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.