Teacher User Manual

I went to a great workshop last week on building relationships among teachers, and I was inspired by the idea of teachers in my department creating a “User Manual” for themselves (that they then share with me…and others?).

We all know the user manual we get when we buy a new appliance or piece of technology. It comes with some information on how it works best and what things to avoid.

So why don’t we do something similar for ourselves?! To help in building relationships and clarifying some of our personal preferences, I want my teachers to take the time to reflect on how they work best (as well as their pet peeves). This manual is a chance to bring up personal preferences and routines so that we know how best to work with each other, possibly preventing some future conflicts. It is a place for some unfiltered brainstorming on how we work best. For instance:

  • What is the best time of day to drop by your office?
  • What is your preferred method of communication?
  • Is there a routine you have during a part of the day?

As an example, for me, having quiet time in the early morning is really important. Before first period is a time where I focus and organize myself for my day, take one last look over my lesson plans, etc., and I prefer that time to be uninterrupted. So I can communicate in my own user manual that the mornings are not a good time to “stop by.” If there is a concern you have first thing in the morning, send me and email about it or to schedule a time to talk.

Here is the link to what I came up with: Teacher User Manual.  I’d love to hear thoughts and suggestions for it before I roll it out!




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Math with Opinions

What is the flavor of my classroom? I have been struggling with what to say to be able to join in on Sam Shah’s amazing Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors for a few weeks now. Sam is asking us to respond to the question:

How does your class move the needle on what your kids think about the doing of math, or what counts as math, or what math feels like, or who can do math?

The short answer is: debate. I have spent a lot of time developing structures and strategies to make my classroom a place where students can discuss and debate math!

Those who know me, know I love to talk strategies for debate in the classroom. However, my struggle in writing this post is to be clear that in my classroom, debate is more than the claim/warrant structure I share in 30-60min sessions at conferences. For me, it is a real and important part of the fabric of my classroom culture. I want students to know that anyone can talk and debate math. I want them to know that doing math can involve opinions, and I want them to feel that math can be messy, argumentative and beautiful.

As a former speech and debate student-turned-coach, I saw the power of both public speaking and creating debatable arguments for students. Furthermore, in the subject of mathematics, a subject solidly grounded in reasoning, proof and argumentation, I saw a place to connect debate strategies to content learning. So, I have tried to create a classroom where students do the talking, explaining their thinking and creating opinions to open-ended questions. It is my goal that at least once every school day, students have an opportunity to debate and discuss something (though I can’t think of a day where it only happened once)!

My delight is seeing students struggle as their mindset shifts from the idea that math is where you (a) learn a new formula/concept and then (b) solve a worksheet of similar problems to idea that math is a living subject, where people discuss and debate best strategies or interpretations of information. I want students to not only understand the math but be able to articulate arguments to questions like:

  • What is the best method for solving this problem?
  • Which piece of information is the least important here?
  • How will you most affectively improve this work?


FYI: More about my debate structure can be found on my blog here, here and here (among other posts)!


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TMC18–Cleveland Rocks!

What a delight it was to travel to my old hometown for TMC18, expertly hosted by Dave and others at St. Ignatius HS.  My close friend Mattie and I ran a morning session again on discussion and debate in the math class to a full room. I also convinced 3 of my new co-workers to apply and attend!

As always, I was overwhelmed by great ideas. Here are some things I want to work on this year:

  • Assessing with Desmos (a la Julie and Jonathan)–remember to press pause so they can not go back and change answers.
  • Connecting with other math teachers and coaches about leadership in Heather’s session.
  • Writing in math class! I want each student to have a math journal that stays in the classroom and they write in once a week. Thanks to Cindy at St. Ignatius!
  • Need to check out Games for Young Minds.
  • Remember: you are not an imposter. We are all teacher leaders! Let’s build up! (Thanks, Julie)

So looking forward to TMC19 in Berkeley, CA next July!!


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PD-Reflection Bingo Board

Let me start with this: I don’t love formal observations. As department chair, I get that they are necessary for a paperwork-admin-trail sort of thing, but when working with teachers, I don’t find that they lead to the best conversations, at least not for me. Formal observations can be a bit too stuffy, the lesson can be jazzed up more than normal, and altogether we don’t necessarily get a genuine snapshot of what the teacher is doing/strengths/struggles/etc.

So, I’m doing formal observations as needed for the teachers in my department. At my school, that’s once every 3 years. But what about all the time in between? How can I really help my colleagues learn and grow in genuine ways? How do we even get to the point where we can be aware of areas to focus on? There’s so much out there to do, how do I help each individual find the right tools for growth?

Then I listened to this great podcast episode (that is also blogged here) from The Cult of Pedagogy about various types of PD. Choice #3 in the blog post inspired me to do my own choice/bingo board of options for PD. Below is what I came up with, a PD Bingo board of options that teachers in my department can do next year. The goal is that each month (just for next year) they will choose a different option. Each of these options can be very minimal in time commitment (but teachers are also welcome to run with it as they please!).

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The instructions will be for teachers to work on a different square each month, providing a variety of experiences throughout the year. The goal is that through this variety they can find both (1) topics they want to focus on for growth and (2) the method(s) of coaching they most prefer. I want my colleagues to see that coaching and PD does not just have to be formal or informal observations. I want them to see a range of options that I consider PD or personal growth.

My hope is that after a year of this, each teacher can set more specific individual goals and a specific method (or two) of working toward that goal. Then, instead of doing such a variety, we can focus on the best method for that teacher…though we can always mix it up again as wanted!


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Pi Week!

This year, our math department really wanted to make math exciting and visible around campus in conjunction with Pi Day. So we decided to make a whole week (well actually only 3 days) out of it! Here’s what we did.

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3.12 MondayThe Pi Chain

During math classes the previous Friday and Monday, students decorated a link (a rectangular piece of construction paper) that represented one of the digits of pi. Each class was assigned a section of digits and made a chain for their section, connecting each student’s link.

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The links were also color coded by digit.

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Then, during Monday’s lunch period, we had a (not-so-ceremonial) hanging of the Pi Chain, wrapping it around all the math classrooms.

3.13 Tuesday – The Scavenger Hunt

Teams of 3-5 students signed up in advance for a scavenger hunt that would happen during Tuesday’s lunch. Our department worked in advance to create a series of clues that were puzzles, cyphers, etc, leading students around campus to various rooms to get the next clue. At the end of the clues, they were directed back to my classroom, where they had to put their clues together to figure out the code to the lock box, opening the locks (escape room style).

Teams had to come up with team names, and the winning teams were named “The Inte-girls” and “Dobby’s Sock.” The prizes were math-y tshirts, candy and these amazing ruler-slap-bracelets I recently learned about!

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3.14 Wednesday – Pi Day

Due to various other events (like the student walk out) on Wednesday 3/14/18, we were lower-key on the actual pi day. In my classes, students wrote Pi-Kus (see the link for more info). Teachers and students wore math-y shirts, and during lunch, students were selling pies as a fundraiser!

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Additionally, over all 3 days, we had tables set up during lunch periods with (student run) math puzzles, games, tangrams, rubik’s cubes, etc. Students were free to stop by and just play with math-y challenges. Teachers (not in math) dropped by too!

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We are already talking about how to grow this for next year!!

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CMC-S Day 1 (or why have I never hung out with Robert Kaplinsky?)

Today’s actually my second day at the CMC South conference in Palm Springs. I came a day early for the math coaches workshops on the pre-conference day–awesome chance to connect with other teacher leaders from all around. However, the highlight of my extra day had to be a walk through the Palm Springs street fair with Robert Kaplinsky. Though I’ve known Robert online and as a (powerful) presence at conferences, I’ve never had the time to hang out with him one on one before…so glad I did! Thanks, Robert, for the chat and for convincing me to attend your session! More on that further on in this post…

I wanted to give a quick thank you to all the people who attended my debate session! A copy of my slides are here: CMC Conference Slides! It was the first time I did the talk in a large room, a less intimate setting, and (though it all went well!), I’m starting to think about how I would re-work it in the future for a large space. I’m learning that I’m a teacher/presenter/adult that enjoys small group settings.

After a wonderful lunch with some of my favorite (and new!) math teacher friends, I made my way to Robert’s talk. If you haven’t seen his Open Middle problems or heard him talk, definitely check them out! I had a great time working alongside Eric Martin as we created our own open middle problems. A (messy) vision of what I did is below:

There’s something interesting that really stood out to me about these problems (and the presentation on a macro level)–I felt a similarity between the session I attended and the one I led. Creating these open middle problems and creating debate-able questions are two different styles/methods with similar goals. For one, we both want to help teachers see ways to improve their questioning. My style is to foster more discussion and debate through creating debate-able questions, and Open Middle is re-working questions in its way to challenge students and increase discussion/engagement around problems. We’re both deepening students’ understanding of the math and awareness of misconceptions. We’re both trying to increase student engagement and to allow for various methods. It’s just the details in how we do it that is different.

Of course there are plenty of ways to contrast the two, but sitting in Robert’s talk, I noticed how similar even the structure and style of the presentation was. We both take teachers through this journey of doing the kind of problems we want them to do, creating problems by sharing a method of developing problems similar to what we just did and sharing resources to extend their exploration and learning in what we are each doing. (Granted, Robert is waaaaaaay ahead of me on collecting and collating resources, but I’m just saying we have a similar flow.)

It’s really a feeling, and I still struggling to put the connection into words.


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More Barbies–in Calc

I start my (non AP) Calculus class every year with two days reviewing lines, slopes, functions, etc…and we spice it up by (quickly) doing the Barbie Bungee Jump activity! There’s lot of places to read more about that. So I won’t go into that any further.

However, I really wanted to add both more fun activities to the rest of my units AND have more of a continuous through-line. So, I tried to include a Barbie-centered activity in my introduction to derivatives, including average velocity vs. instantaneous velocity, etc. I came up with Barbie walking the runway!

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Page 2:

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It worked really well! They had fun, and we talked a lot about slope=velocity. The last page had some questions more textbook-y, asking them to apply the ideas in new problems:

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Email me if you want the full doc!

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