#MTBoS30 – Day 30

I didn’t quite get all 30 days in, but I’m amazed at how many posts I did actually make this month.  Thanks to all who responded!  If nothing else, I’m stepping back from this experience with a reaffirmation of the #MTBoS community.  A post asking for ideas, feedback or help of any kind will be retweeted and strangers will reach out with a reply.  Committing to regular posts, and the use of the #MTBoS30 hashtag led to more people reading my posts, and I read more than I had in the past, too.  Overall, I do want to think about ways I can use a blog effectively, and perhaps part of that is just taking the time to read and respond to others.

I did not post over the weekend, as I took a very rare opportunity to not open my computer for two days.  I did still check in on my email by phone, and reply to the students who had a question for me.  Otherwise, I did not go online until tonight.  I hardly ever do that, even when I’m on vacation, but I really enjoyed it.  I suppose that is my parting reflection as the month of May draws to an end.  Being connected on Twitter and in other ways has millions of benefits.  However, it remains important to unplug sometimes.   The most rejuvenating step could be the step backwards.  I hope that it will allow me to finish the final stretch of the school year in a refreshed mindset, anticipating the joy of summer and different pace of life to come.  Thanks to all who read and replied, and I do promise to post on a regular basis to keep this habit going.


In the real world

#MTBoS 30 – Day 27

Tonight, I found myself thinking about some of the courses taught at my school.  I want to find ways to make them more engaging for students, more of the time.  My mind has continued to return to more student choice in the course they take (so not everyone is taking “Precalculus”, but instead choosing to study a particular flavor of the course).  As much as I like this idea, as a former scheduler, I’m already overwhelmed by the logistics of adding some more restrictions into a junior’s schedule.  I also recognize that the course still remains very fixed, with a constant curriculum that does not adjust to the students in the room.

So, my new thought for today is that the title “Precalculus” can be fine; in fact, we can likely take advantage of an opportunity to avoid changing the name of the course.  Instead, we could work on changing the lived experience.  Can we incorporate some more “real world” aspects? This was on my mind as I hopping on Twitter tonight and happened upon an old Dan Meyer post about Real Work v. Real World.  His ideas were intriguing, as usual, but it was actually a comment from someone else (DG Reid) that resonated with me even more:  “The question isn’t just: Is the problem real? What engages students is: Does the answer provide useful information?”

At the same time, I have another colleague who is having the amazing experience, for the first time in 33 years of teaching, of seeing how much joy comes out of a project where the students were able to choose what they wanted to study.  It is the combination of all of these ideas that pulls me in.  How can I work with my amazing department to help put some of these ideas into action?  What opportunities are we missing?  What could we reframe?

The last idea in my mind comes from my youngest colleague, who is in her first year as a fellow, having just graduated from college.  She asserted recently that because we create many of our materials for class, the students are expecting all information to come to them in a neatly packaged form, ready for use.  They don’t know what to do when confronted with novel, open-ended situations because we have unintentionally led them to expect clarity and brevity.  For our students to engage fully (which they really want to do – we are so fortunate!), we need to let them start asking the questions, and guide them forward when they need it.

#MTBoS30 Day 26

As I look through my seemingly random but lengthy list of things that need to get done, I find myself prioritizing the things that make me happy.  That could be something I want to do (today, that was wrapping the math prizes in fun white gift bags with orange polka dots on them), or it could be doing something that will make me happier once I have crossed that task off my list.  To tackle that, I began writing solutions to a take-home test that is due soon.

One item on my to-do list is to choose furniture for a mock math classroom that will be set up over the summer.  In anticipation of the perhaps distant future construction of a math building on campus, we are adding another classroom to our inventory.  We won’t have as much square footage as our ideal, but we can play with almost everything else.  I found myself smiling as I told our project manager that I really want it to look like an elementary school classroom:  colorful, fun, and inviting.  Even if only that remains at the forefront of my mind throughout the design period, I am sure we will end up with a classroom we like.  I visited a few other areas on campus to get inspiration today, including our K-2 building to look at fun carpet design, and some health classrooms to see what comfortable furniture they recently purchased.  At the top right are some desks that are intriguing to me with their unusual shape.  Now, it’s on to find area schools using some of this furniture so we can see it in person and make some decisions!  Here’s to making the final stretch possible by emphasizing what makes you happy.

Day 24 – #MTBoS30

I’m definitely slowing down!  I missed a night of blogging as I powered through until way too late to finish grading my students’ projects.  I’m tired but glad that’s done!

One of the fascinating parts of grading this project was to read each student’s reflection on the process and their work.  One of the aspects of the project structure that they liked the most was the project log, which was one of my colleague’s ideas for another project.  We asked each group to create a shared Google doc, shared with me and with each of them, which was a series of empty cells in a table which looked like this:

Date Detail
5/2 Accomplished in class:
To do for homework:
Plan for work in class tomorrow:
Questions for your teacher:
5/3 Accomplished in class:
To do for homework:
Plan for work in class tomorrow:
Questions for your teacher:

The number of kids who praised this structure was amazing!  I heard it most often from kids who I think of as highly organized already.  They liked the opportunity to keep themselves focused and on track with the help of this scaffold.  The project period lasted for two weeks, and students reported (after the fact) that they had some busy nights with tests or papers due in other classes. This log allowed them to stay on track even when they had to not work as much on a given evening.  It made me realize that even a relatively small additional structure, which remains highly flexible, can still make an open-ended project run more smoothly.

How to approach the week

This is not going to be a math post.  I ended up taking a weekend off from everything school-related.  Friday night was outdoor movie night at my sons’ elementary school, which was great.  Saturday morning began with errands, followed by a baseball game, and then we hopped in the car to head south to celebrate a family member’s graduation.  Pulling back in the driveway around 9 pm did not make me more inclined to think about my week ahead.

Instead, I’m going to focus on trying to shift to a positive mindset for the next few days regardless of how much needs to be done in a very short period of time.  It will all get done, it did not get done this past weekend, but it definitely get done before next weekend.  The motivation of having a long weekend with no work to do is a strong one.  Now, if I can just avoid feeling guilty for not having done any work this weekend.

Falling behind…

I already am feeling guilty about not posting yesterday.  I guess that’s a good thing?  Thank you, #MTBos30.  Now, I’m not at home, and still feeling the compunction to post something.  I read someone’s post about their student feedback, and was compelled to read feedback from one of my two classes (which has wrapped up because it’s full of seniors).  I read many positive things but one strongly negative one, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

The comment mostly speaks to how little this particular person learned in my class.  The “stay positive” part of me is inclined to push it to the back of my mind and ignore it, and move on.  The realistic side of me is trying to own this feedback, understand what this student has said to me, and try to learn from it.  What do I need to do differently so that next year in May, I don’t get feedback like this?  I don’t know if I can make adjustments right now or even give myself to the time to fully consider the impact of the input.  My instinct right now says to set it aside, and mull it over in a few weeks, when my mind is more free, less stressed and ready to try to learn from the experience.  The main thing is to not set aside forever.  I think I can do that.  We’ll see!

Teaching the kids in front of me

Day 19: As the year winds down, and my evenings seem to be claimed by writing (and reading) #MTBoS30 posts, I am inspired to try to do the right thing for each class, every single day.  This week, I’m teaching two other people’s Geometry classes, as we experiment with Java.  I’m also teaching my own Honors Precalculus class.  As the day came to an end, I felt pretty good about how things went.  For the Geometry kids, they were all working on finding Waldo in a particular Where’s Waldo image.  They are using nested loops, experimenting with changing shades of colors, and changing colors in a certain area of the image.  This wasn’t precisely where we were planning to go with this lesson, but I think it is the right choice.  The task becomes accessible to all – you can write a program that finds Waldo in this single image, or you can try to write a program that would find Waldo in any image.  The latter option is much more difficult, but I will share one way to do that with the class tomorrow.  I love the different ways kids are approaching this task:  several kids are pulling in some of our old commands to draw a circle around Waldo, having found Waldo themselves and using the program to point him out.  Others are turning all of the image to black or white, except for a small portion containing Waldo.  Again, that technique relies on knowing where he is.  One girl is turning almost everything to white, but also changing the particular shade of Waldo’s red stripes to purple, so she is trying her best to find him in any image.  Another boy who has had some amazing ideas this week suggested searching for Waldo’s glasses in the image.  It’s so fun to see what they are trying!

Then, in Precalculus, the homework for class today was to graph a variety of polar functions on Desmos, using sliders, to see what kind of graphs are created.  We talked about why some of the graphs look the way they do, why the sine and cosine graphs are 90 degree rotations of each other, and why some graphs have unusual features.  The kids seemed pleasantly surprised when I sent them off with homework to post an interesting piece of art made using polar equations.  This work isn’t due until Monday but I already have three submissions, including this cool one.

I’m still not motivated to do the grading I need to do, but otherwise, I think I’m doing pretty well for late May.




A reading night

I spent the day at Loomis Chaffee, chatting with 14 other math department chairs from area independent schools, so I’m talked out.  I’ll share some thoughts on that day soon.  For tonight, I read some other blogs and commented on them.  Here are a few suggestions for a good read:

  • Elissa Miller’s (@misscalcul8) post on making portfolios of with and for her students.
  • Amie Albrecht’s (@nomad_penguin) post on “One Hot Minute” where she reflects on the great feedback she gets from kids when she does a one-minute survey at the end of class.
  • Jackie Stone’s (@MathEdJax) post about being grateful for a colleague who is heading to another job.
  • Talia Cossin’s (@talita624post about making the math feel more real in a K5 classroom exploration, and allowing every student to enter into the conversation.
  • Bryan Anderson’s (@Anderson02b) post on teaching at a Juvenile Center, and his rebuttal to an article criticizing the system.  Powerful stuff!


For something new tonight, totally unplanned, I ended up participating in a Math Webinar with @TracyZager.  I was browsing Facebook, saw a post from a friend of mine, sharing @divbyzero’s post about a new article he had written on “Circular Reasoning: Who First Proved That C Divided by d Is a Constant?”, now published here.  I then went to my Tweetdeck, which is currently showing the active feeds of #MTBoS, #edchat and #MTBoS30.  I don’t even know where I saw the post first, but I was pulled in by the title that promised makingtweet mathematical connections.  It didn’t hurt that the event was being led by @TracyZager!

Not surprisingly, she had some great ideas to share and ask others to consider.  It continues to validate my thought that as a high school teacher, I have the most to learn about teaching from elementary school teachers.  Again tonight, I walk away with a few gems.  She shared a story about a teacher asking kids an open-ended question “What do calendars have to do with math?” and sharing some really creative student responses which led to new learning by all.  She suggested thinking of two ideas that students find hard to connect in your class, and ask them “What does ___ have to do with ____?”  With some other intriguing examples, she suggested that we want students to build the habits of mind where they build connections between ideas across disparate things.  We tend to value the building of those bridges when they are correct, but criticize the faulty bridges.  I love this framework and can’t wait to think more about it.  Thanks, @TracyZager!  I’m also intrigued by the concept of @GlobalMathDept….



I tried to write a blog post last night but made myself go to bed early instead, to try and fight off a cold.  So – maybe I can pull off two short posts today.

I am starting on week three of basics of Java with my colleague Chris, as we come into all of the Geometry classes to help give them some exposure to basic programming.  Our theme this week is around facial recognition software, and we will get at that with the creation of a square and (hopefully) triangle finder.  I had my first two class meetings yesterday, and was excited to see those students again.  As we did some reviewing of nested loops based on what we had done together in February, it was great to see them feeling confident.  We continued to play a bit more with the filter idea (which is what they built previously) as we changed a picture of Waldo to have crazier colors.  I sent them off with two assignments; create another fun colorful picture of Waldo, and to jot down some notes about how they might use the programs and commands we have so far to build a “square finder” given an image full of a random assortment of dots.  Next class, we will share our ideas and hopefully hear some ideas that include using the “plane.move” and “plane.teleport” commands they have at their disposal.  We’ll see what they come up with!