Nov 122015

I have been in Elementary school classrooms this semester observing my learners teach lessons. They are amazing, and the UTeach model of teacher education is one with which I am completely on board. My learners will have spent so much time in the classroom being observed and getting feedback that they will have no choice but to be amazing teachers. Add in the fact that my math teachers will only be taught to use interactive and engaging methods like the 5E model, and you have a home run.

BUT, as I have been in 3rd through 5th grade classrooms, I have noticed a very disturbing trend. Like this board I saw in a 5th grade classroom.

2015-11-02 12.20.48 (2)

Notice that the objective here was to “Reacquaint yourself” with the math terms by designing a city. OMG. Seriously. This was in the 5th freaking grade. No wonder geometry is such a difficult class to teach in HS, the learners are bored stiff and resentful the teacher is lecturing them on something they have spent time on already.

Next up, a 4th grade classroom. The terms I heard LEARNERS using today were; expression, equation, identity, and inverse.

No joke. 4th grade. The learners were using the terms correctly, and identifying the difference between an expression and equation and using inverses to construct identities while solving equations.

This was not a Gifted and Talented classroom, this was an at risk, high needs, pretty normal, typical classroom.

If I were to summarize what I have learned this semester as a teacher of teachers, it is this. High School teachers, we need to seriously up our game. We need to realize that the reason our learners look bored and apathetic is because we are rehashing what they already know.

We are NOT connecting to what they already know (even if we think we are.)

We are NOT challenging them to reach for deeper understanding (even if we think we are.)

And, we are NOT realizing the learners are entering our classrooms with a great deal of prior math experience and love. Connect with it. Pull it out. Create engagement.

My eyes are open, and it scares me to death what I have done in the past to my learners. The CCSS standards are working. The shifts in mathematics education are working. We must be leaders and take advantage of it.

Go spend time in elementary school classrooms. It will shock you what the learners are doing today. What are we doing?

Oct 292015

I am in year two of my PhD program, and am enjoying the process, learning, and exploration so far. Yes, I am only a little over half way with the coursework, but that is a great place. I was thinking, however, about what advice I would give to someone just starting his / her PhD. What books/resources would I recommend?

I came the realization that I would not recommend any books of content at this point, but two books on process. The first book is one that I have used heavily and it has saved me hours (literally, not figuratively) on formatting APA papers. The book is, “Doing your dissertation with Microsoft Word.


Why do I recommend this book to anyone starting a PhD? Because it walks you through step by step on how to create a template in Word that will contain every single element of APA formatting. Have a Header 1? Write the text and click the style for Header 1. It is that easy. It took me several hours and much tweaking to get it finally right, but when I go to write a paper now, I load the template, and BOOM! I am ready to write. I have all the APA formatting done in Styles, I have a page (that I delete before printing) that has definitions of the Styles, and all settings are done. All I worry about is text. This book has saved me so much time over the last three semesters.

The next book I would recommend is “Stylish academic writing” by Helen Sword.


This is a quantitative and qualitative (a mixed methods design) study of good and very bad academic writing made me take a hard look at my own writing, but also not fall into the trap of jargon and technical writing. Write with style, write with intent, and write so other people will want to read your writing.

Finally, I offer one piece of software to use: Zotero.


You can use Mendeley, or Endnote, or any one of the other packages, but use a citation manager ASAP in your studies. I started using Zotero right away, and it has made such a difference in the ease of writing, the ease of citations, and the management of my PDF’s and notes. Best of all, installing and using Zotero is free (unless you use the online storage option and exceed 300 megs of storage. More on that below.)

You can have folders and subfolders for your citations and PDF’s, and a citation can be in many folders at once, or in no folder. It can be tagged, categorized, searched, and using the Word add-in inserted into the inline and bibliographic citation with one click.

zotero2 (click to see full size)

The PDF’s are attached, notes are kept together with the citation (and the notes are searchable as well) and it takes one click to add most citations to the database.

This little piece of software has saved me hours as well. It is not perfect, you have to double check to make sure the Sentence case vs. Title case was done correctly. You have to double check to make sure the PDF was downloaded (sometimes it doesn’t download and you need to save and drag and drop it to be included.)

I ended up paying for the the 2 gig option. This was $20 for 1 year. 6 gigs is $60 and unlimited storage is $120. To give you some idea, I had 330ish citations in my database, probably 300 of them with PDF’s attached when I ran out of room on the free account. I end up hoarding the PDF’s and the citations, so if you are not a digital hoarder, you could probably go longer before needing to pay.

These three items have made being a PhD student enjoyable, fun, and much less work than the first or second time I was a grad student. I don’t stress over citations, I just double check them. I don’t stress over formatting, because I know the Styles I created are correct to the APA version I need.

I DO stress over writing. But isn’t that what I am supposed to stress over?

Oct 222015

As I was observing my students teaching I stood in an elementary school hallway and saw this display.

2015-09-28 12.56.29

This was on both sides of the hallway, 15 on one wall, 15 on the other. So you don’t have to blow it up to see, I will explain it. Each page says, “Who am I” and below that says, “My favorite: book, subject, pet, food, hobby, tv show, I’m Good at, When I grow up, I would like to be” on the left with blanks to fill in.

Here is the thing that really made me smile, and then get angry. Between the two boards, over half of the students  said “My Favorite Subject is Math” or “I’m good at Math.”

No joke. This is a Title 1 elementary school, and in the sample of these two classrooms, these learners said they enjoy or they were good at math.

I was so happy.

Then I thought about high school math and I got angry.

Where does this joy go?

At what point in the education trajectory of learners does the joy disappear to be replaced by frustration, anger and dislike?

And then the bigger question of Why? What changed? The learners didn’t change? They progress through the classes, learning, enjoying, and being good at math.

My conclusion was that WE, teachers, the adults, change how we approach the math. I can only speak to high school, but I know I would have many discussions about math in PLC’s, and trying to steer the conversation to the learners is tough with some teachers. Why was this hard? It should be the standard.

It is not about content, it is about learners; people, human beings with needs and desires. Are we showing them through interesting problems they need the math? Why not?

Dan Meyer has been asking frequently, if xxxx is the headache, how is yyyyyy the aspirin? This is the right question we, as upper level K-12 teachers, need to be asking. Over and over. How are we fulfilling the needs of our learners? It isn’t with “it is on the test.”

I don’t have any answers to questions in this post. I really needed to share the picture. A picture of a group of learners who truly enjoyed math, and the emotional response I had to it. It shook me to the core to realize that as a math teacher, I was and am part of the problem.

I will be part of the solution too.

Just to end on a happy note, one of my learners from last year tweeted me and made me smile. People. I teach people. Not content.

Oct 142015

Okay, it was yesterday, but I was crazy busy and didn’t post it.

Yesterday, out of the blue, one of the learners I had three years ago tweeted this:


This is one of the times that makes me proud to be a teacher. It also makes me proud to know that I have had a positive impact on other learners who didn’t tell me this, but who are experiencing it daily.

Rock on, Cassidy. You make me smile. Thank you!

Sep 242015

Dont always say something stupid

I purposefully waited to post on this topic again, because the first post was so controversial. No really. Crazy controversial. I was not prepared for that, and I had no clue it would be. How controversial was it? This one comparison says most of what I mean:


The 135 hit count was my post on “High Fives” from #TMC15, and the 400 hit count was this post. Google Analytics says that one post was viewed over 1200 times. For my little blog, that is a lot of traffic. The conversation on Twitter was also interesting, and I grew a new appreciation for the complexity of the topic. When I first made the post, I was irritated, and now I am calm and reflective. I think I did make some mistakes in the original post, and I want to clarify some issues for myself so I remember the complexity. With that in mind, I see 3 issues now, and I will go through them one at at time.

The “Sharing economy where teachers win.”

I will start with the original article from the New York Times. The clear assumption of the article is that teachers ONLY win when they make money from the selling of their lessons.

One of her best-selling items is a full-year collection of high school grammar, vocabulary and literature exercises. It has generated sales on TeachersPayTeachers of about $100,000. Speaking from her tiny home office,  formerly a bedroom closet, Ms. Randazzo still sounded amazed at her success.

The teacher interviewed made over $100,000 from one collection and now she has a home office. That is a WIN! (heavy sarcasm) The clear subtext by the NYT is that winning = making lots of money.

Teachers often spend hours preparing classroom lesson plans to reinforce the material students are required to learn, and many share their best materials with colleagues. Founded in 2006, TeachersPayTeachers speeds up this lesson-plan prep work by monetizing exchanges between teachers and enabling them to make faster connections with farther-flung colleagues.

Teachers often times spend HOURs doing their jobs with no reward, but we can ‘monetize’ the process! That is a WIN! Because, you know, those ‘connections with farther-flung colleagues’ would not or could not occur without the benefit of monetization. (more sarcasm)

Mr. Freed took the helm of Teacher Synergy in 2014. One of his first tasks was to bring the technology behind the homespun company up to date without introducing radical changes that might upset its following. That goal has become more urgent now that TES Global, a British company with its own teacher-to-teacher marketplace, has entered the American market.

That’s right. This isn’t just a homespun, backroom business, it is an international business. This “Winning” has nothing to do with teachers, or education, or students. It has everything to do with making money for major corporations. After all, Mr. Freed isn’t an ex-teacher who is running this business to benefit classrooms, he is a corporate venture capitalist who is trying to squeeze as much money as possible for the investors.

And please, don’t get me wrong. I am not a staunch idealist who believes that money always corrupts and destroys education. But I am firmly opposed to the current trend of treating education like  a business. These are people we are teaching, not ID numbers. Every dollar stolen from the educational system and given to corporations is one less dollar that can be used to help people learn, develop and grow.

The NYTimes blew it. Big time. I realize they have corporate sponsors they answer to, and writing an article about how dangerous TPT is to education may not be good for them. Except they have run that article. But is wasn’t in the business section, it was in the education section. And it was 6 years ago, before they NYT, like all newspapers, had to pay more attention to their bottom line and run fluff pieces that were devoid of journalistic integrity.

And those amazing numbers of teachers getting wealthy from selling their lessons? That may not be all that grand either. Look into it. You will see a few teachers make a lot of cash, while the larger majority of teachers are purchasing Mr. Freed a second guesthouse. (Okay, that is a snarky comment. Who knows where the rest of the money goes. But TPT does have an $86 million dollar debt to venture capitalists to pay off. That is money not being spent on classrooms, we can agree on that much.)

In my opinion, the New York Times still failed.


Which brings me to the next point:

The Commodity of Education

These are my personal feelings and frustration towards the growing trend of making education a commodity. I personally don’t like TPT because I believe it turns the education of people, of human beings, into a commodity that can be bought and sold. Even writing that sentence raises a bit of anger in me (and that is the frustration and anger that spilled over into the previous post.) We hear daily from the media that “Education is in Crisis” in the US. Except it isn’t. The story has been well written and pushed through most media channels how horrible our educational system is.

I sat through a presentation by one important person in my state who said, “Our K-12 system is broken, no one comes to the US to attend our K-12 schools.” [This statement is demonstrably false, but ignore that.] His next statement was, “Our University system is the best in the world and students from other countries fight to attend our schools.”

Stop and think about that for a second. …. …. Really? If the K-12 system is so broken, how is our University system the envy of the world? Is it because of the extremely small percentage of foreigners who attend our Universities? No. It is because of the amazing students coming out of our K-12 system that are innovative, creative and demand to learn, and the completely dedicated faculty at both the K-12 and University level.

We have companies like Pearson raking in gobs of cash in profits on the backs of our students. Why? Because of this narrative that our system is broken. This is the same narrative that has been pushed on the US for the last 25 years or so. “K-12 education sucks, deprive them of funding because they suck, and when they don’t perform because they have no funding, claim it is because the teachers suck.”

Breath…..  Really. You could not plan a better way to destroy public education than what is going on now. [Evidence here, and here but behind a paywall so here instead, and here, and here (and really, if you read only one, read that one)]. I could go on and on.

So the answer from the business world is clearly to make education a commodity that can be bought and sold. Make schools private so they richest families can send their children to good schools, and let’s just give them the tax money along with it (back to starving our schools of resources). The rest of the children, … they don’t really have a good plan for them. Just corporate schools to move them through. (seriously, read the last link in the previous paragraph.)

And if that isn’t good enough, let’s create away to “assess” and “teach” our learners in a way that will require HUGE amounts of money to be thrown at companies regardless of the company’s success. In fact, let’s create more ways to give educational money to companies and call it “charter schools” which can be run by corporations. John Oliver’s take down of the corporate testing agenda is mandatory watching.

And, if that isn’t enough, let’s define the concept of “success” in K-12 education as “graduating” but make the definition of graduation so narrow that it is guaranteed impossible for any school that does not purposefully select its students to meet. [Really. Look into it. How are “graduation rates” calculated? I have looked into it. No comprehensive high school can meet a 100% rate. It is mathematically and physically impossible to achieve. Success is defined to be impossible for K-12, but the corporations making the rules will never admit that in public.]

But our schools are NOT failing. Not by a long shotThe reformers are wrong. It is a myth. Absolutely a myth.

This whole process results in one thing, making education, making people’s education something that can be bought and sold on the open market.

TPT is one symptom of that. I really dislike that aspect. I don’t have any hard feelings for the teachers who use TPT, but the company itself? I find the company reprehensible and a symptom of  purposeful attacks on education to serve a commercial agenda.

And that brings me to the final point.

Ownership of teaching materials

One issue that did not consider (and this is my mea culpa because I did blow it on this) is ownership of our work product. I accused teachers of “selling out.” That was wrong. Teachers are not selling out, they are using a corporation to earn some pennies on the material they create. If lots of other teachers buy their materials, then they make lots of pennies (but to be clear, the corporation makes far more than the teachers do.)

But, do the teachers actually own their intellectual property?

My opinion is that I believe what ANY teacher makes on their own time, at home OR AT SCHOOL should be owned solely and completely by the teacher who created it. Even if I stay until 7 pm at school building and creating things for my students, I should own that product even if I did it at school. If I choose to give it away, I should be allowed. If I choose to sell it, I should be allowed.

It appears that the belief I have may be false.

Would you believe there is reasonable case law to say that the school district actually owns the material I made, and I am not allowed to sell it?

And it gets worse. If I take materials I make at home and upload it to the cloud service the school district runs for my benefit, I could lose the rights to it.

Um. yea. The entire situation became incredibly complex. In talking to teachers, I found a school district in Texas that will not allow a teacher to even share a single example of a lesson they use. Everything used in the classroom is immediately copyrighted by the district. (I didn’t ask where, I didn’t want to know.)

I found out that in Utah, they have a very open policy and teachers are given rights to their material for sharing purposes.

This entire issue is one big, giant, messy, ugly, hot mess.

That teachers may not own the things they create for their classroom, that they don’t own the intellectual property they create is baffling. And this is not an issue of corporations wanting to own our work. These laws were created years ago before the current corporate takeover of schools started.

Do I fault teachers for selling their intellectual property. Not one bit. I think teachers should have that right. I think the teacher I spoke with in Texas is in a very difficult position. I believe that teacher owns their work, even if the district attempts to falsely claim ownership. I believe I own every single lesson I created. If I want to sell them (and I don’t) I should be allowed.

A large hot mess.

But I think I addressed some very constructive and much appreciated comments I received from teachers who use TPT. I am posting their comments below and emailing them that I responded.

Thank you for challenging me on what I wrote. I do appreciate it.

Shana wrote:

Good point, but I see things a different way. The time teachers put into their Teachers pay Teachers resources is time that is outside of their teaching job. It’s a second job, if you think about it. When I buy an activity from TpT, I am not only buying the activity, I’m buying time with my family.

If you are a teacher you’ll know that we have at least 2 jobs: the one where we are delivering instruction, which takes very little time but is the part of teaching all non-teachers imagine we do all day, and then there is the part where we plan lessons. Wait, then grading papers. Oh, and planning meetings and writing reports if we are Special Ed teachers. At the end of all that I am happy (overjoyed, elated, giddy) to be able to spend $3 to spend more time with my family.

As for the comment about doctors selling lesson plans. I don’t understand this argument. Doctors get paid well for their jobs and sell every part of it. And how about tutoring? A lot of teachers do this to make ends meet. Should they give their time away? Should doctors give their time away? It’s weird to me that teachers are faulted for asking for their time to be compensated when no one else is asked to do this.

I love Teachers pay Teachers. By having cheap access to master teachers’ resources I bring a better school experience to my students and more time to my family. Faulting teachers for getting $2 for hours of their time is ridiculous and small-minded.

How do you feel about censorship?

Gina wrote:

Hi! My name is Gina and I run the store All Things Algebra on TpT. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion. However, I do want to clarify a couple things. I can speak on the behalf of most all TpT sellers that yes, we do collaborate and continually seek to improve. I am constantly asking my colleagues for feedback and tweeking my resources to make them better. I am much of a perfectionist and never settle for just okay. Second, many of us take our original ideas and translate them into other grade levels/subject areas per request from those that have used our materials. For example, I spent 5 years+ writing an algebra curriculum. Many of those who purchased it asked (okay pretty much begged!) for a geometry version because they had seen the success of the algebra materials. They could have absolutely taken my ideas and written a curriculum for their personal classroom, but wanted ME to do it.I agreed to do this, and gave up about 60+ hours a week of my life over the course of a year to do this. I am now doing the same for Algebra 2. I take custom requests all the time, some are huge projects like those I just mentioned, and some are smaller. This does not make me a “sell-out”. Teachers should be compensated for this type of extra work. And also, I’ve noticed an increase in district purchase orders, which is great! Schools are seeing the benefits of teacher created materials over textbook companies.

Please consider these things and do not create an “us vs. them” environment as someone mentioned above. We are ALL working for the benefit of all learners. There is so much going on at TpT than I think you understand, and I’d be happy to chat with you about it. Feel free to email me at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.


 Posted by at 6:23 pm
Sep 062015

In my Feedly this morning popped up the article by Larry Ferlazzo called, “Disappointing NY Times Article On Teachers & ‘A Sharing Economy’.” Okay, let me be more blunt. I am not disappointed in the NYT, I am frustrated and a little ticked off. It stems from this article in the NYT: A Sharing Economy where Teachers Win by Natasha Singer.

Read the article. I call foul AND shenanigans. How much did TeachersPayTeachers pay for this fluff piece that was nothing more than an advertisement for teachers selling out other teachers.


Maybe it is because I am active and love the #MTBoS (that is the MathTwitterBlogo’Sphere, if you are not familiar with it.) I embrace the sharing, the collaboration and the freely giving of resources that the math teachers do on Twitter, their blogs and the internet in general.

The article should have been titled, “A sharing economy where teachers win, but collaboration dies.” Sure, some teacher just made $1000 by selling her lesson plans to a 1000 different teachers for a buck. She won, but collaboration died. Is she seeking feedback from people who have used her lessons? Is she improving them by discussing and talking about how others have used them? Probably not. It is in a store, and people are buying it. There is no reason or need to improve it.

Meanwhile, in the #MTBoS, teachers are making, sharing, improving and resharing lessons all the time. They are coming together to make better lessons. And then, they talk about these lessons, which spawn more, better lessons. This is a collaborative community where ALL teachers win, and more importantly, our learners win. And our learners continue to win. Over and over again.

Seriously, look at the amount of resources freely created and given away.

First up, websites created by teachers collaborating:

  • Let’s start with the MTBoS Directory. No one claims this is an exhaustive list. It requires teachers to add their names to it, but there are currently 344 teachers in the list, all with an online presence, and all sharing things.
  • – created by Tina Cardone and teachers all over the #MTBoS who contributed tricks. You can download the most excellent book for free.
  • Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns and Math Talks. Both are excellent sites. I have used the Visual Patterns site frequently in my high school classroom, and am working on learning more about Math Talks and implementing them in the college classroom where I am now.
  • Would you Rather Math is a site I used regularly in my teaching as well. Great questions, created by and curated by John Stevens.
  • Michael Pershan’s Math Mistakes. See an interesting math mistake? Submit it to this site and have a discussion on the thinking the learner made while making the mistake. We can learn more from mistakes than we can from correct work.
  • Dan Meyer’s Google spreadsheet of 3 Acts lessons. More on this to come. I am working on an idea taking shape out of my current position as a Master Teacher with a UTeach model school.
  • Mary Bourassa’s Which One Doesn’t Belong. So Mary saw Christopher Danielson’s great shapes idea, and realized that there was some amazing math thinking that could be done. BOOM, another collaborative website created.
  • Open Middle Dan Meyer introduced the idea, Nanette Johnson, Robert Kaplinsky and Bryan Anderson ran with and created the platform.
  • Desmos Activity Bank A site created by Jed Butler out of the need to share Desmos files, first showed at TMC15 at Harvey Mudd College.
  • MTBoS Activity Bank created by John Stevens (second time his name is on the list) to collect and curate some of the awesome materials created. Anyone can submit their own, and searching is easy.
  • The MTBoS Blog Search also created by John Stevens (I don’t think he sleeps). This site allows you search the blogs of a long list of math teachers for lessons, content, whatever you are looking for.
  • Robert Kaplinsky has a Problem Based Search Engine, to find those specialized lessons that are, you guessed it, problem based!
  • The Welcome to the MathTwitterBlogoSphere website has a further collection of collaborative efforts that includes some of the above but is even larger.

But that isn’t even all of it. There are teachers who are collecting curriculum, links or materials and sharing it all back out; lock, stock and barrel. These teachers have “Virtual Filing Cabinets” full of lessons that have been tried and tested, re-written and shared back out. Some call their pages VFC’s, some are just curated sites of materials.

And then there are great organizations giving away curriculum:

  • Illustrative Mathematics, free ever-more-complete curriculum that is CCSS aligned and incredibly high quality.
  • Shells Center/Mathematics Assessment Project, good as lessons, problems or assessments. I forget about this site until I am desperate, and then kick myself because it is just so good and thorough.
  • Mathalicious has free lessons and paid lessons. I have used them in class. They are worth paying for!
  • Igor Kokcharov has an international effort in APlusClick. Lots of great problems and lessons.

And this list is FAR from complete. It is what I pulled together in 15 minutes of thought. And this list does not even begin to talk about the 180 blogs

So, NY Times and Natasha Singer. You blew it. You didn’t show teachers winning, you showed teachers selling out. If you want to see winning teachers, click on any link above and read their sites.

The above are all winning teachers. TeachersPayTeachers is an example of teachers losing out on this kind of collaboration.

First month out of the classroom-A reflection

 Reflection  Comments Off on First month out of the classroom-A reflection
Aug 312015

I have to be honest, I started, stopped, deleted, restarted, deleted and started this post again repeatedly over the last few weeks. Why? Well one reason is my computer died in the middle of a post, and it sat for a week while I was getting it repaired. Whatever. Lame excuse.

Another reason is that I was not sure what to say, or how I felt about the change from high school teacher to college instructor. I think I am still not sure, but I am wrapping my head around it more and feeling better about myself and my thinking on that topic. This post will be a bit rambling, and more than a little stream of consciousness, but bear with it.

So, here it goes; good and bad. I am going to just get it all out and see where it leads.

do not follow leave a trail

First, the bad: I felt very guilty about leaving my school. Seriously. The process of getting this position took all summer. The interview was a 7 hour long day in the middle of July, and it was a week after that before I knew if I got the job or not. Teachers reported back to school on the 5th of August. I was not able to give my school or my department much time to hire a new math teacher to replace me. I hate that. That I left my high school without giving them a long time to search and find a replacement makes me feel like I let the people who I had a strong attachment and bond with down.

The good: This new program at the University of Nevada, Reno is amazing. Seriously. Why is not every university in the US using this model of teacher development for math and science? I mean, really. We all recognize there is difficulty in getting math and science teachers. The UTeach model out of Austin, TX is a great model to fight the shortage. It is actually doing good recruitment and instruction to bring better math and science teachers to the classroom. Let me tell you the sales pitch (and it is a sales pitch that I have given to several freshmen classes.)

The Step 1 and Step 2 classes are free through a tuition rebate (after you successfully pass the classes, you get your money back.)

In these classes, you will observe twice, and teach three times in upper elementary (Step 1) and middle school (Step 2) classrooms.

At the end of the year, you will have two free credits, AND you will KNOW if you have an interest in teaching. If you don’t, because whatever, you walk away and you have two credits, no money spent, and you have lost nothing but a little time.

BUT, if you think that teaching may be something you are interested in, you finish the major you are in (right now Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Mathematics, but that will expand) AND you take the NevadaTeach program classes and you will graduate in 4 years with two degrees. Your science / math degree AND the coursework necessary for a teaching license.

Yes, free credits. Two degrees, two career paths, and no extra time or money spent to earn either one.

This program sells itself. We were expected to have 30 students in the program this semester. My partner Master Teacher and I recruited 45. We are 150% over the goal for enrollment. That is exciting, motivating and all around wonderful.

Then, we actually met our students.


On the first day of class (heck the ONLY day of class so far) we asked them to write why they took the Step 1 class. Here are a few, representative samples of why they enrolled:

I want a second choice if I can’t get into med school  (this came up several times.)

It seems like a fun program to be in, very excited about going into classrooms to teach an be like hands on.  (again, several of this type.)

I want to have my double major through this program and I think it will offer lots of opportunity in the future.  (wow, just wow.)

I want to explore teaching as an option.  (no fewer than 5 people said this.)

I’m taking step 1 because I want to have the best choice that allows me to have the best option to succeed in my future career.  (yes, this is the same as the last one, options, but notice the addition of choice. )

These are our students’ words. No editing. Just my comments in parenthesis. We have a motivated group of students who think teaching may be an interesting career. It is up to Megan and I to show them that it can be.

How do we do that?

One major element of our classroom and the program is that it centers around the 5E model of instruction. As we teach science or math lessons to our learners to teach to the ES or MS students, they are all 5E, inquiry based lessons. The math teachers who graduate from this program are going to have a strong basis for creating inquiry  based lessons for their classrooms. This is truly exciting. I am fully committing to dispatching an illusion of learning.


What else is exciting is that this program did not exist last semester. I am part of the first year of creating the program from the ground up. If it fails, I will be a large part of why it fails. If it succeeds then I will be a part of why it succeeds (well not really, it can’t help but succeed.) But it is a risk to leave the safety of teaching, being department chair, teaching the courses I love, interacting with amazing learners and stop all of that for the complete uncertainty of a program that does not exist, in a completely different environment, and a radically different culture.

great achievements involve great risk

So, do I step up and leave everything I was comfortable with behind and bet it all on a new, untested, untried program to create and build new, more and better math and science teachers? Clearly the answer I chose was yes, but it was a tough decision. I miss the teachers I interacted with daily, but I know that I am doing something that will benefit more students in the future than I could just as a high school teacher.

As far as the massive culture shock, I have overcome it. Mostly. I have had a couple of “Am I on candid camera” moments. Being told “good job” for submitting $20,000 technology requests that were detailed and approved. Being told “ask for it, we don’t short change instruction, if you need it to teach, ask” by directors of the program. Coming from K-12 where we were starved for resources and now have the resources is odd.

Having to navigate the minefield of tenured professors walled gardens has been a shock. As a high school teacher, I just did things. I always could justify it because it was in the best interest of my learners, so there was never any blowback, just an “okay, that works, thank you.” Now, however, that is not always the case. And, what is in the best interest of my students is NOT the best interest of the departments students, the colleges’ students, or the University’s students. That is absolutely true. So having to think bigger picture and take a step back is new for me. Not hard. Just new.

The last thing that really is different for me is that I always sought out teachers to inspire me, to motivate me. As a high school teacher I lived by this quote daily.

Teachers inspire other teachers

My list was easy. Go on Twitter. Search for #MTBoS. Follow them. All of them. I have found so many teachers who pushed me to be better through their ideas, motivation, and inspiration that I never felt alone the last 4 years.

I am feeling alone now. I have a beautiful office. (seriously, it is the best office on campus, look at the view from my office window).

2015-07-27 17.56.52


I have a fellow Master Teacher, Megan, who is amazing. I have directors in my program who are supportive, helpful and all around great people. The faculty and staff here are supportive and helpful.

And yet, I feel alone. The college culture is different than K-12. There are no faculty plays. No “Friday happy hours.” No fabulous twitter chats of supportive higher ed professors. At this level it is about what you produce, not how you feel. K12 is different. I am working over that, around that, and through that, but it is true. I think this is the largest culture shock to deal with now. I can still drop into the Friday happy hour, but I am not part of that group. Will they still have me? And what am I producing now for my new position?


Yes, I just smiled. I realized what I have to make sure I produce.

Teachers inspire other teachers I need to be that teacher who uplifts, inspires, and drives others.

More so now than ever.

Aug 152015

At #TMC15 I shared my favorite of the “High 5”. Richard Villanueva is awesome enough to record them all and post, so I will just share the video of what I said. It is short and sweet:

There is the video. I want to stress a few points.

  1. Giving high fives to my learners absolutely changed me. I got 150 high fives every day. How can you NOT be in a great mood getting 35 high fives several times a day, every day.
  2. I am serious. I didn’t teach math. I taught people the subject of math. The high fives was just one step that demonstrated this philosophy.
  3. This was an evolution of my approach that on the first day of class scared me to death. I was freaked out and thinking that it was going to be a massive failure.
  4. I was wrong.
  5. It was the single thing I did all year long that had the greatest impact on my classroom environment, my relationship with my learners, and my own personal attitude.

I wrote about it last year as it occurred:

Before school started: August 10th: School started on the 11th.

After 1 week of school: August 20th

After 1 month of school: August 27th

I finally EARNED a high five from my one holdout: September 10th  : This is the one high five I am most proud of.

That was last year. Then #TMC happened. After #TMC15, several teachers told me they were going to try it. We had several Twitter conversations about it at different times with different teachers. A sample is below. And this is ONLY a small sample of the more relevant tweets.






And here are some captured images from @misscalcul8. Elissastartpic2Elissa2 elissa3  Elissa1 And finally: pic1Elissa    

Let’s pause and reflect a moment.    What effort did it take me to give a high five? Very little. I had to get over my introvertedness. I had to fight my impulse to just stand there and say hi, and I had to make the effort to actually acknowledge each learner one at a time with the motion. I had to grab some hand sanitizer afterwards as I was walking into class. …. 

Yea, that is really what it cost me. That’s it.

Not to diminish the fright / frustration / and uncomfortableness that the introversion creates, but getting over it did not damage me in any way.  

What did I gain? My learners received the one on one acknowledgement from me every day. They walked into my classroom looking forward to the personal contact that went beyond the subject and touched them personally. Learners who were just standing in the hallway saw it and started asking for a high five every day. They recognized that it was something to get and feel good about themselves.

It changed my outlook on the class period. Every period be came a 1st period of the day. Every period was a “good morning” because every period started with 30 to 35 high fives. How could every period NOT be a fresh start, a clean slate, and a new beginning. It changed the class outlook towards me. I wasn’t just that weird math teacher (and I was) who wore strange socks everyday (because I did). I was also the math teacher who treated them like human beings. I also was the math teacher who acknowledged they were weird learners (because they were) who struggled with the ideas (because they did) and who needed the reassurance that if they kept trying they would get it (because they absolutely DID.)  

The cost / benefit analysis there is pretty clear. What it cost me was very little. What I gained was huge. What my learners gained was even greater.  


I am not teaching high school anymore. I am teaching college and the standards are different, the expectations are different, and the stakes are different. Guess what I am NOT going to give up. I think these outcomes are too valuable. It will definitely be a radical departure for the college setting. It is worth it.  


Edit: Some research to back up why it works:   More teachers on board! Yay!    








These next three go together. Wow, the power in these three tweets.




Amy posted on her blog the following paragraph.

High fives at the door. Glenn’s “my favorite” has been popular for good reason. It is simple, but we have already discovered it is powerful. My colleagues and I decided to make it a department thing, and also roped in the two non-math teachers in our hallway. So the 200 hallway is officially the “high-five hallway” at our school. I am surprised by how something so small has already helped me feel more connected to my students, and how the classroom atmosphere gets an immediate boost. You just can’t be too grumpy after a high-five.

Chris Shore said:

High 5’sGlenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs): Glenn was right. Offering the High 5’s at the door does more for my mood and mental preparation for the class than it did for the kids.

Bob, on his blog, said:

GREETING STUDENTS WITH HIGH FIVES – Intertwined with all of the mathy goodness of Twitter Math Camp this past July was a simple and powerful device for student engagement from my friend Glenn Waddell – the High Five.

Each day last year, Glenn met his students at the door to give them a high five – a simple, caring gesture to establish a positive tone for class. I often meet students at the door before class or linger in the hallway for informal chat, but I love the tradition and rapport Glenn establishes here and hope to emulate it.

Lisa, on her blog, was even more positive about the effects:

After five days of being at the door and high fiving students, students are positioning their books to be ready to give me a high five as they approach my class. I have had students high five me in the hall when I am not at my door and walking in the hallway (when I don’t have a class). It makes me smile.

This is only one paragraph of a much longer post by Lisa, but you get the sense right there something amazing is happening.

Stephanie Bower tried it too. Her post says so much about it.

Most of the time, the high-fives give me a chance to gauge the moods of each student in a split-second. (Glenn pointed this out too.) I can tell by the tone of their high-five, the way they return my verbal greeting, and their body language if something is “off” that day.


[And yes, that graphic is golden, and will be stolen and reused. Forever.]

highfiveclub Thank you @conniehamilton.

(h,k) form – setting the stage

 Alg 2, CCSS  Comments Off on (h,k) form – setting the stage
Jun 102015


I begin the class with a “what do you notice?” “what do you wonder?” session. This is probably the 5th or 6th day of class, and sets the stage for the entire rest of year. What do you notice? What do you wonder? I document all the noticings and wonderings, and then we discuss the mathematical questions.

Every year, the question of “I wonder how the 2 and the 1/2,” “I wonder how the 3 and the 1/3,” are related is asked. The best two questions that are always asked are, “Why are they all the same?” and “What changes when we change the exponent from 1 to 6?” I always say that I will answer every question by the end of the year; I will never lie to them and tell them something is impossible when it isn’t, but that some of their questions may need to be addressed in a future math class and not this math class. That honesty goes a long way.

I spend an entire period exploring the different functions with them, showing graphs on Desmos, asking for values to put in for a, h, and k. I ask questions like, “what do you predict the h will do?” and “Did your prediction come true?” The learners who are the typical aggressive type A learners hate it because they want the answers and want it now, but they will come around and start developing ideas on their own.

I start with lines for the (h,k) form because I think this form shows some reasons why to use the form, the benefits of using the (h,k) form over y=mx+b, as well as a simple function to cut our teeth on vocab.

I introduce this form first thing in the year as we get started. Fully Explaining & Understanding functions blank (double sided .docx file). I print off hundreds of this form, and we use it regularly. Some days I have the learners write the functions in their notebooks when I don’t have the forms, but I try to have a stack on hand always.

explaining This is what it looks like. There is A LOT of info asked for, and I start with lines so we can establish the understand of what the different elements are.

It always bugged me that we rarely talk about domain and range of lines. Why not? Why start introducing that idea with absolute value? Just because that is where it changes from all real numbers for both to only one, does not mean we shouldn’t introduce it earlier. Same thing with asymptotes and even/odd functions.

If I can get learners to identify the x and y intercepts on the line, and then connect those points with the standard form, so much the better.

Same thing with intercept and (h,k) form. Cut the teeth on a line, that is familiar and safe, so that as we move forward with quadratics, cubics, cube roots, etc, the learners can see the vocabulary does not change. What changes is the shape of the parent function.

I make sure every learner has one copy of this that is complete, pristine, written clearly and fully in their notes for every single function. When the learner puts them all side by side, they can see there is only one math, one set of ideas through the entire year. What changes is the amount of effort needed to get the intercepts for a cubic vs intercepts for a line? Why?

Another rich focus of questioning is “What makes the line unique?” “What makes the quadratic or cubic unique?” Some answers I have received are, “Only the quadratic always has a vertex form. The cubics can have that form, but usually not,” or “Every point on the line is a critical point, but we can’t always use every point for other graphs.”

Or can we? Hmmm. Leave it at that. Don’t tell them. Plant the seed and let it grow on its own.

This is a big picture post. Philosophy of teaching, approach to the topics, etc. No details yet. Just a pouring out of my thoughts on how I start. I will go more in depth. Notice that there is not enough room to work on the page. Only the results go there. The work is separate.


Additional v. JMP comparisons

 APStats, Failure, Technology  Comments Off on Additional v. JMP comparisons
Jun 082015

My learners have been using for a week, and have asked me a ton of questions on how to do certain things with their data. I wanted to add details to my last post on v. JMP and tell you the decision I made regarding the issue. All of the questions I have below are actual questions / issues  my learners ran into using

Issue 1. How to add % totals to the columns of data in a graph?

One group of learners had a beautiful graph made in It was nice, communicated well, but had lots of information in it. They wanted to put the % of each column in the graph to make it more informative.

In other words, they had this ……….and wanted this. (the reason for the arrow in a sec)

graph1 graph2

Yes, these are JMP graphs. Why? Because after an hour of looking, I could not find a way to have do it. Their help is silent on this issue, and I looked through a whole bunch of graphs shared on their website and found not a single one to do that.

As far as JMP, it took two clicks. I can’t show the menu because it is a drop down and as I tried to screen cap, it went away. You click the red triangle I pointed to, hover over to “Histogram Options,” and click on “Show percents.” If you want to “Show counts,” you can do that too. One or both! Two clicks. This was incredibly simple to do in JMP, incredibly difficult in

Issue 2: Chi-Square test

I already dealt with the fact that calls graphs that use categorical information histograms in my last post. This has caused so. much. confusion.

But now my learners are trying to do the statistics for their data and see if there are significant differences in their samples. They are trying to DO statistical inferences. If their data is quantitative, they can do a t-test easily. Well, they can do a two sample t-test easily. They cannot do a one sample t-test or a matched pair t-test. They cannot do a z-test in, and as it turns out, you cannot do a Chi-Square test in unless you already have the summary counts.

Really? I can do the “histogram” to get the counts, but I cannot import those counts into the table to do the Chi-square? It won’t count the instances of words to count them for the test?

For example, if the learners data looks like this:

data1 will do a histogram for it and tell me what percent or what counts there are for Gender and AP/Honors.

If I want a Chi-Square test for these two columns, the only way I could make it work was to look at the graph of counts, write down the information into a two-way table, and enter the counts as a matrix in the graphing calculator.

To do the same thing in JMP, we do the following steps:

1.  Go to Analyze, Fit y by x JMP1


2. Click on OK. That’s it. The output contains the following:

JMP2  A mosaic plot of the graph which is nothing more than a stacked bar chart, except the width of each column is proportional to the total number of things in the column.

Next, we get the contingency table. If I click the red triangle, I can choose other values to include or exclude from the table.

Finally, the Chi-Square test p-value.

That was around 6 clicks, instead of making the graph, counting from the graph and writing a table, and then inputting the table to the calculator.

Issue 3: separating data by a response

The group who was doing the AP/Honors and work in Issue 2 had another problem. They asked for GPA and the number of hours you worked. But they needed the mean GPA of only those in AP/Honors and those not in AP/Honors, as well as the number of hours worked. will give us the total 1 variable stats for the column of hours worked, but it will not give it to us in two groups of Y/N based on type of classes taken. It will not do it.

Enter JMP. 6 clicks. Analyze, Distribution, put the variable where you want them, OK.


That’s it. You get a 1 variable stats for those who are in AP/Honors, and a separate 1 variable stats for those not in AP/Honors. Doing a two sample t-test is simple and easy once this information is obtained. This is not information can give us.

Issue 4: Linear Regression t-test

Last issue, and then I will stop. I have several learners doing quantitative projects that lend themselves to linear regressions and linear regression t-tests. makes beautiful scatterplots. You can adjust the axis, overlay the regression line, insert the equation into the graph, etc. They are pretty.

But, if you want a residual plot. No go. If you want to reinforce the statistics of y=a + bx. No go.

This is what it looks like in

plotly1 You have y=mx + b from algebra, you cannot do residuals, and you CANNOT do a linreg t-test.

In JMP, it looks like this:

JMP4 5 clicks, Analyze, Fit Y by X, put the variables in the correct spots, and hit OK. Notice this is the exact same dialogue box you use for categorical data. JMP uses the same path for different types of data, but tells you in the bottom left corner HOW it will act on your data.

You get output that looks like this:

JMP3 If you want the residual plot, hit the red triangle next to “Linear Fit” and show residual plot. That easy.

Bottom line

Although I fully understand that every single complaint I have had with can be solved by learning the programming language and learning to program the software, I don’t think I can ask high school learners, in the last 4 weeks of class, to learn it so they can do a project on statistics. Honestly, I don’t want to take the time to learn the programming language of so that I can do it for them, either. makes BEAUTIFUL graphs. It is a powerful platform to show connections between quantitative data sets. But, it does a so-so to bad job on statistics.

JMP makes graphs that may not be beautiful, but the statistics is primary to the operation of the program and makes doing the statistics easy. I think without some major changes to to work towards the statistics side instead of the data representation side I will go back to using JMP next year.

It was just too difficult to teach the way handles or mishandles the stats.