Monthly Archives: July 2015

[TMC15] Day 3 Reflections

I’m typing this up as I’m leaving in the airport because I didn’t have time the last night to type it up–too busy talking with awesome teachers and learning so much. So just a quick recap of some awesome things I learned.

In Activity-based Teaching’s morning session, we broke into disciplines (sorta) and worked on finding & creating a repository for the types of Activities that we discussed throughout this year. One neat one I found out about from Lori (@Akahouli) is the “spaghetti trig” where students break (uncooked) spaghetti noodles into pieces horizontally to reach different locations in the unit circle. The noodles are then graphed along a string taken & marked from the circumference at each point where the noodle touched. That’s a pretty cool discovery project for sin & cos on the unit circle.

Another Idea that came up from somewhere during the day (I can’t find out who said it!) was sometimes doing gallery walks instead of presentations. That way students doing the “same thing” isn’t a problem and students still get to be proud of their work.

At lunch I listened to several people talk about 3D printing and am excited to possibly write a grant for a 3D printer. At least now I have names of good 3D printers that teachers have used so I have a starting point.

The best thing of the entire conference was listening to Fawn Nguyen’s keynote. As Julie said, “Can you imagine being a student in Fawn’s class?!?”  She gave great advice (understatement) and focused on how relationships are so important. It really spoke to me. I am fortunate to attend a school where the vast majority of the teachers are really good at making those relationships and caring about the students. As I think back over it, Fawn’s message is great to all of us during TMC because we often, and I speak mostly to myself falling into this trap, can look at lessons, ideas, technology, activities, etc. and try to find the “silver bullet”. But “nobody cares” about all that stuff, as Fawn would say, if you don’t focus on the fact that you are teaching people. The relationships must come first because that is the way that you will make the biggest life-changing impact on a child’s life and I completely agree with that sentiment. (I hope I paraphrased that part of Fawn’s talk well enough.)

In the afternoon, Alex Overwijk gave a session on vertical non-permanent surfaces & visible random grouping. Yes, every word in those mouthfuls are important for different reasons. One of the best times during that session was when one teacher said “but my classroom has x, y, and z” and other teachers started rattling off ways that they got around “x, y, and z”. This was actually why I came: to solve a problem of mine with this.  Being a traveling teacher, I can’t just install whiteboards in my rooms. However, one cool idea that was mentioned was using command strips with hooks on the wall and drilling 2 holes near the top of the whiteboards. I plan on doing this immediately (first gotta buy a drill bit…) when I get back and this will make every wall of my classroom useable even though I share the class!!  Wohoo!

He also gave some other good rules, such as “one pen”, “if it’s your idea, you can’t write it” and the fact that “leveling (getting everyone to the same place) is NOT THAT IMPORTANT”. Wow, I don’t need to kill good math conversations just to talk at the end of every class!

I went to the Desmos Flex session thinking I was a Desmos expert, but learned much more than I thought I would. One of the main things I learned was about the “Polygraphs” which I hope to use in activities coming up this year for many reasons.

That night Bob Lochel (@bobloch) challenged a group of us asking a very good question (I think he was playing Devil’s advocate). “How do you know that any of this (TMC) works? Where’s the proof?”

I can’t speak for TMC specifically because I haven’t gotten back into the classroom to see the results of what I plan to implement, but I have hunches about how I’ll be better. I’ve already written how the MTBoS has significantly improved my teaching, and that was written 1.5 years ago (and yes, the growth has continued, at least linearly since then thanks to the MTBoS). So I won’t rehash how the MTBoS has improved my teaching, but I will say that my teaching growth comes in periods of spurts and periods of stagnation. And those periods of growth can be linked directly to how much time I spend on the MTBoS (in any way: blogs, twitter, websites) vs. time away from the MTBoS. And now that I can put faces, names, and conversations to the people that I read and tweet with, I know that I will be more committed to interacting with all these wonderful people. Which will improve my teaching. So is TMC an effective way for the MTBoS to improve the body of teachers across the US & the world? I don’t know enough to answer whether or not that is being maximized, but in the vein of the starfish story, it has changed this teacher.

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[TMC15] Day 2 Reflections

Glen Waddell’s “High 5’s at the door” had me excited about math!

3D Printers, from Heather Kohn, had me excited about 3D printers. I thought about writing a grant for one last year but never did. I think I want to now. Creole (sp?) takes a PDF and makes it into a 3D object. (Talk to John Stevens, too!)

In the Activity-Based Teaching (my morning session), we talked more about spiraling curriculum and the benefits. We also did a cool activity where he asked us all to remember 20 words and regurgitate them as best as possible. This typically makes a parabola, which can unload tons of questions from there, not only about math, but about studying and real-world applications, such as telling someone a list of objects to be sold, etc. I was comforted when Alex & Mary admitted that it is difficult for more higher-level math courses to do activity based teaching. However, Alex says he does this with his “Precalculus” class (the Canadian equivalent of it for his district).

During lunch, Julie, Sam, & Tina talked about the blogger initiation for this year and I got excited about the possibilities. The main idea they want to work around is having 2 strands: 1) for bloggers/tweeters who are brand new and 2) for bloggers who aren’t, but could use encouragement. They’re also talking about having mentors & mentees and grouping people, which I think would be HUGE for both the mentor and the mentee. I really want to mentor 3 or so teachers from across the country who want to “test out” blogging and tweeting but aren’t sure what to do. That would be fulfilling as well as motivating to get more involved in the community myself!

Christopher Danielson shared, at the keynote, how we need to find our favorite thing and do that, both in our classrooms and online, so our students & other teachers (and by extension other students) can benefit from what we love. He shared that what he loves is ambiguity (at it’s root) which is why he wrote the book “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” After hearing his talk on it, I’m definitely going to use the website that Mary Bourassa created: Which One Doesn’t Belong.  However, Christopher did explain that, while it’s great for everyone to get excited about ambiguity (or debate, as I’m going to use it to that end some), I still need to think about what I love and why I love it. I need to do some reflection on that later.

In the afternoon sessions, first I attended Meg Craig’s “Function Transformations without Tears”. I not only got some cool worksheets out of it (more posted on the TMC wiki), but she provided a neat, new approach to function transformations. In the past I had always done an exploration, which took way, way too long since it’s Precalculus and they should have seen much of this already. The new idea is to “move the origin (whether or not it’s on the function” and graph the parent function using the new origin. It gets a little tricky when talking about what I used to call “stretching”, but Jed explained how he sticks to the vocabulary “Input” and “output” and Jim kept going back to the question “what do you plug in to get the origin?” (Which, I just realized, doesn’t work if the function doesn’t go through the origin… but it’ll be a good starting point). I’m also going to use “h,k” notation and move the k to the other side so it’s actually physically next to the y! I also want to consider using the “Window Pane” method for graphing sin & cos, as well as look deeper into figuring out whether I can also divide both sides to get the other factor closer to the y for consistency. Would it be weird for me to ask my student to turn this:


into this:


or even into this:


or possibly/ultimately into this (if c=1/b ):


This will take more thinking.

Perhaps it would be better to instead define z=1/a and have students do this:

z(y-x) = (b(x-h))^2

That not only makes it obvious what is affecting the input vs output, but it’s also consistent, so there’s no memorizing “oh yeah, inside the function means opposite of the other thing…”. I’m excited about this! Of course this applies to any function where we’re applying a transformation.


The final session was on SBG and I got into some great discussions with Anna Hester, Nathan Kraft, and others concerning when to grade (formative vs summative assessment), how much to grade (size of scope of standards), and how to connect standards (leave it alone & talk about it, or grade it somehow…). Great discussions and lots of food for thought.

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[TMC15] Day 1 Reflections

This should only be a short blog post to help me remember what I experienced today. It was super fun and it’s exciting, even if a bit overwhelming, to find that everywhere you turn there are people who have a very similar goal at their job: get students to learn & love math.

Here’s what I discovered & learned (in reverse chronological order):

  • Arithmetic, specifically just adding and multiplying numbers, can be beautiful (Art Benjamin’s presentation was awesome!)
  • Anything can be turned into a debatable activity (Chris Luz, @pispeak had a great presentation with tons of info!)
  • Debate is great for students for many, many reasons. To name a few:
    • Gets students thinking on both sides of an issue
    • Students can see when it’s better to solve problems different ways (when you force them to choose one side and debate 1 on 1 with a classmate)
    • Makes it exciting
    • A bunch of other reasons I didn’t write down.
  • Giving students a framework/vocabulary for debate makes “attacks” less personal and more appealing.
  • Physics Educational Research–Physics teachers have already done the research in how to best teach Physics. Wow, how didn’t I know this already? Lots to look for here before I start class in 2 weeks. *gulp* (Thanks Eric!)
  • Bree (@btwnthenumbers) shared how she uses Evernote (why haven’t I really used it before?!?) to organize her MTBoS material. I need to get better at sorting things right when I read them and Evernote can help do that as long as I’m diligent while I’m reading.
  • I need to go through the 200+ bookmarks I’ve saved into Chrome but never looked at again. Why didn’t I realize that I don’t look at those?!?
  • Alex Overwijk & Mary Bourassa shared how to get students to ask good questions: it’s by making them reflect on what makes a good question and putting a poster of what they realize on the wall (okay, it’s a little more than that, but I wrote the rest down in my notes, okay?)
  • Trader Joe’s doesn’t open until 8am. Why?!? No idea.

I’ve also met someone who:

  • Shares a last name with me.
  • Taught with my father-in-law (Nicole Paris, @solvingforx)
  • Teaches in my former “hometown” (Mary Brown, @marybachbrown)
  • Went to my college (okay, so I already knew you two, Anna & Julie!)
  • Shares a room with me (well, okay, Jamie, @jrykse, & I had planned that out ahead of time though we had never met in person)

Looking forward to more fun tomorrow!

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