Mission #2: The Twitter Mission

Justin Lanier’s Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere Challenge (#2 of 8):

Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to try your hand at Twitter. Maybe for the first time, maybe for the first time in a while, maybe in new ways, maybe with new people.


This mission, combined with our blogwork in Mission #1, will provide you a sure foundation for all future Explore MTBoS enterprises. You’ll be platformed up and ready to mingle by the week’s end.

Continuing my theme of “evading work like my students”, I tried some aspects of this challenge and repurposed some of what I already do into something that sort of fits the challenge. And I took a lot of photos that I meant to tweet and then didn’t.

In general, I use Twitter to find information. If I see a blog post or article that’s been reposted by a handful of people, I’ll check it out.


While I love blogging, I haven’t been able to find the time for it these days, which is why the brevity of Twitter (and Instagram) is nice. I’m experimenting with posting photos of my board and my classroom on Instagram. I’ve gotten some good reactions from friends on Instagram (who aren’t math teachers, but still have contributions all the same). It’s neat to see how people connect to math and what they learned about math. I’m not sure how much of a presence the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere community has on Twitter, but given how visual teaching math can be, I think it’s a neat space to explore. I try to cross-post these photos to Twitter in conjunction with #180blog posts, though I’m  behind on both.

I tried started some hashtags – #MusicWhileGrading, #MusicWhilePlanning, #TeacherPockets, #MyBoard. None really took off, but I wasn’t consistent about using them. They are also less related to math. I also acknowledge that many people don’t listen to music while working and that even fewer want to know that I basically only ever listen to the Old 97’s and Billy Joel. I am curious to see what #MTBoS hashtags start trending.

Most exciting twitter moment

Through a professor that I follow in Twitter, I connected with a math teacher in Pennsylvania who is working on complex instruction. Short twitter conversations were had, emails were sent, I’m excited to see how it goes. Even if nothing concrete comes of it (teachers are busy, planning is hard, implementing groupwork is really hard), I’m excited that we got in touch and am excited to follow the work that he does online.

The Future

Moving forward, I am trying to contribute more to the world of math online. Right now, I’m more of a passive consume and I’d like to be more of an active participant. For me, this means trying to be consistent about posting and trying to stay active on Twitter (short attention span, relatively little free time, etc). I am trying to take part in #AlgChat (Algebra Chat) on Sundays, if nothing else, just to see what other teachers are doing.

Related but Unrelated

Related but unrelated #1: I thought it would be cool to tweet my first tweet from the top of Mt. Cotopaxi. Unfortunately, my cheap Ecuadorian phone couldn’t quite connect to Twitter and we didn’t make it to the top anyway, so…

Related but Unrelated #2: A few of my students from last year used to randomly say “Follow me on Instagram, Mr. Chan!” If only they knew…

Related but unrelated #3: Possibly my biggest accomplishment of my last job was convincing my boss that he should be on Twitter. It hasn’t 100% happened yet, but he texted me a month ago to say he’d gotten an account. Baby steps, y’all…

Where I’m At and Where I Need To Be

Things I’m thinking about these days:

Trying to stay on top of grading. I feel like I’m behind on grading. Students keep asking about their grades (which are not quite up to date). And I feel like every day I don’t hand back a graded quiz, homework or project is a day where the feedback becomes less timely and less helpful. That being said, I have a solid block of grading time ahead of me tonight and I know which quizzes/projects and classes to prioritize. I also try and grade with other teacher friends to keep me on track (though admittedly, I spent this time planning today, which leads me to…)

Trying to stay on top of planning: Fortunately, this unit (area) is based on a unit that my curriculum partner inherited from another (fantastic) teacher two years ago (we are writing/revising this 2-year curriculum as we go). So while we’re still planning day-to-day, we have a stronger sense of what we’re doing. We’re about to plan a reciprocal teaching day (her students teach mine and vice versa) and a unit project, which shouldn’t be as intense as the previous unit, but should still be engaging (I hope). I’m trying to be better about fleshing out day-to-day lesson plans. This helps me think better on my feet and helps me better connect what we’re doing now to what we will be doing in a few days.


Fortunately, I am not trying to balance elephants.

Language Support: I go back and forth on how I’m doing in this area. Sometimes I think I’m oversupporting students in their native language (either by speaking to them in Spanish or putting them next to a student who can translate) and sometimes I think most of the struggles in class are due to a lack of language support. I think I’m finding a balance and I know which students I can push and where. At the very least, I am expecting them to be able to say important vocabulary words and numbers in English. (for context, my entire school is English Language Learners)

Metaphors: There are so many metaphors for the stage of the first year that I’m at now. The math teacher in me tries to relate everything to whether the graph of how I feel is concave up or down (I think the second derivative is positive now). I may have texted a friend that the honeymoon between my students and me was over, but we’re comfortable putting our feet up on the table and eating cold pizza. I think the best description is from a fellow first year teacher who said that he had struggled for a few weeks and although he didn’t quite have everything under control, he felt like he could see where he and his classroom needed to be in a few months. Which I think is a good description of where I feel like I’m at, too.

Day 41: Elevators and Negative Numbers

Weird day today – the 10th graders all took the PSAT (whole ‘nother post) so I had my 9th graders, plus the 9th graders from the other team. And also took half a day off to go to professional development.

We wanted to use what time we had wisely (with a sub facilitating at least half the classes), so my curriculum partner and I cooked up a lesson on negative numbers based on this worksheet from Illuminations. I got to see the first two classes, which happen to be my tougher classes.

Lots of students struggled with “up” being positive and “down” being negative. At one point, I made tables point up and say “up is plus” and “down is negative”, which I now wish I had made everyone do.

This photo of Jaime’s* work is pretty representative of some of the errors I saw – kiddos were able to connect the different numbers, but not always in the way I wanted them (and to be fair, I don’t know how culturally relevant elevators are to most of them):

Elevator misconceptionsI’d rate today a 3, but I don’t know how fair it is to give such a weird day a rating.

Here’s a shot of the board and my pockets and other work:

2013-10-16 19.18.25

*not his real name.

Day 40: Triangle Area Equations

Triangle Area Equations

This photo is of two ways of finding a formula to calculate the area of a triangle and how I marked up the diagram to help students think through it. In retrospect, I wish I’d held the camera more steadily when taking this photo. I also wish I’d done more thinking on this beforehand (aside from the grading and other work I did this weekend. Uy.)

I’d rate today a 2 (in my ideal world, I rank every day on a 0-5 scale and then see how the ups and downs play out throughout the year). Today’s lesson was rough. Curriculum partner and I spent quite a bit of Friday afternoon planning, but I think the idea was still too abstract for our kiddos. First period was struggle bus (though they fought valiantly). I think they had trouble wrapping their heads around why we were multiplying (to get the area of the rectangles) and then dividing (because the area of the triangle is half the area of the rectangle). Possibly too abstract, possibly casualties of the 3-day weekend.

I did have a talk with a student after school, who I’m trying to get to reflect on his behavior and he mentioned that he can do basic area things (count the squares in a gridded rectangle and even multiply base and height when they are numbers) but variables are still a jump for him.

And a collage of today’s photos:

2013-10-15 18.31.29

(the behavior contract in the middle frame is from the same student)

Mission 1: Try and Push

Sam Shah‘s prompt from Exploring the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere:

“What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!”

My gut reaction to this prompt is to do what my students do: worm my way around the question without actually answering it. I’m a new teacher and this question is tricky for me (especially since many students still think last year’s teacher is in my room).

To stall for time, I should add that I teach Integrated Algebra/Geometry to 9th and 10th graders in a small high school full of (amazing) English Language Learners. There’s a strong culture of groupwork and lots of good structures in place to support students from many different backgrounds, languages and countries. So I borrow a lot of structures from my awesome colleagues.

There are lots of things I do in my classroom that make it distinctly mine (some good, some not-so-good, most in the middle). I try and push kids like Rosa* and Lupe* who came into my classroom as very quiet and mostly-Spanish speaking, but now point out things to their group and explain their ideas to the class (with help) in English. I try and push kids like Michelle and Samiha who generally get the right answers quickly and need more of a challenge (all while supporting their classmates), especially if we’re thinking about post-secondary education (which I am and I hope they are). I occasionally get overzealous about rules and fight with kids about cell phones and gum, mostly when I should and sometimes when I shouldn’t. I feel like the fact that I do these things does not make my classroom distinctly mine, but the way I do it makes my classroom distinctly mine.

So here’s what I’m most focused on for this year: creating a classroom that builds on my students and their personalities and quirks (and how that works with my personalities and quirks) (all while honoring and recognizing the successes they’ve had with math) (and shows that even mistakes are a step forward).

If I can do the 1st part, maybe I’ll attempt the 2nd part. If I can do the 2nd part, maybe I’ll attempt the 3rd part. If I can do the 3rd part, maybe I’ll attempt the 4th part.

Easy, right?

Boards and Tables and Wall Decorations

Panorama of My Classroom

*not their real names.

Also, problems I enjoy and would love to use at some point: