Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Airport Thoughts after #NCTMRegionals MLPS

It’s quite unsettling flying back to NYC,  less than 24 hours after another major world city faced an unimaginably horrific terrorist attack. I’ve found that in the darkness behind the worst acts of humanity is always outmatched by the brilliance of humanity’s acts of compassion. My thoughts, and surely the thoughts of everyone leaving the Minneapolis conference center, are with the people in Paris. 

My faith in humanity happens to be at a local maximum after the #NCTMregional in Minneapolis, which hit me with a fire hose of hugs, math, and possibility for 3 days. I feel like I’m still dripping with excitement after spending the time volunteering with the program committee, giving my first ever NCTM talk, and helping out at the MTBoS booth. It seems unlikely that I’ll be able to squeeze all of the cool stuff that happened into a blog post, but it seems like it’d be fun to try. So here goes!

Program committee-ing

My work on the program committee began a year or so go, and so was one of the longest projects that I ever took part in. Robert Kaplinsky wrote an article that summed up the initial meeting. Following that planning, meeting we did our best to recruit a really solid group of speakers that could provide an interesting array of talks. Surprisingly, I only see talks in snippets, as my role as program committee kept me running from room to room during the sessions. It was slightly frustrating to miss talks that are mere feet away, but it was great to help the event run smoothly. 

During the event my role was to monitor every talk happening along one hallway of the center. For each talk I would greet the presenter, thank them for coming, help get them set up, and watch to see if the room would hit capacity. When rooms hit capacity, that meant telling people they couldn’t view it, even if “it’s the only other K-12,” and  “the other one I wanted is closed,” and “I can just stand in the back, no one will notice!” Later on I would stop by each session to count their participants.  This is where I could sit down to enjoy a little of the session, but then I’d have to come back to each room to ensure they don’t go long, when the next presenter should be setting up (assuming the next presenter actually shows up). 

Volunteering as a program committee member let me peer behind the curtain and learn how these conferences function. Planning for these took place many years ago, and by the time the conference started, the NCTM event planners already had the difficult work finished. Signs for all of the talks were organized by room before they left NCTM’s Virginia headquarters. Being so throughly planning meant they were free to quickly respond to MTBoS emergencies, and made it so the program committee could focus solely on the presentation content. It made me think about how many logistical things I should try to relive from the shoulders of my staff and students.

Were I to do it again, I would have tried to see all of the people who I invited to talk. It might have been nice to provide a little personal hello, but with all the running around I didn’t have time. I especially want to thank everybody on my Strand who may not have been able to show up for whatever reason, but was still there in spirit:David Wees, Megan Schmidt, Justin Aion, Bowen Kerins, Rafranz Davis, Christopher Danielson, Justin Lanier, Chris Hunter, and anyone else who I may be temporarily forgetting, thank you all!

Delivering a session

Funny story. So Megan and I are getting ready for our talk. There are already about 6 or so people there while we do some last minute powerpoint-ing. All of a sudden Matt Larson president elect walks in through the back door. He doesn’t sit down, instead he walks right up to us and says “Hi Carl, Hi Megan!” I was thinking “oh my gosh, he knows our names! He thinks we’re special delicate flowers!” (Yes, I know our names were in the program book, the sign outside, and lanyards around our neck, but don’t rain on my pararde). He said he was going to watch but wanted us to know he would be leaving early. Hopefully I didn’t appear visibly shaken when we got started.

The talk went great, but was largely a blur. I know that the participants totally got into our statistics activities, and we had good conversation about the data as well. Here are the slides and the handout that we prepared.

Helping at the MTBoS Booth
I was helping set up the booth when it hit me. The NCTM was changing fast. It was less than a year ago that this booth was just an blog post, but the conference staff was speaking about it as a if it was going to be a fixture. Only a few months ago it was running off of Tina’s phone, and now they provided complimentary Wi-Fi and electricity which costs other vendors hundreds of dollars. It’s a small but clear sign that the NCTM is listening, and that more ideas may be brought to life in the near future. Don’t worry about things getting high-brow too soon. While the booth has corporate sponsorship, it still had the shower curtain from my hotel room serving as a projector screen.

The booth still provided was a super interactive time with activities from @mathonastick in addition to others. Visitors could play with the pattern machine, tiling turtles, and some of Andrew Stadel’s Estimation 180 activities.  I wasn’t able to get down there for a whole shift, but I did get to sneak them leftover snacks from the NCTM break room. I could hang out for a little while and chat with whoever, including a teacher whose school has a “Trap Team.” It also got to hangout at the Math Forum booth/NCTM booth and chat with them, and contribute to the giant business card menger sponge.

This trip was exactly what I needed to help me get this fall started and I was lucky to have the chance to help NCTM (Thanks Fred!). Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below…

The problem with problems for #probchat

Each Sunday night I have been hosting #probchat, a chat about teaching with non-routine problems. This weekly twitter conversation has been a great learning experience for me, even on night’s like tonight when there isn’t always a good turn out (thanks a lot, #superbloodmoon). Since the chat is empty tonight, let’s take a minute to take some time to reflect on where it’s been, and where it’s going.

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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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