Get set…

(subtitled In Response to “For the start of this school year, I am excited about…” at

This morning, I read Andrew Shauver’s blog post (highlighted above) which motivated me to let go of my ‘so long to summer’ gloom and look forward with enthusiasm.  In that spirit, I offer the following list of things about which I am either excited or anxious (or both) as the 2014-15 school year begins.

  1. My newly crafted Geometry course – I have been given the opportunity to teach a new geometry course (entitled Geometry Fundamentals) which is “Regents-optional” for the students.   I spent the summer working on the curriculum map, seeking hands-on/discovery-based activities to supplement and/or replace much of the direct instruction I have used in the past.  It will definitely be a challenge – the students in this class are those that have struggled with math classes in the past, and a new course means writing new curriculum – but I excited to implement so many of the strategies that I don’t usually have time for in Regents Geometry classes, as well as using Interactive Notebooks.
  2. A second pass at Algebra II – I wasn’t satisfied with how this course finished up last year; besides the Regents results which were below par, I know I could have done a better job (a) with student mastery of the content (or as Rick Wormeli so accurately describes, automaticity) in the fall and (b) deep understanding of trigonometry in the spring.  I’m convinced I can improve in including appropriate conceptual activities while maintaining the pace required by our curriculum.  This morning I am especially excited to borrow an activity from Glenn Waddell; my students will learn about Desmos by playing with it, like I did here.
  3. My newly crafted classroom! – Because I am considered the only math teacher in my school who would be happy to have tables rather than [old, graffiti-drenched, right-handed only, hard-to-group] desks, I have been placed in a brand new classroom, complete with tables whiteboards, and bulletin boards (all a rarity in my school).  I will be sharing the    IMG_3803classroom, and it doesn’t have a locking supply closet [yet], so I will still be using my beloved cart (Donorschoose proposal #5).  Luckily, the classroom is on the same floor as my office, so I will be spared the long wait for the ancient and only elevator.  I am looking forward to being able to decorate my room, and….
  4. Bulletin Boards – I have been put in charge of the math department bulletin boards, and although I may have thought of this as a chore in the past, I can’t wait to remove the Jeopardy board with Pre-Calc questions that was on the wall when I started working at this school three years ago.  I have wonderful monitors who love a creative challenge (they did my MathMunch display last spring); cheery elves to help with the work always make it better!
  5. Mathletes – I can’t wait to see my math club – again, their enthusiasm, their desire to tackle problems  – discuss and argue different solutions – make staying late a pleasure.  One of the students attended the NY Math Circle’s Summer Program and I am looking forward to hearing about his experience; this is a child who loves a challenge, to learn -or teach himself – something completely new.

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  6. A New Co-Teacher – There are two new teachers in our department this year, one of whom will be my co-teacher in the inclusion section of the Geometry class.  Last year, my cooperating teacher and I were not so cooperative (read any of my blog post’s from last spring), but he was only temporarily placed at our school, which probably undermined his commitment.  I’ve had wonderful relationships with cooperating teachers in the past, and I’m determined this one will be added to that list.
  7. Talk Like A Pirate Day – Just because we need to have a little fun, and I’ve never done this before.
  8. My New Attitude – I am DETERMINED to achieve greater balance in my life – both personal and professional this year.  I have set goals for myself (see Conundrum), and am envisioning how I will meet them and stick to them.  I’ve tackled and survived a lot worse.

I want to thank all of you in MTBoS who have already gone back to school and have been blogging about it; your energy, insight, and honesty have all helped me get ready.



I spent the day sifting through piles of papers, rediscovering lost gems (my favorite Onion math teacher article), tossing things I’ve never used (though I once was certain I would), just generally weeding things out, recycling old folders and binders.  After the positive meeting at school yesterday, I thought for sure I would be able to focus on the imminent start of school, envision and map out the first days in my classes.  But the hours slipped away this afternoon – amazing how time passes when your goals are unclear.  By dinner time, all the loose papers had either been sorted into binders or recycled, my files had been thinned and streamlined, and my planner for the fall organized.  I was troubled, though; I knew that this time last year, I was enthused and excited with my plans for the start of school, and that even with the good work I’ve done this summer, I’m not there yet – I can’t specifically conceive of how it’s going to go, in just one short week.  photo (7)

After dinner, I took a walk; the evening was lovely – breezy and cool.  I found a quiet place to have a coffee and try to establish clear goals for myself – the foundation of any successful plan.  I started with the same goal I have had for the last three years:

    • Time for the gym 2 evenings/week and once on the weekend;
    • Time to quilt at least 2 full weekend days per month, and evenings;
    • Time to relax in the evening 3-4 hours/week;
    • At least 7.5 hours sleep each night.


It all sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  Yet I haven’t been able to do this yet in the last 8 years.

I moved on to my goals for Geometry, which came pretty easily – after all, that is the class I’ve been thinking about all summer, the course I’ve already mapped out.  But Algebra 2 is the problematic course for me this term.

Following the Regents Passing Rate saga last June, I need to better ensure that my students master the content according to my department’s goals (this was made quite clear to me yesterday by my Assistant Principal), but the volume of content required to be covered in the fall term is formidable. 

A list of the daily "Aims" from our curriculum

A list of the daily “Aims” from our curriculum

  The only way I can see completing the required curriculum successfully is by abandoning many of the conceptual activities which make so much more sense to me for creating deep understanding, in favor of procedural teaching and practice.  This goes against a lot of how I believe math should be taught, and the work I have done to transform my practice in the last few years.  But ignoring what’s been asked of me by my administrator is not in my best interest (nor necessarily in my students’ best interests, either).  

It is actually easier to teach this way than to craft [even when borrowed] engaging inquiry and problem-solving activities that elicit productive conversations and deeper understanding, isn’t it?  But not nearly as interesting, for sure, and not why I teach. Following this train of thought, however, I was able to map out the semester, and sadly was able to see myself barreling through the content with lots and lots of worksheets, driving my students to continually practice those problems which will appear on departmental exams and the Regents in June.  Maybe this is what I need to do for a year to improve my ‘results.’

Or do I?  Sigh.  I welcome and seek your feedback.

On your mark….

I met with my Assistant Principal today to discuss my plans for the Geometry class this fall, and to clear the air over the Algebra 2 Regents passing rates – it was a wonderful meeting.  First of all, I found out that this lovely classroom will be mine for at least 60% of the day: IMG_3803

What you can’t see is the SmartBoard in the front of the room, and the whiteboards which wrap around the other walls with bulletin boards at either end.  Now this might not seem so earth-shattering to many of you, but I teach in a building that is 75 years old, and the only improvement to the classrooms (besides layers and layers of paint) is a SmartBoard smack in the middle of the original blackboards (which are not magnetized because they are so old).  One wall in each classroom is also dedicated to unused student lockers (well, they are used for trash now and then), and all of the math rooms have desks.  My AP knew that I was probably the only teacher in the department who would be HAPPY with tables.

I’ve been jealously reading blog posts about classroom decor from Sarah at mathequalslove, Miss Calcul8 and JemmaPDuck and even printed out the Jedi Mindset Posters from TeacherPaulP, knowing that I had not had any opportunity to decorate a room since I came to my current school three years ago.  But now the sky is the limit – I even have a place to hang my icosahedra!10572112_10203125744598130_8974409172441000582_o

The other good news is that I will be teaching three sections of my hands-on Geometry course (updated curriculum map below) and two sections of Algebra 2/Trigonometry.   There are big focuses (foci?) this year at school on quality feedback and formative assessment, so the weekly math maintenance worksheets I created (borrowed) were a big hit as well.  I decided to create two different sheets for each of the classes: in Geometry, we will doing the Estimation180/Visual Patterns/Would You Rather dance, whereas in Algebra 2, I will be focusing more on skills and current content.  Once again, I owe a lot to the generosity of Jessica (@algebrainiac1), Lisa Bejarano, and Kathryn Belmonte.

The final positive note in this meeting was the reception of my offer of running a professional development session, based on the workshops I attended at Exeter in June.  It turns out that our district is planning shared professional development on Election Day with four other schools; each school will be dedicated to a particular content area, with representatives from each school offering classes.  I’m excited that we will be doing something so relevant and productive this year, and that I’ve already planned out several activities to choose from.

So even though I am clinging desperately to these last few days of vacation, I’m pumped.  Now if only I can get myself out of slo-mo.

Digital art by

Digital art by

Watercolor by

Watercolor by

#mtboschallenge Week 2: Professional Books

sunset at lake Coming back from Vermont is always a shock to my system, and even though I spent some time online while I was there – thanks to the Encompass Summer Institute – I somehow missed the #mtboschallenge start.    As I caught up on my blog reading, and listened to everyone’s start of school stories (mine is still 9 days away), the urge to participate has won out [for the moment] over my escapist fantasy of living in the mountains on my beloved lakeshore.  And talking about books is always a joy – I mean, I do have a degree in English Language and Literature….but that’s a long story.

Microsoft Word - Document1 copy

Let me admit, right off the bat, that I am addicted to books.  These are the  bookcases in my office at home.  I try these days to limit my purchases to books that I cannot read online, from the library, or borrow, but the recommendations from the many people I respect in the online community make it difficult to control the impulse to own these treatises of pedagogical wisdom.

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This first set of books were seminal texts in my development as an urban educator.  When I joined the NYC Teaching Fellows, I ‘talked the talk’  – I said that I became a teacher because I thought that was one of the few ways in which an individual could actually effect change in the world, even if on a small and personal scale, and that I wanted to help provide quality education to all children.  I don’t think I knew what that meant until I started reading about the importance of language (Lisa Delpit, Other People’s Children), discourse analysis (James Paul Gee, Social Linguistics and Literacies), and the limits of urban school reform (Jean Anyon, Radical Possibilities).  I can truly say that these books changed my outlook in a fundamental way – or maybe they just gave me the words for the inchoate ideas that motivated my career change.  I read Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire at the end of my first incredibly difficult (who’s isn’t?) year of teaching, and his creativity in creating a classroom culture of achievement and community gave me fuel and ideas to return for a second one.  Of course, trying to implement all his ideas at once wasn’t a recipe for success (so I learned by mid-October), but I remain inspired to this day.


These two books by Paul Lockhart – especially A Mathematician’s Lament - have hugely impacted my philosophy of teaching math, and especially Geometry.   Geometry was my first love in high school, and I was thrilled to be teaching it.  I was certain, when I started out, that I would be able to enlighten my students, help them progress upwards on the Van Hiele levels, and convert them all to the religion of geometry.  Guess again.  So when I came to the chapter entitled “High School Geometry: Instrument of the Devil”, I took a hard look in the mirror, and began to rethink my approach.   And Lockhart made sure that I suffered no delusions about the benefits of my ‘traditional’ approach to the curriculum: “All metaphor aside, geometry class is by far the most mentally and emotionally destructive component of the entire K-12 mathematics curriculum.  Other math courses may hide the beautiful bird, or put it in a cage, but in geometry class it is openly and cruelly tortured.”   Measurement is a delight; Lockhart explores the beauty of math in an accessible, challenging and engaging way. 

5 invisible vilson

These are my most recent favorite reads, although truth be told, I am working my way through 5 Practices (I know, I know – it’s such a slim book!), but every page has something worthwhile for me to think about, and I have approximately 20 pages unread in both Invisible Children and This is Not A Test.  Vilson’s book – part memoir, part policy narrative, was engaging, familiar [as a fellow Teaching Fellow] and very accessible, and then it hit me right between the eyes – the chapter “Where The Hustle Comes From” held up yet another harsh mirror to my classroom, and my impatience with any student not paying attention, or trying to leave the room.  You can’t read this book and come away unchanged.   I found the book Invisible Children while perusing Don Steward’s excellent blog; he mentioned this book as a highly influential text in his teaching, and based on my respect for his work, I sought out a copy (it was published in 1989 and is no longer in print, I believe).  Pye describes the ‘bottle shape’ in the classroom which captures the teacher’s attention when they are in the front of the room – the center rows and the back of the class.  The sides of the room, even at the front, are where the ‘invisible children’ reside.   His descriptions of how remarkable children, only needing acknowledgment, are hidden and looked over (by their own design at times) ring true for any teacher of large classes.  I will be looking at my classroom very carefully this fall, with new eyes. 

I also have to mention Embedded Formative Assessment; its research-based analysis of formative assessment and practical strategies were enormously helpful in developing my practice in this area.  I don’t have a picture of this book because I have lent it to a friend.

On the reading list for this year are the following goodies:

There are many other books on other lists I have (tucked away in lots of nooks and crannies, both virtual and real) of book references made by people I respect, and I know that these lists will continue to grow.   And I’m sure I’ve forgotten some faves here.  But like I said, I studied Literature, and I can keep going….ad infinitum….

I don’t know how to finish off this post, for some reason, so I’ll conclude with this photo from the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival in Burlington on August 3.  It’s a moving and exciting annual event to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer.  The boats are lovely, and there’s something very mathematical about the rowing team, don’t you think?

Dragon Boat Races in Burlington, Vermont

Dragon Boat Races in Burlington, Vermont





Before I head to the lake…

My view for the next 2 weeks

My view for the next 2 weeks

I’m about to embark on my annual pilgrimage to Lake Dunmore in Vermont.  It’s a little piece of heaven on earth which I have visited almost every summer for 20 years.  It’s the place where I truly relax and restore, where my family’s collective vacation memories live.  And while I will spend a little time contemplating the coming school year (and hopefully having a Burlington tweet-up with @jaz_math and @SmithTeach), writing curriculum is not on the itinerary.    Thus, my feverish work on the geometry curriculum – revised here:

It’s not finished by a long shot, but I’ve combed through the clippings I’ve been making in Evernote all year (thanks to the presentation by @borschtwithanna at #TMC13), the blog posts I have bookmarked, and the hyperlinks therein, annotating the map with ideas for activities and lessons.  I’m still wrestling with the Geogebra iPad app, but I’ve had personal assistance from the Geogebra Queen, @jensilvermath, and offers of help from others like @a_mcsquared, so I’m hopeful I will be able to incorporate this interactive tool in a way that will enhance geometric reasoning.    So again, I welcome feedback and suggestions.

I’ve also drafted a sheet to use each week for recording daily warm-up activities.  I owe this document to @algebraniac’s Weekly Warm-Up sheet, Lisa Bejarano’s spin-off, and finally Kathryn Belmonte’s shared presentation on Math Maintenance from #TMC14.

Here is my version of the weekly warm-up sheet:

Again, everything is a work in progress, but having completed reasonable drafts of both of these documents, I am ready to relax.  And maybe play with designing my own Interactive Notebook….

I have to conclude by thanking everyone in the #MTBoS who shares their hard work so generously.  Looking at all the links in my curriculum map, I am incredibly grateful to this community of people – some of whom I know, many who I don’t – that thrives in mutually beneficial interpersonal professional development.  I regret that I missed #TMC14, but honestly, I feel everyone’s presence as strongly as ever.  Lucky, lucky me.

Chippy seems to rotate just a few degrees each year.

Chippy seems to rotate just a few degrees each year.


The stuff of memories

Getting ready for Fall

I am teaching (I think) a revised geometry course this fall, one in which taking the Regents will be an option for students.  This gives me the freedom to do some more inquiry-based and exploratory activities, which are usually eliminated in the rush to cover every topic by the June exam.  I am also planning on using Interactive Notebooks in this class.

My first step has been to draft a curriculum map, which as you can see is not complete – it needs, at the very least CCSS alignment posted, as well as assessments for each unit – but having a complete grid will give me an organized structure with which to fill things in, as well as an outline for creating my INB templates.

I welcome comments, suggestions, thoughts, and and will update the map as I go along.

Sounds of July

Postage-stamp Yards

Postage-stamp Yards

Sitting here at my dining room table, it’s pretty quiet – and sounds like a summer afternoon. Occasional shouts of children filter in through the window, the fan whirrs [sort of] quietly overhead, and there is an occasional gardening machine (lawn mover, edger?) briefly creating some dissonance. Thank goodness the backyards in Brooklyn are postage-stamp size; mowing the lawn only takes about 5 minutes, for anyone on my block.


I am relaxed – which is no small feat – but there’s a little bit of a nagging feeling, which I easily ignore much of the time, that I am not ‘getting enough done’ in this wonderful expanse of free time. The summer is when I can do grand planning, self-study, pleasure reading, and quilting. I have a list which I tried to keep manageable, but it’s always longer than any one person could accomplish in a summer. I’ve been reading on line and on Twitter other teachers’ preparatory work, and I’m wondering whether I’ve gotten anything done. So, to put my mind to rest for the moment, I thought I would make a list of what I want to do and what I have done to get some perspective.


(1) Write curriculum outline for new Geometry “Regents-optional” class including:

- hands-on activities using patty paper, manipulatives, tools of construction, iPads

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To-do Central

- cooperative problem-solving

- interactive notebooks [which need to be separately planned];

(2) Review Calculus through Schaum’s Outline in preparation for online Calc III class;

(3) Finish reading Lockhart’s Measurement finally! (I can’t resist stopping to solve every problem which makes it slow (but fun) going;

(4) Learn to use Geogebra;

(5) Finish 3 quilts of varying sizes and complexity, one which I have been working on for 10 years (not steadily), and two for current occasions with DEADLINES;

(6) Read/peruse at least 3 other books for school/math: Invisible Children by James Pye, Taxicab Geometry by Eugene Krause, and at least one of the 6 or 7 other books on my desk!

photo (5)

The Desk of Which We Do Not Speak

That’s a crazy list, I see that now.


(1) Begin writing curriculum outline (through Unit 3) after energizing meet-up with @samjshah;

(2) Begin learning Geogebra after equally energizing online session with @jensilvermath;

(3) Work through 4 units in Schaum’s, although I haven’t gotten to the hard stuff yet;

(4) Read half of Invisible Children;

(5) Worked through a whole bunch of hands-on activities collected through the year and at conferences and explored their inclusion in geometry class;

(6) Make slow progress on all three quilts;

(7) Get back into the MTBoS and my tweeps, which thankfully, wonderfully is always available, which includes not only chatting but actively reading blogs (which means linking to more blogs with more ideas and on and on) ;

(8) Gone to the gym every other day – consistently!

(9) Caught up on a LOT of Netflix binging!

I guess I’m on the right track; it’s just when I hear those sounds of July, I feel SO lazy, and wait – there’s another series on Netflix I haven’t watched yet?

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The 10 Year Quilt (maybe a little more)