“You need to have your aim posted”

What impact does posting the aim, or central question of a lesson, have on teaching and learning? What purpose does it serve?

I’ve heard throughout my career that “you need to have your aim posted” at the start of every lesson. @stoodle got at this idea recently and made me realize that I myself have been pondering this for quite some time.

A year ago someone at a PD mentioned that they never post the day’s aim. Nor do they “announce” it at the beginning of class. Instead, the aim is elicited from students during the learning process. The essential question is built upon their prerequisite knowledge and pulled from their comprehension of what they learn from the lesson. It is never given, but rather discovered by the students.

When I heard this, I had an ah-ha moment. It made complete sense. Other than in the classroom, how often are we informed of what we’re going to learn before we actually learn it? Sure, you may have a goal you want to accomplish (e.g. complete yard work before 1 pm), but what you actually learn in the process (e.g. how to mow my lawn as efficiently as possible) is often unknown at the onset. We notice, strategize, experiment, learn, and then realize what we’ve learned.

Recently, I didn’t post the aim of a lesson on arithmetic sequences. I required my students, as part of their exit slip, to write what they thought the aim was for the lesson. Not only did 90% of the kids nail it, but one was even better, and more creative, than what I originally intended for the lesson.


(This is directly related to the overarching problem from the lesson)

This made me think. Whatever a student feels the aim is (during or at the end of a lesson), provides remarkable feedback as to the effectiveness of the lesson.

Another thing. I’m a firm believer that lessons should be based purely on questions. One question should lead to another, and then another, and then another. Ultimately, the central question – the heart of any lesson – should eventually be provoked. Because of this, I want my students to need the central question of a lesson to accomplish a task or goal. They can’t need it if I openly post it.

I’m left with many questions about this widely-adopted practice of aim-posting. What are the consequences of openly telling students the aim of a lesson? Conversely, what are the consequences of structured learning that promotes the discovery of the aim? If I don’t tell my students the aim, how do I frame a lesson from the onset? Does explicitly stating the aim perpetuate a top-down approach to learning? How can we use student-generated aims to inform our teaching?



Books Read in 2016

Read in 2016

Did not finish in 2016

Did not start in 2016

Mystery Prize Game

This simple game is fun on many levels. I play it a few times a year and it’s a hit every time. And, after reading this, if someone can give me a catchy name for it, thank you in advance.

I give every student a set of 8-10 problems. Usually review and stuff that can completed somewhat quickly. Most recently, it was using the discriminant to determine the nature of the roots of a quadratic equation. The kids are in groups of 2-4 and, since class is 43 minutes, I give them 20-25 minutes to complete the problems. I foreshadow and mention that their group may earn an awesome prize based on correct answers.

Here’s where the fun comes in, especially the first time we play it. After working out the problems, I reveal three prizes. They are written on index cards and sealed with staples inside a folded piece of paper; a poor man’s envelope.

Prize Game Sealed Envelopes

For each round of the game, I use a random name picker to select a student. The selected student’s group gets an opportunity to answer a question from the handout. I usually go in sequential order. Correct answer = choice of prize. When choosing their prize, they have the right to any prize, even if that means stealing one from another group. We repeat this process for the remaining problems. To keep it fun for everyone, I limit the number of prizes per group to one, but groups can swap prizes with another group if they already have a prize. If a group gets a question wrong, we spin again to find another group. 

The game gets heated. I, of course, totally encourage stealing prizes from other groups. It’s fun and I love the instant rivalry that’s created when a prize is heartlessly taken. From a teacher’s point of view, this also provides high levels of motivation to earn correct answers!

With a few minutes left, we stop and the three sealed envelopes are opened by the groups that possess them. After a hard-fought game earning prizes, the anticipation behind opening them up is palpable. You would think it was Christmas morning. 

Here they are from the most recent game:

IMG_0198            IMG_0200

The kids always go crazy. 

I suppose you could play this with “real” prizes like candy or bonus points, but the kids always get an extra special kick out of these types of prizes – especially after competing for it throughout the game. They are just as motivated the next time we play. It’s all about good-natured competition and the mystery behind the prizes that make it fun. 

The prizes are different every game, but I usually stick with the Smile & Handshake each time we play. It’s become my trademark. 

Year in Review: 2015

I always find it a bit odd reflecting at the end of a calendar year. My real year runs from September to June. That’s how I’m trained. Nonetheless, here are some reflections from my 2015.

Professional Development

  •  I helped facilitate an Arduino PLT with MfA in the spring. Although I helped lead the group, I was truly learning as I went. It was an uplifting testimony to being a novice that’s willing to bring knowledgeable folks together for the greater good.
  • The spring introduced me to Video Clubs and the fall allowed me to bring this rich experience to the math department at my school. I eagerly await to see where this goes. I even got invited to speak at a conference! Of all people, me!
  • The Research Experience for Teachers (RET) with NYU provided the platform to develop and learn through actual, hands-on research. I’ll never again look at human hair or cement the same way. I even got to use an electron microscope. Talk about a wow experience.
  • The Learning Partners Program helped me in unpredictable ways. I was expecting intervisitations, but the experience proved to be far more comprehensive. Some of the resulting transparency caused pain, but in a healthy way.
  • I was about my colleagues. Our relationships got stronger, more interdependent. I thrusted myself into a leadership role and invested in their success. I wanted my opportunities to become their opportunities.
  • I took up juggling. It’s not directly related to my professional growth, but I think it’s pretty cool. Plus, it’s fairly therapeutic, which helped me grow. I’m looking forward dwelving into the mathematics of juggling, which will be fun.
  • I read, and enjoyed reading, more than ever.


  • I began assessing my students by means of standards-based grading and then improved it. I should’ve began this a long, long time ago.
  • It seems simple, but exit slips played a significant role in my class for the first time. And, in general, assessment was a running theme for me all year.
  • I once held the belief that if I don’t grade an assignment, the kids wouldn’t do it. I learned that it’s more about the classroom culture and growth mindset that make kids want to (or not want to) work.
  • I wrote to my students more than ever. And loved it.
  • I incorporated writing and discussion techniques regularly. I also thought about my questioning in more sophisticated ways. Simply put, I learned to value these worthwhile activities.
  • After years of waiting for the opportunity, I was able to kickstart an after-school bicycle club in 2015.
  • I realized that I now look at every day, every class period, differently. In fact, I feel different about teaching. I’m more aware, more dedicated, more creative. My perspective matured greatly in 2015. This has pushed me to capitalize on moments with students and colleagues like never before.

This was my first full calendar year maintaining a blog. Is it a coincidence that 2015 was such a game changer for my career?