Orientated and Orientating

This time last year I was with a fantastic staff doing a ton of work to set up a new school. I was full of hope and excitement for a new year and new opportunities.  And then last year actually happened.  And 100% of the teachers from  those PD sessions last summer were gone in June.

We all know what happened next...

We all know what happened next…

Now I’m at a brand new school, with a brand new staff, and I’m once again full of hope and excitement. And some deja vu, which brings with it a certain amount of terror. I know that I want to be a teacher, and I know that I could be a great teacher, but I can’t take another year like last year. But after a week of conversations and two days of freshman orientation, I already know this year will be different. Not that I won’t make numerous mistakes, or have my share of late nights, or be stressed out at times (that’s just part of teaching). But I think I’ve found a staff and administration that is willing to catch me when I fall and then lift me back up and come back stronger. We’ve already had a number of conversations about how the rubric they give is a tool, not evaluative. How they want to work with us on our goals and balance out all feedback and help us improve. I’ve already worked with the math department to start planning, and looking over the pre-existing curriculum (Key words being department and pre-existing curriculum). Yet they’re still going to give me some freedom to try some of the zany ideas I’ve gotten from the Math Twitter Blogosphere and Twitter Math Camp 2014. I’m kinda over the moon about it all and I don’t know what to do. Another one of the new teachers, who also came from a bad experience last year, just keeps looking at me like “What the hell? Is this for real?!”

The staff is quick to remind us that they’re not perfect. That there’ll still be days where we’re frustrated and exhausted and worn out. And I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that I can’t live up to their (or my own) expectations. What if this whole “I’m a good teacher” thing is a delusion of mine? What if I’m not rigorous enough, or frankly SMART enough to do all of the things I want to do and still improve kids and make them better? What if all my fears from #TMC14 turn out to be right?

But I’ll say now as I said then that no good can come from that train of thought. So nose down, eyes ahead, and let’s kick some ass.

Disney makes every blog better.

Disney makes every blog better.

I leave tomorrow for a two-night retreat with the incoming freshman. I’ve also spent the last two mornings meeting a bunch of the newbies and trying to learn names. This school is so much more diverse than my last, and the kids all seem much better behaved. The other staff keep mentioning kids that don’t “get it”, or that they all struggle with, but I’m dubious that it will compare to where I’m coming from. “What’s that? They’re talking during class? Well they didn’t tell me to go fuck myself, so I got this.”  The retreat should be awesome, with lots of end-of-summer upstate outdoor time and some bonding with the students and other staff. Then we come back to a three day weekend where I plan to relax my butt off. Students report next Thursday. Between then and now, I want to put up a goal-setting post and some pre-first-day reflections about some stuff I want to do this year. We’ll see if I get to all that. Either way, I’m off to finally watch Doctor Who from this week.


“Don’t Say That!” Project – Making First period more like Third

The thing about being a first-year teacher is that you make a lot of stupid mistakes. It’s completely understandable, first-year anythings make a ton of mistakes. But I always felt much worse making mistakes as a teacher because I’m affecting these kids’ future. Plus it’s a hell of a lot harder to go back and correct deeply ingrained misconceptions than it is to go back and change some cells on a spreadsheet or some grammar in a report.

Last year, when I was up way too late planning for the next day, I would always try to predict where my students would get turned around. I worked my butt off to anticipate all of their mistakes. And then came the day when kids didn’t know the difference between and angle and a side. I was flabbergasted, so I asked another teacher friend, and they were like “oh, yeah, you have to be very explicit.” It made me realize there is a whole treasure trove of information out there that experienced teachers can pass along to less-experienced teachers.


And these don’t necessarily have to be huge revelations. There were numerous times when I would teach something in first period, I would realize that the way I worded something was messy, and I would fix it for third and things would go much better. The goal here is to make First period more like third period, so third period can be even better (h/t to Tina for describing it like this).

There’s already a great website out there called mathmistakes.org by Michael Pershan which has dozens of examples of student work and invites other teaches examine the mistakes that they made and think about the misconceptions present. This is an awesome activity and a great thing for professional development among teachers. But to be blunt, I didn’t have time for that every night, especially my first year of teaching. For practical reasons, I needed a quick list of the top 3-5 misconceptions that students have or mistakes that teachers make for the topic I was teaching in 12 hours. Even if I didn’t figure out the best way to overcome those misconceptions and mistakes, I’d at least be able to anticipate them and not have my lesson handicapped.


So I’ve decided I want to start a project, using other teachers as resources, to document a lot of these mistakes and misconceptions that students have. I’m not really sure the best way to do this, so I’m starting out simple. I’ve created a Google spreadsheet (link below) that we will use to collect all the different information from different teachers around the interwebs. When I get enough information (and enough time) I will start putting the information on a nicely designed website. Right now the spreadsheet is only available to edit for anyone with the link, but if this takes off I can make it more public. Also, please let me know if for some reason this isn’t working, I only sort of understand how Google docs work.

“Don’t Say That!” – Make First Period Like Third – Google Spreadsheet

One last note before I publish this: There may be some overlap between this project and Nix the Tricks, at least at first. Several misconceptions are due to teachers in the past using tricks instead of proper instruction. However, I firmly believe that there are misconceptions and better phrasing that exist outside of the tricks frequently taught to students. So  for now we’ll deal with the overlap and in the future we can work on eliminating it.

So get to contributing! And again, let me know if there are any issues and I will work to rectify them.

** Huge thanks to Julie for checking over my google doc before I sent it out. And to Tina and Max for letting me bounce ideas off of them.

It's been scientifically proven that Benedict Cumberbatch makes any project 15 times more successful.

It’s been scientifically proven that Benedict Cumberbatch makes any project 15 times more successful.

Next Year’s Teaching Slate

New school, new classes to teach. And lucky for me it’s classes I’ve never really taught before!

First thing is a hybrid Algebra/Geometry class. First half of the year is Algebra 1 (with the Common Core Regents at the end), and the second half of the year is Geometry (again, with the Common Core Regents, or whatever they’ve released by next June).  The other course I’m teaching is Algebra 2/Trigonometry (for the whole year). The books we’re using are…

Algebra 1: Barron’s Let’s Review Integrated Algebra

ISBN-13: 978-1438000176

ISBN-13: 978-1438000176

Geometry:  Geometry (McDougal Littell Jurgensen Geometry)

ISBN-13: 978-0395977279

ISBN-13: 978-0395977279

Algebra 2/Trig:  Algebra 2 (McGraw-Hill)

ISBN-13: 978-0078884825

ISBN-13: 978-0078884825

I’m open to any and all suggestions or warnings about these texts as I head into next year. Also, any suggestions on where I can get them for cheap? The Barron’s book is only $10 so that’s fine, but the others seem to be a bit pricey. I’m sure my school has some version of the teachers edition so if not I’m not super worried.

#TMC14: Twitter Math Camp aka Math Teacher Comic Con



This will serve as my TMC reflection, but I did individual recaps of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 if you’re curious.

A year ago I was at a summer boot camp to prepare us for our first year of teaching, and Sam came in and was gushing about this “Twitter Math Camp” he had just come back from. It was part of his introduction to the Math Twitter Blogosphere. He sold me on the #MTBoS (even if I wasn’t half as active as I wanted to be this year) and convinced me that I should check out Twitter Math Camp the following summer.

Holy shit you guys, it’s awesome.

I literally just googled “It’s Awesome” and this came up.

Three and a half days of hanging out with other math teachers geeking out over mathematics and pedagogy. There is such an incredible energy and attitude in the air. The only time I’ve ever felt that same kind of energy was when I went to an anime convention in Baltimore several years ago. Everyone is so overwhelmingly excited just to be there talking about this stuff. And unlike the anime convention, I’ll be able to use most of this stuff when I start teaching in a few weeks. Absolutely insane, but in the best possible way.

I’m not entirely sure how, but it’s been a week since I left Jenks, Oklahoma to continue my Great American Adventure. I think I’ve now had enough time to assimilate a lot of what I saw and did there, so I’m going to write out some of my bigger take-aways from the weekend. Note that none of these are exactly earth-shattering, and are probably done much better and more eloquent service by others, but it’s things I want to remind myself of throughout the year as I see things online.

* Measuring Up – There seemed to be a theme this year in several of the blog posts I skimmed about how TMC has a habit of making us all feel like terrible teachers. You see all these great things that other teachers are doing and think “Wow, I’m not doing any of that, they’re so much more inspired than me, I’m a fraud.” I was there at times too. Listening to how Glenn and Jonathan each teach Algebra 2 I thought that they were not only better teachers than me, but also considerably smarter. Anna and Kathryn‘s interactive notebooks are monuments of organization and dedication. It’s really easy to be intimidated (and to want to try ALL THE THINGS, but I’ll get to that in a second), especially just coming out of my first year of teaching.  So I made a conscious choice halfway through to stop comparing myself. I have to trust, day to day, that I’m doing as much as I can, and stop trying to measure up to teachers with several years experience. It helped me to stop wasting time beating myself and start absorbing more and more and more ideas.

* Trying ALL THE THINGS – One look at my Netflix queue makes it abundantly clear that my goals far outstrip reality. If I ever figure out how to stop time I MIGHT catch up before 2050. But probably not. Same applies to all the awesome ideas I got at TMC 14. If I had another two years before September I might have all the cool new things implemented (assuming I ignored the aforementioned Netflix queue). Obviously that’s not going to happen, so I’m going to pick two things to change in my classroom. The first is a serious, serious focus on nixing of tricks. I got through all of last year without ever saying the words “FOIL”. I want to do the same this year with more tricks, specifically those around fractions. The second is going to be organizing my Alg 2 curriculum like Glenn does, with the vertex form of all the functions. It was neat and orderly and I got it. I want to try to do my homework like Kathryn’s Math Maintenance, but I acknowledge planning a week ahead of time may not happen.

* You Do You – Dan Meyer used the phrase “Be Selfish” during his keynote about the MTBoS, and I know that some people took exception to it. Obviously if everyone is selfish, it’s real damn hard to share. But I’ve come to realize (and this ties into the “ALL THE THINGS”) that my personality is just not built for certain things. It’s taken me three days to write the blog post you are currently reading, so my blogging endeavours will be limited. 180 Blogging sounds awesome, but unless I make it a Tumblr it’s never going to happen, and even then it probably won’t. Twittering is more my speed because I have a short attention span. And the trick is to not feel guilty about that. Part of me thinks blogging more last year would have helped, because I would have had an outlet and professional support for the BANANAS shit that was going down. But I also worried it would have just been way too negative. I felt guilty for not blogging more, and for not being more active in the awesome community. But at the end of the day, I have enough guilt because of all the things I’m not doing right in my classroom, I don’t need to add to it by not blogging more often.  At the end of all of this, I have to get something out of this, and if that’s just blog-surfing that’s fine, and if that’s just tweeting that’s fine, and if that’s just blogging about every class I teach every day then that’s fine too.

* I’m all about that Bass – No Treble.

* All my tweeps in the house say YEAH – My Professional Learning Network just quadrupled in size, and with school three weeks out I’m already seeing so many awesome ideas on the interwebs. Seriously folks, I just read about a lesson on ratios involving Mullets.  You can’t make this shit up. Y’all are awesome and amazing and I can’t wait to steal ideas from all of you.

So yeah, it was amazing and awesome and inspiring and fun and hilarious. If you’re reading this and you weren’t there, start planning for next year. Harvey Mudd College in Los Angeles July 23-26th. TMC15 will be off the chain (do the kids still say that?).  I’m off to enjoy my last week and a half of freedom. I will have two more posts in the immediate future, one about what I’m teaching this year (and with which books) and one about this project idea I want to start that I’m really, really, really excited about.