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.

May 292015

Wow, it has been a while since I posted anything, and I need to share a ton of things I have done. I predict that I will post a lot in the next several weeks. The school year is winding down, but my learners are ramping up. Grad school is down for the summer (with the exception of an independent study on activity theory) so I have much more time to write.

My learners are working on their final exam / projects, and they are hating me right now. They realize that the stats has a purpose, and that it is far harder than they thought. The handout for my assignment is here if you want to use it, or see what I required.

The only reason I veto projects are because it is too easy, too hard (and it is my opinion for that, although we discuss the reason why so they have an opportunity to revise and make it appropriate) or if the subject matter is just too sensitive / personal and it is in the realm of professionals, not high school learners.

Below is the list of surveys / observational studies / experiments that my learners have decided to undertake this year, broken up by period. It is a rather impressive list!

———Period 2———–

  • Social media use / grades
  • How do adults / teenagers differ in choosing restaurants
  • Does quizlet or flashcards help more in learning vocab (using ancient Sumerian words?!)
  • Does education really affect income (using census data from several zipcodes in the city)
  • Is there an association between a school’s weightlifting records and win/loss at sports?
  • Is sex ed successful?
  • Does involvement in club cheer affect grades (4 different age groups)
  • Do taller people run faster, looking at high school, college and Olympic atheletes?
  • Does appearance have an impact on grades?
  • General questions about tobacco use and quitting
  • Which costs more, male or female beauty products?
  • Quality of life of the parents / learners in school
  • Which area of the city has more trash on the sides of the roads?
  • Does music affect memory (experiment)?
  • How do you use social media?
  • What is your perception of LBGT issues?

———Period 3———–

  • How does sports affect grades?
  • Are oreos really double stuffed? (I never showed my class the story on this, this team came up with it on their own! Love it)
  • Is bullying an issue, how large?
  • Are drivers more likely to stop at a stop sign when they are being watched?
  • An experiment on what type of information changes learners opinions on drinking age.
  • Does work hours affect GPA?
  • Does being exempt from an enrichment class at school affect GPA?
  • Are cheetos packaging regarding number of pieces correct?
  • Does social media use hurt GPA?
  • Is the dress code at school appropriate?

———Period 5———–

  • Does the sugar content of cereals affect the placement of the cereals in the grocery store?
  • Does music affect memory?
  • An experiment on whether or not gender effects whether or not people help with dropped books in the hallways.
  • How does our school compare to other schools in the community service of the learners?
  • Does sexism exist in the high school population?
  • Does the perception of animal rights change from learners to adults in the building?
  • What kinds of social media is most prevalent & how should the school use social media?
  • Who is bullied most over social media, males or females?
  • How does M-M vs. F-F & hair length affect the attitudes towards GLBT youth in stores (a very daring observational study)
  • What drugs are prevalently used in the high school per grade level?
  • Is marijuana use a problem in the high school?

As you can see, there is a huge variety (and some major overlap) between the different classes and projects. Each group is working their way to answering their questions, with the final exam being a presentation of their results.

Always exciting.

Poverty, Education & a local angle

 APStats, Personal  Comments Off on Poverty, Education & a local angle
Jun 222013

In my AP Stats class a learner wanted to see if there was an association between poverty or income and graduation rates in the local Washoe County high schools. This project was done in May and it is an initial project that does have some shortcomings. First, I will explain the methodology the learner used to construct the data, explain the results, and then the shortcomings that can be addressed in a future study.

First, the learner gathered a list of high schools in Washoe County and collected data from the Census Bureau’s “American  Community Survey” to gather information about the corresponding zip code. The learner did ignore the schools that select their learners such as Truckee Meadows Community College High School, the Academy of Arts, Computers & Technology and charter schools. Including those schools would skew the results, especially since they are not associated with a specific zone.


The learner then used JMP to create graphs and calculate statistics on the data, focusing on only 2 associations; median income on grad rate and %below poverty on grade rate.

image image

R is –.836 for the poverty, graph and r = .727 for the median income graph.

Grad Rates = 89.03 – 1.055*(Percent Below Poverty Line)

Grad Rates = 52.69 + 0.0003837*(Median Income in dollars)

Both of these regressions had statistically significant slopes, but the interpretation of the slopes makes the case even more apparent. For the poverty graph, as the percent below poverty increases by 1 percent, the graduation rate drops by 1.06 percent. Clearly, poverty is having an outsized impact on graduation rate.

For the median income graph, for every $1000 change in median household income, the graduation rate increased by only .38%. Clearly, the larger impact on graduation rate is the percent below poverty, not the rising median income.

The problem with this initial analysis is that not every zip code in Washoe County is represented. I know my school zone covers 3 different zip codes, while some of the other schools split a zip code between them. As an initial analysis the results are very interesting, and shows that a more detailed study needs to be performed to get a better handle on impact poverty has on Washoe County’s graduation rates.

Why bring this up with such a long explanation? Why post this project in such detail? Because it needs to be seen, especially in light of the recent national and international news / discussion on the impact poverty has on education.

Michael Pershan did a very good analysis of the PISA data and it shows that in the US, poverty matters, a lot.

Secretary Paul Reville also did a take down of the idea that poverty doesn’t matter. The association between poverty and low educational outcomes is well established, but the deniers and the ideologues won’t allow for reality to impact their thinking. Mr. Reville’s statement that,

“Some want to make the absurd argument that the reason low-income youngsters do poorly is that, mysteriously, all the incompetency in our education systems has coincidentally aggregated around low income students.”

is as close as it gets to a perfect description of the state of the political attacks on education.

The problem as I see it is an AP Statistics learner in Reno, NV can figure out the reality of the situation with publically available data. When will we stop denying the obvious and start acting on the good data?

Functions, GeoGebra and a question for ourselves

 Alg 2, Lesson idea, Technology  Comments Off on Functions, GeoGebra and a question for ourselves
Apr 112013

It is spring break, so what am I doing? I am attending AP workshops and volunteering at my local university. All in all, a great spring break.

So, Let me start with the question first. Why do we make it so hard to learn functions? I mean really. We treat each topic; linears, quadratics, cubics, transendentals, etc, as if they are a new and unique idea. And they definitely are not. I have discussed this before when I was thinking about the Exeter materials, and I have to keep coming back to it for good reason.

What brought it to me today is the fact I am presenting at UNR for the professor of Math Methods to pre-service teachers. I was asked to present on calculator technology, and I will also branch out into GeoGebra, Desmos, and the MathTwitterBlogosphere.

As I was running through what I was going to say and planning my lesson I made a short video on what I wanted to show with GeoGebra. This only scratches (heck I probably doesn’t even leave a mark) on the surface of what GeoGebra can do but it is worth discussing to present it to teachers who will be immersed in Geometer’s Sketchpad in college.

GeoGebra & Functions


And then I turn it into an HTML5 page so anyone can use it.

  And now I have a video as well as a usable piece of content for learners to look and and use on their own at home. I am trying to model good teaching practice that I use at school.

And yet, the question of why do we make linear functions separate from other so it is harder to learn than it should be still comes to my mind. Why? I don’t have a clear answer, and I am not sure anyone else does either. That is sad.

Reflections after an AP workshop

 APStats, Personal, Success maybe  Comments Off on Reflections after an AP workshop
Apr 082013

Today is the first official day of Spring Break (Monday) and so far I have had an eventful weekend. I started by flying to Los Angeles and attending the 5th of the series of AP Workshops they have had. These are the one day workshop where teachers can attend and get some additional tips, hints, and prep for their AP classes.

They definitely inspired me!

I flew down on the districts dime. They offered to send myself and one other teacher to this workshop and paid for flights and hotel for us. This was very generous and even though the workshop was not offering Statistics I felt I could not refuse the offer to go and spend the day doing some calculus. I am glad I did. I spent the day talking to teachers from LA who work in very urban to not so urban schools about how to teach better. I also got a chance to speak with Don who works for the CollegeBoard and has some amazing insights into the AP process. More on that later.

First: This was the FIFTH in a series of these workshops for the LA Unified School District. Think about that. They have had 5 so far, and one more planned. If you teach AP, you are getting some great professional development. But it goes beyond “if you teach AP”. I was in the ‘little to no experience’ calculus room by choice, and in that room there were 7 others who DID NOT TEACH CALCULUS at all. One very eager teacher taught 10 years of geometry and 2 years of algebra 2, but wanted to make sure he was teaching correctly to help develop calculus learners. Another young teacher was in her 3rd year of teaching, and wanted to make sure she was still fresh and current on all levels of math.

Think about that. The depth of teachers LAUSD is developing by opening the sessions up to teachers who want to learn but are not currently teaching calculus is amazing. When Washoe County does their one workshop each year I doubt that it is this widely attended. I went once, but have not gone the last two years because of speech and debate meets being scheduled the same weekend. The one I attended was 100% only current AP teachers. What are we losing by limiting these?

Second: Some tips gleaned about what works for the “urban learner.” I won’t try to define what that means, but suffice it to say that LA has its fair share of them. Some of the tips here are pretty normal. A couple I never thought of. Worth the price of admission right there.

  1. Go over new material BEFORE questions about homework. <insert dopeslap here> DUH! What happens when you get lots of questions about the material from yesterday? You end up rushing the lesson for today. Which leads to more question tomorrow. Which leads to rushed lessons, and then you are always behind and the learners then learn to use that to their advantage and never let you get caught up.  Teach first, THEN go over homework if you need to. Teach first.
  2. Warmups in groups of 3 to 4. The urban learner has been trained NOT to be the smartest or the standout learner. The standout outside of the classroom is the mole that gets whacked (to use my own notes and putting it in different context.) Group work for the warmup allows them to talk about content without being “that kid”.
  3. Meet with parents at the beginning of the year in an AP class. Tell them what the expectations are. Let them know that there needs to be a homework time where NOONE watches TV in the house. Stress the importance of learning. Set the example. Have the parents form a support group of their own. Stress the importance of constant vigilance on homework and learning. Let the parents know there will be very stressful days for their learner. That is okay, support them.
  4. Encourage learners to build study groups by assigning problem sets from old AP exams that are due as group work. Start off by having 2 to 3 week deadlines. They need time to learn how to work as a group. Eventually shorten it to 3 to 5 days with more problems in the problems sets. It is about managing their workload and teaching them how to learn and talk about content.
  5. Praise often, and praise the right stuff. Look at a problem the learner did. Notice they did 85% of the problem right but made a consistent mistake. Point that out. Show them how much they know, and how little they really got wrong. The “100% is correct or nothing” mentality built by the “urban learner” is devastating to learning if they don’t see the progress.

These were the biggies. It is about creating culture of success in the classroom.

Finally, the next thing I learned was the importance of hammering the gatekeepers and using the AP Potential report. The AP Potential report is why the school district pays for every sophomore to take the PSAT. We get a report that itemizes for each learner what AP classes scores like theirs have been successful in AP classes. For 24 different AP classes.

I wonder if that report lists more than 60 learners for AP mathematics. Because that is how many learners are taking AP mathematics at my school out of 2100 learners. This means that at my school, only 2.9% of the learners take AP math of either calculus or statistics. Pretty sad, actually.

I am going to get a copy of our AP potential report so I can look at it and start pushing for AP math at my school. I am also going to share that with all the other AP teachers. I may ruffle some feathers but it is time to push, challenge, and ruffle some of the gatekeepers feathers.

AP Stats: how to remember all those conditions checks

 APStats  Comments Off on AP Stats: how to remember all those conditions checks
Feb 232013


Every year in AP stats for the last 4 years I have struggled with getting my learners to understand and use the all important conditions checks in Confidence Intervals and Hypothesis tests. This year I changed up how I taught it, and it has really made an impact. In fact, I can honestly say that all of my learners are using and completing the conditions checks with consistency.

Here is what I did.

First, there are two essential assumptions / conditions:

1. Randomization – is the data collected through some sort of random process (usually given)

2. Independence – what makes the data independent? Stop and think about the context.

Okay, those two generally are not the problem, because they are the same across all types. No mess, no fuss, stop, think and read and think again and you have those two. It is the next two that requires the real thought and memorization. I changed it up this year and put my own spin on them. Instead of naming them as the book, I realized that what they are trying to set is the maximum and minimum sample size that will give you an appropriate sample:

  Z CI or HT T CI or HT
3. Max Sample Size n < 10% of population of interest n < 10% of population of interest
4. Min Sample Size np & nq >= 10 3 parts to “nearly normal”


With this kind of setup, they are thinking about the context more. Why do they have to check the 10% condition? Because that gives you a ceiling on your sample size. Why the success / fail condition? It gives you the floor to the sample size.

My learners are much more focused and they are planning better this year on this topic. I am very pleased by how fluid and easily they are incorporating the CI’s and the HT’s into their language, whereas in prior years it was a struggle to get them to memorize what they were doing.

I think the fact they understand why is making a difference.

#Made4Math–homework research

 Personal, Research  Comments Off on #Made4Math–homework research
Feb 042013

Homework, to give, nor not? How much to give? How much is too much? What purpose does it serve? What is the purpose in assigning it?

I will be honest, I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do have some research, some documents downloaded that may help you shape your own answers to these questions.

by John Dunlosky, et al.

Let’s start off with some super new research (Jan 2013) that identifies 5 very useful study skills that make up homework and 5 that do not help. While this is related to homework it is not about homework. I feel we as teachers need to think about why we are assigning homework, and to make it completely useful we should follow some best practices. I read about this article online, and then followed the links to find the free download from the Association for Psychological Science. Thank you for providing the research for free! This article could shape the homework assignments given to make them more useful to the learner; and one hint, practice testing was found to be very useful!

by Joseph Murphy, et. al.

Okay, this article is a bit dated, but when I was researching homework for a paper, I didn’t find much that wasn’t shrill and emotional. It is relevant, because I think some teachers haven’t changed much of their homework planning from 1987 when this study was done. Again, I really think about why I am assigning this or that as homework, there are different uses for homework, and what use am I using.

by Etta Kralovec, John Buell and David Skinner

This short little 9 page section out of an older edition of a book entitled Taking Sides: Clashing views on educational issues by James Wm. Noll gives a pro and a con to the question. It is short, and gives both sides of the debate. In math, I think we have to give some homework. I am firmly on the Yes side of the question, but it does come down to the purpose of it.

by Nevada’s Northwestern Regional Professional Development Program for Educators

Okay, I have said “purpose” several times in this post, because that is something that resonated with me closely when I went through the training our RPDP did for our math department a couple of years ago. It was based around Cathy Vatterott’s book “Rethinking Homework” that I found to be very useful in shaping my own ideas. The Whole Homework guide above is a 138 page document created by our school district to give blackline masters, thinking guides, and tools to our teachers to help us think about homework in a more constructive manner. All in all, I recommend both the Guide and the Rethinking Homework book.

As always, I hope something here is useful to someone.

Living example of correlation between SES & acheivement

 General  Comments Off on Living example of correlation between SES & acheivement
Dec 282012

This month, Grant Wiggins wrote an article on the correlation between SES and academic achievement.  There is a strong correlation between SAT scores and the families income and there is not a single data point out of place in the table. Here is the full 2012 report.


Look at the scores climb as the family income climbs. Every educator will tell you this occurs, but as Grant points out, we have no real explanation for why. The number of lurking variables and confounding variables in this discussion is tremendous, and we don’t know how or why or what they are. We do know the correlation is strong, however. [I strongly encourage everyone to read Grant’s article. He has so many supporting links that are all very worthwhile and constructive.]

Which is why I am really annoyed at my local newspaper, the Reno Gazette Journal. They are running a series of articles on the “Smartest Seniors”. Guess what they are using to determine this. Yup, you guessed it, SAT scores.

So where do these seniors come from? 2 private (and very expensive) schools and 3 public schools that are all in the highest of income brackets in the county are the home schools of the 5 featured seniors. And don’t get me wrong, they all are very awesome kids who deserve the write up in the newspaper.

I am just frustrated because I don’t know how to push my learners to this level. What am I doing wrong that I don’t have any of my learners on the local lists? I don’t teach at a high SES school, in fact approximately 40% of my school is on free and reduced lunch. But correlation does not mean causation, and I should be able to get some of my learners in the top.

How? I just feel like I have way more questions than answers right now, and it is frustrating the heck out of me.

Can’t, Won’t, Failures and Recovery

 Failure, General  Comments Off on Can’t, Won’t, Failures and Recovery
Dec 162012

I have been thinking and struggling with these ideas for a week now. I read Dave’s post summarizing the study about repeating Algebra 1 and the lack of success in CA, and I really felt I needed to dive deeper in this topic.

So I read many link and downloaded almost every article that was linked in the following pages.

EdSource: Many math students are failing, repeating courses without success

Which leads to the Center for Teaching & Learning’s report: College Bound in Middle & High School.

As well as WestEd’s complete list of Reports (didn’t read all of these for this article) which features the above report. November 2012 is the date on it, so it doesn’t get more recent that that.

There is also this brief from EdSource on Math Readiness in CA.

Dave said something that caught my eye in my Google Reader, and started me down this road of thinking and stressing.

From my limited time in the classroom, too many students seem to have given up on their chance to go to college well before they even get to algebra I, much less algebra II, at least in terms of their effort towards improving their performance or achievement in mathematics.  Yet, if you ask these students, they nearly unanimously say they want to go to college.

It was as if he taught in my department at my school!

Let me backup and tell a story of my department and school.

For the last six years we have had essentially one red cell at my school, SPED Math. Sometimes we have had ELL Math in addition, and one time we had Math as a red cell across the board. We have an extended learning period that meets 4 days per week, and the Math Department has been on the Remediation Roller Coaster teaching proficiency classes 3 of the 4 days for the last 6 years.

No other department at my school teaches during this time, but the math department has stepped up and has voluntarily rode the coaster.

Finally, we said enough this year, and we jumped off that coaster (and have caught some huge flack for it from some in our admin) and focused on freshmen. Now we each have a freshman class of Alg 1 learners who are struggling, and we work with them 45 min per day on math support and skills.

And some of them are choosing to continue to fail, and some are failing because they don’t know how to do middle school math.

Some of them can’t add –11 to 5 to get –6.

The “negative times a negative” is confused with the “negative plus a negative” so some are saying –4 + –5 is + 9.

Yes, these learners are struggling in Alg 1. These learners are the “Can’ts” I mentioned above. They are trying, they are struggling, working, and learning and they will turn into “Cans” by the end of the school year because of this one on one support.

But will they earn credit? I don’t know. They have 2 weeks left in the semester and that time is ticking away quickly for them.

How do we take these learners and get them Algebra 1 Semester 1 credit? According to the report by WestEd it looks bleak. But I have confidence from working with my classes that if we continue to give these Cant’s the constant support they will be able to earn both semester of credits.

Then there is the other group in my support class, the Wont’s. I have 5 learners that just won’t try at all. I am there one on one, I have mentors who are sophomores working with them, and nothing works. They are completely shut down.

These learners have hopes, dreams; they all say they want to go to college and do something with their lives, but they won’t do anything to make those dreams come to pass. How do we remediate this group?

According to WestED, making them retake Algebra 1 will not work. My anecdotal evidence supports the research as well. The Wont’s have made a decision, whether consciously or not, that they will not try. And they will not go to college, let alone graduate from high school without the Alg 1 credit.

According to the WestED report, the reason why is they were pushed into mathematics at a higher level then they were probably ready for. Since they were working far higher then their cognitive skills allowed, they just gave up.

How do we get a learner who has given up to re-engage? This is a struggle I face daily in my support class and as a department chair. I need to come up with a plan to help them, but no research I have seen gives me any confidence in how to approach this.

All I know is I can’t just say “retake the class.” That is a path towards failure on top of failure. It is also what our district considers “Accepted Practice.” (see number 16).

If anyone has any ideas, research, articles, or any other thoughts, please send them along. I need them. Badly.