Day 173: The One With the Letter

Context: School Without Walls is our 2 week elective credit recovery program. I co-taught a course called Bike and Hike. Self-explanatory.

#MTBoS30 is a challenge by Anne Schwartz to post once a day for 30 days. I am catching up (#SorryNotSorry to ChitoAndKGo and AmusingMathias who actually get an email when I post)


Monday is apparently the day when everyone gets tired of School Without Walls.

We make the kiddos wait a long time, then get on a hot, packed bus.

Domingo does not get on the bus, which I don’t realize until the other teacher texts me.

He shows up on time (a rarity) the next day.

We make him write a letter and basically beg us not to fail him (he needs this class to graduate).

I’m sorry. But I’m not that sorry.

(One of my advisees, who has basically not shown up all of 2nd semester, shows up. We go bouldering. Despite her high heels, the nice people at the bouldering place swap her shoes. One of her friends makes her climb to the top of the bouldering thing. I am so, so pleased.)

Photo: The Letter in Question2016-05-24 17.18.40

Day 171: Confessions of a Field Trip Chaperone

Context: School Without Walls is our 2 week elective credit recovery program where I co-teach a PE class called “Bike and Hike”.

#MTBoS30 challenges the math education writer to write a blog a day for 30 days. Inspired by Anne Schwartz and the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS)

Confession: Blogs titled “Confessions of…” make me a bit crazy.

Field trips also make me a little crazy.

We go kayaking today (Wednesday) which is both awesome and crazy.

It’s cold and windy at the bus stop. The bus doesn’t come. Everyone says they will refuse to go. “What if we die before the bus gets here?” Thomas 2 asks.

The bus comes.

I worry about getting all 22 kids off at the right stop.

It’s sunny and warm by the water.

We pair them in partners, which mostly works.

We tell students repeatedly to not bring phones and to bring a change of clothes.

Students end up wearing jeans. Students bring their phones into the kayaks.

I am paddling along, checking things out and wondering if this is something I should do more often when I realize that there are Kiddos In the Water.

I paddle over to Tomas and help him get into my kayak.

“Did you fall in?” I ask.

“No, me saltè.” I jumped.

We make Tomas swim over to his partner, then yell at the other 4 kiddos who are now in the water.

At one point, a kiddo makes me hold his phone in my lifejacket. I later drop it, by accident. Into. The. Water.

There is much swearing on my part and the kiddo in question basically checks out for the rest of the trip. I refuse to take pictures out of solidarity for the rest of the day.

Field trips are crazy making.

Favorite quote from a video another teacher made:

Àlvaro: Tengo miedo.

Teacher (off-screen): ¿Por què? (Why?)

Àlvaro: Por que me  puedo ahogar. (Because I might drown)

Àlvaro: Y si me ahogo, mi mamà me va a regañar. (And if I drown, my Mom is going to kill me.)

Photo: Reflection slips that kiddos fill out every morning. (’cause no kayaking photos)

2016-05-20 17.53.38

Day 170: View Within Reach

Context: School Without Walls is our school’s way of helping students to catch up on missing PE and art credits through an intensive 2-week elective course. I am teaching a course “in the style of” Bike and Hike (our instructional coach’s words). We bike and hike a lot, as you would guess.

#MTBoS30 is a challenge started by Anne Schwartz happening in the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS). You write a blog every day for 30 days. I’ve already missed 4 5 and math content ended for me 2 and a half weeks ago, but anyway…

The class is called “Bike and Hike”, because it’s always been called that. There are between 2 to 4 sections of similar classes with different names.

We spend the morning in a bike workshop. It’s heartening to see that some of our students who struggle most with English and with school are super proficient with bikes.

We spend the afternoon walking. Kiddos are still tired from the previous days. The hill we walk up is close by, but (apparently) steep. Um. Mapquest Google didn’t tell us that.

I hike in front with 2 of the seniors. We talk about dance classes they took and how one of them was a little horror in his country because he knew he was leaving for the United States. Every 5 seconds (it seems), someone asks if we can take the bus instead.

“It’s bike and hike, not bus and hike,” I say. It’s Dad-level humor and no one laughs because they all think they are dying as we keep hiking.

The views of the city are amazing. And less than a mile from school. Some students find a swing and take photos while standing on posts and trying to be taller than they already are. Other students basically remake an Arabic music video. I wonder why no one really ever seems to understand my life at cocktail parties.

Photo: The One Where We Don’t Even Talk About Taking the Bus

2016-05-18 11.34.53

Day 172: Bikes on Bikes on Bikes

Context the 1st: School Without Walls is our elective/credit recovery program. I co-taught a 2 week class called Bike and Hike.

Context the 2nd: #MTBoS30 is Anne Schwartz‘s challenge to the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere to blog each day for 30 days. By traditional standards, I have failed this challenge (4 days out of 30, none of which are mathematics related)


I would do well to remember that teaching is an exercise in listening and trying to figure out what students are trying to tell you.

We (or rather, Y-Bike, a super awesome non-profit through the YMCA) are taking the kiddos biking.

It is a long bike ride, especially if you are not ready.

Fernanda, who I’ve had for 2 years (and introduce accordingly; to her teachers next year, to the nice person at the rock climbing place when she refuses to get shoes, to anyone she makes faces at, to my parents when they volunteer in my classroom, etc), complains (loudly) that she can’t do it. We adjust gears. Nada. We bike in the back. Nada. One of the nice Y-bike people comes back to conference with us (“Well, we trust you to know your students best,” she says, which feels like an accusation in the heat of the moment, but is actually a gentle reminder that I need to listen). As we conference, Fernanda continues to moan. And walk.

I swear she will walk her bike through all the pain. Maybe out of instinct, maybe out of blind rage, maybe to prove she can.

I take a deep breath.

“We should go back,” I say. I wait for Fernanda to disagree. She doesn’t say anything, so we bike back.

Later, when we are sitting and waiting for everyone else to come back, Fernanda says that she has exercised before, but it has never hurt like this. I tell her it’s a good thing she listened to her body. We look at the route the other kiddos are taking and talk about all the teachers she’s had and what she wants to do after high school.

I would do well to listen to the kiddos.


During one of many random bus conversations, I tell Ning that my new favorite game involves what time we can get the field trip back to school. I am trying to get us back as close to the bell as we can (none of these dumb Price-Is-Right rules. Close as we can, even if it’s over, which we frequently are).

We are only about 5 minutes late on our return from the biking trip, which is pretty good considering that trip takes us the furthest (farthest?) away from school. As we walk up to school, the week-long camping trip is exiting the school.

“How was it?” I ask Carlos, one of my kiddos from this year.

“It was good,” he says, “but the mosquitos bit me here (he points to his arm) and here (he points to the other arm), hasta me picaron los huevos (they even bit my balls).”

I’m listening.

It’s definitely time to go home.

Photos: Bikes on bikes on bikes, even if we didn’t ride them the whole way

2016-05-20 10.57.46

Day 169: Rhythm, Energy and Peanut Butter

Context: School Without Walls is our intersession elective class. (This is all the educational jargon I can handle right now) Because our kiddos arrive at various points in the year and because our master schedule is arranged to maximize content classes, our students don’t get as many elective classes. They need 2 years of PE and 1 year of Art to graduate. As a typical 4-year plan (let alone a 3.5 or 2.5 year plan) won’t get all these credits, we take the last 2 weeks of the year and run PE and Art classes so our students can make up credits. I’m currently co-teaching a class “in the style of” Bike and Hike. In one version, we were kayaking a lot.

#MTBoS30: Online challenge to write a math blog a day for 30 days, inspired by Anne Schwartz. I’ve missed quite a few days and am going back and adding in as I go.

Our class is called Bike and Hike. Today (errr, Tuesday) is a hike day. We take the bus (one of the same buses as yesterday, then a different bus) to a beach far away from school. I’m pretty sure I’ve gone to this beach at least once a year for School Without Walls. It’s comfortable, yet the kiddos always seem to love it.

Everyone seems tired today (and to be fair, we went biking yesterday). One kiddo is absolutely done, though she later says that buses make her moody (and is fine the rest of the day). I forget that School Without Walls has a certain rhythm and energy level to it (damn hippy Californians).

We do a potluck, which is somewhat successful. Maybe having new kiddos bring food the second day of class was a bit of a pipedream. A trip to the local Walgreen’s results in decent food. We try to dip everything in peanut butter, which goes well, up until the BBQ chicken.

We hike around some paths. Kiddos climb rocks that I think are a bit too high for my comfort and turn their backs to the ocean (I can already see my Hawai’ian aunties shaking their heads). One of the kiddos lobs a dead bird at another, at which point we usher everyone back onto the bus.


I am back at school, doing whatever it is I do after school (I still don’t quite know what this is). At one point, Antonio, who I taught last year, wanders in to charge his phone. He sits on my desk and I forget that he is there. His friend Chavez, who I taught this year, also wanders in. I make Antonio talk to Chavez about what 11th grade portfolios are like. Antonio explains that they prepare 3 class topics and the teacher picks one for them to explain. Chavez says he hopes he doesn’t have to explain math. I withhold my stank eye. He gives me an explanation to the effect of “it’s not that I don’t like your class, I’m just don’t feel good at it.” Miles to go…

2016-05-17 11.40.36

Peanut butter goes well with everything.

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

2016-05-12 18.57.34

Day 165: Doubting My Institutional Memory

Context the First: #MTBoS30 challenges you to write a blog about your teaching every day for 30 days. I’ve already missed one day (and have less than 30 days left of teaching). Sorry I’m not sorry?

Context the Second: Instead of final exams, our school spends 2 weeks writing portfolio essays. Students reflect on what they’ve learned and present about a class of their choosing.

Whenever I doubt myself on my institutional memory of portfolios, I should remember that Tuesday is, in fact, the day to organize their portfolio binders, even if it feels early. I should also remember to check their binders and leave feedback.

One group melts down while preparing for presentations (which, statistically, is probably accurate. The rest of the groups mostly work, which is a nice reminder that students have a sense of how to work together, especially if I’m not meddling). I try to listen to all sides, speak what I know (and acknowledge that I don’t know many things), recognize the things they are doing well (content, taking initiative on their own time to finish things, which has led to the conflict) and the areas that they, um, aren’t (working together). Later, one of the students comments on another group member, “Oh, he’s 14. That’s why.”

We haven’t really given the kiddos enough time to finish their presentations, but I see flashes of groups pushing themselves and of one group trying to help each other memorize, which I am somewhat excited for tomorrow.

I make another teacher (2 teachers actually, then another) stay after school to reflect on school processes. I see another set of teachers talking and it’s nice to know we’re not alone and that we’re thinking together.

Picture: Presentation slide, post editing.

2016-05-11 19.01.27

Day 163: Within Reach

Context: #MTBoS30 challenges you to write a blog a day about your mathematics classroom for 30 days. We have 14 days left, so…that’ll do pig?

We’re to the part of portfolios (our school’s essay writing/presentation making end-of-semester finals substitute) where some students are within reach of finishing, some are right where they should be and many are…not as close as they need to be.

Spending most of the day with my advisees makes it painfully obvious who needs more support.

I am also painfully aware of equities and inequities that have always existed within my classroom. That being said, I don’t know that I would redirect the attention that is frequently directed towards largely Latino Sudents With Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE). Many of the students who have strong prior schooling (who, admittedly, are largely Chinese speaking) need a hint or two and they’re off.

I’m never quite as caught up on proofreading as I want to be, but, after 3 years of practice and 4 prior portfolios sessions, I’m probably right where I should be.

I’m becoming obsessed with Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid” despite the realization (after 4 years) that it’s pronounced “Mad-rid” rather than “Ma-drid”.

Photo: Essay revisions and what this kiddo felt for a moment2016-05-09 20.42.20