Enrich and Enhance Your Professionalism through Blogging

This was cross-posted in the Math for America Teacher Voices blog today (along with the headshot!).

Joining the online community of mathematics educators has had an indelible impact on my professional development. Through blogging, I explore and reflect on my teaching wendy-menardpractice, as well as contribute resources to a vast network of similarly inclined teachers. By writing honestly, I expose myself not only to critique, but also to support. And by raising my voice in response to inequities and injustice in education, I am stepping out of my classroom and comfort zone to engage in debate. The greater the number of teachers who challenge themselves to blog, the more vibrant the online community becomes, thus elevating the profession; consider taking this creative step to develop yourself.

The first teacher blog I ever read was Math Teacher Mambo by Shireen Dadmehr. As an early career teacher in a high need school, I was continually searching for high quality materials to engage students for whom math was at best a tolerated chore, and at worst, a subject to be avoided. That Shireen had a widget on her blog, which linked to all of her worksheets, freely available for borrowing, was a game changer for me. I visited her site regularly, downloading her content for current and future use.

Shortly thereafter, I came across Dan Meyer’s blog, and realized that the world of math education blogging was huge. Reading through comments on any of Dan’s posts, and clicking on the links therein, led me down a fascinating rabbit hole of blogs containing resources, reflections, policy debates, and humor.

I created my first blog, Math on the Blogosphere, in 2009. A combination of classroom reflection and student outreach, I envisioned my students checking my updates and following intriguing instructions nightly. Not successful in engaging them, I posted irregularly for a year or two, and stopped writing.

My blog reading, however, continued, and in 2013, I began writing anew at Her Mathness. My goal was no longer garnering student readership, but rather participating in and giving back to the online community – sharing resources, and having a voice in continually evolving conversation about math education. A long time ago, I earned a couple of degrees in English, and the opportunity to exercise my writing muscles was welcome.

In 2013, I attended my first weeklong residential conference at Exeter and wrote a lengthy post about the classes, participants, and inspiring keynote speakers. One of these speakers was Dan Meyer, who noted my recaps in a post of his, and I was on the map (485 hits in one day!).  I also attended Twitter Math Camp that summer, and my commitment to blogging was permanently cemented. The community of math teachers who regularly share, reflect, and thoughtfully converse about their teaching experiences became real, welcoming, and inspiring.

I wrote more regularly, and ran a pictorial daily 180 blog for one year. I shared resources I developed, reflected publicly on my teaching – its weaknesses and strengths, wrote about injustices and frustrations, and shared personal posts. My blog became my online professional journal; the process of writing each post gave me the mental space to contemplate my classroom practice and my students’ concomitant participation. I now attend to the appearance as well as the writing of my blog, posting photographs, images and videos to enhance the content. And I always cite my sources and inspirations.

Diving into the math education corner of the internet is a rewarding and broadening experience which connects me with a diverse group of like-minded professionals, who prioritize student learning through open reflection – the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere) is my professional learning community.

Writing a blog is not without risk; the memory of the Internet is infinite, as is one’s exposure. This exposure forces me to be thoughtful, intentional, and as clear as possible when expressing opinions, or citing someone else’s. Last May, I wrote a post about the ‘Course Corrections’ event at Momath – a conversation between James Tanton and Andrew Hacker about who needs what type of math education. I was keenly aware that I was attributing words to the speakers based on a fallible recording (my handwritten notes). I issued disclaimers when I wasn’t entirely certain that quotes were accurate, and checked with others who had been at the event. My caution paid off, and the post was well received and heavily commented upon. In fact, four other Math for America teachers (James Cleveland, Amy Hogan, Patrick Honner, and Jose Vilson) have blogged about Andrew Hacker as well – each eloquently expressing their reaction to a perceived attack on math education.

Among the Math for America (MƒA) teacher community, there are almost thirty bloggers, seventeen of whom are actively blogging (with posts written in the past year). Their blogs, listed below, reflect the diversity of our schools, professional and personal experiences, and teaching areas. Each blog merits notice; in the interest of keeping your attention, I will try to summarize a few broad categories which describe them. (The blogs have been listed in alphabetical order by author in each category.)

Sharing Resources and Lesson Ideas

  • MƒA Master Teacher Evanthia Basias has just started her blog, Fun with Geogebra, which promises to be filled with tips for using Geogebra, Desmos, and other dynamic resources in the math classroom.
  • MƒA Master Teacher James Cleveland, in addition to writing reflectively about his classroom, conferences he’s attended, and LGBTQ issues in the classroom, shares instructions, resources and classroom action tips for using games to teach and practice math over at The Roots of the Equation.
  • At A World of Science, you can find detailed project-based curriculum guides, and technology-based how-to videos; additionally, MƒA Master Teacher John Derian also shares auxiliary documents he has created.
  • Steve Gallagher, an MƒA Master Teacher, has generously shared an entire course in Forensic Science over at Crime Scene, complete with lesson plans, photos, worksheets, and relevant links, available to anyone who stops by his website.
  • If you teach AP Statistics (or Algebra 2, or any math, for that matter), A Little Stats is a must-follow blog; Amy Hogan, an MƒA Master Teacher, shares thoughtful activities, data and technology sources, and detailed statistically related recommendations. Not limiting her writing to Statistics resources, Amy’s reaction to Andrew Hacker covered three posts.
  • Over at com, the mission is “to organize the world of Education, Science and Technology to improve lives!”  Towards that end, MƒA Master Teacher Parvez Jamal provides links to articles, videos, and tools; there is something for everyone at his website.
  • At MƒA Master Teacher Michael Zitolo’s wikispaces website, SOF Physics!, you can find physics, programming, and Arduino resources (including his tutorials).

Reflections on Teaching

  • MƒA Fellow Matt Baker, writing at Pythagoras Was a Nerd, questions his teaching and classroom persona publicly, sharing ideas and (bravely) soliciting feedback. He writes about his professional goals before the school year begins, reports on how well he did afterwards, and looks constructively forward, modeling truly reflective practice.
  • It is clear that Kit Golan, an MƒA Master Teacher, uses his blog, Those Who Teach Do More, as a space in which to think through some of the issues we all face – covering depth versus breadth, how to best start the school year, accountable talk in classrooms – as well as to share his personal growth as teacher.
  • Another blog that includes reflection – on classroom practice, relationships with students, graduate school, Pokémon Go and education – is Carl’s Teaching Blog, written by MƒA School Leader Fellow Carl Oliver.
  • Lazy Ocho, MƒA Master Teacher Brian Palacios’s blog, contains in-depth reflections on teaching, professional development, and education policy. Lazy Ocho also has a comprehensive page of online math education resources, categorized by both course and classroom use – thanks for doing the legwork for us!
  • If you want to see how a middle school science teacher ran an aquaponics project, from his Fund for Teachers research trip through a TED talk and visit to the White House, check out MƒA Master Teacher Michael Paoli’s Aquaponics from Europe to Kids in NYC Baby…
  • Howard Stern, an MƒA Master Teacher, reflects on teaching, professional development, technology and school politics at mathmtcs. His recaps of George Hart’s Geometric Constructions workshops include both experiences at MƒA and school.


  • MƒA Master Teacher Brian Cohen’s blog, under the Making the Grade Blog tab at com, primarily addresses both local and national education policy issues.
  • Math teacher, photographer and New York Times contributor, MƒA Master Teacher Patrick Honner shares his teaching reflections, mathematical photography, and policy opinions at Honner. His website is well organized, with links to a great collection of resources.
  • John McCrann, an MƒA Master Teacher, has a spot on Education Week’s Teacher Blogs page. His blog, Prove It! addresses a wide range of topics including experiential education, opting out, race, and privilege and assessment.
  • Author of This is Not a Test and founder of #educolor, MƒA Master Teacher Jose Vilson writes over at JLV. His posts are about race, class, and education; they are thought provoking, and full of relevant references. Jose also has guest writers presenting additional perspectives.

So, why blog? There are as many answers to that question as there are blogs – to make a statement, contribute to the educational community, to publicly journal your experiences. If you want to blog, jump in and give it a try – everyone started somewhere, often with an awkward introductory post! Remember, your blog is primarily for you, for your own professional (and perhaps personal) development. MƒA Master Teacher Brian Palacios (Lazy Ocho) says, “Write for yourself. Be selfish. Post privately if you have to. The act of writing about your teaching will transform your practice and improve it in ways you never thought of.”

Wendy Menard, blogging at Her Mathness, teaches math at Midwood High School at Brooklyn College, where she has been the math department technology coordinator and coach of the math club. She left a career in budgeting and finance to become a math teacher in 2006, inspired by the public school teachers she encountered through her children’s education.  Wendy became an MƒA Master Teacher in 2015, and will be co-facilitating the Racially Relevant Pedagogy PLT with Jose Vilson this fall. 




The Equalizer

My school – with its 4,000+ students – has a resource problem each term.  They need the right number of classes for the right number of students (no more than 34 per class per the UFT contract) with the right number of teachers during the right time of day (our school has 3 split sessions).  At the start of the term, particularly in September, every student is programmed into the classes they are supposed to be taking, and the overadministration has 10 days (I think?) to bring all class sizes down to 34.  Most classes are at maximum capacity.  This means the school needs to determine who the ‘no shows’ are – students who have moved away and not been removed from the roster by the Department of Education, or who have changed schools, or left for some other reason.  Some students appear to be no-shows, but actually arrive to school a week (or two or three) late due to family travel or circumstances, and need to be programmed into the mix.  At the end of approximately two weeks of school, a portion of the students receives new schedules as a result of this process, known as EQUALIZATION.  An interesting choice of word.

So here’s the thing.  I teach a Discrete Math course, which is written as a series of discrete (sorry, couldn’t resist) topics that fall under that mathematical umbrella, or if not, are topics that I deem engaging, relevant, useful and/or creative.  Those topics have included probability, voting theory, logic puzzles, personal finance (how to read a pay stub, taxes, managing a bank account, credit cards), problem-solving strategies, linear programming, and modular arithmetic.  I vary the curriculum from term to term based on the_equalizerprior successes and current class make-up.  I like the course because (a) it’s interesting and (b) we can set our own pace, not shackled by a Regents schedule.  This allows me to use multi-day activities and projects that time constraints do not permit in Algebra 2 or Geometry.

The students who are programmed for this class (and forgive me, regular readers, for being redundant) are students who have (a) failed Algebra 2 (b) passed Algebra 2, but not deemed Pre-Calculus material, (c) passed Geometry but not the Regents exam, and thus not deemed Algebra 2 material.  I have some seniors who are still trying to complete a 4-term Algebra 1 class, and need more math credits to graduate; these students take two math classes in an effort to graduate on time.  I also get a lot of English Language Learners in this class, and students with IEPs, who may have passed everything through Geometry but didn’t sit for the Regents exam.  This class, while serving a purpose for all of these children, is undeniably an off-track class.  Whether or not a student wants this, they are being taken off the higher math track.  This bothers some students, others are relieved that they don’t have to deal with challenging upper level courses.

But when equalization happens, I get a different set of students, who arrive bewildered and somewhat unhappy.  These children have been ‘bumped’ from Algebra 2 to Discrete Math due to class size.  It might just be the process, or perhaps some student arrived late to school, as previously described, and got their seat because it made the overall schedule feasible.  At least two of these children took a look at what we were doing – Number Talks and logic puzzles, and asked to see their guidance counselor.  One young man was particularly displeased told me that he didn’t understand why he was ‘kicked out’ of Algebra 2; he had been doing well for the first few weeks.  I sympathized with his plight, and told him that a parent call to the school might be the most effective means of moving him back.

Did I mention that the vast majority of students in these classes are people of color, and that most of that color is Black? Or perhaps from this story, you have already figured that out.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I respect my students completely, and work very hard to design a course that will open them up to an appreciation of math that they may not have had before, and a sense that mathematics does not represent a door that is closed to them.  I also carefully consider means to differentiate for the wide range of academic readiness (I hate that term, but that’s the best one I can come up with at the moment); a bored and disgruntled student can either check out or become hostile, as happened last fall.

One of my goals this year has been to provide the greatest level of educational opportunity I can for all my students.


So how do I can I accomplish this given the programming constraints at my school, which I am pretty much completely powerless to change (voting with my feet would be my only option)?  I’ve thought about that a lot in the last week or two.  I don’t want to change the curriculum for this course (which I could because as long as there are no complaints or violations of regulations, there is little oversight of this class; I am counted upon to help as many students as possible earn a credit, by any means I deem appropriate).  It’s not supposed to be an Algebra, Geometry or Pre-Calculus class, and I don’t really want to teach it that way.  So I asked the kids on Friday.

I asked them to reflect on why they were in this class, and whether they were satisfied with that. I asked them to tell me what math class they thought they should be in, and what would their ideal math class look like (I did ask them to be more specific than fun/interesting, or no math class at all).  And I asked them to honestly give feedback on what we had done so far, admitting that the content had been questioned as lightweight and/or baby-ish by some.  I did this because I’m not sure how to move them along the spectrum above. I believe that if I can engage them, the content I am providing will prove useful and challenging.  But I wanted to hear their thoughts.  They didn’t all write, but these are some of the reflections I received:

It was good to hear that not only did students find the class challenging, but that, by engaging with the content, their initial impressions of the course were improved.  I’m still not sure I’m providing them with providing with the best possible access to educational opportunity I can.  My attendance in this class is poor, a reflection of many things, one being (I am sure) the seriousness with which the students view this class, given the seriousness with which the students themselves have been viewed by the power structure.   I’d love some constructive feedback.





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 planning.name-tent-desmos

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…