Intervisitations: Grassroots Edition

Into Laundry

In an attempt to improve my practice, I took part in some intervisitations this semester. (It was one of my New Year’s resolutions.) Myself, along with a colleague at my school, Shane Coleman, connected with Michael Zitolo and his student teacher, Lucy, and visited each other’s classrooms over the last couple of months.

I’ve always been a huge fan of intervisitations. Observing and listening are immensely underrated skills! Seeing another teacher teach always provides me with new ideas on improving and receiving fresh feedback spurs me to reflect deeply on my teaching.

My department took part in lesson studies a couple of years ago that included intervisitations, but this was my first experience volunteerily visiting another teacher at another school. Our principals didn’t mandate that we participate or even suggest it. This entire experience was a grassroots approach of four teachers looking to improve from one another. We organized it, we structured it, we made it happen. 

My experience was awesome! Not only did I learn new ways of teaching and reaching my kids, but I also found myself revising and reimagining my deeply-rooted teaching philosophy.

Here were some of the strategies I picked up from Shane, Mike, and Lucy:

  • Incorporating more writing. I suck at this, but after the visits my kids are now doing this regularly in my lessons. Stop & Jot, Two Minute Summary, etc.
  • If there are no answers to a question I pose, give students 20 seconds to discuss it with a neighbor. Then ask again.
  • I need more student-created posters. Student work doesn’t count for this.
  • Whenever possible or necessary, infusing my teacher-centered approach at the end of the lesson, not at the beginning. I’m getting there.
  • “Rules to Begin.” At the start of each lesson, access prerequisite skills (not necessarily content knowledge). Example: I can persist, I remember vectors, etc. Explicitly identify these things with students.
  • When a student says “I don’t know”, correct them by saying: “You don’t know yet.” Reinforce growth mindset in subtle ways.
  • A “Significant Say Back” exit slip. Students explain why what they learned is important. Connected to third item below.
  • Wind chimes or similar thing to get class’s immediate attention.

On more philosophical level, here were some of the things that stuck with me:

  • How are students taking ownership of their learning in my classroom? Right now, I can’t answer that. That’s a huge problem.
  • What does my unit flow look like?
  • My students need to be able to answer the question Why am I learning this? in a way that’s meaningful, relevant, and truthful. This needs to be at the heart of all my lessons! I’m not even close right now.
  • Does me providing unit packets (i.e. guided notes, worksheets, and practice problems for the entire unit) inhibit my students’ organizational and ownership skills?
  • What is an effective protocol for intervisitations? It helps maximize and coordinate one’s experience, but how autonomous should the experience be?
  • The classroom slowed down when I was observing. I forgot how busy teaching is.
  • Being asked questions about my teaching from people who are generally interested in what I do and why I do it. It was empowering and made me reflect on my teaching with naked eyes.

Just a side note: being outside of my school played a huge role in the intervisitations. It gave me the opportunity to break the habitual mindset that the walls of my school creates and take a completely different perspective on teaching and learning. The intervisitations I take part in at my own school are very useful, but being outside school seemed to provide a better platform.

On a bigger level, this experience is another testimony to how true growth cannot be mandated. I either seek to get better or don’t. So many of us are required to sit through PD after PD throughout our careers. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about that. But what we can do is actively seek out ways to improve outside of traditional means. This, I feel, is a truly effective way of becoming a better teacher.

Take charge of your own growth.



 Last summer at Twitter Math Camp I learned about an incredible formative assessment tool. I’ve actually started using it fairly regularly now, so I figured I would get out a quick post about it.

It’s called Plickers. It’s essentially a poor-man’s Clickers (think Turning Point Technologies). They’re pieces of paper that you print off for free online and distribute to your class. Each student gets one Plicker. The teacher puts up a question and the orientation in which a student holds their Plicker determines their answer choice. Where the magic happens: download the Plickers app to your mobile device and you can “scan” the room with your camera and the app picks up all the student responses. Think exit slips, class polls, checks for understanding, and the like. It is remarkable. The first time you see it, you literally can’t believe your eyes. Here’s a video.


  • Allows me to collect assessment data relatively easily
  • The kids seem to love using it
  • Easy to replace in case one comes up missing
  • No software to install; it’s all web based and the app is user-friendly
  • Free


  • Requires preparing prompts ahead of time
  • Cannot export data (or maybe I just I don’t know how to)
  • Requires lamenating for long-term use

There are many things in educational technology that are impractical and overdone. This is not one. Plickers leverage technology in a way that’s simple, accessible, and useful.

In short, Plickers are game changers.

If you haven’t tried them yet and are interested in a slick formative assessment strategy, I would definitely check them out.



The Quotient ~ 4.16.15

0. There are no tough decisions. Really. When you toss a coin in the air, you already know what side you want it to land on.

1. Despite my passion for teaching high school mathematics, my deep understanding of mathematics needs to improve greatly.

2. There are many things I get. Leadership is certainly not one of them. How can I inspire a group of people to be better than they ever thought they could be?

3. No matter how much it is emphasized, planning is still underrated.

4. In conjunction with 3: improvisation and adaptation is aided immensely by effective planning, but both are still incredibly hard to accomplish successfully.

5. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards.

6. I consistently seem disappointed at the end of every school year. I always feel as if I could have done more, or at least something different, to help my kids attain higher levels of success. I sense the same feeling arising now as we approach May. I know why, but why?

7. Could you guys move in a little bit? There’s a lot of people trying to get on. It would be helpful, thanks.

8. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.

9. I’m not sure why, but during the last couple of weeks I have felt like I did during my first few of years of teaching. Hungry, eager, overly energetic.

10. How I respond to a student makes or breaks a situation. Don’t pierce their armor.

11. PD need not be boring to achieve its goals. Teachers expect that. Next time, catch them by surprise.

12. I see complacent and lackadaisical mindsets forming in young teachers. Its all around them. Its easy. It goes with the flow. Its deceptively harmful. And dangerous.

13. How can I help? What do you need from me?

14. I need a write up about the impact of MfA on my teaching.

15. How will this summer play a role in my continuous development as a teacher?




Bicycles are STEM


Last week the NYCDOE ran their first ever STEM Institute. It was a fairly large event; I want to say there was over 400 teachers and 30 presenters in attendance. I have no idea how accurate those numbers are, so don’t quote me, but they seem about right. The workshops were obviously focused on STEM disciplines, which are typically things such as applied math, robotics, computer science, environmental science, and the like.

What was intriguing most about the whole Institute was the fact that I was able help lead a workshop on bicycle mechanics. Yes, mechanics. (Thank you UBI.) My sessions focused on how bicycles and bicycle culture fit into the whole STEM arena. I teach both math and robotics, which are at the heart of STEM, so extending STEM to include bicycles, a huge passion of mine, is pretty exciting.

Bicycles aren’t something that people typically think of when they hear STEM. That is what made the experience so awesome. The whole thing felt like unchartered territory. I helped lead the way as 18 teachers got greasy, learned how to overhaul a bottom bracket, adjusted derailleurs, and then spent a few hours developing STEM lessons and curricula centered around bicycles. Some of the topics that the teachers researched included personal health and fitness, mass, acceleration, velocity, gear ratios, and how bicycles affect gentrification. I also found some great bicycle-themed resources that I shared with the group.

Huge props to Karen Overton and Recycle-a-Bicycle who essentially brought a bike shop to Stuyvesant High School for the three-day workshop.

It was an awesome experience. I got to merge my love for bicycles and bicycle mechanics with teaching, mathematics, and STEM. Plus, I meant some inspiring, like-minded teachers. It feels like the start of something bigger.