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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted
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.

Posted
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?

Calculus

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.

Conclusion

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

My ninth year in the business fast approaches. The classroom is more or less ready to go, but some unanswered questions remain. Here's nine issues for year nine. Who doesn't love a good gimmick?

1. Assessment

I have struggled with assessment structures I like in Calculus. It is the greatest struggle when teaching this course. For whatever reason they just get in the way. But it's still necessary to provide some feedback. How to do so efficiently is an ongoing problem. First I tried an SBG system that was bleh, then I went to A/B/Not Yet, but it was just a little to ambiguous. I don't feel like students were getting accurate feedback from that system. Especially through an idea that was faulty, in retrospect, whereby students only received feedback through my written solutions.

What needs to change here? I have some ideas, I'm not sure what I like yet. Unfortunately this question needs an answer soon.

2. BC

I am super excited about this course. The group of kids is great and I know they will be super eager. Yet at the same time I'm wandering into uncomfortable territory. I can't say that parametrics, Taylor series, etc are my strong suit. I had limited exposure to that stuff in college and it's been a long time since I thought about any of it. I have spent some time this summer studying thanks to the well written Active Calculus. There have been some rumblings among my Calculus kids for reference material, and this is something I'm finally ok recommending.

The big challenge with this course is finding a coherent approach. I'm close, but I should be closer. Since most of my classroom set up is done, I'm hoping to force myself to focus on this during upcoming work days.

3. Grouping

My school is in a weird transition. Our graduating classes are as large as they've ever been, yet average class size (at least in math) has been on a short decline. I was consistently above 150 students each year, but now even with six math classes I might not even hit 130. The standard group unit I spent years developing may be overkill now. I certainly will not need six groups of six. That will change a few things about how I run the show. Ok, really I'm just worried about my dumb game that means nothing. The BC kids (whom I told were in for a tiny class) spent more than a few minutes speculating how it was going to work, with legitimate concern in their voices.

4. Opportunities

In the works for a year, but only announced recently, I made the tough decision to walk away from athletics. It was incompatible with plans I had for my academic programs. I traded athletics for a sixth math class. If you know anything about the duty time required for athletics, adding a sixth class will seem easy in comparison. With hundreds of hours in new free time available, that opens up some new opportunities. I am going to take some of them for myself and just try to work less, and maybe not make it look like I live at school. I do enjoy being actively involved in my school community, and will be volunteering for things here and there, but overall it will be a big reduction. But previous impossibilities are now on the table, like our state academic math competition. For many years I felt like I should be involved, but just couldn't. I also want to spend some time being more involved in my department. For the last almost decade I've been a bit of a ghost.

5. Going National

I will have the opportunity to present my ideas on curriculum at NCTM Chicago Regional and the NCTM DC National. I've never really attended such a large event, let alone present. I have no idea how will it go or if anyone will come. I'm seeing it as a learning opportunity, and really as a way to see TMC folk prior to Cleveland.

6. Victory Lap

Switching to education was a giant risk. My previous job was something I knew I didn't like, and I was scared to death of what happens if teaching wound up equally awful. I never taught a lesson prior to my very first day of school. On the final work day prior to the start of school I remember having a moment in my classroom of "what in the world have I done."

I constantly worried about whether I knew what I was doing. I had all these unconventional ideas and took a lot of risks. Years later of thinking about this stuff way too much, I was honored as teacher of the year on campus, for my district, and as a finalist for my region (Texas has 1000 school districts subdivided into 20 regions, my region employs 95,000 teachers):

Awards are cool and all, and it's an honor to be recognized. Really these awards are a testament to the kids who do such a fantastic job and keep me laughing. I work with a lot of great people and it takes more than just me to make my school a lovely place to work. Despite the recognition, I've still got to organize my own marker bucket, you know?

Really this awards tour brought confidence and the ability to take a deep breath. The big risk I took has unequivocally been the correct choice. I don't have to second guess myself as much. We had a great dinner conversation at Desmos Fellows weekend about this, actually.

7. College Algebra

Another new adventure. With growing senior classes, we have had issues offering classes that meet the needs of our seniors. It's long been observed by myself and the Stats teacher that having two AP classes shouldn't be the only math electives on the table. I have two very cozy (about 15 each) College Algebra courses this school year. I'm excited because it gives me an opportunity to revisit my favorite experiment from my Algebra II days. Though they won't be receiving college credit, I think it's a good opportunity for this group. There's a lot of freedom to explore some interesting math here.

8. Community

One other opportunity is one aimed at community building. We have advisory periods that are now twice a week. Last year I crafted one with Calculus kids with the thought that maybe we'd do some interesting things. While we did succeed in building a hall of fame, some of the smaller goals got lost in the mix for a number of reason. I'm hoping to improve upon that.

9. BC, Again

So excited for this group. I'm not even sure what to do say or do with them on the first day of school and I don't have a coherent curriculum yet, but it's just going to be great, I know it. Or it will drive me insane. One of those.

Here's to a good school year.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

My favorite week of the year has come and gone, it's time for some Twitter Math Camp Reflections. Really, it's an examination of my greater participation in this community and how a group of anonymous people in my timeline have become real friends.

The real fascinating part has been watching the careers evolve all of the amazing people I have met through this conference, convention, family reunion, whatever you want to call it. On the surface it was professional development for teachers by teachers, and everyone gave a crap. Now you look around the room and you see people who write professional curriculum, work for Desmos, have written books, have won the biggest award in math education, have become math specialists, have risen in the ranks of NCTM committees, and on and on. There are some real influencers in math education in the room, and all of them still give a crap. More importantly, the percent of newcomers to TMC is always great. By wandering around the country, the conference always has a healthy population of local teachers who have heard the hype and want to see what things are about. All the newcomers I talked to said it was the greatest conference they'd been to. That really says something.

It's also amazing to see newcomers continue to volunteer to present or get up in front of the group with a My Favorite. As David Butler put it "everyone is worthy of presenting."

Roles

What's my role now in this community? I started as a wide-eyed participant in 2013, in awe that so many people from the scattered corners of the country could care so much about teaching math well. In recent years I have tried to share some yearly nugget to help contribute to that awe, to keep people coming back to TMC and walking away knowing it was the best week of the year. And that participation is starting to expand beyond TMC. This was immediately apparent when walking in the door to Desmos headquarters before TMC (and even before then at NCTM in April) and seeing so many familiar faces. These weren't just teachers I saw once a year, these were friends. We walked away TMC knowing that next time isn't so far away.

There have been so many humbling moments this year. To those who have found inspiration from what I have to share and those who tell me how much they like hearing my latest goofy classroom story or My Favorite, all I can say is thank you. I am inspired by all of you equally. To those of you new to TMC, I am so happy you had a great time.

I learned a lot this year and made a point to actually take some notes. Mattie and Chris made classroom debate norms seem so easy. The folks who ran off to write the Illustrative Math 6-8 curriculum blew me away with their newly finished product. Steph and Tamar showed me just what I was looking for, a web-based Python emulator. Rachel, Molly, and Jamie found a triangle you can play with for an hour and still be mystified. Bob talked about bean bags. And I got to show some middle school teachers that Calculus isn't super scary.

Push Send

All of this goes back to the message from Carl Oliver in his Saturday keynote. What happens when you muster up the courage to Push Send? In 2013 I signed up for TMC site unseen. I knew nothing other than these were some passionate people I had to see to believe. I don't know what came over me, but I volunteered for a My Favorite. I was nervous as hell. There's no video, but I remember clinging to the podium to make sure I wouldn't shake. I needed to do it. I wanted to say hello to these awesome people (and I masquerade as a cartoon and none of them knew my face).

Now I drop My Favorites like it ain't no thang, here's this year's:

And this could be you! All it takes to participate is to stand up and say hello, in whatever capacity makes you comfortable. At no point in my years of participation in TMC and the math teacher internet at large have I run into anyone trying to crush my dreams. These are the most supportive people ever. All of them eager to hear your ideas and eager to help you when you need a hand. If you email me, I will answer you. If you send me something on Twitter, I will reply. Push Send.

Conclusion

Our Global Math Department continues to excite me. I'm just going to mark off the last ten days in July from now until I can't walk anymore.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon

A series of seven posts on major turning points in my teaching career. A study of where I was, where I am, and where I'm headed.

ALL POSTS IN THIS SERIES

Classroom Management is the most unique challenge in the profession. Every year brings with it new challenges and joys. Your experiences with this can vary wildly from year to year or even from hour to hour during the day. After you clear those initial hurdles and develop some solid strategies there are opportunities to expand on your relationship with the people in your room. How do you balance the need to have strong procedures in place for learning and offer flexibility for the unexpected?

Where It Was

This topic is so difficult to write about because teachers come from so many different place on this. I cannot think of something harder to replicate than classroom management styles. It is so heavily dependent on the personality of the individual. But, I did learn some important lessons early on and have been able to evolve the way I deal with young people.

I have been fortunate in that my altercations with students have been minimal over the years. I have always had a policy of being slow to anger and trying to hold on very tight to the idea that in times of crisis the issue is not a personal attack on me. My second year I got in a small shouting contest with a girl who didn't want to complete an assignment. I pressed. She pressed back. At a certain point you get caught in that moment where you think about what happens to your credibility if you let the class see you blink.

Coaching is full of these moments. I dealt with ninth graders and each and every group had different ways of getting to me. In each and every case I had to remember it was nothing to do with me personally, it's the nature of crowd dynamics when you get a certain number of 14 year olds together. You straddle a fine line of doing what's best for the young man in the long run and what's best for the team immediately. I can't say I always made the correct decision dealing with incidents.

But slowly, thing started to change. Kids were still kids, and yes, I had moments where it was time to hold firm on something. And yet, after several years of being deeply involved my school community, I started to see the residents of my room differently. Out there were kids I'd known since seventh or eighth grade. Others were younger siblings of former students, finally getting their turn in my room. It stopped being random names on an attendance sheet, but people I had a history with who happened to need some math education from me.

Where It Is

In the day to day, my primary goal remains. I have math tasks that need to get accomplished. I push on the to do list each and every day. Kids will say they like a class because they never do anything. That is never the reputation I'm after. Many kids tell me they appreciate how much they do. They notice I don't take my foot off the gas when it comes to learning.

However, that history was still getting to me. If this handful of kids I know run into challenges, surely this must be common? Are there some little things I can do to make everyone feel a little more comfortable? And when an issue arises, how can we prevent public confrontations?

I made three shifts that have made a huge difference.

Listen. Build in time where you can just wander around the room while students work. I do this frequently. Often a couple days a week are dedicated to classwork or a project. In this time while I do bop around answering questions, I just keep my ears open. What are kids talking about? Often it's work related, but you know kids, they'll talk about three things at once while working. From time to time I interject myself into the conversation. They'll balk at me being nosy, but I tell them it's my room, I do what I want. Sports, girlfriends, cheerleader drama, school events, or whatever, I just listen. After a while they welcome my participation. It makes it very easy to redirect them back to work. We'll have our quick chat and I point back to the papers. Everyone gets back to it with little argument.

Sympathize. Kids have bad days. I have bad days. I'm an old person though, so I recognize the importance of maintaining professionalism. Kids can't always cope in the same way. I made a point to keep an eye on the signs. A student suddenly has little to say, has a look of exasperation, or just can't seem to concentrate. Very quietly I will see if they're alright and if they just want to chill out. Some are fine, others need five minutes, and others need the tissue box and time in the hallway. Some will tell you what's up, others won't. I'm fine with either situation. Forcing them to complete an assignment isn't always the best medicine for emotional duress. Establishing this pattern communicates that it's ok if things are not ok. Some students need this policy more than others. One student last year would just give me the signal when it was hallway time. If a student makes it clear that today is just not the day, I'll leave them be and follow up the next day. Sometimes it was just a headache, other times it's more. Each student always appreciates that I took the time to notice.

De-Escalate. Incidents happen. Last year I had a class that had a dynamic of getting too riled up too often. A few students would consistently create a challenging environment for everyone else. Though I came close, at no point did I turn it into any kind of shouting match. I stopped what I was doing, silently waited for them to realize they were causing a problem, and then moved on. Much later, most often the next day, is when the problem gets dealt with. Often in 30 seconds or less while I'm greeting kids at the door. I'll stop yesterday's offender for a second and have a quick discussion about their side of the story. I have brokered dozens of peace treaties this way. Should the problem be so egregious that I really should do it right then, I never kick a kid out in the hallway. I press on and wait for a pause in the action (the benefits of building in lots of classwork time). I'll calmly (emphasis on calm, composure is everything) find the offender and ask them to come with me to the hall, or I'll nudge them to stay for a second after class ends.

Where It Is Going

These efforts have made me enjoy the school day more. I look forward to seeing my little communities as we laugh and learn together. My idea of classroom management builds on the family aspect I have talked about before. There's a level of comfort and productivity that is unique to the environment. Kids take risks, they'll let loose, and everyone benefits.

Things like Summer Camp came to be to further build community in my classroom. It is such an important building block in how I get stuff done. While there are a lot of math related reasons why my AP program is improving, the calm environment I provide plays no small part.

Takeaway

This is a really tough topic. What works for me may not work for you. Likewise I would probably fail at running a classroom like you do. But I think in the great classroom management problem there is some common ground. We all have a lot of complicated people that we spend nine months taking care of. The more we're able to see eye to eye with the people under our care, the better we can improve the learning experience for the kids of today and tomorrow.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

In May I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in Cohort 2 of the Desmos Fellowship. We would be getting the VIP tour of Desmos headquarters and get the opportunity spending the weekend learning about new features and brainstorming ideas with teachers from all over the country. As is the nature of the awesome teachers who use Desmos, for me it served as a TMC17 preview. So many familiar faces!

The in face part of the fellowship wrapped Sunday and here's what the great folks at Desmos had in store for us:

Friday

A nice meet and greet at headquarters to give us a chance to get to know one another. I was on the end of the arrivals, missing the initial introductions. I admit I must not have scanned the Cohort 2 names well enough because it was such a surprise to see so many familiar faces. It was also a pleasure to meet so many of the Desmos staff face to face. Excellent people all, and they have wonderful taste in fancy water. Just, you know, don't ask too many questions about the TI-Emulation Layer...

At the conclusion, most of the pack wandered out to dinner having received a quick briefing about the weekend ahead.

Saturday

We spent the morning getting insight into the design process from Michael, Jenny, and Shelley. The primary focus of the weekend was Activity Builder and what we might want to do with it. The folks at Desmos were also looking for our feedback on what works and doesn't work about the current state of Activity Builder and the Teacher Dashboard. These folks know their audience and think really carefully about what works best for people in the classroom.

We worked through some Desmos designed activities and discussed the principles at play. Does an activity present a challenge? Does it build on student vocabulary? Does it create an immediate need for the math concept at hand? Does it minimize a student's ability to guess and check their way to completion?

These are some really big questions I've asked myself and were part of my reservations in waiting so long to deploy it.

We were given some unstructured work time to develop concepts for fresh Activity Builders, working in groups arranged by content area. Working with the handful of Calculus folks was tricky, it's a real no man's land of application for this stuff so far. Sam and Sarah had a great conversation about motivating the product rule with an area model. Myself, Josh, and Sean tossed around ideas about area under curves and solids of rotation. Both of these topics offered some technical challenges that required us to spend some time talking about the math before we ever created the first slide.

The rest of the day I volunteered to help Jenny user test some new ideas for Teacher Dashboard. I successfully managed to request a feature that was sitting right under my nose, if I had just bothered to stop for a second and click.

We concluded with an introduction of Computation Layer, a more advanced method to tie slides within a Activity Builder. It's not quite ready for primetime and something that's not quite on my radar. One day. I adopt things slowly.

There were some short breakouts in the afternoon, I listened to Dave and Julie discuss their uses of Desmos when it comes to assessment. This is something I plan to do more during the upcoming school year. Julie made us take her Desmos-based midterm.

Sunday

The morning focus was on helping spread the word about Desmos in professional development. They get tons of requests for training from schools but don't have the staff to fulfill the requests. Being a part of the cohort gives you an opportunity to become a Certified Presenter. If duly motivated, you can prep a demo reel for scrutiny by Team Desmos and if they like what you got, you can get the official blessing and be deployed (and paid) where needed. Another opportunity I might consider for the future, but not right now.

To give us an idea of what they were looking for, Dan walked us through the Charge! activity. We had a discussion about what the go to tools would be for this task and how technology helps and hinders the solution.

We were given more free time to conclude our thoughts from the previous day. Lots of furious work on all sorts of interesting things. I mocked up a dynamic rectangle generator for Sam and Sarah:

I then spent my time hacking through concepts in sequences and series, eventually playing around with Taylor Series generation in Desmos.

We ended the day wandering around the room seeing what everyone had made. So much creativity and talent on display. Some people in the cohort have already developed some real chops with Computation Layer, and some really bonkers things are possible (yellow shading!).

Conclusion

Whenever I attend professional development, I keep my goals simple: have one good conversation about teaching and learn one new thing (and take pictures of random Lambo's that unfortunately don't belong to Eli). I had no idea you could display dynamic values on a graph (the "Area=" thing in my rectangle demo). Sam and Sarah's discussion of the area model proof of product rule (and the two page storyboard) really taught me something I thought I already knew. Dave and I talked Active Calculus, Scott and I talked Pre-Cal spaghetti, Elizabeth shared interesting info about SFUSD, Mary got real fancy with thrown footballs, Stephanie recommitted herself to blogging (we'll be watching, Stephanie...), and on and on...

Thanks to Desmos for being such active participants in the math teaching community and being excellent hosts! It was all over way too soon.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon
Tagsdesmos