Three small good things and one big good thing

Today was a long day, after a weekend when I was down for the count because of a cold. When it’s a long day, everything tends to be a blur, but I want to think about some specific moments that were nice to end things!

(1) I went down early for lunch with three colleagues, and the lunch area was surprisingly quiet and relaxed, so we all stayed and ate together. Like, yeah, I inhaled my lunch in like 10-15 minutes (what’s new), but it was nice to not be at a computer working while I did that.

(2) I am a “college essay mentor” for a few senior students. I met with one of them today and we talked for a good amount of time, and at the end, they very earnestly said how helpful our meeting was. And this is a kid I really think highly of, and really want to do right by them, so I was happy about that!

(3) I did a groupwork activity in my longband class that got annihilated because of kids leaving early for sports. So that wasn’t ideal — to do groupwork stuff when so many kids were gone. But it had to be done. In any case, I loved that a group was so into the challenge that when we had to stop, they left their table untouched and then spent another 10 minutes after school finishing it up (successfully, I must add!).

Most importantly:

I have been distracted all day, because my mom was going to have surgery to remove some cancer from her lungs. I got a text from my dad early in the morning saying she was ready for the surgery. She’s now out of the surgery. They don’t have an ICU room available for her, but she seems to be doing okay in the recovery room. It’s been in the back of my mind all day. I think everything is okay for now, and so that’s really my one big good thing.


Nice Text

Randomly at 7:23am, I get a text from a colleague/friend who wrote: “I just wanted to tell you that I so appreciate using your materials from Geo A and Precalc because you make so many things like a game that kids actually WANT to play, which is so awesome.” What a way to start the day!

In other news, I had my first “hell day” where I teach all of my classes (we have a rotating schedule, so that doesn’t happen a lot). But even though I felt pretty busy, I didn’t freak out or anything (which can happen when I get totally overwhelmed). I definitely have to count that as a win!

Before school started, I hung up these posters in the hallway outside of the math office.


[you can order them from here — free shipping!] My hope was that a couple kids might stop by and puzzle over them randomly. Which has happened a few times before. But OMG today was crazy. During lunch/community time, three different gaggles of students were in the hallway having heated conversations about them. Some didn’t quite recognize the conceit and others were like “BUT THEY ALL DON’T BELONG.” Others struggled to find things about each one that didn’t belong. Others just joined the crowd and started looking. I swear each of these different times (with different sets of students), there were like 15 kids all looking/talking/debating. In fact, the reason I knew this was happening was because they were all talking about it so loudly, that I could hear it inside the office (granted, the door was open, but still…)

I’ve been in debate about whether to create a “math play table” in the hallway. Now I’m of the mind that I have to do this! You know what they say… If you build it, they will come!

In Calculus, during our long block, I had kids do a group building activity that I got from Jessica Breur a few years ago. (You can see my notes from a session I went to led by her here. But she sent me this particular activity later so it isn’t in the notes.) I don’t remember what she called it, but I called it “Squares to Rectangles.” And after kids finished it, a bunch of kids said how much they loved doing the challenge. One of the talking stems they were allowed to use was “You cannot put those tiles here” and one kid, during our debrief, said that they were going to just start using that as their catchphrase all the time. (Since they pretty much said that over and over during the activity.) And my heart melted.

In the middle of the day, kids were told who their “college essay mentors” were. And pretty immediately after, two of the kids that I was assigned came bounding up to me suuuper excited about it!

Wow, it’s super awesome to write down all the great things that happened today. I remember doing this regularly (daily!) for a whole year and it was so wonderful. I came home feeling super drained/exhausted, but now I feel energized.

Friends, Postcards, and Photos!

Today was our first day of meetings. And they announced the winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award that wasn’t announced last year. It was awarded to one of my best friends, Alice. I was over the moon. (Confession: I have been nominating her to win since 2013, and I wrote a 2.5 single-spaced letter of support that I keep on editing and submitting.) It made me SO HAPPY!

Also, in my mailbox was a postcard from a former student:


It had such a sweet note.

And in the opposite postcard news, I saw a parent of one of my advisees today and she said how wonderful it was to see her kid read the postcard I mailed ’em [I wrote individual postcards to my advisees last week just to say “Oh no, school is back! I hope you had a great summer! This year is going to rock!”]. That felt great.

A student who graduated last year was about to go off to college (he leaves on Friday), but he came back to school (I don’t actually know why!) and it was nice to wish him well before he left!

Lastly, I have been looking through my rosters for the year, and made a page for each of my classes which has names but also photos (to help me learn everyones’ names). But as I was looking through all the photos, I felt all warm and fuzzy. All (but one) kids had grins on their faces in the photos, and it just made me realize I get to work with these happy kids. And yeah, I bet they are probably going to be insanely awesome. Before creating this photo book, I just kept thinking about class numbers and I had names that meant nothing. But now I have faces, that means my kids are real!

A List

  1. I had a light teaching load day. And I was giving a test in one of my classes. And I got a lot of logistic work done.
  2. I got a super nice email from someone this morning (saying they heard that my NCTM Orlando talk that I gave with Bowman was great) and that put me in a good mood.
  3. I had three conversations with three of my advisees about their midsemester grades and they all went well. And a short convo with another advisee was nice because they opened up a bit. And one of my other advisees showed me this ridiculous video of a squirrel.
  4. I got a lot of planning done.
  5. Lunch was delicious. They had mashed potatoes, so I took two helpings.
  6. I had my “mentor meeting” with the new faculty member I’m “mentoring” and we walked to a local cafe and had tea and shared a strawberries and cream dessert and had a nice conversation.
  7. A student who said he was going to email me to set up a time to meet actually did, and that made me happy because I wanted to see follow through.
  8. My calculus class went really well today. I was so sick and tired of all the algebra we had been doing, and I had been feeling like I was in the doldrums, and today we mixed things up with a short 15 minute activity that I think helped me finally feel like we were almost out of the algebra thicket.
  9. We had a birthday in calculus so we got to sing the birthday song to a student (and she got to wear a birthday hat… sadly it broke…)
  10. I met with a student after school, and we had a lovely meandering conversation about calculus and other stuff, but what I loved is that she mentioned some stuff we had learned last year “for fun” and she talked about how that blew her mind (e.g. Graham’s number). It was a meeting that could have taken 15 minutes but because I was just having fun, and so was she, we ended up chatting for 45 minutes.
  11. Before leaving school, I ran into three students, one who I’m teaching now, and two who I taught last year. And we had a short but fun conversation, and they were talking about stuff we did last year and it just made me feel good.
  12. My friend and colleague Maria told me that she was working with a student on precalculus, but they really GOT geometric series because the stuff I had created was really “sticky” and he really understood it.
  13. My friend Maria got me thinking about random numbers and H and T coin flips and for 10 minutes, I had fun going down a small mathematical rabbit hole.
  14. My friend Alice and I were emailing about how we never see each other anymore, and I told her I stopped by her office today and she wasn’t there, and then later I came to my desk and she had stopped by and I wasn’t there.
  15. I got home before 6pm. Which, if you know me, is rare.

Fried… Brain dump.

Today I had the most crazy day. We have a 7 day cycle, and “Day 1” is my hell day. I see all of my classes, including “the long block” (and other commitments during most of my free times). But the reason today was even more insane is that it was parent visiting day. In theory, it’s such a nice idea. But of course, it is not something I love, having people in my classroom that I don’t know, and who are possibly (probably) making first-impression judgments of me. So in practice, it’s scary.

In all of my classes, I’ve formed new groups. So today I was going to do a 25 minute group building exercise I designed. So in my classes, we’d devote about half the class to kids talking about how to build the best group they can for each other, and half the class to kids doing math. That was the plan. In theory. In practice, the group building exercise blossomed into 40 minutes, and we only had 5-10 minutes of time for class. So parents didn’t even get to see their kids thinking about math, really. And that bummed me out.

Also, since the activity was new, I didn’t quite know how it would go. And now that I’ve done it, I still don’t know. Which is weird. Normally I have a sense of things. I heard some really awesome conversations, and in some classes, kids were opening up. I do think some kids thought it was “another reflection exercise a teacher wants us to go through,”  but I think others found it genuinely useful. I will say that in my first class, one parent asked me if there’s a book I could recommend that informed how I think about groupwork (which made me happy) and in my second class, another two parents told me they work with adults who can’t work well in groups and they are going to steal some of what I did in their work. And I did ask a student in my first period class (who I saw later in the day) what he thought about the activity, and he was pretty positive about it. So that made me feel pretty good about things. I think that in my next two classes, things weren’t as smooth, so that’s why I’m feeling unsure.

Wait, this is the one good thing blog, not the “I’ve had a crazy day and I can’t think of anything good because I’m frazzled” blog. So now that I’ve done my brain dump:

  1. I got to reconnect with a colleague in the history department who I rarely see, and we had a nice 20 minute conversation after school about our time at my school. It was fun!
  2. I am going to see the school play tonight, and I have a bunch of students and an advisee in it. So I’m excited about that.
  3. Before going to see the school play, I am going to dinner with a friend! Like a real dinner, not like we get food and bring it back to school and work together, like we normally do.
  4. A student left my precalculus class saying he was going to be thinking about this problem that we were working on all weekend.



Best. Email. Ever.

So what feels like eons ago (September 14th), we were talking about higher dimensions in my Advanced Precalculus class. Why? Who knows. Wait, I know. Maybe. Yes, we were working on an introductory problem which dealt with a cube, and we were extending our results into higher dimensions. By patterns. Yes. Okay.

Some kids were into thinking about this… And so I posted this on our google classroom stream:


I didn’t get a reply from any kid. That’s pretty much the usual when I post things like this. So I’ve learned not to hold my breath. But I like to post things (a) to let kids know I love it when they dig math, and (b) to provide a window of opportunity in case someone wants to bite.

So yeah. I didn’t get a reply from any kid. UNTIL TODAY. WHICH IS NOVEMBER 1ST. A kid emailed me saying she got 4 other kids interested in reading this book and having a book club on it. I am so beyond thrilled I can’t even express it! You see, I had “book clubs” in my multivariable calculus class for the last two years and we read this book both years. And my school has phased out multivariable calculus (for a better course! proof and structure!). So that means no more book clubs for me, and I miss that.

I still am wary about this becoming a thing. But I hope there is follow through, and I get to read Flatland with kids this year!!!

A challenge problem, New groups, Bells

I had a headache most of Sunday, so I didn’t get much done. But I did get to school early on Monday and met up with a student who was working on a challenge problem I posed. He shared his thinking with me, and I shared what made sense and what didn’t about his thinking. I’m just excited that he was working on this for fun.

Also, in one of my calculus classes, I revealed the students’ new groups (they’ve been with the same people since the start of the year… so about six weeks). It was nice to hear so many students say how much they were sad to be leaving their first groups because they loved working with them. (They weren’t bemoaning their new groups, though…) The fact that they would be sad about leaving their groups meant that the group was actually a meaningful collaboration for them.

I gave a visual pattern to one of my precalculus classes, after having introduced “the hotel bells.


And as students saw different ways to come up with the number of squares in the nth figure, they started realizing how rich this problem was. And they started seeing things they hadn’t seen before. And bells started ringing. And that tintinnabulation made me so happy.