Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sharing My Story

Recently (read as at least a week ago), I read Sam Shah's blog about his Notes on the Beginning of the School Year.  I loved the idea of getting to know my advisees better by first sharing some information about myself and then making individual appointments with each student. I framed it as telling them "My Story." least parts of my story, because...I can't tell them my story in 8 minutes.

I talked about growing up in Michigan, my parents getting divorced when I was in second grade, living with my grandparents through high school, and working really hard to make sure I went to college. I told them about teaching at my first school and how I realized my last year there that I really wanted to leave Michigan. I told them the story of how I came to end up at my current school. And how when I left everyone I ever knew and all the preconceived notions of who I was supposed to be, that I was able to be my most authentic self. I was able to come out as gay when I moved to Colorado. I found my wife, I embraced who I am.

I would like to think it was a pretty powerful 8 minutes. I have set up meetings with them over the next two weeks and I'm really looking forward to hearing their stories!

Just because. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Developing Understanding with Desmos

It's hard to believe it's already the fifth week of school! As one teacher put it at lunch the other day, "the shininess has worn off."

Although, I don't feel like that's true for me! I honestly feel like I'm having an amazing year. It's not perfect (could someone PLEASE help me spice up Pre-Calculus? The kids wouldn't even buy into the "What is a sandwich?" activity! It's dreadful! How do I get them to loosen up and interact?! Anyway, that's another blog post!)

I am teaching Algebra 2 Honors for the first time this year. Though it is incredibly time consuming to have a new prep, I'm trying to be thoughtful with how I do things instead of flying through it to save time. I've been spending many of my 4am-5am's (while I wake up slowly and drink coffee) exploring Desmos activities.

In our first unit, I asked students a few time to draw a plausible graph for a situation. I was trying to get at how they do with taking a word situation and/or picture and being able to convert it into a plausible graph. It's not something I directly taught in that unit, but I wanted to see how they would do. It was a mixed bag! So, enter the desmos activity "Function Carnival." Students drew possible graphs for situations then they were able to "play" them and then adjust if their graph was wrong.

As I walked around, I noticed students drawing things that weren't functions. When they would "play" the graph, all of a sudden there would be two cars on the screen. Without me having to tell students, they were able to figure it out (sometimes their neighbor helped them too!)

Fast forward to this week, when introducing functions for the first time. We did "Function Carnival part Deux." It introduced the notation of functions and the general concept of function/non-function. I loved having a situation/context that I could refer back to - and will continue to refer back to!

In class, after the Desmos activity, we did an "Intro to Functions Handout." can you go wrong when it's "edited with love?"

Friday, September 16, 2016


For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to have only 2 preps (Geometry Honors and Pre-Calculus). This year, I have a new prep (Algebra 2 Honors) on top of the other two. Now, it's not the first time I've had 3 preps. But it's the first time I've had three preps while married, and while trying to make sure i have a great work-life balance. When I first moved to Denver and was single, it felt easier to spend all my waking hours preparing things for my three classes. Now, I feel like I'm taking away valuable time from my family (and I don't even have children...I don't know how you folks do it!)

This is the second year that I'm teaching a PrBL Geometry class, and I still do each problem before students do them. I could probably "get away" with not doing that, but they go a lot faster this year and I think I'm reminded of past approaches as I walk through a problem. I don't want to give that up. In Algebra 2 Honors, it's a new prep. I can't get away from creating things! I have a lot of material to work with, since a teacher who taught the class for many years shared all her stuff with me (and she is totally the type of teacher to take and make things better year after I didn't simply inherit materials that have been static for years! Woohoo!) I still have to work a lot to make those materials "my own." Thankfully, another teacher is teaching it too - so we can split up some of the work.

Then, there's Pre-Calc. The class I've been teaching every year since I started. And I feel like this one (in terms of prep) is always last on my list because I have so many of my old resources to use. And I feel like it's getting an unfair backseat. I recognized this week how much different this class FEELS than my others. Is it a culture thing? Do I treat them differently because they're older? The class is SO quiet. It's sometimes hard to get them to interact. I have to figure out a way to change this....

I have a test planned for Monday (I already don't like giving tests Monday) and I'm thinking of postponing it. We could spend a day finishing our "Me by the Numbers" presentations, doing a class-building activity (thinking about one I recently read about having students argue their favorite numbers using research), and a Desmos activity to practice fitting quadratics (since that's part of what we're studying this unit). Okay. Writing that paragraph made me realize that I really need to do that. AND IT SHALL BE DONE.

And moving forward, I need to put a little more effort into this class. No more backseat for Pre-Calc. Three can sit in the front seat....right?

Happy Friday ya'll!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Selected journal responses...

I had my freshmen write a journal response last week and here are a few highlighted pieces:

"So far, I've been absolutely rekd by a couple math problems, but I know that I can ask my dad for help. It has SUCKED to have so few classes with my friends and (insert name of person here). But I've channeled my inner-early-career Beyonce ('I'm a survivor, I'm not gon' give up.') I've learned that I can do more math than I thought, and that I can think on my own more than I thought in math terms"

Early-career Bey

"The challenges I faced [this week] were correlated to my successes. I had to push myself to try and find clues that would help. This mostly took time, and was a good thinking struggle."

"I just love the new style, plain and simple." (talking about PBL)

"It was very shocking to find out that there is no such thing as a natural math student. Since Kindergarten even, it seemed like some students were able to grasp concepts easier, however I was surprised to find that we just need more information to learn more."

"In the past, I've struggled with participation and now, I feel super comfortable with my class and sharing my ideas."

Do yourself a favor and grade that stack of journals at school if you can!

Grading journals is incredibly time consuming, but I think it's one of many things I have done in the first few weeks to build a classroom community that I'm convinced will help us learn math together. I got to laugh a bit, and I learned a ton about my students! I hope to blog tomorrow or sometime this weekend about the other things that we have spent a good chunk of class time doing (apart from the math) that have been worth every minute!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Back to School Night Success

This year, I had wanted to try an Ignite for BTSN, but I kept putting it off and putting it off. And I didn't think it would be smart to create it the night before or the night of the event. I hear these things should be well rehearsed...not that I've ever done one. I settled for keeping a lot of the same material and really pushing myself to show parents/families how passionate I am about teaching their kids. And I seriously think it was a home run!

I began with doing my "Me by the Numbers," which I edited slightly - changed one slide to talking about how I've known I wanted to teach math since I was in the 10th grade (seriously!)

Then I showed the following slide:

In early August, my colleague and I sent a letter to families of students in our Geometry Honors classes. We teach the class using a PrBL approach and we thought it might help if parents really understood what that meant BEFORE starting the class. I will say that is probably one of the BEST things I have ever done. I that letter, we included a link to a google form that asked parents to think back on their own high school math experience and type in 3 words or short phrases that described it. 

So, I reminded parents of this survey as this slide was shown. I said something like, "Imagine my surprise and delight when I started reading responses like these! I mean, 'great, great, great?' That person's math experience was SO good that they used an exclamation point! And if you're thinking that maybe you forgot to hit submit, because you certainly don't see any of your words on the screen right might be because they belonged on the next slide."

A few adults laughed. I heard a few of them reading them aloud and it felt like the vast majority of them could relate to one or more of these. Then I told them, "These hurt my soul as a math teacher! I mean, 'girls don't need to learn math?' I recently read that girls get the message that boys are better at math by the age of 5! Girls are STILL getting this message. These are words that I hope your students NEVER use to describe math class. Will it be stressful sometimes? Maybe? But I hope the words they choose in 20 years are that it was worth it. Challenging, but worth it. Or maybe they remember how much they grew, or how it helped them to become a better problem-solver. Your students are in this school building for the vast majority of their waking hours every day. You trust us to be with them, to teach them, and to treat them as a valued member of our community. I think what we say to students is so important and how we build a community within our classrooms is important."

Then I went on to talk about growth mindsets, and how we'll be working through the "How to Learn Math" curriculum. I talked about the community building things we did within the first week and a half: name tents (and even gave credit to Sara!), our "Me by the Numbers" presentations (because I had kids create and share those too!), and classroom norms (that I had posted and could refer to in the class).

I think it was an awesome way to use what the parents/guardians had shared with me (anonymously) to talk about what I value! I'm super pumped this year - it's going to be AWESOME!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"One" Good Thing

The purpose of making blogging my #1TMCThing was so that I would reflect on my practice a bit more. That said, I'm kind of grumpy today and instead I thought I would share a few (not really one) good things about my week so far...maybe I'll get to that reflective blog post later this week (when I'm not exhausted from Back to School night!)

My good photos:

I know so many others on Twitter have said it...but I LOVED doing the name tents. Those have seriously been one of things I know I will continue to do each year as I get to know my students. Luckily, I only have 65 it made doing these a bit easier than it would be for others.

Today in Geometry, a few girls went up to try this problem on the board, even though they were unsure of their work and their answer. I loved having that attitude, and I loved the comment they wrote to go along with it.

Students are really digging in and getting to the math - this is one of my classes writing up problems upon arriving to class.

I got this note from a family at Back to School Night last night. They also told me how much their daughter loves having me as a teacher! It REALLY made my night/week!!!

Hopefully I'll have a bit of energy to write more about my week in regards to teaching later! For now...I'll settle for the good things!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My First Week Back...So Far

Wow! What a week!

Sunday night to Monday afternoon was spent at a retreat with all Juniors. Then students started school on Tuesday morning. We saw all our classes for 40 minutes. Each class looked a little different for me, but I did Sara V's 100 numbers and my Mrs. Reycer, by the Numbers intro presentation (see my last blog for that). I also decided that I would have students create their own presentation with numbers that represented them! So, they're working on those this week, among other things! (I decided to do that with all classes, even my Algebra 2 Honors and Pre-Calc classes, so we could get to know one another even better.

I also used Sara V's name tents with a feedback form. This has been my FAVORITE thing by far this week. I have communicated personally with students everyday. And I feel like I was able to answer their questions or have outside conversations when I needed to (for instance one student decided to drop from our Pre-Calc to FST and the conversation was started with me through his feedback form.).

I'm also on a rotating schedule, so strangely, the way my two sections of Geometry Honors fell, it would make it so that I'd ALWAYS be doing something different with my two sections. I changed that by doing a "one-off" activity in my first period class today. It was amazing! I took Justin Aion's idea and asked the kids, "What is a sandwich?" It went SO well! And then we talked through a couple math problems and the class was over. Definitely felt worthwhile...even though for the majority of class we were discussing sandwiches. The kids LOVED it.

It has been an amazing week. I'm happy tomorrow is Friday! (And for the first time in my four years at this school EVERY Friday is Jeans day - instead of only sometimes! Woohoo!!!)

The kids during the 100 #s activity on Day 1! 

The flowers my wife sent me on Day 1! 

Monday, August 22, 2016


I'm sitting at home finally relaxing with the animals on my lap. It has been quite the weekend!

Last week, we had all our beginning of the year teacher meetings, then the wife and I hosted our housewarming party on Saturday! It was awesome - and it felt great to really show off the house. Then Sunday, I left the house at 7:15 to get to our junior class retreat at 8am. (All grades have a 2 day/1 night retreat starting this year!) From 8:30am-11pm we hung with students, doing various activities. Then, we got a little sleep and then spent 9-3pm with them today.

Tomorrow is our first day back with kids...and I'm SO TIRED. I think everyone else will be so tired tomorrow too that no one will notice too much though. I came home, prepped breakfasts for the rest of the week (baked egg muffins) for myself and the wife, and now I'm completely spent.

Commence a 7pm bedtime.

Good luck to those starting this week! Can't wait to see how my first day goes!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mrs. Reycer, by the Numbers!

I wanted to come up with an interesting/fun/different way of talking about myself a little bit at the beginning of the school year. Sara VanDerWerf (@saravdwerf) blogged about a similar all good teachers do....I stole it and made it my own! 

I'm going to have students guess what they think these numbers might represent about me! 

Each will then be linked to one of the following slides: 
I've had 3 surgeries! Wisdom teeth taken out in high school, an outpatient procedure to remove a blood clot from my brain, and removal of a herniated disc (replaced by a prosthetic) last year!

I want it to be obvious to students new to the upper school that I'm married...and to a woman. It makes awkward conversations about my "husband" non-existent! Also - it's super important for me to be ME...most authentically. (The cat is Pythagoras, the dog is Einstein!) 

Nine is the number of years I have been teaching! 

I wanted to be sure to talk about the #MTBoS and how I tweet with you all as a way of reflection and learning (and sometimes just for fun too!) 

I can talk about how I'm from Michigan originally! 

That's all! One thing can be checked off the to-do list! 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Day 1 of PD/Meetings

What a long day! I was awake at 4am and sat on the couch drinking coffee with the dog (well...I was drinking coffee...he was just get the point!) and I was trying to do an assignment for today's full faculty meeting.

The prompt? It was to write a positive introduction. It was not about achievements or accolades, instead, it was supposed to show your strength of character. I seriously sat and stared at a blank computer screen for an hour. An hour. Then I kept asking myself whether or not I even HAD character. Man...the things your brain can do to you.

I got ready for work and felt kind of defeated. After talking to my mom on the drive in, I decided I would talk about my experience having a mini-stroke at the age of 22 and dealing with a TON of health issues (including two blood clots in my brain) during my teaching internship. I talked about how I could have given up and simply focused on my health issues, but I loved teaching (love it now too!) and yada yada yada. Honestly, I feel like it was a little bit of a cop out. But whatever. I'm going to move on. I really did enjoy the exercise. We got into groups of 4-5 and shared our stories. There was no interrupting during the story, and after we could ask clarifying questions. Then part of the "assignment" was to relay the strengths in character we heard in the story. I got to know three other colleagues a lot better through their stories, and I was really grateful for that!

In other big news, we now get jeans day EVERY FRIDAY!

I'm off to bed to rest up for another day at work. Tomorrow we start with department stuff!

Friday, August 12, 2016

MTBoS - the HGTV edition (part 1)

Okay...mostly because I'm at a loss for what to blog about (I stayed at home in my pajamas until well after noon today...though to be fair, I was working on the Jo Boaler "How to learn math for teachers" course, among other things...) I thought I'd post the transformation pics for the dining room and bathroom at the new house.

The original dining room:

Then...the "final" product: 

I'm loving the two tone...and eventually, we'd like to put a chair rail where the colors change. Buuuuut....given that it involves a miter saw (don't have one) and a nail will simply have to wait! 

Then, the master bathroom before: 

 (I understand the lighting isn't great...and I took these
with my iPhone...but seriously? THIS color?) 

 Then came the trouble with the new light fixture I bought! 
I couldn't get it to work...turned out it was the fixture...


Painting a bathroom (and kitchen...those pics will come later) is kind of terrible! There are so many things to tape off and so much cutting in....

Small, but we also replaced the light covers and electrical outlet covers in both rooms! (Those are the things you forget to buy at Home Depot that require another trip...) 

I learned that I hate cleaning out roller covers. And that I love rolling pan covers! Seriously...$0.98? OKAY! And a good paintbrush makes a huge difference. Also, I don't particularly care if the section behind the toilet is perfectly painted...I am certainly not removing the toilet to paint. AND, forming a straight line around the dining room at a (hopefully) consistent height IS NOT EASY. 

Look forward to another post (in maybe a week) about the living room and kitchen transformation! 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Summer "Bucket" List

Summer is winding fact, I spent time at school 4 days this week (I refuse to go in tomorrow though!) I have my first couple of days planned for Geometry and some work for Algebra II ready. And lists. All the lists.

But...those can wait until next week (at least some of it!) For now, this is what remains of my summer "bucket list." (This includes work to be done by the wife and with the help from a couple friends this weekend).

  • Finish painting the fireplace
  • Paint walls in living room
  • Sand and paint ceiling in living room (post popcorn ceiling) 
  • Paint Bedroom
  • Touch up paint around the house
  • Spray paint Fireplace "cover" (insert? hearth? I don't know what to call this...) 
  • Tidy up the yard
Ideally, I'd like to do a hike or two...but we have a house-warming party on the 20th. So...that probably won't happen. BUT...maybe the weekend after students start back. I report Monday. Then we have retreats the following Sunday (21st-22nd). Then students are there for Day 1 on the 23rd! 

It's happening, folks! Not quite the most fun "bucket list" ever...but I'll be happy that a lot of the home projects we wanted done are checked off before I start back to school! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Letter to Parents

Last year, a colleague and I taught our Geometry Honors course as a fully Problem-Based Course (check out the materials we used on Carmel Schettino's blog here).

This year, as a way of getting information to families, we wanted to send a parent letter. We're currently on our second draft and will probably send it out via email next week! Thought I would share, just in case this (or something similar) would be at all helpful to others! (We'll make final edits it's not perfect yet)

Dear Geometry Honors Parents,

Greetings! I’m Danielle Reycer, your student’s Geometry teacher.  (Other teacher name here) and I comprise the Geometry Honors teaching team at Kent.  We wanted to reach out to you early, so you can have an idea of what your student will experience this year.  This course is likely to be different from many of the math courses your student has had in the past, as we will be using a problem-based approach.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach to curriculum and pedagogy.  There is no “chapter 5,” nor is there a distinct section on right triangles. The curriculum is problem-based, rather than chapter-oriented.  Students take what they know and tackle each new problem like an exploration.  Discussion and development of ideas and concepts is an integral part of the learning process as is the student’s experience in grappling with problems on a regular basis. As teachers in a PBL classroom, we empower students to become more effective and active problem solvers in the process of covering the essential Geometry Honors curriculum.
In recent years there has been a lot of research done in the field of neuroscience and learning.  Many of the conclusions of this research go against what many took to be obvious when it comes to learning.  Specifically, neuroscience research shows

  • Learning is deeper and more durable when it is active.
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we are not.
  • Simply rereading a textbook and excessive practice problems (i.e. do #1-91 odd) are the least productive for long-term learning.  Instead, retrieval practice (constantly revisiting ideas) throughout the year is a more effective learning strategy.
  • When you space out practice of a task or alternate practice of two or more topics, it is harder and feels less productive, but the effort produces longer-lasting learning and enables more versatile application of it in later settings.
For instance, we might ask students in a single homework assignment to solve a linear equation, find the distance between two points, and then find the area of a polygon. This might be challenging at first. However, when we ask similar questions a few weeks later (after asking other types of questions in between), they are more quick to recall those previous techniques.
  • Trying to work through a problem before knowing the steps to solving it leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt.

We understand that this approach to learning maths* may be initially more frustrating. Sometimes it may seem like students are not making the kind of progress they want; however, it is actually better in the long run.  Problem-based learning synthesizes all of this into a compelling mathematics education.

We have developed a single-question survey in hopes of gauging parental/guardian attitudes towards mathematics.  Responses will remain anonymous. At back to school night on Tuesday, August 30th, we will discuss some of the responses and how they can impact your child’s experience in mathematics and this class. At that time, we will also make available additional resources should you be interested. We ask that you complete this survey at your convenience by Friday, August 26th.

Additionally, you can elect to provide information (optional) about your student that might help us better teach them.

Thank you for your time and for allowing us the opportunity to learn with your child. We look forward to meeting you at back to school night.  Please feel free to reach out with any questions.


*  Dr. Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford University said, “maths is the shortened form of mathematics, which is a plural noun. Mathematics was chosen to be plural to reflect all the many parts of mathematics-- drawing, modeling, asking questions, communicating. Math sounds more singular and narrower” (2016).

Portions of this letter adapted from Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, and letters by Johnothon Sauer, Patrick Frasier, and Carmel Schettino.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Fitness Routine & Community

Some of you may know that during the school year, I wake at 4am (4 days a week...I sleep in until 5am on my day off), drink coffee with my wife, then head to OrangeTheory for a workout. Then home to shower and get ready.

This has not always been me though. The day of my college graduation, I had reached my heaviest weight (290 pounds) and was incredibly unhealthy. I had also suffered from a mini-stroke that summer (blood clot in my brain as a side-effect from birth control...more likely to happen if you're overweight and a smoker...which I was). I had a tumultuous summer dealing with meds and health issues - and the day I graduated college I was managing my pain well, but not feeling great about my health. I decided I had to do something. I got a free account on a calorie counting website - and the adventure began!
At my heaviest. 

I started tracking calories and finding success. But I became most successful when I found a group of folks with similar goals (sound like the #MTBoS to you?) Within the site I had signed up on, I stumbled upon a thread titled "Girls in their 20s who want to lose about 100 pounds." Well...that was me! I found the most amazing women on that thread! Some of them I got to know incredibly well (and we now have a private facebook group that we STILL use!) We have exchanged phone numbers, we check in, we keep each other accountable. It is amazing. They GET me. They GET my struggles with food...and even if they don't, they don't shame me. It is seriously amazing having a group of folks who understand you. 

I successfully lost quite a bit of weight. Then I lost some more. Then I gained some back. Then I lost it again. I have maintained right around the same weight for awhile - and though I try to say I don't have an ultimate goal for the scale, I would love to lose a few more pounds. Overall, I want to feel fit and healthy! That's more important than any stupid scale number. 

A day I felt REALLY good about myself!

I digress. I am in a much better place with my food issues (struggled with sneak eating and binge eating for years and years) and workouts. And keeping my routine during the school year is SO important to me. Luckily, my wife also understands how important workouts/eats are and we are both okay with going to bed early in order to wake up early! I'll say that it's SO much easier to get up at 4am when my wife is ALSO getting up at 4am. 

We also spend a good chunk of time on Sundays planning food, and sometimes prepping food so we can set ourselves up for success for the week! (Not so much during the this will start back up on Sunday!) 

I always have a better day if I have workout out and my eats are on point! That's all for today. If you're interested in checking out my personal blog, you can here

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Struggle of a PLC

Last year, our school had us (let us?) create our own PLCs for professional development throughout the year. So many teachers are used to sitting in those meetings where someone has either chosen a topic or a speaker that simply aren't wonderful. I love the idea of taking charge over my own learning.

Here's how it goes: anyone can propose a PLC. They create it in our Google Doc, give a basic description of what we'll do all year, and then make sure to plan for each meeting. So, I did this last year. I ran a PLC on blogging, twitter, etc. I had three people sign up, all with varying levels of interest and experience. As many of you in the MTBoS, I am a twitter evangelist (thank you @saravdwerf for putting that into my vocabulary!). I found that I planned for things, but I didn't personally learn a lot more about blogging, twitter, etc. So it felt like it was about other people's learning and not my own. And how does that PLC really work for me?

Flash forward to this year...I have the opportunity to again create one or to sign up for one. What would YOU do? I heard that a group last year that was run by my division head read a book, one chapter at a time, and then discussed the chapter each time they met. In that case, I'd be learning and not have to do extra work....(thinking about reading Mathematical Mindsets...thoughts?)

OR there are a few groups that sound like they would be great....

Any advice? What would YOU do? It's not as if it takes up THAT much extra time. That said, I have 3 preps - and one is brand new. And in the Spring, life gets a little hectic since I coordinate AP exams. (Just so you know what my responsibilities are!) Anyway...I digress...thoughts please?!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Back to School Night

As many schools do, my school hosts a Back to School night where we invite parents in to meet teachers and get a glimpse into what we do in our classrooms.

The problem is always how can we possibly do that in ten minutes? I want them to know who I am and that I care about their kids and believe in them. Really, that's what they come to BTSN for! Last year, we were beginning problem based learning in geometry, so I spent time talking about that...I think I realized that the focus shouldn't be there. I should maybe think about giving handouts as parents leave - so if they want more information they would have a resource. Ultimately, I want them to walk out the door feeling as if I care about each and every one of their children!

What do you do on BTSN? Would you be willing to share with me? Do you have any specific suggestions for me? I normally create a PowerPoint/prezi/Google slides of some sort to keep me on task and with my reminders of what I need to say. What things would you include?

I should mention that BTSN is generally one of the most stressful things for me. At least it is in the lead up to it. Once I'm in it, it's fine. But, I think about it a lot! Thanks in advance for any tips/suggestions. (Keep in mind ten minutes for each group of parents!)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Technological Delight

This post is going to be short and simple - as today was an exhausting day (another one) of house projects. I painted the first coat in the kitchen while my wife and her friend did the first coat of primer on our fireplace (it was a gross yellowish beige and we're whitewashing it). After a brief break, showers, and dinner, we put the second cost of primer on. While we did, we listened to the podcast More Perfect (from the same creators as Radio Lab). Normally, I listen to all my podcasts on 1.5 speed. This helps me get through an entire podcast on my drive home. I am also taking an online course right now and I watch all the videos at 1.5 speed. It is awesome - really saves an incredible amount amount of time...and it's these small tech things that I occasionally delight in. I will also say though, that when I slowed it back back down to normal speed tonight so I could listen with my wife, I actually found I enjoyed it more. it more beneficial or not? This is what I'm pondering as I lay down. These are the thoughts that keep me up and night. That, and whether or not we need a permit to have a bonfire in our backyard. And how many days there are until Christmas.

Friday, August 5, 2016

20 Things About Me!

I have still not been thinking too much about school (except random thoughts...none of which elicit any more than a sentence - definitely not blog-worthy. So, I thought I would look at the suggestions for blogs during this awesome #Blaugust.

Today I chose 20 random things about me:

  1. I have been married for one year to my amazing wife, AJ!

  2. We have a dog named Einstein and a cat named Pi (short for Pythagoras). 
  3. I have 12 tattoos and 5 of them are math related. 
  4. I love wearing glasses - even though when I was told I needed them at 14 (or earlier?) I rebelled and told myself I'd never wear them! Now I can't imagine not wearing them! (Only downfall might be that I can't wear those Desmos sunglasses.)
  5. I have completed something like 13 half marathons - and have another in October!
  6. The countries I have visited are Canada and Ireland!
  7. I'm originally from Kalamazoo, MI. I lived there for the first 27 years of my life until I accepted my current job!
  8. I started mountain biking this year, and I can't wait to get back to it! 
  9. I had a herniated disc in my neck this year (C5-C6) that caused CRAZY pain and required surgery in May. I was out of school for two weeks and I'm finally back to all normal activity and PAIN FREE!

  10. I have seriously known I wanted to teach high school math since I was in 10th grade!
  11. I absolutely LOVE reality cooking shows! (Top Chef, Master Chef, Next Food Network Star, Cutthroat Kitchen, Iron Chef America)
  12. I did my teaching internship in an 8th grade classroom where my cooperating teacher went on sabbatical the second semester, so I was really there the full year! 
  13. I teach now at a 6-12 independent school in Colorado! 
  14. My wife and I just bought our first home (less than a week ago) and I am LOVING it! We have already painted two rooms! 
  15. My workouts are generally at a place called OrangeTheory! Amazingly intense and so motivating!
  16. I have climbed one 14,000 foot peak (a 14-er, as many Coloradoans call them) and look forward to doing another! 
  17. I know two people who are competing in this year's Olympic games! 
  18. I love wearing Converse and often wear them to work with my dress clothes. (Also wore them at my wedding!) 
  19. I broke my left wrist when I was in fourth grade during a rollerskating trip with Girl Scouts! 
  20. I love my job! I never thought I would love my job as much as I do! 

Thursday, August 4, 2016


I'm incredibly tired, but trying to keep with the MTBoS Blaugust challenge. So, a few words of wisdom.

I was interviewed last summer for an alumni magazine and the gentleman on the phone asked me where I saw myself in five years. I kind of paused and thought about it. My response, "I guess I'll just be an even better teacher than I am now."

(Side note: I have since been working on taking the word "just" out of my vocabulary entirely.)

I continued to tell the interviewer that there aren't really promotions in education. That if you ever want to make more money, maybe you go into admin or coaching (not saying these positions always come with pay increases). I told him that my favorite part of the job was the actual teaching - and I can't imagine not doing that, or giving it up voluntarily. In fact, when I was out of work for two weeks in May because of my surgery/herniated disc, I missed it! I miss it now!

All this to say that I'm okay with being an even better teacher than I am now in four more years. Or in ten more years. I simply want to keep pushing myself to grow as a learner and teacher.

My current favorite quote that semi-relates:
"Nothing changes if nothing changes."

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Updates/Changes to my PBL Classroom

I spent the last figuring out what this whole PBL thing was...and after one year, I have figured out that I still have so much to learn! In June (just after TMC), I went to a PBL Summit at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. I tried to go through my notes and summarize what I'd like to change/add/etc/etc in my Geometry class this goes (I already know the list is too long...)

  1. Have a "unit" before we get into the Geometry book that is a "review" unit - so the only new thing is the class structure, not the math/material.
  2. Use partner quizzes to get students comfortable/prepared for their first assessment (there is generally a lot of anxiety about these, as they contain novel problems and require a lot of problem solving & critical thinking).
  3. Use journals more regularly! Add prompts/exit tickets, etc. Make sure to give students low stakes opportunities to write about mathematics. 
  4. As a review before assessments, carve out time for students to add to their own glossary as a way to summarize main ideas.
  5. Take lots of videos and pictures.
  6. Communicate more with faculty and admin about what we're doing: invite to observe, mock classroom, letter to parents
  7. Put up a sign that says WDYDWYDKWTD? (See if students can figure it out....can you?) 
I think that's all...

Except for my increased blogging (already started!) and having feedback meetings with students. I want to do those for all classes! 

I want to be at school working on plans, decorating my room, getting my office in order, but I also want to keep working on home projects! (Second coat on the bathroom is DONE! I need to install the new light fixture tomorrow and start taping off the kitchen!) Ah! Too much to do! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Painting and Planning

(Blaugust Day 2!) Today I got back to my normal workout at OrangeTheory Fitness, did a Home Depot run (apparently these happen more days than not recently), and worked on the upstairs bathroom ALL DAY. It was a hideous orange color (see below) and we're attempting to transform it to something not so eye gauging. (Pictures to come later). I had to detatch the doors, I struggled with the painters tape (and why are there SO many things to tape in a bathroom?), I poured the paint and forgot that I hadn't sanded the spackle a day. I got one coat done by around 5:30pm.

Painting the bathroom (even just the first coat!) made me realize how important it is to PLAN. As I see other teachers start thinking about their first day/week back to school, I have begun thinking about my plans for those first few days. I have a few ideas, nothing substantial yet. But it is important to fully plan it. And no syllabus reading either. Let's get busy doing math on day one! Do you have an activity you love? I would love to have math activities and class-building activities (and maybe not use the same activities I've used for so long!) Feel free to tweet them to me, or leave a comment! I am getting excited!

Monday, August 1, 2016

It's Blaugust!

Alright folks. This is not the first blogging initiative I said I would be a part of, and it certainly won't be the last. I will do my best to blog daily...

What do I hope to get out of Blaugust?

My wife and I just bought a house (read as: closing was 3 days ago...when they say you sign your name a ton, they weren't joking! We each signed 58 times!) and that is where most (read as: all) of my energy is going. We moved in our things on Saturday, we're almost fully unpacked, and we have already started with the home improvement projects. We have 19 days until our planned housewarming party (why didn't I plan this for September?), and a crazy schedule of things to do along the way!

I'm hopeful that being a part of this blogging initiative will help me to pause and start thinking about going back to work. And then when I'm back (in two short weeks!) to start thinking about my first days in the classroom. And then once those first days are done, to start reflecting on my practice. I thought this would be a good way to get started on my #1TMCthing (more reflective blogging.) So there you have it. I have goals! And I will think about something other than paint colors for the next two weeks!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Doing PBL on a Spectrum

I spent last school year teaching Geometry Honors at my school with a Problem-Based Curriculum (available on Carmel Schettino's website). As I've said before, it was the most fun I've ever had teaching! As Tracy Zager talked about in her keynote at TMC, secondary teachers often forget to play with math. We get focused on algebraic ways of solving and forget that we can have fun with problems too!

As a department, we have talked about transitioning away from traditional materials and toward materials that better support students problem solving and "being puzzled and then unpuzzled," as some in the #MTBoS have termed it. As I talked about in my TMC presentation and again at the PBL Summit last week, I have consistently had a hard time seeing how someone could do "part-time PBL."

My school is very supportive of the work we have done in our GeoHon class, but also not interested in moving toward a model in which all of our classes are fully based on a PBL curriculum. So, I have been thinking a lot about where the happy medium will be for me in my other classes. (I'm teaching two sections of GeoHon, one of Alg2Hon, and one PreCalc this coming school year.)

I started to get a better idea of what that would look like today. I met with two other teachers today (one that taught Algebra 2 Honors in the past at my school and one that is teaching it this coming year as well). We talked about combing through a number of resources (Art of Problem Solving, CPM, Carnegie, Exeter, ...) and finding problems that go with each of our units.

For each unit/chapter, we'll develop a Problem Set that has mixed problems, and our goal is that none of them are the types of problems we could get from our textbook. I am envisioning my class having traditional work (maybe fewer problems) for practice, but also assigning 1-3 Problems from the Problem Set each night. When students enter the class the next day, I'll ask/someone will volunteer to put their solution on the board and they'll talk through it. It will give an opportunity for other students to share their solutions as well. In this way, part of the structure of the class will look like my Geometry Honors class (and the vast majority of students in this class took GeoHon last year). I'm hopeful that it will be a good start to introducing more thought-provoking problems in classes beyond the Geometry Honors course.

I'm also going to share all my materials - so if you have an interest in them, you can use them too! I've only started Chapter 1 (which for us is linear equations, linear inequalities, and absolute value). But as I finish them, I'll put them in my shared folder!

PLEASE let me know if you have any suggestions or feedback!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Whirlwind/TMC Recap and Goals

I'm currently sitting in the Boston airport waiting to board my flight back to Denver. The past week has been crazy. Let me explain...

Last Thursday, AJ and I drove about 15 hours to Minneapolis (with the dog in tow too). We explored and had some time together on Friday (I didn't sign up early enough for the Demos pre-conference...learned my lesson!). Saturday and Sunday were filled with awesome TMC moments - including my first ever conference presentation!

Then Monday was our 1 year anniversary! I left the conference early so I could drive back to Denver with the wife and so we could at least be together on our anniversary. We arrived back in Denver at 6pm and we were on our way to the airport at 6 the next morning. I flew into Boston on Tuesday afternoon, rented a car and drove the 2.5 hours to Deerfield for the Problem-Based Learning Math Summit. Presented on Wednesday and immersed myself in great conversations for two days. I'm ready to be home!

My general experience at any conference is one of excitement, generally followed by everything feeling overwhelming. I have so many ideas! How do I figure out what to do and change in my classroom?

I have three main goals/take-aways from TMC (apart from our #MTBoS community being SO INCREDIBLE)!

  • I will blog more regularly this year as a way to reflect on my teaching. My goal is to blog at least once a week.
  • I will schedule regular feedback meetings with students. I want more one-on-one face time with my students, and our schedule and class size allow me to do this. I will have an opportunity to give verbal feedback to ALL of my students regularly. 
  • I want to give partner quizzes in my classes as a way of reducing anxiety about what my assessments will be about (I will talk a little bit about this in my PBL summit post too)
Overall, TMC was awesome. I'm hoping I can make it to Atlanta next year! Since I was there with my wife, I feel as if I kind of missed out on some of the opportunities to hang out in the evenings. I struggled with that, but love that NO ONE made me feel bad about not being at certain activities.

*I'm struggling to upload photos...they'll be uploaded when I get home! 

I'll blog a bit about the PBL Math Summit soon!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Teacher Appreciation

I found out on Monday that the neck/shoulder/arm pain I've been dealing with is actually a large herniated disc in my neck (C5-C6) that will require surgery. I'm in pretty serious pain most hours of the day, which makes work hard. (Hell, it makes sleep hard too. Or, standing. Or sitting.) Surgery is scheduled for the 17th of this month, which means I'll be out of school for the rest of the year after next Friday. I'll blog about being bummed about missing the end of the school year another time. For now, I just wanted to share three notes I received from students this week (for teacher appreciation week) that made all this pain and bad news a lot more bearable! 

These totally brightened my entire week! That's all for now...Happy Friday!