Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Philosophy (Page 2 of 3)

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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My Administrative Philosophy as Told By Unifix Cubes

So I was playing with these unifix cubes and it made me think about my work as a teacher and an administrator.


I imagined that each cubes represented one unit of productivity. So maybe this block represented one worksheet that I created, or a game that kids can play. For now let’s just say that this is instructional productivity, and not other things like discipline our data analysis.

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Ten Good Things about my year so far.

The entirety of my 2014-2015 school year has felt like this treadmill of listing things that I should construct a post about, not posting it, and then scrapping it for because I don’t have time, I can’t figure out the best way to put it together, or the timelines of the content fades away. This is partly because the expansion of my role as “spreadsheet whisperer” has given math teaching, my actual job, serious competition for my mental bandwidth. I know this isn’t really an excuse, however, I am slacking in a huge way on my blog. Much of this feeling was echoed by my buddy Nate, I feel like I have left blogging, even thought I didn’t really know why I’d gone. One reason may be the lingering need to make a “home run” post, to really connect on one of those ideas that have been bouncing around on the idea treadmill, as opposed to just knocking a simple post about what I’m doing in my classroom into the outfield.

So just as I was thinking about all this I saw the following show up on my twitter:

It looked like a pretty cool format so I figured I wouldn’t over think it and put a post up. Here it goes.

10 good things about my teaching in 2014-2015

1. The first thing in my mind is that I won over a kid today. There was a girl who was difficult for other teachers, and who was not excited to have me as a sub. She got into my Road Trip project however, and by the end of class she said that she was going to sign up for my class next cycle…nd she doesn’t even need math credits!

2. My goal of incorporating new teaching materials has gone pretty well so far. Things that I have incorporated so far include: Visual Patterns, the Meatballs task on 101 Questions, a good 2 weeks of estimation 180, some diagnostics from the people at MARS, the Penny Circle on Desmos, and an assessment tasks from the A2I Algebra unit. …I guess that’s a lot when you type it all out.

3. I had the largest turnout to my advisory ever. I might have the largest advisory turnout of anyone in the school (which is completely a guess, but I’m going to go with it)!

4. The spreadsheet wrangling has been more or less successful. Despite a couple months of dark despair in front of a computer, I am now able to keep my little corner of the school’s data system running smoothly, with only 15-20 minutes per day of effort. I’m also gaining facility with Microsoft Access, which my brother swears will allow me to hand more responsibility to other people.

5. The math team has had some pretty impressive meetings and we have had some good conversations/clashes with older teachers. After one meeting a teacher who previously championed his workbook of test problem from the 80’s as “the real math” came away from one meeting saying that he had to question “everything he knew” about teaching math.

6. My student who had fallen off every cycle for 3 cycles straight is finally going to come through this cycle. Since the birth of his son he has been greeting me every day with a hand shake, any pertinent information about his home life that might influence his studies, and a pledge to get to work. It’s the classic case of the kid who figured ‘it’ out.

7. I started taking pictures of my board to see how it would look for students who tried to follow along visually. My handwriting was AWFUL, but it’s starting to get better.

8.  One of my teachers had a medical emergency and knew he was going to be out for a matter of time, and he requested that his students take on my project.  It was a nice voice of confidence, and I was honored to help out.

9.  So these two kids were fighting about someone’s rat in class (some kids in our school have rats they carry around as service animals to help treat their anxiety) and I shut the argument down before it affected the class at all just by ‘getting loud.’ That never works!!  I think the important part of that story is that I was able to not lose the trust of either student in the process.

10.  I am participating in this program with the State of New York to develop a senior-year class for the “Transition population,” who are essentially kids who wind up in remedial math at community colleges.  This may be a new post soon.


The Creator And The Executor

I never want to get up in front of the class and be unprepared, but sometimes you won’t ever know you’re unprepared unless you get up in front of class.

Since I first started teaching I’ve always wanted to use a set of games to teach economics principles.  I have a rose-tinted vision of how the game would work, how the kids would immerse themselves in play, and debrief at the end to discuss things like comparative advantage, or the creation of money.  It was scheduled for today and I was making last second tweaks right up until class time.  Once class started the game went by in a blur, most of the time was me trying to make sure the game was written and explained clearly enough for kids to get it.  We ended up spending an entire class period on it, and we didn’t even finish.

Let’s go back to the morning, before the game started.  I had in my head how the game was supposed to work. I had a sequence of steps for the game in my head, and a powerpoint for kids to follow. There was a spreadsheet system for logging data.  I ran and borrowed a bunch of small whiteboards that kids could use to communicate, then added that into the workflow of the game. These tweaks took place all morning, right up until it was time to teach.  I was reminded of my mom getting Thanksgiving dinner together right before the guests arrived.

When it came time to get the students to play it, my brain was trying to create when it should be trying to execute.  I was approaching the game as a work in progress and not a finished piece.  So when one group came up and asked if they could rename one part of the game something else, the creator in me thought “that’s not a problem”, when the executor in me should have said “that’s a good idea, write that on your exit slip and maybe next time.”

When creating things, lessons or games, there needs to be some distance between the act of creating it, and the act of executing it.  Sometimes I can create that distance instantly.  I can stand at the board and create rote problems quickly, (like a three-step equation with  negatives, the distributive property, resulting in an integer) and immediately walk away from the board and not question whether the task is right, or could be done better.  Experience shows me the potential pitfalls, and what success looks like.  With this game, I was trying something outside of my experience and was unsure of the task itself.

It’s unsettling to be in a class where you don’t have a task you’re completely confident about.  You still look for ways to make it better, less complex, and in a lot of ways easier for the kids.  Turning that switch off and becoming the impartial judge of the tasks is an important part of making things work well with kids.  Being able to separate your self and your creative process from the task, being able to walk to the back of the class and say “That is quite a problem up there, what should we do?” is really important for the task’s success.

As kids got started on the game, there were problems.  Some were confused about the computer, others were doodling on their white board, and the name change I allowed confused two groups.   The creator in me at this point was yearning to get back to the drafting table and start making fixes to all these parts of the game.  I could have said “Alright guys, this isn’t working. Get out some paper and copy from the board” and whipped up a bunch of equations to solve.  Instead I had to turn the creator off, and let the executor make sure the game gets finished.  I was able to distance myself from whether or not the task was ideally formed, and spent the rest of the class pushing kids to understand it as it was written.  There was certainly something for the kids to understand in this game, and I focused on making that visible.

#MTBoS30 18/30

Working with kids: Sometimes you just need things laid out

Last night I didn’t post because I was tired. I woke up in the morning with a dream that became this post. 


So in my dreams lots of things shift, and move, and don’t really  make sense, but there is usually a central theme and emotion that ties it all together.  In the dream last night there was a central character who seemed a combination of myself, of some player on the Detroit Pistons, and Barney from How I Met Your Mother.  The central character was a teenager who was unsure about what he was going to do after graduation, and the larger implied question, what should he do with his life.


In the dream Barney had a 3 choices things he could do with his life.  Barney knew he liked rapping, when his friends were rapping lyrics into their phones and making songs out of it he always thought he could get into it with them because he knew he could be good at it.  He never did.  Also, Barney was also talented in debate.  He had a lot of experience working with the debate coach and the debate team and had an impressive string of victories this year.  Lastly, Barney knew he was good at volleyball.  He had a natural aptitude for the sport because he was tall and athletic.  He played on the school team, and playing volley ball was a big part of his identity at school, but he was not nationally ranked or recruited. (Also, why am I dreaming about volleyball? Why am I not dreaming about Barney’s academics?  I don’t know either…)


Barney was hanging out with his friends one day and he gets a call from an uncle who talks him through all of the opportunities he faces and Barney hangs up the phone knowing exactly what his next step is.  This uncle didn’t demand that he choose one thing, or even tell him what he would do.


They both walked through each of the situations together and whenever there was some possible decision the Uncle laid out what Barney could expect.   The Uncle challenged Barney about considering being a rap artist when he hasn’t been willing to do the work for that.  When there wasn’t enough information the Uncle would gather it, he calling colleges and asking about their debate team and their volleyball program.  In the end it was clear that taking the opening on the college debate team was the best choice, as he put in the most effort towards that success, and future success seemed very realistic.


In the end what Barney needed was not an answer for what he should he do with his life, but someone who could take all the different options that he has in front of him and lay them out on a platter.  Once Barney could see the possibilities for his next step, it made the choice easier.  It avoided the larger question of what should he do with his life, but since that is a question that evolves over time for everyone, it may not be the best thing to expect a teenager to do before choosing something like what College to attend or what major to have.  What might be good is to do what helped Barney.  Look at areas where they have put in effort, avoid areas where they haven’t put in effort, and do the research to see what opportunities are actually available.  Then have a conversation where you put it all on a platter, where you lay out all the reasonable outcomes and let the kid think about what choice makes the most sense


16/30 #MTBoS

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