This is possibly my favorite meme on the interwebs these days. Nothing else expresses the sheer bewilderment, confounded-ness and exasperation that sometimes plagues our day-to-day life as teachers, working with people whose frontal lobes are not yet fully formed.

Take today, for instance.

The curtain rises on a math classroom, bustling energetically with fresh-faced junior and senior students. The happy children begin to work at their whiteboards, thinking industriously about intriguing topological problems involving the product of two surfaces.

The camera pulls in to our protagonist, crouched over her school-issued laptop. She clicks away for a moment, recording the attendance for the day–all present and on time.

Then, behind her, over-enthusiastic laughter abounds. The teacher arises, then turns around to see Student 1 holding up his shirt to partially expose his chest as Student 2 looks on, with Students 3 & 4 observing from the background.

Our teacher’s jaw drops to the floor.

T: I don’t even want to ask…

S1 (with an enthusiastic grin): S2 pinched my nipple!


First Day Jitters

I used to get super nervous at the start of every school year. Anxiety dreams leading up to the first day, the whole works…but it kind of stopped several years ago. I think the thing that made me the most nervous about starting the school year was not knowing what vision I had for the year, the unit, the first week, the first day…the first hour. Then as I learned more about myself and the kind of teacher I like to be–and keep striving to become, year after year–the nervousness subsided. I know that the lesson I do on the first day doesn’t need to be perfect–in fact it will most certainly not be perfect–and that I will still be able to have a successful day. I learned that bringing my whole self to class on day one and being warm and welcoming and starting the incredibly amazing task of building relationships with my students is the MOST IMPORTANT THING I can do.

But I have to admit something to all of you: I am super nervous about starting teaching this year.

This is actually the first time EVER in my career that I am starting up at the same school for the second year in a row (technically, I did return to a school once before, but I’d only taught there for half the previous year…so I wasn’t there at the start of the school year). I know some of you think that I’m a big-time-awesome teacher, like the rest of the MTBoS gang, but I’m really just a fraud. At least that is what I think when I take a peek at my much-submitted resumé.

But that’s not actually the reason I’m feeling nervous. Nor is it even the fact that I’m taking on the role of “Discipline Team Coordinator” (translation: department head). Nope. It’s the fact that I’m teaching a new course, our math elective, Topology.

Which is really strange to me. I mean, I’ve taught roughly 15 bajillion new courses over the past 7 years I’ve been a math teacher. Last year I was writing a new course, basically from scratch.

I have all of the notes and files from the previous Topology teacher, so it’s not like I’m having to do that again. But there’s just something about this Topology course that is freaking me out. I think the biggest thing is I don’t have a strong grasp on what I want students to get out of the course. I don’t know where exactly I’m taking them. This is scary.

However, reading back on my previous words, I can see that it’s going to be okay. I know what the students will do on the first day. I know what I will do on the first day: the MOST IMPORTANT THING. And if I haven’t figured out yet what we’re doing in week two, it’ll happen. I’ll probably be spending a bit more time on the weekends planning than most years, and I’ll likely be throwing more questions and pleas for help out on twitter. But in the end, I’ll get to the end of the course having survived and hopefully having had a really successful course.

But I’m still frikin’ nervous.

Bonus Post–My Favorite Anxiety Dream.

I had this dream when I was a student teacher, the night before my first observation:

I was standing in front of the classroom, doing my normal thing at the overhead. In the back of the classroom, there is a long line of probably about 10 different observers. They are dressed formally in black suits, holding clipboards or other writing surfaces. The door to the classroom opens and a student walks up to me with a late slip that I need to sign. I sign the slip. Then another student enters the door…with something that needed to be signed. Soon, there is a constant stream of students coming in, all with papers that need my signature on them. The black-suits in the back of the classroom scribble down on their notepads as I scrawl my name on slip after slip after slip…

Of course, my actual observation was nothing like my dream. I had the nicest, most down-to-earth woman ever as my observer. She was great.

Meh-ed Camp

On Saturday Avery & I drove down to San Mateo for the SFBay Ed Camp “un-conference” where we met up with Jason and met some other cool people who are motivated enough to get up early on a summer weekend day to go talk about random educational topics. I’ve heard a lot about edcamps over the past year or two, but this was the first one I attended.

So, I know I was supposed to fall head-over-heels for the whole un-conference ed camp ju-ju, but I must confess that I came away from the experience feeling a little meh.

However, for full context, I should probably make crystal clear the fact that I’ve been feeling this way more and more about pretty much every conference I’ve been to over the past several years. When I first started out teaching–lo, so many years ago–I loved going to conferences. I found them exciting and energizing and inspiring and awesomely wonderful. But lately, I think the whole thing is just getting a little old–a tiny bit stale. I still enjoy attending conferences, but the big draw for me now is reconnecting with former colleagues and going to tweet-ups. Oh, and giving the occasional talk myself–that is certainly exciting…in a “I want to puke all over my fancy teacher shoes” kind of way.

I joked with Avery on the drive down that I had low expectations, so I wouldn’t be disappointed if things weren’t great, but I think I lied. I guess I had a deep-down secret wish that the edcamp model would knock my socks off for being so cutting-edge and grass-roots and innovative and I don’t know what else… and I didn’t find my experience to be all that different from an un-un-conference (a.k.a. a normal conference).

From my exhaustive one-day experience I’ve concluded that edcamp is basically a good forum for talking with other teachers about interesting ideas that you want to start exploring. If you want to talk about something you’ve been thinking about for a while, you will very possibly be the most experienced/opinionated/knowledgeable person in the room about that topic. I don’t know if there are some topics that might be more “edcamp friendly” than others…but the conversations I participated in seemed more like we were developing a list of online resources than hashing out a big idea. In some conversations I feel that was intentional, in others it seemed more like the underlying culture of people wanting to share “here’s something I did in my classroom” bubbling to the forefront. Not that sharing isn’t a great and meaningful activity, but sometimes it can come across as sounding overly dogmatic. “I did it this way, and so should you.” And, y’know, sometimes your cool idea just doesn’t do it for me.

Also, another layer to the edcamp being so tech-focused and virtually everyone being on twitter was that in every session I went to between 80 and 90% of the attendees were on some sort of device. And while I know that tweeps were likely just tweeting out the conversation, or were scoping for a different conversation that better suited their needs, I found it irritating. I think that the format of edcamp is actually one that doesn’t work for simultaneous tweet streams. Since the purpose of the sessions is to join into a conversation with other educators, your presence in the room should ideally be an active one. If you are listening to a speaker give her speech and are tweeting out the best bits, that is very different from trying to do the same *and* also participate in a conversation with the other people in the room. In this context it doesn’t work so well…

Upshot: I certainly don’t feel like I wasted my time by going to edcamp, and I’m glad I got to see what the fuss was all about. Though I do feel that with maybe a bit more structure I could get more out of the experience. Maybe have the session board online for the week leading up to the un-conference, and then people would have a bit more time to think about things before discussing them. That could also lead to developing those lists of resources ahead of time, and then you could do something with them the day-of in order to deepen the discussion.

So, would I go to another edcamp? Maybe. But probably the reason I would go is because there were other people going that I wanted to connect or re-connect with and/or it was taking place closer to home.

More Projects, Please

Over the course of the 2012-2013 school year I have done a bunch of projects. Some I have already blogged about, and several I have not, because, well…I haven’t been blogging.

Side Note: What’s up with that, anyways? I have had a really off-year for all things writing-related. I haven’t been blogging; I haven’t been writing fiction. I guess it’s been a bit of a reset year. Hoping to use the summer to get things back on track… End Side Note.

But it has been a good year for doing projects with my classes. I’ve done several different projects in two of the three classes I taught this year. And we did one end-of-the-year research project with the third class. Here’s a run-down of my projects from the year:

Patterns Project

Overview: This was a unit assessment on the various patterns we’ve studied in our first month or so at school. We’ve looked at linear, exponential and power patterns, as well as a few wonky “other” patterns. While looking at these patterns, we’ve figured out how to represent them in a variety of ways: in verbal, numerical, tabular and graphical forms, as well as in equations.

Transformations Project

I blogged out the link to my handout for this project, but I never showed you the excellent pictures of student work I collected.

Mini-Feltron Project

Highlight: When we got back the next week, every single student had done the assignment–including the student who had been absent the Friday before. Totally a-MAY-zing!

Trig Project

This was a fun project. I took a few problems we already had written up, and then I STOLE the “Which street is the crooked-est?” problem from Prime Factor’s blog (who got it from Ron Lancaster’s 2012 NCTM talk). I think this was the first assignment of the year where I was so pleased with the quality of student work that I asked some students if I could keep their papers.

GSP Project

From a student reflection: “In the process of working on this project, I was always curious about finding out new discoveries. Once I came across these discoveries, I was eager to learn more. I put in a lot of time and effort and I was diligent throughout the project.”


All in all, I feel like each of the projects I’ve done this year has been a success. This is not to say that I won’t change them up for next year and make tweaks and such. But this is a good foundation on which to build.

Would You Attend This Sesion?

I’ve jumped through the yearly flaming-hoops-of-internet-peril that are the NCTM, and CMC websites to submit speaker proposals for two different talks. Luckily, tweeting has built up my editing-out-extraneous-characters muscles (but seriously, CMC-South: only 250 measly characters for a whole session description? I guess it’s 110 more than I should really need…)


Further Beyond Sudoku: Using Logic Puzzles to Develop Mathematical Reasoning

Logic puzzles are an engaging and accessible way to introduce students to deductive reasoning. Participants will break down the process of proof-writing, connect the rules of logic puzzles to axiomatic proof systems, make conjectures, write “because statements” & develop their ideas into simple proofs, modeling how to use these ideas with students.

As you might infer from the title, this one is a repeat/extension of the talk I gave two years ago in Philly.


Telling Stories, Teaching Math

People love hearing stories. Harness elements of writing and the power of storytelling to engage students with mathematics. Who are the characters? What is the plot? How will the story end? Learn ways to design courses, units and individual lessons around the framework of narrative.

Gonna try again on this one–even though nobody seemed to care for it last year. I’ve tightened up the description. Perhaps this year the time will be right for this talk to make its debut. We’ll see.


Telling Stories, Teaching Math

People love hearing stories. Harness elements of writing and the power of storytelling to engage students. Who are the characters? What is the plot? How will the story end? Learn to design courses, units and lessons around the framework of narrative.

That’s 250 characters on the nose!

I Had Nothing To Do

Monday was my first day back from Spring break. It’s always rough getting back into the swing of things after being away from school for a week–and due to Intersession the week before, I hadn’t seen my students for two full weeks.

Luckily, we had wrapped up our previous unit and we were starting fresh rather than trying to pick up from where we’d left off. Our unit on quadratics starts off with a boot-camp of sorts with a bunch of practice on algebraic skills such as simplifying, expanding and factoring. I told my students that some of them would love it, and some of them would HATE it, but that we were practicing and making sure we all had these skills down before we applied them to super-cool problems involving projectile motion, since everyone likes throwing things[1]. [One student immediately perked up and asked: "Do we get to throw stuff?"]

I start off by asking them the question:

What does “equal” mean?

We discuss various ideas about “the same,” “exactly the same,” “the same value,” etc. I ask them “How do they know that 2 + 3 = 5?” and then continue on to asking “Why does 2x + 3x = 5x?” We talk about how every value they substitute in for x will give them the same result on both sides of the equation. We describe what we would see in the graphs of both sides of the equation if we were to plot both on the same set of axes, or what we would see in the tables of both expressions.

Anyways, then I tell them that this “Investigation” is not a normal one. In fact, it is so different that I have renamed it “Algebra Skills Check” since they will not be investigating anything. They will be practicing their simplifying skills. And then I drop the big bomb on them…

Oh, yeah. And I’m not going to check your work for you.

I am giving them, literally pages upon pages of practice problems and not checking their work. Say what?!?

“Yep. You need to check your own work.” [Pause.] “How are you going to do that?”

At this point I hear the faint beeping of a car alarm off in the distance. This is the urban version of cricket chirping.

“What technology could you use to help you check?” I ask.

Light bulbs go off.

“We could graph them on our calculators!”

I smile and nod, and remind the little ones that have left their TI-84’s at home today about Desmos graphing calculator [2]. They get to work.

And then, for the next 50 minutes, I have nothing left to do.



[1] Not my favorite strategy for teaching, well, anything…but we’re planning on rewriting this class over the summer and I’m not going to change it all up this trimester. All you über-awesome people can just bite me. Okay?

[2] My students love Desmos. I had to coax some of them away from checking out the Desmos art. Repeatedly.