A Hack for Reflecting on Lessons

laptop-mobileThis week I stumbled upon a quick way to do a some reflecting on lessons that quick, easy, and I actually use. Want to skip to the hack? Scroll on down.

My teaching schedule has me teaching Algebra the first three periods of the day. I like it a lot but if I think of anything I need to do or change over the course of a lesson, I need to make a note of it. By the time I’m done with my third show of the day, all I’m thinking about is getting to the bathroom and getting something to eat. If I leave it to my memory, it’s not going to get done. Processing my teaching is not going beyond thinking through what happened. Continue reading

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Reminding Myself that Great Teaching is Simple but Not Easy

This past weekend, one of my sons, two of his aides (B is quadriplegic and needs help getting around) and I had an amazing experience: we were able to go and meet over 100 people who B admires and who work in an industry that he wants to pursue after he graduates. Over three days we talked, ate, and laughed with people who do what he wants to do or are close to it. And they made it amazing. B and I are still sitting here four days later just shaking our heads and smiling at how much fun we had and how many friends B made.

As I continue to process the weekend, I was struck by what made the biggest difference to the four of us. Time and attention. Everyone we met was happy to give us a few minutes to talk. More importantly, they talked with B and asked him questions. The people who made the biggest impact were the ones who over the weekend gave a couple of hours of time. They sought B out to make sure things were going well and to talk with him. They sought out others to introduce to B – the sake of both sides. Throw in B’s two aides who could help people understand in a matter of seconds how B interacts with the world and that intellectually he’s all there in addition to helping B seek people out, and it was clear how much some time and attention could pay off. Continue reading

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Deals on Customized Classroom Supplies

I’ve found a few places online that I’ve used to make customized things for my classroom. For example, the magnets I use for my classroom calendar I designed so I didn’t have to rewrite things, could move them around, etc.

Painters Tap

One of the companies I’ve ordered from is called ArtsCow (disclosure – it’s an affiliate link – I will get points from this link toward free product). They are running a deal where you can any three magnets for $5 with free standard shipping for the whole order (code: FRIDGEMAG). They come in all sorts of shapes and you can either upload your own design or make it online.

You can also get things like custom ink stamps on sale (code: OFFICEWORKS) and 35% off any order (code: 35OFFSITE). You can even design your own scarves, hoodies, etc.


So you know, the products are made and shipped from Hong Kong. For some, that’s a deal breaker. Also between production and shipping it can take two to three weeks to get your products. I’ve used them for playing cards, photos, and magnets and have been pleased with the quality.

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We’ve gotten a number of new smartphones recently to replace ones that were dropped, lost, worn out, refusing to work, etc. It’s brought up discussions of how long phones can run, how apps make battery life less, and how it’s really helpful physically and mentally to put the phone down well before bed to not get worn out by the tech yourself.

This is the first summer I’ve not taught some version of summer school since the early 1990s. The extra money has been great for trips or house projects but I consciously decided to take some time away from things of the classroom to focus on a few home projects and a few pet projects. I figured it would be a good way to spend the summer – projects, family, and time to relax. Continue reading

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Not Being Alone

Stress - small

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Once you get to know me, it will be no secret I love British things. London, Doctor Who, panel shows on the telly, all of it. Anglophile through and through. Upshot is I peruse British newspapers online. This past year I stumbled across this feature in the Guardian called Secret Teacher. I was reminded about it today after a colleague posted a link to one of the columns today on Facebook.

Secret Teacher is, “a series of blogs by our anonymous insider lifting the lid on teaching.” Reading it is one of those times where often you’ll feel like someone took everything you’ve been feeling but couldn’t share for a host of professional and personal reasons and put it into words. An example of some topics: Continue reading

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Heading into 2016 – Finding Inspiration

10 Things

Not a lot to write except that when I saw this posted on a former student’s Facebook page, I had to use it. I took the text, used a free-to-use-no-need-to-cite graphic (I know – who knew?) at unspalsh.com, and boom, inspirational kick in the pants. Take it, post it, share it. Print it and tape it to all your students’ desks.

Here’s the original in case you’re interested:


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Getting Back Into the Habit. Was I Ever There in the First Place?


Obligatory “End-of-the-Year-Calendar” Picture. Photo by Dafne Cholet and used under CC 2.0 License. Click for original.

I’m sure many bloggers are trying to get back into swing of things as we head into the new year. I’ve always wanted to blog but with family and work commitments coupled with what I deem to be a pretty routine teaching career, who’d want to read my stuff?

I realized I did. However, let’s be honest, “back into the swing of things,” isn’t really the truth. Three blog posts written over two days along with paying for a URL doesn’t a trend make. Insert statistics reliability joke here. 

I know it’s weird but I figured even if I’m the only person reads this stuff, so be it. Whenever I journal about teaching and reflect on things, I get new ideas. Ok, journaling is a stretch – I’ve only done it for the paperwork for National Board Certification and The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Got a lot out of it but let’s face it, hard to do consistently. However, I think if I can jot some notes down here about what’s going on in my professional world I will be better for it. If you, the currently nonexistent reader gets something from it, I can live with that.

And in the interest of being honest, let’s not discount the therapeutic value of it as well. However names will not be given, ranting and raving of a professional nature will probably be aimed at myself, and the vignettes some of you have come to know and love from personal interactions will be done personally or at least in training sessions. I do have to pretend to have some professionalism if the casting directors from the Amazing Race ever stumble across this.

I’ll start with the promise of one post a week. I’d guess it will happen on weekends for my own sanity. If you happen to want more, bug me about it. It works for my students so it will probably work for you.

Upcoming possible posts: couple of classroom ideas, couple of lessons that did/didn’t work, some of my favorite things for school, and the status of that book I was working on.

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Background: How Teenagers Act and Their Brains (Light Version)

Short post today but had to share this from Mental Floss:

5 Reasons Teenagers Act the Way They Do

It’s pretty straight forward but I love the brain research aspect to it. The overactive frontal lobe contributing to attention issues, etc. Won’t make the job immediately easier but as I tell my students sometimes knowing the why can at least make things more relatable.

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Seeking Inspiration: Young Teachers

"Teaching controversial issues" by Ian Cook et al is licensed under CC BY 2.0  https://www.flickr.com/photos/followthethings/8707065938/

“Teaching controversial issues” by Ian Cook et al is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Click for original

We have two young teachers in our department. Both C and B (pseudomyn seem to be a good idea) are in their second year. It’s been fun to see their passion and work ethic – it’s inspired everyone around them. They always jump in, they are always making new things, they are finding new ways to do math in the classroom. Loved those days of being young and throwing yourself head first into things.

Having a family really cramps your teaching mojo in some ways. Don’t get me wrong. It definitely enhances it too. Just ask my students how I relate EVERYTHING about math to relationships – using the Bachelor as analogy for the Rational Root Theorem was probably my favorite as of late. But there are times when I would love to things at school that family commitments prevent and my mind wanders to sermons I’ve heard on 1 Corinthians 7 that talks about the gift of singleness, about being able to do more in ministry. Same is true of teaching.

And that’s the benefit of having new young blood in your department or school. They jump in. They are excited about new things. They are overly optimistic. And they rub off on you.

A more public example of this is math teacher names Sarah Hagan who is a third year teacher in Oklahoma. She blogs about her teaching experience quite a bit at Math Equals Love. What works, what doesn’t, what’s frustrating, what’s hilarious (check out her posts on Things Teenagers Say – waiting for a book :)).

So while I can’t ship you C and B, you can get loads of ideas and inspiration at Math Equals Love. Definitely work a look. Sarah’s How to Learn Math bulletin board alone will give you a kick in the pants. I’ve been doing Objectives Based Grading for ten years and this is the perfect way to lay it out.

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Getting Ready to Publish

I’ve been Featured imagelooking to blog for a long time but publishing a book has finally pushed me to pull it altogether. Even publishing the book has taken too long. Amazing how life gets in the way of things!

Regardless the re-publication of Problems without Figures is about to happen! It’s a great resource and editing the revision has been eyeopening. So much we are asked to do today as teachers hasn’t changed. I find it interesting to see what would pass as “real life adventure problems” in 1910. Some fit into today just fine, others needed a little tweaking.

One of my favorites:

“A man got drunk and disorderly, and had to pay a fine. If you know how much he paid for liquor, the amount of the fine and the value of the time he wasted, how can you compute the money loss which he incurred?”

Yeah, don’t think that will make it into the school edition.

So here we go – transcript to Amazon shortly for Kindle and print-on-demand publication. Looking to work on ancillaries to use in the classroom after that. I have no idea if this book will get any traction. But it has done a few things. Bucket List item. Get familiar with self-publishing for future use. And the potential for blogging on a semi-regular basis.

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