Day 2 – #teach180

No picture, but wanted to share #onegoodthing from today:

I didn’t get off to a good start with a student in one of my classes yesterday, who came in not quite in “school mode.” I had been thinking about what to do to build some trust there. Today, we did another restorative justice circle, this time to kick off a discussion on respect and appreciation. The prompt was to share a time you have felt respected or appreciated. We then did a structured talk to find commonalities and try to write up some class norms. (Trust me, this sounds more impressive than it was. There were a lot of walls up still and it fell kind of flat.) Anyway, with some coaxing, this student eventually decided to share how they felt disrespected by me (for constant correction and close proximity while they tried to talk over everything we were doing and not participate) probably to try to start an argument. There was some discomfort in the room as other students started to make some commotion about how this student was going to get in trouble.  I sat and listened intently and when the student was done, I explained the use of “I” statements to the class and encouraged the student to move from “you disrespected me when” to “I felt disrespected when.” And as they finished articulating their “I” statement, something amazing happened. It was like a golden glow in the classroom as I calmly & earnestly thanked the student for sharing. The rest of the circle, which had been vocally against being in a circle again, was silent and seemed to be waiting for someone else to share. We waited for a few minutes in the glow and when no one else wanted to share, I ended the circle time and we went back to our seats to discuss, and with that, the magic was over. Everything returned to normal, but in those few moments in a tough class, when the teacher didn’t respond as expected, something happened, and it was altogether surprising.

I should say here, I’ve never done the circles part of restorative justice before and am just shooting in the dark, more or less, trying new things; so sending everyone back to do a structured talk about it, or when I broke the “just listen” rules (?) by a quick invitation to talk about my methods at a later time because the time seemed sooo ripe, are probably not the best example, but it’s real and so hopefully helpful.



First Day 2017 – #teach180


Today was the first day with students for the new school year at a new school.

Some changes for this year:

1. I’ve distilled my various incarnations of class rules over the years into a single classroom goal, with a single rule to follow. (This is a barely modified version of an “ah-ha” moment of a class rule that was shared recently, by… someone… that I don’t remember, of course, but thanks for the inspiration!)

Goal: That every person in the classroom would (a) feel safe & (b) learn (myself included).

Rule: Don’t get in the way of any person accomplishing the goal (yourself included).

I love this because it’s ambiguous and infinitely applicable. One thing to remember, covers every situation.

2. I’ve fully gotten rid of any sort of teacher area for good. I want to avoid status issues as much as possible and want the students to feel ownership over the space.

3. The new school is not 1-to-1, so back to paper everything.

Here’s what we did today:

As students came in, I passed out seating cards for the first day of visibly random grouping. This will continue almost every day for at least the next three quarters.

Students filled out an information card with full name, preferred name, preferred pronouns, phone number so I can make intro phone calls (hopefully this year!), “Math makes me feel ___,” and a drawing or story on the back. As they did this, I took first day attendance, as I always do by going around and asking each student their name individually, so I can get preferred names and pronunciations right and have at least talked to every student once (!).

After this, we got into a circle for our first comfort-creating restorative justice session. Just a silly question today – “If you were any item in a grocery store, what would you be and why?” Thanked every one for sharing individually and as a group. Lots of talk about fear, embarrassment and safe sharing here.

Back to the tables for our first-day math activity… (drumroll)… newspaper tube structures! I’ve made it a pedagogical goal of mine this year to focus on building spatial reasoning skills and as part of that, I’m introducing body-scale explorations. This one is from Malke Rosenfeld (@mathinyourfeet) and our conversations at #TMC17. Students had about 15 minutes to “create a free-standing 3D structure.” The goals of this activity were mainly to do some spatial reasoning & let us talk about group work success strategies, which we did in the debrief (“What shapes do you see?” / “What is something interesting another group did that your group did not?” / “What strategies helped your group be successful?”)  It was really interesting to me watching the process and seeing that pyramids were more popular than cubes (the one above is the only one that was free standing) and the topology of the ones that collapsed.

During this, we of course also covered a bunch of routines and procedures as they became necessary.

One admin came in during circles and said, “Oh, they’re already having group therapy in here” before turning and walking back out. Another came in during the activity and was loudly talking to his partner about how much he loved it.

Below is a picture of how to roll the newspaper sheets (just pull the pencil out once it’s started), and what they look like up close, in case you’re interested.




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.


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.