Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Clog: Just because it worked last year… #MTBoS30

Today we worked on reviewing average, median and mode before talking about how to use those tools to make arguments around a set of data. Students were given basketball statistics and data about restaurants in NYC and a set of statements that weren’t correct about the data and asked them to reword the statement so it actually reflected the data. After that I wanted to get into the “Hot Dog Festival” worksheet when my teenagers started acting like teenagers and nothing got done.

Do you ever find worksheets on your computer from last year and think “This worksheet was the Jam! I’m going to roll this out tomorrow and it will be awesome!” I had a worksheet like that today, and I was really excited about how awesome it was going to be. As class started, I realized before I even started teaching it, that it wasn’t going to go well. The beginning of this worksheet had some jokes in it that I forgot about. Naturally, bedlam broke loose when I asked the goofiest kid in the class to read the prompt out loud knowing that there is only w0 minutes to go in the 90-minute block, and that everyone was a little punchy. My one small joke about sausages set off the class and these two boys couldn’t stop laughing about it. I overlooked the joke when I chose this worksheet because I was too focused on how the task fit mathematically in the unit. The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t rest on your laurels just because something worked last year.

Hopefully we can finish the hotdog activity on Thursday, and then we can get into the outlier activity. This activity is another one that I did last year. Naturally, I will spend much more time preparing for Thursday’s class than I did today. (I might even write a blog post about it.

Are you wondering what the joke was? Ask me in the comments!


This Week: Instant Gratification Monkey Takes The Wheel

What I’m teaching this week

S  P  R  E  A  D. We started our first two classes wondering about what it means for a number to represent the central tendency of a set. Now we will explore ways to see why those kinds of numbers can’t be trusted. I have a group work task that I did last year which I could roll out early next week. The idea of outliers has been easy for kids to understand, and we talked about it briefly before break. so I will do a little review with that tomorrow. Then work through a parallel exploration of standard deviation and the IQR before a reflection on Thursday.

What I’m blogging this week

This is the first Monday of #MTBoS30, and with that I am going to bring back my Monday “This Week” posts. These posts provide a brief synopsis of what I’m teaching, blogging, and thinking this week. I also have a number of posts ideas lined up that will help me keep from hitting writers block this week and through out this month. This week I plan to get in to some of the things I’ve learned from NCTM conferences in San Francisco and Minnesota. I also want to talk do some class logs from the classes I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and also write up the project that I taught last cycle.

What I’m thinking this week

This week I have so much stuff to do, I’m basically just seeing if I can survive and be productive. NYC schools just returned from break. All the teachers, and some of the kids returned today, but it feels like my brain is still out on vacation. Over the break I watched the most entertaining TED talk I’ve seen in some time and now I keep thiking about it. In Tim Urban’s talk “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” he describes exactly what has been going on in my brain since mid-April. Hopefully my rational decision-maker will keep the monkey off the wheel, before I get behind and end up dealing with the panic monster! Definitely watch the video if you have time (and aren’t procrastinating).


My First #MTBoS30 Post, And My 100th Blog Post!!!

I’m pretty excited about #MTBoS30, it was only 2 years ago when my blog was less than a month old and I decided to take this challenge on. At that time I started doing #MTBoS30 because I wanted blogging to become a regular practice. Now as I am posting this my 100th blog post(100!), I find myself approaching the 30-day blog challenge with the goals in mind:

  1. Establish blogging as a regular practice,
  2. Allow that practice to inform and improve my teaching
  3. Support other bloggers out there that are doing the same thing.

Establishing A Practice

There a number of reasons why I want my blog to be a practice. Not a journal, not a scrap book, and certainly not the definitive resource for all the world’s math education needs. It can’t be all of those things, for a lot of reasons. What I do want to get in to is why it can be a practice.

Teaching is a difficult job and it already has so much day-to-day chaos involved, it is hard to stay grounded. This year I am adding on to that the ball-of-whirling-overwhelm that is being an administrator, making each commute home feel extra exhausting.

The blog for me needs to be a place where I take a second to remind myself that all of this stuff that I am doing is worth something. I want to pull whatever positive nuggets out of my crazy days, like a prospector pulling nuggets of gold out of, you know, those trays full of murky water. The nuggets of gold are there, the moments of wonder and sparks of brilliance are scattered throughout, all day long. I just need to get in the habit of putting on my boots, and my little prospector screen-tray thing, and get those nuggets out and into the world so they don’t get lost down river.

The Practice Should Help The Other Practice

Did you ever play the game maelstrom? It’s where you move around in a spaceship and shoot meteors before you crash into them. The game starts and you’re grounded, and all you have to do is swivel in either direction while shooting. I was good at this part of the game. At some point, you have to use your rocket boosters to avoid a meteor. These boosters lazily direct your ship in any direction, but not responsively enough to stop on a dime and avoid a meteor.  So now  you have to not only worry about what direction to swivel and shoot, but also what direction your ship is headed in. Once the game gets hard, you always have to use the rocket, you always have to learn how to control what you’re shooting at in the short term, but also where your ship is drifting in the long run. To be good at maelstrom you have to be good at both your long-term direction, and moment-to-moment meteor blasting. I suck at this part of maelstrom.

As we approach May every year, I feel like I’m the spaceship in that game maelstrom that has been set adrift and can’t get back to normal. The daily or at least regular practice of blogging can help me keep my spaceship in the middle of the screen, maybe all the time in the middle. It can help me sort out what I just finished doing and also help me clarify what I am going to do next. Having a practice of pulling out the important ideas and being able to look at all of them over time could help me with that long-term thinking that evaded me in middle school. In that sense my blogging work is a actually a part of a larger process of me being able to do my best teaching/adminstrating work, but not my best work in and of itself (although on some days I think my writing might be pretty good). 

Diving in to the community

My favorite part of the #MTBoS30 is also all of the community. Knowing that there are a lot of people in the same struggle as me is always helpful. I hope to let people know that I appreciate their work by commenting on all of the blogs that I read, and I hope who ever read mine feel free to do the same (even if the comment is like 3 words or whatever).


Teach Mathematical Practices through Non-Routine Problems – #NCTMannual

These are the slides from my presentation at NCTM San Francisco

Download (PDF, 1.28MB)

For the actual slides click here to download the powerpoint

For more problems check out my #probchat treasury

To talk about problems on twitter, check out #probchat, Sunday Nights at 9, starting out April 24th!

The #Probchat Treasury: Every Problem That’s Ever Been Chatted

In February of 2015 a twitter conversation led to the creation of #probchat, a twitter chat about solving problems. Each week we would talk about a different problem and how students may approach it. The problems each week came from different sources around the internet in order to demonstrate the vast array of interesting problems available across the web. It was a bit of a struggle finding problems each week, but I think I was able to find a collection of problems with a number of good characteristics. It seemed like it would be a good idea to have all of those problems referenced on the web, so this post.

#probchat Problem Characteristics

Each problem was one I found somewhere on the internet (except for Basketball Practice). After looking at all of them, it seems that the problems I settled on each week had the following characteristics:

  • Required little more than elementary math knowledge
  • Even people with advanced math knowledge would not find any immediate and obvious solution strategies
  • Had a realistic context or story which inspired a genuine desire for a mathematical solution
  • Had a context or story simple enough to be easily read on twitter
  • Could be approached with different problem solving strategies

Is This The End?

For now #probchat is on hiatus. Having a new job and a new baby has made it hard to have free time in the evenings, and the slowchats that I tried in November never really seemed to get much traction. After the NCTM conference in San Francisco I may see if I can give it the time it deserves, or see if I can develop a format that garners interest and isn’t demanding. If you have any ideas about how it could successful again, let me know in the comments!

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