Something New

Note: This blog is part of the #MTBoS12Days challenge, led by Druin and Pam Wilson, to blog 12 times over break.

Prompt: Share something new you tried (or still want to try) this year in your classroom.

You as the teacher have power and influence and students pay attention to this. If you keep calling on the same kiddos, those kiddos gain status. So how do we make sure that we help all kiddos gain status? At some point in grad skool, one of our professors talked about how the importance of randomness in alleviating status within the classroom.

This year, I’ve finally started making more concrete steps towards using randomness to attend to status. Specifically, I’ve started using ClassDojo to call on kiddos at random for low stakes answers. I had used ClassDojo once my first year of teaching (everybody was doing it, so…). It didn’t go that great. Kiddos paid attention to it, but they spent more time watching the screen than doing their work and a lot of time arguing with me that they deserved more points (to be fair, I think they still do this, but I’m better at selectively ignoring them. Ha).

I use ClassDojo mostly at the beginning of class. A student starts class by asking people to read a specific set of things: the day, the date, the content objective, the language objective. It’s super easy and super low stakes and even kiddos who don’t generally like to participate, will participate (it also helps that everyone knows the routine and is generally super keen to help others). I’m trying to take it to the next level to call on kiddos during class debriefs (done exactly once) or whenever I want to hear opinions from kiddos. I’m hoping the low stakes-ness of the opening sequence will carry over to the rest of class. We’ll see!

(Side note: While randomness works for calling on kiddos, while checking in on groups, I’m trying to be as procedural and predictible as possible. It’s literally like: Group 1, Task Manager: Does your group understand? Or do you need help? Group 2, Task Manager: Does your group understand? Or do you need help? Currently theory is that predictible check-ins help kiddos to realize that I’m asking everyone for help and not just them.)

On Reaching the Kiddos

I’m a bit late to #MTBoS12Days, led by Druin and Pam Wilson. The goal is to post 12 times over break,  possibly in a response to a series of prompts. We’ll see if I make it; we go back on Monday.

Prompt: What are your strategies to reach “that kid”?

First, I gather all the information I can on my students. I have my advisory fill out forms about themselves. I look at the scant information the District sends us (all our kiddos* are recent immigrants, so, to be fair, the District doesn’t have a lot of information to send us). I observe them in class. Looping, or teaching many of the same kiddos 2 years in a row, is a huge help. Kiddos who I taught the year before help establish norms and smooth over rough patches (I distinctly remember a kiddo my first year of teaching tell another newer, more rebellious student “You need to do what he says!”).

I listen to what kiddos say and do in class. Even if they aren’t 100% into the math, they talk with friends. I hear about everything from hobbies and social media usage to relatively confidentialish stuff like immigration status.  Sometimes this gives me an in to connect with them or gives me an insight into why they might not be participating as much or how I can better frame things to them. (Side note: I speak Spanish, so I can eavesdrop on about 2/3 of our kiddos. At least one student has reacted to this with some mortification: “%$!& I’d forgotten you speak Spanish!”)

If that doesn’t work, I ask other people at school. I work on a(n amazing) team of teachers who teach the same students, plus an advisory (also consisting of our kiddos). Generally, one of these teachers will have suggestions or insights and we’re lucky to have time built into our weekly team meetings to talk about this. Our (amazing) paraprofessionals are also a great resource as they see our kiddos in various settings at various times of day and they often connect with kiddos in ways that don’t include yelling at them to get seated and take out papers (granted, this isn’t the main way I intend to interact with kiddos, but generally the ones I don’t have great connections with are the ones who I end up yelling at, so). Our (amazing) Wellness Center staff is key here, too. On more than 1 occasion (twice), I’ve had meetings with the Wellness Coordinator where she has basically asked me what my goals are, then facilitated a meeting between a student and me to get us both where we want to go. (Side note: This was also a great way to show a new student that I anticipated struggles with that I was invested in his time and his learning. It helped a ton that our Wellness Coordinator is the person he trusts most at school).

Something that I don’t consider particularly special, but has proven to be helpful is calling home. More often than not, families want to know what’s happening and want to get involved. It’s both surprising (and sometimes heartbreaking) the number of times families will echo the concerns of our teaching team (because so many of our kiddos are recently immigrated and/or reunifying with their guardians for the first time in ages, this situation can be especially complicated). If the guardian doesn’t respond (or responds, but there’s no noticeable follow-up), that’s at least another data point for the puzzle. Side note: Teachers frequently express surprise at how ready I am to call home. I…don’t really have an answer here, other than to say that guardians tend to be the experts here. And if I had a child who was not doing well and their teacher didn’t call me, I’d be a bit peeved, too.

Sometimes, I’ll ask another student (always a trusted student, generally one of my advisees who (mostly) trusts me) what to do. Something along the lines of “I’m trying to get better at helping Gordon** with mathematics. But I’m not having any luck. He likes working with you. What do you suggest?” I’d approach this one with caution, since there’s a ton of status and feelings involved here. I’ll sometimes ask the student in question a similar question, though I need to be careful about framing (this tends to work better with kiddos I’ve taught for 2 years, but are going through a rough patch).

2 quick points: #1: This was one of the interview questions I had to answer for my current job. I didn’t remember at first (I was probably in a state of panic), but one of my interviewers reminded me of it after the fact.

#2: My mom made a comment to me over break that one of my cousin’s kiddos was in a class with lots of “bad kids”. This is a fascinating comment to me and we had a long talk afterwards about how, if adults can identify kids as “bad kids”, how must those students feel about themselves? Adults are really good at subliminally (or not subliminally) showing what they’re thinking and kiddos are really good at reading it. And if a kiddo doesn’t feel like they’re accepted or have status in the class, why should they make an effort to belong in a system that has already, pretty clearly, showed them where they think they belong? So I guess my point, and I’m seeing it a bit this year with kiddos that I struggle to connect to, is that kiddos can be really sensitive to being “that kid”, no matter how much they try not to show it.

*Our principal says “kiddo”, so I say “kiddo”. Force of habit.

**not their actual name. Or an actual kiddo that I have in mind, really.

What I’m Reading

This week’s post for the Exploring the Math(ematics)TwitterBlogosphere blogging initiative is about a post or posts that you appreciate.

I find myself going back to Dan Goldner’s post on fault tolerant mathematics programs frequently (fun story: I forgot to bookmark his post initially and spent about 6 months googling and searching for it. It’s now bookmarked in my browser). Dan discusses how his department thinks about their mathematics program in ways that support students who come in below grade level or are repeating a course or have minimal information about their prior mathematics knowledge. As I watch our department struggle with many of the same issues, it’s always comforting to know that other schools are thinking through the same things and facing similar issues. (This is also an embarrassing reminder to myself that I need to actually go back and watch Uri Treisman’s speech, which inspired that post)

As an advisor, I also find myself rereading Chris Lehmann’s post on Making Advisory Work (not technically mathematics, but we teach kiddos mathematics, so…). Our school has an advisory program and it is relatively supported (we delegate certain days to certain topics and probably more importantly, have other advisors with whom we can plan and brainstorm), but there’s still so much to do. And this post covers a lot of it. I find the points about “There’s nothing about the typical teacher preparation program that [prepares teachers to be good advisors]” and “I was good at the one-to-one with kids, but I don’t think I maximized the time we spent together.” (except I’d say I’m a solid to low so-so with the kiddos).

So those are the posts I go back to.

In terms of blogs, I will read anything Fawn Nguyen has to say any day.

Y un gran saludo a Heather Kohn and Mathy McMatherson (Daniel Schneider) for so many #MathandELLs posts that I am trying to be more diligent about reading these days.

And to Sarah DiMaria, Kaitie O’Bryan, and Sheila Orr. I try to read your blogs for the awesomeness and in hopes that I’ll have something smart to say about them when I see you at conferences.

Why *am* I here?

I’m reading over one of Dan Meyer’s blogs. The post explores what differnet mathematics bloggers are interested in and care about and testify on behalf of. The question(s) at hand is “Why are you here? What is your project? How do you testify on its behalf?”

I’m struggling to come up with an answer. On the one hand, I’m not 100% sure what my project is. On the other hand, I have some ideas that are very unfleshed out.

One of the things I find myself wondering about (and to some extent, exploring in this blog) is all the things that prevent our kiddos from accessing and learning mathematics. To some extent, this feels largely influenced by my context (all recent immigrants, many with interrupted formal education), but also feels like a question that all teachers struggle with.

Part of this struggle is that these stories are not mine to tell. Legally, I don’t want to share too much about my kiddos’ lives, especially names and sensitive information. That being said, there are certain trends, situations and traumas that surface and it feels important to recognize them, think about them, and honor that our kiddos are dealing with (and persisting through) them.

Another part of this struggle is that it sometimes feels like I’m making an excuse. So many blogs focus on all the amazing resources that are available to students of mathematics and the amazing work that they are doing. So thinking about why students aren’t learning feels like a copout (sometimes). “Such-and-such student is dealing with (XYZ situation) outside of school, so how can I expect them to be paying full attention today?” One of the things that I’m trying to push myself on this year is recognizing that kiddos need a moment and also helping them to realize that, if they take that moment and are able to get “back on the horse” (0ne of my favorite expressions from Joyce Dorado), they can (and are expected to) finish their work.

Trying to find this balance is hard. Many of our students are dealing with gaps in learning (among other things. Among many other things). At the same time, there is a (much needed) push for asset-based thinking at our school and recognizing that our kiddos can do many things. So when we run into situations like “Gordon can’t read” or “Sara doesn’t know how to divide”, what do we do? My current approach is to name and honor things that kiddos are struggling with (backed by evidence, not just my own subjective wonderings), but recognize that there are ways to get them to where we need them to be (Side note: Gordon read part of the objectives last week, which is a nice reminder that things improve with time and effort and that 9th grade at a school for emerging bilinguals can be hard).

So that’s my project for now. Exploring things that stand in the way of our kiddos’ learning and thinking about how to get them over that bump.

Related but unrelated: Schools are looking at different ways to respond to student trauma in an effort to reduce suspensions. The article looks specifically at training teachers in de-escalation techniques and more pull-in support. Article here.

Context: The Mathematics Twitter Blog-o-Sphere – a group of mathematics teachers who share their practice on the internet – is dedicating the month of August to writing a blog a day. It’s spearheaded by DruinOK. If you’re looking for ideas (and who isn’t?), prompts are here.

2016-08-19 18.33.28

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…

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:

Texting Won’t Get You Credit in Math Class

Written for A Day in the Life of an Educator, explained here (Tina’s blog, Drawing on Math) and here (Sam Shah’s blog, Continuous Everywhere but Differentiable Nowhere).

Note: I’m a student teacher, so I only do about half the things certified teachers do.

For context, I work at a comprehensive, urban, public high school. We’re on a block schedule with each class running about an hour and a half. I student teach in 3 Geometry courses, meaning that the lead teacher (he’s certified and awesome for letting me basically invade his classroom) is almost always there in case of fires. (We haven’t had any fires yet)

Here’s last Friday, November 16th.

5:45: Wake up, 15 minutes before the alarm goes off. I’ve found myself waking up early recently, almost to the point where I’ll do it on weekends, too.

5:50: Boil water for coffee, hop into the shower. I’m up a bit early, so I let myself shower a bit longer.

6:30: Pack bag, pour coffee, microwave bagel bites (my current breakfast of choice)

6:50: Walk to the bus. The 6:58 bus gets me to school earlier than necessary while the 7:14 bus is pretty crowded, so I aim for the 7:06 bus.

7:30: Unlock door to classroom. Prep agenda and homework calendar for today (Friday is the 2nd half of a block day, so our agenda is mostly the same). 

7:35: Use bathroom. My lead teacher and I are usually both in the classroom, so I have the luxury of being able to use the bathroom whenever I need to, but I still try not to leave the classroom if I don’t have to.

7:40: Return to classroom. Sometimes, students arrive as early as 7:45. Some of them are looking for extra help, most of them just want a place to sit. No one comes early today.

8:03: Warning bell rings. School starts at 8:10, so students get a warning bell to tell them when class is about to start. It used to ring at 8:05, but now rings at 8:03 for unknown reasons.

8:10: Main bell rings. Our first class today is 4th period (yay block scheduling), which is the main class with which I work. We start with a homework check (the same thing we do everyday, Pinky): students review their homework with their groups. They can ask their groups questions about problems they don’t understand and review  answers. As this happens, I grade their homework (out of 10 points) for completion. Most students are at a 6 or 7. Students continue to trickle in.

8:25: We move onto Triangle Congruence Shortcuts. Students use transparencies of angles and sides (the lengths of some angles and sides are given, some not) to figure out if they can prove triangle congruence using just this information. Other teachers have mentioned that their students had trouble with this activity, so we model the first one for them on the document camera. We’re able to clarify most confusion in the modeling or when we circulate amongst the groups. As groups work through each shortcut, we ask the Reporter/Recorder from each group to record whether they think the given shortcut proves triangle congruence on the board.

9:05: As students finish, we have them work on the Triangles and Quadrilaterals posters they began on Wednesday. Students are exploring certain properties of both shapes (how many triangles can you make with 3 given angles? How many quadrilaterlas can you make with 4 given angles? etc).

9:10: We debrief the Triangle Congruence Shortcuts with the whole class. We’re mostly in agreement on which shortcuts work, except for one. I call a member of each group to the document cam to have them show us why the shortcut in question did or didn’t work. We’re able to resolve it (though I suspect my explanation is not as strong as it could have been).

9:15: As part of a graduate course I’m taking, I’m supposed to give a formative assessment to students so that both they and I can get a sense of where they are and what they need to learn or improve. This formative assessment will be a 3 problem exit ticket about triangle congruence shortcuts. The exit ticket format is not new to students, but…

9:30:…the rubric is. After students finish their exit tickets, I put a copy of a rubric I’ve created on the document camera. I ask them to review and score their exit tickets and then answer 3 reflection questions. Initially, I had planned to have students write the ranking they would give themselves on the ticket, but we decide it’s easier for them to circle the appropriate ranking on the rubric itself. The guiding questions I wrote on the rubric go mostly ignored. I’ll just have to do a better job integrating them into the next rubric.

9:38: I begin to hand out homework. Ordinarily, I would give students more time, but the rubric ran over. 

9:43: Bell rings. We’ll finish looking at the rubric on Monday. Fifth period is our prep period. My lead teacher and I talk about what we’ll do on Monday. I look over the exit ticket and edit a paper that’s due for a different graduate course at 5pm. 

11:21: Lunch. Some students come in to make up absences. I remind one of them (who is texting) that she needs to do math work to get credit. Another one breezes through the math homework that’s due on Tuesday. I check in with students from time to time, but they seem to have things under control.

12:06: Sixth period is our Common Prep Time – all the teachers in our grade team meet to share information, plan, and figure out how to support students who need more support. Today, there’s an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting for a student who I don’t have, so I stay and work on that 5pm paper.

1:20: The other student teachers and I have a practicum at a neighboring school, so we walk over. We’re generally late (since the class begins right as 6th period ends and we’ll try and stay as late as possible), so recently we’ve been making an effort to arrive on time.

1:45: Practicum, specific to urban education. We debrief a prior session we had and make some preparations for visits we’ll be having in the future. We’re also working on a service learning project at our school, which has been tricky for us. We do some planning.

3:15: Practicum ends. I head to a nearby cafe to finish off the paper. It’s a rough draft of work we’ve already done, so it’s not too much work.

5:00: Submit paper. Walk home. Hello weekend.