Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Two talks and an ear infection: Reflections on #NCTMBoston19

I’ve been super busy at school and at home so I haven’t had time to reflect on my time at NCTM Boston. I had a morning talk doing teaching for social justice in algebra. I have a similar talk to one I gave a year ago and am preparing to shelve. The talk was great, and we created a Google doc full of ideas.

During a turn-and-talk, I started a conversation with someone sitting alone. They asked me about the Voyage of the Creole project, and how it qualifies as social justice and for a moment I was perplexed. It explores a historical event that illustrates and hopefully humanizes the people who were enslaved in the mid 1800s. The story can be inspiring or contextual for today’s society, but it isn’t about creating the immediate change today that I imagine this person was asking about. After a brief pause I said “the goal of whatever project isn’t to reach a certain objective of social justice, it’s about making students who are reflective and confident of how math can be a tool to examine complicated systems in our actual world and used to help make change.”

Defining a social justice project, and the larger goal of creating mathematically critical students was new for me. It wasn’t in my prepared notes or slides and the words formed as I talked. The distinction still holds true for me a month later, though. The goal isn’t for me to teach students about current events, but to help them to see and shape the world mathematically. The slavery project looked to me like an opportunity to connect math to student’s culture and identity. It was created at my old school whose students were largely black or afro-latinx. The social studies teacher on my team created a powerful unit on the middle passage and he suggested I connect to it in my math class. I found a story where kids were acting as a person that was enslaved, and needed to use math creatively to find freedom. Working on this project hopefully taught students a little history, and connected math to part of their identity for students whose ancestors may have been affected by the global slave trade.

Is that social justice or not? Perhaps. Trying to help students connect math to their culture and identity is an act of social justice, or perhaps a similar project around modern day slavery would be better at that process because we could immediately advocate for change in our actual world? If those two projects were sort of sitting on my desk and I had am choosing one to walk over the copy machine, I think the determining factor would be whether I could reach the goal that I rambled about earlier. Will it be really likely to help students feel confident using math to make change? In 20 years I want the students to confidently use math to face the myriad problems that this world will mired in. If those kids are in the middle of unit in history class that has them really engaged, and I have a chance to tag on and make a deep impact on how they see themselves, I’ll go with that project. If the kids would be more engaged in having a present-day context, it would be a no-brainer to use the latter project. At the end of the day, the teacher has the possibility to help students rethink what math is about through their contexts, how you can you make choices that can most impact the way students see math, and see themselves as mathematicians?

That exchange gave me a lot to think about, so thank you person-whose-name-I-forgot, and I guess thanks to the person who had been sitting next to you but left to go to another session. The talk is probably going to evolve into something else pretty soon, hopefully that will be more valuable. Stay tuned here

Right after that talk, I met up with my Co-Speaker Bushra Makiya for the second talk which went so much better than the disaster that it might have been. My laptop computer wasn’t projecting audio, and this was a talk with videos of student thinking, so we needed the audio. The technician came and couldn’t help, then what seemed like his supervisor came as well with no luck. The NCTM program committee member Kaneka Turner saved the day, letting us use her computer and hot spot. By the time we started using her computer, we were already 5 minutes into the talk. Because the room had bad service, we didn’t know the videos were going to be playable until just a few minutes before the videos were needed. We were crossing our fingers and hoping it would work the whole way. Thankfully, it did work out. Maybe next time we could bring a transcript and have participants act out student thinking.

Shortly after this my daughter had an ear infection so I had to cut my time in Boston short, but it was quite eventful. Also during my session the NCTM photographer guy stopped by and gave me a link to the pictures. They are worth checking out: https://www.schaeferpix.com/f1064671310

@Freakonomics should really work a little harder if they want to impact math education

I’m a big fan of Freakonomics. I read the book, I’ve listened to just about every episode, and I’ve been consistently subscribed to it longer than any other podcast that isn’t about math or house music. So I was jazzed when they decided to take on math curriculum. Based on earlier episodes about our political parties, the life of a CEO, and behavioral economics, I was really expecting something amazing. After listening to this episode I came away a little underwhelmed as it went to too little depth so they could support a pretty unoriginal, pre-determined solution.

There is a typical line of reasoning proffered by potential education reforms that support their innovations which seems to be used here. It goes like this:

  • Our education system is pictured as old and outdated.
  • The outdated system could be immediately fixed by the new solution.
  • The only thing stopping us from bathing in the revolution are those stodgy old educators, who need to adopt the solution nationwide.

If you look around you’ll notice this idea sandwich everywhere. It’s surprising to see it used here as it violates the principles of basic research e.g. choosing your conclusion before you understand the problem. I won’t go into too much detail about the episode, you can listen to it here. In the episode there was a frustration with the Algebra II homework that host Steven Levitt was helping his 10th grader finish. He then does the whole idea sandwich to suggest swapping out data science for algebra 2 in high school math. There was a question for bringing this to school as a whole. Then a historical summary about math education’s origins. There also interviews with Jo Boaler, and the college board CEO, and Levitt’s cousin who taught a few years. All were ostensibly asked a version of two questions “High school math sucks, right?” and “How cool would data science be?” It seems like stacking the deck for data science, which is fine, as data science is cool, but there is more to what’s wrong with math than just the lack of regression models.

Later in the show they review research done with listeners of the show. They were asked what kind of math they use in their everyday life, and the results imply that data science would have brought more day to day utility. If your audience is full of people who earned high school diplomas, and higher ed degrees, accepting that premise is a bit premature. Everyday math benefits these people regardless of how much they’ve used it. Their career would be inaccessible without the education that their math scores allowed. Their knowledge of math made them competitive at colleges providing them a privilege to ignore math the rest of their life while keeping their benefits in tact. Many people don’t know how to parallel park, and don’t do so regularly, but their knowledge of parallel parking on their driving exam allows them the privilege of a driver’s license. Contrast all of this with someone whose struggles in math prevented them from attaining any of those levels of education. Perhaps they were in a school that didn’t offer advanced math classes, or only offered them to students on a higher track. Perhaps the student was in a class, but the teacher did not teach for equity, leaving many traditionally underrepresented students and special needs students behind. For many, math isn’t just a boring chore. It’s a glass ceiling, locking them into lower income classes while bestowing privilege on others.

I am not arguing for continuing the focus on algebra 2 so that students can take AP exams, I am arguing that math should be decoupled from the privilege society gives it. Earning high math scores is as important for your daughter to compete for scarce seats in colleges as it is for providing day-to-day value. This sucks. Math could be a subject of beauty and meaning for people’s day to day life like art or poetry, if it wasn’t militarized to help people jockey for position. However, competitiveness in education has made math appear solely as a measuring stick for students. Algebra 2 is a class his 10th grade daughter is taking when many take it senior year. This means she must have had algebra in the 8th grade or earlier, and must be in line for AP calculus or Stats, or both senior year. These other classes are pushed into lower and lower grades so that students appear more prepared for college. These students will beat out students from schools without that math preparation. It’s easy to imagine that if his daughter were taking a data science course right now, she would lose out on her competitive edge and face a similarly small pool of options.

Unless dozens of parents start an opt-out campaign, the idea for adopting the class that he proposes would be to talk with college admissions counselors about how to make it interesting, or talk to to current teachers about how to integrate data science into what schools are currently doing. This would be a really interesting route to explore and lead to an interesting episode. The show could pick up with part 2 where they continue the analysis of how math curriculum could change. The first step of that, would be to talk to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics who wrote a whole book about changing high school math, that is fully in line with the changes proposed in the show and could use the amplification Freakonomics could provide.

There are plenty of other avenues that Freakonomics could take with math education outside of the well worn “Idea sandwich.” There are so many good economics ideas to be discussed around high school math. Scarcity, opportunity cost, competition, etc. Freakonomics is also in a position to learn a great deal of these things. It would have been interesting to hear what the people at University of Chicago Lab school, as a high school, would think about replacing algebra 2, and what the anticipated parent response might be. It also might be interesting to talk to your University of Chicago admissions, and see how they would interpret a data science course on a students transcript who doesn’t go on to take any AP math courses. It would be really interesting to also talk to current teachers who are teaching data science and describe how different the classroom experience is with a current on-the-ground perspective especially considering all of the new stats and data tools that are becoming available (Desmos, CODAP, etc). 

Waiting for things to clear up #VConHM

Completing this post for The Virtual Conference on Humanizing Mathematics was supposed to be a short evening of writing and turned into a week-long journey. It began while watching the video of Rochelle Gutierrez being interviewed. The whole interview was great, because everything she does is great. However, I had trouble paying attention, as I do when there’s a lot going on at school. As she described what teachers need to do, I thought about my teaching and then my school, and then my role in the school this year and without realizing it I was totally lost in my thoughts. During my 4 years as an administrator my mental state is too often in “emergency response” mode. Constant fires to put out, non-stop situations to resolve, so many deadlines looming. Thoughts about all these little emergencies keep popping into mind even when I’m trying to do normal stuff, like watching a youtube video. The video kept fading into background noise as thoughts rolled in about onboarding new staff, or how people took last years observations, or the kid who failed summer school. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to write anything for this, and then Rochelle’s responses to one section cut through the cloud of mental chatter and suddenly was fully attentive. I won’t transcribe the whole section, but I’ll say the one word that hooked me. Clarity.

Why Am I Thinking About Clarity?

How often have I lacked clear understanding of the right school decision? How much of worry around any stems from different expectations about what school should is and should be that are held by every entity in the school. My role, it seems, is to interpret all of these demands and create a decision about my class, computers, math assessments, operations and other stuff as well. But there are murky grey areas where quick, clear decisions can’t be made or should receive special care. A kid is late on the day the project was due, does it count? A teacher designed a class to be more interactive classes, but it still looks traditional on day 7. Parents suspects kids are selling weed in the parking lot of school. All of these situations need immediate answers, but have lots of room for subjective judgement so it makes rushing to judgment risky.

It’s not always easy to be confident you’re making the right call. It’s hard to think of a good example because every school is different, so a math example might be helpful. Let’s say I had to construct a pentagon. It wouldn’t be too hard, I’d probably use a protractor and ruler, maybe a compass, make a polygon with equal sides and 120 degrees angles. Now let’s say I had to make the same polygon with a compass and straight edge with no measurements, it would become much harder. What I end up might look like a pentagon to me and no one else, but if they can’t measure either, it’ll be hard for anyone to say it could be better. Murky situations without clear ways to measure success, unilaterally decided with little room for other viewpoints are situations ripe for introducing people’s own personal biases.

There are no clear, precise defined measurements for serving all of our students, especially kids from traditionally underserved background. Kids’ needs are diverse and changing, and the world they are entering is changing too. Sometimes it seems the world is changing in ways that directly target these young people. When I try to step in and deal with a situation, it’s like I’m trying to construct a polygon whose measurements I don’t know, with tools that aren’t precise on a table that’s constantly shifting. But I’m determined, so I keep trying, and I turn possible scenarios over and over in my head on my down time (like when I should be watching the video I sat down to watch) making this whole job seem unsustainable. How much time and mental energy would be saved if I could just be clear on the right thing to do in these sticky issues.

Specifying Clarity

A few days later I re-watched the section of the video, where I realized the specific term she used was “political clarity,” a welcome distinction. The political stuff at work is the stuff I turn over in my head they most. Every outcome in a school is the result of millions of political compromises made at a number of different levels. Some are governmental, many are interpersonal, and most are full of caveats and loop holes. Even if you are clear on something, it doesn’t mean everyone else is, and besides it could all get changed after the next election. Of course there’s always some powerful person(s) who never gets called for doing things “the old way,” despite how clear the new initiative is that gets widely ignored. Being clear about all of these things may make it easier to make decisions, and help progress move along. Luckily there was an article with more information about the Political Clarity term, and it was linked in the description of the youtube video.

Getting clear about political clarity

In hoping to learn how to regain my own some mental clarity, I sought to learn about political clarity from the article Gutierrez mentioned, titled Beyond The Methods Fetish: Towards a Humanizing Pedagogy by Lilia Bartholome. It warns educators against letting the needs of those suffering from systemic oppression fade into the background while they search for the the perfect teaching ‘method’. “A myopic focus on methodology often serves to obfuscate the real question — which is why in our society, subordinated students do not generally succeed academically in schools.” The author talks about a number of ways to deal with this “real question”, including culturally responsive instruction, and two other approaches to humanizing instruction, but the prerequisite for these approaches is political clarity. Putting these techniques in the hands of politically clear teachers offers “…the potential to challenge students academically and intellectually while treating them with dignity and respect.” Reading this in the opening of the article left me with a number of thoughts about myself, my own personal growth and my thoughts about the school year. Specifically to first try explain my own understanding of political clarity to see if it makes sense (hence this post), and then to look for applications where this can be applied in my work.

What is political clarity?

The article goes on to provide more details about political clarity. It sounded like political clarity is like being “woke,” but with a concentration in the policies and relationships that support oppression at your school, and the ability to support students facing oppression in ways that support their identities. It sounds daunting, certainly for me, who always worries that I’m not woke enough and it’s might hold a student back some day. But the key to it is that it’s a process. Here’s Bartolome’s definition:

“Political clarity” refers to the process by which individuals achieve a deepening awareness of the sociopolitical and economic realities that shape their lives and their capacity to recreate them. In addition, it refers to the process by which individuals come to better understand possible linkages between macro-level political, economic, and social variables and subordinated groups’ academic performance at the micro-level classroom. Thus, it invariably requires linkages between sociocultural structures and schooling.

Lilia Bartholome [emphasis mine]

This definition of political clarity sounds like an ongoing process of learning how things can be linked together. This means it is something continuous. A never-ending battle, or perhaps a noble “infinite game“, but this is certainly not a quick fix. Our education system consists of a complex web of interconnected parts intended to work together but the persistence of graduation and achievement disparities along racial, language, and gender lines show that parts are actually not working (as well as the fact that this article is relevant despite being 25 years old). Fixing these old systems won’t be a matter of reading an article or a book, or learning a new method, so expecting the solution to be as such would lead to frustration. Thinking about the larger structures beyond the methods is going to be a process, and we have to be constantly doing it. It’s not a thing that we are supposed to instantly be able to just turn on.

Education systems can lead students to life or death situations, so perhaps a health metaphor would be appropriate. CPR is a method one can learn to sustain the life of a person who isn’t breathing until an ambulance arrives. It’s a great method in a certain situation, but isn’t a health solution. Knowing CPR won’t help you with chronic conditions like diabetes or asthma. To address chronic, pervasive conditions you need knowledge of lots of different methods, the awareness about which is the right method, and an understanding of how to a method would fit into a long-term treatment plan that can be carried out over time. Treatment is a process of trying different methods, looking at the results, staying abreast of developments in the field all while explaining options to the family and thinking through each decision with them. The process is harder, and sounds ironically less clear, but it’s certainly the way forward. As emergencies start to pile up for me at work, I look to solve things myself, quickly, which may resemble the methods-fetish people that Bartolome is criticizing. That approach probably resembles someone trying to perform CPR on every one that walks into the ER. Breaking this habit won’t be as easy as just saying I’m not going to do CPR, it’s saying that I’m going to start a long slow process of learning, as if I was planning to take a long slow process of learning to be a doctor.

So what do I do now?

It’s still not exactly clear. The first step I think it’s realizing that I have a number of blind spots around which I’ll need to gain more clarity. There are books I can read, and chats I can join to help but that change will be long term. There are also regulations specific to my locality that I can’t learn about except for attending trainings, networking, and listening to people. All of this ‘self work’ will take time. What happens in the meantime? What can I put in place while I develop my political clarity? For starters, get more perspectives on the things I’m doing. Having students, other teachers and other parents feeling free to give feedback about what I’m doing will be huge. Making that part of the culture will help with the next step, ending decision vacuums. Having places where I, or anyone, make unilateral decisions is just opening up space for personal biases to enter a situation. Just because I’m getting started, doesn’t mean I don’t hold biases that could cloud my decision making. Our school has a democratic decision making framework, so I’ll lean on that in hopes that getting more eyes on situations will help us all see a fuller picture. Hopefully the idea will be that things like grading policies or computer policies are open for feedback and contribution. Of course I’ll have to reflect on what all gets learned regularly, which may be on this blog (but I really don’t want to talk about admin stuff on this blog).

Bartolome’s article isn’t really about political clarity, or methods, about humanizing. It describes ways to humanize students so teachers can talk about more than just what test scores and IEPs tells us about our students. We’re talking about people, not underperforming subgroups, just like hospitals treat patients, not diseases. Instead of looking to find some quick TPT PDF ready made lesson, we could begin the long work This could lead my school and I to “recreate and reinvent teaching methods and materials by always taking into consideration the sociocultural realities that can either limit or expand the possibilities to humanize education.” With all of the things to think about, and all of the macro and micro places to try to get clarity around, the thing I’ll takeaway from this article the most is the idea that I should focus on the putting our kids humanity ahead of any specific standard or goal or policy or whatever.

Sidenote: It took me a week to write this, because I thought at the end of this I would be able to say what my secret for finding clarity is. After reading more and watching the video, it seems like there isn’t going to be a nice answer, and instead I should embrace that lack of clarity as an ongoing challenge. Kind of funny how this whole week long search for clarity ended with me feeling more unclear than I was at the start. Let me know if any of this makes sense, or tell me why it doesn’t make sense in the comments below.

“You’re the DJ”: Thoughts from Teaching Social Justice using PBL #PCTM19

Thanks to everyone who came to my session today. We came up with a lot of ideas for projects and thought even more about how to actually teach them in your classroom. It was a great session and one that I’ll continue to think about and would love to talk about more in the comments or on twitter.

One of the questions that came out centered around the teacher, and the dual responsibility they have to 1) teach objective, unbiased information so as not to indoctrinate children and 2) prepare them for the actual world. Because the world is full of so much information, teachers need to select and choose and this selcting and choosing can be viewed as subjective. How do you decide whether something you are doing is subjective or objective?

Let’s say you want to teach a unit about public health in your stats unit during 7th grade. Some students may feel like public health issues should not be covered in math class, and the mention rankles their political beliefs while others believe these issues are too important to ignore and whose enthusiasm for change can push them to cherry pick data that supports their beliefs. If you’re that teacher you have quite a choice. As you plan the unit you may try your best to satisfy both students in what they will explore, but ultimately how decide whether it is safe to do or not? In the session we talked about walking the line between objectivity and subjectivity, and choosing whether to use the public health project. I answered the question, but it probably needs some elaboration. Here’s what @justinaion tweeted:

I swear this DJ reference makes sense. When I was a kid I loved DJ’d music, especially house music. My older brother Ray was in College when I was an 8th grader and he would bring down actual cassette mix tapes from actual DJs. I loved them, I played them into the ground and I still hum sections from those tapes from time to time. (Side note: Why do people call them ‘mix tapes’ if the songs play from start to finish without a dj making transitions. Isn’t that just called a ‘tape’? I digress.)

When I got out of college I thought I would try to teach my self to DJ like the tapes that I remembered from the 90s. With a computer I tried to capture the spirit of DJing house music without all of the physical labor required back then, and I got pretty good. I’ll rarely be prouder than when I mixed two songs together exactly like I heard it on an old mix tape after practicing non stop over a February break. My mixes weren’t as important as the fact that it was something I figured out thinking it was impossible for most of my life. I was just good enough to get paid, but ultimately couldn’t be as dedicated as the professionals who I respected and emulated. I decided to pour my energy into my actual job and my kids instead, but I often think about Djing. Especially when I think about things that are hard but I can do it if I just keep trying. I was thinking about DJing when I was getting ready for my talks that morning actually, so it makes sense that it came to mind during that session. Let me be more specific about the exact memory that came to mind.

I had offered my services as a DJ at a charity auction and someone won. I had to bring speakers and my equipment, but they told me I could play whatever I wanted. I convinced my girlfriend that accompanying me to this thing would be more fun than a typical night of board games and netflix with the ruse that I needed help carrying everything. Really I wanted a little boost of confidence. I was 100% confident these people weren’t expecting the house music I was going to play and I wondered whether they would hate it and tell me to pack up and go home early.

An hour into what would be my first, and only, house party gig where this guy came up to me who we can call Chaz. “Hey you should play this song next, I’ll totally get everybody dancing.” I saw that he knew the host of the party, and perhaps he would have more luck with getting people dancing, so I let him plug up his phone. This was nice at first because I could take a break and chat with my girlfriend who helped me lug all the stuff up there. Chaz starts playing music fresh off the radio that everybody is familiar with but no one really likes. After a while I ran out stuff to talk about with my girlfriend and found myself staring patiently at Chaz. “I’m the one that stayed up all night making this house mix playlist,” I thought to myself, “complete with transitions, rises, falls, and crescendos. I lugged all this crap here. This is my first chance to see if I can get people into this house music…” Chaz’s buddy brings him a fresh beer. “I should put my skills to the test and see if I can make this work. I should at least see if it will connect with people.” Chaz dances a little. He’s the only one dancing a little. I turned to my girlfriend and said “Dude has played enough of this garbage. If I’m the supposed to be the DJ, shouldn’t I just go put my songs on.” She looked at me like we were playing a board game and I spaced out and forget that it’s my turn. I told Chaz that I’m taking over after this song. “Ok cool I’ll go to the bathroom and get back on?” “No, I’m taking over for the rest of the night.” I jumped back into my playlist and tried my hardest to get this apartment party to vibe with this music that meant so much to me. Of course, no one danced the rest of the night, but in all reality no one was dancing when Chaz was on the decks either. They gave me a tip at the end, so I think that means they certainly saw some value in it, which gave me the confidence to keep doing it (just not at apartment parties).

There are some parallels between this and the question of objectivity vs. subjectivity.

The objective things are rarely objective, as our society is full of so many flaws and so much bias. To prepare teach kids to eventually inherit this world, they need to practice working on situations that might be subjective and making sense. Luckily math is the tool for making sense of things. Why not sharpen their ability with that tool by using it in situations where it is actually needed. If those two students are working on the health project, and they have criticisms, they should be able to use math to form their arguments. You could even plan for this kind of discord and ask students to present these math-backed arguments to someone else who decide whether something is subjective or not. If all of this or none of this happens, it’s probably better than the “objective” option. It’s better than Chaz playing songs off his phone.

If you’re choosing between taking the risk to do something new in your class instead of a more “objective” option, the first step is to put in the work. Do your best to learn pick a topic and a sequence of opportunities that are going to deliver the math objectives. Learn from the resources attached at the bottom of the google doc. Talk to other teachers, and people in your school to get feedback. Look for a low stakes place to put it into your scope and sequence. Make sure to actually be prepared to DJ with your set list and your backup songs. Don’t show up trying to play stuff off your phone.

Lastly, when it’s time to put your song on, put your song on. Do the activity, it’s ok if it doesn’t go well, it will go better next time. The important part is to try it, since anything is better than what I imagine would be in the textbook or whatever. When you don’t try it out, you miss out on the opportunity to get better at working with these kinds of tasks and the kids miss out too. The longer you wait, the longer Chaz will keep playing that garbage. Chaz has played enough of that garbage. You’re the DJ. Go put your song on.

Takeaway from my terrible cycle? Spend more time making kids comfortable.

Clogs have been in short supply this cycle, largely because things were going terribly. I think I know why. But first, let’s talk about what terrible looks like:

When we do VNPS, 5 of 8 kids don’t want to go to the board. When they do, 3 of 8 question why they can’t go sit back down. At least 2 or 3 kids per class will getting on their phone while their partner is writing. After a problem is announced students wait with blank stares until I go over to them, then when I get to them I feel as though I am moving a boulder. Spread this around the room and it’s like a field of boulders. Ok, ok, my classes are small, so it’s like a small field…perhaps ‘lawn’ is the right word. But it FEELS like a field of boulders, and it feels like I’m doing the heavy lifting.

There are reasons why. We had interruptions. I was out for the opening of the class, and we had break immediately when school got started. All students are new to this kind of class, some are new to the school. Many students had bad experiences with math. All of those were true last cycle. Let’s play the sitcom flashback music and talk about why last cycle wasn’t terrible.

Last cycle was amazing. 8/10 kids would go to the boards, start the problems and keep working without much trouble. Enough kids got started that even when we had the most complex problems there was enough work around the room that people could get started. Instead of blank stares, students would talk to each other, and seemed more willing to collaborate. It was like the boulders had grinded themselves down to billiard balls and they were already rolling around. I just had to direct them where to go. Visitors come in to my class and change their whole approach. This cycle if a visitor came they would give me a sympathy look and head back down the hallway.

What was the difference?
One difference with the first class was, and I didn’t realize this until the end, MAD Academy. I was visiting MAD Academy one day and saw half the kids from my class were there making music or designing murals.  All the MAD kids knew each other well. They were used to entertaining each others’ ideas, and encouraging each other to pursue their creative visions. When my class started, these kids were already comfortable talking, sharing, working and showing their ideas, all stuff that helps with VNPS. This comfort quickly caught on with a couple other kids, and it ended up being infectious with most of the other kids, outside of a few kids who had other stuff going on.

wearecityas Alum @franckstagram (class of ’94) shares his art processes and Native American-inspired symbol series with MAD Academy students.

The big difference is comfort. The kids were comfortable. Making kids comfortable made the teaching with the #thinkingclassroom as easy as rolling a ball across a pool table. So why did I ignore this important step?

When I planned this class I was convinced that it wasn’t the comfort that MAD Academy had built, but that it was something else. This attribution error made me put even less emphasis on comfort building and more on getting started sooner. Big mistake. Failing to make sure the comfort was there for all kids, regardless of their background, or whatever else is going on outside of school crippled everything else I tried to do this cycle. After spending most of the cycle moving boulders all day, I am going to think hard before I do that again. Instead I want to be more effective at building rapport and comfort with each class.

Comfort was rarely a focus when I started a class. As a management-challenged young teacher my focus was the opposite of comfort, in hopes of keeping kids ‘in-line.’ This stance has shifted, as I include more icebreakers but only after I walk through the syllabus and all the rules. I’m sure this is as effective as websites that make you read the terms of service, and so I’ll space the rules out across the first few weeks of class anyways to make more time for comfort building. I also tend to rush through the icebreakers too as if there was is trophy for how quickly I could get kids to start “doing math.” This is a race to see how quickly I could start lifting boulders. Instead I need to spend my first days sanding those boulders down by doing some activities to get kids comfortable sharing and being vulnerable together. If you have any ideas for what those activities might be, let me know in the comments.

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