Saturday, 26 July 2014

TMC 2014 Entry 2 - Analysis

Recap of my TMC game: As I record what happened at Twitter Math Camp, I will be inserting one false statement into every section (as separated by the headers). Anecdotal feedback is that Day 1 was tricky, so I’ll try to make some of today’s lies easier. The recap for Day 1 (including some falsehoods) is here. My mathematical fiction serial is here. Friday, July 25th is below:


-I gave Justin Aion a crab hat from the Jenks Aquarium. To keep tabs on him. Hijinks ensued.
-Happy birthday was sung to @merryfwilliams, reminding me that Day 1 last year coincided with her birthday too.
-Important Links announced: 1) Survey, ; 2) Pictures, ; 3)

My Favourite #5: Edmund Harriss (@gelada)
-Close your eyes. Zero. 1 dot. 2. 3... here options expand to allow a line or triangle. 4. 5. 6... up to 17. “Counting is really hard.” (Can you visualize more than 6 dots in a line? Most people go to rectangles.) 
-Feel JUSTIFIED when you’re having fun with math. It’s part of your work in the classroom.
-What is mathematics? A question posed by @davidwees, where the intersection is nothing as the union is everything. Recommend having a personal definition. Analyzing the definition becomes mathematical without using numbers.
-“Those kids”... can mean the ones who get it almost before you do. You CAN inspire even if you only feel comfortable with counting. You can turn someone who can do maths into someone who loves it.
-Trying things (and failing, and trying everything, and not settling) is a process one should enjoy, even if it counts as work (is not relaxing).
"First, this is just a really nice image..."
Can you spot 8 cubes?
-1. Analogies: same/different. Consider patterns. Rectangles. Consider it’s easier to think about zero dimensions than 4, but not as natural.
-2. Breaking Rules: any mathematical rule can be broken somewhere. 2+1=1 in that 2 molecules (hydrogen) + 1 (oxygen) = 2 molecules (water). #unitchat
-“You cannot divide by zero.” Broken. Edmund did divide by zero; that’s how he created the TMC14 logo. Info will be on his website after the conference.
-Edmund then divided by zero again and vanished from the room.

My Favourite #6: Christine Sullivan
-About loving online planning. She went paperless last year. is a great organization tool. Can attach standards to worksheets, program keeps track of tags.
-Can do end of year comparisons to find gaps. Turns “what went wrong?” into “how do we move forwards?”

More Precalculus:
-Activity: Given a creature card. Identify it using a flowchart. Flowcharting can be used for conics: Anywhere else?
-I mentioned I have used a flowchart for Ambiguous Case of Sine Law, leads to 0, 1 or 2 solutions.
-Went back into our groups. Wiki Link: Precalculus
-Trig planning group of Hannah S, Nik D, Connie H, Julia H and me. Shared some unit circle stuff & apparently “CAST” in U.S. is “All Students Take Calculus”?
-Lesson plan: Working with inverse trig to solve for “x” in domains. Sheet to be created for multiple representations, also degrees/radians. Another sheet of equations to solve.
-Nik noted that LucidPress is good web-based software.


-Had lunch at Mazzio’s pizza/salad place to vary things up (had a burger at Ron’s previous day). Today dined with Tina Palmer (also Stats on Thurs), Hannah S (from Precalc), and Lea Ann (@SmithTeach).
-Got “knifed” when a server (possibly manager?) turned too quickly. Sustained no damage.

-#7: Bob Lochel (@BobLoch) talked “My Favourite Ice Breaker”
It's "math-tans" TV
-Give every kid an index card, have them list their 5 favourite (current) TV shows. Then get them to place their card on the board so that their card is as close as possible to those with shared interests. (Can do movies but less likely to get matches.)
-Does the problem have a solution?
-The 9/11 memorial in NY has names, not alphabetical, not in columns... same algorithm. They consulted relatives, tried to maximize Meaningful Adjacencies.
-There is a video related to how Jer Thorp (data artist) created the algorithm (radial maps) that Bob shows after the activity. See his blog for links.

-#8: Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs) talked Best, Cheap Way to Record Information.
-(First, a plug to enter your blog post for the TMC14 archive, if you blog about TMC.)
-To record classroom info, no need for webcams. An old cell phone works great, can record whole classroom in 720 HiDef. Like any people wearing crab hats.
-To keep phone from falling over, make a stand by cutting into base of a paper cup. Students won’t question it being on desk, and everyone has an old phone around.
-I pointed out I have an old phone, oh wait, no, I’m using it. (Sorry for the sabotage Glenn!)

-#9: Justin Lanier (@j_lanier) talked John Holt
-Justin read an excerpt from John Holt’s “blog”, Feb 13, 1958. It’s a book.
-Twitter connects through space, but also time. This is simply a longer connection through time.
-Books by Holt: “How Children Fail” & “How Children Learn”
-3 Lessons: 1) Look Around (when students don’t know you are); 2) Teach Crazy (because like ‘once’ sounding like ‘wonce’, things are crazy); 3) Trust Children (people want to learn).
-Justin works at an organization that “helps teenagers drop out of school”, working with home schoolers. They do come to learn.

-#10: Michael Pershan (@mpershan) talks about online things
With a wave of my hand...
-First, a survey to answer. If you attended TMC and didn’t do it, it’s at, gathers some demographics.
-Second, Global Math Dept (@GlobalMathDept) which has Tuesday webinars which are archived, and a Newsletter compiling blog posts.
-He then did a ten minute improvised tap dance routine while mumbling phonetics to give people time to fill out the survey, throwing off Lisa Henry's schedule.

-#11: Karim Kai Ani (@karimkai) talked Mathalicious
-They write lessons based around real world topics (and are one of the morning groups too).
-It is a paid site as they have expenses, but for individual teachers, pay what you can. ($185/yr annual account)
-Recommended to try a couple lessons and see if Administration will pay for use.


-Dan Meyer: Meet Your MtBoS
-Dan told us he’d attempted to buy a TMC ticket through TicketMaster, and reminded us he invented the sweater vest.
-This group is more evangelical than other groups (preaching the gospel), yet doesn’t need money like cults do. #WhyMTBoS has hits, #WhyNCTM does not.
-Shoutout to Jackie Ballarini (@JackieB) a community member not presently active.
-Metaphor made with TV show “Lost”: Castaways absorbed with themselves, later discovering a larger group. TMC --> MTBoS.
-What does the larger group know about teaching that I/we don’t? What roles exist, or can be filled within the MTBoS?
-Combination of being Selfless (how can I contribute to this) & Selfish (I want to profit off of that)
-Dan admits to being least confident in this talk being of use to anyone but him.

-FollowerWonk was used to gather data. Search: Math(s) teacher.
-Compared overall data to those in the TMC14 list. 150 TMC vs. 11,608 MTBoS.
-Shoutout to Michael Pershan as Max Fisher (data philanthropist).
-Men and Women interact much the same. 57% women, 43% men. (@wahedahbug nailed it)
-The frequency of tweets per day was measured over the entire life of an account. Also followers/following, and tendency of TMC14 crowd was to over guess a LOT.
-Plot of Number Following vs Number Followers has a big vertical outlier: Liz Hemmings (@lizhem65), the mother of Luke Hemmings, lead vocalist of “5 Seconds of Summer”. (Many following, follows few)
Communication vs. Broadcasting
-34 is median # Followers; 75 is median # Tweets. NEW GRID with those axis. What’s happening where “large # Tweets, fewer followers” & “large # followers, fewer tweets”? (Former shows fewer replies, latter fewer RTs.)
-Dan showed correlations, gave us a chance to talk. Some things that came up: What percent of us actually have “math teacher” in description (vs “educator” or not phrased)? About 80/150, so could be missing half MTBoS people? Also, analogy made between TMC being a solar system within the galaxy... maybe there’s another system out there?

-Blogging analysis used ExploreMTBoS as a baseline. Dan determined who had started their blog that first month, and hadn’t blogged at all since February 2014.
-Dan posted to their blog asking why they had stopped, but they were no longer checking their blogs.
-Dan set up a Twitter account (@researchMeyer) and tried tweeting directly at former bloggers to take a survey, and the account was suspended.
-Ultimately he did get 4 responses of 10. Dan remarked how writing for others is different than writing for yourself - the need to fill in more gaps. (Noted later that 3/4 were getting good PD elsewhere.)
-One person likened blogging to going to the gym (yet this shouldn’t be a burden). Jasmine Walker (at TMC) had blogged that morning about having A Blogging Tutor.
-Google searching on math blogs. Noted that we’re a larger wedge of the blogging community than the twitter community.
-Dan gave a brief detour into how he uses Feedly (Other is non-edu, Adjunct is interesting, Tenured is promotion from Adjunct; perhaps one promotion per week).
-IN TMC: Median # subscribers is 2, Median # Posts per day is 0.2 (~1/month). Again GRID: What’s happening with “high velocity, low subscribers” (24%) & “low velocity, high subscribers” (25%)? Both say blog for “Reflection & Sharing”. Hypothesis more ‘reflection’ in first group and vice versa.
-Again, correlations and a chance to talk. Some items: Is experience/time teaching or blogging a factor? In what grid are the 180 blogs (blog every day)? Is low comments due to them being supplied through twitter? Can Dan Meyer absolve 1st/2nd year teachers for not having time to blog more? How DO twitter and blogging intersect?

-Dan said the conference was aptly named: It’s Twitter Math Camp not Blogger Math Camp.
-A check into the #mathchat tag showed it to be in Quad I (high velocity blogging and subscribers).
-NEW QUESTIONS: The larger sphere of NON-ENGLISH blogging he was missing. Also the question of RACE. Also OTHER SUBJECTS outside of math (the “TBoS”). And readers out there who do not subscribe formally.
-Brief discussion about French, and the fact that “Mathematiques” is plural, meaning it is not masculine or feminine. Also, plural aligns more with the British.
-FINAL ADVICE: Regarding ‘Selfless & Selfish’ above: Be Selfish.


-I went to “Hinge Questions” with Nik Doran (@nik_d_maths) partly because I remembered seeing something about it before (likely on his blog)
Everything hinges on this outcome.
-Nik started by polling everyone to find out where their knowledge was at, whether they just came to listen to him talk for an hour.
-Finding this was new or just starting up for most, he began with how Hinge Questions are a subgroup of Diagnostic Questions.
-Diagnostic questions are defined to be like agnostic questions, in that no educator actually believes that they exist.
-Shoutout to the book “Embedded Formative Assessment” by Dylan William.
-Hinge questions will not only diagnose SPECIFIC misconceptions, but help make decisions on how to proceed. Every answer (in multiple choice) is designed that way.
-Example: Question is “If e+f=8, then e+f+g=?” To answer “9” shows counting, “12” shows considering all variables are ‘4’, “8+g” is correct, etc.
-Strive for “Semi-Density” when creating: No answer can be chosen via multiple rules. (In other words, “12” MUST imply 4+4+4, not 8*1.5 as any valid reason/method.) Try to refine the question until this is the case.
-Once a question fits a topic, you can use it again and again.
-IMPLEMENTATION: Reduce time to answer (2 min), Ease of interpretation (15 sec), Semi-Density.
-BASED ON RESPONSE: Steer class OR group people with same misconception (perhaps include one who got it right) OR take a group aside while class moves on OR if used in an evaluation context, use to guide remediation.
-Some sample hinge questions were looked at. An attempt was made to figure out why those wrong answers were chosen.
-Don’t throw in a “distractor” answer without thinking of how they get it.
-6 answers with 2 correct possibilities is better than 4 answers with 1 correct. (Tell students to “choose all correct answers”.)
-Hopefully eliminates chance of student learning a new misconception.
-Can create with Bottom-Up design (start with answer, work back). Preempt the misconception.
-We split into groups (by course) and attempted to create a couple Hinge questions. I worked with some stats folks to make a question on Binomial Distribution formula.
-Issue of Guessing was brought up: What if they didn’t follow a process? Nothing’s perfect, though (if wrong) this is likely a student to talk with anyway.
-Possible source: (but they don’t show the rationale for their wrong answers, and limited to 4 options)
-Network with Nik to come up with more questions! Presentation above, Blog Posts Here.

-Then went to Lesson Study talk with Judy Keeney (@JudithKeeney)
-A collaborative structure is necessary as teachers work on their craft.
-(ASIDE: This is like what I participated in and blogged about here... creating lessons in a group.)
-Specific Cycle: 1) Set Goals; 2) Plan Lesson; 3) Teach & Observe; 4) Share Results & Refine
-Was done for 3 two-day sessions over the course of a year, as educators traveled to come together. (ASIDE: @AlexOverwijk has done something similar, but within his school.)
-There were 12-15 people (varied), can create two lesson groups (middle school & high school). Invite admin too.
-Question (by Glen W) of why MATH? Other disciplines? Alex O. mentioned for him there was a focus on at-risk students, so he helped with an English lesson. This can be cross-discipline.
You want to take the time for this.
-STEP #1: Find common ground, identify shared goals - for students and for self. Come to a working agreement (e.g. being non-judgemental, etc). This can be half a day itself. A half page of information is idealistic, thus problematic.
-STEP #2: Move from broad math context to a specific focus, anchor. Try to anticipate student responses. “There is no such thing as a perfect lesson”! Tease out good pieces, etc.
-STEP #3: Be clear to others this is not a “regular day” (for subs or EAs who may otherwise guide students and throw off the dynamic). Decide who will deliver the lesson that day, it will likely NOT be the teacher of that class. (Avoids any teacher checking out personally during creation, as they may be delivering it. Also prevents class teacher from unconscious influence, the lesson should work for anyone, and lets them observe own class.) Make sure to observe protocols to avoid student telling parents “I raised my hand with 20 teachers in the room and no one helped me”. Include individual accountability as well as group work.
-STEP #4: “The heart of the lesson study is the discussion of data collected.” Keep with protocol, the one who taught speaks first, start with “what did you see/hear”. Also “I liked it when...  Extend to “Why” and impressions later.
-Judy had a number of quotes, and she showed some video clips while describing the cycle.
-Outcomes and Benefits considered, including different perspectives and new insights.
-The biggest drawback people voice is taking time outside of the class.
-Sadie (@wahedahbug) commented on how she’d resisted at first, but now advocates for lesson studies. She said can you share with the kids what you learn, showing you’re learning along with them.


-Went back to the Jenks hotel, figuring on randomly hooking in with a dinner group, possibly other Ottawa folk.
-About 6:20, when Kathryn Freed (@kathrynfreed) and Kathryn Belmonte (@iisanumber) said they were driving out to find a place, and John Chapin (@Math_CS_Teach) joined them, I decided to tag along as well.
-We ended up eating at a cafe (Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe), chatting about introversion and extraversion. Learned Kathryn B taught a year in France, which to me is so cool.
-I acted as a GPS again today when there was some confusion over the turns. This should maybe be my backup job.
-Back to hotel by 8pm, Kathryn F tweeted out that I’d need a ride to Glenpool. Started this blog post then. Heather Rosson (@matheologian) and Brooke Seals (@BrookeSeals) found me, offered me a lift for later on.
-A group of them started playing Quelf, a board game with rules on cards. Which may involve shoving ice down your pants. Word.
(Square) Dance Dance Revolution
-Malke (@mathinyourfeet) and her morning dance crew also created a blue tape lounge to practice their moves.
-Chatted with some folk in the lobby when they got back from BBQ place, also saw @gelada working with an interesting puzzle.
-Someone walked through trying to sell protractors, I don’t think they were very successful.
-About 11:30 my blog reached the Keynote above, and my brain shut down. Lay down on the couch. Woken up at 12:15 for trip back to Glenpool.
-Tweeted out #AMVFriday with the “Weird Al” video I’d found earlier, in honour of him, and me being a Canadian in America.
-Faceplanted back into bed at 1am.

And that’s Day 2, blow by blow! With FIVE LIES! Hopefully not more... seriously, if you spot an inaccuracy, tell me in the comments. I’d hate to think I have more fiction in this account than I intended. Similarly, if you want to add anything, or just remark about an item, feel free to comment also!

Friday, 25 July 2014

TMC 2014 Entry 1 - Groundwork

I write records. I also write fiction. (Personified Math, Taylor’s Polynomials!) Hence I will be recording the events of “Twitter Math Camp” as I did last year, with a twist. Every section below will contain ONE item that is false. Your job, which can be done whether you attended or not, is to identify the false statement as you read. I may post the responses in the comments at some point in the future. Now then...


Just very briefly about Wednesday, July 23rd:
-Flight delay out of Ottawa (with @MaryBourassa, @AlexOverwijk, @SheriWalker72), still able to make transfer in Chicago where we met @NathanKraft1, @a_mcsquared, @mathhombre.
No dice (yet).
-Me and John Golden went to the hotel in his rental car. We ended up getting diverted off the main highway and onto Route 66.
-I found out I’m not in the Jenks hotel but the Glenpool one (which means I inadvertently gave the wrong info to customs agents...) but Shelli herself drove me and Mary Brown over there.
-Took the hotel shuttle back to participate in the Games Night at Jenks hotel.
-I played a game of Set with Sam Shah and Justin Aion.
-I chatted with a number of people (including fellow Canadian @thescamdog) and met my roommate (@bstockus) in person for the first time.
-Took last (9pm) shuttle back to my hotel, got settled in, in bed just after 11pm.

(Reminder: One of those points was partial or complete fiction.)


-Woke before alarm. Breakfast at hotel, caught 8am shuttle to school, got registration package.
-Got a #tmwyk business card from Christopher Danielson (@trianglemancsd)
-Introductory remarks by Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) and Shelli Temple (@druinok).

Went to PreCalculus session (with Tina Cardone and James Doherty):
International PreCalc
-Being from Ontario, I teach a slightly different course. Being at this session helped me to understand (much) better how the American system works.
-Nik Doran (@nik_d_maths) was also at this session, bringing the UK perspective. (I remember him from Stats last year. I think he’s following me.)
-Cindy of “conic cards” fame was also in attendance.
-We started by folding wax paper to create a conic. Led to idea of “start with verbal conversations”. Can make connections that way (e.g. Ellipses to orbits, to distance formula).
-We then did an activity that related to solving a trigonometric identity.
-Then looked at: 1) Key Prerequisites for the course; 2) Key Topics covered in the course; 3) Key items needed going into Calculus.
-Key from 1) Distance; Transformations; Functions (+Intro Inverses); Solving Equations; Factoring
-Key from 2) Conics; Trigonometry; Transformations of functions; Sequences/Series
-Key from 3) Domain/Range; Slope=Rate of Change; Trig Identities; Graphing key elements
-Apparently in the UK they do no work with limits outside sequences... derivatives are taken using various laws.
-A reason to keep radicals in a calculation: If you’re doing a hip replacement and round off, perhaps the person won’t be able to walk.
-Splitting up the Quadratic Formula denominator is a good rule of thumb.
-In last 20 minutes, set up three groups to go more in depth on topics: 1) Trig (ALL the Trig); 2) Vectors; 3) Conics (Geometric v Algebraic).
-I went to the Trig group. General consensus that we start teaching it with Unit Circle, then to Graphs, then to Solving and/or Identities. Thought that maybe something to do with inverse (multiple solutions) may be a topic to tackle.


-Walked back from lunch with Brian S and Bridget K, not realizing the bus was making two trips.
-Lisa Henry noted that there were about 17 people from TMC12 present, and about 14 who had been to both TMC12 and TMC13.

-#1: Chris Shore (@MathProjects) talked “The Thinker”.
Hitchhiker's Guide to Math?
-He started with two bubbles from the classic statue: “THINK.” “Don’t Panic.” then asked the class for more ideas based on “What do you do” when you don’t know how to proceed.
-Gave lip service to ideas like “Copy” “Quit” but not out of Thinker’s mind.
-Also recommended: Get naked and sit on a rock.

-#2: Rebecka Peterson (@RebeckaMozdeh) highlighted “Friday Letters” and “Mathematician Spotlight”.
-On Friday, students can either work a warmup question (eg. write formal definition of derivative and come up with synonyms) or write her a letter. She promises if they write, she will respond. “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” -Stephen Hawking
-Possible extra credit: Can research a mathematician, write a paragraph on their life OR Given a quote by them, restate it in your words and write a paragraph on why you agree or disagree. (Also 3 biographical info.)
-These are things that help you to get to know your students. Also #MathHistoryNerd

-#3: Sarah Martin (@Sarah3Martin) talked “Window Math”.
-She has a window next to the door of her Grade 7 class. Each week, she writes a problem on the window for the students to answer. See her link for examples.
-The prize is shared among all winners, so many winners means each gets less (can discourage cheating). Only an answer is needed.

-#4: John Mahlstedt (@jdmahlstedt) talked “Tell Students How Awesome You Are”
-He first mentioned that writing the date as a math problem can relate to current content.
-As building connections is important, he starts with “32 things you may not know about Mr. Mahlstedt” (# things may vary, also changes year to year).
-He gave some examples we could use, like a fear of heights or your 5 year old child.
-8 Reasons For This: 1) Students Immediately Connect Something; 2) Answers Questions They Ask Anyway; 3) Starts On Taking Notes; 4) Starts Games (he asks about the presentation); 5) Can Look Cool (picking right info); 6) Shows You Exist Outside Classroom; 7) They’ll Know What Gifts You Like; 8) Might Find a Spouse (if they overhear).


-Steve Leinwand: Shift from Remembering HOW to Understanding WHY
-Has been to 175 classrooms in the last 12 months.
Model works only if you like what you're getting.
-5 Introductory Thoughts:
-1) Look Around; you are the future. Other courses haven’t changed as much as math (e.g. causes of WWI are the same).
-2) Conversation Stoppers. Say depth (NOT rigour). Say alternatives (NOT differentiation). Say Collaborative Strategies (NOT PD).
-3) Recognize the Problem. “Simplifying” isn’t doing math but it’s seen as such.
-4) What Can’t Continue. Mnemonics like “Mental Abuse To Humans”.
-5) Posted Gifts. (see bottom of this link)

-What is 8+9? Immediate question after the answer should be WHY? “Convince me that the answer is 17.”
-Care less about remembering how, more about understanding why: Is that sum something you remember? Did you increase 8 (or 9) to a 10? Did you double the 8 and add one?
-We may have mental glitches, but with neural shunts, we pave over them.
-Give 10 or less homework problems per night; while it reinforces those doing it right, it equally reinforces WRONG methods during learning.
-Consider your own fundamental mindset: Is math a set of “rules to be learned and memorized to find answers to exercises” or a set of “competencies and understandings to solve problems”.
-When you solve something, ask yourself how you solved it. How you teach it. How your colleagues teach it.
-Some two digit multiplication examples were looked at in depth; a volunteer with a calculator was needed.
-For graphic models: See

-SIXTH GRADE is where the important (and hardest) mathematics is. Such as multiplicative change (suddenly you don’t line up decimals to multiply) and solving equations.
-Every single time you ask a WHY question... you HAVE to stop. You have to say turn and talk to your neighbour.
-We can’t do it by ourselves, we can’t come up with so many alternatives.
-The kids are going to push back. “Stop confusing me, just tell me how to do it.” Let them try solving; a “buying straw” problem was looked at from many angles.
-Documentation says “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others”... that’s your ‘Trojan Horse’ to get this in (if necessary).
-Practice needs feedback. Work without collaboration is not sustaining.


-I went to Stats Basic Training (to atone for not choosing morning Stats this year) with Hedge (@approx_normal).
Why marshmallows?
-Items in 6th Grade “Common Core” are done in AP Stats. Things can be deconstructed down to middle school.
-Hedge talked newspapers, and Venn Diagrams were shown to relate to web search engine terms.
-Horsepower Lab: Dan Meyer won with a 1.42 (But was it due to height? Interesting discussions.)
-Students know mean/median/mode, but what is variability?
-Marshmallow Guns: When you explain this to middle school students, you have to choose your verbs carefully. (Do not use the ‘b’ word.)
-“Any time you have weird data that fits outside what you expect, you have to think if there’s a reason for that.”
-Start with a standard and think about how to get good data for it.
-Take conversations about the activity and guide them to the (common core) standards you want to teach.
-Shooting Elastic Frogs: To discourage random fires, allow students to shoot the teacher once if they behave.

-I went to Math Maintenance with Kathryn (@iisanumber).
-To start: Think of how you start your class, and why you do it that way.
-One option: 5 question spiral review. 2Q review, 2Q current, 1Q preview. Cover 5 topics per week, constantly revisit.
-For example, first question on “systems” for all 5 days. Could be scaffolded question over those days.
-Benefits: Review skills from prior units. Become familiar with test jargon. Helps to diagnose issues. Shows preparation for tests while keeping the later lessons interesting.
-Implementation can use questions/ideas from: ; ; ; ; ;
-Used differently by colleagues: Could take up with whole group Monday, grade the work Tues-Fri. Could do individual checks, students to correct. Could have a single graded quiz on Fridays.
-Question of students working ahead (all Qs on one sheet): Usually no. Question of student absences: Adjust as needed, make it up or not.
-Record Keeping: Track in a google doc to make sure cycling over all topics, can get external input
-Has some built in reassessment. Sheets never need to leave classroom. Could use as “standardized homework” but make sure to take up Monday (do it the right way).
-Final takeaway question of will you use or not?


-Went to the nearby Aquarium after, got Jamie Ryske to come along and Chris Shore also.
I have a hunch there's a shark
-Pretty nice setup, some large sea creatures, took a bunch of pictures.
-Gift shop attendant saw my “Para” button, remarked on how her child liked anime.
-Left 6pm (closing). Walked back to High School for shuttle pickup at 6:30. It was hot. Got there about 6:20.
-About 6:35pm, messaged Alex O (at Glenpool) to check at desk about shuttle running. Sure enough, it hadn’t picked up anyone at 6pm, hadn’t gone back.
-Hotel manager himself came out to pick me up. Offered to pay for my dinner.
-Met up with Alex O and went via Nathan Kraft’s car to get Mary B, Sheri W. Proceeded to Kilkenny, a place in Tulsa, where @_levi_ and TMC folks from Memphis (@kjmonopoly, @melroseharkins, @mwbigger) were holding a table. Learned about Oklahoma's #TeachLikeMe.
-I don't drink beer. I had a Sadie. (Not that Sadie.) Also tried a fried green tomato.
-On the drive back, I acted as Nathan’s GPS, following the same route as with John Golden the previous day, taking a trip onto Route 66.
-Got back in before 10pm, plenty of time to put up a blog post.

There you have it! Of course, SIX of those points were fiction. Were you able to spot any of them? Feel free to call me out in the comments... or just mention something you found interesting.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Group Theory Sucks

I don't like groups. That said, I predict that within ten years, everything is going to be happening in groups. In education, in our working life, in our personal lives, there's going to be a group mentality to all of it. Why do I predict this? Because of what I'm seeing.

It's the way groups form that disturbs me.

This doesn't have to suck. My fear is that it will. My question is whether you agree. Here's my reasoning.

1) Corporations Like Groups

Individuals are hard to predict. A group mentality is a lot easier to anticipate. (Shades of Asimov's "Foundation" series.) Corporations in particular like being able to categorize everyone into little boxes, so that they can then market things towards you. (All girls like pink, right?) This also gets them off the hook if a campaign goes badly because "everything pointed to that working, see?". WE'RE not the problem, it's your mixed signals!

This sucks. It means less new stuff is going to be tried out, because individual preferences are not "safe". It means we get more entrenched in our ways, perpetuating the cycle. It means minority groups may fall off the radar in favour of pushing towards the bigger groups (and "big" is being increasingly defined by money, not size). Which ultimately means that innovation will stand out more for being innovative than necessarily being good.

2) Backlash Against Individuals

The pendulum is swinging away from "everyone is a unique snowflake" and "everyone is a winner". It's moving towards "be a team player" and "you can't do it on your own". There is some truth to this. Networking is huge. You can't just walk into an interview any more, wave a university degree around, and get hired - everyone else is doing that too.

To actually get hired, you need more than marks. You need connections, you need to be able to work collaboratively, you need soft skills. You need to be boosted up into the spotlight by your peers, who act as your judges. Consider the case of Shinichi Mochizuki, who supposedly proved the ABC conjecture - but after 10 years of working on his own, no one understands his work. This is not a good thing. That said, the pendulum is going to swing too far.

Everybody betrayed me! I'm fed up with this world!

This sucks. It means that working by yourself will label you as "not being a team player". That having no social media presence becomes a black mark against you, since it implies a lack of social awareness. (Much like you need a credit card/rating these days.) It means people with social disabilities (like Asperger's) may be unfairly overlooked. Worst of all, people who fail will think there is something wrong with them, or their work, when the actual issue could be that they are not as extroverted as their peers.

3) Backlash Against Society

Politics is becoming increasingly polarized these days, at least in the United States and Canada. We're not so much voting for OUR candidate as AGAINST the other guy. (Which our candidate takes as carte blanche for doing whatever s/he likes, but that's another issue.) But it's not just politics, people are taking sides in issues of relationship and race too. For instance, if I now mention "NotAllMen" before "YesAllWomen" - will you be judging me?

We got into office based on ideology!
So, anyone have a plan?
Granted, the only way to effect large changes in society is with groups. Individuals may act as a catalyst, or a spokesperson, but you're not going to change hundred year old laws without support. There's also safety in numbers. More to the point, it seems like a lot of current issues involve changing the establishment. Which is creating more group mentalities. And while I'm all for change and equality... it's also created that polarization.

This sucks. Because our brains tend to remember negative things more than positive ones, one group often tears into the other instead of building themselves up. Media and big business also look for a "villain" who made a bad decision, in defiance of what we teach our youth - namely that we learn by making such mistakes. (Sometimes the "villian" is even the victim - seriously?!) Competition, while good to avoid monopolies, makes no sense here. Individuals are becoming targets, and scapegoats, due to group mentalities.

4) Too Much Data

SO MUCH DATA. It's impossible to sift through it all. So what do we do? We group it. We decide: These are blogs I can follow for statistics, these are ones for gardening. These are online stores/reviewers I'll trust, whereas these ones seem to have bad reviews. The internet is only too happy to help too: "You liked watching X, maybe you'll like XX too!" But when was the last time you searched outside your groups? Or for an intersection within two groups? Heck, when was the last time you went past page 3 on a web search?

This sucks. It can very quickly boil down to "These are people who support my viewpoints, these are people who do not". (When was the last time you disagreed with someone on Twitter?) Grouping also makes it hard for newcomers outside established groups to make a name for themselves. It even makes it hard for some people INSIDE established groups to speak up, once the group is large enough. In short, Cliques Are Inevitable, and I hate cliques.


Groups don't HAVE to suck. There's one concept which was introduced to me this past year, which achieves many benefits of groups (diverse opinions, societal change) without a lot of the downsides (cliques, getting set in your ways). Randomized Groups. Constantly changing the members and the voices. I'm still trying to figure out how to implement it in a more traditional classroom setting. (Randomized group seating for lectures?)

Of course, I'm not sure how well that works outside of an educational setting. I could claim I'm doing it here, in that this blog is all over the place - but then, the voices in my head do not constitute a group. Perhaps if we randomize your blog readers or news feeds every few weeks? But then not only would people start complaining, corporations would freak out without their targeted advertising. Almost the same way people now freak out over a lack of individual rights - even as the same politicians keep getting elected.

Maybe if we instituted "Randomized Wednesdays". A day when you have to interact with a different group. Actually, it would probably be better if it was a different random day for everyone, as you can't see what the other guy is doing if he's not there. I suspect some of you are stressing out at the mere thought of this.

"People can be very frightened of change." (Kirk, ST VI)

Whenever groups integrate, add the constant.

It comes down to comfort. If you know the people around you, their likes and dislikes, you will not only be able to serve them better, you will also feel more comfortable. It's when you're put into an unfamiliar situation (like a random group) that you become unsettled, uncomfortable, even unpleasant. Which is when you will probably cling to the familiar, to the comfortable. Because we've been told that to be COMFORTABLE is to be HAPPY.

THAT is what really needs to change.

Which is, perhaps ironically, why I should try to do more with groups... because I don't like them. Fine then. I have less than ten years to get comfortable. Any suggestions from the group?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Buy A Yearbook

It can be easy to focus on the negative. I read somewhere that this is because long ago, if you missed a negative thing, you'd be dead. Attacked by a tiger or whatnot. However, if you missed positive things, this would not impact your life - only your enjoyment of such. Along those lines, the other day I posted about how the previous school year kicked my ass.

Let's pretend the last episode never happened.

Time to talk about what went right... and how sometimes you have to go a little out of your way to generate it.


I've mentioned how I like to make these. In the end, I recorded all the PD I attended. Four events in Semester 1. Later, two conferences plus a network initiative. Also, Triangleman's Decimal Institute. Also, every single one of the ExploreMTBoS missions. Writing the posts forced me to reflect on elements of teaching more than simply "in the moment". I also had some commentary - and support - on the posts. Not always from where I expected it.

I've come away with a bit of a noisy head. But there's some elements in there I can use personally and professionally. And while I'll be the first to protest that all this is not strictly connected to the day-to-day teaching, neither is all the extra-curricular stuff I do. So it counts.


I taught MAP 4C for the first time, and I don't think I totally mangled it. (Props to JP Brichta, Mary Bourassa, and Michael Lieff for materials.) I also tried doing more with the "Spiraled Curriculum". In particular, since blogging in January, I revamped the 3U order again: Functions w/Exponents, Equivalence w/ Rationals, Periodic, Exponentials, Parabolas w/ Inverses, Sequences, Triangles, Finance.

I feel like the order wasn't bad, but the execution was garbled. Even so, a student who lost out on a lot of the last month and half of the course... had already seen most of the big stuff. So that was a benefit. (The other person teaching the course took a different tack too, starting with a few weeks on Sequences - ones that cycled through all main functions.) So I think I have a sense of how to TEACH even though I still have little sense on how to EVALUATE.


Small things. Important things. Like when students give you anime suggestions. Or suggestions for the date (which I write mathematically different every day). Or links to statistics articles. Or when a senior drops by to talk about how they're doing in math, with a fish. Or how:
-One guy in my math club (of two people) solved one of the CMEC "Problem of the Week" in an interesting way. I submitted it. The folks over there were so impressed that they included his solution in the writeup.
-There's a trig identity I haven't proved, but I include it on the handout every year anyway. One student solved it this year, writing up a solution for me to keep. (Guy also got the highest mark in that course that I think I've ever given...)
-The MDM statistics course I do has one unit with lots of definitions. One student created a set of cue cards, terms on one side, definitions on the other. I thought that was brilliant, asked her if I could have them when the course was done. She made me my own set of 25. Used it 2nd semester.
-When I sang "O Factor Tree" at the Christmas assembly, a number of students joined in on the chorus. (I love a good chorus.) I don't think I was totally aware of the scope, being up there, but other teachers commented on it to me after.
-I help with the student play/musical every year. In the background, which I find is where I prefer to work. Last year, there were mumbles of some card for me "lost backstage". This year, I got one, with an illustrated image on the front, signatures inside, a Tim Horton's card and some chocolates. Whoa. There may have been tears. (Though not at the time.)


It's the title of my post for a reason. If I were only able to give one piece of advice for someone starting to teach in a high school, it would be this: Buy a Yearbook. I now own 12. (Not including any from when I was in school.) It's not only good for the memories, it makes for a handy place to toss cards or paper keepsakes.

Use the book for the good stuff.

In the beginning, I never got tons of signatures. Last year, instead of only having it in class, I put the book out into the hallway so that students could write in it after they finished their exam. If they wanted to. I did the same thing this year. Optional. Granted, there are always some people I seek out - students I didn't have in Semester 2, or who I only knew through extra curriculars, or teacher colleagues who were retiring. I usually get 20-30 signatures.

This year I got 40.

I don't even know how that happened.

Most mention the songs. That seems to be my thing now. So even if the web serial is done with, I guess I should spend time this summer getting together new material. I'm also going to share just a few snippets of remarks now, with the names filed off. Hopefully the students won't mind.
-"Thanks for a good time and relative dimension in space." (Math is bigger on the inside.)
-"Thanks for becoming a teacher, you are pretty good at it." (I keep hoping.)
-"You're a great teacher, teachin high school ain't easy." (Truth.)
-"Well you didn't teach me any classes this year, but I definitely learned lots from you this year!" (The play's the thing.)
-"I figured you may enjoy my data pres. You did I think cuz you smiled!" (I'm sure I did; the cover page for his stats report was also amazing.)
-"You are honestly so much fun! I'm so glad I got to know you my last 2 years of high school!" (Hoping I left a good impression of math along with myself.)
-"You truly made math interesting and I was looking forward to your class every day. Never stop teaching. :)" (Apparently the people have spoken...)

So. Despite the time away, the late assignments, and my inability to grade tests in anything less than a week... one could argue that's not what stays for the long term. As perhaps it should be.


I'm still taking a year off. I want to write more. I want to READ more. I want to see if someone else can come up with better stuff for teaching Data Management (statistics), as I worry I'm getting stale. And as it turns out, I'll be teaching seniors (Gr 11 & 12) again next year, so when I'm away for 2016-2017, they'll be heading off too.

The year kicked my ass. But it also kicked my heart. As such, I'm going to conclude this post with a belated soundtrack to sum things up. If you don't understand my metaphors, don't worry - you're not alone. Still, buy a yearbook.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Year of Hell

The school year 2013-14... it KICKED. MY. ASS.

It's not quite as bad as the "Year of Hell" header implies (that's a Star Trek Voyager reference) but it's NOT something I'd care to repeat (get it?). I cried in December, and I don't usually cry unless I'm watching a sad movie. A colleague had to help mark some of my exams in January, which is when I posted "seriously considering falling down the stairs as an 'out'". In May I experienced Teaching Paralysis and by the end of June I was watching clips of a psychotic anime to boost my mental state.

Kill me now

The hell happened here? It's never felt this bad before. Bizarrely, other teachers I follow seemed to be struggling too - though there may be some confirmation bias, in that I saw what I expected to see. Still, I'm in Canada, so the "common core" issues weren't the source... what was?

Here's the post that's been forming in the back of my head for two weeks. Feel free to read it - or alternatively visit WWNDTD or Justin Aion for possibly more relevant end of year deliberations.


Normally, I co-ordinate the Cappies, help with Drama, supervise the Anime Club and coordinate the Math Contests/Math Club. That said, last year (2012-13) the Ontario Liberal Government decided to enact the "Putting Students First Act" rather than allow teachers to bargain sensibly - I blogged the details of the whole sad story. The upshot was that I didn't do most of that stuff then, because it was basically the only thing over which teachers retained any autonomy.

So this year was a restart for half of that. Did that make it a bit more taxing? Add to it the fact that our Drama group is now going on a trip to Edinburgh in less than a month - and there was (and is) some additional responsibility there too (though I left most to our dept head). Too much? I don't think this will be a factor next year, at least. But it's something to bear in mind.


I take hardly any sick leave or personal days. Traditionally, I take two days in May to go to the OAME (Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators) conference, where the last three years I've also presented. This year, Semester 2, I also took a day to go to CMEF. And two half days to deal with/recover from the musical. And four half days plus one period (all on release time) to participate in the Cross School Math Networks. Even looking at Semester 1, I was away for two days (PD, one in school, one with heads). It all adds up.

I've previously mentioned how being away for a day causes more work. While I would say that being away was incredibly valuable in terms of the insights it helped to give me, there WAS a toll to be paid. In particular, of those EIGHT days, only a HALF DAY was actually me taking time to relax. (I think I had one sick day too.) This in a school year where there's never any snow days to catch your breath. I think I'm going to have to cut out elements of Professional Development next year.


For some years now, it's been my policy that if a student is stressing out over a test (for personal reasons), or they were away for part of the unit, and they bring a note from home, I can defer the test to after school or another day. Similar rule if they're away (for a reason other than a field trip). This is usually not a big deal, saves me making multiple versions, and I tend to work late so don't mind supervising a couple students after school.


One test day I had *OVER 25%* of students absent (across two periods). A few were on a field trip. A few had appointments or the like. The rest had notes (even then, at least a couple didn't, meaning even more follow-up). I had SIX people writing in the hall the next day because they "couldn't stay after school". I had people saying they "would write Friday morning" (the school's standard 'makeup' time for missed tests) but this meant I had to go through a bunch of paperwork to leave the test/formulas with administration.


But even when I WAS DEDUCTING from the Summative my seniors had to hand in, I still had LESS THAN HALF of those in on time! I actually went off on my Data class when we had presentations that were not ready Friday AFTER THEY WERE DUE ON MONDAY. (The first suggestion offered by one was to have larger penalities.) I'm going to need new policies. I hope I can still somehow accommodate any student who had a death in the family without leaving the floodgates open for anyone who "didn't have time to study".


-November 2012: "It's killing me."
-January 2013: "Forget about sleep ... forget about eating ..."
-June 2013: "I mark QUANTITATIVELY not QUALITATIVELY, damn it!"
-January 2014: "Grading on standards is the single biggest reason I am considering leaving the teaching profession."
-May 2014: "I see my practical traits, and my meticulous and detail oriented nature becoming a hinderance rather than something of any use."
-June 2014: "It's little things ... which keep me from wanting to kill myself. And I'm honestly not sure to what degree I'm exaggerating there."

This is the big one. Always has been. Think it always will be. At the risk of grandstanding, take whatever struggles you're experiencing with "not grading on points" and double them to get near to where I am. It's like I've been given two sets of mixed up IKEA furniture with no instructions, and told to "eyeball it - use your professional judgement".

Can I do it? YES. Is it killing me? HELL YES.

This image from "Beyond the Farthest" sums it up.

My colleagues have seen my struggles and approached me. I want to delve into one particularly interesting suggestion. Mark individual students. Normally, I mark all page 1, then all page 2, etc... then I would go back and spend an extra TWO HOURS figuring out individual marks (rather than 15 minutes totaling points). Instead, the suggestion is to mark all questions for one student, total, and move to the next.

Problem: My brain actively RESISTS this.

When I'm marking, I'm looking at the details, at what makes sense for each question and what pieces went wrong. When I'm totaling, I have to completely switch my brain over. I need to look at the broad strokes, to assign an overall level to the whole expectation. Instead of doing that once, I'd now have to do that 30 times, once for each student, and my detail brain in particular dislikes being interrupted. It was suggested to mark in sets of 5 or 6, so that I'd only have to switch over 5 or 6 times. Maybe. Even that I have trouble parsing.

But obviously I have to do something. Last semester, grading one set of 3U tests EASILY took me over five hours, with time to individually record results onto student placemats too. And I got them in sets of two. Though never a complete set because of absent students. Anyway.


Another colleague said a 4 page test with 10 questions is way too much. Fair enough, I somehow need to front-load this with less questions that are somehow richer. Something else I'm not good at... I work best in a framework, not redesigning from scratch. Similarly, when I test two expectations on a test, I'm mentally driven to actually assign a mark to EACH expectation. (And it does make sense to test a couple expectations at once, if for no other reason than so that students have to decide which one applies.)

Alternatively, yet another colleague taught the 4C course last year using tasks almost the whole way through. No tests at all. Tasks are effectively one (or two) activities or prompts that students need to work with - I've given some, and I AM able to mark through those per individual student. Because it really is only one question. (That said, I tend to do a preliminary pass, shuttling things into two piles, those who seem to get it and those who don't. Because order and logic.)

That last is maybe an option if I give frequent tasks, somehow. Reinvent myself, again. But even then my brain is wired for individuals, where all the research says that group work is becoming necessary these days.

The act of simply analyzing all this is making me want to cry.

Give me a moment. Need music.

Food for Thought: Almost every teacher dislikes, or struggles with, grading. Thus it can seem like you're simply one voice among many. I'm here to tell you that it IS possible that you're struggling MORE.


One thing at a time.

Next year, I'll figure out a way to not grade individual expectations, or at least to not record them that way. I used to do things that way, it just feels incompatible with this new system. I'll also figure out a way I'm happy giving tasks for some units, rather than tests. If I can, hopefully it will ease up on the volume. I STILL need to determine how to test individuals when everything is now a group mentality. That last continues to baffle me. Suggestions welcome, though I seem to have a bad track record on being able to implement suggestions.

Also, hell with it, I usually avoid name drops... but shoutout to Anne Fitton, Corinne Davison, Denise White and JP Brichta because without them I don't think my sanity would be intact right now. Also for folks on Twitter who helped keep me grounded. This is a long, long road for me.


I'm taking a year off. Not next year, because we have a system in our board whereby I can take reduced pay for two years, then take the third off for the pay that got held back. So 2016-2017.

It's as much about having more time to write as it is getting away from school. My web serial cut back from twice per week to once per week in January, and now it's on permanent hiatus. I've written less in the last 6 months than I did during the single month of July in 2012. That also bugs me. If I'm not writing, how can I continue to pester everyone with my random nonsense?

Whatever. Next post will be about positive things. I promise.