Friday, May 19, 2017

Best of Luck, Mr. Sage!

This past semester, I had the opportunity to have Brendan Sage (@brendan_sage) be my student teacher.  As I reflect on our time together, it's safe to say that we both learned a lot from each other.  One thing I learned from Brendan is that it's not difficult to make the diagrams and pictures we use in class look a lot more professional.  He shared with me a number of useful websites and resources that I will continue to use to find new, challenging material.  Lastly, he found a number of silly, corny math jokes to show students and they absolutely loved them.  

Mr. Sage will take over his own classroom in the fall.  I'm confident that he will do great and his students will be lucky to have him as their teacher.

Twin Day 2017
Is there any resemblance to this movie poster?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PAEMST Application

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that talked about GRIT.  In the post, I mentioned that my PAEMST application deadline was rapidly approaching and I had a lot of work to do.  I'm happy to say that I completed the application with a few hours to spare.  It pains me to realize how much of a deadline person I am.  I most always get done what needs to get done; however, I have an A+ in Procrastination 101.

A few brief thoughts that are stewing in my brain due to the application...
First of all, completing that application is a challenge.  It really made me think about things that I am doing in my classroom, and why I do those things.  It also makes me think about how I can improve moving forward.

This year, our district implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and assigned each staff member to a PLC group.  We were provided 4 driving questions to lead our PLC focus and discussion.
1.  What do we want our students to learn?
2.  How will we know that they are learning?
3.  How will we respond when they don’t learn?
4.  How will we respond when they already know it?

I really like these questions.  I want to be able to answer these questions without hesitation and I want to be proud of my answers.  Right now, I can't say that I'm proud of my answers for each of these questions.  My PAEMST application helped me realize this.

My initial response to question 3 is the one I'm least proud of.  "How will we respond when they don't learn?"  What a great question.

In my classes right now, I have two or three students who are not learning what I expect them to.  I know this because they are currently in danger of failing the semester.   Each of the students' situations is unique and I don't want to dive into those details.  I will say that my answer to question 3 is not very strong right now.  My general response is "The students need to come in and get extra help."  The problem is that the students are not doing so, and I've done nothing beyond that.

I'm excited to see where the PLC discussion groups will lead us.

I may not receive the PAEMST award with the application I recently submitted.  Time will tell.  But one thing is certain -- I've done a lot of reflecting due to completing it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017 TIE Conference

The 2017 TIE Conference (held in Rapid City, SD) is right around the corner.  If you happen to attend, here's a little insight into a couple of sessions that I'll be co-presenting on.

Sunday, April 23

Sharon Rendon (@srendon2), Jarrod Huntimer (@BHSGeometry), and I will be hosting an in-depth session focused on Desmos.  During the four-hour session, participants will get a deep look at as well as the Activity Builder features.

Monday, April 24

Jarrod and I will also be hosting a breakout session on Desmos.  We plan to give participants a brief overview of the site and the Activity Builder features.  We do plan to customize the presentation based on the comfort level and previous Desmos experience of the participants present that day.

Here's to a great conference and WIFI that works for our participants!
We'd love to see you in Rapid City!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


This past Wednesday, our high school launched what we're calling "Advisory Period".  In brief, advisories will act a little like a homeroom for our high school students.  Once a week, students will meet with their advisory group for 30  minutes and engage in some sort of task -- team building, character building, class meetings, etc.  Advisory teachers will also monitor student grades and provide an extra layer of support for students who might be struggling.

Advisory groups will be grouped with students in the same grade.  I have been assigned students from the incoming freshmen class.  Therefore, this spring I was assigned to help the counselors with the entire class of seniors.  The counselors had a list of newsworthy items they disseminated to the seniors.  They also showed the seniors a video of a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth titled GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

As I watched the video, I found myself inspired by Angela's explanation of "Grit".  She says, "Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.  Grit is having stamina.  Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality."  I started to reflect on my goals and dreams and arrived at the realization that I haven't been very gritty as of late.

In 2015, I was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).  I worked hard to complete the challenging application and later found out that I was a state finalist for the award.  Ultimately, I did not win the award.  I received feedback on my application from the state and national level reviewers.  Much of my application was strong, but not strong enough.

Due to being a state finalist, I was automatically eligible to re-apply in 2017. [2016 was a K-6 level year.]   Much of my previous application can be used again, but improving it is where I've lacked grittiness.  I haven't had the motivation or perseverance to dig in and improve it.  The application is due on May 1st and the clock is ticking.

Thank you, Angela, for the inspirational talk.  Not only am I going to complete the award application, you have also re-kindled my motivation to write blog posts and be more reflective in my practice.  Sometimes I need a reminder to work hard and think critically about my teaching style, pedagogy, and decisions.  Angela's talk served as a great reminder.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Explore MTBoS 2017 - Week 3

Last year, I found the time to blog for all four weeks of the MTBoS blogging initiative.  This year, I'm happy to be able to find the time to blog once.  [My wife and I welcomed our fourth child last November; between our new baby and our other three kids being more and more involved in activities, time is a premium in my world.]

The prompt for the week is to write about a single blogpost or compile a bunch of various posts.  I'm going to cheat a bit and simply highlight one blog that is my top 5.

The Desmos Blog ( is typically updated each week and contains a wealth of strong information.  Some of my favorite posts found within the blog are the "Friday Fave" variety.  The team at Desmos highlights their favorite activity created in activity builder.

Also, this blog is where you can find information about the newest Desmos features.

I try to read the new blog postings the day they are posted, but I'm currently a few weeks behind.  [See: new baby.]

One last piece of info I'd like to share.  My colleague and I are presenting a session on Desmos and the Activity Builder features at South Dakota's annual math and science conference in February.

Here's the thing... Desmos Founder Eli Luberoff is a featured speaker at the conference and is presenting a number of sessions focused on Desmos as well.  Luckily, his presentations are not at the same time as ours (we want to attend his presentations!).  But we are feeling a little like Wayne and Garth in the following clip.

Here's to Jarrod and I not bombing our presentation with Eli in the house!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Retro Open Middle Problems

I had some students in study hall the other day tell me they had nothing to do.  I dug through an old file folder that I used to store game type worksheets in to see what I could find.  While looking through the files, I found a problem that I was given by my cooperating teacher Ruth Anderson way back in 2002 while I was student teaching.  The problem is called "How Grand Is Your Total?".

The students seemed immediately interested, and they asked me what a good score was.  I couldn't remember, so I did a quick Google search to see what I could find.

I was immediately pleased to see that Sara VanDerWerf (@saravdwerf) had recently blogged about this exact problem.  She even had a fresh looking pdf document linked, and I knew I had struck gold.

I will let you read Sara's post about open middle problems and the origin of "How Grand Is Your Total?"  What I'm wondering is if anyone has seen the two other documents that I found in that same dusty file folder.  Both are very much like the "How Grand" problem, but each with their own wrinkles.

The first is related to maximizing your total score with exponents.  I am almost certain that Mrs. Anderson also gave me this file because it is hand written and looks like her writing.  Here is a link to a pdf copy of it.

The second especially cracks me up.  Once again, it was given to me by Mrs. Anderson and appears to be printed using an old school dot matrix printer.  I remember students working on that way back in 2002 and it being a complete devil of a problem.  Talk about having to know your properties of logarithms and understanding how logarithms operate!  Here is a link to that one.

If anyone is willing to update these documents for the greater good, please share when you're done.  Thanks to Mrs. Anderson (who has since retired from teaching) for being a great mentor and exposing me to open middle problems way before they were called "open middle problems".  I'm sorry I left those documents tucked away in a file folder for so long.

For those wondering, I didn't figure out what a "good score" on "How Grand Is Your Total?" yet.  I'll leave that up to my students.

Monday, October 17, 2016

2016: First Quarter Highlights

There is technically a week before the end of my first quarter, but there is a blog post waiting to be written.  This post is my first one in quite a while; it will be a random collection of things I've encountered these first two months of school.

1.  Dan Meyer recently blogged about his Ten Lessons From Ten Years of Blogging.  His first one is "Figure out why you're blogging."  I blog for two major reasons.  First, it is good for me to reflect on what I'm doing in the classroom.  My blog has helped me think more deeply about the "Why's" of my work.  Second, I blog because I feel as though I have something to contribute to the greater good of our profession.  A majority of my activities, lessons, tasks, etc. have come from other people's work and ideas, many of which I have found on blogs.  I want to give back as I continue to grow.  By blogging, I'm a member of the larger community of math teachers who want to improve math instruction for all students, not just their own.

1b.  Dan warns about blogging first and foremost for fame and readers; I like to think that I'm not.  However, I did recently get excited when my blog went over 3000 views...which is about 2995 more than I ever dreamed about!

1c.  Just yesterday, my curriculum director emailed our staff about an opportunity to hear a gentleman named George Couros speak.  Along with her invitation was a link to Mr. Couros' blog.  I followed the link and the very first post that I found was titled "Blogging is your job."  It made tons of sense to me; I recommend you read it.

2.  Desmos continues to make small yet game changing improvements to their products.  Also, we had students play Marbleslides in geometry during our equation of lines lessons.  Students LOVED it.  We had them work with partners to do as many challenges as they could during one class period.  100% engagement level each hour.

3.  My co-teacher, Jarrod, and I made a change in the logistics of our geometry classes.  We have been very happy with the results.  Read about those changes here.

4.  There has been a lot of cool happenings on Twitter -- too many to mention at once.  One I do want to mention is April Pforts (@aprilpfortsiowa) recently started to blog.  (  I met April two years ago while doing some work with leaders from SD, ND, MT, and IA.  I'm excited to read her blog.  Congrats, April!  Search #MTBoS for other great resources.

4b.  I am sick and tired of the political garbage that takes over social media.  It's to the point that I steer away from Twitter and Facebook at certain times.  I can't wait until this election is over.

5.  Our district had a full day, all-staff inservice day a week ago.  We listened to a speaker named David LaRose.  His message was about PLCs and what effective PLCs look and feel like.  He was superb and I'm not very motivated to get PLCs up and running in our school district.

6.  I've tried to improve my communication with parents this year by sending parents a weekly newsletter via email.  I'm happy to say that I haven't missed a week yet!  The newsletter idea came from my child's 3rd grade teacher who sent out an email each week last year.  My newsletters are nothing out of the ordinary; they simply highlight some of the happenings and highlights from the week that was, and offers a glimpse of the week ahead.  I try to include dates of quizzes and tests.  I plan to ask parents for feedback at conferences next week.

Here's to a great second semester!