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.

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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!


Can’t Write


Since I returned from Exeter last Friday, I’ve had ‘write blog post’ on my to-do list.  And I thought  I would do it tonight.

But I can’t.

I can’t write about what happened in my safe white privileged world when a black man is shot at point blank range by police officers while pinned on the ground.

I can’t write about my week in the country when a school lunch supervisor is killed in his car while reaching for his license and registration as directed by a law enforcement officer.

I won’t write about my own sorrow at these heinous acts – these horrible manifestations of white power –  because my sorrow and discomfort are not important and besides the point.  I should be uncomfortable now.  We all need to be uncomfortable – especially fellow white folk – uncomfortable enough to speak up and demand that the killings stop, and that those who have killed are held accountable.

Maybe in a week or so, I’ll feel like talking about my math camp experience(s).  But tonight, elaborating on those details is unthinkable and disrespectful.  Read this piece in the New York Times by Michael Eric Dyson instead:

What White America Fails to See






Last days, first day

It’s been a bit of a wild ride since my last post.  Well, maybe not wild, but non-stop end-of-year and family stuff.   I wanted to write, but simultaneously didn’t – I’ve been working out some thoughts about my teaching [and my life, I suppose] privately.  It’s 7:03 am and I’m in my spacious room at Exeter, my body refusing to begin catching up on the sleep it badly needs at the end of the school year.  So before the summer really begins, and suffuses last term with a [rosy?] glow, I figure I should do some reflecting.

The school year ended well – working in reverse.  Our students return for 2 days and an hour (for report cards) after 11 days off for Regents exams.  A brilliant plan – don’t you agree.  Most of the day my room looked like the picture to the right.IMG_8204   The few students who came to my trig classes had some questions about the Regents exam, and were then played very low key games of 24 and SET. In one of my Geometry classes, I had one student – sweet Nalain, who sat and made hexaflexagons with me for half an hour and then politely asked if he could go talk to his art teacher. IMG_8209 But during 8th period – my last class of the year, and of the day, three Geometry students and a friend showed up; I gave them a set of Blokus and watched them go.  It was absolutely delicious to listen to their banter while they challenged (and helped) each other, and when the bell which ended my first decade of teaching rang – they asked if they could stay and finish their game.  Why we teach, to be sure.

My Algebra 2/Trig classes finished the year well, with engaging mini-units (all there was time for) on Statistics (regressions and normal distribution), Probability (binomial and otherwise), and Sequences and Series.  The Alg2/Trig team met at the end of exams and re-organized our curriculum to better align it to the Common Core Standards (or whatever version NYS decides to go with), and I know these units will get much better attention next year because of the revised pacing.  We will be using as our pacing guide with a little juggling of the units to better meet our non-annualized schedule’s needs.  And my work over the last three years to teach our current curriculum conceptually rather than purely procedurally (like many most of my colleagues) has finally paid off – my Regents scores reflect a group of students who have mastered the wide range of topics covered by the full year course.  Test scores are not the be all and end all, I know.  But in an environment that highly prizes success on the Regents exam by students and teachers, it feels good to meet the bar the school has set.

IMG_8016I never recapped my Spiky Door project.  As you can see from the photo, we did, indeed, create our Spiky Door.  The students drew their scaled nets, constructed pyramids, and calculated their volume and surface area.  I borrowed liberally [completely] from Kate Nowak and Lisa Bejarano for this project, although I did not have the students draw three dimensional sketches of their figures; we hadn’t done anything along those lines in class, and I felt unprepared to teach them.    My version of the project is here:

tess introThe year in Geometry ended with a small project on tessellations.  When we returned to school after Memorial Day, there were 8 days of instruction left, broken up by a professional day and a day off for the first Algebra 2 Common Core Regents exam, with Senior Prom falling in the middle.  In other words, lovely June weather, an inconsistent schedule and high absences.  I wanted something handtess2s-on that students could work on at different paces, with built in extra challenges.  We talked about Escher (of course) and looked at his art IMG_8120work, and the geometry therein.  We played with pattern blocks and made tessellations with regular polygons.  I found wonderful step-by-step images of how to create tessellations using different types of transformations in this lesson from the Exploratorium.   At first, I encountered some resistance (“pattern blocks are for babies.”), but the students kept each other in line, amazingly enough (“shut up – this is fun!”).  And the beauty of this project, just as with Spiky Door – 100% engagement.  Lots of banter, lots of math talk, and results from everyone.

Unfortunately, I do not have photos of the completed tessellations – many of which were quite lovely – although I have saved all of them as artifacts.  You’ll have to take my word for it.

I am still not satisfied with all of the results I got in these classes.  In Geometry for example, a unit on Coordinate Geometry came after Spiky Door and before this final assignment.  We spent three weeks on equations of lines, slope, and how slope appears in lines that are parallel or perpendicular.  This unit was less hands-on, and involved more direct instruction and practice (although I have a dynamite exploration on parallel and perpendicular lines, and I don’t have the correct source for it).  The assessment in this unit was traditional (i.e. a quiz), and the results not great.  I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting about whether my expectations for the students are not high enough, or what classroom management strategies might be more helpful in eliciting ‘better’ and more original work across the board; copying became rampant in a unit with many worksheets (lesson learned).

I have a wonderful [teacher] friend, Emma Groetzinger, who left her students and fan club in Brooklyn [me] to study at Stanford this year.  Although she is far away, Emma’s new endeavor has provided us with a richer platform for professional collaboration; because of her more objective perspective and graduate studies, she is able to take a broader view of what is going on in my classroom which helps me enormously in these moments of doubt. This is what she told me – in a text, no less! – when I expressed to her some of the insecurities that continue to plague me about my teaching.

“If we can think about “doing” mathematics as not only the production of right answers but also very much tied up with being able to articulate our thinking, our process, and ask others about theirs… then we may have a broader way to evaluate our classroom spaces for productivity. Sometimes even when kids are not getting things “right” they are still learning, from their own mistakes, from each other, from the value of thinking deeply about their own thinking.”

It’s been a hell of a year.  Time to go write on this amazing pad: IMG_8218


#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!