#DITLife: October 16, 2016

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project by Tina Cardone.

12:46pm – I’m just getting settled at the coffee shop to work for the day. I didn’t get out of bed really until 9 (even though I had been up since 7 thinking of the hundreds of things on my to-do list), then I puttered around the house putting something in the slow cooker for dinner and just generally being slow. Plus the best coffeeshop in the area is a 10 minute bus ride, and it’s always packed in the middle of the day. But I managed to find a seat across from Sam with a plug so I’m good to go.

There’s so much to do I don’t really know where to start. I worked for about 5 hours yesterday and barely made a dent. I have to register half the senior class for their IB exams, and work on plans for this week, and start writing letters of recommendation that have a Nov. 1st deadline. I have 22  letters to write, most of which I agreed to back when I thought I would be the 10th grade team leader with a partner. Being the 12th grade team leader by myself is kicking my ass. Plus I forgot how much work writing a curriculum from scratch is. Overall I think we’re doing a good job with Algebra 2, but it’s a lot of work. And I’m not going to even think about the grading I have in my bag because that can wait and these other things simply cannot. So off to work I go.

3:17 pm – Finally finished registering students for their IB exams. That’s 2.5 hours I’ll never get back. The question is do I jump right into a letter of rec (since that’s what stressing me out the most) or do I give my brain a break and do some planning? Planning is energizing for me so maybe I’ll do that until 3:45. But I really, really, really have to get at least one letter done today. Rip the bandaid off.

4:18 pm – A lesson is planned (not even the one I meant to plan) but still no letter of rec. I really want to plan Thursday’s lesson for Algebra 2 but I’m forcing myself to write. Ugh.

5:30 pm – Finally done the first letter. I wasn’t writing for that whole time, there were also emails from a student asking about their quiz tomorrow and some emails from my co-planners about lessons later this week I was responding to. But I did spend about an hour on it. It was the first college rec I’ve ever written so I had to get my head into the right place. And I think it still has to be edited, but I’ve at least gotten the ball rolling. It’s one of those things that just learning how to think about it makes the whole process easier. Plus this wasn’t a student I was exceptionally close with so I had less of a thesis walking in. But it was nice to write, and from an objective point of view it was fun to think of nice things to stay about them. But I’m spent. I’m going to spend the rest of the night on the couch with my boyfriend watching TV.

6:23 pm – Ok, NOW I’m leaving. Had to write an email about a student in crisis. Never a dull moment. Sad Sundays are the worst.

The rest of the night was spent eating pot roast and watching TV. Specifically Westworld which everyone should be watching!

Reflection (Written on 10/26/16)

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?



Honestly when I’m working at the coffeeshop I don’t see myself as making a ton of decisions, but I probably was with regards to how the lesson I was planning was structured. I’ve been continually making an effort this year to get kids to make discoveries on their own. I think it’s been going well overall, and I try to save any “direct instruction” for after they’ve already had a go at the concept first.

The downside to that is we’re not making enough time for just practice, and test scores reflect that. I think we need to figure out how to reach a better balance of practice and inquiry. Trying to find this balance is really tricky, especially with a new curriculum that we’re writing as we go.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

Last week was PSAT day, and we always have workshops for our seniors. I was super, super, super stressed out about it all last week. Especially when I found out a few days before I’d have to lead a workshop. But when I started the workshop by telling the kids I was their Grade Leader I actually had one group that cheered. That was really flattering and nice to hear.

That said, all last week BEFORE the workshops was rough. I was so stressed out and overwhelmed and wondering how I would continue to get through the year. That part is exhausting. I want to be a teacher leader but there’s so much pressure to not waste other people’s time.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.


Almost every time I go to the coffee shop I sit down and work with Sam. It’s great because I have someone I can talk through ideas with, or even just vent to. And while I hesitate to call my work “misery”, misery does love company.  Having that relationship with someone not in my school is so important, and it makes Sad Sundays more bearable.

A more recent example (that happened yesterday, so about a week after the blog post was initially written) was when some of the seniors came to talk to me. Right now they have an EE due and college applications are coming up, all on top of regular high school stress. It was nice that they came to talk to me, and I think I handled the interactions well. I validated their feelings and also gave them steps to move forward. I know they don’t always see it but I do love the kids and it’s stressful for me that they’re so overwrought. But many of them do see it, and they show they appreciate it in their own way.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

It’s always amazing that the first thing to go when you’re running out of time is the exit slip. That’s happened twice in the last week. I worry that I’m not getting nearly as much feedback as I should be from the students, and I’m worried I’m giving even less feedback. Plus from what I understand the quiz we gave last week was a mess which further heightens this feeling that I’m not doing enough. I just don’t know how to find more time in the lessons.

I also feel kind of frantic about their note-taking. I’m doing better than I have in the past, but nowhere near as well as I think I could be doing. I really want to give a notebook quiz but that requires me to make it (and other versions so kids don’t cheat) and then check it and it’s just exhausting. But if you wait too long then kids are already set in their ways and it’s impossible to move them. Maybe I’ll try to make time for that today.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?


The “Explore MTBoS” workshop I lead at MfA was really successful! We got a ton of positive feedback which was great.

I know this post sounds super stressed out, but it’s been a stressful couple of weeks. Things have calmed down significantly now (hence why I finally have time to complete my reflections).



#DITLife: September 16, 2016

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project by Tina Cardone.

7:24 am – Just got into work. Getting up this morning was a struggle. I was so excited to finally reach Friday, and was giving myself a pat on the back for surviving my first full week back. Then I realized we had Monday off and it’s only been four days, and started to become concerned that I won’t survive the year. It’s currently somewhere in the low 70s but I still get to work sweaty. But it finally feels like autumn which makes me so happy. I may treat myself to a pumpkin coffee later today. Treat yo self.

This morning before class I want to set up Plickers for my Studies kids. I also need to tweak some slides for Algebra 2. Other to-dos for the day are to make sure everything is ready for Monday and I have to call home for a few students. After school we have an Extracurricular fair instead of any meetings, but I’m not advising any clubs because there’s just too much else going on. But I feel super guilty about it, especially when every kid that’s asked has been so understanding and nice. My hat’s off to anyone that runs some extracurricular, I haven’t figured out how to balance my time that well yet. I see other teachers with the same level of experience I have, with the same number of new preps, and they make it work. But as it is I’m here until 6 most nights. I know it would be rewarding, I just haven’t figured it out yet. I’m feeling super guilty just writing this so on to other things.

This first week back has been very stressful. I find myself getting more annoyed at things than I have in the past. Not at the students, but at other things happening, especially things that to me shouldn’t have been as bumpy as they were. This is vague, I know. But hopefully things are smoothing out and I can get back to just focusing on the 1000 things I have to do.

We’re covering cumulative frequency graphs in Studies. I’ve really struggled with the order for this course. It made sense to me to do Measures of Central Tendency early in the unit, but the textbook puts it somewhere in the middle, which normally I wouldn’t care about except all the practice problems for that section mention stuff they haven’t learned otherwise. In a perfect world I’d make my own practice questions but A) The teacher that taught this before me used the book religiously, and B) we have a serious paper shortage at our school so I can’t print out worksheets every night. It’s not a huge deal in the end, but it threw off my planning. Mainly because I wanted to use a quiz that was already created but now I think I have to change it slightly.

In Algebra 2 we’re doing sequences and series. I’m giving an exit slip today (which is something I haven’t done in years) to check in ahead of the exam next week. I think the classes are going ok but co-planning with two other people has presented some interesting challenges. Least of all is finding time for all three of us to meet. But each of us has slightly different styles so we wind up with three versions of the slides.

8:37 am – Managed to knock out all my to-dos. Just remembered I have to go set-up the book check-out survey on an extra laptop, so running to do that. Classes are short on Friday.

10:07 am – Today does not feel successful. Right as my first class was starting I got an email that we were having a Fire Drill in 15 minutes, so the lesson that I had planned for my already limited 40 minute class got cut down by about 10 minutes. And I say 40 minutes, but really that includes a 3-5 minute passing time. I use a range because there’s only one bell to mark the end of a period, not a second passing bell to mark the beginning, so class length is sort of decided by how long it takes students to mosey to my room.

I think the Studies lesson went well, but I keep going back to the pacing and wondering if I’ve put things in the wrong order. Since we started talking about frequency tables, it made sense to just extend that to cumulative frequency and graphs, but it still feels not ideal. I spend so much time stressing about little things like this that the kids probably don’t even think about. All we really lost after the fire drill was the last slide, which might have been too hard anyway, so I’m not too broken up about it.

The problem is a little thing like a practically unannounced Fire Drill has ripple effects for the rest of the day. I already felt flustered after 2nd period so 3rd period didn’t start very smoothly. It doesn’t help that I keep getting new students added and removed to my roster every day so I have to make the same announcements over and over again. Especially when the other teachers and I have different requirements for materials. Another thing that keeps happening in that class is, even though I’ve looked through the notes and thought about what I want to say, and I’ve taught the class before, the first time I teach from slides I didn’t personally create is always a little awkward. My transitions aren’t as smooth, my language isn’t as eloquent. I think next week I’m going to start actually writing out a quasi-script for myself for each slide so I can be really prepared.

Because of those tiny little delays, and because classes are so short, I decided to let kids work for an extra 3 minutes on the practice instead of doing the exit slip. I think it was the right decision based on time, but I hate that I can’t check in with them. I wanted to give it today so I had time over the weekend to look at the results and think about things I have to mention on Monday, but that’s not going to happen. If I can tighten up transitions a bit before my second Algebra 2 class then maybe I’ll give them the exit slips today, and use that as a predictive sample of my other class.

I still don’t know as many names in Algebra 2 as I’d like. Only a select few raise their hands, and I haven’t done things like popsicle sticks yet because my roster has changed 5 times in as many days. Also the last two days the app I use to take attendance has crashed so I haven’t even been able to check that. It’s incredibly frustrating and I feel like I’m not connecting with my students at all. And what’s more rough is that as a teacher leader, there’s some expectation that I remain calm and try to support other teachers. But it’s so frustrating because seating charts need to change and rooms are already packed so it’s not always easy to find a seat, especially when the only notice I get is a child showing up at my door with a piece of paper that has my name on it. So I get cranky, but I don’t want the kids to think I’m mad at them, but I have no poker face, and it winds up just being a mess. There are a bunch of reasons why this whole scheduling thing has been messy this year, and I think it’s almost sorted now, but it’s been stressing me out a lot this last week, and has contributed to my frustration with other things that are happening.

So I have two periods off, which is maybe 75 minutes to myself. I think I may go get a coffee just so I’m out of the building and can take a breather, then it’s back to send some emails about the IB Extended Essay drafts due next week and maybe to tweak some lessons. I should also probably adjust the Studies quiz since I’m giving it on a short day and I worry it’s a little long currently. I guess I should figure out what needs to get done before I leave the building and what can wait until later.

1:49 pm – My second two classes of the day went better. I thought the Studies class would end early but there was enough house-keeping stuff with Plickers and Edmodo that I was able to fill the time. I need to start over-planning that class I think. The irony is our Algebra 2 lessons have too much stuff in them. Again I didn’t get to the exit slips in favor of more practice time. It’s really quite remarkable how much smoother a class goes the second time through. Even just taking 10 minutes to reorganize a slide makes a huge difference in how things feel to me.

After class I went and had lunch with our department in an empty room, then tried to run some errands around the building. Tried to make a phone call home but got voicemail. Tried to speak with some students about their IB Extended Essays but couldn’t find them (although admittedly I didn’t look very hard). Got into a conversation with a student asking for advice about the level of math they should be in. Always a hundred little things. I just went and got a soda, which I know is terrible for me, but I tried to get a pumpkin coffee from Dunkin Donuts earlier and they were out of the pumpkin so I’ll just treat myself in some other horribly unhealthy way (that doesn’t include happy hour).

2:37 pm – The extracurricular fair is in full swing. It’s really cool to watch kids get so excited about the things they’re doing. I’m back at my desk because I became the asshole teacher that yells at kids about their hats in the building, and decided rather than stop being an asshole I’d sit down for a bit. I realized when a student asked me a question about my office hours for the year that my office hours are my version of an extracurricular. Kids just come and hang out in my room, even if I haven’t taught them in two years, to do homework and just hang out. I’m glad I’ve helped create a reputation for having a cool room to hang out in. And just seeing where the seniors are now after teaching them the last two years is fascinating. They went from being lowly sophomores to actually in charge of all of these clubs.

I have a meeting for Algebra 2 planning now. I’m not sure Friday at 3pm is the best time to start planning but it’s the time we have for now.

5:04 pm – Our meeting didn’t start until slightly after 3, but then everyone was a bit punchy so we got goofy. People were coming in and talking and we were tired. But we got the unit plan done for the next unit, and planning assignments done. I’m making a Demsos activity for next Wednesday on transformations that I’m pretty excited about. We also had some time to talk about the lesson on Monday so I have a good sense of what needs to get done this weekend.

I have to make some copies for my Studies class and then maybe I’ll try to go to happy hour. My friend is having birthday drinks in Manhattan tonight but I’m so exhausted. And there’s an EdCamp tomorrow but I’m exhausted for that too (plus I have plans on Sunday and so much work to do this weekend). Who knows. But it’s Friday night so after the copies are done I’m heading out and not thinking for a bit.

Reflection (Written on 9/20/16)

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

While I really wanted to do an exit slip, I think I made the right decision to skip it. We just learned a new concept, and kids needed some time to just practice it. Even then I don’t think they got enough practice time, but balancing everything is so tricky. If I had forced the exit slip it would have just been rushed and messy, so I think it was the right decision. I’ll push the exit slip to Monday so I can still check in but plan around it a little better.

I still think we’re rushing through material in Algebra 2. We’re so focused on the scope of what needs to get covered that we’re not going as in-depth on as many things as I’d like. Trying to find that balance is so tough. Most of the other teachers in my department are more traditional “Teach the formula, then do practice”, which makes sense when there’s just so much to cover. But it kills me because I don’t think we’re building deep mathematical understanding. I’d rather take a few days, especially at the beginning of the year, to do 3-acts and build both math curiosity and community. Right now I think we’re doing some weird hybrid and I’m not sure it’s working.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?


Learning names is a serious problem. Some very, very bad part of my brain is like “Why rush to learn names of kids I won’t see after tomorrow?” which is TERRIBLE culture building. This new week I’m trying harder, but it’s still so bad. It affects how smoothly my class runs and how comfortable kids feel. I’m stressed out because my class sizes keep changing, and I’m stressed out because I feel like I don’t know any of the kids. But I think the big changes are over for now so hopefully things can settle out and I can get to know my kids. Office Hours will also start in earnest which will help. I grab some snacks and encourage kids to come hang out while they do math. they’re not always productive, but I do enjoy the time a great deal. A lot of my kids from last year have already asked if we’re doing it again which makes me happy.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

During Advisory students share out a rose and a thorn, and apparently one of my Algebra 2 students shared out having my class as a rose.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been rubbing other people the wrong way. All of the schedule instability has made me annoyed, and I think sometimes that comes out in front of others, but they’re always surprised by my vehemence. I think I need to work really hard to seem more calm. Especially because for the most part I’m not as upset as I sound, just…loud? I don’t know.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I’ve been pretty consistent about closing lessons, especially in Studies. I try very hard not to work until the bell, and even managed to do an exit slip. I also think I’ve done an OK job with the note-taking scaffolding, although I still forget sometimes. When I was a student teacher, I saw a teacher specifically model note-taking on a sheet of chart paper and I think I might revisit that as the year goes on.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Over the weekend I made my first Desmos AB activity! It took me a couple hours but I really enjoyed figuring out what I can and can’t do with the system. It’s not an especially rigorous activity, but it does have students independently exploring transformations, and I’m excited about it.

Also, tonight I’m c0-leading my first ever MfA session, and it’s on the MTBoS. I’m leading it with Sahar, but I’m still nervous. The community has done so much for me, and I just hope that I can help other people to discover how awesome it is.

#DITLife: First Day of School

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project started by Tina Cardone.

It’s currently 1:18 pm and this is literally the first spare moment I’ve had all day. First day is insane.

My alarm went off at 5:52 am but it wasn’t so jarring because A) the boyfriend had to get up at 3:30 am to go to work and B) even with the A/C the room is just too warm. The first thing I saw when I woke up is a Heat Advisory email from the Weather Channel. Anyone that knows me knows that I do not handle high temperatures well. 93 degrees on the first day of school is my nightmare because I just lose all composure. Then the new shirt I bought over the summer was too tight and scratchy on a day this humid and hot. Not a stellar beginning to the day. But I have my Desmos socks on so that’s something.

Got to school around 7:15, and I’ve already sweated through my shirt. There are three or four odds and ends I just didn’t get to yesterday before I left. I made the mistake of making social plans last night so I had to leave before everything was finalized. Also we didn’t get our class lists until just before 3 pm yesterday, so seating charts need to get done. The roster has 38 kids for a room with 32 chairs, so I had to first hunt down some chairs, then finish a question-starter poster I meant to make last week. We’re supposed to greet kids at 7:45, so I really didn’t have a ton of time to do anything, and I was so warm that my brain wasn’t keeping up with my to-do list. I had meant to write the syllabus a month ago for my IB class but I kept putting it off, so that needed to get done at some point during the day.

From 8 to 9 was our start-of-year advisory session. We started playing a simple Summer Plans edition of “All of my friends have…” game. But the game relies on moving about the room, which was too much. I know it sounds like I’m complaining a lot about the heat but it’s really all I can think about. The fact that tomorrow is going to be worse is freaking me out. But it was good to see our advisees again. I’ve been their advisor for two years now and I can’t believe they’re already juniors. Where the hell does the time go? We also passed out the new grading policy for the school and gave them their schedules.

We then have a normal schedule. I have first period off so I finished the question-starter posters. I wanted them done before class so I could reference them, even though it may not come up on the first day. With only 35 minute periods that’s really all I have time for before I have to teach.

My first class of the day is a senior IB Studies Year 2 class. There are only 13 kids in the room, which is great, but also kind of surreal. I can check in with everyone and get a feel for who they are and what they’re thinking. We did one and a half three-act lessons just so the first day wasn’t only “Here’s the syllabus” nonsense. The questions weren’t too hard, so a lot of kids could participate. This was also the third year in a row I’ve taught some of these kids so I really know them pretty well by now I think.

My second class was Algebra 2, with sophomores. Courses are still getting balanced so today there were about 36 in the room designed for 32. Between the volume of people and the heat I was flummoxed and I don’t think it was the smoothest start to the year, but the lesson was designed for students to be working on multiple representations of visual patterns in their groups. I heard some terrific group work and saw some kids helping each other, which makes me really excited for this year.

I had two periods off (which amounted to about an hour) so I wrote some emails and tweaked my lessons slightly. Then I ran to the market next door to grab a bottle of water and some caffeine, but I spent half my time stressing out that I had misread the schedule and missed a class. When I got back into the building I helped to deliver all of the planners to the rooms where they would be handed out to students at the end of the day. As grade level leader I had to coordinate that process so I had a vested interest in making sure everything got where it needed to go.

For sixth period (which we call R6) I had my second IB Studies class. The class is a little bit bigger, but still less than 20 students and I knew them all really well. It’s just really nice to be comfortable with the kids and have them be comfortable with me. I think there’s going to come some points this year where we’re all really stressed out, and it will be good to have that to fall back on.

I had another period or so off, but it was too hot to do much else than sit in the room and try not to move. I did find some A/C for part of it, but then a class came in. That’s about the time I started this post, but I wasn’t able to finish it before my 9th period Algebra 2 class. This was again 36 kids, but the room is just much bigger. 9 tables of 4 is a lot of kids, but at least manageable. This class worked less well in groups than R3 did, and I’m trying to figure out how to better encourage that. Kids weren’t being rude to each other, but it was just a lot more obvious who was working at different paces. I think we’re going to take some time tomorrow to discuss how to work in a group even if you’re working at different paces. I really want kids to feel comfortable asking questions of other members of their table, I’m just struggling with figuring out the best way to facilitate that.

We then saw our advisories again for like ten minutes to check in. We did a Rose and Thorn activity and the kids all seemed excited about their new IB courses but really put-off by the heat (and as already established, I can’t blame them in the least).

Then we had MetroCard and planner distribution after school. I helped organize it for the seniors, but my awesome grade team really came through and the whole process went as smoothly as can be expected. I was so impressed with them and it makes me excited to start this year.

After distribution finally wound down around 3 pm, I sort of putzed around. Talked a little bit with my Algebra 2 co-planners, cleaned my desk a little bit. I changed into shorts so I could feel more comfortable, and then finally ate “lunch” around 4:30. In the last hour, I’ve updated slides for tomorrow, and I’ve had some conversations about some weird SNAFUs that have come up this year. The first day is just so crazy.

It’s 6pm. I need to leave this building. The goal for tonight is to sit on the couch and not think. I still have to make two posters for class, plus I did poor man’s name tent activity with my seniors that I need to respond to, but that can happen tomorrow before school. Right now I need to just relax.


1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I’m really, really happy that we just jumped right in to doing math. There’s always the worry that if you don’t tell kids what you expect of them that they’ll start being crazy, but by having an open-ended enough task we were able to get kids thinking mathematically from the get-go.

I think my speaking in front of classes felt a little scatterbrained though. Partly because it was just so damn hot, especially later in the day I had a really hard time keeping my thoughts organized. And with only 30 minute periods everything feels so rushed. I think in the long run it will work out but right now I just feel like I made a terrible first impression on some of the sophomores. There’s so much pressure built in to the first couple days that it can be overwhelming sometimes.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I’m really looking forward to teaching Algebra 2 this year. I have two co-planners who have similar outlooks as me and I think we’re going to do some really, really awesome stuff in that class. I think it’ll be a lot of work on the front end but we’ll have a really awesome curriculum at the end of the year.

Getting in the right head space for the year has been a challenge though. Not co-planning my Studies class is really fun in some ways because I can do my own thing, but it’s also weird to not have to answer to anyone. Overall the year just feels weird, and I sometimes feel very over-prepared and very under-prepared simultaneously. Again, I know everything will work out fine in the long run but I don’t feel very centered currently.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Right before my R9 class I was running down the hall to get more notecards, and a student I taught last year stopped me to say hi. Not only that, he had bought me candy while he was on vacation! It was so touching and awesome. Teachers always say we do this for the kids, but really interacting with them is the best part of every day.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

My goal is to close lessons, but today’s lessons weren’t about new material, and the periods were so short, that it didn’t really happen. In Studies we were just practicing and in Algebra 2 it was designed as a two-day activity. Tomorrow we have plans to do a more specific close for the Algebra 2 course, and during our planning meeting I’m going to keep that in mind for the rest of next week.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I just wrote one of these posts two days ago, so not much has happened since then 🙂


#DITLife: First Teacher PD Day

This post is part of the “Day in the Life” project started by Tina Cardone.

7:23 am – Here I am at school, just under two hours before I actually need to be here. Meetings don’t start until 9 but I wanted to start to get myself into some kind of schedule. For school my alarm goes off at 5:52, I snooze it once, then get up and start my day. Keeping to this strict schedule helps keep me from freaking out that I’m going to miss something. My FitBit tells me I got 5 hours of sleep, so that’s a thing.

I left the apartment at about 6:30, which is earlier than I normally leave but I didn’t have to get all dressed up. Stopped at Dunkin Donuts to treat myself to a pumpkin coffee, get on the subway, and get to school by about 7:10. Got into my room and found out one of the lights isn’t working, which is annoying since it was working when I was here last week. But as my AP said we’ll call it mood lighting and go with it.

Faculty meetings will go from 9 until 12, then we have a department meeting for half an hour after that. I already set up my desk and room last week, so now I just have to knock out a ton of little things: Syllabus letters, last minute copies, updating websites, co-planning meetings, and a dozen other minutiae that I probably don’t have to worry about but will.

I’ve just had three custodians come into my room and push the switch for the light, to confirm that it’s not working. So far it appears I was right, it really isn’t working.

7:50 am – Two other math teachers showed up and we chatted. I’m sitting here looking busy while actually shopping on Amazon for Teacher’s Choice money.  The construction workers that are outside redoing the face of the building are talking really loudly and I’m having a hard time concentrating. There’s been scaffolding up on the building since I started working here ten years ago

8:45 am – $114 later I’ve made a rather sizable chunk in my Teacher’s Choice money. And I just completed the back to school note to give to my grade team. As a grade level leader I try to do as much teacher appreciation stuff as I can, and one of those things is notes to all the members of my team with a piece of candy taped to it. They work their butts off and I appreciate everything they do.  Now I’m off to the three hour meeting!

10:19 am – First hour or so of Faculty-Meeting-Palooza down. Bagels and summer vacation bingo, followed by some updates from leadership about goals for the year and an updated org chart. One of our APs left last year so we heard about how responsibilities are changing until we have a replacement. I’ll admit to being a little nervous but optimistic about it. Also this year we’re going from two grade level leaders per grade to just one, and I’m tackling seniors for the first time, so that’s a thing. Now back to finish off the meeting and hear about teacher responsibilities, then the department meeting around noon.

11:42 am – Faculty meetings are done. After the third year here the teacher expectations are all still the same so it’s kind of boring, but I know it’s necessary to establish everything once at the beginning of the year. Now it’s time for a math department meeting about our new grading policy. Woo meetings.

12:15 pm – Math department meeting over. Talked about schedules (even though they’re not entirely finalized) and our syllabi. Ate some cookies. Have another meeting with my Algebra 2 co-planners at 2:30. After listening to colleagues talking about certification I fell down the rabbit hole of checking my certification. The whole process is very confusing. Apparently I’m fine until August 2018, so at least I don’t have to worry about it, but I feel like it’s way too easy for that to lapse. I should go figure out lunch. But there’s more odds and ends for me to knock out at some point. The problem with nothing but small stuff on the to-do list is that nothing pressing seems to take priority.

1:47 pm – I’m not really sure where time goes anymore. I decided to get lunch but then sat down with the new work laptop I just got. Except the new work laptop I just got has the worst mousepad known to man so I can’t actually do a damned thing, which distracted me for 20 minutes. Finally got lunch and candy for the welcome back notes, and back to fight with the computer. I am not usually technologically impaired, so this is especially frustrating.

2:30 pm – Went on the hunt for a wireless mouse and found one, but ordered one on Amazon anyway. What’s an extra $14 after already spending $114 today? And the new mouse is purple. Then I got into a whole conversation in the hallway over some questionable online content. But I’m late for my Algebra 2 planning meeting…

4:00 pm – Well that Algebra 2 planning meeting went longer than anticipated. We discussed how we were doing homework (a combination of lagging homework and DeltaMath) and spent about half an hour on the syllabus. So many little tiny discussions before the year has even started.

5:02 pm – Waiting to get my New School Year haircut. I didn’t even have time to finish that post about the meeting. I love my coplanners because we’re all so thoughtful, but that also means everything takes a long time to get decided. Down to the word choice of every sentence. For example, does saying “grade may be rounded UP at teacher discretion on a case by case basis” give kids any space to start expecting generosity just by being polite? I’m glad we’re havin these conversations now while we have some time, but all these meetings meant I was overall far less productive today than I wanted to be. I made a to-do list at the start of the day and didn’t get to any of it. So tomorrow is going to be crazy. Set up new laptop and make copies of homework and finish syllabus and run through Day 1 and hang some posters and figure out how the laminator works. At least we had two days this year, last year this all had to happen  in one day. I don’t even have my final class lists yet.

Tonight I’m going to trivia with some friends and then trying to go to sleep at a decent hour.


1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I’m really happy we decided to adjust our homework so that we’d have nightly, slightly lagged book assignments but also a unit-long DeltaMath assignment. I think this will help the kids to feel more prepared, and also not overwhelm them with too many assignments at once. I don’t think I would have put this much thought into homework my first year, just sort of going with the idea that “Kids should have X amount of homework each night.” But over the past couple years, while I still think the extra help is valuable, I’ve noticed that too much homework really overwhelms the kids and the point gets lost.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I’m excited to be back at school and working with my colleagues again. I love planning lessons, and even over the summer I just want to be talking through lesson ideas. That said, no matter how much I prepared before, I’m still quietly panicking about Thursday. I think the broad strokes are done, but some of the smaller things (like posters, and class lists, etc) aren’t, and it’s stressful because I know if they don’t get done before I see kids, then they won’t get done at all. But then I also have to manage my own sanity. I can’t do everything, so how do I pick and choose what needs to get done with what can wait.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

It’s really great to see everyone on the first day back. While I find welcome-back-bingo to be kind of cheesy, it is nice just to catch up with all the people I hadn’t seen since June. Talking about weddings and impending babies and summer vacations just reminds me that I have some of the best coworkers in the city. I’m excited to be back.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What is a goal you have for the year?  

I talked a bit about my goals here, but basically this year I want to really work on closing lessons. I think that’s a place where I’ve gotten really lazy, and it’s important to check in with students and try to synthesize what’s happened. Part of that is also checking in with kids about what they actually understand versus what I want them to understand.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

The school year hasn’t even started yet, so not much school related, but I can say I have had some great interactions with the incoming freshmen and incoming transfer sophomores at orientation. It’s always nice to see the school through their eyes, it reminds me why I like it here and also what we can do to improve in the future.

Other things I do in class

I’ve written a post about my goals for the year, and then very verbose posts about how I’m doing homework and warm-ups. But there are still some other things that don’t fit into those categories but that are rattling about in the back of my brain and I need to work out here. So this will be sort of a grab-bag post and probably incoherent to everyone else.

Whiteboards – Last year I bought giant markerboard panels from Home Depot, and I loved them. I couldn’t get them vertical because our rooms are crazy, but I would drag them out and put them on the desks whenever we were doing practice. It let me see where kids were at without having to climb over bags and desks, and I could also use it to have kids share out more often. In what seems to be the mantra of my year, I have to be a bit more intentional with how I use the boards this year. Some questions I have, and my thinking:

  • Will they be sharing out, or is it just for them to collaborate in groups? I hope they get to present more, but sometimes I don’t leave myself enough time for that. And work you do in a group is messier than what you’d present. Do I let them rewrite it, or do I encourage them to show their work, warts and all? I like the idea of showing the messy part of math but I can foresee it being a struggle.
  • Do I force them to only have one marker?  I completely understand that one marker forces them to collaborate more. My concern is that if they only have one marker, then other kids will just do the work in their notebooks. I know task design has something to do with this, but I don’t know how to design tasks to force it.
  • Do I try to prop the boards up so that they’re more vertical? I may try for this, at least at first. I love it when they’re standing, but our room designs are making it difficult for me.

One thing that’s really frustrating me this year is that I’m teaching in two different classrooms, and I don’t want to haul those massive whiteboards back and forth every day for class. So I just decided I’m going to get a second set from home-depot, but have these be about half the length (so take a big board and cut it in half). That set will be less obtrusive in the other classroom I’m working in, and easier to move about. I still like the giant boards, but they got too unwieldy after more than a few feet. I’m also looking into getting some sort of portable marker/eraser tote for my whiteboard markers so I can transport those easily. Probably just a Rubbermaid container with a handle.

Notebooks – Last year I tried to do a sort of non-interactive interactive notebook, a la Jonathan. I loved that students had notebooks and not binders, but I ran into some issues. First, the notebooks were not used very well. Just having a notebook wasn’t enough to help kids keep their notes organized. I gave a notebook quiz halfway through last year which showed kids that I took it seriously, but I think it was too little too late (It was in like February, and I only did one). So this year I’m doing a couple things differently:

  • Explicit instruction about good ways to take notes and use a notebook. Starting very prescriptive in this regard, and then opening it up for student choice as the year goes on (i.e. if they want to take illustrated notes they are welcome to, but they need to be doing something).
  • Not answering questions that students could answer if they just checked their notes
  • Creating a pocket in the back of the notebook to hold tests and such.
  • Notebook quizzes more frequently.
  • Notebook “Health Inspections” where I make sure nothing is falling out, and that it’s only math in the notebook.

Last year I let kids keep their notebooks in class, but many of them still took it home to do homework and then lost it. I haven’t figured out a good fix for this yet. Do I have them get a second “Homework Notebook”?  Or will having notebook quizzes and health inspections enough to strongly discourage losing the notebook? I don’t know.

I’ll be doing one thing slightly different in my two classes this year because of co-planning. In my Studies class, which I teach alone, I’ll make sure all pages can be pasted into their notebooks. But in Algebra 2, which I’m coplanning with two other people, students will have a binder in addition to their notebook. Handouts will go in the binder, notes in the notebook. We’ll be explicit about writing in the notebook something like “See handout SS.2” to help them stay organized. I don’t love this system and can already see it being a hassle, but it was a compromise since no one (myself included) wanted to make two different versions of the same worksheet every other day. I personally hate having to worry about looseleaf and binder organization, plus binders are a nightmare to store because they all fall out all over the place, so I’m insisting that actual notes go in the notebook. We’ll see how this goes.

Calculators and Desmos – Last year I started letting kids use the Desmos app in class, especially if they didn’t have an actual graphing calculator. I told them they wouldn’t be able to use their phones on any assessment, but that in class I’d rather they do the work than sit there and stare at the walls. And the kids got to be pretty good at Desmos, and really started to see connections between graphs and algebra, which I loved. So I’m starting this from the beginning of the year. Only trick is if I see Pokemon Go on any of their phones, I’m transferring their highest Pokemon.

Question-Starter posters – We have a weird thing about posters at my school. I think in an effort to not force teachers to stress out about bulletin boards (which I appreciate) we swung a little far and now don’t hang anything up. But as I am wont to do I sort of ignored that and made my own question starter posters last year. I was continually bothered by the negative attitudes and bad questions I was getting, so I made these super-low-tech posts for my room. Someday I’ll try to make them on a computer, but probably not this year.

Last year I only had them in the class where I taught the majority of my classes, but this year since I’m even split I want to put them in both rooms I teach in (which is incentive to make a poster, but again, I don’t have time to stress over formatting right now). I’d welcome any feedback on how to improve these posters you might have.

I can’t think of anything else I need to think through, although I’m sure something will come up on Tuesday when I get back into the swing of things.



Starting Class

A week ago I wrote about my over-arching goals for the year. Then I started a post that talks about a typical day in my classroom, which became so long that I wrote a subpost all about how I’m doing homework. Then I went back and wanted to keep writing about my classes, but the warm-up section became too big. Basically, I talk way too much.

So now starting class is its own section. And maybe this will also put into perspective how much thought teachers put in to everything they do.  This entire post is all about only the first 5-7 minutes of class.

High Fives at the Door – At TMC15, Glenn shared his “My Favorite” for high-fives at the door. His logic was something like “People get high-fives when they’re doing something awesome, and it’s awesome that you’re coming to my class today.”  So I do high-fives at the door. It’s great for a bunch of reasons:

  • I get to greet every student as they walk in the door, usually with a smile. I get that extra chance to read their body language and see how they’re doing.
  • I’m in the doorway so I can monitor the halls without actively being a hall monitor. Plus students I don’t teach then start to ask for a high five, so culture building all over the place.
  • I can check for student uniforms, reminding them that I’m paying attention (I know there are lots of feelings about uniforms. I like them at our school but I understand reasons why people don’t).
  • Students can ask me quick questions if they have them, specifically “Can I use the bathroom?” which I prefer they do before class starts so I don’t get interrupted. I’d rather they miss the warm-up than miss instruction or practice time.
  • Because students are waiting for the high-five, it gives me that extra 30 seconds to mentally prepare for the class. I know some teachers hate having kids just loitering in the hallway, but I really need those few minutes to reset not just the slides, but myself.

The one downside is the loitering in the halls, but on a good day the turn-around is pretty quick (and on a bad day them in the hallway is less of a problem for me than then in my space when I need a second).

Warm-Up – This year I’m trying to do things a little differently.  Students walk in and they see something that looks roughly like this:


So what’s different about this year:

  • Putting it on a “notebook page” instead of just a blank slide. Many of my students are very bad about organizing their notes in math class.  So I’m trying to rectify that by providing some visual structures for them to use. It has to have the date, it has to have the lesson number (SS is for Sequences and Series, the number is how many lessons into the unit we are). It has to have the essential question for the unit and it has to have the warm-up. As the year goes on I’ll let students be more flexible in how they take actual notes, but I think these sorts of headers are very important for kids. Many of the kids just write the date but that means nothing to them in three months when they’re studying for the test.
  • Indexing lessons by unit abbreviation and number. Last year I just did something like 5-1 or 3-11. While kids became very aware of the numbering system, I realized those numbers meant nothing to them (and barely meant anything to me). So abbreviations now.
  • Essential Question instead of an Aim. I’ve come to realize I hate SWBAT aims. Because at the end of the lesson, the best you can do is make it a Yes/No question. “SWBAT to factor simple quadratic equations” Well can they do that? It’s seldom as black and white as “yes” or “no”, especially after the first lesson, and there’s a serious lack of depth to that level of understanding. So I’m trying to use questions this year that require a more nuanced response. I already know from planning just the first few lessons that it’s going to be a struggle to make questions that don’t feel stilted, but I want to try. Ideally I’d love to get to the point where I can structure my lessons more like this, but I’m super-intimidated by that at the moment.

After really thinking about it for a while, my warm-ups are going to stick to the review old lesson/preview new lesson format, especially in Algebra 2. I originally was thinking of doing something like Mary does, which I love and think would be so helpful in the long run for my students, but the truth is I can’t quite get my head around how best to implement it in my own class. I like the flexibility of being able to target things in warm-ups. But I will definitely use visual patterns and estimation 180 when I’m blanking on a warm-up and need something more meaningful than rote practice.

I am going to do something slightly different with warm-ups in my Studies classes this year. It’s my first time teaching seniors, but I already know how ridiculously stressed out they can get, especially in IB when they not only have college applications to do but also a crapload of IB assessments all due around the same time. So we will instead let kids opt to take one day a week to have a fun warm-up. I will pick a kid at random and they will get to choose the day, the song, and the candy they get for the day, and they will get to choose which fun math activity we do. I’ll give them options like Estimation 180, Visual Patterns, WODB, or Ken Ken. I’m expecting them to push back and be like “But Mr. B, Math isn’t fun”, but that’s exactly the reason I’m forcing them to choose a math activity. Because math should be fun, and the stuff we normally do isn’t necessarily. II’m hoping it also acts as a reminder that I care about the kids, and I hope that it encourages them to show up at least on that one day. It could all blow-up in my face but I’m excited to try since I have wiggle room in the schedule.

The other thing I should mention is that I let kids write Friday Letters instead of their normal Friday warm-ups. I didn’t get many last year, but I do love the practice and will keep it up this year. I just need to be perfect about writing back by Monday (which I was not perfect about last year).

An overly long post about Homework

I mentioned in my last post that I would do a post about my classes. I started it, but it got out of control. So I’m breaking off this bit about homework. And maybe I’ll break off another bit about warm-ups. We’ll see.

For a post just about homework, this goes on a bit. I’m far too verbose.

I need to do a better job this year of giving some time to review homework. I’m thinking after the warm-up I give students 3 minutes to ask their group any questions they might have had, and then I’ll take two pressing questions no one at the table could answer. I’ll be flexible with this based on what I hear while they’re reviewing. But I also want to be strict with myself that I don’t jump in during those 3 minutes. I hate, hate, hate being the “Sole Arbiter of Knowledge” in class. There are definitely times where I need to offer clarification, but too often their default is to ask me. I’m making a renewed effort to stomp that out this year. Instead I will use this time just to check their work. I walk around with a simple stamp and just stamp if they have it or not. No time to check for correctness, just completeness. The stamp changes every day, and I mark the stamp I used on a given day on the homework tracker.

HW tracker

I have a tracking sheet like the one to the right where I write down who is missing their homework. Usually the list of who’s missing homework is significantly shorter than who has it, and it’s easier to remember three or four names.  Plus absences and assignments are all in one place, and it’s easy to read.

In general I don’t accept late homework. Each assignment is only 2 points total. If it’s done very obviously poorly, I will give half credit. If a student is missing the assignment, they get a zero. At the end of every week (or more realistically every few weeks) I tally up the number of times I see a student’s name and deduct points accordingly. So if there were four homework assignment, then the score for the week is out of 8. If a student’s name is written down once, I enter a 6. If it’s there twice, I enter a 4. If I over-counted a student’s name, they should be able to show me the assignment with a stamp and I fix it. If I undercounted a student’s name, then chances are a few extra points won’t hurt them.

Unless a student is absent I don’t accept late homework. My reasons for this are that A) a few missing 2 point assignments shouldn’t drastically affect a student’s grades, and B) trying to keep track of late homework gave me a huge headache. This whole process was an effort to drastically simplify checking homework, and checking for late homework doesn’t make it less complicated. I will admit to feeling a little shitty about this, because I do think extra practice is important and I do want students to complete assignments and I do understand that sometimes kids just have super busy days. But I have to have a system that is manageable for myself. Grading is not my strong suit, and in the past when I tried to allow for late assignments it just overwhelmed me logistically. Last year I made each nightly assignment out of 4, and I hope that lowering the point value will make homework less stressful. Hopefully they will complete it because I sell the value of practice, but if they don’t then it won’t torpedo their grade. The one exception will be assignments on DeltaMath, which will count for more points (since students will have more time to complete it).

My goal of the low point value and checking for completeness was to make homework low-stakes, so students would just work on it without stressing about making mistakes. What actually happened is kids started just copying from the back of the book.  I don’t have a good fix for this. I will challenge kids if there’s no work shown, and it’s easy to catch when there’s a typo in the answer key and the kid doesn’t think anything of it, but day-to-day it’s just difficult. At the end of the day, though, homework is such a small part of their grade. Maybe doing more Edmodo quizzes or something to force them to think? But not everyone has consistent internet access at home.

In my opinion students should not be spending more than half an hour on any particular assignment from me a night. Hopefully less. They have so much to do, I don’t need them spending hours on anything I give them. I think eating a decent meal and getting a full night’s rest is probably better for their learning then completing an extra few math problems. I plan to tell them on the first day of school that if they find their homework taking more than 30 minutes, they should stop doing it and make plans to come see me after school. I’ll check in with some trustworthy students throughout the year if my goal of less than 30 minutes is actually a reality.

For homework in Algebra 2, we are going to try a modified lagging process that I heard about from Julie. Last year I tried lagging homework by waiting almost a week to do problems based on a topic, and I think there were definite advantages to the system. Kids had more time to review topics before a test, and spaced their practice more. But I did a terrible job of giving kids feedback while they were learning, so it turned into this weird system of kids not knowing what they didn’t know. The new ideal is as follows:

  • On Monday we cover topic A. For homework students get one or two “easy” problems on Topic A.
  • On Tuesday we cover topic B. Homework is one or two “easy” problems from topic B, and one or two “medium” problems from Topic A.
  • Wednesday we cover topic C. Kids will get a few “easy” problems on C, a few “medium” problems on B, and a few “hard” problems on A.

This plan is awesome! But also a lot of work. To make our lives easier we’re trying to plan out homework ahead of time and give them to students at the start of a unit. Since this whole curriculum is new this is going to be tricky, but I have high hopes. Some students may work ahead, but even if students fall behind then all assignments will be in one place.

We’ll also supplement the nightly book-work with DeltaMath  on the weekends. The assignment will be posted at the beginning of the week and will be due by 10pm on Sunday nights. They have all week to knock it out, so even if they have bad internet at home they can find us during the week (or obviously speak with me and explain their situation) and work on it another time. As a result, we won’t assign book work on Friday nights.

In my Studies 2 class, homework will probably be a bit more traditional with the assignment following the lesson. That said, I want to be constantly spiraling in old content from last year. The students are taking an exam in May that is summative on everything over two years of the class, and I don’t want to wait until April to start reviewing. Maybe rather than book work the students will get problem sets? I’m realizing this is a thing I have to think through further. I like problem-sets because they feel more official, but then it’s more stuff for students to do, and the fall of their senior year is going to be crazy.

My goals for 2016-17

There’s still two weeks until students come back to class, but since most of the rest of the MTBoS is already back my brain is churning about all the things I want to do this year. Not that I’m making any big changes, but there are lots of different aspects of the year that I keep thinking about and all those ideas rattling around are starting to get too noisy. So I’m going to write three (maybe four?) blog posts:

  1. Teaching goals for the year
  2. What I want students to do in an Algebra 2 class
  3. What I want students to do in an IB Studies 2 class
  4. (Possibly) Grade leader goals for the year.

This is all aiming high, as I’m historically not the most dedicated blogger. Especially once school starts. But too much is unrecorded and if I don’t put some of this stuff down I worry it will be too amorphous to be instituted this year.

I should also say that these teaching goals are sort of outside of my #1TMCthing of including more social justice in my classroom. Not that I don’t think that’s important, but as I indicated in my last post it intimidates the crap out of me. These posts will be things I want to start doing from day 1, and the Social Justice stuff will come with time as I become more familiar with the curriculum and with social justice topics.

So anyway, my goals for the year:

1. Close every lesson – The last year or so I’ve gotten really lazy about closing lessons. In fact whenever I saw a summary slide from a previous teacher’s work I would always chuckle that there was no way we’d get to that. But after listening to Tracy at #TMC16 I’ve come to believe that it’s so important.  This year I’m also shifting away from SWBAT-style aims to Essential Questions, and I think the whole idea of a closing makes more sense now because we have to see if we can answer that question. I also found last year that I wasn’t doing nearly enough formative assessments throughout a unit. Kids would do homework but weren’t getting any feedback from me at any point before an actual assessment, and those count for a lot. So I need to be more consistent about, at the very least, summarizing what we’ve learned, and hopefully also finding ways to give ungraded feedback to kids so they can track their own learning.

2. Be intentional about note-taking – After looking through various student notebooks last year, I realized my kids have absolutely no idea how to take notes. Some kids tried to write down every single word that’s on the screen, others scribbled the Aim and put down some out-of-context math work that they’d never be able to study from. Our department tends to just tell kids “Write this down!” but aren’t very good about taking the time to discuss what good notes look like and how to take good math notes. I’ve done guided notes in the past but I’m not crazy about the idea because I want them to be more self-sufficient, especially the seniors. Learning to paraphrase what a teacher or a slide says is a very valuable skill that I want to think about. To that end I’ve already created a slide that looks like notebook paper, and I’m also going to start taking notes on chart paper next to the board so students can see how I might organize my notes. It’s time consuming at the beginning but it’s something I think is important so I’m going to try. And once I set it up well enough, then I stop answering questions they should have in their notes (which I think…Sarah? suggested) to make my point even clearer.

3. Use Desmos more – Descon 16 was amazingly inspirational. There are so many things we can do with the software if we just spend a few minutes ahead of time, and I want to utilize that more. Especially card-sorts (which I LOVE pedagogically but HATE logistically). The biggest challenge here is that we are not a one-to-one school, and most of our laptops are terrible. With only 40 minutes in class, by the time the laptops are on and actually ready to go you don’t have a lot of time if you want to make sure they are off and away by the end of class. Plus I don’t even have a full class set of functional ones, so kids have to share. And if we have five sections of a class, it gets tricky to keep them all charged (and that assumes no classes meet at the same time). I don’t offer these up as excuses not to, but more as a reminder that I need to think through a few more logistics than just “What cool activities can I do?!” But I think it’s possible, and a lot of the kids have smart phones, so if I’m careful I can make it work.

I like this list because it addresses a bunch of things that annoyed the hell out of me last year. Test scores were always frustratingly low because I did a terrible job of letting kids know just how little they understood about topics (biggest takeaway from last year: Kids don’t know what they don’t know). And then when we went to do test corrections, theirnotes were a hot mess (if they even had them). And I hope Desmos can 1) Help me talk less in class, and 2) Help solidify their understanding of concepts more than just me talking them through practice problems. And I think all of these things don’t require some drastic reimagining of my lesson planning process, just the adding of a few more things to consider when I work.

So those are my goals. As always I welcome any feedback you might have!


I need help with my #1TMCthing

I had a really hard time picking what one TMC thing I wanted to do this year. Partly because I led a morning session, I feel like there wasn’t some central focus that I could go to. I almost picked “Use more activity builder” because I learned so much about that and I loved all of it. But something else has gotten stuck in my head and rather than fading I’ve gotten more and more determined.


It started with Jose Vilson’s keynote on Saturday. Like I said in my recap post, I thought the message he was making was so important but I was frustrated that there weren’t more specific resources about how to have serious conversations in class (or at least they’re not readily available). If we all agree we need to have these discussions, how can that be facilitated in math class? Then Sheila’s afternoon session on using Problem-Based Learning to bring Social Issues alive in your class made me realize remember that we can use math to analyze complicated math problems and talk about solutions. Then on Sunday I attended Nicole’s afternoon session on Identity in the math classroom (specifically about one’s identity as a “math person,” but she introduced that idea with other pieces of identity that students have). I feel like all of this tied into a common theme of making math personal for the kids. Or maybe relevant is a better word? I want to find ways for students to talk about themselves more, and to use more math in those conversations. Or maybe a better way of saying it is I want kids to talk about themselves using math, but in a meaningful way.

I had several conversations about this with other people at TMC. One of those conversations led to Anne’s podcast called Chalkline, in which she talks to different people in education about issues of social justice. Since I was driving from Minneapolis to Chicago and back, I decided to give it a go in the car. I then proceeded to power through all available episodes, as well as start listening to the Code Switch podcast that several of the speakers recommended. All of this has just pushed me even more to believe I need to help my students to have conversations of social justice and to tackle math around relevant topics.

The kids at our school are great public speakers. I’ve watched them in seminars bringing up amazing ideas, and I’ve seen them declaim fantastic and emotional pieces, and I’ve seen them show activism through their extracurricular pursuits. Granted I’m not a humanities teacher, but I’ve always been really impressed at how our kids can analyze texts to support their arguments. And after listening to things at TMC and the podcasts and everything else, I realized it’s not that I want kids “talking about themselves using math” so much as I want them “advocating for themselves using math to support their arguments.”

The next thing I realized is that I don’t know how to do any of that myself.

I’m a white dude from an upper-middle class background. The few times I went to church, it was Methodist. Sure, I’m gay, so that gives me some insight into the struggles of minorities, but by and large I can “pass” when I need to, and am young enough that many of the biggest struggles for my community happened before they became an issue for me. So I’ve never really HAD to advocate for myself, and when I did it was largely just parroting interesting articles I found online. I know I should be critical of statistics, but not necessarily how to do that.

So I’m asking for help. Any resources or ideas you have that can help me integrate more social justice into my class would be great. My goal is to have kids explore social justice in a way that better enables them to use math to question the world around them. I’ve been looking for stuff recently and here’s some of the stuff that I’ve found so far (that I haven’t already mentioned above):

I’m positive that there’s more, but my brain is a little overloaded at the moment. Please let me know! If something wasn’t included it’s not because of some bias, it’s because I either didn’t know about it or honestly just forgot in my rush to finish this post. I welcome any and all input on how to diversify this list.

This task is huge. I don’t think I’m going to get it done by October 19th. I don’t even know if I’m going to get it done by June 19th. I’m not even sure what the end product looks like, or how I can measure my degree of success at doing this. My goals at the moment are admittedly vague as I’m just starting out. But it’s something I want to start working on and thinking through. Thanks for any input that can be provided!

#TMC16 Day 3: Learning is hard

As I’m sitting in my hotel room in Madison, WI the day after Twitter Math Camp ended, I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase what I want to say. Because I think this post is going to come off as self-pitying to some, or whiny to others. But I’ve been processing some stuff about this conference and I need to put it down in words to help continue my learning process. And it starts a little bit meandering, so thank you if you sit through it, but no pressure. Just bear with me until the end where I promise it does get positive again.

I’m still new to teaching. I just finished my third year, but any reasonable person wouldn’t consider my first year as teaching experience so much as “How to survive feelings of constant failure and abuse while having no power to say anything about it.” So I’m still figuring a lot of shit out. While I think honesty is important with the kids, sometimes my face is too honest. Sometimes I get too annoyed with them. Sometimes a lesson that I think is going to be awesome is just a complete shitshow, and as soon as it’s over I see all of the places I should have known better if I hadn’t been blinded by my excitement. But I keep trucking on, because I want to be awesome at this. I didn’t get my teaching degree until I was 30, and I had a lot of life experiences that got me here. I know this is the job for me, and I know I can be better, so I keep working at it.

The MTBoS, and especially Twitter Math Camp, helps me to be better at it. These people all have these amazing ideas, and I learn so much. And I want to give back to the community. I want to present on things that I’m working on so people get ideas. And I will totally own the fact that I am selfish and like the feeling I get when someone says “Hey, I used this idea you had and it was great.” It’s why I signed up to present about Socratic Seminars last year and it’s why I joined Chris to do the morning session this year. I want to help everyone be better. And since I was Chris’ student teacher and had also attended his workshop at MfA New York, we do a lot of the same stuff in our classes already, so this was something I thought I could contribute a lot.

And the session went great! Everyone that I saw said either “oh my god, I got so much out of your presentation!” or “I’ve heard so much good feedback about your morning session. Great work!” We started our own hashtag that is blowing up. I feel confident that the session will at the very least get a lot of people thinking about how to add more discussion to their classrooms. Which is amazing.

Yet I was in such a shitty, shitty place Monday afternoon after our session finished. I was distracted and awkward and just wanted to go back to my room and lay down and not talk to anyone. I even wound up skipping any flex sessions (which was incredibly, incredibly difficult for me to do) because I just couldn’t be around people. And lying down was good, and I felt better, then we had a great dinner, and a great meander catching pokemon, and we watched the Bachelor and I had great conversations with Tracy and Michelle and Sheri. Things were good and I loved TMC and I was so sad it was ending.

The truth is I was embarrassed by how I contributed to the session. If you’ve ever heard Chris talk he’s engaging and funny and outgoing and knowledgeable. He leads a great PD, and I strongly recommend everyone listen to him talk. He’s also been giving similar PDs for five or six years now. He knows what he wants to say and he knows of good ways to say it and he has lots of ideas and it was really interesting to work with him on it. I’ve learned so much from working and talking with him.

None of that is me. I’m funny and maybe knowledgeable, but I’m new. New to teaching and new to speaking to a group of professionals. I can fake it a bit for short bursts but two hours a day for three days? I’m a mess. And I can hear Sam and Chris and Julie and more all saying “No, none of that is true.” Maybe, but it’s how I feel when I get up there, and I haven’t figured out how to quash it yet.

That all came to a head when I had to talk about Socratic Seminars in Math. This was the one thing that was mine. That I knew and that I had done before both at TMC and in my class, and that I wanted to talk about. And I think I kind of forced it into the session because I wanted to have something there that was mine, that I came up with and I contributed (how fucking childish is that?). The group would have been far better served to have that 15 minutes to work on adapting their own debate structures and then being given time to share out at the end. Seminar is a difficult thing that can’t be rushed.

And also, despite what people say, my talk was terrible. I pride myself on being able to read a room, and the way that I presented information was awkward and clunky. Everyone saw that what I was doing was interesting, but they didn’t quite get it and I was disjointed and jumping back and forth between slides. I picked a seminar that I created that I’ve never used in an actual classroom, instead of the one I did with kids TWO MONTHS AGO. I felt terrible and wanted to just run away.

But it’s TMC, and these are my people, and I didn’t want to waste the short time I have with them. And really I didn’t want to run away, I just wanted a time-turner to go back and redo everything. I was being selfish and wanted people to come up and say “Hey, your seminar sounds so cool, tell me more!” (and maybe they were thinking it, who knows. Again, I’m just explaining how I felt at the time).

I say all of this not looking for pity or encouragement. I’m good now. I talked it through with some people, I had time to gather my thoughts, I know that I did contribute things and I was a big part of the session and I am valuable and blah blah blah. I actually really DON’T want reassurance at this point, because I know I would just see it as perfunctory, so please don’t.

I say all of this because it’s a reminder to myself that learning is hard. I took a big step by doing a morning session, something I’ve never done before. And it was hard. And in my head I can see all of the places that I perceived that I failed (whether or not I actually did is immaterial). I’ve learned from them: Work time is important; Sometimes it’s better to cut things than to force them; Let your audience decide the flow rather than forcing your own agenda; Be more selfless.

I’m itching to try again, especially next year (and not just because I’m paranoid that if I don’t present I won’t get a spot…).

At the end of the day, I had a great TMC. Halfway through I was worried I wouldn’t get to say that, but I’ve come out the other side. I learned so much about myself and about teaching, like always, but this year it just felt different. In a good way, but still different. Learning is hard, and hard things are scary*. But they’re so important.

Thank you to everyone that made TMC amazing this year. From all the conversations I had to all of the new people I met to everyone that sucked at Trivia so we could win. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to talk to you, I promise that I am friendly, but very shy. Just awkwardly sit next to me next year and we can force our way through introductions. Beer helps. I love you all and hope you have a great end of summer.

*That’s what he said.