Day in the Life: April 24, 2017 (Post #10)

I’ve decided to chronicle this school year through my blog. It’s part of Tina Cardone’s Day in the Life book project. This is the tenth post in the series.

5:30am | Rise and shine. It’s later than I would have liked, but I didn’t sleep well last night. I throw lunch together, a simple salad. Waffles for breakfast. No time to read.

6:30am | I’m out the door. The ride to school is brisk. The sun is out earlier these days and it reminds me that the end of the school year is close.

6:45am | I lock up the bike and walk into school. I make it up to my room and spend 15 minutes drilling holes in the large, 4-ft-by-4-ft whitebaords that recently picked up from Home Depot. I have these super magnets that I’ll be using to hold up the boards on the lockers in my room. It’s cheezy, but I’m so proud of this solution.

7:35am | I walk my large whiteboards down to my first period classroom. It’s painless, but pretty annoying. They’re awkward to hold for long periods of time, like down the hallway. We’ll be using the whiteboards for some VNPS and VRG action today on factoring.

I make it back to my desk and finish up plans for first period. I print out a few articles for a student who walks in. At 8:10am, I make my way down to first period.

9:00am | First period comes to an end. For what it’s worth, I consider it a win. I’ve learned so much from that class. More below. Whew.

I walk all of my crap back down to my room an decide that I need coffee. I head out to the bodega at the corner. As always, black, no sugar.

9:15am | I’m back at my desk and sit to map out a couple of other lessons for the day. Specifically, I put together the group speed dating activity for period 5. It’s a review of factoring and the conic form of a parabola.

10:05am | I run down the hallway to use the bathroom and I see one of my 7th period students wondering about. I ask her what’s up and she says tat she doesn’t want to go to lunch because her friends aren’t here today. I invite her to hang out with me in my room since it’s empty. We talk. She tells me that she’s looking for a job. I share my experiences working at Chick-fil-a. Good memories of good sandwiches ensue. She cuts up my problems for speed dating.

10:40am | Period 4 begins. Today we’re writing the conic form of the equation of a parabola. On Friday they used Desmos to explore how a parabola is the set of points equidistant from a line and a fixed point. I overview the two common forms, first vertex and then manipulating that to get standard form. I whip out the small whiteboards and pair up the kids. I post graphs of parabolas and have them practice writing the vertex and standard forms for it. They hold up their boards and we discuss. I’m always amazed at the high levels of assessment that whitebaording permits. The lesson is a keeper.

11:30am | I head across the hall for period 5, also algebra 2. This group is one day ahead of period 4. The group speed dating is going to sum up our quadratics unit. I quickly realize that the problems I included in the activity will need three days to be completely reviewed by every group. That said, I would consider the period is a success.

12:15pm | Lunch. There isn’t much planning I need to do for the remaining two periods that I teach so I manage to actually enjoy my feast, if a bare-bones salad and two oranges qualify as such.

One side note. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday there is an “Assimilation” elective that takes place in my room when I eat lunch. It basically th college advisor sharing all kinds of useful knowledge with the kids. I always stay in the room during lunch for his class. I find him to be incredibly cultured and knowledgeable on so many things. Today’s topic was real estate. It didn’t disappoint.

1:45pm | My period 7 class ends. More VNPS and VRG action. They eat it up. Pure and utter engagement for 30 minutes, easy.

My period 8 walk in. I love these kids. They’re my only ninth grade class and they keep me in touch with the younger side of high school. We’re shifting parabolas today. The lesson is rushed — we’ll need to take a closer look tomorrow.

2:35pm | On Monday, my school holds district-mandated PD for us. I head down to room 229, where the PD will take place. The focus today is curriculum maps. It’s the first of a series of four workshops on the matter. The idea is that as we close the school year, we adapt and improve the maps we currently have for next year.

The session was better than expected. I really like the teacher who ran it…and his approach was untraditional. Instead a dry, boring approach to curriculum maps, he encouraged us to look to and learn from our colleagues to help us envision the ideal student. We talked. He emphasized hard skills and soft skills as something we should gear towards. This, he argued, would help us build a curriculum map for the whole student that plays off what our colleagues believe in.

4:00pm | The faculty meeting finishes and I leave school in a haste to make it to Math for America for a interest group meeting. I’m helping plan the first-ever MfA summer conference and tonight the planning committee is getting together.

4:21pm | I get on the 6 train, doubtful that I’ll make the 5:30pm start time for the meeting.

5:05pm | Shockingly, I arrive at MfA. I grab some pizza and catch up with a few of the committee members. Our goals tonight include  improving the conference website, putting together a loose schedule of the sessions with the proposals we’ve received, and create a Google form for registration which starts tomorrow. I agree to help tackle the website with Carl Oliver.

6:35pm | Carl and I give the site a face lift. A part of the website is a blog. I write a brief post on the origins of the conference. Sometimes I still can’t believe this conference is actually happening…and that I’m helping to make it happen!

7:35pm | We wrap up a very productive meeting. Everyone heads out.

8:40pm | I arrive home after a long, yet productive, day. I wide down for a while before heading to bed at 9:30pm.


1. Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

Though I’ve really enjoyed teaching them, I know I’ve put my ninth grade class on the back burner of my teaching responsibilities this year. I’ve basically been teaching from a textbook with them. I’ve been improvising where I can with Desmos and other tools and strategies, but the engagement and rigor for that class is not even close where it should be. I’ve dedicated almost all of my energy to my algebra 2 classes. I sort of regret it. One side note: they LOVE VNPS and VRG. It’s crazy.

2. Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

I’ve had a couple visitors in my classroom this month, all of which from the Superintendent’s office. One was the superintendent himself, and another was in relation to the Big Apple Award that I was nominated for.

The observed lesson wasn’t ideal by any stretch. But maybe it’s fitting because that happens so often anyhow. (Thank you to 16th school trip of the season and random students from Denmark.) Nonetheless, the entire experience has been uplifting. Thank you to Mike for the humbling nomination that led to all this. Throughout everything, I couldn’t help but think of all the educators and leaders that have inspired me, like my former principal.

Regardless of the outcome, I hope that the passion, dedication, and thoughtfulness that I have for my students and school community was felt. I hope that the immense respect that I have for learning and the teaching profession also this came through.

3. We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

All of I can think of in response to this prompt is my first period class. Our relationship this year has been a roller coaster, but for the last couple of weeks I think we’ve really connected. I realized this month that for a good part of the year I didn’t enjoy teaching them. I wouldn’t say I was merely going through the process, but I definitely wasn’t all in. I would rarely smile. I wouldn’t listen to them.

I was too frustrated with what I thought was their lack of motivation and ability. But that was just me teaching above them. I was focusing on curriculum and standards. I was ignoring who they were. I wasn’t teaching to their strengths.

Things still aren’t perfect now. But they’re far better than they were earlier this year.

4. Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

Although I didn’t explicitly state them in my goals for the year, I’ve discovered a place for VNPS and VRG in classroom this past month. My recent experiences have changed my classroom forever. It’s ironic that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you simply can’t plan for the best things that happen to you. They just do. Mostly out of necessity. It was sort of like that with VNPS and VRG.

5. What else happened this month that you would like to share?

My National Board submission is kicking my butt. Thanks Michael for all of your help with complex numbers.



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On my journey and the mathematicians beyond white dudes initiative

At the end of last school year, I did a lot of soul-searching. In the midst of finalizing where I was going to teach beginning this year, I found myself reevaluating many of the core values that I hold as a teacher. A huge dilemma for me was reflecting how I address identity and representation in my classroom. Race and ethnicity were of specific interest. I thought about this frequently, but it wasn’t something that I gave focused attention to over the previous ten years of my career.

Inspired, over the last ten months I’ve begun to evolve. I decided that I wanted my teaching to better service the underserved population of students that I encounter every day. Located in the poorest congressional district in America, 90 percent of the students at my school are of color. My previous school was of a similar demographic. It was time to deliberately integrate these statistics into my practice.

Over this time, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve realized that as a white male, I have inherit privileges in our society. Privileges that almost all of my students know nothing about. Although my ignorance prevented me from openly accepting this earlier in my teaching career, I now see that I must do my best to understand my whitenes in order to best serve my students and school community. It’s not enough to simply ignore race and try to teach above it, like I’ve done in the past. I cannot assume that my lessons and the mathematics I teach need not address the racism that my students face every day.

I’ve read works by Jose Vilson, Monique Morris, Claude Steele, Robert Moses, and Stuart Buck. After sparking conversations colleagues, I’ve absorbed a great deal from those who are addressing race and equity far better than I. I’ve attended workshops where I’ve publicly confronted my own biases. I’ve made myself vulnerable by opening dialogue with my students about their take on things. I’m learning directly from them.

This brings me to the Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes initiative that I started this year with my students.


I got the idea from Annie Perkins. Back at TMC16, I attended her workshop where she shared her approach of profiling outstanding mathematicians that weren’t male and weren’t white. I was immediately hooked. I knew that I had to bring this to my kids. Read more about Annie’s outstanding work.

I’m not going to go into the worthiness of this project, because Annie has done that so eloquently already. Instead, I’ll just share how I’ve implemented it.

So far this year I’ve featured a different mathematician for each unit. (Next year I hope to do it more often.) I pull from the list of mathematicians from Annie’s post and piece together a one paragraph biography that highlights each mathematician’s life, achievements, and contributions to the mathematics community. I formally present each mathematician at the start of each unit. The conversation doesn’t usually last longer than 5 minutes. I print and copy the bio of the mathematician on the cover of the unit packet that students receive. I also post the bio of each mathematician in the classroom. Link to the doc containing the posters.

My students have really enjoyed it. They look forward to the big reveal of the next mathematician. Rounds of applause for the mathematicians are not unusual. Other teachers have even seen the posters in my classroom and commented about how they like the idea.

Now I’m not going to sit here and say that all of a sudden I’m doing an excellent job at addressing representation in my classroom, because I’m not. Gosh no. I’m still struggling and haven’t done anything to address the curriculum I teach. I’m just trying harder to be more aware of my own ignorance on the matter and teaching towards it. This is just one small way that I feel I’m accomplishing that. There’s still a long, long way to go.

Becoming an anti-racist teacher is my goal, I think. My students enter my classroom each day with the hopes of becoming better students of mathematics, better people. This is their parents’ hope too. I owe it to them to ensure that my instruction addresses and embraces who they are, really. We all do.


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I had an unforgettable 7th period class today

I had an unforgettable 7th period class today. And it had nothing to do with mathematics.

The kids walk in. I assign seats every Monday using popcicle sticks, so they each grab one and make their way to their new seat. The late bell rings and I move to start class.

Out of nowhere someone lets out a curse. I think is was the f-word. Now let it be known, I have always been downright annoyed and refuse to accept any profanity in my classroom. This class knows it and every other class I’ve ever taught knows it too. (It’s a losing battle, but this is one of my nonnegotiables.)

Hearing a curse from a student in this class isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s relatively normal. I’ve accepted this, but I still firmly correct each and every curse I hear. They’ve actually gotten better about it. This particular curse gets my usual response of  “watch your mouth.

Out of sheer curiosity, I publically ask the girl who committed the verbal crime whether she’s had teachers who don’t care if she uses that type of language in their classroom. I didn’t know it at the time, but that question changed the course of the entire period.

After she responded that yes, she’s had teachers who don’t care (and even use profanity while teaching), many of the other students chimed in on the matter. Their experiences were mixed and led to a discussion around whether or not profanity has a place in schools. I mentioned that the way you speak can sometimes open the door for others to place unfounded judgements on you — and that those judgements can have lasting impacts. This drew strong reaction from the students and several more spoke up. Some said that they refused to change who they were no matter what others thought. Some referenced siblings who have offered similar words of advice.

Keep in mind that at this point we’re about 20 minutes into the period. But the fire had been lit and I was determined to get out the way. It felt like the right thing to do.

The conversation took up a mind of its own. It was morphing, changing, adapting to the needs of the students. I didn’t talk much. Things twisted and turned through religion, race, parents, and stereotypes. A few students admitted to being bullied in middle school. One girl started crying because of rumors that she was a bully. I brought her tissue and a classmate gave her a hug. Respect was inherit in everyone’s tone.

So yeah, we spent the entire 45-minute period talking…and airing out some deeply rooted emotions. We did no mathematics. Heck, we didn’t even get past the Bell Ringer.

Normally, I would consider a class period like this to be an utter failure. A huge no-no. A cause to reflect very differently on this here blog. But not today. Life happened, and I’m ok with that.


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VNPS, VRG, and creating flow

Last summer at TMC16, I learned about vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS) and visible random groupings (VRG) from Alex Overwijk, which is based on the work of Peter Liljedahl. Despite the explosion of ideas that I came across at the conference, I knew that I had to implement these two.

So after the conference I visited my new school to poke around the classrooms where I was to teach to see what the whiteboard situation was like. I was discouraged. My school is a converted elementary school with gigantic windows, lots of cubbies, and lockers that take up half of the walls. Disappointed, my hopes for VNPS and VRG slowly faded away.

Fast forward to last week. We were studying advanced factoring and the pains of heavy algebraic manipulation and computation lurked. I’m not sure what triggered me to rekindle my excitement, but I reread Alex’s post and slides from TMC and decided dive in.

Each of the rooms I teach in have some whiteboard space already, but I still needed several large whiteboards. I had no time to get to Home Depot. Then I remembered seeing the physics teacher having some. He’s probably the kindest teacher in the building. He let me borrow them with open arms.

I found some guidelines from Laura Wheeler (more here) and away I went into the world of VNPS and VRG.

I randomly assigned 2-3 students to each board. I displayed the expressions that I wanted them to factor on the board and the groups immediately jumped in. The level of complexity grew slowly with each expression, some of which they had never seen before.

The clearly visible work allowed me to efficiently assess everyone in the room. I gave some hints, but I wasn’t needed much. When I felt a group was hitting a wall, I outwardly moved someone to their group who could help. With their knowledge now mobile, their insights spread throughout the room like wildfire. And despite calling out “switch” periodically to keep the marker bouncing between group members, I also moved students who looked to be disengaged in their group.

This was all to maintain optimal levels of engagement, or flow. It worked like a charm.

At the end of each period, rather than looking finished, my students looked recharged. They wanted more. I couldn’t count the number of students that declared how much they loved the structure. They were doing like never before, completely lost in the work for over 30 minutes.

I can say the same for me. I felt my senses heighten as I feverishly assessed the students. I was completely in sync with their thinking. As 30 students openly crisscrossed the room to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas, I knew that my classroom would never be the same again. It was like magic. What Alex described as flow back at TMC16 is exactly what my students and I experienced.

That was Tuesday. Thrilled, I’ve used VNPS and VRG every day since with no plans to slow down.

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Day in the Life: March 24, 2017 (Post #9)

I’ve decided to chronicle this school year through my blog. It’s part of Tina Cardone’s Day in the Life book project. This is the ninth post in the series.

5:15am | I wake up, make some coffee, and put my lunch together.

I sip coffee and read for half an hour. I started The Classroom Chef yesterday and it left me wanting more…so I hold off on finishing How to Bake Pi until this weekend. Reading two books that relate mathematics and mathematics education to cooking and eating  just isn’t right. I’m hungry all the time now!

6:00am | I draft this post, turn on the radio. On any given day, I listen to either sports talk or NPR. Today it’s ESPN radio. I’m a lifelong sports fan, yeah, but I also really enjoy the fact that sports talk radio removes me from all the dark holes of the world. They’re not going to talk politics or hollywood gossip. Other than books and writing, sports and sports talk is my quick getaway.

I eat breakfast and shower. I grab the bike and I’m on my way to school by 7am.

7:15am | I walk in the building, move my timecard over and see a colleague from the math department. He’s making copies in the main office. I think: how crazy is it that my school only has one commercial grade copy machine? That’s not a new thought by any means, but it always crosses my mind when I see someone making copies. Anyhow, we greet one another briefly and I head up to my classroom.

I thought I left my school keys in my classroom yesterday, so I ask another teacher to unlock my classroom door. Inside, I realize the keys were in my bag all along. Nice.

Today is parent-teacher conferences. In NYC public schools, parent-teacher conferences happen on back-to-back days in the fall and spring. The first of each back-to-back is always on a Thursday evening, which runs from 5pm-8pm. That was yesterday. Today is the second day (Friday), which runs in the afternoon from 11:35pm to 2:35pm. School is let out early; I will only see my first period students today.

I finish up some paperwork left from yesterday and plan a quick review RISK game for finding a trigonometric ratio, given one. On top of parent-teacher conferences, my school is having our quarterly awards event. It’s pretty cool and all student run. The show starts in the middle of period 2. The seniors are organizing and hosting today’s show. Guess who primarily makes up my first period class? Yep, seniors. My my first period is going to be small.

9:05am | First period was quiet and the game sort of fell apart, but that’s ok. Sometimes its just great to have the opportunity to talk to students, get inside their head. That’s kind of what happened. Anyhow, I’m back at my desk and finalize more paperwork (see a trend?) before I have a few minutes to begin thinking about my next unit that’ll start on Monday, quadratic functions. At 9:15, everyone’s called down to the auditorium.

10:30am | The awards finish. I’ve only experienced a few of these things, but the show is pretty good this go around. The seniors do their thing. One interesting tidbit: the awards themselves focus on strictly academics (e.g. most improved in science), but the seniors elected to also hand out awards recognizing non-academic attributes. I really, really liked this. Too often my school stresses academics to the point that every other aspect of a student’s life gets bypassed. They highlighted this with class and the whole school appreciated it.

11:35amParent-teacher conferences start. It’s pretty straightforward, but with some interesting takeaways this year. More on this below.

2:00pmThe traffic of parents slows to a trickle. The Friday of parent-teacher conferences is usually pretty mellow…and today is no different.

Between parents I find some time to continue pinning down my quadratic functions unit. As things wind down, my assistant principal and I have a great, impromptu conversation in my classroom about a variety of things. We speak of our pasts, our journeys through teaching, and next week. Our relationship this year has really taken off and I’m so proud of the bond I’ve created with her. Her support has been just what I’ve needed to offset my new-school struggles.

2:35pmThe conferences officially end. As everyone rushes off for their weekend, I stay behind to polish off my planning and to make copies. I’ve never been the type to hurry out on a Friday. Actually, I love when everyone else does because its quiet and gives me time to be in my thoughts, uninterrupted.

While my copies are running, I manage to finish grading some exams. I also manage to post the next person in my “Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes” project in all three classrooms in which I teach.

5:00pmI leave school. I make it home in fifteen minutes, bypassing all the drivers stuck in Friday evening traffic. (Mindfully not owning an automobile is one decision I take great pride in.) During the ride home I consume myself with what I hope to accomplish during my Big Apple Award visit next Thursday.

9:00pmI hit the sheets. Goodnight.

1. Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week our school restructured both days to mimic the Regents exams. Students were scheduled for two- or three-hour blocks for Mock Regents exams in each of the four major content areas. I decided early on that:

  1. I wasn’t going to spend class time reviewing for the exam.
  2. I wasn’t going count the exams towards students’ overall class grades.

Based on who I spoke to, this was not what others at my school were planning on doing. This did make me feel a certain way, but I wasn’t going to budge on my philosophy. Why force an low-stakes exam to be high-stakes? Why review? By cramming the day or two before the exam, wouldn’t that give me an even less representation of what my kids actually know? Why not use the exam strictly for feedback? Why does everything need a grade? Isn’t the goal to learn and grow from the experience? If I tag their performance with a grade aren’t I just reinforcing a system that is failing them already?

2. Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

There was a crucial moment during yesterday’s conferences that I know will stay with me for a while, for both good and bad reasons.

I was speaking with a student from my first period class and her mother. She’s quiet, respectful, but struggles to grasp some of what we do in class. I’d like to think we have a decent student-teacher relationship, but the dynamics of her class have prevented me from connecting with her on any significant level.

With this in the back of my mind, I open by asking her how things are going for her in class. I never really get to speak with her, so I’m really interested in her answer. She says in a very simple, straightforward way, “It’s alright. Alright. I’ve never been good in math. I just never have. That’s ok.” 

I’m shocked. Maybe shocked is the wrong word. More like disappointed. I told her that I didn’t believe whatsoever that she wasn’t good at math. I told her that she was very insightful and her mathematical perspective was worthwhile. I told her that I valued her. I also let her and her mom know that I haven’t done the best job at putting her in a place to feel successful and valuable in our class. To her, I’m sure this all probably sounded like blah, blah, blah. Actions speak much louder than words.

I know that I’ve heard this from a student in the past. But this time was different. A lot of things feel different these days.

I was humbled. I realized in that moment that I have so much more work to do when it comes to building meaningful mathematical mindsets in my class, something that I’ve been increasingly aware of this year.

3. We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

Something really cool happened today. During the conferences, a brother of one of my students noticed my Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes posters and pulled out his phone to snap a photo of them. We talked a little bit about the motivation behind the project. He sincerely appreciated the fact that I was showcasing underrepresented mathematicians. It was a great moment.

4. Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

I’m slowly realizing that my goals for the 2016-17 year are coming to fruition, just not how I originally expected. Not all is lost.

5. What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Since today was parent-teacher conferences, I’ll close by saying how different I feel about the interactions that take place on days like today. I have a completely different perspective on these conferences now compared to earlier in my career…even up to just a couple of years ago.

A lot of this is related to how my teaching philosophy has evolved. The fulfillment I get from PT conferences goes beyond meeting and speaking to the parents of students who are knuckleheads or who aren’t living up to their true potential in my class. My fulfillment comes from somewhere far more intense, far more wholesome. It’s comes from a place only a parent can truly understand.



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