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.

Day 43: The One With the College Trip

Field trips are simultaneously awesome and complicated.

Every year, we take the kiddos to a local college. For many of them, it’s their first time actually spending time on a college campus. This year, it feels like the first time I’m actually asking them if and what they are thinking about college.


Miguel (who opts to go by “Mike” these days, presumably to keep things easier at his work) and Pedro miss the field trip departure, which is not entirely surprising, especially since Miguel works a lot, has late hours, and has stated that he wants to work full-time after high school instead of going to college. As we bus towards College, I notice Alex, another advisee, texting. This is also not entirely surprising.

“OK, who are you texting?” I ask as we near the College.

“Miguel,” he replies.

We wait around the student center prior to our tour. I am not entirely surprised when Miguel and Pedro run up to us, having taken unknown buses for at least half an hour to meet us. I’ve lost kiddos on field trips before, but this is the first time I’ve gained them.


Probably the most interesting part of the College Tour (other than the food court and the video arcade, sigh) is the part where the college students actually talk in small groups to our kiddos. These students are part of a program through the College and come from similar backgrounds to our students (first generation college students, often Spanish-speaking, often low-income).

The chaperones circulate throughout the room and I find myself in Mike’s group. Our kiddos are quiet, probably because it’s such a new place. The student they are talking to presses them for questions.

“Some of our students are thinking about working full-time after college. They have debts to pay and families to support,” I say (I think in Spanish). “Why should they go to college?” I shoot a pointed glance at Mike.

“That’s a good question,” says the student (also in Spanish). “If you work after high school, you’ll be making money sooner. But you’ll always be working for less money.” (This is a horrible, horrible paraphrase of what he actually said, which was much more thoughtful and eloquent. And in Spanish. But he said it in front of Mike, which was what I was hoping for)


The bus we’re supposed to take back to school doesn’t come, so we walk to another bus. Alex leaves to go to a dentist appointment, but we’re far away and he doesn’t really know the buses, so he texts Mike and comes back. As we wait, I notice Mike, deep in thought, standing apart from the group. I pull him back and make him board the bus.


Ultimately, I don’t care if Mike goes to college (this is a lie; I want Mike to go to college, but I also understand that I only know the surface level version of his circumstances and that he will make the choice that is right for him). But I want him (and the rest of the kiddos) to understand the benefits of going to college and I want him to keep that door open for as long as possible.

Photo: Going up to the lookout during the College tour.


Day 18: The One with the First Quiz

We just gave our first quiz of the year (though technically the group quiz was probably the first of the year, so I guess this blog post is already a lie).

Thought process is that it’s pretty similar to the group quiz but with enough changed that the kiddos have to prove they know the concepts, but aren’t totally thrown by new, irrelevant things.

Got some solid work, especially from some kiddos who tend to leave their papers blank:

Fascinating also to see where kiddos get stuck. We asked them to draw their own pattern with the point (5,16) and it ended up being more of a stumper than we expected.

Also, the littlest advisee (the same one I spent my 34th birthday chasing around the school in an attempt to get them to do homework) drew me a truck instead:

(To be fair, they did try to take the quiz and they struggle with reading and got very little formal education in their country).

And a quote from another kiddo: “Mister, you look like a – (to friend) – ¿Cómo se dice ‘abeja’? (How do you say ‘bee’?):


Day 12: The One With the Language Testing


“Mister…did you do something to your room?”

The desks are in rows, which is apparently a contrast to the groups they’re normally in. More than one kiddo comments on it. So it must be a thing.

Every year, The State requires that we test our emerging bilingual students to see how much growth them make. In theory, it’s a good idea. Especially now that my first group of advisees are Actual Seniors, it’s crazy to hear them speak English and to see it somewhat actively reflected in their test scores.

It’s harder for the 9th graders, many of whom are extremely new. I reiterate several times (and still not enough) that this is really a practice and that it doesn’t affect their grades, but many of them are still so defeated. If nothing else, we lose a day of curriculum and many of the kiddos refuse to (or just can’t)  do work in the afternoon.

I thought I took a picture of the tables in rows, but it’s just as well.

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Day -1: The Secret Reason I Ordered Another Bookcase


Friday was our last day of professional development before the kiddos arrived. During team meeting (around 10am), I said, out loud (oops), “Yeah, I think I’m just going to leave at 3:30 and be done with it.” The rest of my team was, um, flabbergasted (I can’t ever get myself to leave  at a decent hour.”

It’s tradition that seniors come to school on Friday for their orientation. It’s crazy to see this class, since they are the first class that I taught as freshmen. My first advisees are seniors (it’s a bit mind-blowing to me, and I tell them as such on a pretty much daily basis).

By 6:30, most of my team had (rightfully) left and I was just starting to round the bend on Things That Needed To Be Done Before Monday (namely, seating charts). I gave up and decided to come in on Sunday.

A while ago, there was an offer at our school to get more bookshelves. I asked for one. Mostly so I could stand on it to change my seating charts (out of the range of kiddos, though an advisee last year tried to jump in order to switch seats, so…).2016-08-12 18.28.51

Day -3: Me and the Real Day*


Every day of Professional Development week starts to get a little more real. And I think yesterday (Wednesday) was the actual day where everything felt real. We started talking heavily in our teams about concrete things like leadership and advisory. We have pretty accurate class lists (as accurate as they get before the first week in an urban school) and a master schedule. My to-do list has actively pending things that feel real and important (“share information about last year’s students” versus “dream big about reading through Smarter Balanced claims”.)

We did some writing  about ourselves as leaders and how we feel about advisory. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

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*I know, I know, “The Real Day and Me.”

Day 176: The One With the Last Day

We see other teachers after graduation. They say they have a potluck at school the next day and no classes to teach. I am grumpy and tell them that we have a 2 hour block, a 1.5 hour assembly and an hour with our advisory.

Admittedly, I love it. (Love is a strong word – I don’t hate it.) Kiddos are grumpy and antsy and complain about having to do work on the last day (though they mostly do it anyway). I make my advisory do our somewhat honored traditional of writing letters to themselves and then writing notes to the rest of the class. I stand at the board and help them spell weird things like what North Americans call the different grade levels and think about how I’ll miss this a little bit in the summertime. 


“The Mister (that’s me) is going to lock the door and won’t let me back in next year,” says 10th grader Gregorio (probably in Spanish) as class winds down. “He doesn’t want me in class any more.”

“He’s totally right,” I tell the class, deadpan, and move on.

It’s a good thing we’re both lying.

Day 166: Portfolio Grading

Today is the first day of presentations. They go decently, though I’m wishing that I had been a bit more thoughtful with some of the groups. Two students are surprise absent, though one of them manages to deliver her snacks before her appointment.

I do some pre-grading on Tuesday. We try to grade the rest of the portfolios.  I also remember that I have 22 advisees instead of 18 from last year or 19 (though really fewer when we did portfolios) from 2 years ago.

The janitor kicks us out at 7, which is reasonable.

Current dilemmas:

  • Show advisees their grades tomorrow, which always causes feelings?
  • Do station presentations (where groups present to each other) or have groups stand up and present in front of the class? Presenting in front of the class makes me nervous, management-wise and stations get kiddos to talk to each other so much…

Picture: Grading station from today. This year’s innovation? Get the kiddos to put their binders in a box

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Day 132: The One With the Diamonds and Rectangles


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Back in school after 2 days away. Our department has a work day tomorrow, so I’m actually out again tomorrow. I don’t think the kiddos believe I’m ever coming back.

In the journey of factoring quadratic functions, we started with diamonds and generic rectangles today. This is CPM’s way of helping students to see which numbers add or multiply together to get an equation and then using it in reverse to get to factored form.

We learned how to do diamond problems and students were into it (they were last year, too, possibly because it’s a procedure they can get comfortable with. That being said, it does help raise the concepts of adding and multiplying negative numbers, which are still an issue).

One issue we ran into is that the process is super procedural – students got stuck at first until they “just followed the process” and I worry that I didn’t aid much in the sense-making process. That being said, it’s a pretty procedural, um, process. So I need to think on that.

In other news, some years, your advisory is a dance advisory, some years, it’s not. This year’s advisory is definitely a dance advisory.

Scary Sprites (and Something Else)

Another teacher at our school is organizing an awesome writer’s workshop for teachers at our school over the summer. Here’s what I’ve written so far:

Sam’s[1] first day at school is my first day at school and it’s hard to say who is more confused. I ask my advisory[2] to fill out a “Get To Know Me” sheet. 18 sets of blank eyes stare back at me, including Sam.

We ride the bus back from Target. I talk with Sam and another advisee (probably in Spanish) about speaking Mam[3]. Sam speaks it, the other advisee, Grace (also from Guatemala), does not. I don’t fully understand what this means.

I make my advisory, The (one time) Crazy Ghosts, tell me their favorite song in hopes of making an advisory playlist (This doesn’t happen). Sam’s favorite song (at the time) is “Scary Sprites and (something else)” by Skrillex. In what will be the first of many “I Am Old” moments, I recognize the name Skrillex but am unsure whether it is a person or a band. I make a mental note to Google it later. (Update: Skrillex is a man)

Many times, Sam wanders into my classroom a few minutes before first period and helps to take down chairs. When you’re new, being early to first period is probably better than being alone.

At some point, Sam stops coming to school. I call home, but am only able to reach Mom a few times and with limited results. I see his name on a Wellness[4] referral. I leave a folder for him during Portfolios, which remains empty.

We switch the order of our classes at the semester. Sam’s first period (my class) becomes his last period and vice versa. At some point (March? April?), after many months away, Sam randomly wanders back into my class. Cristina, who was in Sam’s class (originally first period, now last period), but switched back to first period, recognizes him. “What are you doing here, maje[5]?” (I’m pretty sure she says it all in Spanish, despite being one of the better English speakers in the class) I send Sam to English class, not thinking to check in with him. I ask him how he’s doing at the end of the day. He says “fine”. I don’t see him again for a month.

3 of my advisees, including Sam, get SARBed[6].

We plan an SST[7] for Sam. I call Mom. No one picks up. We hold the SST anyway.

I’m in the office during prep (probably forgot to take attendance again) and I see Sam and his mom. I crouch by his chair and ask how he’s doing. He says he’s moved. I write down Sam’s address and phone number (I later find out that I accidentally wrote Sam’s number under another advisee’s name. Oops). Sam asks someone in the office, in English, if his mom can go home. They don’t hear him so he asks again in Spanish.

A few days before the school year starts, I see Sam’s name on my advisory list, but not my class list. He gets transferred to another advisory where there is another Mam speaker. I go to give his Portfolio to his new advisor, except that there’s nothing to give.

Sam comes back on the first day of school. He looks happy. I grab him outside class and write down his actual phone number.

Sam walks into my classroom, most likely stalling on his way to actual class. Another student jokes with him about something inappropriately adolescent. They leave to go to actual class.

Another teacher and I talk with Sam about being 18 and whether he’ll be back in school next year. We push for him to come back.

I hear another teacher pull Sam aside for ridiculousness in the halls (my words, not theirs). I wonder if this is a phase that he was supposed to go through last year. I hope he grows out of it quick.

The other team calls a flock of students, including Sam, to the stage during the end of year assembly. The other students walk up. I don’t see Sam. I worry that he’s stopped coming to school again. The other team reads Sam’s achievements and calls his name again. Heads turn. Sam walks down the aisle quickly. I think I see a sheepish grin on his face. I chide myself for doubting him.

[1] Not their real name. Obvio.

[2] The 18 students that I am responsible for supporting socioemotionally. Like a homeroom.

[3] A Guatemalan indigenous language.

[4] Students can be referred to the school Wellness center for a wide rage of health-related issue. All public high schools in our district have them.

[5] Vaguely Salvadorean for “dude”.

[6] Students who are truant are referred to the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB). This is an intervention along the spectrum of truancy intervention.

[7] Student Success Team (meeting). The student, teachers and other people who care about the student talk about how best to support the student.