I wish it was a Prius

I should totes be asleep as I’m not nearly over this cold I have, but this is really bothering the shit out of me.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’m teaching this Algebra/Geometry hybrid course this year. Basically at our school, we’ve found that while all of our kids are decent at algebra, some of them could really use a stronger foundation heading in to Algebra 2. To that end, we sort our 9th grade either into a full Geometry course, or a “hybrid” Algebra/Geometry course. Students take Algebra for the first semester (culminating in the Regents exam), and then Geometry for the second semester (again culminating in a Regents exam. EFFECTIVE TESTING!**).  The goal of the first section is to help build a stronger foundation in Algebra, and the second section is to expose them to certain ideas in Geometry (including proofs) before they head into Algebra 2 and the IB curriculum during Junior and Senior year (all our kids take IB at some level).

Prior to my arrival at this school, the same teacher had been teaching Hybrid for three years. She had a lot of things down really well and it was a curriculum that worked really well for her. My co-planner and I have all of her notes and materials to work from. Our department head and AP (and even the former teacher) have said “Don’t feel like you have to use those materials if you’d rather take it in a different direction. Teach stuff that you think is interesting!”

The problem is, I find that feedback to be terrifyingly open-ended.

I think Algebra 1 can be a really interesting, deep topic. I think there’s a lot of depth in there that the traditional Algebra 1 Regents Prep curriculum (which I think a lot of these kids are coming from) leaves out. If I draw one more line on a board and a kid says “Oh, that’s a slope” I might literally shoot laser beams out of my eyes. Kids are lazy about Algebra and while they know a lot of procedures, they don’t know a lot of concepts. So it sounds like this is a perfect opportunity to teach that to them!

Except I don’t trust my abilities to teach that to them. Or more importantly for there to be tangible things for students to take away. I worry it will be a lot of “Oh, we talked a lot in class, but I forgot about what.”  And I want to create a through-line for the Algebra section of this class, but I can’t figure out what to use. In Algebra 2 we’re using functions, but do we make that our through-line for Algebra 1 also? Do I tie that into Statistics through Regression?

Or do I take a completely different tack and try to find real-world applications of all this material? Do I reactivate my Mathalicious account and start implementing all of their fancy-pants projects? Do I give students independent research projects to complete to help them find their own connections and discover more depth on their own?

I feel like I have this fantastic, cool, mathematically engaging opportunity, and I feel like I’m wasting it. These kids are almost never going to work with linear functions again in high school, at least not theory-wise. But I’m not sure I’m a good enough teacher yet to get to all this stuff.  And I’m not sure I’m a smart enough mathematician to explain it in simple ways.

This was all brought about by the fact that I spent three hours planning a lesson on fucking histograms. HISTOGRAMS. This is not super complicated stuff. But I agonize over how to engage the third of my class that learned all this two years ago while at the same time engaging the third of my class that thinks I’m speaking a different language. Which is hardly a unique problem to have in education, and again our kids are skilled enough that even the “low-performers” still do pretty well. But I want this all to mean something and that is stressful and tiring.

So I don’t know what to do. I’d welcome any suggestions if someone could give me a good BIG IDEA or two for this semester.  If you only had four months to reinforce Algebra 1, what is most important?

And with that I’m going to sleep because it’s stupid that I’m still up this late.

** In my school’s defense, everyone has been like “Yeah, the test is important, but our kids will probably pass anyway, so don’t let that be a huge guiding factor for you.” I just think the tests are annoying.

First Week Reflection: Pinch Me

So we’re two days in to the new year, and I can’t quite believe it. Not just the time (although the first days always feel significantly longer than they are), but also the place where I work. The kids are crazy, in the best way possible. They come in, they get seated, they’re polite and pretty considerate. I ask them to stop talking and they do. I give them a fun math puzzle and they all work together to complete it, and they’re all respectful about it. This week I’ve had a general idea for how I want things to run, but I didn’t script it out or have a hard-core lesson plan or anything, and the classes went off without a hitch. The veteran teachers keep assuring me that this isn’t going to last, but even if they slip a bit this is still so much better than what I dealt with last year. 

A couple things of note:

* My school doesn’t do posters. Like, at all. I asked “Oh, do we put up like procedure posters?” and they were like “no, we just decorate around our desks.” What is this insanity? On the one hand, I’m glad I don’t have to stress about bulletin boards, but on the other I’d like to put up some posters.  All the classes are so spread out I’m not sure how it will work just yet, but I may sneak some in. 

* We also only have one bell at the end of the period, so it’s kind of teacher discretion about lateness. I try to roughly gauge 3 minutes after the bell and then work from there. My goal this year is to be a real hard-ass about lateness, so I have to start guilting these kids into just being on time. 

* I’m also intent on being a hardass about uniforms and pencils. Here’s a question for my readers: How do y’all feel about the pencil/pen debate? Personally I think all math work should be done in pencil, but does that also apply to notes? I always took notes in pencil but I could see how it would be annoying for some kids and get all smudgy. But if I let them use pen for notes, won’t that just lead to homework being done in pen?

* I’m really punting on this Notebook thing this year. I really, really liked the idea of interactive notebooks. While I will never be a foldable kind of guy, I was really drawn to the idea of having kids treat their notebooks with a degree of reverence. And I think if I did it right, I could really create that sense for the kids. The tricky part is that it’s not something our school has in place at all, so I’d have to take a stand on my own. I think for this year I’m going to pick my battles in other places and just strongly suggest taking care of their notebook. 

* Having dedicated co-planners is amazing. I was more or less completely planned for Monday by the time I left on Friday. I have stuff to work on tonight, but if I get super frustrated with it I can stop and come back to it tomorrow and still be mostly ahead of the game. And I get to bounce ideas off of them and have them talk through things with me. It’s so cool and awesome and most importantly it helps me keep some sense of self. 

* I still hate the summer. I feel like being a hot sweaty mess kind of undermines my authority around the kids. But all the other teachers are just as gross. My home-base has AC so all the teachers have taken to hanging out in there when we don’t have class.  The only downside being that the AC tends to spit and leak. But I teach in the front of the room, so it doesn’t hit me. 

* I’m starting Friday Letters this year, and even though I presented it very poorly I already got one! Now I’m trying to figure out what kind of mailbox to get. Do I just use a paper box, or do I spend the $10 on a plastic mailbox? I kind of like the idea of a real mailbox that I can then decorate and that won’t get messed up so easily by kids moving it around. 

So those are the big things. I should get back to planning a bit. Our plans for this week are as follows:

Algebra 2/Trig: We’re doing an “Intro to Functions” unit, where basically we go over terms like function, relation, domain, and range,  The idea is to set-up what we’re doing in Algebra II ahead of time, similar to what Glenn does. I’m really excited to set-up the whole value of functions and the whole point of domain and range, especially since I didn’t think I really understood it myself until recently.  This unit will only last this week, and we’ll jump right into quadratics next week.

Algebra/Geometry: We’re starting with a problem solving unit, focused on how we approach new and confusing problems. At first my co-planner was hesitant to start with this, but after seeing how the kids approach some of the problems I think it will be really necessary. Tomorrow is a general introduction to confusing problems, and then we’ll spend three days each focused on a different strategy, and a final wrap-up on Friday. Then we jump into Statistics next week. This course is going to have a weird structure but I think it has potential to be really awesome 


So back to the idea of “New Year, New School, New Me”, I want to set forth some goals for the coming year. Plus I was asked to do this for my observation cycle so I might as well double up. Plus this helps me to procrastinate even further on doing ACTUAL work for the school year. So here goes:

1) Find a better work-life balance 


Last year I would be at school until at least 6 most days, then endure my hour long commute only to get home and work another 3-4 hours every night. Five hours of sleep and back at it the next morning. It was awful. In fact, the stress of it caused a spot on my beard to go white (which is now back to normal somehow). Granted it was my first year, and granted it was a shitshow for other reasons, but I’m never doing that again (at least not consistently). Thankfully this year I have planning partners for both of my preps, plus a curriculum for both has already been created, so I’m ahead of the game there. Plus I have a much better sense of what will and won’t work, and my kids are generally higher skilled than my kids last year so I don’t have to try to anticipate every single misconception that has ever been made in the history of math ever. I’ve also gotten much better at the “Any more work on this would not be productive so let’s go with it and remember to improve it for next year” frame of mind. Hopefully this all means I can watch TV and see my boyfriend and sleep normally and maybe even work out occasionally. 

2) Be better about calling home and building relationships with parents

Simpsons - Parent Teacher Conferences


I hate calling home. To be more specific, I hate using the phone at all. I never call my friends and only call my parents because my mother refuses to use technology of any sort beyond her universal remote. But calling parents especially fills me with dread. And not just because I have something bad to say. Even calling to say “Johnny did great today!” scares the crap out of me. But it’s important and it needs to happen and it will probably solve several problems that I have with behavior. So I just need to suck it up and make the call and eventually I’ll just get desensitized to it. 

3) Giving Better Feedback

a.k.a. giving assignments back right away instead of a semester later. Get your shit together, Mattie B.

4) Nixing More Tricks

I don’t remember where I heard it, but somewhere on the #MTBoS I heard someone say that we shouldn’t say FOIL, and instead should refer to it as the Distributive Property (or as that teacher called it, The Claw, which I used every time and my kids always rolled their eyes at). So I decided to do this. It wasn’t until this summer that I realized that was part of the Nix The Tricks campaign going on. But I loved it and I was proud of myself for not relying on that old trick (although of course I used others). 

This year, I’m setting my sights on the idea of “cancelling” when solving equations. And mainly that “Cancelling” as an operation doesn’t make any sense. We use it to describe both dividing to 1 and subtracting to zero, and you can’t really “Undo” cancelling (Are you going to “renew” that 2? Is math now like the tv show Jericho?). I’ll be following Glenn’s rules, using posters that Meg made (shown below).  The goal being to make stronger mathematicians. I’m sure I’ll slip up, but as with any goal, success is a process.  


So that’s all of them. Four is maybe too many, but it’s a long school year and hopefully I’m in a good position.

Now off to make lunch for the week so I can procrastinate some more.