First Days

So I have an hour to kill at the moment, but I need to be productive so I can start getting sleep at night. I want to talk through the first week, but no one is here, so I’ll just throw things at the wall and see what sticks.


Some background: This year, because of weird holiday schedules, our first day isn’t until Wednesday, September 9th. We have three days that week (Wed – Fri) then we have a FOUR DAY weekend, followed by another 3 day week. We have a normal weekend, then we’re back for two days, have Thursday and Friday off (for Yom Kippur and Eid, respectively), then a Friday of classes, then another weekend. So basically we don’t have a normal week until October. This is so very annoying.

Because we only have 3 days and then a four day weekend, I don’t want to start actual content in that first short week. Wednesday will only be 30 minute periods because of administrative first day stuff and Fridays are slightly shorter to begin with, plus kids are transferring in and out of classes and it’s a mess. So I want to figure out some way to meaningfully use those first three days without jumping straight into “Unit 1” as it were.

More background:  I’m teaching two new classes this year, both of which are IB classes.  First is IB Math Studies, which is the most “Applications” type course that IB offers.  The second is IB Math Standard Level.  I’m teaching the first year of each course, so the kids are as new to it as I am.  I am teaching only juniors, and last year I taught primarily sophomores, so I’m expecting a fair bit of overlap with students I’ve taught before.

Here are my thoughts so far:

Day 1 – Welcome (Back) to Mr. Baker’s Math Class

The basic schedule is that we start out in advisories in the morning, then have shortened classes, then are back to advisory at the end of the day. I was told to expect 30 – 35 minutes. But of course kids are going to be confused about who is in what classroom and in what class, plus kids will be absent since the week is so stupidly short. So I’m thinking kids walk in and on the board I have a “Which one doesn’t belong” that kids think about and jot some ideas down on. This introduces them to a couple things, like how I’ll be having kids develop arguments and explain their thinking in my class.  I also like the idea of starting right off with something mathy.  The nice thing about WODB is that I can also tie it into the use of Plickers. I was thinking rather than having a seating chart on the board I’d just have plickers at every table with everyone’s name (Downside: I have three classes in a row, how do I reset plickers and still meet everyone at the door?  Which reminds me, high-fives for everyone when they walk in the door, a la Glen. I guess I could just have them in sets of four for each table and not worry too much about exactly who is in which chair).  I can start out by asking kids to vote for which one doesn’t belong using the Plickers, and then later in the week we will be able to use them again.

I’m really not about reading the syllabus, especially because A) a lot of it is just borrowed from the Math Department and B) they can read it just as effectively at home.  That said I do want to talk briefly about some of my expectations for the year. I’m going hard on the two big rules that I got from Meg:

  1. Work Hard
  2. Be Nice to People

Everything else will build from those. If you’re cheating, you’re not working hard. If you’re talking while I’m talking, you’re not being nice. Do I need to explain WHY these rules are important? It seems fairly self-explanatory to me. I’ll explain some of my other expectations (3 minutes for passing, no food and drink) but those are fairly standard, especially for anyone I had last year.  Maybe I’ll lay out the rules in the syllabus, have students read for homework, and then take any questions the following day.

I also want to set-up some new expectations I have. Last year I was kind of lackadaisical about notebooks, I was like “You need to be taking notes every day” but didn’t take it beyond that. Our kids can get by without note-taker-makers so I just sort of left it up to them. This year I’m following Jonathan’s $1 textbook idea (and been bugging him on twitter about it).  Students need a composition book for class dedicated to only math.  I have some ideas on how to keep them accountable I’ll share in another post, but since this is a new rule I want to be very explicit early. I am giving kids a week to get their notebooks, so basically they should have them by the time we start new content.

Then if there’s any time after this throw up some pictures of my summer vacation and have a conversation with the class to help me learn any new names.  This already feels like a lot for 30 minutes, so I probably have to streamline.  Let’s think:

  1. Entrance, warm-up, conversation (10 minutes)
  2. Brief review of Big Points on Syllabus (15 minutes)
  3. Summer debrief, quick name game (10 minutes)

For homework, I want kids to read through the syllabus and prepare any questions for me. I’d also like them to read the Make it Stick excerpts that Julie made. By the following week, they will also need to get a notebook (or two) for notes, sign up for Edmodo, and fill out a short student survey so I can get their contact info and get some more information about them (favorite color, one word to describe math, etc).

Day 2 – Math Mindsets and Learning

After listening to all my teacher friends on Twitter, I really, really want to have a day where we talk about how we best learn math. I’m really interested in the idea of a growth mindset and refusing to let any kid tell me they “Just don’t get math”. So I want the kids to have some conversations about it. How do we learn math best? How do you feel about math at the moment?

For warm-up, I think we give them some sort of diagnostic quiz they have to fill out about their mindset. Then we have them  pair-share? Or maybe a talking point structure? I’ve never done Talking Points before but I think it would be very helpful for me to have more of a structure for discussion in Math class. I also think it will be a very useful tool for tackling misconceptions later on in the year.  We follow all of this up with a Plickers share-out so we can have actual graphs for each idea, and then have an open discussion about things. I really want to drive home how important I think it is for students to keep working and trying, and I want to find ways to value what they do even if they’re not 100% correct. My planning partner recently finished reading a book about mindset so I need to sit with him and pick his brain.

My biggest concern is that this isn’t enough for a whole day.  I want to have some good conversations about things, and I only really have like 45 minutes, but still.  I think after we have the mindset conversation, I’ll leave the last five minutes or so to have a discussion about any rules kids are uncomfortable with. I at least want to justify what I’m thinking, even if they disagree with it. And I’ll leave room for suggestions from students (not that I’ll necessarily take them, but at least hear what they have to say).  I’ll also have a random puzzle problem just in case everything finishes up super early.

Day 3 – Welcome to IB

Obviously any new math class has a ton of new material. While I’m all about spiraling, I’m not going to introduce a bunch of new material randomly on a Friday. But there are other things about IB that are different than the traditional Regents courses that students have taken in the past.  We want to take this day specifically to look at some sample IB problems so we can discuss their general structure as well as certain new vocabulary (for example, they call it “Gradient” instead of “slope”).  It’s also a good way for us to review some of the expected “Prior Learning” from the year before. My colleagues from  last year have already gone through the IB Question Bank to pick out some problems, so barring any major issues I’ll just use those.

I think this is probably the best time to introduce students doing practice work on the table whiteboards I bought. I’m synthesizing this and this to get students working on task for longer and being more productive. I’ll need to set up a norm or two (share the space with your table, don’t draw a giant penis on the board, etc) but it’s generally going to be a shared space. This actually makes me realize I need to be very specific about my whiteboard work-time expectations, so that’s something I will have to flesh-out over the next few days.

After the students have worked through the problems for a few minutes, we will show them the markscheme for the problems and review how these problems will be scored. There are a lot of points for accuracy, as well as command terms that can alter exactly what the question is asking for, so it should be a meaningful use of time. We can have a reflection at the end to formalize what students have seen.

So that’s pretty much my thoughts. My one question is if we switch the Day 2 and Day 3 plan. We really only have 5 fewer minutes on Fridays, but the general pace feels more rushed for some reason. But I feel like logically the mindset thing should come before the intro to IB. Plus we’ll be revisiting IB questions routinely over the next two years, and I want to set the tone early.

I welcome any and all thoughts, thanks in advance!


Which of my medias are social

For the record this post is going to be a large brain-dump as I work through recent thoughts, so it may not be useful for everyone.

For no reason other than I’m me and thus crazy, I’ve been thinking a lot about my online presence and all that entails. Cause the thing is, I’m a joiner. I want to know what all the kids are doing so I join a bunch of random sites. I obviously have twitter and facebook, but I also have tumblr and pinterest and an instagram and recently got a snapchat (which I hate, but the account exists). So the question becomes, how protected am I? Who sees what?


Last year, after Twitter Math Camp 2014, I had my tweets unprotected. I liked that my tweets could be retweeted and commented on, I liked that I didn’t have to go in and approve follower requests. It helped me feel more a part of the community. But then on random night one of my students followed me, and I panicked. Not because my twitter feed is filled with accounts of IV drug use and plotting the downfall of the American government, but I hadn’t been censoring myself. There were curse-words and references to a night out or two, or about a celebrity I found attractive. Things I’d have no problem saying to another adult, even in a work setting, but didn’t need a bunch of teenagers to see.  For example, I had a tweet (which I can’t find now) that was something along the lines of “If I took a drink every time I saw this stupid mistake, I’d be very drunk right now.”  It was funny, and other teachers laughed. But then a kid repeated it back to me in class.  Nope.  So I blocked the student that had followed me and I protected my tweets.

While I regret that particular tweet a bit, I don’t regret that decision. For me, twitter is a space where I can collaborate and commiserate with other educators (as well as keep abreast of entertainment news in real time). I like being myself on there because I want to connect with my peers in an authentic way. And authentic me curses like a sailor while talking about having a glass of wine. Yeah, I mostly talk about the best way to teach factoring and what makes for a good activity, but those bits are interspersed and I like them.  I’ve given thought to censoring myself, but the fact is I’m not very good at remembering to do that. I slip up sometimes, and I don’t like that a way I slip-up could be recorded.

The trick is, then I get comments like this from my kids.  And I wonder if there isn’t some value to the kids Captureseeing more of my personality outside of the classroom. If seeing me getting really annoyed at the subway system or commenting about last night’s episode of Empire isn’t important and something my kids should see. The teacher talk will bore them and eventually they’ll lose interest, anyway. So I struggle with a way to be present in some form of social media without being SO present in social media.

One thing I’ve been kicking around is if I should create a new instagram account. It would be pictures of mathy things, mainly, but maybe I throw in a shot of me at the Brooklyn Bridge or a shot of my favorite dinner from the week. I don’t know. A way to connect with the world in a teacher-friendly way. Granted I’d never follow kids or interact with them online, that’s just too risky, but if I have things posted so they could see? I don’t know. A stronger voice inside my head says “This is a bad idea” but I know some teachers really value having their kids look at their twitter so I’m trying to figure it out.  I’m still relatively new to this so I’ll sit with it for a while.

My #1TMCThing, and the two that spoke to me

I need to write this out as a blog post because if I don’t it will become way too easy to not be accountable.

One of the sessions I went to this year was Rachel’s session on Questioning.  I already mentioned it in my blog post from TMC15 Friday, but she did a great job of setting up the whole session and got us really thinking about how we question. But my favorite part was when she had us all tweet ONE thing from the session that we were going to commit to working on this year. For the record, here is mine:


I loved this idea because Twitter Math Camp is three days of amazing ideas, and it leads to overload.  Basically I want to do ALL the things.

My Quintessential TMC Picture

My Quintessential TMC Picture

But that’s insane. I’m going into my third year of teaching and there are so many basic things I have to work on that I can’t do literally every great idea I find at TMC (It was even more insane to try last year). It’s obviously good to take risks, but goals need to be Actionable and Reasonable and whatever other words spell SMART.

So I wrote to Lisa Henry and said “Yo Lisa, sup gurl? Howz ’bout we do the same thing for #TMC15?”  Thus the hashtag #1TMCThing was born. There was some grumbling that “How do I pick just one thing out of all of these great ideas?!” but the whole point was to keep it manageable. Sure, you can do a #2TMCThing* and a #3TMCThing** but you commit to at least one and work from there.

The feed is so inspiring to read through. I attempted to post a link below, but we’ll see how that works.

Of course this means I have to put my money where my mouth is. I went to a bunch of amazing sessions, and went back and forth with my idea, but finally I decided on:


It’s kind of crazy because I didn’t even hear Alex talk about his “Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces” (which, for the record, I still think is a silly name for them, but moving on). But I did see tweets from several people about the data Alex found (inserted below)  To decipher this, the top 3 lines are the amount of time, on average, kids spent. on things.  The bottom half of the grid is a scale, from 1 to 3, of basically how awesome it was. The difference between non-permanent (white boards) and permanent (notebooks) was crazy. I’m not sure if I can get Vertical Boards set-up this year, especially since I don’t know what rooms I’m going to be in, but I definitely want to at least get large whiteboards to go on the tables for kids. For more information, check out Alex’s blog post: (h/t to Chris R for finding that for me).

data highlighted

To make it even better James gave me the awesome idea to have kids do a bunch of practice problems on the whiteboard, and then choose one to put in their notebooks as an example. Part of my concern had been “If the work is on the whiteboard, how do they study from it?” but this alleviated that issue, and gave the students a chance to reflect on what the best problem is and why they should write it down.  I love everything about this idea and I’ve had it in the back of my head for a while, and this is the year I will finally commit to it.

But wait, there’s more!  Lisa recognized that just saying “This is a thing that I’m going to do!” isn’t actually the best accountability system. She told all of us to look through the #1TMCThing tweets and find 1 or 2 that spoke to us. Then, six months later on October 26th, we would reach out and follow up with those people and see how it was going. This is a great way to keep us connected and accountable, and also I always listen to whatever Lisa tells me to do, so here are the things that spoke to me:

If it was possible to be too focused on accountable talk, that would describe our school culture. We are always trying to get kids to talk more to each other about content. That’s why I’ve found Elizabeth’s material on Talking Points to be very intriguing. But I’ve never tried it and I really want to know how it works with actual math content. I know some of the #MTBoS did it last year but I wasn’t in a place to really assimilate all of that. This year I want to follow-up with Heather using it in her Algebra 1 class so I can think about how to apply it to to my IB SL and IB Studies classes (Also Heather is awesome and I’ll look for any chance to talk to her).

I don’t think I spoke to Nate the entire TMC15, but I love this idea. I think the idea of moving away from strict units and just having Math presented in novel ways would be so powerful for kids. The trick is it scares the crap out of me to try it. I’m not afraid to take certain leaps, but I’m still new and with two new preps I’m not at all sure how to just jump in headfirst. I’m really curious to see how Nate pulls this off in both big and small ways. Plus hey, new twitter friend.

Honorable Mention:

So Lisa said pick one or two, but Deb posted this a few days later and I loved it because I plan on doing it too, especially for my IB Studies kids. Last year we had a couple estimation challenges that I put together for the school, and the kids did TERRIBLY. So I wanted to put in Estimation 180, but not limit it to only that. This is an idea I first saw from Mary and I think would be super easy to implement but very powerful.

So those three people can expect a tweet from me on or around October 26th, but I look forward to how everyone’s year is going.

* My #2TMCThing is to have at least one activity based lesson this year. I’ve already talked it over with my coplanner so this may happen!

** My #3TMCThing is to give everyone a high-five at the door on their way in to get them excited about class.