Day in the Life: September 21, 2016

First of all, today is my daughter’s TWENTY FIFTH birthday.  Don’t blink, guys – that’s how fast it goes.  Happy Birthday, my very dearest Marilyn.  You are one of the two best things I have ever done.


Costuming all her life

Up at 5:34, which is actually OVERSLEEPING, but made my bus (the later one which still gets me to school on time).  There is a beautiful pink sunrise peeking through the buildings on Coney Island Avenue, which will only be visible at this hour for a few more weeks.   I’ve got bookroom duty during 1st period, which begins at 7:15, so I don’t have a lot of time for my 2nd period prep.  I learned early on, however, that leaving school the night before not ready for the next day meant for sure that the copier would be broken, fullsizerenderor that you would be assigned a coverage, or that some other impediment to preparation would occur. So I am ready to continue with practicing linear systems in three variables with my Algebra 2 classes.  I just need to find a good Desmos activity for those [few] students for whom one day was enough; I’m thinking Function Carnival will appropriately engage and challenge.

I see many students I know on the bus, but most are plugged in and sort of sleepwalking.  I don’t disturb their last few minutes of rest; I get it.  Usually, I would be grabbing a few minutes of pleasure reading on the bus (I’m currently reading How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon), but I’m drafting this post!

I arrived at school at 6:55.  This may sound ridiculously early to some of you, but I love the school when it’s so quiet.  I remember that not only will I be distributing books, but that my students will be receiving them as well, so I go down to the math office to get some book receipts, only to discover that my school keys are not where they should be.  Mentally retracing my steps before I left school yesterday, I realize that I probably left them inside the office I am attempting to enter; I stopped by to make photocopies on my way out yesterday.  I find another early bird math teacher to let me in, and thankfully, the keys are exactly where I thought they would be.  Crisis averted.

When the first bell rings, I get ready to go to the book room.  I hope the 1st period teacher remembers to send his students…..

My book room duty is over at 7:27.  I make a quick stop at the Dean’s Office to drop off some work for a student on in-house suspension.  I’m saddened that this young man  will be out of my class for 4 days so early in the term; I hope that he attends in-house, and that the teacher there helps him complete his work so that he maintains some kind of feeling for the class.  This fall I will be participating in a Restorative Justice training workshop, and am feeling somewhat more sensitive to the deleterious effect of removing a student from class.  I hope this student returns, and attends regularly after this disruption.

30 minutes to showtime. I head down to my classroom with my trusty cart (a traveling office supply store) and start thinking about the date.  When I was a grad student with the NYC Teaching Fellows, one of my Math Methods professors, Erica Litke, always made a math problem out of the date.  I adopted this practice the day I began teaching, and have continued it every day (really, every single day) since.  I love it tumblr_llj5lugjnb1qzyy9go1_500when I make a mistake and a student points it out in the middle of class; one year, there were two boys who weren’t in my class who would stop by every day and compete with each other to figure out the math problem.   I make a second trip between my office and the classroom with the iPad cart, and then run down to the mailroom to get my attendance folders.  It’s not even 8 am, and I’ve already walked more than a mile and climbed four flights of stairs three times.  But I’m ready to go.  Hopefully, the kiddies are too.

10:04 AM My teaching day is 40% complete already.  The two morning Algebra 2 classes were spent with students wrestling (struggling productively, I hope) with the three variable systems. The vast majority of the kids understand what they need to do, but little mistakes, such as flipped or dropped negatives, or not multiplying on both sides of an equation when eliminating a variable, abound. I brought the iPads for those students who were sure (yesterday, at least) that they didn’t need more practice, and I set up Function Carnival for those students to work on after they had tried this lovely system which arrived in my inbox yesterday, courtesy of a piece by James Tanton in the MAA Math Messenger.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-13-26-am  As it turned out, no one asked for an iPad.  Several students worked away at this system, although I did not see a correct solution (which means I can use it as extra credit on tomorrow’s quiz!).  I repeatedly stressed to the students to keep their work neat and to leave themselves lots of room in order to avoid the aforementioned common errors, but that is a lesson that is usually learned the hard way, through trial and much error.

I’ve got a triple coming up – two sections of Discrete Math sandwiching another Algebra 2 class.  We are working on Matrix Logic problems and I’m hoping the kids will enjoy working on them independently – I think I am talking way too much at the board.  We will start, however, with a number talk. Yesterday we moved from dot cards to addition (67 + 28) and I’m thinking today we’ll take the leap to multiplication.  The students seem to like these number talks, although I would like the conversation to be a bit livelier.  I am contemplating asking specific students what they think about someone else’s strategy, but I am concerned that this could either backfire or create resistance.  I am looking forward to the day that I am more comfortable with this!  But with most things in teaching, I find, you’ve got to go through the inevitable awkward learning period before you get to the flow.

On an exciting note, a pair of hawks has built a nest in the fire escape across the street from my classroom!  I haven’t gotten a good picture yet (the birds are well camouflaged by the brick building), but every time they appear, I get excited and call the students’ attention to it.  And when the birds take off, it’s breathtaking.  Got to turn this into some kind of math…hmmm.

It’s 1:45 P.M., and my official day is done – the upside to being up at a ridiculously early hour.  The Discrete Math classes went pretty well.  I am doing Number Talks every day as a warm-up; in the first class, I used 18 x 5, which was, I think, too simple for my students.  One student described decomposing the numbers, but the rest of the class steadfastly claimed that they mentally used the long multiplication algorithm.  In the second class, I reverted to dot cards, using this representation:dot-card-1which provoked a much richer discussion, and a greater diversity of response.fullsizerender-1 One student came up to the board three times to share his perspectives.

We are working on our first unit, Matrix Logic (taken in part from the book Crossing the River with Dogs), and today we began tackling problems in which each statement is a falsehood.  The students take to these problems as the logic behind them becomes clear, and engagement, in both sections was high.   I distributed problem sets for them to work on at their tables (finally getting away from the board), gave some guidance regarding how to get started, and many of the kids dug right in.  Those that needed help asked for it, which is great – my Algebra 2 classes aren’t always so forthcoming when they don’t know what to do.  Problematically, however, many students stopped working after they finished the first logic question, and needed a lot of encouragement to continue.  The problems are quite wordy, and although absolutely capable of reading through the material, I think some of the kids assume they ‘can’t do word problems’.  I scribed while they described the set-up of each problem to me, listened to their reasoning about what each clue allowed them to assume, and pushed them along their way without really giving specific input.  My expectation (read: hope) is that tomorrow each student will complete the first problem set in their notebook; I will begin each class by showing them an example of a former student’s notebook to provide a model.

Today was the big ‘equalization’ day – the day by which all classes must have 34 (or fewer) students on their roster per the UFT contract with New York City.  I knew there would be some shifting in my Algebra 2 classes since they were all oversized.  But I also received several new students in Discrete Math, students who had been removed from Algebra 2 and programmed for my elective instead.  The disappointment that they feel by this re-assignment is 99 times out of 100 unmistakable, and I empathize with them – they are being bumped off the higher math track, and for no other reason than scheduling exigency, and perhaps a lower grade in a previous math course.  I tell these children that they are welcome in my classroom, and will definitely learn math, but, if they truly want to take Algebra 2 instead, they need to make some noise, and have their parents make it as well.

My Algebra 2 class was more of what I did this morning – systems with three variables.  I found myself getting caught in a trap of checking work on the spot – a student would claim they did everything correctly and were still getting the wrong answer (so there must be two solutions to the system! they said).  After reviewing some work to find the aforementioned careless errors, I realized I wasn’t supporting cooperative work at the tables, and began referring all errors back to the students.  Looking for arithmetic mistakes prevented me from helping children with bigger conceptual problems.  I’m glad I caught myself doing this so early in the year.  Hopefully this extra day of practice will boost their performance on tomorrow’s quiz.

Speaking of which, my monitor came up for her 8th period shift only to tell me that my quizzes had not yet been copied, and therein lies tomorrow’s disaster that requires averting.  I didn’t have any work for her, so I helped her revise some PreCalculus homework.  Yesterday, we had worked on problems involving the changing of logarithm bases, and her teacher (one of my office mates, actually) told her she couldn’t use the method I taught her, which is described and proven here by Dr. Math at the Math Forum.  I’m not sure whether I want to engage with this other teacher about the validity of this method, but I am saddened by this instance of a teacher insisting on one correct way to do a problem, especially at this level –  and unhappy that my lovely monitor is caught in the middle; she clearly understands why the method we used works, and in my view, should be able to use it.

Other than my quizzes not being ready for tomorrow, I have nothing to prep right now, so I can head home!  I have two tutoring students later today – one, a girl I have been working with for 3 years (she’s now in 8th grade) on enrichment, and the other, the daughter of a dear friend who needs a little geometric guidance.  Both of these girls are terrific kids with good senses of humor and an appreciation of math, so it won’t even feel like work.  And hopefully tonight, I can get to bed on time to make that 6:10 AM bus.



1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I am proud of how I engaged the Discrete Math students in the Matrix Logic puzzles.  This is foreign content, and many of them are suspicious (but not hostile) of the course.  But I guided them towards finding their own solutions, and heard a lot of positive comments.  Not so ideal: I mentioned that I caught myself combing student work for errors, not realizing that I should have redirected that effort.  I hope I can correct this in the coming weeks.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I am looking forward to the results of the first quiz in Algebra 2; I still don’t have a sense of who my students are, and I will gain some perspective on (a) how well I’m doing at teaching them, and (b) what their strengths and weaknesses are.  I’m also looking forward to hearing some friendly debate as the Discrete Math classes work more independently on the logic puzzles.

One challenge for me is work/life balance.  I desperately want to stay well-rested this year, and even maintain some attendance at the gym.  I’m working on it, always.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I’m enjoying working with my monitor, Rachel, this year.  She was my monitor all of last year, and had just transferred into the school.  She’s more mature this year, and better adjusted, and we talk more honestly and productively about her workload and priorities in school.  When we discuss the logarithm/PreCalculus situation, we went over the proof of the method we had used, and she took the proof – I hope – to show to her teacher.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  

I continue to keep getting to know my Discrete Math students as a priority, and to keep reiterating to them – in words and in deed – that they can do math, that their voices are important in my classroom, and that there is something valuable that we can learn together.

I am struggling with keeping up the Contemplate then Calculate routine (but it’s still on my radar, and I will try again), but I have kept up the number talks every day for the last week.  I’m proud of that.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I’ve signed up for a Google Apps for Education training to earn Level 1 Certification – I am SUPER excited about that!


Day in the Life: 2 First Days

outsideWe have a soft opening at my school.  Due to the number of students on our rosters (4,100), it takes 1/3 of a day to distribute MetroCards, Lunch Forms and other school correspondence.  Student arrival times are staggered on this first day, alternating grade level assemblies with ‘homeroom’.  [‘Homeroom’ meets three times each year – at the start of each term, and at the very end of the year, for aforementioned document distribution and final reports cards.]  At 10020:00 AM (this is a third of the way through the normal school day, which starts at 7:10), shortened classes began  (but not all periods met) – 25 minutes to introduce myself, gather some preliminary information from kiddies, and begin to establish my classroom.  To add just another bit of chaos to this mix, the first period – 3rd – was 50 minutes long, which is 5 minutes longer than usual.  As an aside, only 1/3 of the classrooms are air conditioned, so this was great fun on a close to 90˚ day.  Things ran smoothly, although, as usual, I overestimated what could get done in 25
minutes (complete index cards, make name tents, play Ms. Menard in Numbers, and distribute contracts – was I kidding?).  The students in my 7th period Discrete Math class looked like I felt – hot and wrung out.  Tomorrow, Friday, is a full, regular day – our hard opening, as it were.
shoesMs. Menard in Numbers (document shared below) is always a hoot.  My students all think I wear a size 7 shoe (I think Iscreen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-36-20-pm wore that in 6th grade!), and have 10 Twitter followers.  First ‘whoa!’ moment of the year!  In keeping with my goal of getting to know my students, I read through each index card they submitted, paying special attention to the answer to the question, “What one thing should I know about you as a teacher?”  I was able to address some of the patterns I observed in the studentsindex-cards‘ answers during the ‘hard opening’ day.  I think I am more in tune this year with taking care of my students as people; their comments evince a desire to be heard, to be helped, to be seen.  I also spent some time looking at the transcripts, report cards, and exam histories of each of my Discrete Math students.  They are placed in that class for a range of reasons – failed Geometry Regents but good course grades, failed the Algebra 2/Trig class last year, have way below grade level math credits – each student is different, and will thus need something different from this class.  I fought the feeling of drowning in a sea of data by remembering their faces, and that my goal is to move each student further to the right on this picture:untitled-copy

Hard Opening: Friday

I’m not going to talk about how disgustingly humid and warm my classroom was after this. But it was. Very.

One of my Algebra 2 classes didn’t meet yesterday, and I had to fight with myself to give them the same lesson as the others had, remembering that time spent creating classroom culture and norms reaps dividends all term long.  In the other two sections of Algebra 2, however, I borrowed Sara Vanderwerf’s Top 10 Things About Your Calculator lesson, my only regret being that I could have used another 30 minutes in the period to review both the TI-84 and Desmos portions of the worksheet.  We probably ran out of time because we began the period by talking about mindset and self-advocacy, but again, this was time well spent.  I won’t elaborate on all the misconceptions that this activity uncovered (and hopefully straightened out), or the high level of engagement and cooperation I witnessed.  I had that delicious sense of ‘boredom’ (not) that a teacher may get when their students are doing all the work, and helping each other, and all they have to do is eavesdrop.  We probably ran out of time because we began the period by talking about mindset and self-advocacy, but again, this was time well spent.  I have to reiterate my total gratitude and admiration of Sara’s generous sharing of her well-developed and on-target intentional

100-kids-2In my Discrete Math classes, we made the name tents we didn’t have time for yesterday, and did the wonderful 100 Number activity.  The kids, who were wilting, brightened up
considerably during this activity, and were energized enough to begin to engage in our first Number Talk (and by our, I mean me!)number-talk  I was very anxious about introducing  a number talk with this class, but in the few minutes we had to begin (I ran out of time), the students began to share the different patterns they saw in the dot card I provided.  I can’t wait to try it again, with an appropriate amount of time.

I thought about why I wasn’t doing the Top Ten Calculator Things Activity with my Discrete Math classes, and I couldn’t come up with a reason other than the embarrassing knee-jerk reaction “they don’t need this.”  Then I realized all my students need these skills – and to be honest, I am relieved that I saw this, because I’m not sure I did before.  So we’ll be working on that on Tuesday.  And it will be 10˚ cooler.


1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

The discussions about self-advocacy in the classroom and in life were uneven. I was pleased with how I facilitated the ones that went well, although I would be happier if the students had answered each other rather than me.  I could have modeled that better.  Still, in all five classes, the students were definitely listening during that portion of the lesson.  And I love the chuckles during the Stuck on the Escalator video.



2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?


Truthfully, the most negative aspect of my day was no relief for me or my students during this humid heat wave.  I try not to dwell on the weather (and certainly don’t when I am teaching), but boy, it’s a challenge to motivate kids under these circumstances. That said, I was pleased with the engagement level in all of the activities during the day; my efforts to be ‘intentional’ paid off well today.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Two former students of mine (Algebra 2 from last fall) were in my office yesterday and today as if no time had passed.  I love these kids – they are open, and hopeful, and helpful.  I am looking forward to spending the year with them – not as their teacher, but as a concerned adult in their lives.  And their willingness to step up whenever I ask is something I am always thankful for.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  

I am working on getting to know my students better this year, and am investing a lot of time and effort toward that end – name tents, combing through their histories – working hard to see them.  My realization that the calculator activity was appropriate for all of my classes was a positive step in my growth as well – I uncovered a bias of my own, and am working to rectify it and provide more opportunity for all of my students, particularly those who have been marginalized by being programmed for a math elective rather than a core class.

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

I’m still getting my head in the game, but the positive results I have had in the soft/hard opening days this year are encouraging.  I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did a week ago, and I’m ready to try more Number Talks and Contemplate then Calculate.




Day in the Life: Professional Development?

Even without the students coming today, I was sleepless last night, wondering why I work in a job that fills me with so much anxiety.  Curriculum on which I have little input (despite appearances to the contrary), possible schedule from hell, a sinus headache from non-Tropical Storm Hermine – all these gnawed at my brain despite my efforts to visit my 160902013121-hermine-radar-2-large-169‘golden room’ in Vermont.  We received an email from our principal that the morning will be spent on team building activities with ‘colleagues we may not know,’ and a promise of a prize for the team completes some unspecified set of tasks.  Hmm- lesson in how to elicit appropriate motivation?

I got myself out of the house relatively on time, but managed to spill my oh-so-necessary Red Eye on the bus.  Yes, I was THAT person. img_9153-jpg But as I neared school, a pleasant sense of anticipation took hold of me (especially after I was able to replace the coffee at a Brooklyn College cafe) as I thought of all the people I was looking forward to seeing after the restful summer.  I stopped by the program office to say hi to former officemates who have become 40% administrators, checked in with my Assistant Principal, and made my way to the auditorium, ready to meet colleagues (in a school of 200 staff members, there are many people I don’t know well at all).

Although the morning passed pleasantly, our administration modeled how not to run an activity effectively, which was instructive.  I’m really not being as sarcastic as this sounds; let me describe what happened:

The faculty was divided into 17 groups, whose members were posted on 5 successive screens of a powerpoint being shown in the auditorium.  The groups were directed to stand in vague spots around the large room.  We were then directed to one of four locations (not by group number, but rather by pointing and waving by the principal.

The four activities were as follows: rotating volleyball matches, egg-balancing relay races (with pingpong balls), a school-wide scavenger hunt, and a Trivial Pursuit game.  And the announced prize for winning, by the way, was a Panera lunch, paid for out of the principal’s very own pocket (so he told us).

The success (or lack of failure) to this team-building exercise was due to the fact that the participants were teachers, and not students.  The goal of the activity was that we would get to know teachers from other departments, but there were no name tags or activities to facilitate this, and the rooms (particularly the gyms) were so noisy that conversation and downloadlearning names was difficult.  Still, it was a somewhat fun way to spend the morning, although I’m not sure what goal it accomplished.  And I did enjoy Trivial Pursuit, especially when I gleefully shared the answer to “What was the proper Laugh-In response to: “Say goodnight, Dick”?

We moved from school-wide bonding to departmental meetings, the major portion of which was spent (in my department, anyway) discussing the new universal grading policies.  The school is moving in a standards based grading direction, but the bulk of the language in the policies seems directed at allowing students to make up any work regardless of why it was missed.  I am conflicted here; I believe in giving students the chance to show me what they have learned, but I also deal with a lot of class cutters and punctuality-defiers.  Now, more than ever, I need to find ways to bring them into my classroom and keep them there.

We also covered the usual details: room assignments, technology (2 new Mac labs!!), reading IEPs, and observations.

The next hour was allocated to working on curriculum and alternative assessment tasks in subject teams, but the Algebra 2 team leader told us that she wasn’t going to work on anything today, and that she didn’t want to post her lesson plans in the department DropBox for fear of providing them to teachers who didn’t do any work.  She then told the Algebra 1 team leader that she would work with her later on the Algebra 2 pacing calendar.

And herein lies my frustration with my school.

I work in a large school with high standards (for half of their students) and a noteworthy history.  The school has a fairly efficient infrastructure which makes it easy for teachers to teach, and many teachers stay at the school through retirement.  A reasonable percentage of the teachers are alumni, and many attended Brooklyn College (across the street).  However, our top-heavy payroll results in large classes and few electives.  And there is definitely an in-group which runs things.

So a couple of points to sum up:

  • Despite my disappointment today, I know I have the respect of my Assistant Principal and many teachers in the department, and I have opportunity to push my teaching in the directions I think it needs to go.
  • Working in the public school system in New York City (or anywhere) is never perfect, and in fact, can be extremely difficult.  I’m lucky to work in the environment I do.
  • I’m glad I got the best professional development available this summer at Exeter and Twitter Math Camp, and continue to nourish myself through the online community and Math for America.

Reflection (This is part of the Day in the Life blogging project, and will appear in each post.)

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

As this was a day of professional development, the moves I was making related to being a participant rather than teaching anyone.  I was energetic and enthusiastic during the team-building activities (except for volleyball, during which I took on supportive role), and worked to keep everyone engaged and involved during Trivial Pursuit.  I did my best to engage my content team leader despite her reluctance to work on our curriculum, asking questions and making suggestions.  My overall attitude returning to school was not ideal; rather than viewing the year as an opportunity to effect change for me, my students, and my school community, I walked in with a case of the ‘same old, same olds.’  I’m happy to say that this mood was dispelled by day’s end.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

I am looking forward to seeing former students – they grow so much over the summer!  And I am excited to try some new instructional routines, like Number Talks and Contemplate then Calculate.  I am already planning Desmos-based activities for two days next week.  These same activities present challenges for me – I am nervous about executing them well, and continuing with them despite the beginning bumps I will definitely encounter.  Also, filtering out some of the brilliance I encounter every time I go on line – it’s great to observe and read about it, but accepting that I can’t do it all – I have trouble with that.  I have to keep remembering: You do you.  Thanks, Annie.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I reconnected with one of my favorite people at school this morning – Ms. R.  She is an English teacher, so we don’t interact professionally that often.  But we have a kindred spirit kind of relationship – when we met, we instantly recognized something in each other that felt comfortable and familiar.  As it happens, she is one of the Google Apps for Education Evangelists in our school (our principal just purchased a subscription), and in addition to post-summer catching up, we talked a lot of shop.  She will definitely be my go-to resource as I begin training. 

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  

I wrote all about my goals in my last post.  School begins tomorrow, but I am already planning specific steps for my first Contemplate then Calculate routine (#1TMCthing), and will incorporate a discussion of mindset and self-advocacy in my initial lessons.  And yesterday, I was recruiting participants for the Restorative Justice training.

fullsizerender5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Tomorrow the school year really begins, and then I’ll have more to share.  I’m hoping my new bullet journal keeps me well organized!



How I Teach: Wendy Menard

As part of my participation in the Day in the Life Project, Dave Sabol has generously included me in his How I Teach series.

the rational radical

In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.

Wendy Menard blogs at Her Mathness and tweets @wmukluk. In addition to teaching high school math in NYC, she is a contributor to the Day in the Life project from Tina Cardone.

Brooklyn, NY

Current Job:
Algebra 2/Geometry teacher at Midwood High School

One word that best describes how I teach:

Current mobile device:
iPhone 6 Plus

Current Computer:
MacBook Pro

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Day in the Life – Jumping In

tumblr_oc2bxh8xDx1qlxdvro1_500This post is motivated by a number of things.  First and foremost, there are so many nuggets of brilliance that I’ve collected over the summer – at the Exeter conference, Twitter Math Camp and the concomitant recap blog posts – that I need to sift through and prioritize into concrete Goals for This Year, Hope I Can Try This Year, and Keep for Future Reference and Inspiration.  I will be meeting my fall term students in less than a week, and I’m struggling with bringing it all into sharp focus.  Writing will help [force] me to do that.

I’m also tremendously excited by the Day in The Life project being spearheaded by Tina Cardone.  The online community has nourished and supported me as a professional and as a person; our commonality and heterogeneity create a vibrant network of passionate educators I have yet to see duplicated elsewhere.

In my journal, I have underlined and starred this:

How will I build relationships with students this year, and what norms of classroom culture and discourse do I want to see in my classroom?

  • I will begin the year with Name Tents as I have for the last three years.  I love them – they give me a chance to learn my students’ names and communicate individually with them right away.
  • I will let my students know a little bit about me through Ms. Menard in Numbers.
  • The students will begin to learn about cooperative work and discourse with and without words through the 100 Game and other activities (I’m thinking about Broken Circles, Personality Coordinates, and maybe even Math Human Bingo – I have 5 classes, so maybe I’ll try them all!).
  • The students will write mathographies and begin to express their own math identities.
  • Taking a cue from the amazing Sara Vanderwerf, we will go through the Top 10 Things Not to Ask Me About Your Calculator in my three sections of Algebra 2.  This activity will introduce the students to Desmos, familiarize them with some simple but critically important (and pain-saving) functions of the TI calculator, provide a model for note-taking model, and lay the groundwork for the independence and self-advocacy I expect.
  • Shamelessly borrowing from Sara yet again, I will use the open middle task How Great is Your Total? in my Discrete Math classes.  I love how this task has students challenging themselves and each other, and how it provides formative assessment on such a wide range of mathematical and social competencies.images
  • I will implement (as my #1TMCThing) the instructional routine Contemplate then Calculate which promotes collaborative problem-solving, and most important, growth mindset.

I want to fight the “I am Not A Math Person” mentality and promote equity in my classroom and school; much of my self-chosen professional development and reading focuses on this overarching goal.  I have a personal goal of breaking my silence in the face of racism I encounter at school (and elsewhere), asking questions, and reflecting honestly about my own biases.  I have a list of items to do/complete/achieve along these lines as well.

  • This fall, I will be co-facilitating a Professional Learning Team with Jose Vilson on Racially Relevant Pedagogy at Math for America.  Jose and I will also be co-facilitating a single session workshop to extend this conversation to the larger Math for America community.
  • I will be participating in Restorative Justice training through the NYC Department of Education.
  • I will advance my understanding of institutional racism and its historic roots in America by continuing to work my way through this reading list (did I mention the fabulous used book stores I visited daily while in Vermont last month?)


After all of these very specific items, I still have the following items that I intend to appear in my classroom/teaching practice this year:

Most importantly, I want to hold on to the energy I gleaned from the myriad of inspiring teachers who spoke and shared at Twitter Math Camp this summer (pretty much everyone!).  Last year was a tough one personally, and I found myself counting days until I could rest and restore more than once. But the summer has been long and enriched, and this year, I want to count EVERY DAY as a day of development and learning for both my students and me.

Gotta go plan now…



Keynotes and Presentations – #TMC16 Post #2

IMG_8673[Note: I drafted my first blog post on #TMC16 in the car on the way home from Minneapolis, while Jamie Rykse drove my car. I split the post in two because even unfinished it was over 1200 words, thinking I would publish the first one right away, and the second a day or two later. But the exigencies of life – job-hunting children, very ill kitty, and other concomitant personal drama – delayed the completion of my recap. Now, peacefully ensconced in my happy place – Lake Dunmore, Vermont – I am finally finishing it. Thanks for waiting, and for reading, as always.]


FullSizeRender-1A huge highlight of #TMC16 was the array of energizing and inspiring keynote speakers. During the Desmos Pre-Conference, Sarah Vanderwerf exhorted us all to be Evangelists for mathematics. Sarah is a force of nature, and she spoke about Desmos representing the first paradigm shift in math education since the graphing calculator, making math more widely accessible (and beyond the school day) to students. When she told us to putDesmos stickers on our phoneIMG_8372s so we could easily share the wonder that it is, many of us did. Right away. (That is, after we put on our socks.) Yesterday, my husband concernedly asked me about ‘those Desmos stickers on everything’. I love how he was blown away by a demo.

Screen-Shot-2016-07-20-at-9.02.18-PMThe second keynote speaker, Jose Vilson, with whom I was privileged to run a workshop, began a conversation about the elephant in a room comprised predominantly of white teachers (as is the teaching force in America) – race, racism and equity as it is manifested in our school system. The significance of his speaking to us at #TMC16, held in the twin city of St. Paul, where less than two weeks ago, Philando Castile was shot by a police officer, could not be ignored. Jose is congenial and soft-spoken but his message was powerful. If we, the #MTBoS, represent a group of teachers who aspire to better teaching and true collaboration in service of our students, it is time for us to step up, examine who we are, acknowledge the inequities in the system in which we work, and speak up against them. [NOTE: this is my read on his message, and not a quote.] These are important words for us to hear. I know that I became a teacher in large part because I felt that it was one of the only ways that I, as an individual, might have an opportunity to effect some change, even if only for a few people. And given that this is my stated motivation, I feel an imperative to learn how to participate in this struggle. Others have had no choice but to struggle their entire lives.

The following day we heard from Tracy Zager, who addressed the need for vertical collaboration among teachers. With great humor, she described an extended conversation on Twitter in which she, with a background in elementary education, ‘played math’ with some secondary teachers and professional mathematicians. She allowed herselIMG_8458f to admit her need for help, and as a result, not only learned some new math, but found new colleagues along a vertical spectrum. To say that Tracy is a warm and engaging speaker (which is completely true) doesn’t truly describe the presence and timing she brings to communicate her message. I was completely inspired by the idea of vertical collaboration among elementary, middle, and high school math teachers, and plan (and I’m putting it out there publicly to hold myself accountable) to propose a Vertical Collaboration Professional Learning Team at Math for America next spring.

searchDylan Kane, our third keynote speaker, honestly and humbly described some of his less successful experiences in teaching – the ones we’ve all had, in which we are confident that we are ‘following the recipe’ of good teaching that we have gleaned from somewhere, incorporating great techniques and innovative activities, only to discover that our students have completely missed the lesson objective, or that we have, perhaps in our enthusiasm to allow them to ‘discover and construct’ mathematical meaning, left them without a life (or math) net. I heard this message loud and clear; how many brilliant lessons have I ‘borrowed’ without fully thinking through the relationship between some creatively crafted activity and my students’ needs? Or whether someone else’s strategies were suited to my classroom, my teaching style, and/or my curricular goals? Dylan’s soft-spoken presentation delivered this important idea that is as true for new teachers as it is for veterans.

In Which I Become a Presenter

Having missed the last two Twitter Math Camps, I felt compelled to actively participate in #TMC16 by giving back to this community that has been nourishing me professionally and personally, and submitted several proposals to present. [Confession: by committing to present, I was also ensuring that I had no opportunity to change my plans; as much as I wanted to attend, life circumstances can become overwhelming…] To my great honor, all three of the workshops which I proposed (or was part of a team of proposers) were accepted! And then I thought ‘Holy !%$#?*! – What was I thinking?’ I’ve run small PD sessions at school, but never before a group of esteemed and beloved peers like this! Yet again, the #MTBoS has pushed me to be a better self, and I would like to briefly recap my sessions.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.22.49 PMProblem Solving – A Self-Differentiating Course: This brief (30 minute) presentation outlined one semester course I taught last year for off-track juniors and seniors. Working mostly from the book Crossing the River with Dogs, we covered a different problem solving strategy each week, using accessible problems that grew more challenging as IMG_8451student mastery increased. Although the content in the book is very straightforward, there are many opportunities for creativity in planning and delivering this course, and the wide range of problems in the text supports differentiation without any kind of stigma or disruption – everyone is doing the same work. Thanks to supportive participants Meg Craig and Jennifer Fairbanks, my first presentation went smoothly, and calmed my anxieties (a bit).

Racially Relevant Pedagogy: I was most excited about this session which Jose Vilson and I ran. I am on my own journey of learning how racism affects me (and perhaps manifests itself in my practice), and was looking forward to seeing how my colleagues began or continued on theirs. I know that the workshops in which I have participated have been powerful experiences, and I was hoping our session would be similarly effective. Just observing and listening to how people predominantly identify (by gender, race, class, nationality (ethnicity), or religion), and how their experiences have been shaped by these classifications was fascinating – and that was only our first activity. Our participants were open, honest, and thoughtful, and presenting with Jose was breeze. I was completely jazzed by the experience and would have loved to spend more than an hour talking with folk.

[Uh-oh – nearing that 1200 word mark again. If you’re still reading, you have my undying gratitude.]

New to Teaching: The Good, the Bad and the Truth: One of the best parts of this session was working with and getting to know Glenn Waddell and Amy Zimmer. This session was presented in the last slot of the conference. We had fewer new teachers than I had anticipated (thank you, Tom Hall!), but we had a couple of teacher mentors and teacher Help-Im-a-Brand-New-Teacher-Blog-Headereducators, which made for a fruitful discussion. As part of our presentation, we collected data from all TMC participants (or as many as answered our survey) on their experiences as new teachers, and reading through the responses of what people needed most as a new teacher (an effective mentor was the top response), what topic induced greatest Imposter Syndrome (winner: probability), one word describing yourself as a new teacher (not surprisingly: overwhelmed), most embarrassing moment as a new teacher (all over the place, but crying in front of students, administrators, and/or parents showed up).

Great workshops, My Favorites and Everything Else

There have been a slew of blog posts that have highlighted the abundance of creative and open sharing that went on at #TMC16, so pretty much everything that I might have said here has already been said. But I have a few more things to share, and a few people to say thanks to, so there may be just one more post in me…


Minneapolis Bound – #TMC16 Post 1

downloadI just made a summary list of my itinerary since I left NYC almost a week ago – and it’s three pages long. I’m on Interstate 80 in Indiana right now – Jamie Rykse is thankfully driving my car to ease some of the long drive. But even the drive (with my trusty companion and navigator, James Cleveland) has been part of the journey that is my Twitter Math Camp 2016 experience.

It’s been a hell of a long year, and at times, a pretty unpleasant one. I wasn’t sure (believe it or not) that going to Minneapolis would be a good idea. But from the moment James and I set out last Wednesday, it’s been another great #MTBoS experience – of growth, restoration, professional and personal companionship. How could I have thought otherwise? It pushed me out of my comfort zone, for sure – presenting in not one, not two, but three workshops. [Truth be told, part of my reason for submitting proposals to present was to insure that I wouldn’t back out.]

Without giving all the details of my experience at once (after all, there were 200 attendees, many of whom who will be sharing blog posts like this), I am going to try and zone in on the highlights. This will most likely take several posts, because I will not subject my dear readers to the 1500+ words my reflection on this great week will take.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 12.51.00 PMThe drive there: Pennsylvania is very wide. There is no escaping it – because the exits on Route 80 count down from 310 [miles] as you head west. As a matter of fact, to get to Minneapolis from NYC, you drive on Route 80 pretty much straight across to Chicago, and then make a left to head up through Wisconsin (also pretty long on that NNW diagonal). But James is a creative and informative navigator, easy-going and pleasant – in the very best sense of the word – that made the long drive seem not. He download (1)booked us hotel rooms for our stopover in Toledo, found restaurants, anticipated traffic, and sang the Nightmare Before Christmas with me. You may wonder why I am going on at length about this road trip, but it really put me at ease and set the stage for the great week to come.

Our second day of travel involved a caravan with Justin Aion, and Jamies Packer and Rykse.  13775342_10209969280697521_3765766659311360625_nWe arrived in Minneapolis around 8 pm on Thursday, and our long journey was rewarded
by an enthusiastic reception at Pizza Luce, a gourmet handmade pizza restaurant. I hadn’t attended Twitter Math Camp since 2013, but I’ve spent a lot of time on line developing relationships since then. It was a wonderful welcome.

The pre-conference on Friday sponsored by Desmos was a great way to ease into TMC.Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 1.10.23 PMAbout half of the TMC participants were there, and finally putting live faces and voices to Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 1.10.39 PMthe people with whom I have been communicating – collaborating, commiserating, sharing deeply –was nothing short of a huge emotional high. Imagine meeting people for the first time – many of them – and throwing your arms around each other like long lost friends (which we are, just not lost). But after a brief breakfast and reunion, we got to work, and spent a full day immersed in learning more about Desmos, practicing new skills, and developing new activities. And we got socks.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 1.08.31 PM

On the road trip on the way out to Minneapolis, James read (and patiently re-read) the course descriptions to me, and we debated the pros and cons of every session, as they applied to each of our needs. Suffice it to say, like many people I spoke to, we arrived undecided on every slot due to the abundance of tempting offerings. During Friday night dinner, Jasper DeAntonio gave me an extended elevator speech about the Instructional Routines morning session, and I was sold – and a terrific decision that turned out to be.

The big idea behind the Instructional Routines morning session was to perfect – or learn how to beginning practicing, anyway- an activity called Contemplate then Calculate. It targets developing the mathematical practice of recognizing and using structure (aka SMP-8) through a detailed series of steps and teacher moves. Students are given a mathematical representation with some type of open question, and work towards

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 1.22.40 PM

Sadie the Scribe

strategies and shortcuts for answering a question about that representation. The teacher moves are specific and calculated, and rely on questioning to elicit student expression and thinking. David Wees, Jasper and Kaitlin Ruggiero each demonstrated the routine, and then coached us as we worked with partners to structure our own. Thankfully, David and his colleagues at New Visions have put together a library of many routines for Algebra 1, 2 and Geometry from which teachers can choose – because the work of facilitating the routine and thus, changing your classroom culture, is not as simple as it may sound. I applaud my brave classmates Alex Overwijk, Judy Larsen, Jasmine Walker, Sadie Estrella, Dylan Kane and Anna Blinstein who practiced the routine for the first time for our benefit. I have committed to trying Contemplate then Calculate as my #1TMCThing; I know if I can stick with this with it can have a huge impact on my classroom and make a substantive improvement in my teaching.

I’m going to end post #1 here. Thanks for reading this far!