Apr 162014

This post is a quick one, to simply thank Kate Nowak for saying something publicly that I have said privately for a couple of years now. In her post on the NCTM Technology strand, (which everyone should read first. It is okay, I will wait. …. Still here, still waiting, it is okay, really, go read it if you haven’t)  she said this:

Dear Teacher: if the professional development offered by your school or district is not helping you improve your practice in clear, consistent, measurable ways, then it’s up to you to take responsibility for your professional growth.

Kate also has the following graphic as well:


The citation for the article leads me to the following link:   http://learningforward.org/docs/pdf/nsdcstudy2009.pdf


I have said something similar to teachers in my district for the last couple of years. I have said it to admins, and told teachers that if the PD being offered is not the quality they expect or not meeting their needs then they should leave. I have received blowback on it. I have been told that is rude, arrogant, and that we should just sit through it because someone decided it was important. I call <cough>b.s.

I have said that to the rooms that I have been leading. If this is not meeting your needs, please find a room that is. I do not want to waste your time. I mean it. Leave. Now. Get up, walk out.

If the professional development is ineffective, then we have to start acting on our professional beliefs. The old saw about teachers make the worst learners is absolutely false. We are permanent, professional learners. We make bad learners in bad learning situations!

Kate’s comment struck a chord with me, obviously. I have spent a couple of hours today writing lessons for Desmos for preservice teachers at my local university. It is professional development. It is something I will use to teach other teachers. If it does not engage them; if it does not create questions that are interesting, then I expect to be told.

Thank you Kate. I truly appreciate your words and suggestions.

Aug 232012

During the summer, the teachers of the math classes at Exeter get together and review the problem sets and compile a series of documents they call the Commentaries. These Commentaries are then used by the Writing Committee to review, edit, and modify the problem sets to make them better for the next year.

First of let me just say, Wow. Exeter’s commitment to the constant improvement of their curriculum is amazing. Contrast that to the situation we have in the public schools. The district spends millions of dollars on a textbook from Pearson, McDougal, or Holt and then we are stuck with those textbooks until the next textbook adoption (every 7 years in NV, unless the budget delays it.)

In the meantime, we complain about the books because we know there are better ways to teach and better ways to work with the material, but we are bound by textbooks that are bound to disappoint. Today I told my department that it would not bother me if we threw all the Algebra 1 textbooks away. It shook them up and made them think a bit about why we teach the way we do. But I digress.

Let’s take a look at a couple of problems and see how the process develops new questions, or if not new questions, new understandings of the questions.

M1:26:4 from the 2011-12 problem set

I chose this problem because it is a pretty standard type question, used in Algebra 1 to work with systems of equations. It has multiple questions underneath, and has the zinger question in part e that challenges the learner to figure out some answers without algebra.

The Commentary on the question is:

The Commentary for the question suggests some methods of solving, and points out the fact that the Algebra is the best way of solving the question. The Commentary does not mention part e, which has a lot of mathematical exploration involved. But the Writing Committee clearly felt something was going on in part e that was not successful, because the 2012-13 question is now:


Identical question, but the committee dropped the exploration question to focus on the mathematics and the generalization found in part d.

Here is another example where the question is really straightforward and does not change from one year to the next, but the commentary is terrific in guiding a discussion.

M1:2:5 (Both years)

Very basic question, but the commentary opens up a very different scenario with the material.


Wow, look at that. High school teachers I have known sometimes fall into the “why should we teach something so basic, that is a middle school standard and they should just show up knowing it, but I guess we can review it” trap. It is a trap, and it sucks you in and destroys you if you let it.

Here the Commentary shows that the trap opening, “It is surprising that some students have so much trouble…” but they don’t fall in. They point out to their teachers to look for the shy, the quiet learners and ask questions the quiet learners may not ask but desperately need. Very nice.

What the Commentary is clearly for is to show the TEACHER what traps are possible with the material and to develop better questions in the treatment of the material. Imagine a brand new teacher at Exeter with the problem sets getting the Commentary. They can work the materials easily, otherwise they would not be teaching math, but the Commentary is what allows the new teacher to develop the questions that need to be asked in class.

It is definitely a tough proposition to write the commentaries and get the information from 20+ teachers and simplify those comments down to a short paragraph. But very worth the time and effort to do so. If you are interested in the Exeter problem sets, I recommend you read the commentaries as well.

Below you will find the commentary folder for the 2011 – 12 Problem Sets and the 2011 – 12 sets. The Exeter website has only the updated 2012 – 13 sets with change log.

Commentaries for 2011-12 [link removed at Exeter’s request. If you can demonstrate you are a teacher and would like them, let me know.]
Jul 262008

Well, I took the first six slides of my version 2 presentation and re-did them with SlideRocket.  If you have not heard of them, give them a peek.  They are a new startup that can do some amazing things with “powerpoints”.  They aren’t powerpoints any more, simply because we aren’t using powerpoint. 


It can be also seen here if the imbed does not take.

What do you think?  Is it worth continuing?  It looks nice, but it can not do math equations, so I really couldn’t use it during the year.  Too bad.

 Posted by at 11:57 am
Jul 262008

So I am giving a presentation to my district math teachers on our first day back to school on Mastery Assessment.  Yikes.  I have made two different presentations. The first one, I edited and edited and had what I think is an okay presentation.  Here it is.

So, I set it on the shelf for a few days, and then re-visited it.  Ick.  I asked myself, “What is the story I am trying to tell?”  “Am I successful in telling a story here?” 

So, I made a second version. Obviously the answer to my second question was no.

There is a minor difference right on the first page.  A little better mixing of Serif and Sans Serif fonts (one of each instead of both sans serif), and there is more to tell inside.

Please, let me have it.  How could I make it better.  Does it now tell a better story?  Is it more coherent?  Obviously the information will be coming from me, the presentation is there to illustrate, not to educate.  But is it doing what I want it to do?

Thanks for any feedback.

 Posted by at 11:19 am