Days 82 and 83: Out With the Old…

Day 82: Instead of giving semester finals, our school has a 2-week portfolio process. Teachers spend all day with their advisees, working on reflective essays on a variety of topics like what they felt successful about, what they felt they struggled with, etc. The process is often described as intense and at the end of it, I’d agree. I’m just beginning to wrap my head around what it all meant.

Elvis' essays on what he struggles with in school

In their essays, quite a few students said they struggled with math. Thursday’s picture is from Elvis, one of my students who was absent for most of the portfolio process, but worked on essays from home. His essays (sentences written first in Spanish, then translated to English) talk about how he felt math was difficult and how he sometimes felt angry because he didn’t always understand what was happening in math class and because his classmates didn’t always help him (we rely pretty heavily on groupwork given that students enter with a wide variety of math backgrounds). There are a million excuses and variables that play into why Elvis thinks math is difficult. His English is still developing and classes are taught entirely in English (though there is lots of native language support. Perhaps too much). He is sometimes absent (though not truant). His class is at the end of the day and struggles with staying focused. Many of the other students are also struggling with the math and often resort to distractions rather than asking for help, which affects the entire class.

Elvis is a good kid. He was one of the few kids who said goodbye to one of our students whose last day of school was Friday and he won a round of musical chairs for our advisory. Next semester, I’ll continue to think about how to help Elvis and other students like him gain more access to material in class. This means thinking about how to break problems down to the most basic level while still building in challenges for students who have been doing this math for years. It means really figuring out what my students know (we’re going into simplifying and solving expressions and I’m sure that some of my students aren’t quite comfortable with division and that most of them aren’t comfortable with exponents). It means pulling in Elvis at lunch and after school – I’ve gotten him to come in a couple times, but never really consistently and probably not focused on the things he needs to learn. We’ll see.

Day 83: After a few last portfolio presentations and a gradewide assembly, the last day of school ends at 1:05. Teachers finish last minute grading until the grading system closes at 3 and then everyone frantically cleans their rooms so that they can both be ready for the next semester and get home at a decent hour (the custodian kicked me out. You can guess which end of that scale I ended up on). In addition to getting rid of a mountain of paper and resetting my room after portfolios, I also re-taped manager roles on my tables (because I finally learned how to use the laminator, which is a whole other post in itself).


Each group has 4 roles: the resource manager, the group manager, the communications manager and the task manager. Theoretically, each manager is in charge of a specific part of the task that the group is working on so that everyone has something to do and some way to participate. In reality, I often use them more as a way to call on a member from each table, though I’m hoping to use them in a more authentic way next semester.

Day 60: Patty Paper versus Rubber Bands

2013-11-13 13.38.11Our transformation unit continues. Students spent most of today’s class practicing transformations. At this point, students seem to be stronger at translating than they are with dilating. I’m not sure if it’s because of the tools (patty paper versus rubber bands) or because dilation seems like a bigger change to wrap one’s head around. Flipping was a problematic word, but once I demonstrated (by flipping over a sheet of paper), students caught on pretty quick.

The blue paper is from an activity that Curriculum Partner designed last night on a whim. It gave students a chance to practice more transformations and to talk about naming shapes. I tried it with various amounts of structure and direct instruction. One group imploded when two group members started arguing. I think it sidetracked me more than I would have liked, though I figured out (I think) that one group member felt the other wasn’t pulling their weight while the other group member felt left behind. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

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…

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)

Day 21: Structuring Growth Exercises

One period in, curricular partner (the teacher I plan with) and I realized that the lesson we planned for today (“growth by shrinking” with negative numbers and decimals) was too ambitious. Kiddos seemed OK with negative numbers, but struggled with place value. We decided to review/practice growth by adding and growth by multiplying (which is what we had just finished learning on Thursday). The idea is to start with a number, then grow four times, either by adding or multiplying the same number.

I wonder how much the structure of the activity/graphic organizers confuses our kiddos.  There were stairs that were supposed to help students organize the starting number, ending number, and steps in between. Most students understood the addition and multiplication bits, but I think they were confused about where to put which numbers and operations. Photo below is 2 student work samples. One shows a bit of confusion about how to use the steps, one shows some pretty good multiplication. I would have loved both kiddos to show more problems in general, but you take what you can get. 


Also featured: Things in My Pocket at the End of the Day:

Things in My Pocket - Monday, September 16th

Left school at 6:30. Pretty bad considering I thought I could get out at 4:30.


Never mind that the school year ended almost two months ago. Never mind that the summer program I worked for ended yesterday (edit: a week ago. Sigh.).

Here are the last few photos of the 2012-2013 school year. Most have little to do with math and more with closing down the year.

(edit the second: I am unable to make the images align nicely with the text. Apologies for the formatting but I am 1 parts frustrated and 3 parts trying to make my flight, so this will have to do for now!)

Day 172: Using diamonds and rectangles to review factoring polynomials. My supervisor and I sometimes talk about how effective this is. It is (like many things) not how I learned to factor (which I used to do mostly by trial and error) but I do think it helps students look at the procedure a little more systematically. I don’t know how clearly that came across in my explanation. Unfortunately, I erased the work before taking a photo.

Diamonds and Rectangles

Day 173: Using generic rectangles to factor polynomials. This time, I left the work in.

Generic Rectangle for Factoring Polynomials

Day 174: Different teachers at our school use different programs to create exams (and graphics for said exams). As a result, I had to redraw a trapezoid for the final. I can’t tell whether this is an example of me trying to be precise or me being OCD. A friend has suggested that I use Geogebra. I think I really just want a free copy of Geometer’s Sketchpad.

Trapezoid for Final Exam

Day 175: Final days, yo. This is a written reminder, both for the students and for myself, that this really is their last chance to turn in all the things. Surprisingly, some of them do not turn in everything. I’m still trying to figure out if this is forgetfulness or something else.

Last Days

Day 176: During quizzes and exams, we’ll generally leave some of the important formulas on the board. At first, I was a bit puzzled by this – we didn’t do this when I was growing up (and yes, 18-year old me can’t believe I just said that). But it’s helped me think about what things are important for students to memorize (not everything) and to see that, even with the formula, that doesn’t mean that students will remember concepts or know how to apply them.

Notes for the Final

Day 177: Last real day with students. My primary class took its final today. We still do some things with objectives and expectations, but hopefully they’re ready to go at this point. In retrospect, students seemed to do better on their unit quizzes. I wonder if that’s a sign of forgetting (which is interesting, since we gave them several days to prepare/study specific things for the final).

Day 178: Finals Expectations

Day 178: Students do say the funniest things. We have them do a quick evaluation of the course at the end of the year. I’m posting a few of them (technically without permission and focusing on the funny rather than the mathematical). Overall, students felt supported, though I need to work on discipline and classroom management (especially with a few tough cookies). I was pleasantly surprised by what they said they learned from this class.

Student Evaluations

Day 179: Grades due today. Students generally don’t attend class. A few showed up to grab work and clean out their binders. We recycled the rest of the work.

Day 179: Binders

Day 180: Clean slate. At this point, I’m so use to coming in, writing objectives and expectations and then figuring out how to communicate math (whether it be by speaking or on the board). It’s weird to see the board empty.

Day 180: Empty Boards