#livejournal aka back in the saddle (sort of)

I’ve missed a whole bunch of days for a whole bunch of reasons, and I hope will get back to daily blogging to finish this challenge – but here’s this one, for Anne.

A- Age: 55 (as my sister likes to remind me when I refuse to act my age)
B- Biggest fear: Flying.  Getting to PCMI was a HUUUGE accomplishment for me.
C- Current time: 9:50 pm; almost bed time since I get up at ass o’clock
D- Drink you last had: CoffeeCoffeeCoffee
E- Every day starts with: Ruby demanding food as I clean up her cat puke 
F- Favorite song: Depends on my mood. All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down by the Mavericks, Sledgehammer, Uptown Funk, Express Yourself, Vincent, Diamonds and Rust,Late for the Sky, Bad Romance ummm I’ll stop now
G- Ghosts, are they real? No, but that might be cool if I got to see a few people I miss.
H- Hometown: Do I have to say?  North Bellmore, NY
I- In love with: The Unit Circle, and fabric.
J- Jealous of: people who are motivated to exercise every day
K- killed someone?: No, but ask me tomorrow after 8th period.
L- Last time you cried?: Thinking about scary health issues
M- Middle name: Joy
N- Number of siblings: 1 awesome sister (except when she tells me to act my age)
O- One wish: lots of birthdays
P- Person you last called: my beautiful daughter, Marilyn
Q- Question you’re always asked: Is this right, Miss?
R- Reason to smile: My cat drinking water out of a glass  

S- Song last sang: I’m not remembering because I sing all kinds of nonsense when driving in my car
T- Time you woke up: 5:35 am
U- Underwear color: Wedgewood Blue
V- Vacation destination: Lake Dunmore, Vermont forever and always
W- Worst habit: Always thinking I should be doing more
Y- Your favorite food: CAAAAAKE
X- X-Rays you’ve had: More than I care to enumerate, but teeth recently
Z- Zodiac sign: Gemini 

Nominate 8 more people:

Marilyn, Audrey, Mary, Carl, Amy, Stephanie, Lisa, Jennifer



Baltimore Bound

I will most likely not be posting tomorrow and Sunday.  I’m going to see my baby graduate!tumblr_o73fdfoSEt1qlxdvro1_500

But I don’t know – there might be a picture or two I want to share!  See you next week, #MTBoS30!


TOTAL Engagement – really!

This is going to be a brief one – recovering from last night’s post.  Writing it, I realized that I was asserting that others were asserting things, using my less-than-complete notes and less-than-perfect (I’m human, after all) memory.  I’m pleased that others who were at the Course Corrections event –  people I highly respect – shared support and approval, so I don’t think I committed anything libelous. Still, I don’t think I’ve written in that manner before on this blog, and it gave me a bit of pause, which I suppose it should.

ANYWAY: The students finished their pyramids today and turned in their paperwork – nets, calculations, rubrics.  For the last two days, I have had all hands on deck, everyone working, students helping each other, trying in spite of difficulties, REVISING AND REWORKING.  I can’t wait to create the actual SPIKY DOOR, but I’m going to wait until Monday, and will share the results here.

Tonight, I’m a happy teacher.  Here’s my litter:


From my notes

IMG_7965I was afraid that when I went and looked back at my notes from last night’s conversation between James Tanton and Andrew Hacker, they wouldn’t make any sense.  I bought the Sketchnote Handbook a few months ago, fantasizing that my notes would look like Ashli’s, but, alas, my creativity does not really extend into the note-taking dimension.  But I am pleased to report that I was fairly organized and thorough, so I hope this post will give you something of the flavor of the evening.

After an introduction by John Ewing, President of Math for America, the participants were given alternating 15 minutes in which to speak and present their ideas.  This was followed by a brief Q&A with the audience.

Andrew Hacker began the conversation by stating that the American governmental policy of requiring all children to take a full sequence of high school mathematics took a tremendous toll every year; failure of mathematics, he asserted, was the #1 reason students do not graduate high school.  And then he posed a question which raised a whole bunch of exclusionary red flags for me: Are we asking something of everyone that we shouldn’t?

Low expectations, anyone?

Hacker referred to a statistic put forth by the American Diploma Project – that 62% of professions will require algebra at some point in the 21st century (my notes do not include the purported date – sorry).  He asserted that this number was grossly inflated – by over 1200% – and that the figure was closer to 5%.  We’ve created, he said, an oversupply of STEM-qualified people following this misguided notion.  Hacker also claimed that there was no evidence that math sharpened the mind.

Hacker is no supporter of the hyper-testing environment we find ourselves in, and decries the biases in tests which skew results, on the PSAT for example, in favor of boys over girls.  This bias, he said, was inherent in mathematics.  (Silly me – I thought it was on the part of the test writers.)

He closed his first 15 minutes by saying that he wanted to see alternative mathematics courses for those students ‘who didn’t need algebra’, and offered, as a suggestion, a class that he taught through a mathematics department entitled Numeracy 101.  He described this course as ‘not high-powered academics.’

Before I start writing about James Tanton, I have to issue a disclaimer.  Dr. Tanton is an ‘Aussie fellow’, who speaks fluidly and quickly with a charming accent.  As such, my notes on his portion of the conversation are sketchier, because (a) I was trying to keep up with him and (b) I didn’t have the kind of objections to what he was saying which would cause me to furiously record quotes as accurately as possible – quite the opposite, in fact.

James Tanton’s personal philosophy on math education is to joyously teach mathematics as a human story , rather than as a series of dry procedures.  He talked about some of the goals of education, and mathematics education in particular – learning about patience and FullSizeRenderproblem-solving, and metacognition (how do you know what you know?).  Tanton even asserted at one point that content was necessarily not the point in high school math (I hope I got that right, because I sort of agree), using the example of the  He discussed the structure and goals of the Common Core standards – what they are (The Story of Math) and what they are not (a curriculum – YES, YES, YES), and the importance and extreme relevance of the 8 Math Practices.

When  Hacker returned to the podium, he clarified that he didn’t object to the standards (although later on he said he did), but rather the testing of them, which would force teachers to teach to the test. (Because that’s not happening now.)

He talked about being on jury duty, and how knowledge of mathematics was not important to determining guilt or innocence, and shared an anecdote about an important insight (which did not require a math education) on a case shared with him by another juror – Jose the Bicycle Messenger, who had never seen the inside of a high school math classroom.

Yes, he said those words.  I was almost done listening.

To finish his second presentation, Hacker displayed the names of four huge game-changing companies – Google, Apple, Twitter and Starbucks.  He asserted that the power of these companies was not in their technology, but rather in their catchy and evocative names.  He concluded that we don’t need math majors, or engineers – what we need is more poets.

It was a relief to this listener to have James Tanton finish the conversation by agreeing with Hacker’s stance on testing, and then paint a picture of the Story of Trigonometry – how it was born of the need – the desire – to determine how high the sun was, and how far away things were when tools of measurement were not highly developed. The big ideas of



math were developed around the globe by different civilizations, each contributing to the larger picture.  He made his case again for telling the human story of math, to fill it with the joy and wonder of discovery, rather than with dry and decontextualized procedures.  (This echoed a point he made during his first presentation – that even though we may not have a reason to use the quadratic formula or completing the square professionally, learning about it has meaning if taught in a larger context – one in which algebra and geometry are interwoven and represent more than letters and disconnected algorithms.)


Just a couple of highlights from the Q&A, because this post is way too long, and this old lady needs to go to sleep:

  • A teacher asked what either of the speakers would suggest that teachers do as we are caught in the middle of striving for meaningful math education and testing.  Hacker, pointing out that this was a political question, suggested she write her congressman.  Tanton, acknowledged the frenetic pace in the life of a high school teacher and admitted he didn’t have a solution.  He encouraged us to develop our own professional communities – in person, and on-line through blogging and Twitter.
  • Someone else wondered what the consequences of abolishing the Common Core standards might be; a teacher from the South Bronx suggested that eliminating the CCSS would widen the achievement gap.
    • In Hacker’s response to these questions and thoughts, he decried the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the Common Core, and how it would force Pythagorean Triples and Pascal’s Triangle on people who had no use for them, and for whom they might pose an insurmountable educational hurdle. “Don’t teach everybody what only a few people need to know,” was the last quote I wrote down from him.
    • James Tanton finished with one more exhortation to teach math as a joyous story; that these ideas – particularly Pythagorean Triples (not in the standards, btw) and Pascal’s Triangle represented patterns which were (a) accessible and (b) part of what makes mathematics awesome [my words here!].

If you’re still reading, thank you for sticking with me as I waded through my recollection of what was an important, enlightening, and (sometimes) inspiring event.  This blog post is a record of my notes, and I apologize if I have misquoted or misrepresented.   I have tried to as accurately as possible relate my perception of what I heard.





Them’s Fightin’ Words

IMG_7957Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a ‘conversation’ at the Museum of Mathematics between Andrew Hacker (author of The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions) and James Tanton.  The event, which was entitled “Course Corrections” wasn’t quite a debate, but they each spoke for 15 minutes, and then for another (sort of rebuttal) 15 minutes, followed by a brief Q&A.  I’m going to write about this tomorrow, because it’s getting a bit late for me, and I want to review all my notes, but I will say these two things:

(a) I wasn’t enamored of Andrew Hacker from what I read of his writing prior to the event, and this evening served to confirm and deepen my feelings.

(b) James Tanton is awesome (I sort of knew that already, but now have live confirmation).

And a couple of big ideas that were tossed around:

  • Andrew Hacker thinks we should chuck the Common Core standards.  Nothing wrong with every teacher teaching something different.  No one size fits all solutions. Why should UPS drivers know about Pythagorean triples and Pascal’s Triangle (despite the
    fact that the patterns included therein are part of what makes mathematicschitri1 beautiful)?
  • James Tanton believes that mathematics is relevant and accessible.  He understands that the CCLS are not curriculum, but rather a way of telling the story of math (he says it much better than I am saying it here, and with an Aussie accent.) (#mathfangirl)

I feel myself getting drawn into the long post I don’t want to write at this moment, so I will stop here.  Tomorrow is another day in MaBloWriMo (Math Blog Writing Month).





Just another Manic Monday


My Mother’s Day card by geosaurus.tumblr.com

4 out of the 6 periods I taught were no-brainers – administering exams (3 of my own and 1 coverage).  I’m hoping that this assessment – Trig Applications – goes better than the last one.

My 2 Geometry classes, on the other hand, were nothing short of aerobic.  We began our Spiky Door project last Friday and my students are at various stages of completing their nets.  Stumbling blocks included understanding a 1:2 scale, using a straight edge, finding total surface area, and in some cases, a ‘big picture’ comprehension of the project.  Top it off with my 8-9 ELLs who were out on several days last week – including Friday, the day we started the project – taking the annual NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test).  They all needed to be brought up to speed on the project, and I am ever more cognizant of language issues which can remain hidden behind their brightness and compensating mechanisms.  The project launch on Friday went smoothly, so I was completely bowled over by the tidal wave of NEED that gathered as the students attempted to create their nets.

Productive struggle?  Without a clear understanding of what was required of them, many students just waited for me.  The project description I so carefully wrote seems to be too wordy for them. Making mistakes is how we learn, I keep telling myself.

Tomorrow, I will create bulleted and simply illustrated instructions  – as terse as I can make them – and put them in page protectors on the tables.  These instructions will include guiding questions/instructions –

  • What is the scale of your net?
  • What are the dimensions of the base?
  • What is the scale height?
  • Find the area of the base.
  • Find the lateral area.

…and so on.

I think with some very direct instructions, as well as my employing a few ‘consultants’ from among the students, we may begin constructing tomorrow.

I invited my Assistant Principal in to view the Grand Chaos tomorrow. download