My Year in Review & 2015 Resolutions


2014 was an awesome year for my growth as a teacher. Here’s an abbreviated recap of my past year.


This spring, I had the opportunity to chaperon a school trip to Europe. Myself, two colleagues, and six young people ventured to London, Paris and Rome over spring break. For the students, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was truly an honor to help it become a reality.

This was my first year NOT teaching summer school. Before the summer, I wanted it be an incubation period for my own personal growth. I wanted time off to relax and recharge, of course, but I also wanted time to reflect and become a better teacher for my students. It didn’t disappoint. I will never forget the summer of 2014.


In August, I took a two-week class at United Bicycle Institute on bicycle mechanics. I’ve been enthused about bicycles for a long, long time and this was a chance to follow my passion and earn a technical certification. I expected to learn a good deal about bicycles, but I what I didn’t expect was for it to change my perspective on teaching. Forever.

Professional Development

Building on my goal of becoming a better teacher this summer, I attended Twitter Math Camp in July for the first time. This was by far one of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had. The teachers were incredible. Their work and passion were both humbling and inspiring. After TMC, I started, which has transformed how I view reflection and collaboration. I used to think I would never have time to write about my teaching. I’ve learned that not only do I have the time, but also that writing and reflecting is just as necessary to my teaching as writing lessons plans.

This was also year 2 of my Math for America Master Teacher fellowship. My focus this year was on 3-act math activities, robotics, and arduinos. Shaun Errichiello spearheaded the 3-act team, I helped lead the robotics group with Rick Lee, and Mike Zitolo introduced me and many others to the vast world of arduinos. Math for America was absolutely critical in my growth this year. I made it a point to give back to the MfA community by leading workshops and speaking at Information Sessions. I also attended the MT^2 event again, which was both enlightening and motivating.

Following up on the bicycle mechanics certification I got this summer, I brought this knowledge back to my students by starting a bicycle club at my school. In preparation, in the fall I attended a six-week teacher-mechanic course provided by Karen Overton and Recycle-a-Bicycle. I then began teaching my students mechanics and will be doing some after-school groups rides in 2015.

I joined the 2014-15 professional development committee at my school. Myself and five other teachers plan weekly professional development sessions for our colleagues. I felt responsible to give back to our learning community and help harness the strengths of our teachers. The work is promising and I thoroughly enjoy it.

2015 Resolutions

I have a couple resolutions for my teaching in 2015. One is to implement standard-based grading in my classroom. I want to shift the mindset of my students away from grades. Our focus in the classroom should be on learning and mastering content, not rewards or labels that mask what you truly know (or don’t know).

Thanks to my discussions with Mike Zitolo, who also shares this resolution, I want to make an extra effort to visit other teacher’s classrooms in 2015, both in my school and out. Watching and listening are incredibly underrated skills. Hopefully this resolution not only strengthens my ability to teach math, but also furthers my connections with teachers from other disciplines.

Here’s to 2014. I’ve probably never grown more than I have this year. But this was by no means a journey of one. There are so many people and organizations that helped me in varying ways. Thanks to everyone I collaborated with and all who provided me opportunities to grow in 2014.

I hope 2015 holds even more growth.



Reward systems? Grades? I’m not sure anymore.

I’ve started to critically reflect on all the rewards systems I’ve ever used. Including every single grade my students have ever earned.

I am currently reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. The basic premise that Kohn makes is that “rewards” as we know them (token economies, grades, etc.) are not only ineffective, but can even be detrimental to the growth of students. Often times, teachers, including myself, use these systems because they “work” and rarely question them. (In fact, this is true for many things that we take for granted.) I have been relating this reading directly to my classroom economy that I have instituted in my class for several years, along with the many other positive reinforcement strategies that I have come across through the years. But even more drastically, I have begun to question every grade that I have ever assigned to an assignment or report card. Grades are essentially rewards for the work that students complete.

Instead of focusing on reinforcement strategies, which only focus on what students do, I could allow systems and feedback to drive my classroom practices. Instead, this would focus on who students are and what they actually understand.


Shipwrecked on a deserted island

I spent four days this week on a deserted island with my precalculus students.

It all started when I read this post by Sue Vahattum. If you’re looking for a good exponential modeling activity, I’d check it out. She explains it pretty well on her blog, so I’ll just recap my experiences this past week.

The basic premise is that you present your students with a scenario where the entire class has been shipwrecked on a deserted island. Suddenly there is a murder and one member of the class is the culprit. The class will need to use body temperature and logarithmic equations to determine the time of death and, eventually, the murderer. Here’s the handout I gave my students that frames it all. Of course, you would customize the names to the students in your class.

UPDATE 1/9/17: Improved handouts and storyline are here.

This is the second time I’ve done this activity, and both times it’s been a total hit with the kids. It’s pretty engaging, out of the ordinary, and totally applicable to the curriculum. To get into the spirit of the activity, I come in wearing sandals, shorts and sunglasses during first couple of days and they enjoy that. Besides, we are on a tropical island. They work in groups and I use this whole thing as a culminating activity to my exponential/logarithmic functions unit. The modeling goes beyond just a simple regression, of which a data table can be put into their graphing calculator. What is great here is that the modeling contains a vertical shift in the function, so they have to do the modeling by hand. To tie into their unit assessment, I also will include a problem on their exam relating body temperature and time of death.

The only hiccup this year came on the third day when they couldn’t actually find the murderer! The students overlooked a detail related to the time intervals and we had to conclude on a fourth day. Since I was actually “murdered” on the third day, I couldn’t help them (which was perfect to assess mastery). This actually made it even more dramatic as they had to wait the entire weekend to figure out who the murderer was! Oh, by the way, before the activity I did secretly “choose” a student who could play a good murderer before we started – and he consented to this part in the activity. No one in the class knew who it was beforehand, so when he was revealed at the end he could come up with a little skit as to why he did it. It was a fun touch.


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