Going Outside the Standards

This started as a comment on Fawn’s post on Euclid’s Algorithm, but was getting obscenely long, so I’m making a new post. Go read Fawn’s post, because it’s really cool, and Fawn shares a ton of what her students are thinking, which is fantastic. Kids brains are so amazing.

I’m really curious about what we choose (or are told) to teach students. I absolutely get the need for standards and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have them. We should, but it makes me crazy that the standards are seen as the boundary of knowledge for a given grade. I know we can have really interesting conversations about nearly every topic in math, because I have had to eat crow every time I’ve said something stupid like “_____ is boring.” MTBoS corrects me every time. (Nicole Bridge, I’m looking at you.) Continue reading “Going Outside the Standards”

What Matters to Students is Not Always What Matters to Us

It was teacher appreciation week last week. If you are reading this, there is a really high probability you are a teacher (I can’t say 100%, my mom always reads these). Allow me to begin with, I appreciate you so much. I really do. Especially because by reading this blog, you’re part of MTBoS, and MTBoS is how I make it through the school year most of the time. Thank you. Continue reading “What Matters to Students is Not Always What Matters to Us”

#lessonfail & Self-Doubt

I had a great conversation with Christy Pettis today, and amidst other recent conversations about how MTBoS is used by folks and why people do and do not get involved, it has me thinking.

I love MTBoS. It makes me a better teacher. But I do think we (including me) have some work to do around not appearing so perfect. We share a ton of good stuff, but don’t often share our fears nor failures in the classroom. (Although, perhaps I just need to look harder, as this was just shared with me on twitter.) Continue reading “#lessonfail & Self-Doubt”

Discussing Hidden Figures with Students

We just finished watching Hidden Figures in all my classes and today was devoted solely to discussing the movie. Here’s how I set up the discussions:

Yesterday, I gave students a printed copy of this article. For those unfamiliar, Kevin Costner’s character, Al Harrison, tears down a “colored girls” bathroom sign in a dramatic scene in the movie, but this is fabricated – never happened. Continue reading “Discussing Hidden Figures with Students”

MCTM 2017 Reflections

I feel so much better. I love the MCTM conference. MCTM (Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics) holds their annual conference in Duluth every year, and the timing is perfect. We’re so close to summer, but with a little bit less than 2 months, we’re actually not. I get tired this time of year, but after MCTM I always feel rejuvenated and ready to end the year strong. If you want to just dive in, here is where many of the resources from the conference are housed. 

Here are my big take-aways. My descriptions are not necessarily the session titles – they’re my recollection of what I took from the session. Continue reading “MCTM 2017 Reflections”

Introducing Solids – Origami Style

My geometry classes are starting a brand new unit – Solids. Rather than starting out with vocabulary and definitions, I decided to start with origami and good golly am I glad I did so.

TL;DR We made origami cubes, square pyramids, and triangular prisms. Students with less mathematical-status were able to show off & students with high mathematical-status struggled. Beautiful. Students got curious about the relationship between edges, vertices and faces in solids.

The first lesson I will offer is that teaching the class en masse is a terrible idea. Some kids get it quickly, some kids are super lost and need lots of help. I led students through making a cube yesterday under the doc cam and it was a mixed bag. Last night I made videos of me making the shapes and students watched those on iPads today. It went much more smoothly. I was able to bounce around and help who needed help and students who didn’t need the assistance were able to move at their own pace.

Here is a video of folding the cube:

(Just kidding, I want to get this post up for MCTM, but the internet is too slow to upload the video. I’ll get it up when I can)

Here is a video of folding the square pyramid:

After students had made each unit, they counted faces, edges and vertices – my goal was to get them to Euler’s formula, which we did, but it required a lot of zometool units and a fair amount of prodding on my part. In hindsight, a valuable part of this activity was discussing what edges, faces, and vertices were.

Some students hadn’t made very clear creases on their cubes and struggled to find the edges, although they knew the cube should have 6…no wait…8…12? Really? We made some predictions about relationships between edges and faces for other polyhedra. I gave them a table to record the results.

The following day,  I brought in a bunch of Zometool polyhedra and had students add to their tables. I was thoroughly unable to get students to find Euler’s formula (for those unfamiliar, for all convex polyhedra, V + F – E = 2) on their own, but I did ask them to compute V+F-E for each entry in their table, and there was some satisfying oohs and ahh’s and “What?!”s when they kept getting 2.

I would love to tell you that I’d thought of this at the time, but I didn’t. In hindsight, I could have had them plot their coordinates into geogebra as (x, y, z) coordinates- it makes a nice plane that would have been good to wonder about. 

What DID happen during all of this was that status in the class got turned on its head. Which was absolutely great. Students who have generally been super successful in my class really struggled to make origami. Students who have really struggled seemed to do a little bit better. It felt welcoming to them. I had one student who had mastered the blow up cube, and he became an absolute superstar helping other kids. He doesn’t normally have a good time in math class. The whole thing was worth it even for that one kid. It was great.

I had a ton of kids say something along the lines of “THIS ISN’T EVEN MATH,” which of course was like candy to me to talk about what the heck math is and how we define it. We talked about spatial reasoning. We talked about order and rules-when they’re important, and when they can be broken.

I’m in over my head and okay with that

I spent a lot of time over spring break thinking about how my classes are going. I’ve concluded that I don’t think they have been going very well. Before break, I thought to myself (several times), “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for break when I’ll actually get to do math!”

If you spotted the problem with that statement immediately, you are more astute than me. I was at least halfway through break before it occurred to me that it’s pretty backward to be a math teacher – ostensibly interacting with math all day long – and thinking I have to leave school to “do math”. Continue reading “I’m in over my head and okay with that”

On How I (currently) Use MTBoS

In light of recent conversations, I would be remiss if I did not begin by clarifying that #MTBoS is a hashtag used by many in the math teaching community. It stands for Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere. If you aren’t already, you should follow it!

This post was sparked by this thoughtful post by Dylan Kane and the comments made by Michael Pershan & Dan Meyer. I’ve been posting responses there, and this is definitely related to that, but it’s a bit of a tangent and decidedly excessive to post in someone’s comments.

Essentially, this post is about how I use MTBoS. I would be curious to hear if there are others using it in a dramatically different way than I am. If you are, please share! Continue reading “On How I (currently) Use MTBoS”

When You’re Down, Students Pick You Up

This morning, I came in to find that this sign, which had been on my classroom door, was gone.

2017-01-30-19-03-53I had made it in light of the recent executive order, which is (as far as I’m concerned) a hateful move toward Muslims. Like many other schools, colleagues and I had welcomed students at the main doors on Tuesday all bearing signs saying they were welcome and wanted at our school. I have a number of students whose families are personally affected by this ban, and I wanted them to have a visual signal that I am opposed to it.

When I saw the sign gone this morning, I was heartbroken. Why would someone take it down? It’s a vinyl sticker – removing it would take effort. I couldn’t fathom why someone would remove it, and my thoughts turned sour. I posted on Twitter to get some ideas from my beloved #MTBoS, and was encouraged to talk to my classes about it and put the sign back up.

As class was beginning, I couldn’t stop thinking about how someone could be so hateful as to remove a sign welcoming students to class. I started students on the warm up, and pondered my options.  I couldn’t stand the idea that students had seen the sign for 2 days and then seen it gone. I worried they might think I thought 2 days was plenty of time to have a sign like that up.

So before digging into math, I put up a picture I’d taken of the sign, and talked to my class about it. I explained why I had put it up. I avoided specifics, but said that things had happened over the weekend that upset me, and I wanted to be crystal clear that all of our students belong at school. I believe that in my bones.

I told them I believe strongly in the value of talking to and listening to people with whom we disagree. I emphasized that even if they disagree with me and hate everything I believe in, they belonged. All of them. I said that I would put the sign back up, and if needed, I would put the sign up every day from now until the end of the year.

Because I’m a crier, I was crying – not sobbing, just tears – and I made the requisite jokes about how freaked out all of them must be about that. There was appreciative laughter. They were extraordinarily gracious, and I ended by saying that if any of them want to talk to me about anything, they’re welcome to come find me. I’m open to it.

Class went on.

At the end of the hour, a student came up and handed me a note. This particular student is Muslim and has spoken to me before about how difficult she finds it to be Muslim in America, where her beliefs are so often under attack. Here is the note she gave me:


I immediately teared up again. She didn’t see that, having already left the class. I am so impressed by her grace. Feeling a little sheepish that I was the one to cry.

A few hours later, I was in my room during prep and a student came rushing in to tell me that they’d found my sign! It’s on the Auxillary Gym door. I have no idea who moved it or why, but it’s still up in the school and maybe whoever took it just really liked the glitter. Who knows? I’ll make another one for my door. The student who came to tell me about finding it was so clearly relieved. I feel very loved by my students today. I hope they know the feeling is mutual.

For Those Hesitant to Protest

I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about teaching math. I should probably blog about math more often. I would argue, however, that more than math, what matters are my students. Right now, that means standing against the policies of this administration that make them feel unsafe. They will not learn math when they fear for their safety and that of their families. 2017-01-29-14-13-48-1

Moral of the story: We are stronger (and feel stronger) together. We can heal wounds together. Showing up matters. 

I just got back from a protest at the Minneapolis Airport. I had been hesitant to go, but was overcome by the ABSURDITY of this ban, so I went. Here are some things that happened while I was there:

  1. Upon unfurling my sign, an airport worker stopped me to say that he really liked my sign. I don’t know that the man is Muslim, but he said, “thank you for your support”.  I thanked him for helping to keep the airport running so that immigrants could actually get through. We were both smiling. It was a great exchange. 2017-01-29-14-13-55-1
  2. I saw dozens and dozens of people cheering things like, “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Islamophobia has got to go!” and “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here”!
  3. We sang “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land”.
  4. Another teacher stopped me and gave me a high five.
  5. Cars drove by giving thumbs up and honking. Everyone cheered.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions that everything’s fine now, but this morning all I saw was how awful everything is and I felt awful. At the protest, I saw and heard and was surrounded by other people who are opposed to this. It felt safe. I know that’s not the case for all protests, but the more of us that show up to them, the safer they will be. Strength in numbers is a real thing. I feel empowered to do more. I’m calling my representatives and donating to the ACLU.

I have been hesitant to show up to protests. I’ve always been a good Minnesotan who just says nice things and doesn’t cause a ruckus. That felt crummy. We need to make a ruckus. We need to hear and see each other. I will be fine under this presidency. Others will not. Others ARE not. When my nephews ask how I acted when the president tried to ban Muslims, I want to look them in the eye and tell them I said NO. I don’t want to regret inaction because I felt nervous about showing up. Come join me! You will be welcomed with open arms. Love. Trumps. Hate.