Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

This week: 14 days ’til kids

Hmm. Seems pretty quiet around here…

This had certainly been a memorable summer in all facets of my life. First wedding anniversary, first project where I used desmos, and I had a baby! (of course by “had” I mean I torrented episodes of scandal while my wife was laboring). So much going on, and yet I have nothing logged here on my little corner of the web. Kinda sad I guess.

The point of my blogging is to talk about my teaching, not to talk about my success teaching. When it’s time to blog, the little success guy sits on my shoulder and tells me “Don’t write a post, you don’t have anything good to write about yet. Go on reddit and do it tomorrow.” Trying to project success as a teacher makes me shelf posts about my scattered ideas, my non-traditional school, or how I feel unclear about my teaching/working situation. If blogging is going to be a useful practice, it’s should be just that: a practice. I should write about I’m doing, and hope that the success shines through. So with that over-thinking, and this tweet as inspiration, let’s use it!

What I’m teaching this week year


I don’t know! So this year is going to see a big change in my career. I’ll head into school to get the details on Wednesday, but it looks like I’ll be teaching one class, and I think it will be different than the algebra I’ve taught the past few years. My goal for the year was to help kids become better problem solvers and help myself become better at facilitating conversations. This will have to be a blog for later in the week.

What I’m blogging this week

In addition to figuring out what I’m teaching this year, I’m lucky enough to edit the Global Math Department Newsletter. I’ve also been able to help out the website which had a few notable things coming before the school year starts.

  • “Projects” a collection of the various projects that people from around the #MTBoS create, contribute to, and depend on.
  • “Newsletters” will house all of the letters that her sent out each week.
  • More interaction, including a form will let people give feedback about the presentations suggest speakers, and another one that will suggest other things to include on the site.

I’m really  looking forward to the upcoming year and working with everyone to make GMD great this year.

What I’m thinking this week

This is going to be a long hard year. It is intimidating to think about being able to grow as an educator and a father this year, but it will is possible. Before having a kid, the one thing I could offer to my kid would be passion. Hopefully demonstrating a pursuit of being really good at my craft will help my think daughter think she should pursue her dreams. My daughter, who was napping on me while I wrote this, see below, is probably not going to give much time to write. I’ll have to start writing more posts on my phone, or in whatever other time I have. Oops, look like I brought her up again, now I’m mandated to take a picture.

What would a teacher’s ‘Off-Season Workout’ look like?

As September slowly crawls it’s way here it is hard to see far enough ahead to what will be needed in the next school year to make productive use of the summer vacation. Usually I don’t plan anything, I just kind of wait until summer comes, watch an entire series of something on Netflix (i.e. How I Met Your Mother), and put off planning the for the school year til late august.  This year summer has been different with all of the parenting I’ve had to do. Any downtime I have should be laser focused on growth, yet I’ve worked through all of Parks and Rec, and haven’t looked at any of last years work in the projects. What should I do?

In moments of confusion, I tend to look at sports as a guide. (Doesn’t everybody?) Let’s refer to what’s left of summer as an “Offseason” and look to improve with a series of focused activities in the way an NBA player improves during their offseason.  Here is a video that shows an example of an aspiring NBA player working in the offseason to improve:

This is Jeremy Lin in the offseason as he was still trying to break in to the NBA. This was before Lin-sanity was on T-shirts when he was just a hopeful NBA prospect looking to stick with the the Golden State Warriors in the following fall. He didn’t make it with GSW, and he spent the season a D-league team, and a Chinese team before finding the Knicks, and you should know the rest.  He is trying to be a better basketball player and he spends his time lifting weights and doing other physical fitness activities, Shooting jumpshots and other skill development, and of course actually playing basketball.  These three things, strength and fitness, skill development, and playing basketball could probably be neatly translated to teaching.

Strength and Fitness

Strength and Fitness for math teachers means doing math.  Taking time to actually do math would be the equivalent of lifting weights. Advanced math may not be needed to teach the same content that I taught last year, just like 1-legged squats are not part of basketball, but doing these exercises can help build strength. Learning new math content allows you to sympathize with how the students feel.

  • Find classes to do math online through Coursera, edx or udemy to brush up on advanced content.
  • Follow along with the PCMI math worksheets as they become available.
  • Look for local math circle courses in your area.
  • Try to use math in more flexible ways like learning how to code, or how to count cards, or constructing some crazy origami stuff.

Of course there are lots of things all teachers can do to help out in this regard like learning more about your community and your students, but for math teachers, learning content is very important.

Skill Development

Skill development for math teachers would mean practicing and rehearsing the kinds of moves that you would need during the actual season. This could mean learning new approaches to different topics, seeing ways to improve upon your things that didn’t go well last year, and reflecting on the things that did go well to make them even better. Luckily the #MTBoS would provide a number of ways to work on your skills:

  • Read through the various collections of problems and lessons for the topics you will teach next year.
  • Write about the projects and lessons you did and ask the #MTBoS for any ideas and feedback. Don’t forget to give other people feedback on their lessons and projects, you can sharpen your thinking along the way.
  • Watch videos of teachers teaching math to see what they choose to do, (and what they choose to not do).

Playing Basketball

Playing basketball for a basketball player seems to align with teaching math for a math teacher. It is where all the other work comes together.  Where will you get space to work on coming actually teaching during the “off-season” (aside from being one of the brave souls who teach summer school)?

  • Tutor a cousin or nearby student or adult in some math concepts. Perhaps SAT tutoring, GRE tutoring or something else. You probably know someone who could use help, and they will probably buy you a beverage or two to say thanks for some needed tutoring.
  • Form a critical friends group and try running your lessons and projects past them. While having a an actual class of students is hard to come by, letting teachers who are familiar with your student population run your lesson/project through a battery of questions will give you a chance to test out new ideas.
  • Facilitate a session of #probchat!  More on this in an upcoming post.

There is of course one missing piece that I didn’t mention. In the last scene of the video you see Jeremy Lin going out and having fun, not worrying about Basketball. Make sure you take time to do that as too much working out will lead to injury in sports, and burnout in teaching.

For what it’s worth, here is my plan for the rest of my summer.

Planning For My Scariest August Yet

Unfortunately it’s August. August has always been the month that I have always associated with both vacation and work ever since I began my teaching career 10 years ago. It is the month where I curl into a fetal position on the ground while moaning with fear, anxiety, and overwhelmedness. (is it just ‘overwhelm’?) As this is first day of my 11th (!) professional August, the 2.033 Month birthday, and perhaps pay periods under the title of ‘Teacher’, I have a lot more to think about. I’m going to steer into the skid of August by making an action plan that will hopefully mean spending less time hugging my knees on the rug.

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How it feels to give an ignite talk

This spring I gave a talk at the NCSM ignite session and here it is!  Below the video is how it felt through the process of making this talk happening.

Before the talk:

Going into the talk I was as rattled as I had ever been about doing anything.  I’ll give you a taste.  Here is an unedited snippet from my journal on the morning of the talk:

This talk is going to be fine.  I am in a safe space.  I am going to do my best, and the people are going to be appreciative.  It will look like I tried hard, and that is what matters.  It’s not my job to be perfect, I am trying to be as faithful as possible to the information and I will do that by delivering the presentation to the best of my ability.

Sounds a little like Stuart Smalley, right? Well don’t judge me until you’re in the same situation. These affirmations were what I needed to get out of the door and to the bus station to make it to Boston on time.  I had also just woken up from a pretty sleepless night.  The safe space imagery helped me shake off the late night/early morning visions of me messing up on the talk and every one looking at me like I tripped in the middle of a dance battle.  Sharing something with nearly 100 people is pretty scary, even if I regularly present information to nearly 100 students for a lot longer than 5 minutes.


In the conference room waiting to talk, there is a little bit of gallows humor, but not really a lot of fear.  As you see more and more people going up and giving their talks, starting with Annie and Max, you realize that the fears that you have about the talks and their outcomes really don’t matter because the audience is the most wonderful audience in the world.  It is as warm and accepting as the crowd at a summer camp talent show, or the shows around the holidays when all the little kids make everyone watch them sing by the mantle.  You wouldn’t believe it if you were in the room but the energy is amazingly supportive.  EVERYONE IS THERE TO SUPPORT YOU!

Getting up to talk your mind goes completely blank.  I whispered to Suzanne “I forgot everything.” who comforted me by saying.  “Everybody does, it’ll come back.”  She was kind of right.  I remembered through the talk what happened, but I don’t remember any of it now.  I think I got the laughs I wanted, there was conversation when I wanted, and people were quiet and thought when I wanted.  I finished with not only a weight off my shoulders but still slightly burdened by the mistakes I might have made.  “I didn’t plug twitter!”

A Little While After:

Once the talk has finished and the adrenaline is gone, the experience of the talk really inspires you.  When I finished running a Tough Mudder I remember getting injured and having to limp the last 20 miles to the finish line.  So much of that race was filled with dread and disdain, but once I crossed the finish line and met the rest of my team I couldn’t help but feel anything but pride and gratitude.  With the Ignite talk there was a similar feeling.  It was great to finish, and while people may nitpick pronunciations and powerpoint slides as they watch the video again, there was still nothing like being in front of such a large group of supportive people who wanted you to do well, and wanted to learn from what you had to say.

My talk:

So I have two videos below.  The first is cell phone footage of my self talking, the second is the video of the slides behind me.  Sync them up at the same time and it will feel like you were there!

Cell phone video of me talking:

Video of the slides (start this at :07):

The Powerpoint file of the slides for my talk is below, and you can also set this in motion by starting the slide show on the second slide.  It will run through the entire talk automatically:

Quick and Dirty Version

The whole idea of the talk is that there are a lot of changes that are hampered because certain people have what is called “competing commitments.”  These commitments compete against the change that you want to happen.  The example that I gave was that I wanted students to change and become better problem solvers, but I am committed to preventing students from having to struggle for long periods of time.  Unless I deal with my issue, I am never going to make that change happen. This talk is proposing that until we as a math community deal with all the collective commitments we are going to see numerous efforts to change, efforts with great promise and potential, fall flat because we are committed to keep things the same.  On an individual level, this change process could take place by examining what outcomes you assume these commitments are supposed to prevent like a scientist experimenting with a hypothesis.  Does it really make sense for me to always avoid students from struggling?  What if I experiemented with a lesson plan of “struggle” problems from a reputable source, like the Math forum?  Perhaps trying this experiment would be enough to stop my allegiance to that unproductive commitment.

Make sense?

I’m curious what kind of Changes, Fears/Commitments, Assumptions and Experiments the blogosphere has, so if you can think through this, please leave your thoughts at this link:

Here is the book that inspired the talk:

How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation by Robert Kegan et al.
How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation
by Robert Kegan et al.

This Week: Back to work

So this week was the first week teaching as a father! As excited as I am about fatherhood, I’m not yet going to try to flood the interwebs with pictures of my child. Well, maybe just this one.

Being a father is good, and perhaps I will write a post soon about what my early experiences made me think about math teaching. Our school district’s paternity leave policy, however, isn’t good. In fact it’s non-existent. In order to keep our lights on I’m back to work until the end of the year. Since NYC schools go DEEP into June. Seeing the year is far from over, I figured I could use the rest of the year to dive in with the blogging strategy I will use next fall

What I’m teaching this week

This week I have to pick up the pieces from my paternity leave. This has meant rushing through the two projects I have my two classes teaching right now.

Project A: The Casino Carnival Project

Kids need to find the expected value for a carnival of their design where they need to make as much profit as possible off of the participants playing the game. This game is meant to model the role probability plays in designing a casino. There is plenty of variability with each of these ideas that should give the students a chance to each make a unique set of games of prizes. Kids calculate the expected value of various prizes and use it to calculate their total profit.

Project B: The “Coin Flip” Project

This project was an obvious copy of Dan Meyer’s Will It Hit The Hoop. I wanted to try a 3-Act kind of problem, as per my goal for this year, and also have kids to do shoulder some of the model building load. I showed them this video of me flipping a coin off of the end of a ruler but not quite landing and asked how they could know it was a quadratic, then guided them through making their own video. The day before my daughter was born I showed them how they could each flip their own coins and record it on an iPad and then find coordinates that track their flight by watching their video and analyzing the associated chart paper.

What I think happened with the subsitute teacher while I was on paternity leave was, well, very little. I realize that there are a lot of teacher moves and questioning that I do when launching projects, and I could probably benefit from taking time to think about what’s needed to teach a project and document it. This may be a summer project… In the mean time, let me know if you have any questions about these quickly describe projects in the comments below.

What I’m blogging this week

This week I plan to blog every day, just as I would if the school year were started. I have plenty of ideas on tap that I could blog about, but I definitely want to write about what happens as I try to finish these projects in a tight timeframe.

I also intend to make a concerted effort to comment on other peoples blogs. So many people out there are writing good stuff, but because I am on my phone, or on feedly, or am just busy, they won’t know that I appreciated their stuff. This week, and certainly going forward, I hope to change that. A comment a day may be a good goal. Anyone care to join me? Leave a comment below to start!

What I’m thinking this week

I’m going to end this post thinking about my former student Kalief Browder, whose life came to an untimely end. The kind of student that should be saved by our system was lost, largely because of this system. The fact that the bevy of resources afforded him later in life weren’t enough to overcome the damage done to him earlier is a sad reminder of the importance of each day with our students while they are young.

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