Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Clog: Competing with a Skateboard?

Today’s class began with a plan to break up the monotony, and I left feeling the need to take even more drastic action for the monotony. The day before I was talking with a special ed teacher who was the advisor of one of my students. “He needs thing to be EXCITING.” she said “He’s a skateboarder. If he’s not in your class it’s because he’s out around the building skateboarding. Your classes have to compete with skateboarding.” I immediately thought of this as a challenge. How do you make math class as interesting as skateboarding?

Initially I thought about the process skateboarders take to get better. Skateboarding offers lots of real-time feedback to help you learn how to master a new trick. Math offers similar real-time feedback if the students learn to check their own work and are given opportunities to be independent. With confidence and effort they can follow the sort of instantaneous feedback of their own thinking while working towards solving a problem. In a lot of ways the work one does to master a skateboard trick is similar to the work one does to learn math.

So I was about 3/4 through that explanation when my co-worker stopped me and said “Also, you could have the kids moving around and doing cool stuff.” To which I replied “Well… yeah… Of course that too.”

It was one of the few times a conversation in teaching has left me both dumbfounded and also spinning with ideas. Large scale experiments and physical explorations is something I haven’t done in my class, but is something that has been done in her class (her students build and fly a hot air balloons…on the first or second day of class). It made me think about doing more modeling and less pen and paper work. Maybe the spaghetti bridge to talk about linear modelling, maybe a catapult to talk about quadratic modelling, maybe something with building skateboard ramps? Who knows, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!

Naturally, the lesson I had planned felt as exciting as a bowl of bran flakes in comparison. OK not entirely, we did the connecting representations activity that I remember from TMC-NYC. Some notes for people doing that. It’s good to have the representations on chart paper so you can have the prompts on the screen. I intended to have the images at the bottom of this google doc as the representations to connect. I noticed that the sort of silence and the lack of writing really helped some kids make connections. One pair of students only on their second day in the class began the activity saying “I don’t get this” but were able to create their own.

The rest of the class was spent working on some activities that I used to think were the Cat’s pajamas but now they just seem boring. At least that’s how the kids experienced it. Maybe the conversation made me less exciting to teach this stuff, or maybe it’s time for something new. Either way I have four days of weekend to think of something more exciting and I hope to spend at least one day doing just that.


Clog: Idea Creep

It was a rough day at the office for the past few days.

Friday was a terrible example of something I’ll call idea creep. We were reviewing the Do Now, a visual pattern, and a students said something about area when describing a growing square. One student said it grew wider and longer. I suggested the word ‘geometrically’ and I said that was interesting. Then I kept talking…

Flash back to before the class and I remember having a whole bit about arithmetic and geometric sequences because it might be interesting. There really wasn’t time to do it, but the idea of talking about sequences alongside these visual patterns still lingered. 

After the student noticed decided to interject a little of the sequence language, so I mentioned ‘geometrically’ The class wasn’t as excited as I had expected. Next thing you know I am pointing to another pattern that wasn’t a geometric sequence so they could see a distinction.

Now things could have taken a turn. If this was a brief aside, now it appears like an important part of the lesson. If things were going over their heads before, now they are confused or frustrated. The original conversation has gone off track, and the student who did the initial noticing is checking out. At this point if I keep pushing this outside idea it’s going to creep in and take over a huge chunk of the lesson and my class culture.

This idea creep was definitely a problem I would have when I was a younger teacher but it seems to keep ‘creeping’ back in, especially with classes where the kids are not all comfortable with one another. Luckily I was able to stop it before I decided to erase half the board an adlib a 15 minute thing and then ruin the rest of the activity I had planned for the last half of class #carl’sfirstyearofteaching.

Clog: Zombies

Today I walked into class and felt like I was talking to a bunch of zombies. Probably because the class culture was DOA since I was at a training on the first day. If you ever have to be absent on your first day of class, I’ll give you two pieces of advice.

1. Don’t.

2. Don’t expect any chemistry to have formed.

When we started it seemed like there was a chemistry vacuum. I thought my lesson plan would lead to a warm environment, but instead whenever I tried turn and talks I got blank stares and silence. Ugghhh.

This class was focused on talking about functions, with visual patterns so that the routine could begin to take hold. The function conversation reminded me how useful it is going to be to slow things down and make sure kids are sitting and thinking (and I’m not up and talking). After dragging kids through an explanation with tables for function the kids were asked to write an example of  two sets that were a function and another two sets that were not a function. This was immediately met with blank stares and silence. After a few minutes we did a little share out and it seemed clear to me that we should think about it a little more. So we did that. It’s one of the few times where asked kids to simply ‘think a little more’ and it worked. After they thought I said that we would talk in pairs and pick one relation or function to share and then we went around every group shared. That was very productive, and livelier than the morning. I also think the pressure of sharing with the group was probably helpful.

Perhaps the key to bringing zombies back to life is making them think? Quick somebody tell Will Smith in I Am Legend!

Clog: Remote Start

Today is the first day of classes!  …and of my school’s two day retreat on descriptive inquiry. This means I don’t get to see the result of my stressed, late night lesson planning. Luckily my kids were in very capable hands the other Trig teacher stepping up to take the coverage. Let’s take a step back and talk about what this cycle’s class is all about.

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Reviewing #NCTMAnnual proposals and the ‘Access and Equity Question’

For a few weeks last June I was one of the lucky volunteers who were able to review proposals for San Antonio’s 2017 NCTM conference. It was a lot of reading and it is a great opportunity to hear what math educators from around the world think should be talked about at the conference. Reading the words from hundreds of speakers provided a glimpse of math education thinking from the minds of teachers and educators across countless numbers of different contexts. It was a rare kind of opportunity that was both a great honor and also genuinely fun.

The Access and Equity Question

After reading over two hundred proposals, I noticed that some of the prompts from the application were better addressed than others. Particularly, the responses to the Access and Equity question were at times brief, or sometimes didn’t seem to address the question that was being asked. This question is the last written section of the proposal application form and asks:

“How does your presentation align with NCTM’s dedication to equity and access?”

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