Week Four–One Month In…

This week Mara turned 7 months old. It’s been over a month that I’ve been back at work now and I can honestly say that I’m feeling good about it. I wish there was some way I could be at work and also be spending more time with my baby. But I’ve realized that, on the whole, I’m happy to be back at work.

One thing that really made me happy this week was a new thing I tried with students. I had pairs of students put up a solution to one problem from the sheet they’d worked on the day before with the instructions that they would not be presenting the problem so there had to be enough information up on the whiteboard for people reading it to follow along without being able to ask questions. Everyone grabbed a dry erase marker and did a reasonably silent gallery walk. Since it was the first one we’d done for the year I prefaced it with a discussion about what type of feedback would be good. One class did a much better job about giving thoughtful responses than the other, but I digress.

The part that was new was the last bit. I had students return to the problem that they’d written up on the board and read the comments with two things in mind:

  1. Look for any questions that classmates asked.
  2. Look for common themes in the comments.

As the final step I had groups share out the common themes they noticed on their boards. I really liked this because it got at some good stuff about communicating your ideas clearly and highlighted points of confusion while taking the focus away from simply getting the correct answer. We did talk about the correct answer in at least one problem in the end, either because a student asked about it or I brought up the fact that no one had made a comment about a certain mistake that was made, but it was not the focus of our conversation. Which was really awesome.

After we finished the activity I asked students what they thought about it. In both classes, the handful of students who spoke up commented that they liked it; that it was nice to think about their work in a different way. One kid from each class mentioned that they liked our “regular” debriefs too and I reassured them that we would still be doing those as well. I shared that what I liked about this activity was that it allowed everyone to share their thoughts, even the people who are less frequent speakers in our class conversations, and so each group got more feedback, from more people, than if we had just talked about their problem.

In the second class, one kid commented that “parts of [the activity] felt a bit rushed” and, just as I was acknowledging that I heard and appreciated his feedback, the announcement of our earthquake drill came over the intercom. I smiled and said “now you know why it was rushed!”

Week Three — BTSN

The major event of the week this week was Back To School Night. It’s funny how a 45 minute event (longer if you include passing periods, even longer if you *ahem* came on time *ahem*–hey, I showed up for my blocks, that’s what matters!) can take over the mental space available for an entire week. This year there was the added complexity of needing to drive home after school got out, feed the baby, and then drive back to school before my blocks began [see note above about arriving on time].

I know lots of teachers–some of them my amazing colleagues–complain about BTSN, and on occasion I feel grumpy about it too. But for this week’s post I am going to reflect on all the things I am grateful for about BTSN:

  • For some reason, I really like the abbreviation BTSN. 🙂
  • That moment when you meet a student’s parent(s) and you go “OH! I totally get why such and so does that thing now.” [In your head, obvi.]
  • Seeing parents do the first math lesson they’ve done in [insert large number] years.
  • Whatever activity I throw at parents–in one class this year it was learning about radians!–at least some are ready and eager to engage, even though it’s 7:30 at night.
  • Getting to introduce grow-ups to the cool things that happen when you play around with Möbius strips and hearing them audibly say “neat!”, “whoa!” and the like.
  • Parents who just want to meet you and shake your hand and tell you that they’re Stu’s mom/dad.
  • Getting to see parents of students you’ve had before again!
  • Parents who ask you “how’s your baby doing?” ❤

Week Two–Vignette Style

Had a great moment the other day and I wanted to get it down for my weekly post. I was in Math 3, having students talk about some trig concept or another–I think it was about why the coordinates for sine and cosine are switched at 30 and 60 degrees on the unit circle–and kids were struggling to explain their thinking. About four students explained why they thought this happened and then ended with “does that make sense?” Which, of course, I refused to answer. Instead I put the question back on the kids. What do you think? Does it make sense? One responded with, “it makes sense to me, but I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense to anyone else.” Another chimed in saying, “This [explaining your thinking] is hard!”

I jumped on that one!

“Yes,” I said, “explaining your thinking is really hard. And that’s why we practice it.” I went on for a bit about building neural pathways in your brain and about how this feeling of not knowing exactly how to say something felt uncomfortable, but that just meant that they were learning new things. “It’s hard,” I concluded, “so what are we going to do?”

“Practice it!” the class responded.


I had some great moments with colleagues this week. Like, really awesome moments. I haven’t had this kind of collaborative partnership with other adults around something not involving baby-stuff for over half a year now, so it feels really good.

I had a colleague who has been notoriously difficult to work with reach out and ask me for advice on a quasi-personal, quasi-professional topic. I felt respected by this person in a way that hasn’t been obviously apparent previously. I also brought up a challenging issue with this person, basically seeking out a potentially difficult conversation and it went well. Double yay!


Another colleague and I worked together to develop a set of reading questions for students to ensure that they grappled on a deeper level with a text about radians. I felt like the questions I wrote were meaningful and allowed students to access ideas in the text at a level they haven’t in previous years. Discussion was rich and students asked really good questions.


I tried a new activity and felt like the directions could be a bit confusing for students…so I made some visual instructions and threw them up on google slides. I think I blew at least one student’s mind when I mentioned the z-axis.



Another teacher stopped by to leave me a note regarding one of his advisees, who is my student. After class was over he talked with me about the part of the lesson he’d seen whilst he was writing his note and was super complimentary on my use of technology to record class notes about a discussion of the task. It felt really good to hear someone say nice things about what I was doing.


Both my department chair and my dean of students observed me on the same day (not the same section, but the same class)! They didn’t realize that they had done this, and they were both apologetic about it once they did know. But I responded with enthusiasm–hey! now I get two different perspectives on the same lesson, awesome! Lack of feedback on my teaching has been one of my criticisms of my school in the past, so I’m totally willing to go a bit too far in the opposite direction before things get totally dialed in. Yay, observations!


My kiddo had her first fever this week. 😦

But she got better really quickly and is back to her energetic, delighting-in-the-world self now.

And it’s the weekend.




Week One

Hello, Strangers!

It’s been a long while since I have updated this blog. Something which I have many reasonable excuses for (see below for the cutest one). However, this is something which I would like to change this year.


While I can’t possibly wrap my head around the idea of doing a daily blog, like Justin, or even around blogging every day for a month, like Anne, I want to make a small commitment. And so I have decided that this school year I will blog each week. Probably on the weekend, probably during someone’s nap time. It might be short, it might be long. I don’t know yet.

There will probably be talk about parenting, certainly infinitely more about that than in previous postings! It is kind of big deal, after all, becoming a parent who teaches. I’m not sure yet how teaching fits into my new role of being a mom, and how being a mom fits into my old role of teaching. It’s only been one week back in the classroom so far.

Speaking of that week, it was…tiring. Every beginning of the school year is tiring, though this is the first year I’ve been getting up every night in the wee early hours of the morning to feed a baby. The start-up felt more clunky than usual this time around. It’s been half of a year since I was last in the classroom, and I haven’t gotten my sea-legs back yet.

I had a moment midway through the week where the thought crossed my mind, “I’m not having fun yet.” And I had to remind myself that I always feel this way during the first week–I don’t know these kids yet and I miss being on summer break. It’s hard work and I haven’t gotten back into the swing of things.

But despite this, I feel like I had a solid first week. I absolutely love my new batch of freshman advisees. They talk to each other! From the first moments of orientation!! My last group took about a year and a half to start having conversations. This is so much easier. Plus, we have a snack rotation already in place–score!

I’m teaching two preps, one of which is Topology. I got an email Friday afternoon that my new doughnut coffee mug has arrived. topology mugVery exciting. Topology is a class of only five students, which can be either totally awesome, or a complete failure depending on how the group meshes. And I can tell they are all willing to dive in and talk about big ideas. I broke them up into two groups at one point to discuss a problem and they kind of half-heartedly did so until I asked them whether they would rather just talk in the whole group. “Yes!” they responded. And so we did, and shall. We’re using Shape of Space as our primary text and reading selections from Flatland. I’m trying to channel Sam’s book group.

My other class is an integrated math class, mainly sophomores but with a few juniors who I last had in math 1 their freshman year as well as one freshman. We started off with one of Dan’s textbook makeover problems, the one with the dock ramp going up and down with the tide. Our goal was to do an informal assessment of what students remembered from their trig unit the previous year. Turns out they remember bits and pieces of information, but they don’t have it put together in any meaningful way. Some of them remember the definitions of sine, cosine and tangent in relation to the unit circle (which was the definition they were taught), but none of them have an idea of why that definition is meaningful. So that’s my goal for the next few weeks. I started by going back to triangles–justifying this because the word trigonometry means triangle-measure–and then connecting the triangles to the unit circle. I feel like it’s starting to gel a little for some of them. We’ll keep working on it next week.

Oh, and thank goodness we have a three day weekend! More time to spend with this amazing person.


A Half-Baked (?) Idea

While Avery was pestering me to submit proposals for the CMC’s and NCTM conferences for next year (which I finally did, at the last minute, as one does) I struggled mightily to come up with an idea for a workshop that I actually, y’know, wanted to present. In the end I wound up just resubmitting a proposal for a session I’ve already given. I like it, conferences seem to like it, participants seem to like it.

But it was really strange noodling around about conference session ideas for a few months now and coming up with zilch. I even consulted a list of ideas I’d written up a few years ago. Looking back on that was kind of nice, as most of the ideas I’d written down I’ve since presented on. Go me! A few others that I haven’t (yet) presented struck me a kind of meh on this reading.

All I could really think of as a compelling idea was that I’d like to spend some time talking with people about balancing work/life as a new parent. Now, I didn’t think that this is a topic that would necessarily get chosen and I certainly didn’t think that I would be an expert on this by the time November rolled around, so it was a no-go for a conference proposal. However, it got me to thinking…

I would love to have a mechanism in place to set up informal conversations–maybe lunch groups?–who could come together to talk about a topic that is interesting to a certain segment of the conference-goers. For me, it could be talking to other parents about how to juggle everything. Maybe for someone else it would be about homework policies or how to implement standards based grading. The more I thought about it (and talked it over with Avery) the more it started to sound like setting up a mini-EdCamp in the midst of a “real” conference.

So that’s what I’d *actually* like to do for my workshop. For logistical (and economic) purposes, I went ahead and submitted a “regular” session proposal. But this idea is the one that makes me go “Hmmm…that sounds intriguing.”

I guess I’m putting this idea out here just to see if there is in fact any interest in doing something like this.

Or if I’m totally bonkers.

Though I suppose those things are not mutually exclusive…


The Slides You’ve All Been Waiting For!

Seriously…everyone’s been waiting to see these–including (especially?) the poor participants at my CMC-North presentation this past Saturday who were kind enough to stay through my tech-free talk about “Classroom Routines to Support Mathematical Discourse.” A talk that could have just as easily been titled “A Smorgasbord of #MTBoS Resources for You to Use.” In other words, this was a talk that could have really benefited from having a gosh-darned powerpoint…

But indeed, there is a powerpoint! And here it is, links and videos and everything:

Asilomar Classroom Routines to Support Mathematical Discourse


This Is Not a Post I Want To Write

It is with a heavy heart that I type these words.

One of my students passed away yesterday. She was an amazing young woman with the sweetest smile who wanted nothing more than to have a “normal” high school experience, despite having battled osteosarcoma in her 8th grade year. Becca’s positive energy, enthusiasm and desire to learn brightened our class throughout the time she spent with us in 9th grade.

Bungee Pony

Towards the end of last year, we learned that Becca’s cancer had returned and had spread to her lungs. She entered hospice care early this school year and was unable to attend classes for any of her sophomore year, something which I know she really wanted to do.

I’m feeling a little rough around the edges right now, but I am so glad to have had the chance to get to know Becca and to learn from her. She will be missed greatly around here.

They’re Baaack!

The hexagons, that is.

Though, as it turns out, they didn’t stick around for long..

You see at Morning Meeting today our mindfulness teacher gave an adorable metaphor for bringing your awareness back to the present moment. She explained that our thoughts are like puppies: you take them home and you love them and care for them, but then–when you open the door–they run away and you have to chase after them, hug them and bring them back inside.

I’d already been thinking that I was going to have my students “Adopt A Hexagon” and this allowed me to take that idea to the next level. I told them that, just like the puppies at Morning Meeting, their hexagons had run out the door and they needed to create “Missing Hexagon” posters to put up around the school so their hexagons could get reunited with them.

After they’d gotten just about finished I upped the ante by letting them know that the local news station had decided to give them airtime to make an announcement about their missing hexagon, but due to scheduling requirements they only had 10 seconds to make their plea. Therefore, they needed to condense their description down to the one essential criteria of their hexagon.

It was lovely.

As you can see from their lovely posters.

.Hexagons Benz Hexagons Chrystiee Hexagons Ciri Hexagons Foxxi Hexagons Precious

Being Wrong

I had an interesting experience earlier today* that reminded me of Grace’s recent post about what she calls the “culture of correctness.”

A teacher was giving a demo lesson in a neighboring classroom and I popped in for a few minutes to observe. The tiny slice I saw gave me quite a bit to chew on. A warm-up problem asked students to vote with their feet by moving to one side of the room or another based on whether or not they thought a statement about vertical asymptotes was true or false. I happened to be sitting at the “true” side of the room. A handful of students joined me (though I was not voting); most students, however, moved to the “false” side of the room. The prospective teacher asked students to talk to someone near them about why they were standing on that side of the room. At this point a couple of students decided to switch from false to true. After the students shared with their partner, the teacher asked for a representative from the false side to explain her thinking and then for a representative from the true side to explain his thinking. Again, several students decided to switch their answer from false to true.

In this particular shift several students began “explaining” to those around them (or just talking out loud to the room in general) about why they had made a mistake. There was clearly some embarrassment and chagrin from these students, who seemed to feel compelled to share about their reason for making an error. I was a bit concerned about the activity making it highly public for students who got the question wrong–even though this was well over half the class–and was curious to see how the prospective teacher would deal with this.

From what I saw, this teacher did really well, especially considering that the teacher didn’t know any of these students. The teacher noted that several students had changed their mind–from the tone it was clear there was no judgement about this–and asked a couple of the students to explain what had happened in their thought-process that made them decide to switch places. One of the students who shared why she changed her mind was one of the ones that was most vocal as she walked across the classroom. As she had walked over I heard her downplay her abilities (“it’s because I’m so bad a factoring”). But when she explained to the class that she had neglected to factor the numerator, it seemed that she had come to a more comfortable place in her mistake-making. She no longer sounded like she was beating herself up over it.

After this activity I left to go back to my own class but I am looking forward to talking more about this moment and hearing this teacher’s perspective on it.

*I have delayed publishing this post as it talks about a prospective teacher’s demo lesson

Cryptography, Weeks 2 & 3

These past two weeks of school have been a bit brutal. Partly due to outside of class stress, partly due to said stress leaving me with some sleep-lite nights. This past week I had 4 meetings during my prep periods during the first two days. Like I said, brutal. Luckily I have a bit of a break coming up now. I get to spend a week making and eating cheese. And then I fly off to Maui for a week!

I spent Monday of week 2 working on Polyalphabetic Substitution Ciphers, but not really going into the Vigenère Cipher, which I fleshed out on Tuesday. I had my dentist appointment on Thursday–no cavities, yay!–so I gave students a day to work on their Crypto Contest, an idea a lifted from Avery. Students work with a partner to come up with an encryption/decryption algorithm and encode a message which I then shared with the rest of the class (in week 3). They will spend the next several weeks attempting to crack one another’s codes. Friday had students taking a quiz, which took about as long as I predicted, despite never giving this one out before. I’ve gotten pretty good at this teacher-thing. Maybe. We finished by discussing the first half of Chapter 2 of The Code Book.

Week 3 felt like a bit of a stretch. Like I had about 2 weeks worth of material that I was trying to fit into 3 weeks… We did some somewhat random stuff. Monday I had us turn to the back of The Code Book and we looked at the Playfair Cipher and the ADFGVX Cipher. On Tuesday we had a discussion about the second half of Chapter 2. BTW: In case you haven’t noticed yet, my Cryptography class doesn’t meet on Wednesdays. On Thursday we talked about “book ciphers and ciphers in books” which was kinda cute. I found links to two short stories, mentioned in The Code Book, which featured ciphers–The Adventures of the Dancing Men and The Gold Bug–and had students either read the text and attempt to decrypt the code in the story or to use the story as a cipher text to encrypt a short passage. We didn’t have school on Friday, to give us time to prepare for Intersession.

And now, I shall go make cheese for a week. I canNOT wait!