Tagged: #mathchat

#DITL Day in the Life: Parent Teacher Conferences

treeautumnredandgrleaves900Today is the Autumnal Education Equinox – the longest day of the teacher’s year: Parent Teacher Conferences.  Arriving at school at 6:45 am, I will be leaving at 8:45 pm, and arrive back at school tomorrow at the same time for round two.  I don’t mind conferences at all, except for this intense two day period.  Tomorrow is a half-day; school is open to parents from 12:15 to 2:15, and the six class periods being held in the morning are shortened to 33 minutes each.  The classes meet earlier than their normal times because of this schedule, so absenteeism is high. I’m not happy to lose the day of instruction, especially with my Algebra 2 kids.

img_9684In Discrete Math, the kids have been working hard on their probability games, creating (among other things) some great artwork for the classroom.  I’ve gotten in touch with a number of parents in those classes in recent weeks (behavior issues, unfortunately), and I’m hoping some of them will come up to school.  Traditionally, however, my elective img_9682classes bring in fewer parent/guardians than my core classes.  In Algebra 2, I just returned an exam on which many students did poorly.  This is a ‘gifted’ track class, so I am expecting a big turnout.

Thursday Night

I was very busy the first night, which is good, and had a fair mix of visitors from both of my courses – Discrete Math and Algebra 2.  As predicted, there were a fair number of Algebra 2 parents who were concerned about their children’s last test grade, and I spelled out for each of them the steps I was taking to support the children in their preparation for the upcoming exam – detailed review sheet mirroring the exam with an answer key,gradecreating weekend study partnerships, and group review of the exam the day before it is to be given – and what their children could do to help themselves – review class notes and problems, ASK questions in class, seek extra help, work through the review. (I felt a little like a broken record, but the truth is that most students need to do all of these things.)  I love being able to share details about their children’s classroom aspect with parents; I remember how important that was when i was on the other side of the table (nothing worse than feeling like your child is not much more than a line in a teacher’s gradebook).

I also had several parents who I had contacted regarding lack of work or challenging behavior on the part of their children; I was very glad to be able to have those conversations face to face, particularly if the student was there.  Some meetings were difficult, however; a student who I cannot engage in one of my Discrete Math classes laughed at his parents as they tried to find out why he refused to participate in any way in my class.  At the very end of the evening, after parents were theoretically no longer to be in the building, I had the opportunity to speak with the mother of a student who has pushed my tolerance to the limit this term – taunting others, copying work, and when submitting work, drawing pornographic pictures on it (don’t ask). Denying his culpability to the last moment, this boy finally agreed to make up some missing work over the long Thanksgiving weekend.  We’ll see.

Friday Afternoon

The half day of classes went very quickly – when periods are a wee bit longer than a half hour, they fly by.  But most of my Algebra 2 kids were in attendance, and dove into screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-6-13-20-pmcorrecting the aforementioned exam. But when conferences began, the afternoon moved much more slowly – I had only 6 visitors.  In fact, I wrote most of the recap of Thursday night while I waiting for parents.  I had a meeting with one more mother of a student who chooses not to do work but rather to argue with and bait me in Discrete Math; this mother is relying on faith to help her son as her other strategies have failed.  She thanked me for my patience, but I wish we could have come up with a better plan.  I’ll keep trying in class.  And so another season’s Parent Teacher Conferences have ended.



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 proud of my launching of the ‘Weekend Study Buddies’ initiative in my Algebra 2 classes; enough students signed up in each class to indicate that it could be a worthwhile effort.  Maybe I can be even more structured about this in the future.

I had a few parents who weren’t satisfied with hearing that ‘many students didn’t do well on the last exam’ and I don’t blame them.  This doesn’t address their child’s specific needs, and I am certain that many of them say to their kids (as I said to mine), “I don’t care what other children do, I only care what YOU do”.  I wish I could have given them more specific information about their child’s performance on the exam, but honestly, with 102 students in Algebra 2, I just didn’t have the data.

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 my first attempt at a group exam process next week.  I hope it improves the results and the students’ level of preparation when it comes to working on their own. A challenge? The flip side of the previous sentence – trying to figure out how to promote deeper understanding of ideas that I think have been clearly presented, how to formatively assess more frequently and effectively so I am not blindsided by clear evidence that deep understanding has not been achieved.

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 had a lovely moment with some of the boys in an Algebra 2 class today.  Our school won the New York City PSAL Baseball Championship last year; apparently we have a number of young superstars, and the winning pitcher is in my 3rd period class.  These boys are already being recruited by colleges; some commit to an institution as early as their sophomore year, only to find out that ‘better’ schools might want them enough to provide full scholarships later on. We discussed the pros and cons of making an early decision, and they made me promise that ‘when’ they were in the Championship series again this year, I would attend the game (I sadly could not last June).

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?

The attainment of my goal of building better relationships with my students is progressing in many cases, but not all.  I am working towards seeking more educational opportunity for all of them, and looking honestly at myself and my behaviors that may or may not promote that.  As I faced the parents of my black and Muslim students, I thought about the racism and prejudice they face, and their fears in light of the presidential election result.  I want to be an ‘ally’ in the true sense of the word.  I am trying to use my empathy and privilege to create safe spaces.  I don’t know if I am succeeding, although I have made it clear that equity is a theme in my classroom.

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

November 2016 has not been my favorite month.  The world is changing in a way that I cannot predict.  I don’t want to live in fear, but rather channel my grief and outrage into action, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.  I’m hoping to find co-conspirators in this effort, and to hold myself accountable to that goal.

And I hope my Algebra 2 kids do better on the next exam…. ; )




Day in the Life: October 21, 2016

Friday, Friday!giphy

It’s hard to feel that joyous at 6:10 AM, waiting for the bus in the dark. This is the first full five day week in three weeks, so I’m a little tired. I am looking forward to the weekend, but I am attending a full day restorative justice training tomorrow (Saturday), so I  won’t be sleeping in for another day or two.  I’m also feeling the hint of a scratchy throat and post nasal drip, and hoping that the extra vitamins and Airborne I downed this morning keep the threatening cold at bay; hopefully the momentum and energy of the day will push me past it.

The nice thing about commuting this early in the morning is that it’s quiet and quick. (I’m actually the only one on the bus for the first few stops.)I see the same group of 4 women taking their daily walk around the park at 6:15 AM; I’ve seen them every day for the last 5 years, and know the bus is right behind them.  I sort of envy their ritual and imagine how much of each other’s lives they’ve shared in this early morning trek.  Then again, they’re getting up before 6 am when they don’t have to, so maybe envy isn’t the right feeling. 😜

I’m always amazed at how much is already happening at school when I arrive at 6:45.  I eat breakfast at my desk and open up my lesson for algebra two. I’m introducing quadratic inequalities today, and I am nervous. My department tends to teach this topic in a completely procedural manner, and I am determined to get the children some conceptual understanding before we go into procedure. I’m borrowing an idea from Sam Shah, but I don’t really have the time to go through his entire excellent exploration. I decide to use a demonstration on Desmos; the students can open the calculator on their phones, and do the exploration along with me. First we have to review compound linear inequalities, and I know from experience, that even though they have seen these in middle school and Algebra 1, for many children, it will be as if this is a brand new topic this morning. Knowing that they need to understand linear any qualities before we even approach quadratic inequalities makes me nervous; given our departmental pacing calendar, I don’t have time to spend a whole period on this introduction. I also know, that if I don’t make sure everyone is familiar with linear inequalities, that I will lose one third of the class when we move onto quadratics. This push-pull between the pacing calendar and the realities of my students’ proficiency informs most of my instruction. It’s 30 minutes to showtime, so I’m off to set up my classroom.


My first 2 classes were back-to-back sections of Algebra 2, ‘gifted’ track; I was spontaneouslyuntitled observed during the first class, which of course meant that the SmartBoard wasn’t working properly.  The display was functional, however, so all was not lost.  We began with this warm-up, and things went as I predicted.  Most of the students were comfortable with the first two problems, many were not with the second pair.  As they worked and conferred with one another, Iuntitled asked students to put some correct and incorrect work on the board (I thanked the students who were putting incorrect work on the board, and told them that they were giving the class the opportunity to look at a common error).  We did a lot of noticing and wondering, and then moved on to some purely algebraic examples, which served to surface further questions, such as ‘Does the variable always need to be on the left?’ and ‘Do we read the inequality from left to right or right to left?’.  All great questions which reflect conceptual misunderstandings that should be corrected before we go further.

By the time we worked through the Do Now and the three examples above, and reviewed how to express the solutions in Interval and Set Builder Notation, there was barely time for independent practice, and quadratics?  Hopefully on Monday.  I spoke to my AP during the observation; she also teaches a section of Algebra 2 and agreed that the pacing needed to be adjusted to make sure the students were recalling all that prior knowledge we were assuming they had.

I have a break after these two classes which is supposed to be my lunch period (it’s from 9:45 to 10:30); I have a student monitor during that time who is great at sorting through paperwork, checking in homework, and running errands that would eat up the free period. Two Algebra 2 students from different sections stopped by for help with the previous night’s homework.  I am always very glad to see kids with questions, and wish there were more who had the time or inclination to come ask.  Quite frequently this makes the difference between moving forward with the class or getting left further behind.

After ‘lunch’ comes my daily challenge – three classes in a row: another section of Algebra 2 sandwiched in between two sections of Discrete Math.  The character of the two Discrete Math sections is very different.  In the first section, the attendance is healthy, as is the percentage of work submitted by students, and participation.  We are in the middle of a unit on probability, and after a week of spinners and dice, we have moved on to Expected Value.  It’s the first time I’ve taught this topic, and I’m enjoying it, as are the students who are allowing 140426_1themselves to stay involved.  Yesterday we spent the period flipping marbles2quarters and manipulating game score structures to change the expected value for each player.  Today, I proposed a marble game to the students (they would pick a marble from a bag, and I would pay them a certain amount of money depending on the color), and asked the kids how much they would pay to play.  (By the way, my students are very wary and kind of cheap! No gamblers here.) The kids are intrigued because the math is accessible, the topic is not hugely remote, and in fact, entertaining.  Next week, we are moving on to Money Duck, which will be followed by students will be designing their own money animals.  The final assessment for the unit will be a group (optional) project in which the kids design carnival games.  This is not my project, and I’m not sure who created it – a quick Google search reveals the same pdf file on several websites.  Here’s the version I am using (many thanks to its originator):


I am really looking forward to seeing these games.

The afternoon Algebra 2 class ran similarly to the morning sections, and my teaching day finished with my second, and more challenging, Discrete Math class.   This class has lower and varying attendance; I have a group of boys who come to class intermittently, and sometimes all together. The class has five current or former English Language Learners, six students with IEPs, and many of the students (ELL/IEP or not) are not on track for graduation.  There are twenty seven students on the roster, but I rarely have more than sixteen in class (except for the day I was observed, natch – how do the kids know??).  Although I’m not dealing with the type of hostility I encountered last fall, there is a smarmy and somewhat sexist lack of respect coming from some of the young men which I have not yet found an effective way to counter.  The content is engaging (games of chance, logic puzzles, tossing dice, flipping coins and collecting data).  I’ve tried private conversations, reaching out to guidance counselors, and some phone calls home.  I am avoiding involving the Dean’s office unless absolutely necessary.  I realize that the problematic students are outnumbered by those who are working and engaged, but the off-task behavior seems to control the class.  I’m frustrated; it’s the end of the first marking period, and we’ve got a long way to go this term.  I’m contemplating individual goal-setting and contracts to start the second marking period, but have a feeling that this may not be the best strategy with 17 year olds who have not found anything worthwhile in a math classroom in quite a while.  If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Today is the end of the first marking period, so there was a flurry of late work submitted to my inbox.  I allowed corrections on DeltaMath for the last Algebra 2 quiz; many, MANY students took advantage of this opportunity, and I have decided to give back 50% of the points.  When students do corrections by retaking assessments in my presence, I usually return 100% of the points.  But after a lot of thought, I decided that working through examples on a website was great practice and progress toward mastery, but not necessarily evidence of independent proficiency.  It’s tricky, and not something I have done before.  We don’t do standards based grading at my school, but I am a firm believer in allowing students the opportunity to take the time they need to learn.  I don’t, however, have a complete structure in place, and occasionally worry that my foray into allowing corrections will backfire – it only takes one angry and vocal parent to create a problem.

It’s 3:46 P.M. – I’ve been at school for NINE HOURS.  I have a pile of grading which needs to get done in time for marking period grades to be submitted early next week, and I’m still fighting my body’s urge to succumb to the cold.  If I go home, get in bed, and rest for a day, I might avoid it.  But the restorative justice training tomorrow beckons….

img_9524I could continue this post for the rest of my day, but I can predict what the next six hours will look like:  me in pajamas, fending off kittens while I try to grade papers and sip tea.  Eventually I will crash with a crossword puzzle (and I predict that the training will have to happen another time; the thought of getting sick right now NOT ALLOWED).


Happy Halloween! from geobarnett.com


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 think my decision to stay focused on linear inequalities and surface misconceptions was a good one; if I pushed ahead to quadratics, not only would I have lost some students content-wise, but their frustration might have farther reaching consequences beyond this lesson.  And when kids come to talk to me about their homework, I know that they trust me, and care enough about the class to make sure they are keeping up.

Not ideal – I can’t seem to strike the right note with the boys that are giving me some trouble in my last class.  I can feel my temperature rising with some of their rudeness, and have wished that I could say what I am thinking…not a good sign.

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?


As we shift to the Common Core standards in Algebra 2, I am committed to moving beyond procedural teaching and investing the time in looking at bigger ideas; I know I have made some concrete steps in this direction in a number of lessons, and I’m looking forward to continuing with that work.  As far as challenges, I think I’ve described them pretty well in this post.  It’s ongoing.

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.

A student came up to me the day before yesterday and asked me if he could still retake the first quiz.  Before I answered, he apologized for being out of it (which I hadn’t noticed; he had been participating in class), and said he had a lot going on at home.  I asked him if he was okay, and he told me that his parents were splitting up.  He choked up and had tears in his eyes.  I felt so badly, and we talked for a few minutes.  I think it’s hard for boys to be emotional like this in high school, and I’m glad he trusted me enough to reach out for help.  He’s been out for the last two days, and I am concerned.

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 continually try to connect with the students as the term goes on.  My response to the students in my Discrete Math classes that are challenging me is more open and conciliatory than it has been in the past, despite my frustration with some of their behavior.  The conversation with Damon (previous question) shows me that there ‘s so much going on with our kids that we can’t see, especially in a math classroom.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Next week the Racially Relevant Pedagogy PLT I am facilitating with Jose Vilson meets for the first time – I am nervous and excited.  We had a great planning meeting last week, and I think we’re pretty good collaborators.  I was also proud to have my blog post in the Math for America Teacher Voices blog a week or so ago.



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…