Lab Notebooks (INB tweak)

I’ve been trying to implement INBs (Interactive NoteBooks) since about the very beginning of my teaching career, and every year it’s been kind of a disaster.

The most compelling part of INBs for me (and the attribute that I think differentiates it as an INB instead of just a notebook) is the idea that the right- and left-hand sides have different purposes. Personally, though, I don’t often use foldables and the like, or plan out beautiful, layered notes pages for my students like Sarah (@mathequalslove) or Elissa (@misscalcul8) because I’m a pretty crappy day-to-day planner. Also, at my current school, we do a lot of Project-Based Learning, so students are regularly working with math on things that aren’t necessarily practice or notes, per se.

Because of all of this, I re-worked my procedures for INBs this year (finally) and renamed them as Lab Notebooks to try to imitate the lab notebook of a research mathematician (something I have only 2nd hand knowledge of, so you can tell me how far off I am, which I’m sure is far).

Anyway, it’s still in it’s infancy stage, but I thought I’d share it here. Below is the list of procedures we use for them (that I used to practice coding with LaTeX).

lab-notebook-guidelines (pdf)

I want this notebook to be indispensable to my students; for it to be the place they go if they need to work something out, so that they have a full record of their thinking throughout the year. For a few weeks at the turn of the quarter, they really got away from me, so right now, I’m just trying to remember to implement them regularly, which means reminding my students (a) that they exist and (b) what they should put where.

I’ll try to post again at the end of the year.


New Learning Targets – 2016

We just finished the 8th day of school this year, & I’ve already justified not writing a blog post (on my list for #1TMCthing) for about 3 weeks now.

This summer I rewrote the Learning Targets for Algebra I, Geometry, & Algebra II and wanted to post them in case other were thinking through the same thing. (Our school uses Standards-Based Grading and has school-wide Learning Targets for each class.)

First, here are the Tennessee State Standards (aka, the Common Core State Standards with a different title): TN Algebra I | TN Geometry | TN Algebra II

Previously, the Learning Targets we were using were just the “Clusters” (the A, B, C, etc. in the CCSS) from the above documents minus any that were colored yellow (what the state of Tennessee considered “Additional Content”). This made it so each class had important material that wasn’t being tracked or assessed except for on the end of the year state assessments. It also made it so there was a lot of redundancy in the Learning Targets where two clusters could include closely related topics, or Learning Targets that seemed to have a bunch of topics with little connection.

Here is what I came up with: ALGEBRA I LTs 16-17 | GEOMETRY LTs 16-17 | ALGEBRA II LTs 16-17

Algebra I and Algebra II are meant to mirror each other so students will go through the same basic “units” in each class. For Algebra II, I had been thinking all last year about how to better organize the course, which is why I went through the trouble of putting things into units, as well (something I did not do with either of the other courses). I don’t actually teach Algebra I anymore, so I left that up to the Algebra I teacher if she wanted to. The Learning Targets in Geometry basically act as units, themselves.

And, lastly, here are the simple syllabi I use to show what order I plan to do everything in: Geometry Syllabus BC 16-17 |  Algebra2 Syllabus BC 16-17


The True America

Thomas Hawk BY-NC 2.0

Loud, hollow, and filled with things that are bad for you – just like America. | via Thomas Hawk on flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Weeks ago, I was quite literally losing sleep, staying up far too late, reading blogs and news articles about the primary elections and the quest to keep Donald Trump1 out of the White House. The weekend before Tennessee voted was the worst of all. I found myself (as an ISFP) wrestling with what decision I could make on Tuesday that would be most authentic to who I see myself as. (I eventually decided to cast a defensive vote for Marco Rubio in hopes that he would be the third Republican candidate to make it above 15%, thereby splitting the delegate count three ways instead of two. Which worked in the sense that that scenario actually happened, and didn’t in the sense that no one else in the race anymore on the GOP side. But this is somewhat beside the point…) I had decided the country I live in could not, under any circumstances, have Donald Trump as the nominee of a major party for President of the United States. I decided that the hatred and ignorance he exudes would be poison for us given such a public forum. For each contest leading up to Tennessee, I stayed up to watch the live results come in, silently cursing the residents of each state who gave him a share of the vote. And as more ridiculous, poisonous things were said, I wondered all the more powerfully, “What is wrong with us?”

Then it was time to curse my own people.


Once my vote was cast, I felt a weight lift from me (as my “work” here was done). In the days after, I started to realize that how successful Donald Trump was in this primary did not matter anymore; and that him becoming the Republican nominee would not show us anything new that we had not already seen. As soon as Trump started winning states outright, we revealed our true selves as a nation. Any success beyond that simply solidifies what we already know is there – our country is filled with hatred, xenophobia, mistrust, greed, and religious intolerance. In fact, these are the things that can make you successful. These are the things you can use to win the presidency. Unfortunately, most of us paler folks, who didn’t like him, were prepared to write Trump’s early wins off as an anomaly, because that’s not the country we knew. But he is just the mirror showing us ourselves.


This is the country our students are growing into. If we, as teachers, can not prepare them to meet this world head on, to advocate for themselves, to stand up against bigotry and hate, and to create a new world in a different image, then none of the academics we teach are worth as much as the paper we used to print their diplomas on.


1. Back then I also didn’t even want to say his name, thinking we should cut down on his number of occurrences in the media, but like Voldemort, who’s nickname I stole, the things you fear to name only grow stronger.#youreawizardHarry (back)

What Is An Ally?

This is the question I’m struggling with right now. I think it started around the time of Michael Brown’s death. Before that, I probably assumed that I was an ally and that I was doing a good job at it, too. In this aspect, I find this to be a good thing, as an unexamined behavior is likely not a great one.

As a teacher, and as a youth worker before that, I’ve always felt it was important to bring up and discuss issues of inequality, oppression and intolerance. I like to keep up-to-date with current events and challenge my students in empathy and activism. And in as much as I’m an individual in this world, I think I know where my place is. The trouble for me comes in the public sphere.

I think a useful example here is Twitter.

I like to consider myself an #EduColor fan boy. The hashtag lives in a prominent place on my TweetDeck and its members are basically how I stay informed. But, I actually use the hashtag in extremely rare circumstances because I doubt if the movement needs the voice of another heterosexual, white, Christian male.

More generally, how do I participate authentically in a role that, for lack of a better term, doesn’t lead to the gentrification of the movement?


I wrote this, actually, while I was sitting in a church downtown waiting to hear Alicia Garza speak. It happened to be the best place I could have been having these thoughts at the time, because she ended up addressing this issue during the evening.

She laid out 4 important points for any white ally. This list might be helpful to you, too.

  1. Acknowledge there is a problem.
  2. Have meaningful relationships with people of color.
  3. Discuss power, privilege and oppression with other white people, including those in authority.
  4. Move white voters (especially the older generation) to select candidates based on the how their policies will effect marginalized people.



Speak – 2016

With the end of my year of Creating, I realized a lot of things. Not only had I taken time to return to some of my favorite creative endeavors, I had also created a new, healthier situation for myself. But, thinking about it, I came to realize that the thing I had created most was room for myself to Speak.

speakup howardlake
via Howard Lake on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Speak is my new word for 2016. I have, by this point, written pretty extensively about my personality type and the progress I have been making in learning about myself. Speak continues in this vein as a challenge to my modus operandi. As an Enneagram type 9, I am a “peacemaker.” This typically means that I will do almost anything to try to preserve my inward sense of peace. Often this is a suppression of my own opinions, wants or needs in favor of letting others do what they want. This is constantly at odds with my main cognitive function as an ISFP, which is basically to be my authentic self. Normally, I placate both of these urges by acknowledging and restating my own convictions inwardly while allowing others to think whatever it is they think as publicly as they want to.

This year, my goal is to Speak instead.

I want to be one who is actively creating peace, not passively holding onto my false notions of it.


Surprised by Privilege

The last few years have been ripe with heart-breaking news stories about race, religion, and intolerance. Since the death of Michael Brown, new names have been added to the long list of hashtags at what feels like a daily pace. In the midst of this, terrorist attacks by the radicalized few have been carried out in places like Paris, Colorado, and here in Chattanooga – prompting The Candidate Who Shall Not Be Named1 to suggest barring an entire religion from entering or residing in the US. Then, yesterday, a transcript of Supreme Court proceedings in the Fisher v UT case was being shared which showed overtly racist statements from Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts.2

The most surprising thing for me about all of this has been the fact that my privilege still allows me to be surprised by injustice.

As a white male, my base assumption, no matter how awake to the injustices in our world I think I may be, is that things are fair, even when I know this is not true. Subconsciously, because I have always felt treated fairly, I anticipate fairness. Then, when the next black life is shot down by the system that is supposed to protect it, or the next public figure spouts hate speech aimed to further marginalize the marginalized, I have realized that I actually have the privilege to be surprised; because the oppressed just aren’t.


1. We all know who this is. I’d rather not encourage him by allowing Google to find one more instance of his name on the internet, therefore he will remain TCWSNBN. (back)

2. It also shows Justice Sotomayor being awesome. Here‘s the full transcript. (back)

New School, New You

I’ve been trying to write this post since Memorial Day and it just hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened for the same reason I haven’t really posted anything for a long time; because it’s been an emotionally-charged time for me.

Being at the school I’ve been at for the past three years, has taught me everything I know about education. And rightly so, as it was my first solo teaching job. It is a school with a beautiful history in our city and the students are amazing. (Amazing and frustrating, like all students everywhere.) Unfortunately, it has also been a school with a lot of regulation when it came to Algebra I. And who could blame them when the state government threatens to take over the school and fire everybody if certain scores aren’t met on standardized tests? By this point, we all know that the system is broken, right? (Right?) Anyway, so after three years, the regulation and emphasis on standardized testing had really led me to a bad place, and I applied to move to a different school. (If the problem is systemic, how did moving help? Stay tuned.)

I should have seen this coming, of course, after all the posts I put up here that talked about how poorly my situation was meshing with my personality. (here, here, and here) But I really didn’t want to admit that I needed to leave this place that I loved.

The same year I started at my old school, our district opened up a STEM magnet school on the campus of the community college (which is where I now work). It was created as a platform school, which basically means we are supposed to experiment and try new things and then take the things that work to other schools in the district. This pedagogical freedom (!), and the fact that the school had an on-paper remedy for basically everything I had struggled with at my old school, is what really excited me about this school. As a STEM Fellow through our Public Education Foundation last year, I had the opportunity to spend a few school days there as well, and really liked what I saw.

So far (Day 10) it’s just what I needed in a school. I do miss my old school and the students there, but I feel confident that I made a good mental health decision for myself.

One thing I really like that I’ll share now is that, as a magnet, they take students from every zone in the district and they do it by population (think House of Representatives), so the student population is really diverse (actually diverse, not the “diverse” that white people use to talk about a school that’s 95% black) and I still get to teach students from my neighborhood, which I love.

There are a lot of stories I could tell already, but I’m going to stop here so that something actually gets posted.


Creating – 2015

Last year, I posted about my family’s tradition to pick one word for the new year. My word was “perspective” and it basically started out as a call to stop procrastinating at work (which worked a little, maybe). What really happened, though, was much better. My entire perspective on teaching kind of changed last year.  Well, it didn’t so much change as I stopped pretending that it was something it is not. I have a tendency to let things slide and to try not to cause waves (9, anyone?). I know what I believe in my heart and if you don’t agree with me, I move on and generally remember not to talk to you about that thing anymore because, obviously, you’re welcome to have your opinion, even if it’s wrong.  This got me through teaching among people with different philosophies than my own pretty well for the first couple years, but I think it was contributing to me feeling not-quite-myself. Then in the last year, things started happening that I couldn’t push aside anymore (many of which I tried to write about, but didn’t publish because I was really angry), and I decided I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by allowing people to think I didn’t (or didn’t care enough to) disagree with them. (Hopefully, some of those things will come out this year if I can find a diplomatic-enough way to get them out in writing.)

Additionally, I’ve been thinking a lot more about what it would look like for a school or teaching position to better match my personality. It’s been hard finding the freedom I inherently crave teaching one of the courses that controls “the list” at a school with historically low test scores. The administrative burden (read: paperwork, etc.) in such a position is pretty high as well (or maybe this is every school?). Anyway, it takes a lot of energy for me on a daily basis to get all (or to be more honest, some) of these things done. So this year, I’ve decided to use the word “creating.

Something about forcing myself to be a Type A during the work week drains all of my energy for creativity. The last time my tasks burden was anywhere near this high, I was in college and had outlets like sculpture classes, recording studios, and open mic nights to keep me balanced. I chose to be creating this year because I think I’m a healthier person when I’m being creative, and I’ve been missing that part of myself as I’ve poured more energy into the left side of my brain over the last few years.

As with last year, even in the first month, I’ve already noticed the word “creating” taking on a different meaning than the one I assigned to it in late December, and as I’ve been exploring what kinds of changes would make teaching a better fit for me, I have already started creating some new opportunities for myself and my students.

I’m excited to see where this year goes.


Via fotologic on flickr. CC BY 2.0


Classroom Tour 2014

This is the beginning of my third year at Howard, but I changed rooms this year and even though I had never gotten around to posting pictures of my old room, I thought I would share my new space. I teach in our Freshman Academy, which means the only people most of my students see throughout the day are other Freshmen.  We are quartered (quarantined?) in the back corner of the school in what used to be part of the vocational wing before the school lost several of its vocational programs years ago.

Freshman Academy

The maroon box is the Freshman Academy. My new room is under the Gold marker.

I was in a tiny windowless room in the center of the academy, but since I was supposed to have a giant (for our school) Geometry class this year I needed to move. ( The class ended up dropping to 10, but I’m still glad for the change.)  Now I’m in a big windowless room that along with the adjacent two rooms used to be the auto shop. I suppose at that point this pole wasn’t in the way.

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From the back corner. The pole.

My previous room had a pole in the middle of it as well, however being about half the size of this room, it was a problem.  In here, it almost serves as a half-wall between your dining room and your kitchen; dividing a large space into two distinct areas: an uncluttered classroom space, and a behind-the-scenes space for storage and extra large group work tables. I don’t mind this one.

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From the doorway.

I try to encourage student discourse as much as possible in class.  The next two pictures show the labels on the tables and the protocols for when we do more formal structured talk.  My first semester, I had the 1-piece desks with the slanted tops that can’t be put into groups, so a culture of discourse was difficult to foster.  I quickly swapped them out with another teacher who had tables at the winter break.  When students are sitting at the same they table, they know they’ll be expected to interact with each other. I’ve traditionally done groups of four, but I have enough tables and my students are distracted enough by looking at each other this year that I may switch to pairs facing the same direction, at least for a while.

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Place cards for structured talk.

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Structured talk protocols. Habits of Mind. Habits of Interaction.

This is the front of the room. I’m so excited to have a full-sized, usable whiteboard in my room this year.  In my old room, they bolted the Promethean Board right in the middle of the whiteboard as if to say, “You’ve no need for this child’s toy anymore.” I, however, mostly use my Promethean board as a projector screen for the document camera because I hate teaching from slides, and for most of last semester, the pens didn’t work, so this was very annoying. If you can’t be engaging without technology, you won’t be engaging with it; I’m still working on the without.

The orange posters are just hand-written with the Standards for Mathematical Practice. I’m trying to place these and the Habits of Mind and Interaction from the previous photo in a more esteemed position this year, and I think that means grading on them. It makes sense to me that a teacher should only attach grades to that which they think is most important, and since I think being able to think mathematically trumps memorizing the curriculum, I’m trying to find a way to reflect that honestly.

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Front of room with SMP posters. Nice view of the mountains.

My old room didn’t even have a closet, just a tiny cabinet that I kept shut with a bike lock, so the shelving and the giant cabinet in the back are a huge plus.  I don’t even have enough stuff to fill them up! (Looks a little tacky, though. I’ll have to only put the more attractive boxes on these shelves…)

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Wall length storage. INB poster. Word walls.

Below is my “math family photos” wall which used to have two photo-sized mirrors in the collage (so the students could be on the wall, too), until a boy last year spent so much time brushing his hair at one that I popped them of the wall during class one day. (I’d love to hear suggestions for additions especially of women and non-whites.)

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Math family photos. (Top row: Banneker, Descartes, Nye, Archimedes, McKellar, Einstein. Bottom row: Blackwell, Von Count, President Garfield, Gonzalez, Granville, Kepler, Johnson, Adem, Pascal, Newton.)

I ride my bike to work most days as we are a one-car family, The kids think this is crazy.  Some days I do, too, as my bike is a little rough around the edges.

A local university was throwing out these super comfortable yellow and orange chairs when they updated their dorms or something, so a friend snagged them for me for free.

The black lab table holds my laptop, the document camera and anything needed for the day. It’s on bed risers to make it standing-height.

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Teacher zone. Transportation.

A local used bookstore donated gift certificates to every teacher at our school last year, so I was able to start a classroom library of science- and math-related books.  One girl this year upon finishing a test and going to grab a book said, “Ugh! These are all about math!” Yes, yes they are.

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INB storage. Reading materials. Son.

I still have a lot of sprucing, labeling and such to do, and so much more wall space to fill since my room is almost twice as big, but I’m pretty pleased with where things are for now.


On Being Myself

One of the hardest struggles I’ve had since becoming a teacher is in the tension I feel between being my real self and being a teacher self that I have created.  This is easy for me to track back to its beginnings.  I came to teaching through a residency program where I co-taught with a veteran teacher, who acted as my mentor, for an entire school year.  I learned so much from my mentor that year about the art and professionalism of teaching, but our personalities were very different. This was good for me as a learner because I had come to teaching with a background in youth work where it was basically my job to be a friend to teenagers, so one thing I wanted to focus on during my residency year was the question, “What does an appropriate teacher-student relationship look like?” because I knew I wasn’t supposed to just be their friend.  My mentor had a friendly-enough, though distant, demeanor with his students, but mostly he was in charge. And everyone in the room knew it. He was a big, gregarious middle-aged man, a coach, a not-afraid-to-raise-my-voice-to-assert-dominance-if-needed kind of guy. An extrovert. None of these, save ‘man’ (and now I suppose coach, although I’ve yet to officially coach anyone through a season of anything after a year with the title) would be accurate to describe me. But, being in his room, with his rules, where all scores ultimately reflected on him, I chose, to the extent possible, to mirror his personality for the year; giving the students what I thought was a simplified expectation for how to interact with two teachers in one room, and removing the possibility of choosing favorites or playing us against each other like a child who asks their mom for ice cream after their dad says ‘no’.

And, for the year, it worked. And I learned a lot.

But the next year, when I was on my own, I found it hard to then separate what it meant to be a teacher from what it meant to mirror my mentor. The two, unconsciously,  became almost inseparable. Each year since then, I feel like I have reclaimed some part of myself and reintegrated that into my teacher self, but largely, I still feel like I am playing a character when I teach.

I am an ISFP, which, if you’re not familiar with the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicators basically means that structure is hard for me. I prefer spontaneity and exploration to planning and rules. Read: certain aspects of teaching are hard. (This goes for any of the four personality types with the S and P together [ISFP, ISTP, ESFP, and ESTP], and because of these discrepancies between what we want and what is expected of us, it is estimated that SPs make up only 4% of all teachers and are the quickest to leave the profession. Since you asked (?), the magic combination for teachers is S and J [ISFJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, and ESTJ] These people love rules, structure and feel a civic duty to follow whoever is in authority.  SJs are estimated to make up 56% of all teachers and last the longest. NFs do pretty well too because they also love structure.* Phew!) But I love the teaching aspects of teaching and long to incorporate my love for exploration, creativity and asking questions into my teaching practice.  Something that I think P(r)BL, Inquiry and all the good stuff we know we should be doing does a good job of, and something I think the CCSS does a much better job of than the Tennessee State Standards.

It’s hard for me to feel the freedom to break away because, in a sense, I’d be learning how to teach all over again. But playing a part everyday is taxing, and I know I could do it better as myself.  Last year was so tough for me, but maybe it was the catalyst I needed to drop the facade.  I feel good about this year.


*These stats are from a workshop I attended for my STEM fellowship this year.  I am looking for the official citation for the study, but can’t find it yet.  I will update with to attribute when I do.