Tag Archives: MTBoS

[Blaugust] MTBoS = Awesome

Today I wanted to say how awesome the #MTBoS is. I always knew it was, but it was reiterated to me this week.


I’m new to 8th grade math and I’m new to teaching ELL (English Language Learner) inclusion classes. After asking around on Twitter, I was quickly pointed to Heather Kohn (@heather_kohn), who teaches ELL. She instantly sent me an email with resources, from her blog and a google drive folder of resources!

Then the next day a fellow MTBoS teacher in my district, Nicole Paris (@solvingforx), also teaches 8th grade, and sent me a google drive folder from her 8th grade math team at her school, with the words “you are welcome to use and modify as you’d like”.

It’s incredible how sharing the MTBoS is, and how quick they are to help out fellow teachers. Thank you, everyone!!

Now I’ve just got to start reading everything… 🙂

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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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[MTBoS] Mission #4: Infinite Tangents Podcasts

Having attended many Global Math meetings, I became super-excited about the “Autumn Special”, which is packed with rock-stars great teachers & presenters and generally awesome people.  Unfortunately, my school’s internet has been awful lately [1], so I was unable to hear the presenters.

However, I am fortunate that this happened because it turned my attention to Ashli Black’s (@mythagon) podcast: Infinite Tangents.  I had listened to her first podcast several months ago and had every intention of continuing to use them, but the problem is that I don’t regularly listen to podcasts, so I don’t have a program or a method to “catch up” with podcasts like I do with blogs [2].  I also don’t really commute to work [3], so I don’t often have that time where I can just listen and work on what I’m doing.

So I was very excited to find that my iPad has been faithful in keeping the Infinite Tangents podcast up to date, so I didn’t need internet in order to listen to some of the older podcasts. The one I chose to listen to was episode 103 interviewing Tina Cardone (@crstn85) of Drawing on Math.

Her first topic was about this program in Boston called PROMYS, which is where advanced students and teachers work through problem sets and learn advanced math through discovery.  I loved math/science camp when I was a kid, but never imagined there was something like that for teachers.  Unfortunately Tina pointed out that most teachers who attend the program are Boston locals or commuters because there’s no boarding available, and living in New Mexico makes it kinda a long commute.  That’s probably for the best because I already have a lot I want to do this summer between TMC, going to a Modeling workshop, and just visiting friends and family in MD and NC.

She went on to talk about Productive Struggle, which I subscribe to, but have only submitted one or two times.  I could definitely blog about that more and help my own teaching out by explaining all the times I’ve given lessons that have been total flops.

One of the great things that Ashli does is she has a handful of neat questions that really help you get to know these people whose blogs you read & follow but, unless you are fortunate enough to attend TMC, never really get to know as people.  I certainly plan to make time to listen to Infinite Tangents in the future!


[1] I live in housing provided by my school, and we live close enough that we don’t have to pay for internet: we can steal our school’s internet.  Which is great except for when the internet is awful at school, so it becomes frustrating at work and at home.

[2] I use Feedly and there’s always too much backed up on there for me to finish it all in one sitting.

[3] I walk to school and it takes me about 50 seconds. See footnote #1.


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[Explore the MTBoS] Mission #3: SBG Makes Grading Fun & Math Mistakes

Standards Based Grading (SBG) is a different approach to how grades work at a fundamental level that will change your classroom.  To get some real background on this, read Shawn Cornally’s stuff here.

I have absolutely loved SBG so far this year. I’ve got a few posts on it, if you care to see exactly what I’m doing, but that’s not the purpose of this posts.

Something you should know about me is I get bored and distracted easily. Even before I became a teacher, I knew that motivating myself to grade would be a struggle, and early on I recognized the importance of getting grades back quickly to students. I used to be very bored while grading, checking off boxes brainlessly like a computer.  Even my open-ended problems could have been graded by a computer, and I often didn’t pay attention to how well different students did, as they all blended together when marking problems right or wrong.

Now, because of SBG, I look at their quizzes looking for understandingnot ticking off boxes saying whether their answer matches my key.  This makes me much more interested in what they’re doing, which helps motivate me to grade.

One website that is now essential for me to study and use is Math Mistakes.  It’s a great website that Michael (@mpershan) runs by getting teachers to submit student mistakes and then others comment on those mistakes and discuss what the student understands and doesn’t understand.  Many teacher contribute both student mistakes and comments on those mistakes.

It’s something that I should be visiting more often than I am, and a must for any math teacher. I hope to motivate myself to visit more often so that I can continue building my capacity to understand student mistakes and the misunderstandings behind those mistakes.


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[Explore the MTBoS] Teaching Within a Culture

The Mission

The MTBoS Challenge for week 2 involves tweeting with some people you normally wouldn’t tweet with and then blogging about it. I saw Jason Buell (@jybuell) tweeting about Decolonization, and so I asked him about it to learn more and get his thoughts.

Decolonization: Brief Overview

The way I understand it, Decolonization is the idea that “settlers” and “colonists” who have moved in on another culture’s territory, should either remove themselves or proceed with every care to preserve the culture into which they’ve moved.  Specifically with respect to education, this emphasizes that your priorities, or the “white man’s” priorities, should not supersede the indigenous people’s priorities when it comes to educational practices, e.g. curriculum and required content. To put that in simpler terms, just because I think math is important does not mean I should “run over” another culture and teach math, or all the same parts of math, to that culture.

My Particular Situation: My School

This is a particularly interesting and important discussion to me because I teach in the midst of a Native American reservation, and so about 70% of my school’s population is Native American, primarily Navajo, but that figure also includes some Zuni Pueblo.

To complicate matters, I teach at a Christian School, which is an old school (we’re celebrating our 111th anniversary this year), and a boarding school on top of that.  The school has a very shameful and terrible past which includes things like teachers beating students for speaking Navajo instead of English, even outside of class. To give you an idea of the philosophy early in the school’s history, they used to follow a saying that went like this: “Beat the native out of the man and leave the Christian behind” or something like that.

Fortunately not only has our school turned from it’s past, but it has also repented and begun work on undoing the damage it did throughout it’s long history.  For example, we now teach Navajo, a dying language despite the fact that the Navajo population is growing, because we believe that a culture’s language is central to the preservation of that culture.  Another example is the school, just a decade ago, paid for a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper where they apologized for their past: even though all the people who perpetrated those crimes have long since passed away.

Where I Stand

So this school has come a long way, and yet has a lot of work to do yet. But I am not sure I totally agree with the philosophy behind “Decolonization” that I stated above.  Jason gave me some great links to follow to read more about it.  One of the links took me some reports and data which discussed “Redefining how success is measured in Aboriginal learning.”  The paragraph explains as follows:

Increasingly, Aboriginal communities are administering educational programs and services formerly delivered by non-Aboriginal governments. They are developing culturally relevant curricula and community-based language and culture programs, and creating their own educational institutions.

Yet as Aboriginal people work to improve community wellbeing through lifelong learning, they recognize the need to identify appropriate measurement tools that will help them assess what is working and what is not.

So I read that and I think they could mean two very different things.  What I hope they don’t mean:

Indigenous people do not excel in subjects such as math or English, so we should define what it means to be successful as an indigenous person, and make easier standards so we can assess students on those instead.

What I hope they do mean:

The current assessments do not take into account the traditions and history of indigenous cultures, and so, because we find that extremely important, would like to include that in assessments. Furthermore, the assessments have become culturally biased to the point that there is a distinct advantage of growing up in one culture over another on these assessments: they should be “normalized” or generalized so that specific cultural knowledge is not a requirement or boon for one culture over another.

And yet, even as I type that, I am worried that I am writing from too biased a perspective.  Who am I to decide that math is important for any young child?  I think that it is important, but is that too culturally specific?

At some point, I find myself putting my foot down and saying that some things transcend culture. Better healthcare, basic human rights, and a better understanding of logic are some of those things.

In the Navajo culture, there is a strong suspicious belief that “whoever tells you bad news is actually the cause of that bad news”, especially when it comes to babies.  Think about the implications of that for a second.  Mothers give birth to severely disabled babies and are totally unprepared for the consequences because doctors and nurses did not want to be the one who is seen as “responsible for the birth defect”, when a little knowledge could go a long way.

Another aspect of the Navajo culture is the stigma around death.  If someone dies in a house, you’re supposed to abandon the house and knock out a wall (I believe the North wall) to let the spirit out. I’ve talk to a doctor who has visited many very poor families, who only have one Hogan (house).  The doctor will “checks the pulse” of the person on their deathbed and waits to tell the family the person is dead until they’ve moved the body out of the house, just so the family will be allowed to keep their house.

The Navajo culture has some great and beautiful aspects, but a large part of the culture is centered around fear: from evil spirits to skin-walkers to superstitions, there is a lot to be afraid of in the culture.  And I believe it is the responsibility of people inside the culture to identify which parts of the culture are important and beautiful and which are damaging and unhealthy.

Wrap It Up, Will Ya?

So how should a belegana like me approach and interact with the culture and people of the culture? Form relationships.  Get to know people. Be respectful, of the people and of the customs. “What to teach” is actually not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of interacting with my students, some of whom have incredible needs (perhaps I should think of it more, so it’s good for me to reflect like this).

Instead, my thoughts are on the student who recently lost her only parent in a car wreck. Or the student who goes home to an alcoholic and abusive father. Or the student who is going to be a father, but couldn’t pass his classes before he had a child, so how is he going to keep up and learn anything now?

Perhaps I’m side-stepping the issue by focusing on individuals and not the culture, but I do think that anyone who decides to “redefine success” should be careful in how they do that.  Do not reduce rigor at the expense of a generation of students. (Is that the “colonist” in me speaking??)  Instead, identify what is important across cultures and keep that while changing the specifics of that rigor for various cultures.

Steam-rolling another culture is not the way to go, but neither is isolation.  Diversity is a beautiful thing when brought together, but you need differences for there to be diversity.


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[Explore the MTBoS] Mission #1: Stop-Motion Video and Participation Points

Note: I just finished typing this blog post and re-read the prompt carefully and realized that Sam asked for one of these two prompts.  Oops.  Sorry if you’re reading this because my comment is above yours: don’t feel like you need to read both sections if you don’t want to. 🙂

Favorite Open-Ended/Rich Problems: The Stop-Motion Parametric Video

One of the topics in Precalculus that we cover is Parametric equations. One day I was watching a stop-motion video, and I had the idea to get my students to do stop-motion videos showing a parametric equation.  Here are some example videos from last year:

(The third one is my favorite…)

The students were asked to create a Parametric equation and then use stop-motion to illustrate it. I didn’t care which came first: the video or the equation, as long as they matched each other.  We used iPads and a stop-motion app, which takes pictures and puts them together to make a video for you.  However, you don’t need access to iPads because there are plenty of websites that can take your pictures and create a stop-motion video out of them, so all you’d need is one camera per group and access to a computer or computer lab for each group.

Last year that’s all I had them do: make a video and tell me what the associate equation is. This year what I want them to think about it a little more, so I’m going to have them create a Google power-point which includes various thing, such as a graph, table, equation of the situation, explanation of the variables, and a few challenging questions for their classmates.  Here’s my example Google Presentation that you can check out (yes, I used one of my student’s videos from last year as my example, but don’t worry: I’ll give them credit!).


One Thing That Makes My Classroom Distinctly Mine: Participation Points

Something I call Participation Points.  I am the only one at my school who uses this system, and I’ve yet to convince any other teachers at my school to use them, but I may have some converts in the MTBoS–we’ll see.

PPs (Participation Points) are something that students must keep track of and they must earn 100 each week. My premise:

  • Students should often be able to choose what level and type of work they complete to “earn” their grade.
  • When allowed to choose, students will typically choose work that challenges them “just enough”.
  • Homework should be option and seen as “practice if needed” (and usually it should be needed).
  • I should have the flexibility to create opportunities to learn on the spot, and have it count toward some part of their grade even if I do not have a standard for exactly what they want to do (I use SBG).

PPs are 30% of their grade, while their Standards make up the other 70%. Students hold onto a grid which documents how many points they earn each week for 9 weeks.  At the end of each class, students come up and tell me what kind of points they’ve earned.  On Friday I collect their sheets and put their grade out of 100 points into the computer, and return the sheet to them on Monday.  Here’s what their sheets look like:

Some of the things students can earn points for include:

  • Speaking up in class (making a positive contribution).
  • Reflecting about class through their blog.
  • Working on exercises on Khan Academy.
  • Working on the Warm-up on time.
  • Putting your answers to the HW on the board for others to check.
  • Answering a handful of thought-provoking questions I have on my website.
  • Coming to Tutoring (at lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays).
  • Signing up to be a Tutor at those times.

There are many others: I have an incomplete (but more comprehensive) list on my website here.

The tutoring, especially, has helped students grow in the areas they need to grow.  At my school I am currently the only teacher to have students come regularly to tutoring, and there will be 30+ students in my classroom at lunch on those days working because they know it’s good for their grade in multiple ways.

I’ve blogged before about Participation Points, but they are something that I’ll probably do for as long as I teach because of all the little ways it helps my classes. I don’t do PPs in all my classes, but there is a big difference in the attitude of the students toward learning and work in those classes that I do use PPs. A small example of this is in the warm-up: I’ve got a facebook-style Like-Stamp that I use, which gives students 5 PPs, and I’ll stamp students’ papers who are working on the Bell-Ringer (warm-up) before the bell rings.  Students know this so they come quickly into the room and get to work right away, begging for me to come look at what they’ve done so they can earn that stamp.

Please ask if you have more questions about PPs, as I’m eager for another teacher to try them out and give feedback on them! They’re up there with SBG (Standards Based Grading) for “Most-Impact-On-My-Classroom” ideas.


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