Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…

(Which of course you will, because you are my student and I have assigned this to you…)

Estimation Mission


This is only one part of the wall–it extends from the first floor up through the ceiling of the third floor.

And since I teach in a private school, and therefore am not bound to the Common Core, none of my students are doing any of the following:

SMP 1-Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them


SMP 3-Constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others


SMP 5-Using appropriate tools strategically


SMP 6-Attending to precision


SMP 7-Looking for and making use of structure

"How many little circles are there?"

“How many little circles are there?”

Kind of a double-meaning on that last one…making use of structure. Hah!

But seriously, although I don’t “need” to use the Common Core in my classroom, I choose to because I think these are good practices, and I support this movement to re-imagine what the math classroom should look like.

Some Personal-Professional Stuff

Something’s been weighing me down for a while now. I feel like one of the things I need to do in order to return to a more regular blogging practice [hah!] is to get this particular story off my chest.

I had a really shitty end of the school year last spring. Which transitioned into a not-so-great beginning of the school year this fall. Those of you who know me IRL know that I am very even-keeled. It takes a lot to get me riled up, and about three times as much to get me past “riled up” and into actual anger.

The night before the first day of school (the real first day, when kids go to classes, none of that orientation junk) I sat down next to Avery and asked for his help.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I want to be excited for tomorrow, but all I can think about is how angry I am.”

It was truly upsetting. I felt no excitement for meeting my students, not even nervous anticipation about the first day of school. All I felt when I thought about going into work the next day was anger. Gut churning, anxiety producing ANGER. So much anger that it physically felt unhealthy.

I want you to know that I don’t feel that way anymore. Enough good times have gone by since then that stand in opposition to the angry-making events I experienced last year that I generally look forward to heading in to school. I mean, as much as any of us look forward to going to work, amiright? But I’ll be honest, the anger isn’t gone; it’s just put to the side.

I don’t know how much of the nuts and bolts of my shitty situation I want to go into. Suffice it to say things culminated in the administration at my school asking me to step down as math team leader and then making several other top-down decisions one right after another. All of this beginning two weeks before school ended, mind you.

Avery was great by the way. He pointed out that since the bad stuff had happened at the end of the school year, and that then I had left for the summer, I had never had the time to rebuild good memories and positive associations for being back at school. I can’t say that the ~3 weeks of meetings, preparation and orientation did much to cover those bases either. But the past 9 weeks with kids has brought me back to my center–to the place where being in school means being around kids who I know and have fun with and learn with. And that makes me feel good.

Right now, being at work is like being in two worlds that sometimes overlap. Being with kids (which is most of the time) is great; being with my math team and interacting with admin…not as great, to say the least. It feels really weird.

I’ve worked at schools where my administration didn’t support me, and it sucked, but I knew my team had my back and I felt supported by them. This is different. I’ve never been at a place where I felt so much divisiveness within my department. And that what it feels like right now. A colleague of mine in the science department commented to me today that she had walked by our math team meeting last week and that it felt “crackly in there.”

Being at CMC-South this past weekend was great. It reminded me of how I have all of you folks out there to be my support. To have my back. Even if I don’t have that at my school right now, I have it from all of you.

So, if you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading. Thanks so much for being there, for sharing what you do, for being awesome. I think I may need to lean on you this year.

Mini Math Festival

Today Last Tuesday was a pretty cool day. [I need to do a better job of finishing my drafts...jeez!]

If you’ve never heard of a Julia Robinson Math Festival, the following won’t make sense to you. So, go read about them and then come back.


Welcome back!

Today in my Math 2 classes (and in the other Math 2 teacher’s class) we conducted a mini-JRMF. And it was super-fun. We posted problems around the room–the classroom for my two classes, the “great room” for the other teacher’s group–and let students work on whichever problem they chose for as long as they chose with the only caveat being that they had to be working on some problem for the whole block.

Students got started pretty quickly, then either realized they needed help and therefore either got it or moved to a different problem or they got really entrenched in their problem. In my first class I put out my stash of metal puzzles, which were a little too popular…in my second class I made it explicit that the puzzles were to be used as a “brain break” when students needed to step away from a problem for a few minutes.


Tuesday was actually the last school day of the week this last week, as we had a work day for teachers on Wednesday to prepare for family conferences for freshman and transfer students on Thursday and Friday. So, it was the perfect time to do something that didn’t necessarily tie into our unit, but that allowed students to stretch their problem-solving abilities–thereby giving me some nice things to talk about during their upcoming conferences…genius. I tell you, I’m getting better at this teaching thing every gosh-darned year!


All in all, it was a lot of fun. Something I definitely plan on doing again.

Having “The Talk”

I have been putting off “the talk” with my students for so long. For three weeks now! But the time has come.

We need to talk.

About grading.

How have I gone three weeks without talking about grades? Well, through a strategic methodology of giving students interesting work to do, vague handwaving about things like “participation” and “homework completion” and, of course, out and out delaying.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll talk about that later.”

Well, later is finally here. The real reason I’ve been waiting is because I literally haven’t graded anything students have done until this week. They’ve been doing work in class and homework and I’ve been assessing what they know like crazy, but I have. not. graded. And why should I? They’ve been learning new things; they’ve been practicing. You don’t grade practice. You just don’t. I go around with a roster and check off who’s done the homework and make little check-marks when someone puts a warm-up problem on the board. I’ve even given them rubrics for them to self-assess their written work and their collaboration. But I haven’t graded diddly until their first quiz this Thursday/Friday.

Now that they have something graded in their hands [or rather, they will have something, on Monday] it actually makes sense to talk about grades. They can look at this quiz and it’s a concrete discussion: “I need to do this,” versus an abstract discussion: “If I do this, then I need to do that.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am using Active Grade, rather than my school’s online gradebook. Since I’m doing things differently, it behooves me to explain clearly to students just what I am doing and why. Oh yeah, and my Academic Dean is making me as part of the conditions of the deal. Not that I wasn’t planning on doing this anyways.

So, I have been working on articulating my grading policy for students (and parents) and the process has been really fruitful. Here’s my handout explaining my version of SBG. I’m pretty pleased with it.

And if some of the language in my handout seems really familiar, that’s because I lifted most of it from a couple of similar documents people sent me in an earlier call for assistance. However, I didn’t copy/paste citations when I stole your text, so I don’t remember whose is whose! Sorry.

If you recognize your work, let me know in the comments and I’ll update.

Back to School Night

Last night was Back to School night at my institution. So, of course I woke up with a sore throat. Gotta love the impeccable timing of viruses (viri?).

For some reason I can never seem to find a BTSN plan that works and then stick with it. Every year it’s the same thing: start from scratch and do something completely new. Why I spend so long each and every year planning for an event that lasts 15 minutes is a mystery. Something in me must enjoy it deep down in the dark inner recesses of my being.

I tend to go back and forth between making parents do an activity and just talking at them non-stop for the whole time. [Look at that! Guess we won't have any time for questions after all. Sorry.]

This year was a “doing” year. And it went really well. I had parents do the Trains problem.

And not only did I have them do fun math, but get this: I showed pictures of their students doing the exact same activity on the projector while they were working. Oh yeah, I am good.

For my one section of math 1, I decided to introduce parents to the Interactive Notebook. I did this by making them construct their own INB demo which were all about INB’s.

Turns out this was the one group of parents who didn’t bring pencils with them to class, so other than the cutting and gluing there wasn’t much substance to their INB’s, but I think they heard my spiel about brain research and note-taking. It was the end of a very long day after all.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even do these activities again next year!

Day Three–Timing is Everything

So I guess I’m doing the daily-debrief thing this week, just offset by one day. I have been teaching, getting an idea about what to write about, titling the post and then saving the draft ’cause I just don’t have time rightthen! And then, I have gotten home and something has prevented me from finishing. Yesterday it was Chris Hunter’s fault:


I mean, given the choice between writing a blog post and having a tweet-up, what would you do? I rest my case.

So, yesterday…

My students–many of them freshmen–have been commenting pretty regularly and pretty consistently that our 80 minute blocks have been flying by. It’s kind of interesting hearing the variety of class lengths they had in middle school. I’ve heard everything from 30 (!) to 60 minutes. And every one of them has said that the time seemed to go by slower in whatever ridiculously short time interval their middle school used.

Now part of this is certainly novelty. But the other part is the fact that I am being a complete task master this week. Yes, you have 80 minutes of math; but that doesn’t mean you have an extra 2 minutes to goof around with your buddies. Oh no.

Yesterday was a prime example of that. I had a task that students had begun the previous day, working in parallel. Each kid had their own pile pattern and had to extend the pattern (in both directions), find the area of each pile and represent it in a table and graph, and to sketch pile 100 and pile x. Today’s task was to compare and contrast their individual patterns and see how they were all representative of the same general type of pattern (in this case they all happened to be quadratic). But I broke it down for them:

Okay class, right now you have 5 minutes to look at each other’s patterns and write a list of all the ways in which they are similar.

Five minutes is up! Next task. Each of you needs to write a sentence (yes, using words) that describes how your individual pattern is growing.

Okay, time’s up! Now…

(You get the idea.)

Having a short amount of time to complete a task (but not too short) creates a sense of urgency, which leads to active engagement, which leads to productivity, which makes time seem to move more quickly than normal. It’s kind of funny how that happens.

Yesterday the classroom was buzzing, students were getting a ton done and they were forced to interact with one another–a good thing for freshmen in their first week of school! This is one of the things I really enjoy about starting a new class.

Sometimes as the year progresses I get more comfortable with students and then I forget to use these kinds of tricks. Hopefully writing them down will help me to get them all stuck in my brain for future use this year.


Day Two–Letters from Students

I have a long stretch this morning of no classes. And, since it’s the third day of school, I don’t have much grading to do. What I have been doing is reading my students’ letters to me. I have a tradition, going back to my 2nd year of teaching, of having students write me a letter introducing themselves to me for their homework on the first night of school. I write them a letter and they write me back.

I really love how I get to know the students through their words. They tell me a lot about their interests and hobbies that I wouldn’t necessarily learn for quite some time in the regular day-to-day conversations that we have in the first few weeks and months of school. I get a lot out of their letters to me.

But yesterday I was reminded of how my letter to students is a really important part of the process. When I was collecting letters from the students who printed theirs out yesterday I happened to glance down and spot this:


To think that my letter helped someone feel less anxious about their first day of school–wow! That’s something.

It’s a simple thing, really, once you’ve written your letter. I edit my letter every year (to update the number of years I’ve been teaching and how many National Parks I’ve been to) but I don’t do a lot of thinking about it. This sentence made me think about how my letter to students helps create the strong relationship I generally have with my students–starting from day one.