sort of stupidity in the only costs me some very uncomfortable self-reflection, which seems like a very privileged price to pay.

If there are places where my apology is inadequate or could be improved, please reach out. Otherwise I’m going to disable comments for this post.

#MfASummerThink 2018 Reflections

For the second year in a row, I was a part of planning the Math for America Summer Think conference in New York. Meeting for three days in early July, it gave teachers in the MfA community a chance to spend some dedicated time together without the pressure or time constraints we sometimes feel when we show up to a workshop at the end of a busy day of teaching.

This year I did a little less of the overall conference planning, but instead chose to lead a Deep Dive session. For those of you that go to Twitter Math Camp, it’s similar to the morning session: ~6 hours spread out over three days, giving participants a chance to really, well, dive into some topic of interest. My session was on Debate and Discussion in the STEM classroom. It’s a variation on the mini-course I do during the year, which is itself a variation on the morning session that Chris and I do at TMC. Now that I’ve done it several times, some of the nerves have gone away, but then like 75% of the Summer Think planning committee decided to attend which brought them back. But I think overall it was a really successful session. They made this really cool board for the Deep Dive Exhibition on the last day:

DD board

The rest of the conference was kind of a blur. I know I attended support sessions on Mastery Based grading, identity in the classroom, and focusing on incorporating the SMPs into our classroom. The last one was led by Mat Sullivan, and was actually my favorite because I finally got to see some of the Contemplate then Calculate routine, which I’ve heard so much about.

I really appreciated MfA’s constant focus on teacher-led activities this year. Both Anoopa and I got to retell our stories from the Story Collider’s event earlier this year, which led to some really great reflection time with the other teachers. On the second day everyone went around and shared one word about why they’re still a teacher, and it was so powerful.

Every teacher I spoke with during that time remarked on how appreciative they were of having time to connect with others, while still having some time to decompress over the summer. For some reason I wasn’t able to sleep at night during the conferences, so by the time the afternoon events started I was completely exhausted and not such a great participant. I still don’t know why that happened, but I think it might have been stress over presenting? I don’t know.

summerthink group Overall I had a great experience, and I hope that MfA continues to support it’s teachers with local, high-quality conferences like this.


I have been out in my private life since I was 19. I was madly in love with my boyfriend at the time and I wanted everyone to know. I sat my family down for a horribly awkward coming out over Christmas break from college. I told my friends from home over AIM. My friends in college all knew.

But I was lucky that I could hide when I needed to. Partly through luck and mostly through years of internalized homophobia, I could pass as a straight guy. I laughed off  or evaded questions about a girlfriend from my extended family or an old boss.

When I decided to go into teaching, I wasn’t sure if I should be out. On the one hand, I wanted to be myself in front of the kids. How could I create authentic relationships if I wasn’t authentically myself? And I figured I could be a role model by being visible. But I was also scared. What if kids shut down because they had a gay teacher? Or their parents complained? I’d seen news stories of teachers getting fired just because they were gay, and while I work in a public school in a very liberal city, I was afraid that could also happen to me. Not to mention being gay brings with it a number of easily accessible slurs and names that can get thrown at you. How do you even respond if a kid calls you the f-word?

I remember a conversation with my first principal where I expressed all of these nerves, and she basically laughed it off as no big deal and told me I was worrying for nothing. But as a first year teacher, I didn’t know how to handle it when kids started shouting homophobic taunts at each other across the room. One day a kid flat-out asked me, in a rather antagonistic way,  if I liked guys, and while I don’t remember my exact response I do remember deflecting, and then feeling ashamed of myself that I had been intimidated by a 15 year old.

My current school is a much different place, and after my first year from hell I was a much different teacher. I started small. When kids would ask about my weekend, I’d mention my boyfriend in passing. I remember the first couple times I did it I held my breath for a second as kids reacted. But it was ok. And as I got to know that class I started to open up more. They find it endlessly amusing that my boyfriend works in a bakery. (“What, is his last name ‘Mathteacher’?”). I brought him to graduation last year and introduced him to a few of my students.  This year I even hung a Pride flag up in my classroom.

Our school has a tradition of declamation. In their humanities classes students will memorize some written work, and then stand in front of their classmates and recite the piece. Four times throughout the year a small group of students declaim a piece publicly for the whole school. For the last public declamation of the year, a faculty member is selected to declaim a piece. This year I was chosen, and I decided to recite excerpts of Harvey Milk’s “Hope” speech.

Turns out telling the whole school you’re gay is exponentially more terrifying than telling one class at a time. But so many kids came up afterward and thanked me for doing it. Kids I taught, kids I’ve never met. Even some of the amazing kids that are more out and proud at 16 than I will ever be. I don’t think I did a good job of telling them how they inspired me to be as open as I am.

I still hold my breath when I come out to a new group. I probably always will. Even in the heart of New York City, there are people that will respond poorly. But I am less nervous about it than I once was. And in this current political climate, I think the only way we make things better is by being visible. Even if it’s terrifying.

Belated #TMC17 reflections and my #1TMCThing(s)

So, this is a weird year for my blog. Normally I write a reflection post for every single day I’m at Twitter Math Camp. This year, the first day of TMC was also the day that hashtag-gate started. This is where I should probably link to Dan’s original post, but I think it’s gotten enough attention, and the whole thing still makes me angry. Other people have done a far better job of describing my feelings than I can (here, here, and most especially here), and I’ve gone back and forth with people on twitter about it. At this point I recognize that A) I’m not going to say something new to change people’s minds and B) everyone seems to be moving on. I’ve been less successful at moving on, ironically because of all the work I see being done to address concerns raised in that post. But at this point anything I type here will not improve the general state of things. So instead I’m going to try to focus on bigger things I got out of TMC.

The most notable thing, which I talked about with everyone, was Chris Shore’s clothesline math explanation. I had been to the Clothesline Math website before, and watched the various videos, but I kept getting hung-up on the idea that it was amazing for number sense in lower grades but not so useful for me in high school. Then Chris showed one example with vertical angles and *BOOM* everyone’s head exploded. Suddenly we were thinking about equality in a completely different way and it was CRAZY. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to use it this year, but I definitely want to. It’s sort of my #2TMCthing this year.

I also went to the Breakout EDU session, which was so much fun. We managed to solve the puzzle down to the wire. I do think if I ever did it in my classes I’d want more mathematical puzzles that the kids had to solve, but I can also see it as a great vehicle to discuss softer skills like problem solving and collaboration and honoring each other’s voices.

All three of the keynotes this year were fantastic in my opinion. Grace’s speech managed to call us out on our social-justice issues while also giving a path forward, which is exactly what that kind of speech should always have. Graham‘s speech was good fun and reminded us to think about what our community teaches us. Carl‘s speech was everything I wish Dan’s blogpost had been. It was a fun look back at our group and a call to do more. Videos of all of them are available here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYBZBns1q6SLIx7RIuQNKWViI8JaGLSed

There were a bunch of other little ideas I got from people this year (bells to celebrate math, ways to create a more positive culture, resources for the group), but honestly this year was more about just getting to know people in the community better. I feel like I just got to know more people a lot better. And I had a lot more interactions that started with “Oh, you’re Mattie B”, which for the record is a really weird way to start conversations. And Sam’s big “1” buttons meant that I reached out to more people I didn’t know. And all of them seemed to be truly enjoying themselves.

Which sort of leads me into my #1TMCthing for this year: I am going to work to make the #MTBoS a more comfortable place for newbies. I’ve already started a MTBoS Ambassadors program, and I’m going to continue doing local workshops in NYC to get more people involved. Because I think this community is amazing, and they’ve helped me so much. I don’t know how we can feasibly get much bigger than we are, but I’m going to put in the work to at least try. It seems to be working out so far, but I’ll be curious to see how momentum carries us into the school year.



#DesFellows17 Fellows Weekend in SF

Despite the hundreds of other things going on this spring, I found time to apply for the Desmos Teaching Fellowship.  I was incredibly fortunate to be selected, and the Desmos team was incredibly generous to fly us all out to San Francisco for the weekend to learn from them first hand.

Unfortunately my flight was delayed two hours, but all I missed the opening ice-breaker. We spent Friday doing “Math and Mingle”, where we just hung out in the Desmos offices and did math and met other members of the fellowship. It was a nice chill time, but I was exhausted from traveling and from just finishing the MfA Summer Think conference that ended 36 hours earlier, so I don’t know that I was as sociable as I could have been. But it was nice to see some old friends that were in the fellowship!

The next day was a full day, and in the morning Michael started by leading us through the Desmos principles for activity building. The Desmos team is just so thoughtful with how they work through activities. I need to print this list out for when I make my own, because I know I definitely don’t consider all of these points. And it’s a testament to the team that so many of their activities already do. I struggle to be creative in lessons, but maybe these principles can help me build up to something.

Then we went through a bit about the design process that Desmos uses, which was really interesting, but also REALLY overwhelming for the amount of time that we had. I kicked around the idea of an activity I kind of already had, but I don’t feel like I did it enough justice.

But that was also partly because right after the Design Process section ended, Dan showed us the new features available in the computation layer of Desmos. This feature (which is currently only available to Desmos fellows) allows the user to start tweaking some of the nuts and bolts in activity builder so that the general public is able to do all the cool things that the Desmos team has been doing. You can reference values from previous pages, you can add start buttons and trigger animations, and a whole bunch of other things I’m just now figuring out. I spent hours over the weekend just working through the CL scavenger hunt to figure out what nifty things I could make. I still have two more tasks that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I already feel much more comfortable with the syntax, and I think there are going to be some absolutely incredible activities coming out of the community soon.

After an entertaining keynote by Eli during lunch, we then had some work time on a task of our choosing, and we ended the day with break-out groups. I attended the one led by Scott and Jenn on how to lead good Desmos PDs. I’ll be helping with the Desmos Summer Institute in NYC the day after I get back from TMC, and leading a PD at MfA in the spring, so I took a lot of notes on things to include. Much like teaching, a good PD session is of the you do – we do – i do variety, and it definitely informed my outline for summer institute. Then Desmos threw us a happy hour!

Sunday was our last day, and Dan led us through a sample Desmos Calculator PD (I just realized I’ve been calling all the Desmos people by their first name without any context, but I’m cool with that). Again I picked up some tips on how to lead a good Desmos PD that I’m going to throw in my toolbox for the future. The afternoon was some more work time, then we had a speed-dating session where we got to meet new people and see what they were working on. Some of the group did some CRAZY things given we only had a couple hours to work. I just showed up my kinda lame animation that I was actually really proud of, just because I managed to figure it out all by myself.

We finished the weekend off with polos, a swag bag, and pictures. Then most people went home, but a few of us came back to Desmos HQ to watch the Game of Thrones premiere. A huge shout-out to Eli for volunteering the space and his HBO account!

It was a fantastic but exhausting weekend. If I get to go next year, I’m going to make sure to give myself a break between conferences so I have energy for both. But I learned so much that I can’t wait to start implementing in my own classroom. Using more Desmos was a goal last year that wasn’t quite realized, and I hope that this year I can finally make it happen now that I’m teaching the same courses again.

And now to get ready for TMC…