# Less than 4 weeks?

I can’t believe it’s been 23 days since my last post, because it feels much longer.  Since I wrote “The Color Game”,  the following has happened:

• My family (and anywhere from 1 to 3 guests) has been living in 2 dusty rooms while our house has been getting some long needed (like 20 year) repairs. I know there are many who regularly live their lives in such small quarters, and that the wherewithal to complete this renovation is a blessing, but it has nevertheless been less than optimal for starting a school year.
• I have jumped into my newly acquired Math for America fellowship with my usual over-reaching enthusiasm, and have attended 4 workshops in 3 weeks (which have been, for the most part,

Some MfA fellows are snazzy dressers, too.

intriguing, enlightening and enriching;

• My problem-solving class is in its third mini-unit: we have explored solving problems by drawing diagrams and making lists, and are taking a visit to Discrete Mathland by learning about modular arithmetic.  It’s all been very interesting, not only because of the content but because…
• I’ve had the worst classroom management issues in my Problem Solving classes since I began at this school; I have some belligerent off-track seniors who are challenging my authority while simultaneously requiring a credit from my class in order to graduate in June.  This tension has resulted in a student removal, repeated conversations with exasperated mothers, and a confrontation with two students in the hallway in which my only recourse, truly, was to give them a rather large piece of my mind.  That bit of drama has been effective, at least temporarily.

On the other hand, there have been some wonderful classroom moments, as always:

• I finally tried the In-N-Out lesson, relying heavily on Hedge’s play-by-play post and of course, Robert Kaplinsky’s lesson plan. One of my sections of the Problem-Solving class in which I did this lesson jumped in enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, begging for a road/field trip to the Left Coast for some burgers.  After the students worked out a solution, I showed them this video [which they LOVED; they stayed in class after the bell rang to watch this woman eat her meal].
• Daniel’s Economical List

The kids exhibited a wide variety of representational strategies as we dug into our second problem-solving technique: Make a Systematic List.  It never fails to thrill me to see how many different ways they think about things.  I especially loved Daniel’s lists; he likes to work alone, and doesn’t want to say much.  But he’s always thinking, and always industrious.  I’m thinking about how to provide him with an opportunity to create in a way that he will find motivating.

• The weekly Math Maintenance sheets are always a fave for the kids.  They especially love the addition of Which One Doesn’t Belong Wednesday this year; we have a running contest as to how many distinctions each table can find.  The Friday summary is always revealing – when the children are open to sharing.  I was happy to see that at least one student was enjoying the Modular Arithmetic unit (actually, the patterns accessible and intriguing to many of them).  And as sad as this comment made me, I am thankful that the student reached out for help.

I’m feeling completely overwhelmed, however, by my own curiosity and ambition, and my inability to put into action the items on the ‘must-do’ list that grows with every blog post I read or workshop I attend.  For example, I endeavor several times a week to add a hinge question to my Algebra 2 lessons, per my PCMI goal, but if I’m being completely honest, it’s not a consistent strategy whose use I can document.  Using technology to begin recording some lessons and working towards flipping my classroom is another to-do item; I’ve been sifting through – when I have time – recommended apps and strategies for creating screencasts or videos, but have only recorded one review problem on Show Me thus far.   The list of things I would like to do and am not getting to is growing, depressingly so.   How do I find time for this when the daily requirements of my teaching practice – meeting with students, contacting parents, GRADING, quiz re-takes, re-crafting lessons to counter the management issues of my more difficult classes – already use up more time than I have?

I love teaching math.  I believe – fervently – in public education, and I really enjoy conceptualizing (and planning) electives to engage students who have given up on success or fulfillment in high school math classes.  I’ve worked very hard to get where I am – the school, the fellowship, the classes I teach.  But lately there has been a question lurking in the back of my mind – can I actually get to a point in this career where every year doesn’t have a major struggle?  Or is the drama mine? (Quite possibly.)

My dear un-met friend Megan Schmidt has written a wonderful series of blog posts over the last year – about accepting our lack of control, about not taking things personally, about gratitude.  (By the way, Megan, I am hugely grateful for your blog.)    I love reading these pieces, which resonate deeply within me, and I wish I found these reflective truths myself.  Some days I do.  But many days I question.  And it’s only mid-October.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to planning a creative project using modular arithmetic and geometric transformations, which I read about here.  I think I’ve got a working microphone so I can try recording a lesson from my classroom SmartBoard.  And I’m working my way slowly through Building School 2.0; every section is major food for thought on what schools can and should be.  My oncologist and I spend a lot of time talking about how to best live one’s life.  Maybe continual questioning is it for me.