Category: contest

Total 44 Posts

I Have Big Reservations About Chalkbeat’s Teaching Competition

At SXSW, Chalkbeat is hosting The Great American Teach Off:

Top Chef. Project Runway. The Voice. Live competition shows have introduced audiences to the worlds of cooking, fashion, and singing – and opened a window into the intricate craftsmanship that these industries demand. Now it’s time for one of America’s most under-recognized professions to get the same treatment. Hi, teachers!!

Two teams of math teachers will teach a lesson to a live audience and receive judgment from a panel of “teacher celebrities.”

I linked to that description on Twitter and people were unsparing in their criticism:

I agree with the spirit of those criticisms, and David Coffey’s in particular:

Good teaching requires complicated decision-making based on a teacher’s long-range knowledge of a student and of mathematics. We should reach for any opportunity to make those decisions transparent to the public, who will always benefit from more education about good education. But a live event with an audience you don’t know and can’t interact with individually will necessarily flatten “teaching” down to its most presentational aspects, down to teachers dressing up in costumes, down to Robin Williams standing on desks in Dead Poets Society.

Not good teaching.

I asked teachers what kind of TV show would do justice to the complexity of teaching, if The Voice and Top Chef were the wrong models. Jamie Garner and James Cleveland both suggested The Real World, which seems dead on to me.

The Real World a) isn’t a competition, b) allows for characters to develop over time, and crucially, c) isn’t a live event. It is edited. You don’t watch the cast members do anything mundane. In the case of teaching, we’d love for the public to understand that good teachers assess what students know and adjust their instruction in response. But no one wants to watch a class work quietly on a five-minute exit ticket in real time. So the show would edit quickly past students completing the assessment and straight to the teacher trying to make sense of a student’s thinking, involving the audience in that process.

The challenge I’d like to see the folks at Chalkbeat take up is how to make those invisible aspects of teaching — the work that takes place after the bell — visible to the public. The work of presenting is already teaching’s most visible aspect.

BTW. Jamie Garner expands on The Real World: Math Class.

2018 Jan 1. Chalkbeat’s Editor-in-Chief, Elizabeth Green, clarifies her rationale for launching the competition and responds to some concerns raised here and on Twitter. She describes lesson study as the touchstone for her Teach Off and how she’s had to alter that format to fit SXSW.

It’s a really interesting article, full of references to the education scholars who have inspired her work for a decade. But I still tend to think she and the members of her design team have underestimated the magnitude of those compromises and how they’ll distort the approximation of good instruction her audience will encounter.

2018 Jan 8. In a revised contest page the organizers have eliminated the competition and clarified other aspects.

Featured Comment

Organizer Elizabeth Green weighs in:

I’m weighing in late here, but in response to one of the above threads, we never intended to have the whole audience serve as the students. As we’ve clarified in our revised page, which has more specific language, we’ll have 7-10 adult audience volunteers serve as students. Imperfect as a representation, for sure, but we still think everyone will get something important out of the 20-minute instructional activity + the followup discussion — that “something important” being better understanding about the nature of teaching and math teaching in particular. And for the record, Dan, at the 1,000-person “Iron Chef”-style teach off in Japan that Akihiko described, the students were the teacher’s actual students, and they all sat onstage.

Announcing The Winner Of Our Fall Contest

I received about one hundred loop-de-loops from teachers, parents, and students from several different countries. It took me an hour to take in all the awesome eye candy, which included dioramas, videos, 3D loop-de-loops made from snap cubes, and more. I pulled out my five favorites and sent them to three judges who I think embody the best of creativity in mathematics.

The Judges

  • Malke Rosenfeld, who uses dance and choreography to explore mathematical thinking.
  • George Hart, a research mathematician who also sculpts using geometry as his medium.
  • Michael Serra, author of Discovering Geometry, a geometry textbook infused from the front cover to the back with Michael’s love for math and art.

Five Finalists

Autumn, from Angela Ensminger’s class:


Theo, from Alice Hsiao’s class:


Trish Kreb’s seventh grade student:


John Grade & his daughter:


Maddie Bordelon and her math art team, “Right Up Left Down”:


[BTW. In an early draft of this post, I reversed the second and third prize winners. Mistakes were made. Apologies have been issued.]

Third Prize

Third prize, which is a medium-intensity high five delivered if we ever meet, and one copy of Weltman’s book, goes to Maddie Bordelon and her math art team, “Right Up Left Down.”


Second Prize

Second prize, which is sustained applause in a crowded, quiet room, and five copies of Weltman’s book, goes to Theo from Alice Hsiao’s class:


One judge wrote:

[E] completely holds my attention. The coloring choices pull me in and highlight the patterns and structure in a way that fascinates me. The long bands of white, blue and grey make a fantastic contrast to the brighter colors closer to the middle, which are also the shorter segments in the design. And, the bold outlines pull out the structure even more. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the overall effect of hand-coloring plus scanning the image made for a lovely final effect.

First Prize

First prize, which is 40 copies of Anna Weltman’s awesome book, goes to John Grade & his daughter.

[2015 Oct 12. John Grade is graciously passing his first prize down to the second prize winner.]


Our judges wrote about John Grade’s loop-de-loop:

It is very well constructed, brilliant use of color, and the number pattern chosen is pretty special.

A nice experiment to try Pi and see if a visible pattern emerges.

Congratulations, everybody.

Honorable Mention

I loved seeing students conjecturing mathematically about loop-de-loops, asking each other which ones converge and diverge, trying to predict the patterns they’d find in different strings of numbers. (See: Denise Gaskin’s comment for one example.)

Also, The Nerdery really sank its teeth into this assignment. This blog’s collection of programmer-types produced some great loop-de-loop visualizations:

Our Fall Contest & This Is Not A Math Book

2015 Oct 14. Announcing the winners.


You should buy Anna Weltman’s new math book, This is not a Math Book.

You should buy several, probably, for all the little people in your life who are deciding right now what they think about math and what math thinks about them. If they’re taking their cues on that decision from someone who dislikes math or who dislikes little people, consider using This is not a Math Book for counterweight.

You’ll find dozens of pages of math art, math sketches, math reasoning, and math whimsy. I read it in one sitting outside a coffee shop one afternoon, big dumb smile on my face the whole time. Actually finishing the book, fully participating in Weltman’s assignments of creativity and invention, will take many more afternoons.

I’d like to send one of you a class set of Weltman’s book. Here is how you get it:

  • I love Weltman’s Loop-de-Loop assignment. It lends itself to some of my favorite mental mathematical acts around prediction, sequencing, transformation, and questions like “what if?” So you or your students or all of the above should make an awesome Loop-de-Loop. (Here is Weltman’s instruction page and her student work page, but any piece of graph paper will work.)
  • Scan and send it to
  • I’ll pick my five favorites and ask some of my favorite math artist friends to pick the winner from those five. Winner takes all, which is to say 40 copies of This is not a Math Book, from me to you.
  • Contest ends 10/6 at 11:59 PM Pacific Time.

Drawings, color, character work, mixed media, it’s all fair game. I can’t wait.

BTW. Over the next several days, Weltman is blogging interesting questions to ask your students about Loop-de-Loops.

Featured Tweets

Yes, do that!

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The Do You Know Blue Student Prizewinner

Rebecca Christainsen had the highest score of any student on our Do You Know Blue machine learning activity. Yesterday was her last day of school at Terman Middle School in Palo Alto, CA, so Evan Weinberg, Dave Major, and I sent her math class a pizza party in her honor.

Because we’re keeping the activity available for you and your students to use as they study inequalities, we aren’t going to go into much depth on all the different rules contestants used. But I asked Rebecca how she came to her final, game-winning rule, and she told all:

My teacher first showed me the website, and I decided to try it out. My first attempt scored me only around 18%, but since hardly anyone had tried it out yet, I was ranked 33rd. After that, I was encouraged to try more equations, and suddenly thought of all the different types of equations that I could use, and moved to squared terms. One of the first equations that I came up with was b2>r2+g2. I simply used trial and error to come up with new equations, and I recorded each equation that I used and the percentage. I combined different equations together, and a few different combinations even had the same percentage.

Nobody beat that.

Extra Credit: How many of the Standards of Mathematical Practice does Rebecca evoke in that quote?