Mod- Open Middle Problem

Directions: Using any number between 1 and 6, fill in the boxes to create a true statement. You may only use a number once.



So, about that Chat…

I enjoy my job, I really do. I get to talk to students about how they perceive mathematics and help them along their road to new applications. I keep finding that I learn more every day that I am in the profession, and I like that. If someone had asked me when I first started teaching what I would do if I didn’t know an answer, I am confident I would have had some cocky answer about never not knowing an answer. I now know that not only is it OK to not know, you are actually able to have great teaching moments when you don’t.


The same can be said about Twitter, and chats. Probably the most stress-inducing thing I have ever done is tell Justin Aion that I would take over moderating MSMathChat. It is a fairly well-established chat with wonderful people and ideas. My biggest error was that like teaching, I went into the job thinking I had to know all the answers. I started to get burnt out, as well as felt that I was letting members of the chat down because I couldn’t maintain a weekly schedule (due to family). Last year, numbers were really dwindling and I strongly considered letting the chat die, and talked a couple of great friends, Matt Coaty and Adrianne Burns into helping me moderate to keep it going. They were great and helped take a load off of me. Chat continued, more people started participating (which is the biggest reason I joined the chat and wanted to keep it going), and ideas flowed. It inspired me once again.

It inspired me so much, that it led me to take another risk. I “know” a lot of people on twitter, many I call friends even though we haven’t officially met, and I value their opinions and knowledge of teaching. I wanted to learn from them and I decided to start asking them to moderate a chat night. Guest moderators wasn’t something new, I had a google doc where people could sign up and moderate a chat, but it wasn’t often accessed or used. I took the less passive road and started directly asking specific people to chat. Something amazing happened-

They said YES.

I can’t thank my guest moderators enough these past 2 months, you have made MSMathChat great again. We have had many new people join chat, and the ideas have really re-ignited my passion for teaching. The topics have been stellar, and it seems to me like just when chat starts, the hour has passed. I spend another two hours sifting through the chat and following all the side-threads. I reflect on my views, my teaching and have found new ways to approach students, peers and math. It has been awesome and I have truly enjoyed chat.

Hopefully you will find time to check out #MSMathChat on Mondays, 8CST. We would like to have you there and hear your ideas. If you would be interested in moderating, let me know.

Share the spark of learning.

Park in a Different Spot…

Funny how seemly random things come together. Take for instance this quote by my good friend Casey:


As usual, I replied with a smart comment about riding a bike instead of driving. After some good-natured banter about riding bike versus driving, I didn’t think anything of it until yesterday morning when I drove in to this:


This doesn’t look bad, does it?  Well actually it is. We have a small parking lot, and space is cramped.  I have been working here for four years, and I have always, always parked in the same spot (yes, for 4 years!).  Recently we had a long-term substitute come into the school and now this newcomer has the audacity of just parking where she pleases?! What the heck?!

Needless to say, I was pretty mad and fuming all the way into school (mind you that this isn’t the first time the long-term sub has done this, it just came to a head yesterday).  All I could think about was how I wouldn’t have the nerve to do that, and if I did goof up and noticed someone else’s vehicle in the spot I was parking in that I would find a different area to park.  These rampant thoughts of the maliciousness of co-workers and the thoughtless self-absorbed culture of today festered in my mind all morning.

Then came Julie (OK, her name is not really Julie, but that anonymity thing), she had a question- of which I had the perfect answer!

OR… not…


This is how it went down (with comments I could see going through my student’s head as we were working on this problem- and were confirmed by me talking with her today):

Julie: Mr. A, I don’t understand how to do this problem.

Me: No problem, what problem is it? Do you know what it is asking you to do? (After I said that, I was like THANKS Captain Obvious! Of course she doesn’t know, that’s why she is asking for help!)

Julie: I don’t know, I don’t get it, that’s why I asked you for help.

Me: Did you read the problem? What did it say? Can you reread it for me? (Oh yea, I’m on top of my game today, why the HECK did she park in my spot!)

Julie reads the problem quietly aloud: See, this confuses me.

Me: What do you think it is trying to ask you?

Julie: I think it’s asking me this…

Me: Right!

Julie: But I don’t know how to solve that. (Mr. A, you really have no clue how to help me)

At this point I start into some great student-led conversation where I ask her questions that are supposed to lead her to an answer… (I wonder if I should just go talk to her about parking in my spot- even though it doesn’t have my name on it) Julie does some work and we get to an answer.

Me: Nice job! Way to work through that. (Maybe I could just talk to her and she would understand that’s my spot)

Julie: Mr. A, I don’t understand what we just did.

Me: But you did all the work, I just asked you a few questions…

Julie: Yes, but I don’t understand how all that relates to the problem. (GOD MR. A, you are so stupid!)

Me: Oh, So this problem is… At this point I start some hardcore direct instruction on the problem type, how to solve it and how curriculum presents these type of problems to students.

Julie (with a glazed over look): Yea, I still have no clue.

Me (getting frustrated- WHY did she park in my spot and ruin my whole day today?): OK, how about this? I try to explain it in a slightly different way which connects to what we have done.

Julie: I’m just going to ask Jared

“Jared” is another student who does well in math and he promptly explains the problem to Julie in a way I haven’t considered or seen, but it makes total sense!

Julie: I get it! Thanks Jared (why couldn’t Mr. A just say that in the first place!)

Me: Awesome, thanks Jared! (Why didn’t I think of that? That made total sense, why wasn’t I taught that?)


During prep I thought about what happened with Julie, and wondered why it was such a train wreck for me- until I thought about what actually happened.  I was so caught up in where I didn’t get to park that morning that I had closed off my thinking, I had boxed myself in like Casey’s car.  As I think on it, there are too many times that I approach student questions that way.  I know what is going on, where students are expected to get, and how to get there.  I work through the problem with them and if they can’t understand after a couple of approaches then something is wrong with them!  I always think I have an open mind about student learning and what is going on, but that isn’t always the case.  I wonder how often this actually happens in the classroom- we get too used and comfortable with our routine and how thing are supposed to be that we forget about the awesome thing of learning- actually LEARNING!

Students frequently ask me to do work that is familiar and easy to them, they lack the confidence to push themselves and they want to fall back on what is comfortable.  I always ask them if they think they are truly learning if they keep doing the same thing over and over, something they already know.  The tell me that it’s not, and yet here I am getting caught up in the same thing.

Just like Casey, I came into the building 4 years ago with this grand idea of what I wanted for my classroom, a fresh start.  Here I am four years later finding myself straddling the trench of comfort and conformity- not fulling falling in that trench but slowly slipping down the slope.  I have noticed a slow change in what I do as I get feedback from peers, admin, and center staff.  I should thank my co-worker for parking in “my spot” and forcing me to realize that in order to be the teacher these students deserve I need to continue to push myself as hard as I push my students, I need to find new parking spots- new ways to get to the same destination.


Remember the days…

I want to apologize for anyone who follows my blog, and I’m sure I have had a few people drop it off their feed this year, this year has been pretty scarce for insightful mathy posts.  As most of you know, I teach at a juvenile center- which can be a challenging endeavor.  I have always prided myself with the fact that while staying within the norms of what the center and school wants, I still treat these students as I would any public school student and provide them a “regular class, not juvie work.”

This is the first year I don’t feel I have done that, and that is the root of why I haven’t posted a lot this year.  This year has been all about social behavior and not academics for this group.  I have started to become the teacher I don’t want to be- I am giving students individual busy-work to keep peer interaction at a minimum.  It seems that every time I try to get back into my old swing with these students, they pop off again and remind me why I had to make this shift.  Part of my dilemma is also student interaction in the unit, things are in place because of the behavior that happens after school and those are enforced throughout the school day.  It is not something that I have orchestrated or encouraged, it is something that has come about because of the students.

This has been a hard year so far, and the struggle is really grinding on me.  As students are rotated and go to different placements things may go better and I can go back to the norms for my classroom.  I remember the days when I was able to do that, and I really really need to be able to get back to them.