Set sail

Set Sail

It’s that time of year again. Classes began this week. Here are a few goals that come to mind as I set sail for the year.

1. Conference with my students more. I have a table set up in my room designed for this. My hope is to sit and have small group discussions on a regular basis.

2. Lag homework/practice. I see the power in requiring students to recall information while learning new concepts.

3. Lag unit exams. I see this as a corollary of lagging homework; if students are spending the majority of their practice time on “old” content, then it only makes sense that their informative assessments follow suit. Therefore, unit exams will be given in the midst of the following unit. My hope is that it will set higher expectations for preparedness and promote better long term comprehension. I may be off my rocker, so we’ll see.

4. Be a better mentor and colleague to new and developing teachers.

5. Earn highly effective. It’s a label that can be subjective, but in my eyes if I can earn it, then I deserve it.

6. Encourage my kids to show their thinking (vs. show their work).

7. Work towards NBC. It’s daunting, but a challenge I’m looking forward to.

8. Simplify my school day and focus on what matters most, both in and out of my classroom.

9. Mandate all students to retake standards on which they didn’t achieve proficiency. This was an option in the past that I didn’t push hard enough for.

10. Set higher, more rigorous expectations for my kids. This is a fine line, but I’ve become too lax and my students are suffering because of it. In conjunction with 3 and 9.

11. Seek in-depth student feedback.

12. Get my kids to understand the ‘why am I doing this?’ aspect of each lesson. Thanks Z.

13. Give students more control of their learning. I simply do too much. When they have ownership over their own learning, the need for my inspiration minimizes.

14. Have a top ten posted in my classroom. Overall and Most Improved?



Summer 2015: An Immersive Research Experience…The After Party

Earlier this summer I wrote about a research experience that I was taking part in: SMARTER, an RET instituted by NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. The experience was profound. Here’s a recap of my takeaways.

Composite material

  • Firstly, a learned a good deal about composite materials. Going into the program, I had the slightest idea what a composite material even was. During orientation my curiosity was stoked by Nikhil Gupta, my research mentor, about his area of expertise (primarily because he mentioned that his research impacts the U.S. military). But other than that spark, I had no real foundation for where to start the research. Naturally, this equates to an information overload and, in the end, a substantial amount of learning on my end. Part of me wished my research tied in closer to what I teach everyday, but the other part of me understands that being forced into foreign territory was exactly what I needed.

Research Results Chart

  • My partner and I decided to make repurposing waste materials the centerpiece of the research. Specifically, we were interested in the impact that fly ash, human hair, and glass microspheres have when integrated with cement. What did we learn? The results were somewhat inconclusive, but we did discover an ideal proportion of fly ash to glass microspheres that would optimize the peak stress (i.e. the point at which the material begins to break down) of the composition. We expected that the human hair would have a greater impact on the overall strength of all the composites, but the results were fairly mixed.
  • A facet of the experience that surprised me was the collaboration that it involved. When you work with a perfect stranger for an extended period of time, things can get rocky. I didn’t learn to appreciate my partner’s perspective until later in the research; she taught me a ton about seeing things with a starkly different outlook and how this is necessary for the team to succeed. It also pushed me to open my mind and connect with ideas that I initially found hard to accept. I was reminded that everyone has strengths that are both unique and amazing…and that productivity sometimes hinges on the ability to focus on those strengths.
  •  The most significant impact of the experience was the uplifting inspiration it provided me. Before SMARTER, I had a deep-rooted desire to grow as a professional, but I had no ambition to further my education or seek a higher level of certification. But after a brief conversation with a Ph.D candidate who was aiding in our analysis, I left with an unexpected desire to push myself further than I ever thought I would. It was his laudable attitude coupled with the overall atmosphere at the university that left me wanting much more than just to complete my research and get back to teaching.
  • What does this mean? It means that one day I will 1) earn National Board Certification and 2) obtain a doctorate in mathematics education. Yup. I am now eagerly awaiting these immense challenges in the years to come. Thanks Eduardo.

This is my evolution thanks to SMARTER. My students, school community and myself are all much better because of it.




Slowing down student thinking…learning to notice


I approach a group of students discussing a problem in my class. I listen. I watch. I interpret their thinking. I sense a misconception. I ask a question to clarify what and how they are thinking. Hopefully, in the end, they reach a higher level of understanding of the problem and I reach a higher level of understanding of their comprehension.

Just like other teachers, I often do this sort of complex analysis of my students in under 10 seconds. I’ve been trained to.

That said, what if I could improve this skill I have learned over the course of my career? What if I could somehow train myself to be more attuned to student thinking?

That brings me to my next project. I’m partnering with MfA this year to bring some exciting, new PD to my school. It involves using video to record student discussion and interaction around a specific task (with no focus on the teacher). Afterwards, a group of teachers gather to watch the video, brainstorm about critical moments that occurred, interpret student thinking, and formulating questions that could be asked to clarify the thought process of the students.

It’s all based on the research by Elizabeth A. van Es and Miriam Gamoran Sherin. Here’s a follow up article they wrote on selecting clips and an overview of their work.

The idea is to slow down student thinking to the point where deep analysis can happen. My hope is that teachers at my school, along with myself, are able to use this process to improve our abilities to interpret student thinking and how we address it during our lessons.

Here are some of the challenges I foresee.

  • Introducing it to teachers. You can only introduce something once and first impressions have impacts that can last until June. I must make it good.
  • Teachers accepting the idea that interprepting student thinking often contains loads of uncertainty, and that this is okay. Not everything needs a final answer.
  • Developing engaging prompts for the group when the conversation is lagging. This may depend on the quality of my preparation beforehand.
  • I don’t see overall engagement being an issue, but you never know.
  • Being able to record and edit video clips in a timely manner. Luckily, at least in the beginning, MfA will be helping with this. But how sustainable is this type of PD in the long term?

Here are a few other unrelated thoughts.

  • How will teacher analysis differ if the focus is on student understanding versus misunderstanding, if at all? Does this impact “next steps” after the session?
  • Speaking of next steps, how will those look?
  • Can I channel teachers to certain moments in the clip based on my preparation beforehand? Would this be useful?
  • I may facilitate the initial sessions, but I want to learn perspective from my colleagues about how a student may be thinking. My MfA experiences have been scintillating in this regard. There were things mentioned that I would have never thought of.
  • This PD involves using video in the classroom. When most teachers think of video, they think of the teacher being recorded as s/he teaches with best practices as the center of attention. This is not that. It should be interesting to see this dynamic play out.
  • Each session I’ve attended with MfA has focused on one group of students discussing a task. How would the session change if we examined multiple groups of students from different classes – all discussing the same task? How would this affect the analysis?
  • This type of PD hinges on teachers understanding the content, in my case math. That notwithstanding, is there a way to run something similar that focuses on student discussion, but has a more interdisciplinary approach? Perhaps CRE/advisory?


Blogging: One Year After


0. I have now eclipsed one year of blogging.

1. Before I started, I never thought I would have had time to write. I also never thought I would have enough to write about.

1. Dude. I was wrong.

2. I wrote/posted 40 entries in my story this year.

3. I now find myself needing to write. If I don’t get up a post for a good amount of time, I get restless and it shows.

5. This past year, I never wrote for anyone but myself. It was a personal reflection and I like it that way. That may change, but who knows.

8. Blogging has reframed my teaching and how I view my own development. Writing has allowed me to get to know myself in a completely new and exciting way.

13. I contribute my initial blogging motivation to TMC14. Those wonderful people in Tulsa lit the fire. Too bad I couldn’t return the favor at Harvey Mudd last week.

21. I didn’t read enough MTBoS blogs this year. I’m shortchanging myself if I don’t tap into this idea-rich resource.

34. Who knows if I’ll make it another year. What I do know is that I’m a better teacher now than I was last July and I owe my blog loads of credit for that.