#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…


The First Annual #MfASummerThink 2017

Today is the last day of the very first MfA Summer Think conference. Over the course of two and a half days we’ve had three featured speakers, three short support sessions, and a Deep Dive session where we got to focus on one idea for over 5 hours. It’s been a really great experience to spend more devoted time with other MfA teachers that I usually just see in short bursts.

For my Deep Dive I chose to do the “Curriculum Reboot: Design Challenge as Assessment” by Vielca. The idea is you give students a specific task that they have to design a solution for. We started our session by taking 35 minutes to create a marble slide that has to have the longest time. I’d never met anyone in my group, but by the end of those 35 minutes we were working as a team and getting so involved. I really like this structure for getting students involved, but the whole time I was thinking that it’s really hard to come up with these sorts of challenges. Vielca then took time to address those concerns, and give us time to work in groups to come up with project ideas. By the end, I had created an idea for Algebra 2 that has students creating different pieces of a Mars rover using different functions. As ideas go it’s an OK start, but I’m not super in love with it. But this workshop was a great reminder for me to get out of my comfort zone a bit and try to do more project-based learning.

The coolest part about the Deep Dives, however, was the share-out at the end of the conference. When it was originally suggested that we have an “exposition” to share out everything we’d done, I was a little skeptical. Obviously not because I think it’s bad to share, but I wasn’t sure how it would logistically work. But the idea that I think Leah came up with to have tri-fold boards was fantastic. It was like a mini science fair, and we got to see so many great ideas that are shared. I think one of the biggest areas for improvement for MfA is resource sharing, and even something as simple as this share-out gave me ideas for the future which I really appreciated.

For the support sessions, I got to choose two because I was leading one myself. The first one I chose was about Opportunities for Productive Struggle, led by Heidi and Melanie. They gave us a ton of research on the value of productive struggle, and some example problems that they use in their own classrooms. It’s clear that both of them put a ton of work into their session, which was awesome. I think it’d be a really cool project to sit down and come up with specific banks of problems for each subject (Alg 1, Alg 2, Geo, etc) that are available online.

The second support session I got to choose was about Concrete Demonstrations for Abstract Ideas by Samantha. I loved her energy so much, and the presentation was a lot of fun. Her examples were more for Chem because that’s what she teaches, but it was a good reminder that so much of what we do is abstract and we need to find ways to make it more real for kids. I think even Desmos can be a good way to make the subject more tangible for kids, and I need to utilize it more this coming year.

The session I led was just about the MTBoS. Not to diminish how awesome I think the topic is, but I’ve done the presentation before so it wasn’t much new. But I think everyone got something significant out of it, which I’m always proud of. The more people I can get hooked on the #MTBoS, the stronger both MfA and MTBoS become. I love having a phenomenal community of educators that I can steal borrow from constantly.

All of the workshops aside, the most interesting thing I got out of the conference was planning it. Brian (who I knew from the MTBoS) had sent out a note on the MfA network to join a conference planning committee.  He had sent his TMC to Courtney Allison at MfA, which led to a conference planning committee. Given how much I get out of TMC every year I made it a point to attend, and I’m so glad I did. Working with Brian and Courtney G and Leah and Carl and Sony and Diana over the last six months has been educational and informative. I kind of pushed hard for the basic structure to mirror Twitter Math Camp (with deep dives and support sessions) and from the feedback I got from participants I’m glad that I did. And I’m excited to try this whole thing again next year. Hopefully it will be a lot less work since we already have a framework to build on. And hopefully more people will be eager to sign-up after hearing about all of the amazing work we did!



#DITLife: June 28, 2017 – Last Day of School!

10:15am – Sitting here waiting to give out report cards to some sophomores. Today I got up at normal time, swung by a fancy donut place for a treat for my department, and came to school. It’s been super laid-back today since kids just come in to grab their report cards and leave. Some of the seniors have come back just to say hi, and the staff is all being very relaxed and casual.

I stayed until 6pm last night packing up my room, so there’s not a ton left to do today. A few odds and ends need to make their way into a locker and then we’re good to go.

Just requested the certificate for an optical exam, and I found a new dentist. Summer is this amazing time where I actually get to take care of my health and to-do list. Everyone jokes about how we get summers off, but that time is really the only way this job is manageable. It’s not like I can schedule appointments during the day if I get here at 7 and leave at 5.

12:02pm – Our hours are officially up, so I have to turn off my laptop and stow it for the summer. We have an end-of-year happy hour and then I get to relax for a few days.

This July I have an MfA conference in NYC, my Desmos Fellowship in San Francisco, and TMC in Atlanta. Then in August is a wedding in Seattle. The rest of the time will be spent being as lazy as possible while catching up on video games and TV. I’m so excited my head is spinning.

Adios for the year! Here’s to next year being calmer.

#DITLife: June 12, 2017 – LAST DAY OF CLASSES!

7:44am – It’s probably bad that I’m writing this when I didn’t finish my reflections from last month. In fact I don’t think I even finished my blog post. I was doing a thousand things and all of them were stressful and I was very unhappy. But now everything is done and I’m in much better spirits!  It helps that the seniors keep coming by to ask me to sign their yearbook. It’s a nice way to end the year.

Last week we had the senior camping trip Monday through Wednesday, and I think I’m still trying to catch up on sleep. Every day last week I’d hit a wall at like 4pm and have to go home and sleep. But this weekend I was able to finish grading my last set of Algebra 2 quizzes, so now I just have to tally homework and review a rubric for their presentations. This year my students either took the IB exam back in May, or are taking the Regents exam on Friday, so I have no finals to grade this year. And because of my responsibilities with the Senior class I’m not going to Regents grading. It’s not such a bad deal.

8:51am – Just finished my last Algebra 2 planning meeting for the year, where we basically just talked through some logistics for the end of the year and exams. Now I’m sitting in a senior study hall room signing yearbooks and entering some last grades. I should probably be more stressed than I am about various end-of-the-year things, but after the year I’ve had I kind of just want to take it easy. Or at least as easy as I can given the fact that I have so many little things to take care of. But I also have come to think that “cramming” isn’t super useful in most cases.

1:31pm – The problem with these DITLife posts is I get distracted by shiny things and wander off. During my fourth period break I wanted to visit all of the different senior electives that we offered to see how they were going. But that then turned in to long conversations with the college counselors about the school. Then during my Financial Literacy elective, I showed the kids “The Big Short” because I figured I couldn’t teach them anything.

The problem is that I got a message that seniors were just wandering the school, landing in whatever classroom they happened to find. I know they’re seniors and it’s their last day of high school, but I think that rules exist for very specific reasons. When stuff like this happens it infuriates me because I think we give them a lot of freedom, and they’re still abusing the privileges. I’ve learned to pick my battles, but it still puts me in a bad mood.

I’ve got one more Algebra 2 class to teach and then I’m done teaching for the year.

2:36pm – And I’m done teaching for the year! We still have exams to proctor, and there’s one more day at the end of the year where kids are here, but the heaviest lifting is over. Now we just have to collect their textbooks…

4:43pm – I’m not really sure how I kill time in this building, but it’s time to leave. I didn’t finish all my grading, but there’s only one thing really I still have to do. And make a DeltaMath assignment for Regents Review. But right now I’m off to MfA for a conference planning workshop. Woooooo.