Seeking Inspiration

It’s December. My students are nuts. No joke, yesterday I had a student tell me he might throw up. I asked if he needed to see the nurse, was he okay? He said he’d probably be fine, but he probably shouldn’t have eaten soap after his friend dared him. You can’t make this stuff up. We’re all in the long, slow slog to winter break and I feel like I have to pull teeth to get them inspired about math.

On my way home from work I was mulling this over and tried to recall when I was most happy at work recently. It hasn’t been too often. What I came up with had a pretty obvious common element. See if you can spot it.

-I was happy when I asked #mtbos about complex numbers and learned a ton of new-to-me information about what the complex plane is. Sharing that with students who peppered me with incredulous questions and mind-blown expressions was awesome. Loved it.

-I was happy when my geometry class got into a fight over whether 2√2=√8 was true or not.

-I was happy when I saw some students put together that three different quadratic equations were related to the same graph.

-I was happy when, during a number talk, a student came up with a totally wrong way to get the right answer and it took us several minutes to figure out what the heck had happened.

-I was happy when, rather than lecturing a student who has missed class and done a terrible job on homework, I just started going through examples with the student and found myself enjoying it.

-I was happy when tracking Jill Stein’s fundraising and attempting to guess what function would fit it best.

-This past year, I was happiest when I saw and did for myself the derivation of an explicit formula for the Fibonacci sequence.

Can you spot it? Subtle, huh? I FLIPPING LOVE MATH, and I am happiest when I am discussing and doing interesting math with my students. I am miserable when I’m fighting behavior and grading boring assignments.

There’s a pretty easy fix for this: Don’t give boring assignments and give students math that is interesting and helps to quell the behavior because they want to do the math. That is clearly easier said than done, but it’s pretty easy to motivate me to work for it because I’m clearly so much happier for it.

So if you have mathematically fun and inspiring things, please send them to me. Here are a couple to get you started thinking:

-A complete Venn diagram (all intersections accounted for) can only be rotationally symmetric if the number of sets is prime. WHAT!?!? That’s insane. Here’s an 11 set venn diagram and the shape of one of its sets. (Took the pictures at Macalester College, not sure of the artist-mathematician)

-Apparently ln(1) is complex. Don’t totally get this one yet, but goodness gracious am I totally into figuring it out. (If you get it, don’t ruin it for me.)

The Election, Trump, & My Students

The difference between Tuesday at school and Wednesday at school was incredible and heartbreaking.

On Tuesday, I had kids in my classroom. They were worried about their crushes, the quiz on Friday, what their clothes look like.

On Wednesday, no one joked. No one smiled. No one laughed. Some cried. Many expressed their fears. Some expressed frustration that “people were stupid enough to think this wouldn’t happen. Of course it was going to happen.” Continue reading “The Election, Trump, & My Students”

Quick, Impactful, Awesome: Post Math Norms

I recently posted Jo Boaler’s 7 Math Norms in the front of my room, and I’m in love with

I regularly tell students that “mistakes are helpful, we need them”, and while the message eventually gets through, it is SO MUCH MORE POWERFUL  when I say it while pointing directly at the norm “Mistakes are valuable”. Students know I’m not just covering for their mistake in front of their friends. I took the time to print and post these things – I really mean them. Continue reading “Quick, Impactful, Awesome: Post Math Norms”

So I guess I teach HS now…

I got an email reminder, per the suggestion of Sam Shah, about my goals this year, and one of them is written reflection for myself. So here goes.

I’m now 3 weeks into teaching HS and it’s… mostly really good. I feel good going to work, I feel good when students are in my room, I generally look forward to each day. Still, there’s a lot of adjusting to do.  Continue reading “So I guess I teach HS now…”

Math On A Stick, Part II: Stepping Stones, Parent Talk, Teacher Lessons Learned & Mathematical Depth

Part I here.

After the phenomenal time I spent last weekend at Math on a Stick, I signed up for 2 more slots this week – making a total of 4 for this year. Here are some more stories about why it’s so great and then some teacher musings.

The Stepping Stones

math on a stick stepping stones.jpg

Math on a Stick is blessed to have Max Ray-Riek and Annie Fetter as volunteers, and while I have sadly missed working with Annie this year, I have gotten to spend a fair amount of time there with Max. He is extraordinarily awesome.


‘Twas Wednesday evening when Max came over to tell me he’d just had a great experience at the stepping stones with a mom and daughter. I hope he’ll write up his version of events, because I came in only halfway through. Anyhow, he told me this girl was so excited about them that he’d exhausted the problems he usually uses (count by 2s; 23 minus 24, etc.). They even counted PRIME NUMBERS on the stepping stones. They also did it in an awesome way. They figured out which stones they would not step on if they were skip counting, and stepped on those! (Mom did a lot of carrying her daughter between stepping stones that were too far apart.) Awesome!

Continue reading “Math On A Stick, Part II: Stepping Stones, Parent Talk, Teacher Lessons Learned & Mathematical Depth”

A Question on Language and the Mathematicians project

I often feel very odd speaking about this project in the negative:

The project is about not white male mathematicians.

Part of me enjoys the bluntness of calling out the issue as starkly as that, and part of me likes honoring that “not white dudes” is how the student who sparked the whole thing put it.

That said, I can also acknowledge that if I want this project to be open and inviting to as many people as possible that perhaps putting it in a positive sense…

The project consists of mathematicians with an oppressed identity.

…might put less people off. 

(Note: I’m stealing that language from Jonathan Osters. He put together a beautiful write up for his students which you can see here.)

I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this. My goal has never been to prevent my students from learning about white-male mathematicians. It’s just that they will learn about white-male mathematicians if they happen to learn about any mathematicians at all. They will likely not learn about any others unless we make the conscious decision to include them.

Please add any thoughts you have in the comments. Thanks!