I find assessment to be the most fascinating part of the job. For what I thought was a very rigid, established, system, there is really a lot of room to very creative. Figuring out how students turn your word salad into their own knowledge is magical. I mused on what I look for in assessment a year ago. I still agree with the general idea: the grade part is irrelevant, I'm just curious to see what you think. I still have to assign grades in some thoughtful way, incorporating that continues to evolve.

Most of my assessment methods were driven by necessity. When I first implemented SBG a long time ago, it was driven by being more efficient with my time due to athletics. I needed assessments that were short and simple to grade. I also needed to reduce the amount of things I graded. Two years ago I dabbled with A/B/Not Yet for Calculus. Through the year I stopped reviewing student papers and had them self determine their level. Most of the self-ratings were pretty honest, in general I've found students are harder on themselves than you'd think. Last year, also due to athletic constraints, I put all of the determination on my Calculus students. I still had piles of Pre-Cal stuff to deal with an two sports consuming all my extra time, so that's just how it needed to be.

In retrospect, it was a swing too far in the "grade how you feel" direction. I have since retired from my major athletics duties, and now have the time to give students a greater amount of attention. You might frown at slacking in this area, and believe me I wasn't happy about it, but to you I gently say ask a coach what the grind is like.

Here's how I handle assessment in my three subjects:

College Algebra

I use a stock SBG (0-4 scale with two required attempts) system here. It's something I know, and the multiple attempts play great for this audience. Kids are encouraged to keep their resources (notebook) organized by using them on the assessment. Kids can also work on them together. Multiple versions are scattered around. The sections are short and sweet: demonstrate a skill and explain it to me. All of the kids in this class are very capable, some require more time than others. To discourage "speed = smart" I keep the problem load low and make them do a lot of explanations.

My intent with this class is to dedicate their time to classwork as much as possible. The classes are small enough (18 and 15) that some intense differentiation is feasible and probably best. I don't have a plan for that yet. Assessments are just a piece of classwork I happen to look at and shouldn't be feared. A post-secondary goal for these kids is increasing the number that can qualify for college level math courses. Though this class is College Algebra in name, it does not award any credit (since I lack a master's degree I'm obviously unqualified to grant credit, apparently).

Calculus AB

I am keeping some of the ideas from my A/B/Not Yet experiment, namely the self-determination aspects. Assessments are short (half piece of paper) and sweet, with a combination of skills and explanations. There's a max of 10 questions and each assessment is rated on a 0-10 scale. Though 1 question does not necessarily equal 1 point. Students have about 35 minutes to complete the assessment. When I call time they grab a marker and I show the answer keys. Students give themselves as much feedback as they desire. Though unlike my previous system, I collect the papers and assign the rating. I take a holistic view of the paper when determining the score. I put a sticker on there if they get an 8, 9, or 10. The kids making a pre-check helps the rating process go faster.

Right now things are still pretty introductory, we don't know enough to tackle legit AP stuff. Eventually we will transition to AP-style problems on these. They will still take benchmarks to help them make an informed decision about the AP Exam. I expect about 60-70% (~50 out of 75) of these kids to opt-in to the exam.

Calculus BC

It's a small class (16) and a group of kids who put enough pressure on themselves without me being hardcore about tests. Their assessment system is divided into open book (35% of the grade) and closed book (45% of the grade) activities. In all cases they may collaborate on the task at hand. Open book assignments are chopped into a few sections worth a varying amount of points a piece (anywhere from 2 to 9) based on length or complexity. Each section is its own gradebook entry. Because of the speed required, we have already dabbled with legit AP material, so often I use the open book questions to give them a shot at FRQ style situations. The goal is to be diligent about how to make a math argument.

Closed book assessment has been done via Desmos Activity Builder. Topics vary and are usually conceptually in nature. Though the College Board is stuck in the stone ages with calculator technology, I use these as an opportunity to get them better at typing math notation, among other things. Use of Activity Builder spawns from a comment last year that students were fine with all the writing, but typing might be more preferable. These activities are about 15 slides long and I use the dashboard to assess how they rate on a 0-15 scale.

As this group transitions towards even more AP material, closed book will become a little more intense. These students will also take benchmarks to give them an idea about how they'll do on the AP Exam. I would be wildly surprised if the opt-in rate for the Exam was under 100% here.


Assessment can be whatever you want. Find a system you like. Experiment with one you're not sure about. You can always make changes. I don't love points systems, but if you don't want to work within 0-100, don't. There are many many ways to see what kids know and don't know.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Calculus BC is presenting an interesting challenge. Pacing is really hard to nail down. With a such a small, equally capable group, stuff that was normally a week in AB is taking us a day, tops. It reminds me of when I had a class of two (yes, two, though it eventually became ten) students one time. It's really easy to go "you got it?" and get 100% agreement.

Compounding the matter, we are wandering in all kinds of weird directions because, hurricane. My initial motives behind BC were to write a narrative around coordinate systems: rectangular, parametric, vector, and polar. When we missed 10 days, I rewrote the narrative entirely to get something productive out of Hurricane School. With a super fast grading period (an entire post of its own), I've been winging it for a month.

Other than logs/exponentials, we've knocked out all the derivative rules. We covered nearly the entirety of curve sketching (concavity, extrema identification, etc) in like 2 days, and we even introduced integrals via Riemann and trapezoidal sums. Next on the list is algebraic integration, but first a dabble into the abstract idea of integration, computing areas geometrically. But there are a lot of concepts at play here. For this, I started with six graphs:

I covered several situations, all based on some reflections I made a couple years ago. If you really want to demonstrate you know Calculus, you have to do it symbolically or all the algebra is just irrelevant.

We spent a couple days with these graphs. Prior to playing with them, I showed them something I rigged up in Desmos:

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 10.57.31 PM.png

I move a slider and I have them keep an eye on the black number (reading 9.28 in this shot). I stop the slider at various benchmark points along the way and we note the value of the black number. At no point do I tell them what the black number means. Eventually they reason out that the black number represents the area at any given time from x = -10 to x = 17. Further, they're able to determine how areas increase or decrease the total depending on position above/below the x-axis.

Concept 1: Integral as Area

Students take a'(t) and f'(t) and determine the area from left to right. We talk about how the function could be subdivided to accomplish this (rectangles, trapezoids, triangles, circles, etc). I redefine their answers as the integrals of a'(t) and f'(t) from far left to far right.

Concept 2: Area is Relative

Students use b'(t) and I define an arbitrary starting point, in this case I chose t = 0. This axis is measured in steps of 3, so I have them determine an integral from 0 to 30 and from 0 to -27. One student wondered out loud that 0 to -27 seemed off, as if the limits of the integral were backwards. I shrugged and played dumb.

I went back to the Desmos graph and we talked about "reversing" contributions. If I slid "backwards" in time, any area that was previously added is taken away from the total, and any area taken away is now added back. Thus, if our integrals moves left along the x-axis, the notion of what increases or decreases the total is reversed. We then mark the value of b'(t) from 0 to -27 as negative overall. We have gone "backwards" in time 27 units.

Concept 3: End Points are Flexible

With g'(t), I define a new function k(x). I define k(x) as the integral of g'(t) from an arbitrary starting location (in this case I chose -3), and an arbitrary ending location "x." I ask, given that definition, how would we determine k(3)? k(-8)? They think about it for a bit and see that "x" gives them flexibility to define the endpoint of the integral, and k(3) and k(-8) represent choices on how much area to find. In my scenario where the reference point for the integral is t = 3, k(-8) will follow our "backwards" in time model.

Concept 4: Absolute Extrema

Lastly, with c'(t) and h'(t), I bring them back to curve sketching. Based on these pictures, where would c(t) and h(t) have extrema? Currently we know how to identify minimums, maximums, and points of inflection. I introduce the concept of a relative min/max with these pictures. And then branch out into determine absolute minimums and maximums. For c'(t), I offered an initial condition at the far left, and we calculated area at four places: the far left, local max, local min, and the far right. Those numbers determined, we could see how end points come into consideration when making a conclusion about what's "absolute" and what's not.

Effectively, three days and six pictures give kids a symbolic look at almost all the major concepts in the AB course.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A small, but subtle change I'm forcing myself to make this year.

I don't know specifically when, but some years ago I started making work time a priority. Kids should do stuff while I walked around. The urge to intervene when you watch kids work is very strong and it has taken me a long time to find the patience to leave them be.

The truest mantra I have learned in education is that it takes kids forever to do stuff. No matter how much time I seem to budget, kids need more. Now, I've gotten better at predicting just how much more. I've also gotten better at setting up their work time so that they can be more efficient.

What I have been bad about for a long time is what happens when a kid asks me to intervene. Most of the time it's simple question and answer. That student or several students need something re-explained. My little group units make answering a question for several kids pretty easy to do. If a kid requires more assistance, however, for years and years my response was "can I see your pencil?"

That question had good intentions. There is a clear misconception, the student would like help, I can show them or a make a correction quickly if I do the writing. But I was robbing the kid of the opportunity to make the correction on their own, simply because I didn't want it to take forever.

Now I've been forcing a different response, "do this for me..." and I'll do a little dictation depending on the issue. Sometimes the kid knows exactly what to do, they just need something set up. Other times they need to go through a much longer process. Regardless of need, I'm making sure they do all the writing.

Many, many of you probably read that and went "uh, duh, of course that's what you should do." I know this isn't a giant revelation, but it's a subtle difference I've known I needed to make for a while. I have no empirical evidence that changing who does the writing makes a huge difference, but it just feels like the right move. More of the thinking burden transfers to the student. And maybe, just maybe, they get a more robust answer to their question than just nodding along as I write stuff out.

Is this related to the phenomenon of "I get it when you explain with me, but then you walk away and I'm confused" ? It could be. That statement is something I've been trying to put a damper on too.

AuthorJonathan Claydon
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Many years ago there was a question about how you plan. To force better diligence on my part, I had developed this system that involved a couple notebooks and a big calendar.

Towards the end of last year, I finally scrapped this sytem after five years. Why? Primarily because I'd worked through the issues that forced me to it in the first place. Namely, learning how to script my time, remember finer details, and getting good at my content. As it stands now, planning a decent 50 minutes isn't as hard as it used to be. In some conversations with people while out and about at conferences, you just accidentally become really good at planning.

This year I went all digital. A 12.9" iPad Pro took the place of the paper.

My planning has three elements: scheduling, formal write up, and product list. I use Notability on the iPad and the built-in system Notes app on my computer and iPad. Notability is set to back up all my notes to Dropbox so I can view them on the computer if necessary, and the Notes app auto-syncs between iPad, computer, and phone.

Previously, I'd use a paper calendar to make broad strokes about what I wanted to cover on a day. The calendar was marked with holidays and grade entry dates to help me plot out assessments in a reasonable manner. Then I'd take a notebook and script out each day of the week. Now with the ability to super zoom in on the iPad I can wrap both of these tasks into the calendar. Each day has the script written with different color codes for assessment (red), homework (blue), and classwork (purple). If I forget something, thanks to the Dropbox back end, I can pull it up on my phone for a reminder before class starts. I do this super frequently. Previously I'd do the same thing with my script notebook nearby.

Once I have the week planned, I scan the scripts for assignments I need to make. Am I assessing? Need to make that. Am I giving classwork? Should check to see if a previous one works or if I should edit it (which, when you have two weeks off for a hurricane, the answer so far is "LOL, yes you have to edit it"). Something something Desmos? Probably should figure that out.

I keep the "to make" list separate from the "to do" list as that includes other random parts of the job (answer this email, order this thing, sign up for this thing, etc).

After all that's figured out, I write up formal lessons for documentation. I keep these in a Google Doc that are shared with my department chair and appraiser. Objectives, language goals, and a brief run down go here.

I have really liked this system because it forces me to go through the week a few times while planning, better committing those plans to memory. I've passed most of the content hurdles now, so I don't have to keep as many detailed notes about how to cover a topic.

I use plans from previous years as reference, but I never blindly copy and paste. Often I'm able to reuse passed assignments with minimal efforts, but each year is different that they usually deserve something unique for the moment. As it was described to me a long time ago, if you force yourself to throw everything away and start over, you will become really good at your subject matter, really fast.

And finally, other than plotting some assessment dates in advance, I never plan out beyond a week. There's too much uncertainty in a given week. Things might need to push. Something might go faster than planned. You might have a better idea by Wednesday. Making a semester's worth of copies doesn't happen around here.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

We restarted school yesterday. I already had some challenges to consider, but this throws a new wrench into all of it. I mused a bit on this a while ago, before 3 days off became 6 days off before becoming 11 days off. Now the challenge is coming up with gap plans for Calculus. I was very quickly reassured by my colleagues up north that they make it happen, so it won't be a big deal.

My BC group is unique though, there's only 16 of them, a ton of them attended Summer Camp meaning I could easily contact them via Remind. Hurricane issues were extremely minimal for ours kids, so I posed a question to a few of them:

Within, I don't know, 15 minutes, I had 5 "yes, definitely" with promises to relay to others not on the message. Another 15 minutes after that I get more confirmations and a flood of "so what day/time?" and "oh good I was freaking out about being behind." Hurricane School was born.

A friend of mine has a house near school and graciously volunteered the living room. They'd plan an activity for the middle of the day and let us get some stuff done. I grabbed a few school supplies and went over to the house to plan things out. By the end of Saturday the 2nd we were go.

I scrapped my openers for the course and came up with 3 hours of stuff that I knew we could get through quickly: the concept of the derivative and all the rules (power, trig, product, quotient, chain, implicit). You might read that as a Calculus teacher and think it's a lot, but I have this theory about implicit and chain rule practices as the methodology to teach from the start that worked out super well here. Generalizing the mechanics as much as possible makes it much easier to understand how everything works together. More on this theory later.

It was great! Kids were focused. I built in pauses to let them work on short problem sets and we took a pizza break. I sat up front and directed things with my iPad and the TV.

I over planned on the chance things went quicker than I expected. I prepped a one page assignment and wrote out a script to make sure I didn't wander too far off course. Maximizing our three hours was really important here. Here's what we worked through, I skipped Part 4 and saved it for our first day back together:

I think we easily got 3 or 4 class periods worth of stuff done and the kids were willing to do more, but it wasn't my house and I wanted to respect the published ending time. It was great to have school stuff to focus on during the extended vacation and this gave me a lot of ideas to test for AB. Though logistically impossible to meet with them (75 kids), I think we can be more efficient with what was supposed to happen while we were out.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A collection of thoughts on the recent disaster. Many of you have shown concern for what's happening here and I thought I'd offer some of the finer details of a big disaster that isn't necessarily seen in national news.

Let me open by saying this is in no way intended to draw sympathy for me personally. I have suffered nothing in these two weeks. My power didn't even go out. My immediate family had minimal issues, despite being adjacent to some pretty serious water levels. Really, this is just a collection of things for those of you unfamiliar with hurricanes and how long they really linger.

The Buildup

I've lived in Houston for 18 years. After a while hurricanes become a fact of life. Though unlike Florida, we are tucked way in the back of the Gulf of Mexico. It takes a lot of overlapping conditions for a hurricane to gain entry. Most of the time there isn't enough warm water to strengthen the storms. In your average summer, there will be a few close calls and maybe once a tropical storm will break through. Other years (usually drought years) high pressure lingers over the area and nothing enters the Gulf at all. Tropical storms aren't a big deal. It rains a bit, it's not really windy, and they're over in a day. In fact, we have thunderstorm episodes that can drop more rain than a tropical storm. In 2007 I took this sarcastic photo of my apartment complex at the time "prepping" for a tropical storm.


Places were calling off work, the whole thing, and it rained, kinda. We are so used to rain that it takes a lot to really rattle the population. A tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane is uninteresting.

Coincidentally, in 2008, we got smacked by Hurricane Ike. The aftermath of that storm is incredibly similar to what we're going through now. It's felt identical to me the whole time, more on that later.

Initially, Harvey was a tropical storm. In fact, at one point in its trajectory over Mexico it had weakened so much that they took the name away. As a collective we were unconcerned and uninterested. It reappeared a couple days later but was still projected as a tropical storm. As I said, those are nothing really. The night before Harvey showed up I was at a baseball game, got gas with relatively little hassle and waited for inevitable one day off of school. I had some food but nothing resembling a hurricane hoarde.

The Storm

Friday night it makes landfall in Rockport, a beach town 3 hours southwest of Houston. It started raining in the afternoon, nothing major. We probably could've gone to school. Then the forecast got ugly. It was going to rain, but the storm was going to creep north slowly (5 mph) and stop, so it was going to rain A LOT. I've been here for enough major flood events (2001, 2008, 2015, 2016) and enough minor ones (any old random Tuesday morning we can have a thunderstorm that drowns a freeway for a couple hours) to know that A LOT of rain is bad. Why so much? Well, the California heat wave to the west and a high pressure system to the east left the hurricane with nowhere to go. It wasn't strong enough to move north, so it stayed. And rained. For 75+ hours.


As the storm meandered across the area, the intensity varied. Every so often you'd be in-between bands and the rain would stop. But the damage was done. Saturday night most of the major ways in and out of town flooded, so there was no leaving. The ensuing marathon of rain made the puddles deeper and deeper until every big flow channel in the region burst taking 150,000 houses with them.

At that point your local news channel probably started covering it. The flooded cars. The water rescues. The helicopter rescues. The lakes surrounding entire neighborhoods. Even as the rain calmed through Monday or Tuesday there was no sensible reason to leave your house if you were ok. Every five minutes local news begged and pleaded that you just stay put. All the roads were flooded. Emergency services did not have the time to deal with you. Unless you had a big vehicle and a boat, your best contribution was to stay inside. By mid-day Wednesday it was over.

The Aftermath

This is an initial assessment of property damage from various sources. This is incomplete, not all surrounding counties are included.

source: Houston Chronicle

All the damage was concentrated around the biggest water channels, our bayou and creek system that rush water to Galveston Bay. At different points in the five day ordeal, all of them topped their banks in multiple places. Even the large rivers to the southwest hit record levels never thought possible. I live on the west side of town, in one of those big unaffected areas. My school was the same. For us, it's like nothing happened.

A couple days after the storm, life returned. Local roads became passable. Restaurants opened. Gas stations opened. Grocery stores started limited hours. After five days stuck inside harboring families or newly displaced neighbors, nearly everyone was low on supplies. Kids reappeared in the parks. Cars returned to (most of) the freeways. Businesses and schools started finding paths to reopening. Some schools realize that unfortunately, there will be no opening this year.

For the vast majority of us, everything was pretty ok. For a sizable minority of people, that was very untrue. In one suburb, 3000 of 9000 homes were a total loss. There were similar tales all over town. If you were within spitting distance of a major spillway, you took a hit. And only approximately 20% of those people had flood insurance.

You might wonder, how could there be such a low insured rate? You JUST said these things show up all the time?

Not all hurricanes are created the same. Harvey had no wind when it came. In fact the winds rarely topped 20mph, not enough to be a significant factor. There were homes and neighborhoods with wind/tornado damage and that's covered by hurricane policies. Water damage without the wind to rip off your roof is another story. Another issue before you call these people crazy is that the areas that flooded had no significant history of flooding. For a lot of people who took on water, it was never something any property assessment would've informed them was possible. Some homes didn't flood until it became necessary to sacrifice them to avoid dam breaches.

Hurricane Ike in 2008 was a windstorm. Trees were down everywhere. Power was out for over a week or more in some areas. High rise buildings in downtown had glass windows blown out in the hundreds (one lost 50 stories worth on its eastern side). I sat at a church service outside (the main sanctuary was ruined) the Sunday afterward as the pastor held a chunk of the metal roof that had been found twisted around something several hundred feet away. Flooding was present but not the major problem.

The Annoying Rate of Normalcy

In both Ike and Harvey, the days that followed were equally weird. People emerge from hiding and attempted normal things. There is a collective "whoa" among everyone. We all know what just happened, but we'd prefer to just try and pick up where we left off. Except you can't. The city is only about 90% normal right now.

You might say, wow, 90%? That's not bad. Except it's kinda not. Some grocery stores are open, but only for a few hours. Bread and water are on hard purchase limits. Restaurants open here and there, but often on very limited menus. Fast food places go drive thru only to cut down customer load. Gas gets a little more difficult to find. Gas prices spike. Food doesn't restock very quickly. Shelves go empty and stay that way. Most of the roads open. Important ones don't. Traffic gets bad. Then it gets BAD. You hear the rumors: 2 hours to get to work, 3 hours to get to work. Some important bayou crossings could be closed for a month. You realize you had packages that vanished in the frenzy. You try to track them down. The shipping companies aren't really sure where anything is. You watch a person get frustrated that two day delivery doesn't currently mean two day delivery. The skies are filled with military helicopters.

I say annoying rate of normalcy, because it's just that, annoying. And not even like actually annoying. It's just a collection of incredibly tiny, minor annoying things. Like a 1.5/10 on the annoying scale. You have to fight the urge to let being annoyed become your mood. This is a time for immense and determined patience. This is the struggle of the days after a hurricane, you must remind yourself of what is not annoying. You are fine. Your house is fine. Your family is fine. Your students are fine. You can deal with the lack of bread.

The weather is irritatingly nice after a hurricane.

The Resolve

The South is incredibly friendly (have you met Julie Reulbach?). Texas especially so. When taken to task, people rise to the challenge. Thousands of people with the means ran to their trucks, boats, and jet skis and found every last person they could in the flooded neighborhoods. Local reporters spent hours and hours all over town looking for people, riding boats at night with the police, flagging down sheriff's deputies to save a man about to submerge in his 18-wheeler. Thousands flocked to shelters to give supplies and time. Every church, mosque, temple, synagogue, and school district reached out into their communities looking for people to help. Two dozen volunteers grabbed their crow bars and hammers and just wandered the streets looking for people who needed help with demolition. Garages became staging grounds for cleaning supplies, ready for neighborhoods to reopen so clean up could begin.

People in affected homes showed tremendous resolve. Calm, collected, and focused on the task at hand. Their houses gutted, their stuff wet or in tubs of bleach, but they have their health. For that they are thankful. Others said screw it, let's climb the trash pile and sing Les Mis:

We go on. The debris will disappear. The schools will open. The roads will open. The houses will return. The Whataburger Patty Melts will come back on the menu.

Did I contribute? Yes. The details are unimportant. Don't ask me. I won't tell you.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

We had a bit of a rainstorm over the weekend. No one wanted to believe the predictions of 30" of rain, and yet:

Official rain gauge totals for previous 7 days

To answer the main question: I'm fine, the family I have here are fine, and nearly everyone I've checked in with are fine. For whatever random reasons, all got through this with minimal to no damage. My school district as a whole is fine. My school had no damage and the area immediately around my school saw minimal high water. That part is surprising because the area has been prone to flooding before. We got lucky.

Things are not completely rosy in the area. There are two schools who have people affected not so much directly by the storm but by the measures necessary to avoid an even bigger catastrophe. You have probably seen a dozen armchair quarterback twitter threads on the drainage situation around here, this is specifically how it affects my school district:

The southern border of our district is a bayou that is used for runoff during large rain events. At the moment both our emergency reservoirs are full and it is the best interest of the city to drain them as much as possible. A breach at either of these would be horrific. The bayou was already swollen from the hurricane and the reservoirs are being released at rates that would minimize the existing swelling. That means homes that took on water will retain that water for several days as the release continues. In some instances where the channel is narrow, the water has risen and gotten into homes that were not flooded before.

Two high schools have people affected by this issue.

If you would like to give specifically to people in my area, you have two options:

Stratford High School Amazon Wishlist

Spring Branch Education Foundation Pledge Drive

These two campaigns will go directly to the people in my area. I can vouch for the Education Foundation, they turn over almost all the money they receive to people who need it. They run a yearly scholarship campaign that strives to give every child who applies an award.

There are other parts of town that were affected far more. Many school districts have water in buildings, a significant percentage of their populations are displaced, and a restart to school is very up in the air.

I don't have links to specific campaigns, but off the top of my head Fort Bend ISD, Friendswood ISD, Pearland ISD, Dickinson ISD, Katy ISD, Houston ISD, and Humble ISD are all areas that have bigger problems than we do.

If you would like to contribute to the campaign at large, the Mayor of Houston has established a fund for this purpose.

Greater Houston Community Foundation

We have yet to announce a restart date for school, fingers crossed we can get going as soon as possible.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

We started school last week, and then you may have heard we had some weather issues. A low lying road near my brother's house:

I'm fine, people I know are fine. As you read this the rains will be subsiding and things will start to drain. I've been stuck in the house for days. At first we canceled school Friday, then Friday became Monday and Tuesday, then it moved to we'll try again after Labor Day. If they let us have a work day on Labor Day I'd welcome it. Any reason to have something to do.

Let's talk about what I was able to glean from four days of school, shall we?


Seems like a good group of kids. I can definitely feel how big the program has gotten. I have about 90 between AB and BC. When it comes to assessment I'm going to make it up as I go along. I've realized that I just need opportunities to see what kids think. No variation on SBG or whatever has been able to facilitate that well. I'm just going to scrap it and say "alright, here are some problems, let's see what happens." More on that later in the week (I certainly have the time to think about these things). Something motivating this move is that in my transition from athletics I have more time to dedicate to looking at papers. Also:

More time and fewer kids presents a good opportunity to give more feedback.

Given the fast pace of the first semester (and especially now that we've lost at a minimum 5 days), I'm modifying my AP benchmark system. I think early on some more project type work might be more appropriate. They don't really have enough material under their belt to make a judgement call until February.

To the BC crowd I openly admitted I had no idea what I was doing really and that we'll just play around and see. There's only 16 of them, so opportunities abound. Though with the lost time what was already a condensed curriculum will be more constrained.

College Algebra

Nice groups, 30 kids between two classes. There is a lot of variability in their current working knowledge. All of them are fine, but I can tell others would appreciate a challenge. Working towards some differentiation options is going to need to happen quickly. All of them demonstrate an eagerness to work. I'm hoping the small environment they've been given will work to their benefit.

I made a decision to start with linear systems over linear equations and that was a smart move. They would've been bored. Treading the line between challenging and boring is going to the be an issue.


While it was four days, technically I really only had two with all the groups. We have a modified block schedule that kicked in immediately (in previous years we've waited a few weeks to deploy it), so I got the first day, a second day for instruction, and a 90 minute block for instruction. We were oh so close to finishing all the opening procedural stuff (setting up notebooks, assigning computers, schedules getting fixed, etc). When we return it's all going to be a big reset button.

And the other glaring question is what kind of modification is coming to the rest of the school year. We just started, so technically we have bad weather days to cash in. But in situations of great calamity (which would be an understatement if you've been watching the news), the state has granted reprieves for large block of time.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Beating that new-ish teacher anxiety is hard, or at least I find it hard. Because I'm enjoying the gimmick, here's nine things I used to care about but no longer do. Some of these are kind of duh obvious in retrospect, but it's my journey ok? Don't ruin my journey.

1. Microplanning

Early on I developed a very elaborate ritual for planning. It was exhaustive but necessary. I'd jot down some general ideas and then script out every day of the week. Having used this method for many years I have developed a superhuman ability to plan. I don't need all the references anymore, so I've ditched the redundancy.

2. Microprepping

I got a taste for colorful projects and things at some point, but the supply procurement was a lot of work. Scrounging around for this and that the day before the project was going to kick off. I was always chasing my tail on this. Then I decided the sane thing to do was to create a giant stock pile of project supplies.

3. Being Observed

By far the most nerve wracking process of your early career. From my point of view, I started as a pretender in a foreign industry. I hadn't the smallest inkling of expertise and was extremely worried I had no idea what I was doing. Fighting that internal confidence struggle and having an experienced educator take notes on my moves? Yikes. But I worked through it. I quite worrying about all the little details. If you come and watch me it's 99.999% the same as if you weren't there. I'll keep the group moving and you'll see some high quality learning, but it's no rehearsed performance. This is me.

4. Grading

I played the nitpicking points game for a couple years. It was terrible and time consuming. Taking a step back and being more holistic about what a kid's work is trying to tell me has kept me sane. I'm extremely chill when it comes to grading now. It's such an imprecise science I have no idea how -1 vs -2 could hold up in court.

5. Cursing

My kids say bad words. They're 17 and 18, and they were probably raised by Fawn. I'm not saying I'm a fan of kids dropping f-bombs (or worse), but I'm not going to let it ruin my day. Small redirects usually get this issue to sort itself out. Now, if a kids wants to direct some naughty word at me (which happened once forevvvvvvver ago), that's different.

6. Phones

You may disagree with me here. But I think we lost that battle a long time ago. I understand if you're a situation where you have to enforce strict policies on this stuff. I get it. But after I while I noticed that if I was doing a sufficient job of redirecting and conveying at attitude that work time is important time, the phones are out, but they aren't a problem. Kid checks the time or dismisses a notification, whatever. Think about how your own phone habits have evolved over the last decade and try to imagine going 50 minutes without looking at it 10 times. If I can cut that in half I'll call it a win.

7. Markers Drying Out

I have this little marker bucket that gets fed at the start of every school year. It's filled past the top. By the conclusion there's a good inch and a half of space between the top and the marker level. It happens. It is my all consuming bucket. Except brown and yellow. It doesn't seem to digest those. I think the bucket is like half brown and yellow at this point.

8. Loaning Pencils

Kid needs a pencil I give them a pencil. Sometimes I give it back, sometimes I don't. I used to have one of those systems where they traded their school ID for the pencil. But it was another thing to manage. I kept winding up with stray IDs or forgetting to enforce it. Pencils are cheap. Just take the pencil.

9. Grading Pen Colors

Not for any of those "well, green is a more soothing way of offering corrections" kind of reasons. Just one of those "why did I care about this?" kind of things. I'm really late to the party here, sorry.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Houston is big on freeways (and tollways and ring roads and express lanes and on and on). If you try to communicate with anyone from around here, locations are always referenced based on a freeway. Near the north side of our downtown, two of them come together and pass underneath a rail line. For as long as I can remember (which is to say about 2002 or 2003), that rail line has some trademark graffiti. You can see it off to the right in this picture.

yes, I took this picture, #manyfilters

At highway speeds it's a blink and you'll miss it kind of thing. It's become something of an urban legend. The original artist is a mystery. Yet he or she keeps constant vigilance, intervening when people changed it in 2015 and 2017.

It's a simple little message but one that has resonated with me in the last twelve months, for a variety of reasons. Teaching has become such a human experience. There are so many unique opportunities in education, and the phrase BE SOMEONE speaks to that in such a simple way.

As you head off towards the start of your school year, choose to be someone, whatever that means for you.


AuthorJonathan Claydon