Trying to find math inside everything else

Archive for April, 2014

Morning Person

Out of curiosity, how much of the work you do outside class gets done in the morning, in the afternoon after school, in the evening, at night?

Today was the first time I left school fully prepared for the next day in weeks. I try to do things in the afternoon while I’m still at school but I’m just so beat, it doesn’t happen. I’ll usually get a little done at night, but I get the bulk of my work done in the morning. I’d rather wake up an hour early and be very productive than try to slog through something in the afternoon when I’m tired (and it’ll probably take twice as long because I can’t focus). And yeah, maybe there’s a little of that old procrastinator in me, but I think I just like the mornings. Heaven knows if I didn’t being a teacher would be even harder than it is.

Being Out in the Classroom

Today I did the How I Met Your Mother hot/crazy scale lesson, which was strange this year. The past two years I did my statistics unit in October/November, so this lesson fell pretty early in the year. So I had a lot of fun because I was able to play with students’ expectations by using the androgynous names, the fact that the year is still new and they don’t know me as well and as less blatant about asking things, made for an overall enjoyable experience.

It’s funny because I don’t come out with intention every year, but it can sorta happen at times. I feel like this year my students still don’t really know across the board. And if they don’t know about me yet, they definitely don’t know about the other 3 gay male teachers. [4 out of  11 male faculty members seems like a lot. (The joke is that my old principal only hired either attractive young female teachers or male teachers that weren’t competition for the ladies’ attention.)] So I’m wondering if I played the game too well this year.

When I think about last year, there’s three moments that stood out. First was this lesson, which could plant suspicions but nothing confirmed. Then in December I did a lesson about the definition of a function. At one point, I ask for examples of functions that would map from the domain of people. Things like age and weight are examples, whereas race and hair color do not, since you can be more than one race or have more than one hair color. Then they say eye color, and I say it’s not, because someone could have two differently colored eyes. “In fact, my boyfriend has two differently colored eyes – one brown and one blue.” But if no one says eye color, it might not come up. And sometimes students jump in and mention that fact themselves. The third moment is when a student asked me who my Valentine was, with my response of “my boyfriend.”

For the current seniors and juniors, I feel like word spread quickly. The current sophomores a little more slowly, but by Feb 14 everyone knew. But this year it’s been somehow different. Partly it is due to the Common Core. I moved function definitions to the very beginning of the year, and so, I don’t know why, I said “I know somebody who has two different colored eyes” instead of specifying. Maybe I thought it was too early in the year? But then this lesson shifted later, so those two natural moments didn’t occur.

I mean, this didn’t stop individual students for talking about it. Most of my lunch gang knew because we’ve just had many more conversations and it came up. But my answer to “Do you have a wife/girlfriend?” Is always no, and the conversation often ends there. I won’t push it if they don’t, because we have math to do.

But because it wasn’t across the board acknowledged, somehow today was weirder. Maybe I’ll address it tomorrow.

This was longer than I thought – leave it to #MTBoS30 to make me ramble. I’m not sure what the thesis of this post was, other than “This can be surprisingly difficult to navigate, even if you aren’t trying to make it difficult or trying to navigate it at all.”

No Sane Person…

So today I did Dan Meyer’s Red Dot lesson, which is still one of my favorites for that great reveal. In his post, he writes:

It was only important to me that the students experience a hand which they absolutely should fold, a hand which a sane person would only hold onto if he could see his opponent’s cards.

If I’ve had one problem with this lesson in the past few years, it’s that, well…teenagers are not sane. Today I had a total of 6 boys (and it’s always boys) who would definitely bet on that last hand, even though everyone else agreed they shouldn’t. I even changed the hand to make it one pair, and still they would bet. Maybe I should make it high card only when I try it next time. I’m not sure if even then that will deter them.

Growing into the Math Teacher I Want to Be

I just submitted my application to be a Math for America Master Teacher. For the personal statement, it asks me to write about how I am continuing to grow into the mathematics teacher I want to be. Of course, my main answer was #MTBoS, because, well, we else am I going to experience so much great math teaching? (Besides at MfA itself, of course, but there’s a lot of overlap, naturally!) I even had a problem when I had to submit a lesson plan, because so many lessons I’ve done this year either started with an idea from someone else’s blog or was improved by someone else. So what lesson plan can I really call mine?

Eh, I’ll just post what I wrote:


When I think about what type of mathematics teacher I want to be, I think about all of the wonderful mathematics teachers I communicate with regularly through Twitter. I proudly consider myself to be a member of the Math TwitterBlogosphere, or MTBoS. Every day I read the blogs and thoughts of a wide variety of teachers from across the country (and a handful of international ones). I take the ideas that I like, I give input of my own through comments and tweets.

More than just passive reading, though, is the collaboration I take part in. I have my own blog where I reflect on things that I have done in my classroom. I can get feedback on the things that I do so I can improve them. On top of that, every summer I attend Twitter Math Camp. (In fact, since last year I have been on the planning committee for the conference.) At this conference, Iʼve hosted sessions on making interdisciplinary topics and making educational math games. Iʼve co-created lessons with these teachers that are then spread to others beyond the conference.

Through this network I also often read many articles that can help improve myself as a teacher. Some of these articles are research – looking more deeply into how people learn mathematics. The blog of Christopher Danielson is usually very fruitful in this regard – digging down into number sense helps build a foundation that supports other mathematical learning. I also read articles pertaining to social justice issues – how race and gender have effects in both schools and the world at large, and steps I can take to make my classroom a safer place.

Math for America itself also provides many of those contacts that help me improve. I often sign up for more than one PLT a month because I get so many good ideas out of them.    I love having the opportunity to talk to other teachers about what they do. Teaching can often be an isolated experience, and just a window into another classroom can do a lot to improve someone.

This year Iʼve also tried new things to bring myself closer to my ideal as a teacher. I implemented a new grading system that focuses on growth instead of a static level – this way, even a student who is far behind can feel like they are making a lot of progress, and pushes those students on the top for more, beyond what they already did to get to the top. I am also using a new Problem-based Learning Curriculum. Mastery of procedures is not sufficient for learning mathematics – they need to build habits of mind and problem solving skills. Having a PrBL curriculum helps me get at those skills and find new ways.

Iʼm also often studying new math as well. Iʼm dating a PhD in math and I often have conversations about the new math he is studying or what he is teaching in his courses. We occasionally work out problems together that interest us, and that usually leads to a better understanding of topics I teach that I only thought I understood fully before.

That sums up my overall strategy on how to continue growing: look to exemplars, find what I like about what they do, question myself about why I donʼt like things they do, so as to not allow myself to get complacent, and always keep pushing boundaries.

Scrabble Variant

(inspired to post by Anne’s 30-Day Blog Challenge)

So I was playing Scrabble last night (I lost – it’s one of those board games I’m not the best at) when we talked about how, when you are playing with good competent players, the board often winds up with knots of small words close together.


Kinda like this one.

So we talked about how we could promote long and fun words instead of those same short words all the time, and thought you could have a variant where you get bonus points based on how long your word is, regardless of which letters you use or where you place it.

Such a bonus somewhat already exists – you get a 50 point bonus if you use all 7 of your tiles. So we thought we could add other bonuses for other lengths. We agreed we should keep the 50 point bonus for 7, and that you shouldn’t get a bonus for only using 1 letter. As well, we thought a 2 tile go should get 1 point as a bonus. So I said I could definitely model it from there.

I tried to feed those data points into Wolfram Alpha for a fit but they provided linear, logarithmic, and period fits, all of which were terrible. I then forced them on a quadratic fit (after all, 3 points make a parabola), which was alright, although maybe too many points for a 6 tile play. Then I did an exponential one (though I had to use (1,0.1) since Wolfram didn’t like using (1,0) in an exponential fit, as if we couldn’t shift the curve down.) Then I just fed them into Desmos and rounded.

Below are the graphs and the tables for each fit. What do you think of this variant? Which point spread would be better? Of course, we’d have to play it to see….

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 12.17.04 PM