Wednesday, 20 July 2016

TMC 2016 Entry 3: Breathe

I'm blogging about "Twitter Math Camp" in a daily fashion, a bit retroactively. I think I sensed with Sunday's update that I was stretching things, and on Monday it all spun a bit out of control. How? Let's see. Alternatively, you can check out Entry 0 (Descon), Entry 1 (So It Resumes) and Entry 2 (Getting Personal) before reading this, if you would like. And who said these quotes? You'll have to read below to find out if it was: Wendy Menard, Dylan Kane, Annie Perkins or Elissa Miller.

  • "I didn't take that perspective at the time, I didn't learn those lessons."
  • "I'd had a really successful career, and then I went into this job, and I wasn't good at it for a long time."
  • "I'm not trying to make the white kids in the classroom feel terrible."
  • "It might take five or six years to fully get it, but that gives me something to look forward to."


Talking with others coming back from the Falls last night, the "Seward Cafe" had been floated as a breakfast possibility. I decided to go there, and I'm glad I did - turns out they're closed Tuesdays. Two other TMCers arrived after I'd ordered the Special, and we ended up chatting; one, Craig Ortner, had come off the "waiting list". I always find that sort of encounter interesting, I met another at the Newbie/Veteran dinner (I forget if I mentioned that).

I left by 8:30 because I wanted to run through my song, which I did standing by the interstate overpass. I then headed to the chapel, and after some words by Lisa Henry we launch into My Favourites:

#10: "Variable Analysis Games" by Joel (@joelbezaire). He started by mentioning a well of anxiety before his presentation yesterday, given who else was presenting in the 4-5pm slot. Casey tweeted back at him. TrigTOMetry was then the only person in his session. And so here is the first of many personal diversions on my part.

(Back in 2013, my first TMC, I was presenting on the first day, "Musical Mathematics". Only one person came, Erin Scott. I just looked her up, she only has one tweet this year. It makes me wonder about the people who leave this community, and their reasons for it. That whole experience was chronicled in my blog, back when I tweeted out "The difference between 0 and 1 is infinity.")

Joel's "My Favourite" addressed why many classroom math games suck: The same kid always wins, they're too hard for some students, the game ends when the first person "gets it", there's too much setup ahead of time, the rules are too complicated to explain quickly, they're boring, it's more about the game than the math, etc. "This isn't true for every game, I've run into some good ones" but also ones that are combinations of these flaws.

So here's "Variable Analysis": Joel is running the game at the front, he puts columns of numbers on the board headed 'a' 'b' 'c' 'd'. What's the object of the game? After some noticing/wondering, @Fouss sees that "a times b minus c equals d". Joel says, that gives the answer away, so here's what he does - if a student thinks they "get it", the student (Sam?) goes up and creates a new row to fit the model. Which not only shows 'Sam' understands it, but provides everyone else with more evidence.

Then maybe 'Sharon' puts something down. Joel asks SAM, does Sharon get it? Then Bruce comes up, and the game continues. The ones who don't get it yet keep getting evidence, those who have completed it become co-judges, and they can even help in keeping track of students. As more have it, Joel can provide challenges: can you create a solution with as many negatives as possible? That uses zeroes? That would be a dead giveaway?

Even THEN, they're not done. Because in the end, he can ask Sam, what was the rule? And Sam may say ab - c = d, to which another student says "I thought it was ab = c + d, and you said I had it!" So there's the properties of equality. And how many different ways can the relationship be expressed? Joel has created 8 games so far, he'll keep adding, he has some stickers on the main table, if you want to share, do so.

Photo courtesy Megan: @megyzr
#11: "Musical Mathematics" by Greg (@mathtans). I started with some shout-outs to other musical efforts in the community, then went into math song parody. There's a lot of YouTube parodies already out there (shoutout to my 2013 presentation, and Joel), and you can perhaps get students to write one instead of a project. I sing in class, and at our school's annual Christmas assembly. And I capped the presentation by singing my "Cubic Formula" song, to show why the music can be so powerful.

The reaction was one that I've always kind of hoped for in my heart of hearts - some people even stood up, applauding - but which I had honestly stopped believing would happen. And there is a LOT to unpack about that through this post, so let's start with some context.

(Back in 2013 again, and after my session, there was karaoke that night. And I opened the whole set with "Mean", my statistics version of the Taylor Swift song. It earned a tweet by Mythagon, which I screen capped and treasure to this day, and despite a couple other songs I did, I have no memory of anyone talking music with me.

If you went to the blog post I made that day, there were comments, including one saying I should present my topic at 'Global Math' one night. And you'll see I was skeptical of that, but it did come up again when someone associated with them said that maybe I could do a half hour split with someone else. I said if you really think so, and that was the last I heard of that, there was no further followup.

A takeaway from 2013 was that my niche is not something this community is interested in - song parodies are for the camp as a whole, not for the classroom. I continued to develop it locally, because I have that luxury - TMC wasn't the first time I'd presented it - strongly linking it with my personified math. Fast forward to June 29th of this year, when I fired out to the MTBoS, do I promote at TMC16? Or accept that you are not an audience for personified math?

I got responses from Audrey McLaren, Manan Shah, and Chris Burke, effectively saying go for it. That's when I decided I would bring some cards, and even do a video to "My Fave" that math song. So you have them to thank for the performance. Also Joel Bezaire, who let me use his connector when I forgot to bring mine to the front, and who reminded me of how to mirror my laptop.)

I got 36 Twitter notifications within half an hour, which for me is unheard of. You'll see me go through them later, but one that stood out was TheJLV, who simply tweeted "This guy." with a minute of video. I single him out first, because of how he was a keynote speaker, and having a shout-out by someone of that calibre who wasn't even following me just blew me away. More later.

#12: ""by Edmund Harriss (@Gelada). He said that thanks to us, he has a successful math colouring book. As a reward, there will be another colouring book! Arriving Nov 29th. He added that since he did all the obvious mathematics illustrations in the first one, he really got to play around this time. Edmund showed a number of interesting images.

An illustration of the unfortunately named "hairy ball theorem". Sangaku, which are Japanese geometry puzzles, here relating circle ratios. A map of the world, still Mercator projection, but the north pole is in the middle. A fractal which he suspects people will start to colour and only then realize it's 3D. A slide had all the different ways of adding 11. "Young Diagrams" are important in high level geometry but can be introduced to elementary level students (per yesterday's keynote). A three dimensional visualization of the "orchard illusion".

To conclude, Edmund noted that if your kids are struggling with something, that's fine because everyone is struggling with this stuff, and that's part of the joy. There will also be four lesson plans based on the images.

#13: "NCTM" by Steve Weimar (@sweimar). Last year "The Math Forum" joined NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) - as he said "we've truly caught the attention of NCTM". We have people serving on committees, and have been asked to bring the council to the community, rather than it being a formal organization of standards and policy. And they want help to do that, if you think of anything that would help.

Two memberships were randomly drawn to give to attendees in the room. (Glenn cleverly suggested a RandInt calculated for a spreadsheet, rather than names into a basket.) Noted that the e-membership costs less, and you can see everything online. Remember, "NCTM is supposed to be us, and it doesn't represent us if we are not part of it." 


Back in our morning session we looked at concrete examples of the preassessments from yesterday - it's again part of it's own post. Click here to go to Day 3. It's where you'll see one of the quotes. There is another link to bring you back.

In fact, I left with 30+ minutes still on the clock, so if someone else who was there wants to speak to how the session wrapped up, please do. The reason I left was to see Sean S and David P, as Sean had asked if I wanted to help out with or sing the TMC song. 

(Back to 2013, when after hearing about Sean and getting up the courage to poke at him, he also told me when they were working on the song, also on Day 3. And I was told there was a google document that people added to, and I was given access, and there was some talk of bouncing rhymes around. But based on my approaching them, the perceived lack of discussion of music with me to that point, and how informal they were, I saw the experience as being dismissive. Wow, was that wrong. Their informal method is still how it works in 2016. Time, it provides perspective.)

I talked with Sean and David for a bit, and let me say, I'm even more impressed with the final song result now, because of how it seems to emerge so organically. I guess I'd envisioned certain people tackling certain verses, or deadlines, or something more than "here it is, got thoughts?". I don't operate very well when things are so open, I require structure.

The point being, I got lunch with them (went to Jimmy John's sandwiches for the first time), but ended up gravitating towards a couple other people instead. I chatted with David Cohen, and then Sara Vaughn - in large part because she had some song parodies of her own. She'd written them in 2004, and they were neat! One on Pythagorus was to the tune of some rally/cheer, which had the slow-fast thing down perfect, and another involved zero to the tune of "Rudolph". And they were in powerpoint, the same way I usually do it!

As we talked, I was also trying to upload photos to the Shutterfly site, figuring that contributing images was probably the best way I could help the music group at this point. But reception in Murphy Square was terrible, so after a second failed attempt at an upload, I excused myself to go closer to the dorms to do it. That's when I started going back through, and responding to, the tweets from 3 hours earlier.

Many were similar to what people had said to me personally that morning, variations on how they enjoyed it, it was awesome, but a couple things stood out to me. Kathryn Freed, who said "thanks for being vulnerable". Interesting fact - I didn't feel vulnerable. I wasn't worried about what people would say or how they would react (heck, I've done a "My Favourite" and karaoke in front of this audience before, merely not at the same time). I saw it more as having nothing to lose.

Literally, the WORST thing that could have happened to me was that I would get polite applause and be ignored. (Throwing of tomatoes in a church is frowned on.) And I am VERY used to the feeling of doing creative stuff, and having it be ignored. I think I mentioned performing the last four years at Christmas assemblies? I have approached School Council every single time. No one has come to me saying, "Do you have another one this year?" My time travel writing, weekly for over a year, has less than 10 regular readers. Someone even told me at TMC how they seem to recall me tweeting about these complaints, and yeah, sorry for that.

It's not because I want people to "look at me!", not exactly. It's because I can't improve my writing and other creative efforts without someone saying WHY "that was awesome" or "that sucked". Yes, I got a couple tweets when the parody first came out, but Megan S is the only new voice who followed up later. Sure, I get some information from students, but I can't tell them to please share my videos, because when you're in a position of authority, that really doesn't fly.

So yeah. Not vulnerable. Just another desperate cry for feedback.

The second thing that stood out for me was Julie Reulbach who tweeted out a Periscope. It stood out partly because I am still not clear on what that app is about, and because EPIC was scrawled across it at the end. But mostly because I heard her singing quietly along in the background. Yes, GOOD. While up there, I heard some people chiming in at the yellow text parts, and that is what I do to try and encourage joining in if it doesn't happen right away. But mostly people were listening.

And I want to know why. Because I have found in a classroom setting, students often won't join in, probably because they're with their peers. But in a school assembly, almost every student joins in, even though most have no idea what a "polar plot" is. I figured safety in numbers, more anonymity. And yet, big crowd here, and any singing during my song was pretty quiet - so was it because you were too caught off guard? Or self conscious? Was it because the tune was unfamiliar? Or did you see it as a thing I was doing that you could not do? Inquiring minds want to know. Because I feel like the last isn't true.

In other news, rehearse your talks, I'd ball-parked 2 minutes for my slides, and turns out I took 4 minutes. I also say "um" and "uh" a lot. Derp.

After going through all the tweets (and uploading pics), it was somehow 5 minutes to one o'clock, and I had to head back for the next round of Favourites. I got some enlightenment from Max on my comic and kudos from Jose in the process.

#14: "Pencil Sharpener Ingenuity" by Sara (@vaughn_trapped). She felt the last year had gone badly. She'd tried sign up desks, mini white board supplies, bulletin boards, it didn't feel good - the best thing she did all year was the following. Placing an electric pencil sharpener, plugged in, outside her classroom. Taped to a stool.

The students will have sharp pencils. The noise is outside, and there's a camera so they won't mess around with it. People from other classes can also walk by and sharpen. The principal even took a picture. Because when you're having a bad year, sometimes this is the best thing that can happen - "and I'll take it."

#15: "Conversations that Matter" by Brian (@TheMillerMath). A take on one of his favourite Mathalicious lessons, "Licensed to Ill", he draws a connection with probability. But first, Brian noted how a post of karimkai gave him the title, with "math class as a place for conversations that matter" - math can help a student to better understand something in the real world.

The lesson itself looks at the price of heart surgery, the probability people will need it, and the students become the insurance company. Scenario 1: Price so that the company will break even. There's a disconnect found between what's good for people and the company. Scenario 2: Set your single price and now there's no way to make a profit (only break even at $20,000 when one guy buys). Scenario 3: Mandated insurance. Scenario 4: Deny only Daniel (preexisting condition).

Brian doesn't want to manipulate their moral compass too much, but after they compute an answer without the guy (he's over half the expected cost), Brian asks, what happened to Daniel? And they still have a coin in their hand to flip, to see if he had a heart attack. And does it matter who Daniel is? Then Scenario 5, where the hospital will operate, but lose money, and have to raise the cost of surgery, and now look at poor Claire.

Scenario 6 took a more realistic population distribution, more like the Mathalicious lesson. What are the advantages here? High ceiling, and having a conversation that mattered. the mathematics will help students become better citizens.

#16: "I See Math" by Denis (@MathDenisNJ). He started by saying he loved TMC, thank you for sharing, and also how his morning session on "Instant Relevance" (day by day statistics) is related to a book coming out in 3 weeks with help from Dave Burgess Consulting.

He then shows images, including his lunch, pointing out the math. And after doing these graphics for a while, he found it wasn't as exciting, because it takes time to graph a lot of things. Enter Alice Keeler and "50 things you can do with google classroom" and now Denis has a 3-Slide format in Google Slides. Keep it simple: White background, default text, the following format: (1) Title. (2) Image. (3) Vague guiding question (make a story out of it).

Some examples were: (A) "Too Much Coffee". A picture of iced coffee sizes versus hot coffee sizes and prices. "I love coffee (wife anecdote) what's the best bang for my buck?" (B) "Stick or Log?" A picture of a fox. "That fox has something in it's mouth, why would I say a log and not a stick?" (C) "How Big Is That?" A picture of Isamu Noguchi's cube art in NYC. "What does the question 'how big is that' mean to you?" (relative to people, to volume, etc) Here's a shared folder of more! Add yours!

If you get google slides on your phone, you can even set this up right away after taking a picture, and retell the story that got you there. Hopefully kids will start to say "I saw this math, you won't believe what I saw!" Denis also plugged something called GeoGuesser.

At this point, I noticed that with all the extra activity today, my computer was already down to 15% power. So I shut off the WiFi and ran silent in order to make it through the next 60 minutes.


The topic of Dylan Kane's keynote makes for a good sub header here too. After some technical glitches, filled with people talking about their flex sessions, Dylan hit us with the following: What made you a better teacher, and what were the conditions which made that happen?

I happened to be sitting near Joel B, so we talked. He mentioned his Masters in Math, I more vaguely had trouble pinning down a moment I decided I "couldn't do everything", and learned to let some things go. Dylan then took us back to when he had a Mentor. When he could converse with people about teaching and learning, instead of filling a bag of bigger tricks. With time, we get better, but there are ways we can influence that.

In his first year of teaching, Dylan was "I do. We do. You do." all the time. He felt good about his teaching until a twist in the second week, but he had an instructional coach, and got better at explaining and breaking things down. He also immersed himself in blogs, lurking on Twitter, and learning about what engagement looks like and what great math teaching can be. That helped him keep going, while he was plugging through the daily grind.

February rolls around, and he hasn't been doing the things that he's been seeing. Now, volumes of cylinders and spheres was the topic in his 8th grade class, so he went to Dan Meyer's "Meatballs 3 Act". How many meatballs make the sauce pot overflow? Fertile ground for reasoning, Dylan was excited, planned the lesson out, and felt really good about it afterwards.

Later that afternoon, he got an email from his instructional coach with some feedback. "What was it you wanted kids to learn?" "When you say you don't care about the wrong answer, they disengage." "The video got them off task." "They weren't engaging in multiple ways." And Dylan's response was pretty much, "screw that, it's Dan Meyer's hand in the video!" But while he thought a 3-Act would be a magic elixir, his coach was right, and the kids didn't learn much.

In retrospect, here's two lessons he says he could have learned that day, and didn't. First: My intuition isn't very good. And that's being human - in places as complex as classrooms, there's tons of things flying by, so we'll focus on the things we want to see. I saw 4 excited kids, not 20 who were kind of chilling. Second: There are no easy fixes. We cannot just plug something in to create magic, it's about building a skill, like steering kids towards engaging in estimation, not one more weird thing a teacher is asking in class.

But "I didn't take that perspective at the time, I didn't learn those lessons. I threw everything at the wall to see what would stick." Problem based lessons, new style quiz, et cetera, all the while fighting to keep his head above water, because he didn't know what made the tools work. What questions to ask to facilitate discussions. And now, because each day was different from the last, students who needed routine required extra support.

His title "more than resources" is because this community is really incredible for what it's created, but the paradigm is missing something. Clever ideas is NOT equivalent to coherent curriculum. Clever ideas tend to help the clever kids the most. "Once I could look objectively at my students, and see how they were becoming greater, I realized I needed to be more purposeful, more thoughtful."

Quote: "No, the ten thousand hour rule isn't really a rule" -Anders Ericsson, whose research Malcolm Gladwell cited when coining the 10,000 hour rule. The idea being that you spend that much time on something, you become an expert. But there are a lot of drivers who have spent 10,000 hours on the road, and they're pretty terrible drivers. Yes, you have to practice, but you need DELIBERATE practice. Great chess players don't just play great games of chess.

Deliberate Practice: Gets you out of your comfort zone. (Take risks, and share failures.) Is focussed. (Pushes every day to be a little better.) Involves feedback. (Like from Dylan's coach.) Has well-defined, specific goals. (Even with the other pieces, you need a set of goals.)

(Another quick aside on my part -- while I feel like my creative stuff does the first two things in spades, it's the feedback that's killing me. Mainly because I don't know who to talk to, and feel like if I speak directly to someone rather than vaguely to everyone, that one person won't "get it". At least in the classroom, you don't have to ask who your audience is! Am I the only one with this problem? Also, my goals keep changing. Originally, personified math was to make math fun, then it was to look at different math concepts, and now it seems to be to create a reflection of society. I keep changing it because my ultimate goals of entertainment and engagement are elusive. )

Related to feedback, Dylan got ambitious with "Nix the Tricks" and removed all of them. It went badly! The tricks needed to be replaced with understanding, and Dylan missed students who said they didn't get it, couldn't get it without the "trick". Related to goals, there was the book "Intentional Talk", and breaking discussions down into six types. We shouldn't say "I'll get better at teaching - by MTBoS!" Rather, say "I'll get better at discussion". As an example, Open Middle Problems were another tool Dylan found hard. Kids didn't magically learn, it took sequencing individual answers, and getting kids to take risks.

People love to say things like 'teachers stop improving after their third year', or whatever. Crazy. Like the world believes we're bad, until we're okay, then we're like that forever. It all comes back to deliberate practice - what is lacking? Be critical of yourself in a constructive way. The other crazy thing is 'the deconstruction of the K-12 teacher'. Like the future of education is a computer screen with a "tech" to make sure the equipment works and the students behave. Lots of people have these paradigms.

Dylan doesn't have these paradigms. We have to change, but the solution isn't to turn everything on it's head, rejecting the research and what we've done in our careers. What's powerful is when we take the unique experiences of the kids in class, and build on that. "I believe in teaching." To quote from Dylan William, "Like so much else in education, 'what works' is the wrong question, because everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere." (p. 139) It's expertise, it's knowing the tools you have and where they work.

This is Dylan's vision for great teaching: Teachers who come to work every day with a ton of tools, expertise, and knowledge for what will work in what context. Making our tools better all the time. This community, this giant wall of resources, can have teachers track and develop and see what works, helping year after year to teach math a little better.

He points out (breaking some hearts?) that Barbie Bungee is not his favourite thing. When he first taught it, it was a mess. No connections between rubber bands and representation. But he did it again, and he's not terrible at it, but we shouldn't think of it as one lesson, it's one iteration of this TYPE of lesson - where kids are networking with something concrete. Move to how that way of thinking can influence a dozen lessons, and a ton of concepts.

It's unrealistic to ask teachers to change more than 10% of their teaching at once. But it's unprofessional to expect teachers won't try and change. He notes, "I think I'm a less terrible teacher than I was", and a lot of improvement has come from having more in the toolbox. "I'm not going to transform overnight." It's about deliberate practice - be open to it.

Dylan's "Call to Action"? First, he wants to know what your 10% is going to be, and how you can be more purposeful about it. Second, how can this community create tools that are more useful for more teachers? How do we share, and influence other people, and encourage risk taking? "I have way more questions than answers about how this looks. I want to finish with a really sincere thank you."

With my computer at 3% power, I ran by the dorms for my power cord before proceeding to "New Teachers", the session where 55 of you answered the survey sent out before TMC. Coordinated by Amy Zimmer, Wendy Menard, and Glenn Waddell, there were three of us there - Tom Hall, John Golden, and me. I was there partly because I've wondered about taking on a student teacher.

The session started with introductions, then a quote from Angie Miller, 2011 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, who said "As a new teacher I felt completely blindsided..." and then went on to mention a number of things veteran teachers STILL struggle with. Because kids change, and classrooms do have personalities. The "Family Feud" plan was shelved due to a technical glitch and not enough people for teams, but we looked through the top 3 answers for the questions.

1) A word to describe your first year: Overwhelmed/Stressed (14). Enthusiastic/Engaged (7). Clueless/Unprepared (4). Innovative came up more than once; someone said arrogant. Wendy adds, "I didn't understand the whole idea of a lesson plan every day." - one course she taught didn't even have a defined curriculum. (*I'd said 'Busy')

2) How many years teaching? 10-16 years (18). 4-9 years (11). Less than 3 years (8). Glenn was surprised by the large number (half) of teachers still in their first 10 years - are there younger people at PCMI? Is social media the younger demographic? Also, where ARE the other 18 who answered the survey and aren't at this panel? More right below. (*I'm at 10+ years)

3) What did you do best your first year? Build relationships with students (19). Be organized (6). Ask for help (4). We teach people, not content, and it's important to help new teachers understand that early. Students have to trust you. At college, that's harder, you see them less. Could it be that many newer teachers are chasing content and tools at TMC? This community can be overwhelming for veterans, so it can be hard to filter things out. (*I'd said organized)

4) What you needed the most help with: Classroom Management (14). Curriculum (5). Good Mentor (3). A perception can be that if it's quiet, that's good, and chaos is not. But a routine doesn't have to mean rigorous, it can be as simple as where to turn in papers. (Glenn: Have one place for all classes rather than different period bins they need to check.) After Dylan's keynote, are we giving new teachers tricks, not deep understanding? (Glenn: We would never, ever take a rocket scientist and say, 'the first few rockets you send will blow up, that's expected', yet our mindset seems to be that the first year of teaching is going to suck. First year should be a positive, supportive environment as they struggle.) (*I'd said relaxing)

5) Most embarrassing new teacher moment: Had virtually no repeats. Some were themes on crying (in front of students or other teachers or parents). Someone said "mispronouncing names of Hispanic students because I was unfamiliar with their culture". It's hard to categorize open response stuff like this. Noted that doing math wrong being embarrassing assumes a need for perfection; if we do everything right, it's as if they have to do everything right. (*I'd said terminology.)

6) Recurring teacher nightmare: Being unprepared (6). Being late (4). "That" class (2). Not much to add here, see above. (*I'd said unprepared.)

7) What do kids ask the most: "Are you married?" (11) "How old are you?" (10) "Do you have kids?" (7). They're trying to figure out who we are as people. Advice: Don't share anything you're not comfortable with the entire school knowing in ten minutes, but share enough to appear human. (*I'd said, how many ties do you own?)

8) Something you wish someone had told you before: "It's all about the kids." (10) "It's okay to be wrong." (8) "It will suck at first, but it will get better." (8) ... That last flies in the face of comments in #4, and how can you recruit people to a profession by saying 'it'll suck'? Perhaps tell them, "It will be hard, and it takes time to learn to do something that's hard." (*I'd said adding one class adds workload while cutting time - don't teach two summer school classes at once.)

9) Teaching which topic gives you Imposter Syndrome? Probability (7). Statistics (6). Trigonometry (5). A teacher may not see Trig in college, which could account for it. I'D said "Finance", which may be a Canadian thing, as the others there told me it tends to be in "Economics" which is the social science department. Glenn added that, in Nevada, Finance is taught by the class on government! ("What do we give up to teach finance?" "Whatever you want.")

Mentoring: It's one of the most positive, supportive things we can do. People may not think that's what's missing, but mentoring can make new teaching easier. I mentioned the mentoring class I went through, which some people resented because it pulled them out of class (was during school hours). The person Tom Hall found to be a mentor was a social studies teacher down the hall. KEY: Due to the radical difference in content, he talked more about instruction and what students were doing.

The inclination is to pair secondary teachers by subject. But back to yesterday's keynote by Tracy, this means talk turns to curriculum ("I was teaching fractions") rather than pedagogy ("These students weren't getting along"). Perhaps we need to shift the idea of mentorship outside of subjects, and purposefully cross-seed it? To take the focus away from content?

Three areas of need were mentioned by the presenters: Academic (paperwork, grading, parents, systems*). Social/Political (finding your niche, being vocal in dept, saying no, creating classroom culture). Personal (How to ask for help, impostor syndrome, taking care of yourself, systems*). A few further tips: 

  • Plan a substitute day, and take it before you need it. That way you get to see the process, decide what to leave behind, and get a chance to be a normal human before you're freaking out.
  • If you're going to volunteer for something, make it during school hours only, so it doesn't suck the life out of your weekends. If asked, inquire "when does it meet and how often". It's great to get to know kids, but set boundaries.
  • Newer, younger teachers can have more energy - great, but know that work-life balance is something even veteran teachers are still figuring out. Don't be embarrassed to do things that help, like having someone else clean your house for you.
  • I mentioned how I withdrew from social media and the MTBoS for a while because it was too much, and others added we must remember our primary commitment is to ourselves, and our family, not an online community.
Wendy noted, "I'd had a really successful career, and then I went into this job, and I wasn't good at it for a long time. It was hard feeling incompetent." Following this were the flex sessions, and I went to "Mathematicians, More than just white dudes", by Annie Perkins. Returning to the social justice side of things.

Annie had given this talk at NCTM. It's not her idea, it's that of her students'. She had been talking about Pythagorus, trying to get the kids involved, and one kid - Emilio - asked her "Why do we always talk about white dudes?". And I look, there's this big white bust on the board. (Interestingly, Pythagorus probably looked more dark than we credit, but that's not what the student was asking.) She said, "Would it matter if we talked about a Mexican mathematician?", and he said "Do you think there are any?"

She's thinking 'of course' but didn't know any, so said she would find out. And after showing one such guy, and seeing how over the moon the kid was, the "mathematicians project" was born. Because where she teaches (locally), 50% of her class are caucasian, the others are not - and so when we say "you can do the math" they don't have a reference point. So on Fridays, she took 5-10 minutes to present a mathematician... anyone except "old, white, rich, dead men".

Annie noted, "I'm not trying to make the white kids in the classroom feel terrible. I'm very clear about why I'm doing this." She often goes to wikipedia, and she's a history major so she knows that's bad research, but the point is to have someone they can relate to. She mentions any awards and the math specialty, even if it's over the heads of middle school students.

A pitfall she fell into is that a lot of women's stories really suck. ("Guess what happened next?" "Nobody supported her!" "You're right!") So balance with some who don't have a terrible time - Fan Chung is a great example. Spin a story from the flavour a website gives. Another pitfall: Annie found an African-American woman and thought 'two-for-one' but the kids pushed back because she didn't have light skin, or her hairstyle wasn't like theirs. There was also difficulty finding a trans mathematician, and one with non-binary sexuality.  (She crowdsourced a bit.)

"I cannot stress to you enough how this has impacted my students." They're also pretty understanding and forgiving if she has to defer a type of person by a week - "Kids accept our failings better than we do." Some feedback included 'well done', 'stop', 'boring' and 'do any like cows?' (Kids are also weird.) But the relationship payoff is a no brainer, and she learned more about her students this way too.

Annie also had them do student projects, where they made a slide of themselves. Requirements: General bio, any accomplishments (math or not) and specialities (had to include one math thing). Some kids had to be pushed in terms of the speciality, perhaps something they worked really hard on and got better at. A next step might be a bulletin board, as a more constant visual reminder, and contacting living mathematicians.

Annie will be looking for sites to tweet out, and Sara VanDerWerf asked her to guest blog on her site. For the last 25 minutes, there was some general discussion of Social Justice math. It was mentioned that none of the free Mathalicious lessons use that for the topic. The site has lots of statistics (but was becoming dated in 2008). Max Ray's talk, tweeted by Dan, was brought up (and there had been pushback on the title).

Megan Schmidt, who had presented at a state conference, brought up a graph of MCA score average compared to percentages of free reduced lunch (a federal program). James Cleveland proposed #SJMath as a tag for future discussion, and Dylan Kane the website Max Ray-Riek remarked on where we position teachers of colour, perhaps rural teachers can collaborate with urban teachers. And Megan noted how one of NCTM's principles is ensuring access and equity - can you say with confidence every student has the same in mathematics?


That ended at 5pm, and I headed back to the dorms. I uploaded a few more pictures of people playing around with things in Foss, then took a nap. I don't recall a time when I've ever felt more mentally exhausted. Not physically, not even emotionally, there was simply too much for my brain to parse. And I wasn't interested in the trip to the "Mall of America". (I buy Sheri's comparison to the West Edmonton Mall.)

I was up again by 6pm. I finally decided to add something to the "TMC Song" file, but my timing was bad - about 10 minutes later, the whole document had been reformatted, and my stuff was overwritten soon after. I really do not have the hang of organic social networking, which VERY plausibly explains my feedback problems. I guess I need to upgrade my phone?

I also went back through Twitter, and found an interesting piece by Brian Bushart (as tweeted by Heather) looking into how we reference numbers. We start by seeing them as adjectives ('one fish') and transition to them being nouns ('one plus two'). The same start occurs with fractions, but we DON'T provide the same chance to transition them to nouns ('one over two'), which could explain some of the trouble.

There were vague dinner plans in the feed, but in the end, at 7pm, I decided to take a walk. A long walk. A 12,000 step walk. It included going over the pedestrian/rail bridge to the University of Minnesota, where I read some of the quotes on their "Scholar's Walk". One relevant one I tweeted: "The biggest hindrance to learning is fear of showing one's self a fool." -William Least Heat-Moon. Had dinner, used the $1 off coupon I got at the ball game at Dairy Queen, and came back after sunset, the long way around.

Got in after 10:30pm, had a good chuckle over the fact that Glenn's YouTube of my "My Favourite" had more views than my own initial video (18 to 16). And now I'm curious... okay, 7pm on July 20th, looks like 65 viewers on Julie's Periscope, 38 views for Glenn, and 28 for me. I'm not sure what that says aside from Views being a terrible metric for anything, but often I have no alternative.

I debated what to do about this Recap Post. I decided there would be too much in it to handle (the text file is over 50kB). I tweeted out apologies, saying I didn't have the brainpower to do it right, not really expecting a response, but Meg Craig responded anyway. (Thanks!) Instead, I packed up my suitcase, so I wouldn't have to do it in the morning. And I was up for another hour, but I do not remember what I did anymore - so yeah. There you have it. Thanks for reading to the end - or if you skipped down, thanks for reading the end! One more day left to blog. It shouldn't take six hours.


  1. So, just my two cents on the writing/creative bit of this.

    If you are looking for feedback on the what is working, what isn't working and why, don't publish or perform to get feedback.... including on your blog. Go find people who for the specific purpose of giving and receiving feedback.

    Putting it out there is for when the work is done... if you are looking for feedback, it's not done. It is, in fact, a vulnerable act, and the best time to do that is when you don't feel vulnerable about it (or at least, not very vulnerable) and preferably because you believe that the work is as good/true to your intentions as you can make it and not because you're immune to feeling ignored.

    If you are looking for feedback, gather together a group where you can share specifically for feedback. In the spirit of fairness, since giving good quality of feedback is a lot of effort--plus you often learn more from giving feedback than receiving it--it's good to do this in a group or pairing where you can trade work. It's not always easy to get a writing/creative group together, and it's sometimes hard to find the right people (personalities sometimes get in the way) and the right groove (people have different needs for structure and commitment). But that's how you get the feedback for improving. There are people who write in graphic forms and songwriters and parody writers out there, and also people who are open to looking at a wide variety of forms since many concepts are applicable across multiple genres. There is a lot to be learned in storytelling and lyric composition and comedy writing that has little to do with content, so you may not necessarily need to seek out math people to find this kind of feedback.

    I've honestly been worried about your relationship with writing and publishing and feedback for a long while, but if this: '"It's because I can't improve my writing and other creative efforts without someone saying WHY "that was awesome" or "that sucked".' is the true reason behind the search for reaction out there, then I think I understand a little better and my (completely unasked for) advice and take on this is that you've been seeking the right thing (learning) via the wrong forum (publication.) I think there may be a better way to find what you are looking for.

    1. Thank you for your comment, it's exactly the sort of thing that gets me wondering. I have some follow-up thoughts...

      First, while the "episode" or "lesson" (or "blog post") is done, I don't ever see the WORK as being done. Hence the feedback laments. While I have no intention to change what's out there, if the music is too obscure, I can look into something better next time. If a character is acting too aggressive, I could explain something in the next entry that I failed to previously. If I have offended the world with Black Trigonometry, I will endeavour to make it right, the same way at least one person thought NOT having any personifications of colour was an oversight. (Max Ray's remark on this day was illuminating in one respect there.)

      It's definitely the serial writer in me, and possibly the teacher in me too. I edit going FORWARDS, rather than fixing up what I've already rewritten for the 15th time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against receiving feedback BEFORE blog posting, but that's where we get to #2, me not knowing where to go in the first place. So why not post? As this post likely showed, I'm not great going to people anyway. I'm better with records.

      I AM hoping to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, pretty much solely for the purpose of making local connections in the writing world. Outside of that, I post pretty regularly in the forums of "Web Fiction Guide", where the reception is pretty positive; I hope to find some other forums in my year off as well.

      As to the giving feedback, whenever anyone gives me some, I usually try my damnest to reciprocate, looking into the stories of people who leave me comments. I don't always succeed. I also do commentary simply for the sake of improving in that skill (I'm better at critiques than reviews). You're right that I don't necessarily require math people. So many are writers, but it occurs to me that they're all publishing NON-fiction. Maybe I find them more accessible somehow?

      I am curious as to where your worry stems from - did you mean in terms of my interest in continuing writing? In terms of my seemingly constant need for advice? Because the other thing is, I don't see blogs as "publication". I see "publication" as something FAR down the road, if this whole blog thing ever works out, proving that I might have an audience of more than 10 people. Right now, I don't see it.

      Keep giving advice, I don't seem to be able to puzzle through things on my own.

    2. Worried in the sense that I could see your frustration and sometimes depression over the feedback question, and it seemed to be sucking some of the joy out of the process and left you beating your head against a wall. To my perspective it seemed like somehow this could be made better for you by reframing the situation.

      Whether or not you consider putting something on your blog publication, it is publication. In a legal sense, you can't sell first publication rights to anyone (even for no money) anymore... it would be considered a reprint. There are some bloggers who do that, but it's the rare exception rather than the rule.

      But more to the point, most people aren't looking at work you put out there for the entire world to view (even if the reality is less than 10 people) as work in progress or seeking improvement. They see it as 'here is my finished work'. ('Finished' being a relative term, since I don't think creative work is every really finished, so much as the creator is finished with it.... but you know what I mean; it's the good copy, not the rough draft.) And some of the things you've done in the past in terms of trying to market and build an audience--again, those are things people do with completed work.

      I don't write in serial, but what I do know about the craft of that is that in successful serial writing, there is an underlying story structure--both in the individual work and the overall series--that keeps people coming back for more. Sometimes it's very formally and consciously planned (TV shows like Babylon 5 and Breaking Bad are good examples) and other times it's much looser and evolving (Dickens, probably). A random blog reader is not going to be able to give you that kind of feedback. Someone who works on their craft can--that's why you need to seek out feedback from other creators, who hopefully know something about story structure. Aspiring TV writers, some cartoonists, fiction writers who have a series in mind.... those are the kind people who need to understand serialized structure.

      It's one example of many in terms of craft issues to learn from, where someone saying "Hey, I like this, more please" isn't going to help you improve as a writer or creator. Some (not all) of why someone likes something, responds to something, or wants to know what happens next is constructed and the craft of writing is a lot about learning these construction methods. Whether you keep working on each individual episode over and over again, or take what you learn into the next one is up to you.

      I get people responding to what I write on my blog (note to self: resurrect blog) but they respond to the content, not the craft. I use what I know about the craft (including my own intuitive sense) to try and present the content in a way that keeps the reader drawn in and help them connect to the content... I can't make someone like what I say, but I can say it in a way that makes it easier for them to like it. It's not a very formal process of analysis when I blog (vs. when I critique or teach or do manuscript evaluations) but there's a lot of editing and re-arranging involved before it goes out there. Aside from fixing typos, it's done. That I can do this fairly quickly for my blog comes from years of practice in writing (particularly back when I was a marketing writer), sharing work with other creative people, reading and discussing craft, etc. Those are the things that helped me improve. Hearing the people like what I wrote or agree or disagree or whatever is nice, but it doesn't make the writing better. If I were looking for feedback to improve, I wouldn't put it on my blog--I would ask a writing friend to look at it and critique it, and then we'd discuss it, and during that process I would figure out how to change it.

      On the other side of this, I am sometimes asked to critique stories that I don't like--but "Do I like this?" and "Is this good writing?" are different questions.

    3. (My response was too long, here's the end.)

      In any case, most blogs are non-fiction. Part of that is that fiction writers often intend to sell publication rights one day, and they can't sell their work if they put it publicly online. Bloggers publish to their blog. Non-fiction writers (essayists, memoirists, etc) also don't put work on their blog if they intend to try to sell it.

    4. Thanks for clarification and pushback... I agree with the point that a random blog reader won't be able to give me the proper feedback, though disagree that throwing things onto a blog don't make a person improve craft.

      For one, the point of the entire teacher community is to post reflections on their practice onto blogs, with the point of improving the teaching craft, and in my mind, the writing too. You get better at something the more often you do it, and reflect on it, which would seem to apply for any school subject. Granted, this is why I should probably ultimately accept that most teachers are NOT my audience, because while my hope is that they would critique the math and/or writing, neither usually happens.

      I grant that a large part of my issue is probably the lack of any sort of writing circle talking about what's going on at my end. But I do read a number of other serials (even some comics) out there (where does "Math With Bad Drawings" even fit in?), and I see comments like "It was great how 'x' followed from 'y'" or "I think there's plot hole 'z' here" or "I don't understand what's happening, you didn't set the scene very well". And that don't merely go to content, some of that is craft, particularly if you get another person speaking up and agreeing or offering suggestions.

      The trouble is, those blogs aren't me, those audiences are apparently not mine, and I guess I need to accept that if I want information on whether personified math, math songs, etc are working, that I need to hunt down people to talk to. Rather than hoping that eventually people will start coming to me with suggestions or questions. I didn't seek mainly because I never had any TIME to hunt on my end, what with the teaching and maintenance of three blogs. So, I need to get past that.

      The other thing you're poking at is publication rights, and again I've seen serialists self-publish work (perhaps after heavy edits) - though that's not my ultimate goal (it's a stretch goal if anything), my goal is to entertain and inform. I'm also a bit of a comedian, hence perhaps the getting panicky if there's no reaction from the crowd (at least I don't see any boos).

      Perhaps I'm some weird hybrid, neither teacher blogger nor writer blogger, and I need to pick a genre. Perhaps I need to get over myself. I guess I have some time to work it out. Thanks again for the thoughts.

    5. I might have been a little absolutist in how I've expressed things. :)

      But, regardless, while it is possible to learn a lot about craft just by writing and reflecting and studying other people's work and reflecting more and writing even more--it's much faster when you work with someone who can point things out to you. And, faster still when it's someone who also does creative work, since they work on being more aware of how these things are constructed.

      Now, I don't know what relationships these other bloggers have with the people giving them constructive comments--and perhaps it's no relationship--but it's also quite possible that they have something set up behind the scenes for mutual commentary. But, in any case, as my mom says, if the mountain won't come to Mohammed, you have to bring Mohammed to the mountain.

      It also works in giving feedback; I'm sure you've had the experience of learning something much more deeply during the process of teaching it to someone else. Much the same is true in giving feedback in creative work. And, when you give feedback to other creative people who can discuss it with you, then a lot of interesting nuances start to open up. It's why the classic model for teaching creative writing is the workshop--it's all feedback and discussion.

      I don't think you have to pick a genre unless you really want to.... but I think perhaps different people from different genres will give you different information, and so you may need to consider what kind of feedback you want to seek out. When I was a much newer writer, I thought any feedback was great; over time, I've become much more selective about whose feedback I seek out. That's true for many writers. If you are a bit of a hybrid, then it may be useful to you to go to many varied sources, recognizing that everyone's feedback is going to be coloured by their particular perspective, and so it will be up to you to sift through some of that information.