Month: June 2010

Total 13 Posts

Dissent Of The Day

Johanna, commenting on my departure from classroom teaching for graduate study:

I am going to be the gadfly in your comments nook. Why? Because I think it’s sad when leaving the classroom is considered a step up. Because your students are losing one heck of a teacher. Because too many inspirational teachers leave the classroom, burn out, or check out.

I don’t know where we got the idea that leaving students to some (possibly) less-able teacher is so laudable. I see this time and again. Stellar teachers come, they leave. Each rung above Direct Student Instruction comes ribboned with the prize called “Increased Status”. Just look at the comments on this thread. You’re leaving the classroom, and it’s as if you’ve won the lottery!

You’ll have time now to rare back in a comfortable chair and think. The bell won’t ring, papers won’t pile up, you don’t have small kids of your own to pick up. All well and good, no fault there. But you left the classroom. Too many good teachers do. Why you did, and what that gesture means for the rest of the teaching profession has implications far beyond a newsletter goodbye.

What Can You Do With This: Annuli

I don’t foresee any slack to these features when I’m in grad school. Math is just too fascinating; problem solving is just too fun.

What fascinating math can you find in these scans? What fun problems could we solve here? Are these multimedia in any way superior to the annulus problems in your Geometry textbook? Are they just shinier?



Toilet Paper

Dental Floss

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad closed out its third season last night standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the all-time great TV dramas. Here’s showrunner Vince Gilligan describing (allegorically) what’s so exhilarating about classroom teaching:

Television is a great job for a writer in the way that movies used to be, way before my time. Back when writers in Hollywood were on staff or under contract at any given studio and you’d write movie scripts and then the movies would get made within a few weeks, such that you could be a working writer in the movie business back in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s and have a hand in writing five or six movies a year that actually got produced. The only thing remotely like that in the 21st century here in Hollywood is working in the TV business. My writers and I sit around and dream this stuff up and then we see it executed a week or even days later, and it’s a wonderful feeling and it’s magical.

Though, with teaching, that timeframe shrinks to hours when you’re improving a lesson you taught first period for use in your third period class.

BTW: Here’s a bonus remark from Donna Bowman’s season finale review, celebrating television and rebuking the cultural Chicken Littles:

People living through a golden age often don’t know it. Extraordinary flowerings of art, technology, culture, or knowledge are obscured by intractable problems, crises, declines in other parts of the society. [..] It’s easy to look at television, with its 500 channels worth of endless crappy versions of the same empty ideas, and conclude that everything’s gone to shit. I have plenty of friends who are proud to proclaim the dreary, inevitable decline of entertainment, and answer my protests to the contrary with assertions that searching for the few worthwhile nuggets in that morass is a pointless waste of their time. Ironically, this pronouncement coincides with the greatest flowering of televised drama and comedy in the medium’s history. Freed by the proliferation of basic cable channels with a yen for signature programming, emboldened by the example of HBO, bolstered by fanatic followings and critical praise, the best television ever is on the air right now, in this decade. Throw in the DVR, the essential cure for the channel-surfing that hollows out the soul with its endless evidence of the wasteland, and suddenly your eyes are refocused above muck-level, where a profusion of flowers blooms.


Probably Indicative Of The Splash I’ve Made On My Campus Over The Last Four Years

From the student newspaper (apologies to Andrew Kuo):

At the end of every year I’ve worked at this school, I’ve either been laid off or I’ve quit, which means that no one really believes I’m leaving now. I was offered a doctoral fellowship at Stanford starting next fall, lasting the better part of a decade, and emphasizing “curriculum design and teacher education.” If I’ve made my motivations for teaching and blogging clear at all these last few years, you’ll understand this wasn’t an offer I could turn down.

If I’ll admit to any buyer’s remorse, though, it’s right now, a few hours after saying goodbye to some of the coolest human beings of any age I’ve had the good luck to meet. I’m feeling too melancholy to write at length about any of this, which is probably a good turn for humanity, but these would have been the general themes:

  1. the opportunity cost of teaching, the time that planning for functional teaching has cost me every day for six years; how not teaching will allow me to start banking some time and concentration towards longer projects.
  2. some frivolous concern for the future of this blog; uncertainty that I’ll have any time or energy to write anything here during my doctoral studies, much less anything of any insight into the classrooms I’ve abandoned; concern that I’ve now become the sort of egghead I found it so easy to ignore when I was a teacher.
  3. some really frivolous remarks about blogging as career propellant.

For now, I’m going to see how fast I can hit the bottom of this bottle; I’m going to tell my wife as many stories about those kids as she can stand; and I’m going to hope my next job is half as rewarding as the last.

I got a lot better from teaching than I gave. Never let me tell you otherwise.

Teaching WCYDWT: Misconceptions

It’s my fallen nature to blog about successes more often than failures. The balance with WCYDWT, though, is especially out of whack. I had a productive conversation with Jackie Ballarini at NCTM earlier this year that reminded me to rein in certain misconceptions.

So I’d like to clear my throat here. I hope to assure you that I’m just as much of a hack as anybody with this stuff, though I’m a really happy hack.

Here are the facts:

We don’t do WCYDWT every day in my classes.

Most of my teaching strays only four or five degrees from the path beaten by my textbooks. We do a full WCYDWT unit – the kind of home run that I post here – perhaps once every two weeks. Naturally, that pace picks up every school year as I swap out old parts for new and as more of y’all do that hard work for me.

We do tell mathematical stories every day, though they’re often brief.

For example, we did a few problems with standard form lines last week. I put up an empty graph, a table of coordinate pairs, and a standard form equation. “Who is the imposter?” I asked. “Who doesn’t belong?” The students then had two methods (graphing or evaluating) for determining the villain.

That’s probably the smallest unit of math storytelling I can offer. I didn’t shoot videos. I didn’t take photographs. I just reoriented my textbook’s existing activity towards drama.

You can do that tomorrow.

The home runs take a really long time.

If I posted it on this blog, it took me (on average) three hours spread out over three weeks. Some take a lot longer. Most require research.

For instance, I was in Chicago in early May with my family and we took a fantastic architecture tour. The tour guide offered me a gem of a WCYDWT idea so I interviewed him afterward. That led me to track down an expired building code from Chicago c. 1930. I’m now hunting down a book that’s out of print and absent from every public and commercial collection in Santa Cruz County. I can’t buy it. I can’t borrow it. I’m going to get it.

I file this in my day planner under “leisure time.” The process exhilarates me. My teaching is my life, in the healthiest possible sense of the expression.

Home Runs : Triples : Doubles :: 1 : 5 : 30

I have a document in Google with a few hundred WCYDWT ideas. I add to it weekly. Most additions contain just a sentence and a link.

Then I have several dozen folders on my Mac. Each folder contains images, videos, Photoshop documents, Geogebra applets, and other files contributing to a story from the Google document that had to be told in greater detail, a story that was compelling enough to demand more of my time and attention.

For every thirty entries in the Google document and every five folders on my Mac, I post one WCYDWT entry here.

Of those three venues, the Google document is the most dear to me. It’s where I put inspiration. It’s how I convert inspiration into something, clearing it from my mental queue, freeing up room for more.

You can do that tomorrow.