Big deals

A former student stopped in to tell me she was just accepted into Yale (rec letter by yours truly so I’m taking about 0.001% of the credit).

Another texted me to ask for help with studying for the GRE as he’s applying to grad school at Stanford.

Two other former students were accepted into Stanford and MIT (taking the rec letter credit there too) and I just never wrote about it.

They’re kind of a big deal.

And I get to say, “I taught that kid.”

That makes me happy.

Of course

I came home exhausted and sad today. It was a while before I was able to catch my husband up on the day, but as soon as I talked to him I started to feel better. Still not great, but better.

One thing he said was, “Of course it was a bad day. Any one of those things was enough to make it bad and you had to deal with them all in one.”

I heard once that the most impactful words you can tell someone are “me, too.”

In that same vain, I would add the words, “of course.” “Of course it was a bad day.” “Of course you’re having a hard time with that.” “Of course you need a break.”

Validation with zero judgment: Of course.

I pray you have of course people in your life: people who make space for you to be sad, who validate your feelings, who listen intently, who hug you.

My one good thing is how many of course people I have, especially my husband.

Rate In/Rate Out FRQ Day

We are full-swing into our review unit in calc. Three weeks until the AP Exam! Today was a “Cold FRQ Day,” where kids try their hand at FRQs they’ve haven’t seen yet and then grade their own.

As they were heading out for the day, I heard a kid tell his friend, “I got a 9/9 on that last one!”

Mmmhmmm. They look all tough and carefree but deep down…they all want a 9/9 on those d*** FRQs.

Happy that I get to help a little.

Happier that it makes them happy enough to tell their friends.

Integrals already

We are getting so far with PreCalc this year it is just making me soar. Mind you, this is how far we had gotten every year prior to 2020, but last year made me realize how much I love fourth quarter content in both Precalc and Calc. In PreCalc, we’re in our intro to Calc unit and the kids are doing beautifully. They are going to have such a leg up next year (still don’t get this expression, Mama Witch, but I think I said it right).

My kids are already approximating integrals using Riemann sums and calculators. To have this intuition built before we dive into the mechanics next year is invaluable. And the Desmos activities I get to build for my kids and my team’s kids are my favorite (videos below)!

I’m so proud of all the Calc they’re doing at such a young age…

Virtual Conversations

Getting third graders talking in the virtual setting has been far easier than I expected (not for all of them, but for many). Getting undergrads to turn on mics or cameras has been much more challenging. I also recognize that there are many reasons, from shared living spaces to limited bandwidth to more, that can make mics and cameras more difficult.

It’s hard for me to imagine a successful learning experience that doesn’t involve some conversation though. My undergrads have used the chat pretty well to share thinking and we’ve used interactive slides frequently. There has definitely been interaction but it hasn’t been what I would expect in classes I’ve known for years.

Last night I gave my undergrads three articles. I put them in three breakout rooms. Each group took one article, read it, and discussed what surprised them and what they’re thinking now. When we came back to the main room to share out, several students noted in the chat that it had been fun to talk to their group.

I sat in my chair in my bedroom and got teary.

Later, when I asked them to share thoughts on slides on another topic, I offered them working in groups or independently. Those who wanted groups, I put in breakout rooms. Those who wanted to work independently, did so. The class was split about half and half.

I think one of the things that helped encourage actual conversation was that I made a comment about how it is a positive thing, in my mind, if I see the same ideas on multiple people’s slides. I said if one student shared an idea and someone else thought it was brilliant, then that second student should put that idea on their slide too. I said that learning from each other is one of the perks of classes.

Suggesting that seeing the same ideas across slides was a sign of collaboration rather than copying was an important thing for me to do.

Cheer

I had a doctor’s appointment after school today. The tech called me back: “Mrs. Peterson.”

I thought it was odd that they were using my last name but didn’t think too much of it until I saw the face behind the voice. It was one of my kids!

“Hi, N!!!”

“Hi, Mrs. Peterson! I saw you on the schedule so I asked if I could be your tech! I’m on my internship for Tulsa Tech!”

I don’t know which one of us was beaming more in that moment. He was totally in his element, taking my vitals and asking my health history. I have always been so impressed with the real-world experience our kids get through Tulsa Tech. This AP Calculus student hopes to become a doctor one day. And look at how he’s already starting to pursue his dream. An immigrant to the States, he is literally pursuing the American dream, knowing eduction is his key. I could not be more proud.

Turns out the feeling is mutual. When the nurse came in, she said he told everyone that I was the teacher of the year and that he loved math class.

This is what community looks like. In community, we take on each other’s joys and struggles as if they are our own. We beam at their victories and hold their sorrows. We tout their accomplishments and brag on them until we run out of words. And we notice when they’re not themselves; we reach out in those moments, too.

This is how people belong. This is how we unify. We learn others’ stories and we cheer, cheer, cheer. We cheer forever. That’s literally it. That’s the formula.

May we cheer each other on—forever and ever.

Mock

My darling calc kids came in on their virtual day on Friday to take and grade a full-length AP Calc Exam. They were at school for a good four hours while their friends no doubt slept in.

The Mock is always a bit sobering, especially when we take it this early on, so I wasn’t sure how today would go as the kids went over their multiple choice responses in their groups.

True to form, they tackled those questions with grit and determination. Many made outside appointments to come back and study the questions on their own time since the Exam is secure and can’t leave the classroom.

I’m so inspired by their tenacity and their determination to do a little better today than yesterday. This is an incredibly daunting test. It would be so easy to throw in the towel and say, “I’ll just take the class in college.” But that’s not who they are. They’re fighters. They’ve made it through one hell of a school year and they’re determined to finish strong.

Watch out, world.

Ghost Blitz

We were on block schedule this week. To those of you who do these two-hour classes on the daily: I am not worthy. Four days of it and my brain is already fried.

I try to break up the class period somewhat. Today, in between our two lessons in PreCalc, I took a 15-minute break to teach and play Ghost Blitz. If you like speed games and don’t know this one, please go check it out. Years ago I wrote a grant for class sets of certain games, and this was one of them.

I love this game because it’s easy to understand (and hence quick to teach), but it’s not easy to win. It’s a game of speed and recognition and I adore it.

The kids loved it as much as I do, which put me in immediate heaven. When you can see smiles behind masks, you know you’re onto something. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in math class!”

I gotta break these games out more.

Dresses

You know what I love?

Getting to see pictures of prom dresses that made the cut.

I know we’re not back to “normal”; trust me, I’m painfully aware.

But sometimes I see glimpses of light and I think things like, They get to have a prom.

Sure, they’re adding matching masks to their list of accessories this year. But they get to go.

They get to pick out the dress.

And, sometimes, they even show their little calculus teacher.

And I’m happy for all of this.

Virtual

My virtual kids have to send me 1.5 hours of a recorded Zoom each week of them working with others in the class. Some picked groups they knew; others asked to be assigned a group.

Each week, they all faithfully send me their recordings. Each week I scan the recordings to make sure everyone stayed the whole time and that they actually talked about math.

The most important part of math class is the collaboration. Trying to create that culture of collaboration virtually is no easy task, but these kids are taking it on with as much grace and courage as one could possible ask for. These kids just do what I ask them to do.

I was thinking about that today. All year these virtual kids just did what I asked them to do. Watch a video every single day? Done. Contribute to the discussion thread every unit? Got it. Take your test verbally? Sure. Collaborate with peers you may or may not know? Of course.

They don’t miss a beat.

And now I’m asking them to come to campus later this week for their Mock.

Not a single objection. Not a single reschedule.

Just “Where do you need us and when?”

This is commitment. This is commitment to their education, to their future, to their teacher, and to each other.

I look forward to the day when all five of my sections are face to face again.

But I will forever—forever and ever and ever—be grateful for my one virtual section of AP Calculus 2020-2021.

They have taught me more than I could ever have dreamed.