This Week: Tweetup Recap And The Race To Vacation

This week is important because it is essentially the end of the year.  As much as I’d like to say kids are going to show up to the two days next week, they might not.  Just in case, I need to give them all enough work this week to keep them busy over the whole break.  The kids who do show up on the last day get to work together on the task from the week, and perhaps get to hear me sing a spirited rendition of the Christmas song at our school’s “Milk, Cookies, and Karaoke” next Monday and Tuesday.

I’m able to roll into the week with a surprising burst of energy from the #nycmathtweetup last Friday.  It’s surprising because, despite being excited about the meetup until I was a block away from reaching the West Village building where it was held, I was somehow overcome with two weird feelings.  The first feeling was “I’m a fraud, this was a bad idea, and they’re all going to laugh at me!!”, followed by the second feeling, which was really just the urge to go home, curl into a ball on my couch, and feel safe.   This feeling didn’t go away as I entered the downstairs lobby of the building which felt as warm and inviting as the detention level of the Death Star. 

Then I ran into @kellyoshea and we shared an elevator up to the 6th floor and started into a little conversation.  I was naturally able to talk with all the other people we met once we got inside. Suddenly I felt like I was catching up with old friends, friends who I just met, but friends nonetheless.  I got to meet @nicoraplaca, @wkmukluk, @bkdidact, @mrburkemath, and many other people who up until know I had only known through their tweets.  We hung out until @DavidWees and the rest of the wonderful people at New Visions had to kick us out.  Afterwards a small group including @jacehan, @j_lanier, and @Mr-I-Don’t-Use-Twitter (Ben Blum-Smith) and a small group of people headed out to trendy NYC bars in the West Village.  It was quite nice that @absmarie was able to find one that was not excessively loud, nor excessively expensive. It was excessively crowded, enough that we were about to leave, but then a large group left seconds before we did, allowing us to sit down and hangout.  It all was really positive and really cool.  And just like hanging out with any group of old friends, it was really hard to say goodbye at the end of the night. I really look forward to seeing everyone again at the next one!

What I’m teaching this week

This week I am going to teach the elimination method of solving systems of equations, and I’m going to try to find some context to anchor this discussion in a way that isn’t contrived.  Wish me luck.

I’m also really excited about the economics lesson I’m teaching called “In The Chips.”  In searching for ideas I came across this lesson and realized it was my favorite lesson from when I was in high school.  If it goes well, it will lead towards using the Dunshire Project that I did last year.

What I’m blogging this week

Hopefully something.  I’ve been trying to get two blogs each week, so I’m going to hope I can get two posts, and we’ll see what I can do.

What I’m thinking this week

I just found out that I am going to be a father to a baby girl this summer! It’s hard to think about anything else but that, but it does make me wonder about how children develop quanitative literacy/numeracy at a young age.

My #MTBoS Booth Ideas For The Upcoming NCTM Conference In Boston

So a while ago Tina Cardone mentioned the idea of having an #MTBoS booth at the upcoming NCTM Annual Meeting in Boston.

Since then I’ve been thinking about how this whole thing could be good not just for the #MTBoS, but also for the NCTM as well, as it could proactively address 2 of the common criticisms when it comes to these events.  People often complain that the conferences have a lack of internet, that talks don’t contain the most up-to-date information, and these could be addressed pretty simply with a little bit of organization and coordination.

1.  Internet Access

From what I understand, internet access at a conference center like that is going to be mad expensive.  As long as there is a cellular connection, a Wi-Fi hotspot could provide internet access to a presenter and perhaps a few particpants with computers, which could really transform some of the possibilities for a presentation.  Three or four people with hotspots could possibly provide connections for everyone in the room with a device.  Suddenly, the conference is taking a couple of strong steps towards the 20th century and with just a small bit of coordination from the #MTBoS booth.

The booth could help provide a place where the organization for this internet access could happen.  Before the conference, presenters could go to some website and announce that they would welcome having people come with Wi-Fi hotpots. The participants with hotspots can go on the same website, and let the participants know that they will be coming.  When the conference starts, those people can stop by the booth where someone may be ready with extension cords, surge protectors, and cardstock table tents.  The participants can write the SSID and password information on the table tents, and the table tents can provide a little advertising to draw people back to the booth.  The participant can then leave from the booth and head up to the presentation room, introduce themselves to the presenter, set up their WiFi spot near an open outlet, and enjoy the talk that they were planning on going to anyways.

Having participants and presenters work directly to have internet at this conference will be a good way to showcase the importance of having internet access at NCTM conferences.  At the same time, NCTM would probably have to pay craploads of money for internet access because I’m assuming that is what conferences charge.  The NCTM is, at the end of the day, just a bunch of teachers getting together, so there probably are not funds available in the near future to bankroll internet access for their conferences.  A crowd-sourced solution like the one above may be the best way to provide access to conference-goers for the near future.

2.  “Un-Conference”/Open Spaces Meeting

If you look at the conference program, most of the talks will be done by 4:30.  They shut things down at this early afternoon time perhaps to give participants time to reflect on what they learned.  Perhaps the booth could, with just a touch of organization, allow people to come together and do that reflection alongside many other like-minded teachers.  The term “Un-Conference” may be a bit of overkill, but the concept seems to be what I’m describing.  For an hour or so, at the end of each day, people can come together and hang out around the booth, or other locations, to talk to, and learn from, each other.

Anyone conference participant can decide that day to bring up a topic for conversation. Perhaps someone wants to show off a new idea that they learned.  Maybe a number of people want to talk about current events that are on a lot of people’s minds.  Or maybe a presenter, who had a lot of discussion going in her talk, could offer her participants a chance to come back and finish the conversation.

At the end of the day, the people could come to the booth, see which of the things they want to talk about, and then join the rest of the interested people to talk in the food court, or an empty room, or perhaps at a nearby bar.  It would only require that the booth have a cork board and some post-it notes, but it could make for a valuable addition to the conference program.

So those are my ideas, what do you think?

The Piggy Bank or The Safe

“The Piggy Bank or The Safe” is a lesson I made as a way to introduce the contrasts between exponential growth or compound interest with linear growth or simple interest. This context asks students to compare a magic safe, which magically adds $100 to its contents reach day, against a piggybank which magically doubles the value of its contents each day. As the safe starts with $100 on Day 0, and the piggy bank starts with $.01, the question to ask students is: “Which would you rather have for the next 20 days?” Of course many other interesting questions could be posed, and students should also be pushed to make predictions along the way.

This Google slide presentation shows the amount of money, day-by-day, in US currency, in order to help people visualize the change over time.

After three days the presentation pauses to see if anyone would change their prediction. It might be a good time to ask kids to make a table with the first the days, and see if they can find some evidence for their prediction, it even an equation.

After 20 days it shied that the piggy bank has more value in it by a huge margin. It might be a good time to ask how big the piggy bank would be in 30 days, or how long it would take until it has over one million dollars.

After the 20 days I began making an extension, with a “Super safe” and a “Mini-piggy” which grow at different rates. The “Super safe” grows by $2000 each day, while the “Mini-piggy” grows by a multiplier of 1.5 each day, and they each begin with $1000 and $10 respectively. I didn’t make slides for the extension, but if you carry it out for 20 days you’ll find that the “Super-safe” ends up ahead by a slim margin, so that begs the question: “If you let any exponential function grow towards infinity, will it eventually pass a linear function?”

The Piggy Bank or The Safe

Edit:  A good follow up question that was suggested by @jlanier:  What would grow faster, a piggybank placed in a safe, or a safe placed inside of a piggybank?

This Week: Interest and Interest

It’s been a long time…  The whole idea with this Blog was to create a space to reflect on my work in the classroom, and hopefully grow as a teacher because of it.  Unfortunately, I’ve been slacking on this blog, which is kind of like slacking on myself, really.  The growth can’t happen without the writing, just as the harvest can’t happen without the planting.  I’m going to try to get back on here at least twice a week going forward, feel free to give me crap if I don’t follow through.

The lack of posts are not because I have nothing to say.  If anything it’s quite the opposite.  I have so many things going on that I haven’t had time to sit down and write them all out.  Instead of getting to worried about how to write everything, now I’m going to take time to write at least something, and hopefully that will be enough to stay on point.

What I’m Teaching This Week

This week I’m thinking about how to get students to understand the way that compound interest is related to simple interest in a fun and interactive way.  There are a number of derivations for the compound interest formula that involve lots of parenthesis and exhaustive calculations, but I’m hoping I can help them make the leap from simple to compound with something a little more…  wait for it  …interest-ing.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet, but I asked the kids today would they rather A) get paid $100 a day every day for a month OR B) receive a penny on the first day of the month, and have the money doubled every day for a month.  I’m not sure exactly how I intend to do to explore this context, but I might make a video, or perhaps an illustration of some sort.

What I’m Blogging This Week

Since I have been away from blogging regularly, a whole bunch of stuff has been going on that could make for good posts.  These things are kind of like my “reserves” and I can pull them off the bench if need be.  One thing I might talk about is my idea for an #MTBOS  booth at the NCTM national conference, (hint: it involves internet access).

Another thing is talking about all of the data work I’ve been doing at my school.  I have been more or less buried in spreadsheets and/or teaching myself database programming since the year began, and maybe this is a place to reflect on that.

Lastly, I have been working on a picking speakers for a conference, and it means I have read about 260 different talks.  I ended up learning a lot of information from doing that and I have a whole lot of ideas for posts that I gleaned from trying to understand other people’s proposals.  Perhaps I’ll dig into this this week, or perhaps I’ll write about the actual teaching and learning in my classroom for the first time in a while.  I hope I can do the latter.

What I’m Thinking This Week

At my old school there was a weird feeling that only came after Thanksgiving.  This school was going through a rough patch, and every year it seemed at least one staff member would leave in the early months of the year.  Once we got to Thanksgiving, however, all of the nervousness about people leaving would stop and we could all settle in for the rest of they year knowing we’re all staying until June.  It was a good feeling to know the people around you were around you for the long haul, like after the closing of the door on airplane.  This year has been a little rocky, with our school getting 10 new staff members in August, and one more last month, as well as starting a lot of new programs.  As we start school after this past Thanksgiving, I’m feeling like we’re finally settling in for the long haul.

“You’re Scary” – How Classroom Management Can Hinder Conversation

So the first few years of my teaching career were pretty rocky.  Classroom management became a big focus, and I worked hard to strengthen that area.  While addressing the whole group, I had to start giving kids clear and direct instructions about whatever task that they are doing, and cracked down hard on any side conversations or distractions.  It has never been total lockdown because I want to encourage talking about the material while they are working and I’m circulating, but that is a stark contrast to the few times when I’m up in the front.  Once kids start fooling around I have flashbacks of some of first years of difficult teaching and use all the tools in my bag (wait time, teacher stare, presence, etc.) to get everybody quiet and listening.

And then this happened…

So today I was explaining the next steps that everyone needed to take in order to use google sheets.  They were supposed to get their computers to go to this link, then go to the file menu and make a copy, and rename it with their name and then if they get finished early, help their neighbor.  So I got the class quiet, I said the steps that they had to do, and I asked them if they had any questions. Everyone remained quiet.  So then after the silence they went about looking at their computer and getting busy.

I walked around to help people and ended up spending longer than I liked going desk-to-desk helping people.  The things that I was helping with were clearly things they might have had questions about that would have been good to asked to the whole group.  Some kids were wondering what even was, or had trouble connecting their computer to the internet.  It took a little longer than I intended.

After we got everybody on the google doc I wanted to walk everybody through how to use the spreadsheet to make a chart.  I got the class quiet, talked through the information, and asked if there were questions.  Again, silence.

“Are you guys like scared of me? I am asking if you have questions and nobody is saying anything.  Am I intimidating or something?”

“Yeah!!”  a few students exclaimed as others nodded their head.

A quiet student in the back said “You’re Scary!”

We shared a nice moment of understanding where each other was coming from, and then we had a pretty open talk about what people needed to do with the computer for the rest of the class.

I realized that I need new practices to encourage student voice

The fact that students had trouble asking questions about some concrete computer tasks, these same students certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable asking about complex math concepts.  While part of me was proud that I had come so far from the first year teacher with bad classroom management, another part of me was really concerned that now I had to come back the other direction and create a more open and discussion-friendly classroom.  Before I thought that if students were in an environment free of the “funny business”, then students would be free to discuss, but now it seems that I need to do more to encourage students to feel comfortable asking questions when the don’t understand.  I guess that’s the profession, once you figure something out in your teaching, it’s only a matter of time before you have to start fixing it.


How do you encourage students to speak up when they might not know something?