The Longest Day of the Year – #DITL December 21, 2016


6:18 a.m.  – On the Bus

img_9793Yikes- Day in the life on the longest darkest day of the year!  Despite a restless night with a kitten whose loud purring is adorable when you’re NOT trying to sleep, I’m full of energy (well, that may be somewhat of an exaggeration at 6:24 am) this morning.  Yesterday was a banner day- the piece about me in Chalkbeat (see previous post) and a meeting of the MfA Racially Relevant Pedagogy PLT with incredible flow and connection. Feeling blessed, lapsed Jew that I am.

Another good thing today: I didn’t forget my phone and materials for after-work commitments (like I did yesterday).  I am good to go.

And three days until break.  Not going anywhere, and not too many plans – just reading , quilting, restoring.  Can. Not. Wait.

But there’s three days of math to do as well. In Algebra 2, we’ll be looking at modeling with quadratic functions, and in my Discrete Math classes, art created with geometric transformations and modular arithmetic will take us through the end of the week.  As I  am typing this on the bus, I decide to look for a Desmos activity when I get to school to introduce the quadratic modeling topic, postponing the worksheet (exploratory though it is) until tomorrow. I received an email yesterday telling me that a two day topic previously included in our pacing calendar has been removed, buying me two days of breathing room and time to let the kiddies play math a little.  An early holiday gift.

6:55 a.m. – Arrival at school 

A search of Desmos yields two activities I’m going to use, with a third option in my back pocket.  I decide to start with Build A Bigger Field as an introduction to modeling, followed img_9794by a Modeling Card Sort to suggest the use of different models for different situations (not all students may finish both activities, but that’s okay).  And I think I will assign everyone’s fave, Will It Hit the Hoop? for homework.  Plenty of time for debrief andimg_9795 worksheet explorations tomorrow.  The students will be turning in their Illustrated Task Projects today; maybe I can post a few while observing their progress on the iPads.  I love lessons like this.  The kids are engaged, talking about math, and I can…watch. It’s a beautiful thing – thanks yet again, Desmos! The time is 7:28 am; and with 32 minutes to first bell, it’s time to set up.

9:57 4th Period Prep

The Algebra 2 classes during Periods 2 and 3 went fairly well; the students enjoyed working their way through the activities, although many of them struggled without success, particularly, in response to this question: screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-10-52-11-amto my surprise (I need to stop being surprised by stuff like this).  This is when the fabulous Pause button came in handy; I stopped the class and we discussed the relationship of area and perimeter, and how to express the dimensions of a rectangle if the perimeter is untitledknown.  The big idea that the vertex of the downward facing parabola will represent the maximum value of the function in a real world context was clear (or appeared to be) by the end of the class.  Tomorrow, the students will on some problems involving projectile motion; I’m hoping thatBuild A Bigger Field laid some solid groundwork.  I guess I’ll find out, won’t I?
During my prep, I was visited by one of my favorite students, Saidul.  He is a recent immigrant from Bangladesh, lightning sharp with an impish sense of humor.  When he transferred to our school a year and a half ago from another high school where he was not succeeding, our wonderful Assistant Principal of Foreign Language realized that he had a high school (through 10th grade) diploma from his home country , and that only his poor English skills (which rapidly improved under the tutelage of our excellent ESL teachers) were hindering his progress.  He was in my late afternoon Geometry class last spring, a rambunctious group, packed with ELLs and IEP students.  These kids must have loved myclass, because attendance was high throughout the term, as img_9802were their spirits, cameradarie, and high jinks.  Saidul earned highest marks – I did my best to keep him challenged – and helped his friends whose English skills were not so well developed with their Geometry.  He was a godsend in this sense; there were boys I could not help given the size and behavior of the class, and Saidul taught them.  This term he is in Algebra 2 with a teacher who takes many shortcuts in his lessons and is known for giving high grades.  But Saidul is a math nerd at heart, and wants to understand the big ideas behind what is learning.  So he visits me frequently, and we both enjoy our lessons immensely.  I’m always glad this high-spirited and intelligent student has crossed my path.
Today, he came in for some assistance with evaluating expressions with rational exponents – using a calculator.  His teacher has told the class that they will be having a quiz, and can ONLY use a calculator.  WHAT?? I taught him how to enter the expressions with the appropriate parentheses to insure the correct order of operations, shaking my head all the while. Despite his confusion with his teacher’s direction, he wants to do well.  So we worked, despite being mystified.

2:27 p.m. School day is over

In my Discrete Math classes, we began the clock art projects – perfect for the last three days before break.  I love this project because it involves math in an accessible and non-threatening way, and the products are so striking.  The students were busy working out how to reflect simple shapes without a coordinate grid, and then perfecting their designs.  In the middle of class, I received a visit from a student I didn’t recognize.  She handed me an envelope and said, “My sister wanted me to give you this.”img_9803
The young woman who wrote this, now a student studying math and adolescent education at Oswego State College, was my student seven years ago.  Teaching her was a bright spot during some extremely difficult days at my previous school; she learned everything quickly, always sought challenge work, and kept the most amazing notebook I have ever seen (she actually gave it to me!).  I don’t teach so that students will come back and thank me, but boy, when they do, well, it makes everything worthwhile.  I can’t wait to see Teresa in her own classroom.
The Desmos exploration in the third Algebra 2 class was less successful in than the other two classes; the students could not seem to grasp the relationship between the lengths of the sides and the area when graphed as a parabola, nor did they understand (most of them, anyway) that the square would yield the biggest area.  The class as a whole did not seem to take the activity very seriously, and I wonder how I can make them more accountable for digging a little deeper with their thinking without holding a grade over their heads.  This is a goal for me – how to insert myself into the process just enough to keep them focused on bigger ideas.

Many of the illustrated task projects are great; it is clear that a lot of students went the extra mile with graphic design, and my classroom is looking mathematically festive.  I was touched by the [very bad] math jokes students put on their mini-posters.

During 8th period, the Instructional Cabinet (of which I am a member) met.  This is a group of teachers and administrators charged with improving instruction school-wide through focused efforts; this fall, the entire school has been working through mini-inquiry cycles.  The principal attended this meeting, and greeted me with an acknowledgment of the interview in Chalkbeat, which started off like this: “When I first saw the headline Midwood Teacher…., I thought, ‘Oh sh*#!?#t, what did she say?'”.  My fearless leader – ‘nuf said.  I was asked to sit on this committee by my Assistant Principal, a woman who I admire and who always has my back, so I said yes.  But I’m not feeling like it’s a place where I can be effective, probably because of the traditional (and somewhat limited) vision of the school leadership.  Another reason I think the meetings feel frustrating to me is that there is a subtext among all the APs that I can’t translate.  It’s a learning experience, anyway.

Time to leave school – I’ve got 2 (actually 3 – a pair of twins!) private students this afternoon.

8:08 p.m. Home at Last

My private tutoring this afternoon was quite odd.  I have begun working with an eighth grader who, according to his mother, has a math phobia.  This is not what I have observed in the few weeks we have been meeting, but he does seem very disorganized and exhausted when we meet.  He has a fraternal twin brother who has worked with us for test preparation purposes, which was the ostensible purpose for today’s 90 minute session.  The boys have the same math teacher but are in different classes, but unfortunately, the twin (my not-regular student) had his exam today, while his brother has his exam tomorrow.  They arrived at the coffee bar where I  meet with students, purchased a snack, and came to sit down.  At first my student was moderately upbeat (he’s a low energy kid), and grinned as he wolfed down the two brownies he bought.  He then proceeded to crash, and working with him became painfully difficult.  His brother good-naturedly did the problems we were reviewing, and my student was hugely apologetic, but it was frustrating, to say the least.  I don’t like not earning my hourly fee.
Despite requests, I haven’t seen a textbook or organized notebook for this child, although I’ve asked the parent.  She has told me how forgetful he is.  But I know after today’s experience, that I need to have a discussion with her about whether this is the right fit.  I’m happy to work with this boy, but I am uncomfortable if I am not doing my job.
My final act of work for the day was a session with a ninth grader, a bright and extremely conscientious student I have been working with on and off for three years.  She is studying Geometry, and has a very rigorous teacher, which gives me the opportunity to talk at length about my first mathematical love.  We have a definite patter, this girl and I, and the hour flew by.  We even stayed an extra 5 minutes because I just HAD to talk to her about perpendicular bisectors and circumcenters.  My geometry folk will understand – those conversations just don’t happen frequently enough!  ; )
There isn’t too much of the evening left for me – with a 5:30 wake up time, my goal (usually not achieved) is to be in bed by 10 pm.  I’ve got to wrap this gift for my student monitor, custom-made by my daughter, and maybe I’ll go through a few homework papers.  But maybe I won’t – like my mother used to tell me about doing the laundry, they’ll still be there waiting for me in the morning.



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 was happy with my decision to go for a more student-centered exploratory activity in Algebra 2, although I think the decisions I made in the moments of class as far as directing or guiding student work could have been better, making the lesson more effective.

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 the Discrete Math projects; I know that many students will be able to relax their math performance anxiety and have fun with the assignment.

The challenge I am facing as a teacher at the moment is structuring the end of the term in Algebra 2.  I am concerned that there are holes in the content I have taught because of our choppy shift to the Common Core standards.  I won’t have the same kids in the spring for the most part, and I want to make sure I have sent them off to other teachers well prepared.

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.

As I described in the post, I had a wonderful meeting with Saidul today.  I love that he trusts me to teach him ‘the right way’, and that he seeks me out to deepen his understanding.  He’s so bright and interested, and I hope he keeps going with his education.  As a recent immigrant, he may have some rough times ahead.  I worry.

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.  What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

I think my connections with students are strong, and the steps I am continually taking to see them, really see them, help.  There are still students who have pushed me to the edge of caring with their attitudes, even though I know some of the extreme behavior is a cry for attention and help.  But still, I think I am making progress towards my goal.

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

The article in Chalkbeat, and the reaction from colleagues and friends has been overwhelmingly wonderful and warming, and something I sorely needed this month.  There have been personal and medical trials, and the waves of love remind me of what is important.  I’m a lucky gal.



  1. mathtans

    First, congrats on the interview – I see social justice as being a bigger issue going forwards, and it’s great you’re getting positive response. The art/math connection for Discrete here is interesting to me. (By the way, your Algebra2 question graphic won’t seem to load on my end?) The jokes are fun (I always like me some good/bad math jokes) and it’s great that you’re hearing from former students. Thanks for posting, all the best with your structuring efforts.

    FYI, I’ve linked/summarized this particular post in my DITLife roundup; let me know if that’s a problem. (

    • Wendy Menard

      Greg – thanks for reading. I’m not sure which graphic you’re referring to that isn’t loading – what is the text around it? I really enjoy doing the art project in Discrete Math – I’m even thinking of using it in Geometry because of its relationship to transformations. I would love to have the students to do more than one project using different bases or types of transformation on the table. Also – thanks for your Days in the Lives recap! Happy to be included.

      • mathtans

        The graphic is under “4th period prep”, the text is “many of them struggled without success, particularly, in response to this question: (*unloadable image*) to my surprise”. I tried clicking on it individually, and my browser gave me a GMail popup, so I logged into my GMail, and it told me that image was “Gone”. I’m guessing it’s in your GMail only, with some permissions issue? Maybe?

        Geometry is where I often see reference to art connections, hence my interest in your using Discrete instead. Hope it works out whichever direction you take it… I hadn’t even considered different bases. Happy to include you!

  2. Wendy Menard

    For some reason, the image was gone – not sure why. I’ve added it back; thanks for noticing. I wonder whether it was ever in there, and you are the first one who read closely enough…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s