Wednesday, 20 November 2013

TCH: Stretched, Taught

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the seventh post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission came from Tina Cardone (@crstn85). It asked us to participate in "Day in the Life of an Educator", similar to what happened last year (archives here). Called it.


WARNING: As a writer, this is completely up my alley. Last year, I did "Day in the Life" every day for a full week, each in a different narrative perspective. (Check out the wrapup here.) This year, for whatever reason, I'm much more stressed out - so you're getting one LONG post rather than... well, a bunch of long posts.

Incidentally, being a teacher is why I cannot do NaNoWriMo.

If any teacher CAN, I applaud them. Don't know where they find the time. Of course, NaNoWriMo isn't my style anyway, and this day is a BIT more action packed than the norm. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is clear sailing, 10 is high stress, and 5 is typical, I'd rate this day a 7. (aka "Stretched Taut") If you think it's relevant, I'm basing that on teaching for over five years, but less than ten.

Catch the pun there?
Oh, and I'm going to have Dr. Elizabeth Weierstrass (from my web serial) tag along for the ride. But since I'll be in third person, and her comments will be interjected continuously, I doubt you'll be able to differentiate Weierstrass at any point.


12am: He's still awake. He wants to finish this one piece of marking. Then he answers an email. He's in bed before 12:30, but with thoughts running through his head, so it takes a half hour to fall asleep.

6:45am: The tradition of waking up before the alarm on a "Day in the Life" day continues from last year. This is a stupid tradition. His body needs to get with the program.

7:00: Alarm goes off. He's out of bed and into the shower within five minutes.

7:20: He's at the computer, with a bowl of cereal. Tweets out the latest episode of "Taylor's Polynomials" - it auto-published at 7am. (Find it here - race is suddenly a factor!)

7:50: Leaving home. A little bit earlier than normal, for two reasons: He was away Tuesday, so wants to allow time to catch up, and he wants to drop off his shirts.

8:00: CBC News on the radio. Mention it because they talk about the Federal Government's bill against Cyber Bullying, and this happens to be Bullying Prevention Week in Ontario. (There's a talk on Thursday. He doubts he'll have time to attend.)

8:10: He's at the shirt place. Seems they've changed their hours in the last month or so, don't open until 8:30am. Close at 7pm. What are the chances of getting back before 7pm? (Hint: He almost never drops off the shirts early, so the fact he was trying....)

8:15: At school. He starts by catching up on the missing day; all seems in order. Falls into the rabbit hole of email for a bit. Ensures first period is okay to go. Copies some files off his laptop that he'll want over next 24 hrs.

Having first period Prep SUCKS. Especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. He spends the first five minutes watching the student announcements; one of his last period students is a co-anchor. Today they're spoofing "Big Bang Theory"; student remarks that those writing the Math Contest tomorrow should give Mr. Taylor 1,000 pennies, or ten dollars. Har har. (It's funny because Canada doesn't use pennies anymore, y'see.)

8:45: Notices that courses on the board since Sept 6th have been erased, likely by substitute teacher. Thrown off stride. Recreates. Then he needs to create a quiz for MAP 4C this afternoon. Slams something together based on previous one, with an eye to the test he still needs to generate for Friday. He's normally got those ready a day in advance, so he's even more out of sorts.

Doesn't sound so great on the outside.
9:05: He heads to the office to pick up mailbox items and photocopy items for the day. He's lucky - last time, the photocopier jammed and led to a 20 minute struggle that made him late for his duty. Speaking of...

9:15-9:55: Library Duty. The librarian gets a prep period just like any other teacher, so teachers have duty slots to keep the library open on those periods. Can't complain about this duty - can actually mark sometimes, unlike lunch duty.

There's also a presentation going on here for a class (about depression), so less need to wander the library. He sifts through his mailbox items. Finds a guidance slip for a student -- from yesterday. Sub didn't check the mailbox. Fair enough, but now need to drop by the office again. Manages to do a bit of marking, as well as scan the Serial currently running in the Metro newspaper.

9:53: Librarian lets him go a bit early. Hurries to guidance to explain the missed appointment, to office to check on if can hand out report cards, runs into student in hall who was sick last week and is wondering about missed assignment. He talks to the student and is still on time for...

Two people still need to write a test from last Thursday. Neither are present. (One arrives late, and should write tomorrow.) A number of students still need to give in their summative topics! He gives a handout, then makes the rounds. At end of period, still not everyone has their topic, which was due Monday.

10:35: At this point, he remembers the schoolwide fundraiser about Typhoon Haiyan, which affects this period in the rotation. Reminds students. Then instructs about Correlation Coefficient and r^2 measures, based off handout.

11:15: Class ends, two students donate to Typhoon relief on the way out.

11:15-12:05 LUNCH: MATH CLUB
Wednesday is math club day. With tomorrow being the Waterloo Math Contest, our blogging teacher goes to make a schoolwide announcement. Despite that, only person to come is one of the two actual club members. (Small club.) Students gets a puzzle to work on, as teacher remembers he still has to reassemble slides for period right after lunch - 3U is being taught in a different order from last year (experiment that he should really blog about...).

11:30: A couple more students arrive.

11:40: Afternoon is set, but now students have some questions about last year's math contest - and money to pay. He deals with those aspects, can't remember everything about one of the questions on the fly, checks on the internet.

When in doubt, check the internet.
11:55: Students heading out, teacher decides food might be an option before lunch ends. He apologizes to the math club member for getting totally distracted. Response is "it's fine, having lunch in this room is relaxing".

11:56-12:01pm: Lunch (5 min)

12:01: Head back to office to photocopy a sheet that had been forgotten.

12:08: In class, students show a calculator spelling out something... slips his mind at this point, y0l0 ("yolo") was involved.

12:10-1:25: PERIOD 3: GR 11 FUNCTIONS
Happens to be the intro day of "TrigGate r=1", the most popular post by far on this blog. (Now over 400 views!) He's doing it earlier than usual this year though, and trying to integrate it into previous day, despite not being there previous day. And before that...

12:12: Student reminds him that she needs to write a test from two weeks ago when she was out with surgery. Realization the test variation (since that test was returned) hasn't been printed off. Go to print that from prep room. Get student set up to write in hall.

12:15: Start working through material, but student borrowed teacher textbook last week. We never got it back. Not sure where it is. Run to the book room to get one temporarily. Field trig questions from previous day, then into the unit circle.

Ultimately make Trig connections which seem to resonate with a number of them, hopefully everyone's on board by tomorrow. Only five minutes in the end to try questions. He's not pleased with how this went on his part, but supposes it could be worse.

1:30-2:45: PERIOD 4: GR 12 COLLEGE MATH
Seventeen of eighteen students are here. No, no, you don't understand. Don't think there's been more than 15 students present at once since mid-October. Not a slam on this class either - the last time there was perfect attendance for ANY class was likely over a month ago. This is going to be a bit hectic. Oh, and no textbook for this course... we're running two sections, and only have enough texts for one section.

Everyone in the room is on task, right?
Hit the highlights of yesterday's work for those who were away. Then a quiz, before the test on Friday. Unit is regressions, and identifying linear v. quadratic v. exponential models. They're still kind of freaking out about this. Some get to work, others he has to encourage. One girl's working on science but assures she'll do math before end of period. (She does.) Why do they still put the FIRST table column on the VERTICAL axis? This has NEVER been a thing!!

Oh! And there's a cake auction now on Friday for this period. Football team won locally and is going to OFSSA in Toronto, but that costs money. SO. In light of this auction now coinciding with the test, and losing tomorrow's period to an assembly, and student concerns, teacher is convinced to change test to Monday. Will find more regressions to do Friday, maybe. Whee.

2:45: Period ends. Time to enter attendance.

2:50: More math students come wondering about the contest tomorrow. @MathFitton comes by and helps field some questions, which is good.

3pm: First chance to visit washroom since 7am that morning.

3:10: He leaves students in class talking math, changes for Yoga session. (It's in the school, meant to help with stress relief. Not free.) Finds $20 in pocket (from lunch), puts it with rest of math contest money.

3:15: Drop by office to leave report card for absent student. He runs into fellow teacher organizing a trip for them, agreement they really need to talk about Edinburgh issues. Where to find the time.

3:17: First chance to drink anything all day, at water fountain. (There was milk in the morning cereal.)

3:20: Arrive at 3:15pm Yoga session, already underway. Not the last to arrive, a fifth person comes in a bit later.

 Ordinary Day, by Great Big Sea

Wait, shavasana is supposed to be done on the back...

4:15: Yoga session ends. It's taking place in the same room as the Math Contest next morning, so he starts to set up the room. Others assist, which is great, goes faster.

4:25: Change, head back downstairs.

4:35: Back in classroom; students are gone, piles of paper need to be sorted. Hey, screw that.

4:37: Back in prep room. Finish lunch while listening to @MathFitton and @JPBrichta talking about the PD session from the other day. (Something else that needs to be blogged about.) Difference between ACCURACY and PRECISION is brought up -- level marking is Accurate, but not necessarily Precise to a percent.

5:00: He shows a video to @JPBrichta. Takes the opportunity to tweet out about his web serial again. Also discovers he's still signed into the prep room computer from printing the test at 12:15 earlier. Derp. Is signed out.

5:05: Discussion about issues with simple interest and compound interest in @JPBrichta's class. This helps to put things into perspective for the day.

5:20: Enough stalling. He's back to the classroom. Organize piles of paper. Clean out desks (someones left candy bag, handouts). Discover calculator is missing... recall lending it to someone. They'd better return it. He then uploads lessons of the day to course website. Also updates website, and plans topics to end of current unit.

6:15: Back to office to do photocopying for next few days - student is away next week, needs materials early.

6:30: Principal pops head into photocopy room to say goodbye. Scares the daylights out of our overly focussed teacher. Brief conversation. ("Long day?" "Maybe slightly." aka 7 on scale of 1-10.)

Heads you win, tails I lose...
6:35: Back to classroom. Need to do so much more marking, SO behind it's NOT even funny.

7:10: Email break. Discover pep rally will be next week. Plans of one hour ago now already obsolete. Will need to tweak going forwards to accommodate. Also, United Way drive wrapping up soon.

7:15: Back to prep room to search for United Way form. Chat with @JPBrichta again about Level 4 exponentials question.

7:40: Phone wife. She's on her way home. Suggest just picking up food tonight, she's in agreement.

7:45: Back to classroom to do a bit more marking. Decide will call it before 8pm.

7:58: Check school voicemail on communal phone for first time since last Thursday, due to long weekend and being away. No messages. (Wise people do not rely on voicemail to reach teachers.)

8:00pm: Pause on the way out to chat with custodian. Topics range from the unpaid workday on Dec 20, to VLAP, to tow trucks that were clearing the parking lot early this morning.

8:10: Actually drive out of school parking lot, just shy of 12 hours after arrival. Actual work time, were this being recorded: About 10.5 hours.

Yes, I did plan to be leaving work around this time.
Granted, I had hoped to have accomplished more.

8:15: Stop in at Wendy's for Mushroom Melt. Former student asks if I recognize her! Says I taught her Grade 9 and 11 -- I *do* know she looks familiar, I'm lousy with names. I go with Kira, which is right! But I've likely spelled it wrong.

8:25: Orleans Traffic Circle. (Only hit it going home these days.) Wanted to stop by the bank, that didn't happen. Obviously didn't get my shirts, may never see them again.

8:40: Arrive at home. Brief chat with wife. Start working on this blog over dinner.

11:00pm: Finish blog. Start watching Jon Stewart while editing and getting images for this post. Multitasking slows things down.

Final post at 11:50pm. Final note about NaNoWriMo: This post is about 2,400 words, so more than 1,670 per day, but doing this every day would probably kill me. Didn't get to finishing task corrections as it is. I just hope the math contest goes well tomorrow. Oh, and me and Weier hope you enjoyed this slice of non-fiction! Feel free to comment below on whether you would rate this day a '7' or not.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

MAT: Unreal Decimal Points

Back in late September, Christopher Danielson, aka Triangleman, created the "Triangleman Decimal Institute", a six week course looking into the whys and whens of decimal instruction. In this seventh week, he's asked a single question: How can you show the world what you have learned these last several weeks?

Stick around through my mini-summaries, at the bottom I talk about calculators.


1: Decimals before fractions? Often the decimal (or at least notation) is taught before fractions. Perhaps with the idea that they are more like whole numbers. I think in the end, I would agree that they are more like whole numbers, particularly in terms of place value, but are different enough to be a problem.

2: Money and decimals. Money is often used to teach decimals. Is this valid? I would say no - dollars and cents are seen by people as two separate units, not an extension down into "parts of dollars". I think something that exacerbates this is that the groupings are different... you have 25 cents, but 20 dollars (unless you're talking Euro). I wonder about the origin of the quarter.

3: Children's experiences with partitioning. Real world knowledge that children bring into classrooms - it tends to start with cutting in half, then half again. Possibly even throwing out a quarter to make things fair between three people. I wonder whether thirds are seen as inherently unfair, because they don't have a "nice" decimal representation (in money or otherwise)? Though I've no means to test this.

Just found this similar 12-slicer on the internet.
Don't know if that's good enough.
4: Interlude on the slicing of pizzas. Direct documentation of pizzas. I was busy that week, though I learned that I couldn't document a 12 slice pizza, because I had no technology that allowed for instantaneous photographs during my Saturday game night. Also, places in Europe don't serve pre-cut:  you choose your own slicing.

5: Grouping is different from partitioning. The idea of starting with parts and combining them, versus starting with a whole and breaking it down, aka moving the decimal to the left or right, aka what makes a "1" (unit). I agree there's a difference, and I don't think decimals come naturally from partitioning.

6: Decimals and curriculum. Common Core State Standards were mentioned in the United States. Similar to Ontario, decimals are introduced in Grade 4, but there they immediately use up to two decimal places. In Ontario, we have one decimal place only, and gradually add another as they move through the subsequent few grades.


I started by thinking decimals were subsets of fractions. I'd now say decimals are a SCIENTIFIC measure... which is corrupting the study of mathematics.

I'm overdramatizing there, but bear with me. A few people (in Week 5 in particular) remarked that students preferred fractions over decimals. Not necessarily that they preferred fraction OPERATIONS, merely use of fractions. And I think that's what children do when they partition, they break things down in a fractional, more "fair" way. Fractions (pieces) are, in a sense, more natural than decimals.

Units! We... wait, what?
If you're starting with "1" unit, you have "one half" or "one third", which is SEEN right in the notation! (1/2) You don't have ".5". You might have "0.5", which finally mentions the whole, but that puts us in the realm of significant digits and scientific notation. Which is more like degrees of magnitude, not parts of a whole. (Magnitude being something we're not good at - consider this ViHart/Sal Khan video.) Same problem with money, we have two places by definition - unless we're talking about gas prices, which can lead to that crazy picture (in New Jersey) offered up by David Wees.

Granted, I bring some of my own bias into these thoughts. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a student a couple weeks ago, about an exponential model with an asymptote at 21 degrees. They said that the item WOULD eventually be 21 degrees, so how could this be an asymptote? My counterpoint was that it was technically 21.0000000000001 degrees, but our tools cannot be that precise. (Nevermind that a uniform 21 degrees in a room is likely impossible.)

The thing is, while fractions are more natural, decimals are our reality. Why? Calculators. More specifically, SCIENTIFIC calculators.

These tools work with place value, as they were designed to do. Something that works the same either side of the decimal point, and allows for expressing an answer in scientific notation. (Aside: Which few students understand... what's with 'E-7'?.) Now, can you imagine the difficulty of programming fractions into early calculators?? The idea of incorporating fractions into a calculator came later. Most computer calculators STILL don't have a fraction key!!!

My calculator's in 'P' mode.
How do I fix it?
But that's fine. Calculators do what they were designed to do. The trouble is, what they were designed to do was reduce everything down to decimals. In using them, decimals have become our reality. The fact that we seek out "real world" applications reinforces that. So am I saying DON'T use calculators? Or for that matter, don't use the metric system? Heck no. I'm saying be aware of the following: More numbers exist that CANNOT be expressed using decimals/fractions than numbers that do.

We don't generally care about those numbers until Grade 11. By that point, decimals might be the default. So what's the notation for half of root 2? Is 0.5root(2) sufficient? Is that sort of division even "fair"? How easy is that number to estimate? Do you even care?

If you don't care, I ask: Is mathematics the study of numbers, or is it the study of "real world applications"?

I don't have answers to those questions. Of course, as any scientist would say, I don't think all the evidence is in yet. So that's what I've learned.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

TCH: Org Chart

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the sixth post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission I think came from Justin Lanier (@j_lanier). It asked us to consider organizing the resources we're finding, and decide what habits we want to establish.


KEY POINT: I'm not keen on feed readers. I think they're cliquey and a source of unwanted stress as you try to keep up. Nor do I always want to sample the SAME people in the teacher population, I want to cross section that up and allow new people in. How do I do that without becoming overwhelmed? By not creating a blog list in the first place. Christopher Danielson has also spoken about the subject of blogrolls.

A fixed list of endlessly replenishing blog posts.
What could go wrong?

Then again, nothing is ever quite so black and white! Doesn't work for me, may work for you, particularly if you're new at teaching. Moreover, I actually DO have a short list - Blogger allows you to track a select number of blogs, and I have a half dozen on there. They don't tell me what I've read or what I haven't, but if I happen to be making my own post and I see something cool, I click. (If you're curious, this "elite" group includes the likes of Michael Pershan and Tina Cardone. Why? Because their stuff often resonates with me.)


I rarely actively search on topics (outside of my web serial), but if I stumble on a post or tweet, and it resonates, I'll comment. That way I'm pretty sure to remember it. You think you'll get back to comment later? You won't. Do it now. Put it into your longer term memory. Then it will end up in a later lesson.

We get incorporated too. We have seniority.
Alternatively, if the timing is right, I'll incorporate something I see in a post immediately. Otherwise? It likely doesn't get used. But I'm okay with that. It helps that I work in a very supportive department - the MTBoS is a bonus, not a lifeline.

Now, if something strikes me, and I mean really, truly strikes me, and I WANT it, and I DON'T think my semi photographic memory will retain it.... I'll slap it with a Twitter Favourite. I favourite MAYBE three tweets per month. That's my bank. Of course, half of it's for my web serial, a few are for fun, and I often forget to go back to check it more than once a month anyway.

In desperation, if you really need something you saw a couple months ago, there's always the tweet out request for "anyone remember...?". From Lisa Henry's "Infinite Tangents" podcast and general research, I'd say 3pm to 5pm local time is generally a good time to tweet requests, or blog posts. Also here's "The Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines" - pulled from my Twitter Favourites, @loveofscience.


Ha! I'm so freaking organized I can probably tell you what topic I'll be teaching a week from Tuesday. Now, do I know exactly how? Nope. In fact my plan might even change, but then it's more like redirecting the flow of a river, as opposed to being lost at sea. Heck, other people in my department have taught using my binders. Of course, I've been doing this teaching thing for a while.

Now, also referenced in the "Explore" post was the "Devise a Plan to Organize" session at TMC. Hey, I was there! Biggest takeaway? You have to figure out what works for YOU. I think what works for me is utter randomness within a tightly scaffolded framework. Main problem with it is... well, you have NO idea how thrown off I am if someone proposes a last minute change to that framework. (In other words, I can totally roll with random student diversions, but suddenly there's a fire drill? Gah!)

As far as habits go, the only thing I think I really need to work on is my marking; I'm getting better at it, but it's still taking me a while, and I put parts of it off for far too long. But that's not really connected to online organization - except maybe I'm spending too much time online, not enough on work.

FYI: The little keyboard is a calculator
You know what? In the end, if you're happy with your system, then assume you're doing it right. Unless someone explicitly says how you're doing it wrong AND can offer something better. Also, for the record, my desk? Total mess. But it's an organized mess, I knew in which stack I have a 90% chance of finding the sheet I want.

So... yeah, I think we're done here. Calling the next week of "Explore MTBoS" now, by the way: Day in the Life. My semi photographic memory recalls a statement in Week 3 that it would be one of the weeks, and they can't save it until last, otherwise we'll know THAT'S when it'll be, so the only way they can keep us guessing is to have it next week. Also, last year DITLife ran the week after Remembrance Day, so consistency.

Flawless logic. Trust me, I'm that organized.

Monday, 11 November 2013

MAT: Hashtag, You're It

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the fifth post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission also came from Julie Reulbach (@jreulbach). It asked us to attend a Twitter Chat. This is one of the uses for Twitter #hashtags; during a scheduled time, everyone wanting in on the discussion can use and track the tag to see the Q&A and related commentary.


Hate to start with a nitpick, but bit of a problem with this one. The Subject Chat felt US centred. After a whole year, I'm gradually coming to understand things, like "Geometry" involves lots of proofs, "Algebra 1" is Grade 8 or 9, and then I don't think "Algebra 2" comes immediately after it... does it? But Trig features in at least one of those, right? Look, is there a primer on this stuff somewhere?

There's your problem...

Joining a chat when I don't know the course feels like walking into a room of Marvel comic fans and chatting about DC Comics. Sure, we all like the same stuff and I'm probably bringing something relevant, but I'm not exactly on the same page here. Now, as an alternative, the post offered two UK chats - and a spreadsheet of 200+ others. Holy cats! 200?!?

In Week 4, with all the Global Math choice, a few were offered up for those with "no time to peruse and choose". That might have been nice here, outside of course codes. That said, I get that it's impossible to know what will appeal to the individual, and I may be the only person who had an issue with this at all. But that made this feel less global.

As it is, I might have joined "Canadian Ed Chat" on Mondays, except I'm almost never home on Mondays when it's going on. (Anyone out there been to one?) So despite my above complaints, I went for the suggested StatsChat on Thursday - for reasons I explain below.


Let's switch to something very GOOD that was done with this mission: helpful hints. While I can see it being possible to track the conversation through a hashtag search, I sense the need for refreshes, and you'd need another window to actually participate/tweet out. This always felt like a bit of a hassle. The suggestion was TweetDeck. And I went with HootSuite.

Sometimes I feel like I'm constantly going against the grain. Don't get me wrong, I often like that I do that! In this case, it's because I signed up for HootSuite back in mid-July, before TMC. (I also blog on Blogger because I started there before knowing lots in MTBoS were using WordPress.) So this was simply a matter of asking for a password reset, because aside from a second brief foray in August, I haven't been using it.

Tweaking HootSuite to monitor a chat turned out to be ridiculously easy. It's in columns (the same way as TweetDeck, I guess), so I just had to enter the hashtag. I ended up going with StatsChat, as I said, for a few reasons:
1) It felt more generic, like "Middle School Math" feels generic.
2) It was on Thursday, the first evening when I'd actually have time - term marks were due in Thursday morning.
3) I like statistics. I'd been meaning to at least try a statschat. I also think in this age of rising technology that it's going to be one of the most important things in math.

Random aside, I tuned everything in an hour early - and @jkindred13 became my 300th follow - then went to do the dishes. Came back just before 9pm to find the following. Cute.
If only we could all take a nap when bored.

As to HootSuite, it did the job. Discovered that if something is retweeted, it shows up twice - I guess that makes sense. Also, it waited with a bit of a buffer if I was off looking up a link or something. Generally five tweets but sometimes seven? Or nine? Showed up when I clicked. Not sure how that works.

As to the chat itself... it was interesting. There were three questions sprinkled through, namely:
Q1: What is your students' biggest struggle with probability? (I think dependence, and english quirks.)
Q2: What is your favorite probability activity for stats? (I'm not big on activities. I know, I know.)
Q3: Do you teach the birthday problem? (I do it as an intro to the course.)

There were other asides, like about videos - and I plugged @RogoNic because how can you not do that regarding stats videos - and in the end I learned a couple things and followed a couple others. The storify is here. But I'm not sure it's my thing. (Possibly because I'm an introvert? I don't chat much in real life.)

I likely won't be able to follow up this Thursday, because I have a major presentation on Friday that I'll be freaking out about. Beyond that? I guess I'll play it by ear. Glad I did it, at the least.

Wow, this feels like a short post. #ITalkTooMuch

Sunday, 10 November 2013

MAT: Creative Math Endeavours

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the fourth post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This... well, last week's mission came from Julie Reulbach (@jreulbach). Yes, last week - I'm a week behind, but I have to do these in order. I'm a little Obsessive-Compulsive that way. It asked us to go audio, rather than written, by listening to an Infinite Tangents Podcast and/or a Global Math Dept Webinar.


If Week 3's mission was hard for me, this one was dead easy. As always, quick backstory, because I suck at short posts.

I love when people get creative and geeky on the internet. This is why I started watching "That Guy With The Glasses", an internet review site that has people who review everything from videos to comic books. It was even a bit of a toss up in July as to whether I'd go to ConBravo (to see Linkara again), or to Twitter Math Camp. Previously blogged about that.

What's the point here? Basically, I've been keen on "Infinite Tangents" since I first found out about it. Not just for the people Ashli talks to (though it's neat now that I've actually met a number of them), more for the idea and the execution. I've posted comments on the 8Tangents site, submitted audio clips (while forgetting my name), fired off a couple questions to her, contemplated answers to the six questions and just generally been a fan. Sometimes I've listened while drawing pictures for my own web serial.

I'll stop rambling now, but suffice to say, hearing Ashli talk about the origin of it all at TMC was a bit of a thrill.

Of course, marks were recently due, so I didn't get to her latest (with Lisa Henry) until this weekend, and didn't want to blog here until I did - that's why this post is late. The podcast didn't disappoint! So if you have an interest in either math, or teaching, or just creative endeavors (there's a Halloween special), you need to check that out! Seriously, why so few comments over there?!


As far as Global Math goes, they do sessions at 9pm ET on Tuesday (right after Agents of SHIELD). I've been an occasional attendee since back in late May 2013 (topic: math in various parts of the world), and as a late August goal I resolved to attend at least one session a month. I've held to that, admittedly without the "at least" aspect - I make it every four weeks or so.

A key issue here is that my laptop computer, running OSX 10.5.8, is not compatible with the Flash software upgrade needed for viewing. This means I need to use my wife's computer - which itself is not a problem, but does make for a few extra steps, and means I can't browse the archives so easily. I definitely managed to be online Sat. November 2nd though, for the Autumn Special!

My background. The math-tans were based off OS-tans.

Let me say that Nik Doran displayed a bit of a genius in setting it right in between the UK Time Change and the North American Time Change. This meant the time zone difference was only four hours, as opposed to the usual five. More UK love, Chris Smith was going to be speaking about his newsletter, so see my above remarks about geeky creativity for why this was a thrill on par with talking to Ashli. Chris is also a member of a band, which gives him extra credit in my books (the same way Ashli's latin does), so who knows how he finds time to teach.

Quick recap: Session started with David Wees, which is always a treat, who talked about questioning - some of it a recap from talks I'd heard, but not all of it. Then Chris spoke about his newsletter, which seems like a really good way to pitch yourself to a department. At least one person was there on account of seeing this session in his newsletter. Julie spoke about Explore MTBoS, and at least one person was at the session on account of this initiative. Kev spoke about how Excel could be used to generate seating plans with data, Hedge spoke about stats, and Justin spoke about Math Munch. If you hadn't guessed, it was a two hour special.

Let me just say, I was feeling pretty down last weekend. Partly due to what I'd previously blogged about November 1st, and partly due to circumstances that required my wife to leave the country for a bit. This Global Math session helped me to reconnect at a time when I didn't know I needed it. Definitely recommend it as something that's worth checking out.


"Twitter"een is Oct 31, when you "dress up" your Twitter avatar to be like someone else's avatar. For more information, read this post. I'm quirky, in that my avatar represents my web serial, because honestly I want people to be thinking about that more than they do me. So when I adapted it, I still wanted there to be a connection.

For the record, I participated last year, when I was just becoming aware of the MTBoS community. I'm not sure if Dan Allen (@AllenMath) is even aware of how I stole his avatar.

Dan's avatar in October 2013
My version, Oct 31 2012

This year, I went as Nik Doran, because my web serial is all about Fractals at the moment. I also figured others would go for the head shots more than the pure math (an assumption that turned out to be wrong).

Nik's avatar in October 2013
My version, Oct 31 2013

For the record, Hedge put together a yearbook and was playing around with voting, not sure what came of it.

And there you have it, creativity among teachers at it's finest! But you don't have to take my word for it - go check it out!

Friday, 1 November 2013

MIX: On Building an Audience

In mathematics, sometimes you can spend hours, days, even years working on a problem - only to realize that you've been going down the wrong path the entire time. This is not bad, in and of itself. Mistakes themselves are often enlightening. But it can be disheartening.

This is how I feel about my mathematical web serial lately.

And this is your soundtrack for this post.  Seriously.

This post blends writing with mathematics


I began "Taylor's Polynomials" on July 3, 2011, over two years ago.

That's before Math Munch (Oct 2011), a weekly roundup of the mathematical internet. Before Ontario Math Links (Dec 2012), a weekly roundup connected to Ontario Curriculum. Before Infinite Tangents (Sep 2012), a podcast for teachers with insightful commentary. Before Daily Desmos (Mar 2013), a daily graphing challenge. Before ALL THAT, there was me. Twice every week.

If you're involved in math education, you've likely heard of them. Before this post, had you heard of my serial?

Who the hell are you and how did
you get into my Twitter feed?!
And I GET IT, I do, those other sites are valuable resources. They give you things you can use right away in the classroom, on a weekly basis. My web serial? Mostly a fun thing. Granted, there are links to useful items, but (a) you have to click on them, and (b) they tend to be connected to the story of the moment, as opposed to the curriculum.

That said, me and all those sites, we have something in common. We're publishing on a schedule. As I said, I publish twice a week, every week, and have not missed an update ALL YEAR.

First Big Question: Does the schedule matter? Do you even care? Outside of my core readership (and here I'm gonna be generous and say of 3 people), DOES IT MATTER that I update like clockwork?


Assuming you know "Taylor's Polynomials", it's a curiosity to you. Something you drop by to have a look at if either:
a) I happen to tweet out an update that looks interesting. Whereby that post is read, you nod, and move on without looking at anything else.
b) You happen to remember I exist, and go back to catch up on the last month or so.

Something about crescent shapes and parabolas, was it?

Neither of these items requires me having a schedule. Seriously, is anyone thinking "It's Sunday! I wonder what personified math is doing?" Because if not, maybe I should shift to a more flexible schedule of two random posts per week. But if my schedule is something you look forward to, please, for the love of God, say something. Which brings me to point two.

Second Big Question: What am I doing wrong?

The feedback I get can also be dropped into two categories:
a) What is this? I don't get it. I don't have time for this.
b) Oh, that's clever. Followed by "I don't have time for this."

Because if you DID have the time, I wouldn't constantly have to call attention to myself! In over TWO YEARS, I can count the number of times I've had an unsolicited comment (ie- where I didn't bring my serial up first) on both hands, and I've had maybe one referral. (Ok, not counting #FFs in that, because my Twitter feed goes beyond my serial.) My family doesn't read. My colleagues don't read. My MTBoS friends don't read?

Look! Math+SciFi! ...where are you going?
Seriously, here's typical conversation from the past week.
Them: "Is your twitter avatar a ten sided Dr Who parody?"
Me: "Yes, here's why."
Them: "Oh, that's clever."

Now, I know this is on me. Like any good teacher, I know it's up to me to make my, well, writing engaging. I also know I'm stuck behind the 8-ball, because:
a) My topic is math. This does not have a wide audience.
b) People in education do not have a lot of free time.
c) I pun a lot.

Up to this point, I thought the trouble was publicity. Except I tweet every update twice. I have a Facebook page (13 likes), and even post to Google+. In September, I took the time to break down exactly what was going on in a series of posts, and I got triple the hits there as compared to any of my regular updates. I toss out my serial characters in conversations about once a week, which already feels like too much.

So the message is getting out there. I'm just not interesting.

But unless you tell me WHY I'm not compelling, and suggest how I can IMPROVE on that, all I can do is GUESS. I've spent over 185 entries guessing. (Yes, I now have an entry for every day of the school year.) I'm getting sick of guessing. Particularly when I see what other serials have going for them.


Sorry, meant to say a tweet
that I can decipher.
I want one message a month that makes me think about my web serial, which makes me consider my plot and my characters. Or maybe a tweet, how about a single tweet? This is a SERIAL, I've only written about five episodes ahead, beyond that it's up for grabs! What do you see happening next? What would you do if you were writing? (With a quick shoutout here to Scott, who last week posted a quick comment of this type on my Facebook wall. That was October's message, can I get one for November?)

I want someone to see themselves in my serial, and tell me so, without prompting. Be it the link to their website (I've pointed at blogs, and sites like Estimation180) or a plot point they suggested or saw coming (I had some colleagues give me ideas in Series 4, which I included) or in something a character does (I've got two female characters sleeping together now, and I don't know if they're acting realistically). I say "without prompting" because otherwise I'm just going to get more of "Oh, that's clever. I don't have time for this."

I want people to say "wow, didn't see that coming", implying some previous interest. I follow other writers, and I always find myself sighing when they say something like 'Didn't expect that reaction to my post!'. Because the reaction I get is... no reaction. Note I'm not asking for a ReTweet here, or a recommendation, all I want is a response that signifies interest beyond a single post. Because again, serial.

Now, we don't always get what we want. In fact, I'm certain that someone out there reading this is saying 'You got a comment on your facebook wall? You're already ahead of me!' Again, I get it. There's a guy out there who had to publish every day for several years before he garnered any attention. In a lot of senses, I'm still young at this.

But the fact of the matter is, I AM older than a LOT of other initiatives. My content, it trends to humour and relaxation, more than pedagogy and curriculum. Is that wrong? Is FUN not a thing we want in math? Because I'm feeling invisible. Should I include blog search terms? Of what type? More special episodes? On what topics? Should I throw an entire Series into a single post for reading, rather than use the index page? Update the character page? Spin three times in a circle chanting the Tau of Pi before every update??

I grant that perhaps you'll tell me, "this is what you need to do", and I'll realize I cannot do that. I also know I have no chance of being everything to everyone. But at least I'll know. Or I'll know more than I do now. Because what is a writer without an audience?

I am nothing without you. Just a shadow passing through.