Gratitude notes

This morning in our faculty meeting, we were asked to write two thank you cards: one to someone in our department and one to someone outside our department. It was a really good way to start the day.

I know this is supposed to be a season of gratitude and reflection, but sometimes I get so lost in all that “has” to get done that I miss out on one of my favorite times of year.

This morning reminded me that it’s better to be thankful than it is to be stressed, and I have a choice in that matter.


One of my precalc kids has been intentional this week about studying for our upcoming test in advance. She offered to me that she’s been studying but hasn’t seen the results on her assessments. A statement like that will always tug on a teacher’s heart. I knew it wasn’t a matter of skill or work ethic, but simply learning how to best study, which looks different for everyone.

We’ve met a couple times this week and she’s done exactly what I’ve asked of her on her own time. The test is still two days away, but she said today that she already feels so much different and so much better about this test.

And that’s a real goal here. Will all these kids use polar equations in their future jobs? No. I’m preparing many of them for jobs that don’t even exist yet. So.

What they will use is an understanding of how they best learn. They’ll use the confidence they gain when they overcome something that seemed impossible at one point. And maybe they’ll also remember that people–parents, friends, teachers–helped along the way. And they’ll choose to do the same.


A bright page

Today was Check Up day in calc (like a quiz but the students get the correct answers at the end and they can correct for full points back). While the kids work on their check up, I grade notebooks. I never look forward to these days. I prefer to interact with students rather than homework. I’m so excited for next year when we’re 1:1 because I have grand plans of letting software take over some of this monotonous grading.

But I digress.

So usually these days I just wade through notebook after notebook, seeing the same problems done right and the same problems done incorrectly.

And then…

Today as I flipping through pages, something unmissable caught my attention:

Oh yes. There I was grading in the corner, trying not to let anyone see the tears forming.

So my typical boring day turned so bright. Because someone was intentional about making it bright.

Aiming for Long Term

Lately I have been struggling with finding the right questions to ask students to help them make progress in their understanding. I’m finding myself stuck between helping students find the correct answer to a specific question, problem, or activity and helping students build their understanding of the math. Sometimes working toward the deeper understanding means the current question, problem, or activity will not be finished correctly.

So, I can make sure a student ends our math block with correct answers on their paper but doesn’t truly understand the math they did or I can ask questions that (hopefully) push them in the right direction but don’t ensure that the current day’s work is successfully completed. Basically I can focus on the short term or the long term. I find it hard to make sure I’m focused on the long term.

How is this ‘one good thing’? A reasonable question. It’s a good thing, in my eyes, because identifying this question and asking it regularly will, in the long term, make me a better teacher.

Good enough isn’t good enough

A calc kid asked me to look at one of his problems because his answer was a bit off from the key.

“Don’t worry about it. Your setup is correct. You probably just rounded prematurely.” I told him and marked the question as correct.

It must have been a good twenty minutes later when he came up and said, “Mrs. Peterson, I found what I had done wrong. See here…”

What? I gave him permission to move on.

But he didn’t.

He wasn’t satisfied with good enough.

That’s inspiring. There’s no way around it.


A student asked to meet after school today to start prepping for Friday’s test. Beforehand, she messaged me to ask what I wanted from Starbucks.

Obviously we all help students all the time when we’re off contract. None of us expects coffee every time. But I just thought that was the sweetest thing.

As she was leaving she said, “If you don’t like it, don’t feel like you need to drink it!”

“You’re kidding, right? Coffee is my love language.”


We’ve been a one-car family for a little over a week so I’ve been hitching rides home with coworkers (first world problems). Today I rode with a first-year teacher and former student. We sat, parked in my driveway, and lamented the first-year experience (we are both alternatively certified).

I read once that people need less advice and more friends who will just listen. I hope that’s true because I tend to be better at the latter.

I didn’t offer much advice (except maybe try One Good Thing 😉 ), but it was so good to sit and talk with a friend. To see how much she is giving her students. To be reminded of how hard it is to make it through that first year. But also to know that it’s that first year that shapes so much of the teacher we end up becoming. And I’m excited to witness that in my dear friend.


We spent the first part of precalc playing more with polar graphs on Desmos today. I gave the kids the general formulas for cardioids, limaçons, rose curves, and lemniscates and just said “Play with these equations. If you come up with something cool, show the class.”

One student asked, “Does it have to be in the form of one of those equations [on the board]?”

“No, as long as it’s polar, we want to see!”

“Ok cool–because I already have one.”

Seriously. Can they be any cuter?

Here is one I played with:


My threat of “You’re getting a zero until you can get at least 9/10 derivatives right” must have worked, at least in first hour. No one missed more than two.


A student from last year who is one of our National Merits is visiting Baylor right now. I just got a text that he visited with the chair of the math department there and has lots to share.

I live for the phrase “I have so much to tell you.”

Brett and I got married pretty young (22 and 23), but we decided early that the phrase “communication is key” is only part of the equation. It’s not just communicating that’s important; it’s wanting to communicate.

Even before we were given the gift of our son, we knew we wanted to parents whose kid wanted to talk to us–about anything.

And as a teacher, that’s when I know I have a solid relationship with a kid: when I hear the words “I can’t wait to tell you…”

Desmos will forever have my heart

I got to introduce my precalc kids to polar graphs today. I have a class set of laptops that sits in the back of the room for my precalc students because my group is piloting the online homework platform before my school goes 1:1 next year.

Today they retrieved their laptops as usual.

A bit into the lesson, I told them to open Desmos and graph r=2-5sin(3theta):

They thought that was decently cool.

“Now change the 3 to a 4”:

Yep. That was all it took.

I did not say another word for several minutes in both classes because they just went for it. They tried all kinds of nutty of stuff and came up with some beautiful graphs.

I heard whispers of “This is so fun!” and “Look how pretty mine is!” and “My mind is blown!”

Yes. Yes. Yes! Math is beautiful and fun and blows your mind! ALL THE THINGS!

I’ve always shown the kids these graphs on Desmos when I’ve introduced polar graphing. But having a laptop for each kid and letting all of them just play took this lesson to an entirely new level.

It made me so excited for next year, when all our kids will have a device. I think technology–when used appropriately–can help us make math come alive even more.

I’m excited.


I tried something in calc today that I’ve been reading about from several colleagues in the MTBoS. My kids had an AP Set Quiz today (past FRQs that I give them ahead of time). As usual, I put one question up on the left side of the Smart Board for half the class to answer; the other question on the right side of the board. But instead of giving them paper to write their individual answers, I told them to talk about their quiz with those around them; they just couldn’t have anything out.

Boy. Howdy.

Talk about a “turn and talk” that actually worked.

They were firing out answers like there was no tomorrow. After five minutes, I told them to get a pencil; I handed out paper; they turned in their work; and it was absolutely lovely.

The conversations I heard were most definitely worth the five minutes. The reduced stress/test anxiety was a huge plus. *And* every kid actually talked through *both* problems even though they only had to turn in one.

It was delightful.

It feels so good when we get better at our craft. It feels harder these days in some ways, you know? Obviously there’s still room for growth, but the room a few years back was just so much bigger and so much more obvious as to how it needed to be filled.

Anyway, it felt good.


I’ve given my calc kids two derivative checks this unit: each one is four functions, twenty points. Neither check has been great.

I sensed that if I kept giving these in this manner, the grade disparity was just going to get worse. In other words, I felt this would only help those who already understood and hurt those who didn’t.

So I’m rerouting. I decided everyone will have at least a 90% and I’m not giving up until they all do, so help me:


Also this from a previous student: