Twitter Math Camp – Day 3 – “YOU get a Desmos, YOU get a Desmos!”

So, I never did a recap for day 3. I should have done it on Saturday, but I somehow stayed up until 4am having amazing conversations with some amazing teachers (Dave, Andy and Rachel in particular for getting SUPER philosophical, and a special shout-out to Summer  for her pep talk) and that didn’t leave me much energy to blog. Then I was traveling and sightseeing in LA, so I’m just sort of getting to it now.

As I sit down several days later, I’m torn between wanting to do a recap for day 3 and then a final recap as separate posts, and recognizing my limits as a blogger. Let’s write some stuff and see what comes out.

We talked about modeling. This is totally the same thing.

We talked about modeling. This is totally the same thing.

So day 3 started out with a My Favorites session. I don’t think I talked about this in previous posts, but it’s basically an opportunity for people to come to the front of the auditorium and do a super-short presentation about one (or more) things that they find really useful or interesting.  There were a lot of awesome ideas shared that I know are shared in a wiki somewhere, but I want to shout out Pam Wilson  for her Plickers idea. For anyone reading this that doesn’t know, clickers are a formative assessment tool where students all have a little device or some sort and when asked a question, they press a corresponding number, and it gives a teacher quick feedback. But the thing is those are expensive. So there are versions that you can do on your phone, but in my district phones are banned. So Plickers basically let a teacher use clickers without having to buy all the expensive equipment or use phones. It’s awesome. Teachers print out QR codes for the kids and uses their phone to scan the room. I’m not sure how well it works yet, but it’s exciting to try.

Then we were back in the Algebra 2 session, talking about Modeling. The biggest takeaway for me here is just how useful Desmos can really be in the classroom. Specifically, go to for some fantastic activities that the whole class can do and then reflect on together. The Penny Circle activity is fun. But the real conversation we had about modeling is about how we view the whole idea. Glenn broke it down so that we think of a problem, do some work to solve that problem, and then check to see if it works, and repeat.  Students lack a lot of the skills involved in modeling, so even the highest performing kids struggle with the process unless it is practiced.  I’m going to admit right now that at this point in the weekend, I was a little over-saturated with information so I don’t think I absorbed as much as I wanted to, but it definitely gave me some stuff to think about as I try to set up more real-world connections with the material, and it gave me resources to draw from when it comes up.

Our keynote on Saturday was Eli Luberoff from Desmos, further cementing what a cool program it is. Especially cause it’s free.  You can now label axes, and insert pictures into the graphing area. I learned how to work in some different functions like area, and how to look up functions that other people have already created. The best part was when he let us preview a new model for the side of things. Long story short, there may be dragons. It’s fantastic and awesome. The real gem, however, is watching how a room of 150 math teachers LOSES THEIR SHIT over an online graphing calculator. I likened it to that Oprah episode when she gave cars to everyone. Bob made a god joke. We were all winners.

Eli is Oprah

God I hope gifs work here, because this was what the Desmos presentation felt like.

In the afternoon sessions I did a quick one on Geogebra, which primarily served to drive home how much I don’t understand about Geogebra. I know people love it but it feels so counter-intuitive to me. The second afternoon session was actually a Flex session where presenters could come up with panels they wanted to run that occurred to them after the presentation had started. I chose to go to Elizabeth’s  panel on Groupwork, which acted like a snippet of the morning sessions she ran. I really liked the structure that she set up, in which one person reads a topic, then the each person in the group gets to give their opinion without comments or interruptions from the others. Then there’s another round where people can change (or not) their opinion based on what they heard, but still without comment. Overall the structure, like the whole panel, was a very calm, very … zen kind of moment, and a great way to wrap up the last full day of Twitter Math Camp.

Except it wasn’t wrapped up. When we got back to the hotel, I was dumbstruck by how many people had set themselves up in small groups to continue working on different topics. Everyone from the Group Work session in particular were planning for at least an hour and a half after the day had “ended.” I got in on the fun  by sitting with the Interactive Notebook group (the INB Jamboree, if you will). The work that some of these teachers are doing is incredible. If you’re not familiar, an interactive notebook is a slightly different way of structuring your notes. I first read about it at Jonathan’s blog post on “The $1 Textbook” but this was the first time I was able to see them in person. Of the samples I saw, they range from super-super-super organized, with foldables and colors and a mind-blowing amount of organization, to a slightly more organized notebook. But the interesting thing was that every single teacher that uses them said that students start to treat their notebooks as artifacts. They keep their notes organized and bring it to class and save it for next year. I really like the idea of creating a notebook that my kids will value as a resource in the future and not dump in the trash on the last day of school. I’m going to spend some time thinking about ways I can implement a sort of notebook without driving myself nuts with papers and time-management concerns.

Now this is a great segue into my TMC reflections overall, but I think this post has gotten long enough (plus we’re about to go to the beach. Yay LA!) so I’ll save that for another day. Plus I want some more time to reflect on some of the bigger lessons that I came away with. It’s hard to believe it’s only been just over 48 hours since I left Jenks, my brain has been on overdrive.  Anyway, I expect all of my three readers to eagerly await my TMC recap post.  TTFN – Ta Ta For Now


Twitter Math Camp – Day 2 OR Aliens invaded the convention and everyone’s been replaced

Crazy pictures help draw in readers?

Crazy pictures help draw in readers?

Ok, so aliens didn’t really attack, but Dan said you need attention-getters. And my brain is a little to saturated with information to be very useful currently.

Another exciting day in Jenks, OK, with a lot more information. It feels like a blur, I’m not even sure how to put everything I’ve seen here into any comprehensible form for someone that’s here with me, much less readers at home. But I do want to give a quick overview of the sessions today, and more importantly share some thoughts I had about everything I heard.

After a short “my favorites” session, we were back in our morning sessions. Julie and I were back in Jonathan and Glenn‘s Algebra 2 session.  Jonathan basically walked us through his Algebra 2 philosophy, which can be much more eloquently stated by him on his blog than I could ever hope to do. The best place to start is his DIY section where he basically details his process. The short version (as I understand it, which means this may be wrong) is that rather than break the material up by parent functions, he instead focuses on the common algebraic mechanics of manipulating equations. This again tries to show students that all of these concepts are the same and not discrete topics they have to learn separately, but in a different way than the more traditional “parent functions” model. I will openly admit that not having taught Algebra 2 really ever before, I struggled sometimes with the process he was using, but I love the idea of trying something completely new and turning tradition on his head. Jonathan told us that by layering everything in all at once, he was able to get a ton of days back that he originally used for review. He also said something along the lines of “If you’re worried about challenging kids because they won’t like it, just put your foot down and do it”. This goes back to the idea of high expectations and maintaining them, not just for behavior but also for learning, and I think “Put your foot down” is a mantra I’m going to try to incorporate more often.

We then had a keynote session with Dan Meyer about the Math Twitter Blogosphere and Twitter, looking at how different math teachers use the system. He collected a whole bunch of data and as a group we looked at it. He is a very entertaining speaker, and I think there’s some interesting correlations, but looking at stats always loses me a little bit.

Then we had the afternoon sessions. I went first to Max Ray’s session on Powerful Problem Solving because I had just added his book (not knowing he was the author at the time) to my teacher wishlist and because perseverance (or more specifically the complete LACK of it) was a huge problem for me last year. He set up a problem with a grid of “streets” in a town and just said “Ursala doesn’t backtrack. Now create your own representation of this problem and also come up with some problems that could come from this.”  I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a lot with how I responded to this session.  As Megan can attest, I did not handle the lack of a concrete objective for this activity. I didn’t understand the brief, and I didn’t understand the scenario, and when we asked a question, the response was supportive but vague. I didn’t know where to start and I was rapidly becoming very, very frustrated, and it wasn’t until Megan said “Ok, just pick a problem and we’ll go from there” that I was able to sort of reset and finish the topic.

Here are my takeaways from this experience: 1) It’s important for us to put ourselves in our students shoes, and experience from time to time what it feels like to have no idea what the fuck is going on. I saw it last year all the time my kids would get frustrated and give up. Their Confusion-Tolerance was much lower than mine, but the general process is the same, and it’s a good reminder when planning activities.

2) Group structure is ridiculously important in activities, not just academically but also personally. We had a very mixed group with me, Megan, Chris, and John, and I think if Megan hadn’t knocked me out of my spiral I would have just given up and completely disconnected from the material. It was also interesting to see how Chris and John approached the session as well. Pairing me with someone that also had a low Confusion-Tolerance would have gotten very messy very quickly.


3) I left the session with two big questions: a) Where is the line between struggling Not Enough and struggling Too Much? and b) How do you improve someone’s Confusion-Tolerance?   Especially in light of the Standards of Mathematical Practice. Megan mentioned at one point “Well, didn’t you think it helped when he said ‘I believe you can do it'” and my response was “But why? I’ve never spoken with him? I mean, it’s a fair guess that I probably can given I’m a math teacher at a math conference, but why does his opinion mean anything specifically to me?” Which is not at all to cast aspersions on Max, it’s a weird personality quirk of my own, but it drives home for me personally that those connections and relationship with students are super, super important for some of this. But then how do you balance that out with wanting to throw students at problem solving from the get-go when you just meet them?  I don’t think there’s one universal answer to these questions, but it’s something I’m still struggling with a lot.

This post has already gotten crazy long but I can’t stop without mentioning the last session of the day, which was run by Tina about Nix the Tricks. I love the idea, and tried to do some of it this year (we never once used the phrase FOIL in my classroom). The book will say everything I want, and a digital copy is free at the site, so definitely download and read it. But the coolest part was that as a group we discussed the partial quotient method. We even discussed how it would work with polynomial division and I’m in love. Shout outs to Chris and GooberSpeaks for working through problems before I could and showing how it works. It has so many points of entry for students with different amounts of number sense while also teaching them perseverance and helping them think up short-cuts. It’s awesome and incredible and excites me. I’ve posted a video below but I think the explanation could be streamlined a bit. Start at 3:00 for the new stuff if my embedding skillz don’t work.

And with that it’s WAY past bedtime.

Twitter Math Camp – Day 1

So for those of you that don’t know, I’m at Twitter Math Camp. It’s a professional development conference designed by teachers for teachers. And it’s incredible. I’m meeting all of these incredible math teachers who have the same struggles I do, and building my professional network like whoa. But more importantly there is an energy here that I’ve never felt before. Everyone wants to do amazing things and everyone has a dozen unique resources that will help me next year and it’s just incredible (Note: I can be much more eloquent when I haven’t been drinking with other math teachers).  

So, after talking to Chris, I think one of the best ways to assimilate all of the information I’ve learned today is to blog about it. And since I’ve decided to not go running tomorrow at 6 am, I can be up a bit later tonight to try to wrap my head around all of the amazing I’ve encountered today. I will state in advance that I’m probably too tired to find links to everyone’s blog tonight but I will do my best. Or at least Twitter, because that’s open and Feedly requires more energy than I have. 

So, after a short introduction we started our morning sessions. After probably way too much debate (because all of the sessions sounded fucking incredible and there’s only one of me) I decided to go with Algebra 2 because while I have a better curriculum map for that subject, I feel the least prepared to teach it. It’s led by the amazing Glenn and Jonathan who in just the first two hours gave me so many ideas. Julie and I were taking ALL THE NOTES and can’t stop gushing about how much we’ve learned. Today Glenn kind of took the lead for a more traditional approach, and tomorrow Jonathan is taking the lead, and then the third day will be a lot of modeling. 

Let me try to sum up today. One of the big problems with Algebra 2 is that it often seems like just a bunch of random topics thrown together. Quadratics and Cubics and Rationals and Logarithms and Trig. But in reality, it all ties together, so how do we do this?  We brainstormed ideas that had succeeded in the past. I’d heard of family of functions before, but the way he tied them all together using the vertex (h, k) forms of different functions made so much sense it kind of blew me away: Instead of presenting all of the standard forms of different equations, present them all in vertex form, since they will all look similar. Give students all of the forms at the beginning of the year on the poster, and then throughout the year move your “You Are Here” marker. Students quickly realize that the only thing that changes between different forms is the shape of the equation. But h, k, a, and b all change these graphs in largely the same way (He showed us an awesome Desmos graph that has all the different forms and how they change with a, b, h, and k in the same ways. It’s crazy). This is not at all the way I was taught this stuff, but it makes so much fucking sense it’s crazy. It was all I could do to not curse loudly during the session. He also has students list a certain amount of information for any function he gives them. This includes asymptotes and symmetry, even for linear graphs. Yeah, they don’t exist (most of the time) but why don’t we introduce this vocabulary when it’s easy to explain, rather than when things get weird? My tired brain is doing a terrible job of articulating what I saw, but it was great.

In the afternoon, we had a keynote by the the very entertaining Steve Leinwand.  His basic premise was that we lose so much by asking the students for specific answers instead of “How do you know?” Basically “Convince me…” should be the backbone of your argument. This ties incredibly well into what Chris does with his debate structures, as well as MP.3 and just general good math. What’s awesome about Math is that while there’s always almost always one right answer, there’s almost never only one way to find it. And part of the beauty of math is in all of those different ways to figure out HOW you get the answer. As educators we should spend more time trying to build the way that students describe their process rather than hammering home a very specific method for solving the problems. I can already think of the myriad ways this approach would have improved my last year, and I’m trying to figure out ways to make my awesome students at my new school think in this sort of way. Also, let it not be said that Steve is not an engaging speaker, because his talk was hilarious and energizing. 

After the keynote, we had two shorter afternoon sessions. I first went to Sadie’s session on Counting Circles. The idea is that we create routines to improve numeracy and number sense among our students. This would have rocked my classroom last year, with students who struggled with 3 * 4. I really valued the idea of not only creating routines about how students talk to each other, but also reinforcing these skills. Going into my next year I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to implement all of it but it’s kind of amazing. I especially want to applaud Sadie’s declaration that “You will not graduate from my class if you can’t add, subtract, multiply, and divide”, and her poker face despite whatever her kids said to her. 

The second afternoon session I attended was called Math Maintenance by Kathryn (Yay fellow Marylander!).  She dedicates the first ten minutes of every class to spiraling in different content with the intent of reviewing old content, practicing current content, and previewing future content.  Each week she chooses 5 topics (roughly two review, two practice, one preview) and creates a worksheet with 5 questions from each topic (one question per topic per day). So basically, on Monday students get a worksheet that has 5 columns for each day of the week, and they have to work their way down each column each day. I’m doing a terrible job of explaining what she does cause I’m running out of steam but it’s a really clever way of structuring a worksheet that I plan to borrow from heavily as I work on homework this year.

Ok, I’m rapidly becoming unintelligible.  It’s time for bed so I can get up and learn even more tomorrow.  I’m so remarkably glad I came to Oklahoma so far and I expect the hits to just keep coming!  The #MTBoS rocks!  




If I knew then…

Oh, that’s right, I have a blog.

It’s been a crazy year. I know first years usually are, but mine felt especially crazy. Since this blog is open to the interwebs at large, I won’t go into too many specifics, but for context my old school had 100% teacher turnover from last September to this September. I also spontaneously developed a spot of grey hair in my beard. It was a mess for a multitude of reasons and lucky for me I have a great new job at a fantastic school starting in September.

Plus, I get to meet all of the #MTBoS tweeps in less than a week!

But summer is a time of relaxation and reflection, so one of the things I wanted to do is look back on my last year and see what I can take from it. And maybe it will help some of the future first year teachers. I know Sam  and Chris encouraged us to read blogs and first-year-teacher letters, and even had us write a letter to ourselves. So this is a letter to my past self, to future first-years, and sort of to myself for next year.



Dear Noob –

The first year looms big and large on the horizon, and if you have any sense you’re freaking out about it. I’ve been there, and it’s rough. You want to do a good job and make a difference, but you’re not sure what’s coming your way. I know that nothing I say can really prepare you (because I read first-year letters too and they only sorta prepared me) but maybe I can use my experiences in the shit-show that was my school to help you face the challenges headed your way.

(That said, feel free to ignore everything I say, because like I said it was a shit-show for me).

1) This year is going to suck… – It’s just a universal truth about teaching. Even my friends at good schools with good staff and good students had a rough year. You will be working your ass off, you will plan terrible lessons, you will make mistakes with your kids. It will all happen, more than once. Every “First-Year” letter I read last year said this same thing, but it should be reiterated: It will suck.  I will say it will suck even more if you’re at a bad school.

2) …but it’s not all bad… – There will be things that happen this year that keep you coming back. Interactions with staff and students that make you laugh and remind you why you do this shit. Every time those happen, cling to them. I started the year keeping a notebook of little successes throughout the year to remind myself of later on. Unfortunately I didn’t follow my own advice and stopped updating it, but find a way to remind yourself. When I was cleaning out my desk at the end of the year, I found the notebook and some of the things I had written and it was a great end note.

3) …and it’s not forever. – I’ve already stated my year was terrible, but that said I was able to find a fantastic new job at an amazing school that I could not be more excited to teach at. And the benefit of my shite year was that it helped me figure out exactly what I wanted in a school and an administration and a department. And the best part was that the interviews weren’t as shitty in year 2 because I had a whole year of insanity to draw from. If you’re miserable at your school, find a new one! And I keep being assured year 2 is easier wherever you are. I know I feel a lot more prepared so far than I did last year.

4) It’s just a job. – Sure, we do good work. We change lives and shape futures and blah blah blah. But at the end of the day it is just a job, and you need to have a life outside of it. Go out to Happy hours with co-workers on Fridays (or on a random Tuesday when it was just a completely shitty day, but those hangovers are a bitch). Hang out with your roommates watching TV, or with your friends playing games. Yes, your To-Do list is unending, but it still will be even if you work all night. So try to stay a person.

5) It’s not your classroom. – This is one piece of advice I read on some blog somewhere halfway through the year, and my first reaction was “Of course it’s my classroom” but in fact I’m part of my department, which is part of the school, which is part of the district. When your principal comes in and asks you to do something, you have to do it, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. Trust me, it makes life so much easier. And if there start to be a whole host of things you’re asked to do that you don’t agree with, see point #3 above.

6) Document Everything. – This is perhaps due to my jaded experience this year, but I think it’s good practice in any event. Keep a lot of meetings you have with your principal, department head, and anyone else who is reviewing you and giving you feedback. Don’t delete emails. Save every paper they give you. If you’re getting good reviews, than it’s ego boosting. If you run into trouble later on, it will help to build a case if one needs to be built. It’s a little annoying at the time, but it will save you a headache later.

7) You’re not alone. – Talk to your friends. Talk to your coworkers. Talk to #MTBoS. Vent. Ask for advice. Ask for lesson ideas. Tell jokes. Have a drink. Vent some more. Don’t get stuck in your head because it’s a lonely place. And there are some pretty fantastic ideas out there. Start here and here, and just keep exploring. I got some great ideas from literally just googling “Algebra Factoring”.

8) You’re awesome and you are doing good work and you are making a difference. – Just in case you forgot.

I’m sure there’s more advice I could give, but I also know none of it will really sink in amidst the maelstrom of stress and planning. You’ll learn it all soon enough, anyway. Good luck with the year, and kick some ass. And if you need a happy hour to vent, come find me. I’m a professional at happy hour venting.