This post doesn't really fit into any of the MTBoS explorations this go round, maybe what makes my classroom uniquely mine round 2.

First off, I made the best smoothie of my green smoothie life, cures whatever ails you and gives you a mid morning nutrition blast that has become quite the habit. Pack it in a mason jar for that needed pick me up: Into a strong blender goes: 3 pitted dates, 1 pear, 1.5 carrots, rib of celery,  1/2 inch cube of ginger, two big handfuls of spinach, and .75 cup of water. Start blending on low, turn off, pack with a spoon, then blend on high until smooth. Heaven!

I have been working to pull my Advanced Algebra students out of the Algebra/Geometry For All model and into the "let's get ready for college thinking" mode. Instead of "here are three ways to know and graph quadratic functions", I let the graphs drive the equations, forcing the students to  come up with silly scenarios to write model equations. They were a lot more fun to grade and a lot of pride went into them. Honestly, I am not certain yet that deeper learning happened, as the kids stressed about getting them done. I did do one CCSS tweak to the whole thing. The first round was so awful and so lacked understanding, that I made comments on sticky notes, and had the students revise them. I realize I could have had the students do this step, and I needed to get the project going in the right direction before the students would be able to comment.

I asked the students to come up with three equations to model quadratic functions, one that utilized vertex form, one that utilized factored form and one that required students to use a system of linear equations to find a, b, and c. A lot of good discussion came up around where to place the axes and what does it mean when a isn't negative, even when we know our graph should be upside down. The graphics, of course, were the best part. I thinking mapping the path of Skittles into the mouth of the a person across the room, frogs lapping up flies mid jump, and swan divers make a case for a little psuedo-text license. Just saying.

Ha! I am one of those veteran teachers that Sam Shah was referring to when he said, If you feel like you aren’t awesome at teaching, welcome to the club. If you feel constantly like everything else you see out there is better, welcome to the club. I love you Sam!

Ack, I am even an emptynester
this year for the first time and don't even have a pipeline to popular culture. I doubt my students give a rip that I saw a 2 year old movie about a pharmacist obsessed with Woody Allen at the Jewish Film Festival, or Foyle's War on PBS, or what the latest Economist has to say on Freakonomics Radio.

But, AND here I am trying to share what I know and get better. That's the thing, right, 28 years and I can do better, get better, learn how new minds think and what gifts you all bring to the table.

I am not the teacher who invents fancy new dances like the Dishwasher and Gravity, I don't play the guitar, (I used to beat the crap out my football players doing pull-ups (not chin-ups) until I broke my arm last summer), AND what I do have is SPUNK. I can be 50 and still be S.P.U.N.K.Y. One of my new students commented, "you are optimistic aren't you?" Yup, yup, I am. I am so sure you can do this thing, because I did, I have and believe you me, you are better than I am because I am pretty confident you didn't have to go through what I did to get here. (and thank goodness for on my own from age 14-15...not what I would wish for any teenager.) I never, ever, sit down. That's my schtick and I am sticking to it.

I do want to share with you a super fun activity that occurred in my Geometry class the other day.

I gave each group of four students a statement. (Thanks to Julie Reulbach for the inspiration). (I love you too, Julie!) I always give the students some way to assign tasks like materials getter, writer, speaker, time keeper, by having them figure out little details, like who has the most pets, who lives farthest from school, who has the youngest sibling, who has the "most expensive" first name (118 for Gustavo),etc...That is something I think makes my classroom "mine."

The students needed to write the statement as a conditional statement, decide whether or not it was true, and draw or explain how they knew what they knew.They did this on whiteboards.

We had the best conversations. Are three collinear points always coplanar? Are all right triangles congruent? Etc...And here is the twist. REVISION! Pick one, take it home, make it yours, and make it better! Rewrite the whole darn thing, especially if you don't agree with the conclusion, and for fun, I added, write the converse, inverse, and contrapositive and determine whether or not each of those statements was true or false. If I had stuck to the "lesson schedule," I would never had the wherewithall to extend the activity into homework that has some nice chewy bits.

Happy Fall Everyone! and Thank you for welcoming me into your MTBoS. You are the best.
I just inherited two sections of Geometry. I mean, called in Tuesday, start teaching Wednesday. Yeah, so trying to figure what the kids know and don't know starting on day 10 of their 95 minute block schedules. There is so much I want to share with them, so much rich, yummy math.

Tuesday Evening I took a quick peak at the book (The previous teacher took down her website and wiped the board clean...I don't blame her...) found a few terms they should know and gave them a relatively easy worksheet on pairs of angles. The first eight problems were identification, last 14, find x.
Nothing too interesting. However, in going over the assignment in class, a CCSS click occurred. While it isn't earth shattering, the idea is that if my head wasn't in a constant state of CCSS-ness, I would have not been so clever. Already CCSS is working...on me.

The worksheet looks like this: (From Kuta Software)

I had the students mark it like this:

Then we took problems 13-22 and categorized them. The final product looked like this:

The students had to justify and critique each other's placement of the remaining problems. (Math Practices Constructing the Viable Arguments and Critiquing the Reasoning of Others).

High engagement, low prep. I like it!
Ack! I didn' save one image! However, don't stop reading, okay, you can if you want...

Systems of Linear Equations is a review for Algebra 2 students, and I hope, now that the students ARE Algebra 2 students, they will finally make the connection between the Algebraic solution to the system and its graph.

I started with this slide:
Michelle and Brian Look Fabulous!
from the most recent Woman's Day (how I got that subscription, I will never know, it just appeared one day).

Then I gave them a graph with some (fake) linear data.

The conversation was rich in two ways, the math was great, AND the opportunity to have a conversation with teenagers about health, diet, and exercise was FANTASTIC. Lots of questions about how they lost the weight, they wanted to know how long it took them to weigh their current weights, were they doing any weight training, have they maintained their weights, what kind of help did they have. Why did Michelle lose more weight, is Brian more muscular, how tall are they?

I know the issue can be extremely sensitive and I did notice one "husky" boy shifting in his seat. I emphasized that they didn't gain the weight overnight, so they weren't going to lose it quickly if they were going to maintain healthy weights. I emphasized the portion control, exercise, and cutting empty calories like alcohol (one girl told us how her mom quit drinking and lost 30 lbs!), I did emphasize body types (I have bird bones and 150 lbs would look ridiculous on me, however my daughter has her dad's bones, and 145 looks marvelous on her).

Noticing and wondering turned procedural proficiency (Blech) into something engaging and meaningful. It turns out Andrew Stadel tweeted about Noticing and Wondering in this Blog Post from Max at the Math Forum. I didn't see it until this morning after the fact. After reading the article, I can't wait until Monday!
I am still so catching the teachable moments. I am happy and annoyed that the CCSS chatter won't shut up in my head every minute of my teaching day. I know I can do better. I need to get the procedural stuff down too. I have to be patient.

I did get to have this moment with my Algebra 2 students:

We first did a Frayer Model for Linear Functions in our INB's. It looked like this:

Then I stopped and said, "prove to yourself, your neighbor, and me that xy =12 is not a linear function." (At the end of the day, I got looser and said, choose any one of the Non-Linears). OMG, it was so interesting! Granted this is only their 4th day of Alg 2 AND I thought they just had a year of Geometry with proofs and stuff. Proofs and Viable Arguments are clearly two completely different animals!

I loved that the students were engaged and active. I gave one person in the groups of four a whiteboard pen and spread them around the available whiteboard space (and two large whiteboards in the middle of the room). Guess what, NOT A SINGLE GROUP in one of my classes tried to show the function wasn't linear by graphing!


The word "formula" made me cringe, and they got it!

I thought their last argument went nicely with the one above.

These guys got stuck so I fed them a possible argument

I commended the students on what was good, I teased them (am I allowed to that?) about their lack of plotting points and looking at the graphs of the functions (when do the students understand the relationship between x, f(x) and a graph), I loved looking at their faces and "getting" what an argument means. I also loved KNOWING that the students were seeing that this was the math that connected to the rest of their academic life.

Happy Three Day Weekend Everyone!

Any thoughts, suggestions, concerns, next steps would be greatly appreciated.
My first day bell ringer for Algebra 2 came from Fawn Nyugen's lovely site,

(Her's looks WAY more professional):
I gave the students quiet time. Then opened the conversation to the entire class:

I was a bit flummoxed when no table emerged at first. It was both WONDERFUL and odd that NO ONE after the first block class (the next 2 classes) made a table. The part I liked about the conversation was this:

Ss: I notice that the perimeter grows by 6 each time.

T: So you mean after the first term you get + 6 and then the next one you +6 again?

Ss: Yeah

T: How do you say that with your big girl/big boy pants on? I mean, if we want that to happen on every nth term?

Ss: Times Six

T: So if we said 6n, what does the "n" represent

Ss: The nth day, I mean the nth position

T: But does that work?

Ss: No! you have to add two for the ends that don't get shared.

T: So which of the various answers are now reasonable to eliminate? How can we test the answers that left ?

Blah, blah.

MTBoS, please let me know if I could have done a better job with the generalization of this pattern. What parts were good? I was completely unsure of how to end this lovely conversation. Suggestions? 

We are out here rocking the Blogosphere!

Just because I am teaching Advanced Algebra this year, doesn't mean I am going ignore my MS peeps. Love you Guys/Gals!

Linking up with Julie Reulbach for Sunday Funday Goals and Changes for the 2013-2014 School Year. (Check out the Sunday Funday last week for Ice Breakers)

So if I am saying this in public, then I am committed, right? Right!

  • 100% Engagement--my expectations from students--what this means for me is that I am so prepared, so into providing interesting, Goldilocks Challenging problems, that the students are that focused on math.
  • 100% Safe--We provide a safe environment for students to make mistakes, think aloud, and take risks.  
  • 100% Prepared for Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Statistics and mathematics beyond High School--rocking the common core state standards and keeping the growth mindset flourishing.
  • Including more useful technology--make sure my students have experiences that prepare them for taking the CCSS online. 
I think that is plenty. Keep me to these goals please. 

I am linking up with Carol at Real and irrational who is inviting High School Teachers to add to her First Day Activities for High School Math Teachers. ( This is really kicking my butt to remember all the years! I have notes in my planners like: Card Sort...and guess what? I have moved rooms so many times and packed up so many times, I have no idea what that means)

Here goes:  (90 minute block)


Finding your seat. I put students is groups of 4. As the students enter, they get an index card with an equation to solve or expression to reduce. Sometimes the number is related to trivia: The number of children Ms. Z has (2) , or silly, like what a golfer yells before he hits the ball. There are 8 sets, the students have to find their table and take one of the seats. It always a good idea for them to figure out if they are in the correct place with each other. The difficulty of the card relates to the subject.


Students get the mindset straight away "This is a math class and we do mathy things, even on the first day."


Students find a "mathography"
survey at their table that they can begin filling out.  Also, there are very bright card stock "calling cards, " that have my email and the class website on the front and a supply list on the back.


We all need time to find the classroom, I need to take role, I want the students to know right away that I care about who they are,  and I don't want to overwhelm the students on the first day with a big 'ol long syllabus with a bunch of dense language making their heads spin. They need to get the essentials right away.


Uncommon Commonalities:

The students make 2 concentric circles on a piece of paper. Then quarter the rings. First they write their names in each section and something unique about them. Then in the center they have to figure out something they all have in common. (No age, grade, where they live...gotta dig deeper!) We then go around the room and introduce ourselves. (I have the eldest be the speaker, the youngest be the scribe)


It is important for the students to get to know each other and I use this activity for my first seating chart.


Ignite speech. First time for this. Running with Andrew Stadel.


Why are we here? I notice and I wonder. Setting the tone of collaboration and grit, self-determination and growth mindset.


I have done many math tasks, depending on what I am teaching.

For Algebra I start with 4 fours. Students need to number their papers 0 -10. They must use exactly 4 fours and any operations to achieve the values from 0 to 10. I have them work silently at first, then in pairs, then in whole table groups. We do a whip at the end.

For Geometry and Advanced Algebra I have started with CPM's: Yarns.
Basically the students get a length of yarn per table. They then must build a square, a 5-pointed star, a square based pyramid, etc...

For Pre-Calculus we start right away with family of functions. Tell me everything you know.


Working together, working on math tasks, students get a feel for what assumed knowledge I am expecting.

Changed Actions for this fall because I am smarter and wiser and taking Jo Boaler's How to Learn Maths Class, a Stanford supported MOOC.:

Instead of the above Action, I am starting both Geometry and Advanced Algebra with a number talk. (See Jo's Class for this).


We all have something to bring to the table. Math study is fluid, not static.

Advanced Algebra Action:

I will use Math Munch's notion of Fraud from the Park City Mathematics Institute with flipping coins and cryptography.


Multiple entry points, and where's big kid panties at the same time.

Geometry Action:

I will be stealing, finding/using something from the CCSS or MTBoS

Have a great opening day and best wishes for a growth year! 

(Come back for links to my ignite speech slides, my mathography blank, and uncommon commonalities blank)

My amazing and talented friend, Carolyn, sat with me yesterday and showed me a thing or two around Blogger. The results are twofold: For you, the dear reader, Labels! Woot! (This is the least I can do to match the quality and generosity of my fellow MTBoS writers).

And the second is fodder for this post.

The set up:

I took a year off from my permanent school for 2012-2013 (mostly because my ride share partner, and Environmental Science teacher extraordinaire, Stefan, took a leave of absence to be the Director of Education at the Sonoma County Water Agency. As it turned out, my daughter's HS (9th and 12th graders) school needed an Algebra teacher. Stars aligned and I had an 80% job for the Fall. And as you all know, WHAT A RIDE! Every teacher should have the opportunity to teach in a different school every couple years. Gives you some awesome prospective. AND if the new school were smart, they would take advantage of your expertise, instead of relegate you to the "low man on the totem pole." To work again with a staff and in particular, an administration, that appreciates the risks you take to learn more, stay fresh, and increase student engagement will be, oh so very, welcoming...

The deal:

About 2/3 of the way through labeling all 58 posts, I decided to try and see if I could get any information out of the labeling process. I was delighted to find that the labels were being counted! Labeling most recent post to oldest here were the most popular titles:
Aha (6) Classroom Management (6) Good Ideas (4), Algebra (13), Community (4) CCSS (10),  Professional Development ( 7) Philosophy (15) and Food (0).

When I finished labeling, the counts looked like this:
Algebra 1 (21), Classroom Management (9), Community (13), Food (3) and MTBoS (8).

When I started with the Math Blogger Initiative, I wrote most about what I love: food and sharing.
As I moved through the year, I got more into educational philosophy and had the opportunity to play with Common Core State Standards. I began to write more for me, and my passion for community. (Being away from the active professional learning community at my old school was eye-opening for me.) The development cracks me up. Maybe I should get back to writing more about food and how to feed a family healthfully and quickly when you are all moving a billion zillion miles per hour during the school year. Yeah, I will leave you with one of our family's FAVORITE of all times meals, AKA "heat it, eat it and beat it." Good for any time of the year! Enjoy!

The goods:

Yum Bowls  

On the table have wide, empty bowls, like these:
Start with a rice cooker full of short grain brown rice.

 In bowls in the middle of the table place:                           

  •  A heated can of Great White Northern Beans.      
  • Shred a Carrot
  • Chopped Spring Onion
  • Sliced Avocado
  • Chopped Tomato
  • Grated Cheese
  • Chopped Lettuce
  • Tin of Sliced Black Olives
  • Sliced Mushrooms
  • Shred 1/4 of a Cabbage
  • Chopped Cilantro
  • Toasted Walnuts
  • Steamed Broccoli (I do mine in the microwave)
  • Pesto Sauce
  • Salsa
  • Tamari or Soy Sauce
Let everyone concoct their own and enjoy with this family conversation game that I stole wrote:

Table Talk Sentence Starters (email me for a PDF zicker63 at gmail dot com)

Cut up the sentences starters and place them in a bowl. Let one family member pick the starter and complete the sentence and pass it to the next person. Each person answers the sentence before the next player picks a new starter.

I have been on vacation. Phew. Much needed. I was delighted to see two new posts in my feeder,
One from Kate at f(t) and one from Approximately Normal. I missed the Global Math Department meeting because I wasn't aware of it and, well, I was on vacation.

Having read the editable Google Doc from the conversation, I say yes! Yes to where we are at. Some more reflections: are you out there, anyone, anyone?

What constitutes a " newcomer?" I have just finished my first year of MTBoS with 57 posts. Am I still a newcomer? I have been teaching for more than a quarter century and don't know crap about Twitter ( though willing and trying) or Gavatar or Keynote, am I still a newcomer?

I was invited here, so glad to be here, and being here makes my job less lonely, especially when I want to talk shop. I have no expectations or desires for it to go this way or that. Like Andrew, over at Divisible by 3, I am just grateful this is here and I was lucky enough to find it. (Willing it, as Cheesemonkey Wonders so poetically suggests.)

There is no time to talk during the school day.
I am too burnt out to talk about math and teaching during normal people hours and when I am ready to get back to it, no one is awake.
I feel inspired and want to acknowledge those who've inspired me.
There is a question someone has about teaching math that I might be able to lead them to in a helpful direction. ( argh, it is getting late!)
I can't sleep until I process an event.
I cook like America's top chef and I want you to know it!

I want to connect with the math "poets." The people who care about people, who are multi- dimensional, not celebs, and are interested in forming genuine relationships around shared values, acceptance, interests, and the common good.

I like the quirky- throw-out-ideas-out-there-research-geek- try-to-do-our-best-for-the-students style going on out here in the MTBoS.

And maybe I blog because I really do want to be a rockstar and make a small difference.

And I am always hopeful by writing I will keep criss crossing my passions along the way.
and leave him some comments.

If you haven't really been privy to the differences between CST and Common Core, Andrew has put together the most illuminating video over at Divisible by 3. It is short and sweet and oh so educational! Should be required viewing by EVERY secondary administrator.

Hey Andrew, have you sent this up to UCDMP? I will make sure Josh Dies gets it at SCOE (Sonoma County Office of Ed...he will have good and loads of things to say!)

I just had a job interview at a lovely independent school in Northern California. I have watched this school grow up for 14 or 15 years and have been such a die-hard public school wonk, it took me a long time to have a paradigm shift in order to apply. So I did apply. It was a lovely interview, so different than a public school:

Public school: 11 Questions must be asked in same order to all interviewees
Independent: Wow, so you took a year off from your school to teach at your daughter's school? How was that? What was different about those experiences?

Public school: 10 minute demo lesson to 5 or 6 adults
Independent: 30 minute live lesson with kiddos and the ENTIRE interview committee, plus head of school

Public school: Interview
Independent: Interview with all members of math and science department (one department). 30 minute live lesson, 30 minute meeting with Head of School and Asst. Head of School and Champ (head of school's furry chihuahua)

You know, I just let it rip. I had nothing to lose for being absolutely me. My given topic: Intro to Logic 2.1 to 2.3 McDougal Geometry.

Here is my the lesson:

Find the next three terms in the pattern: 2, 4, 8, ....

I was thrilled! 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64
                       2, 4, 8, 64, 3904, 15,990,784                     Can you figure these out?
                       2, 4, 8, 14, 22, 32                                       Did the adults keep quiet...heck no! They
                                                                                          raised their hands with wild enthusiasm.

Then we played the four letter word game: I am thinking of a 4 letter correct, food, 2 correct...what do you know? Must be the oo...tool...3...pool...2...must be too...took...3...toot? BINGO!
How are these two different! Bingo again! Tha,t my friends, is the difference between inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning...blah, blah, blah.

We then wrote our favorite Law of Syllogism sayings from Laura Numeroff's series "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," in if-then form and made them syllogisms and then I had them write them in symbolic form stating, "If P equals If you give a Pig a Pancake," and If "Q equals, She will want some syrup to go with it, " etc...

Oh, did I mention:

Public School: 32 students
Independent:  12 students (In that case, I had five Mouse a Cookie type books by Laura Numeroff...plenty to go around)

They were cutting me off and ripping those intellectually thirsty students out from under my spell!

Anyhoo, I got home from a run the next day,with this This American Life podcast chirping through my earphones. (Episode 464, Act 2). A must for any geek. See, Tig Notaro, keeps bumping into a certain celeb around Los Angeles. She is desperately trying to make a connection to this celeb whom she adores. With the same fan line, Tig goes for it...every.single.encounter. Wish I had had this lesson in my hat...

Okay, so I don't know how to do a linky party, but I got this idea from Sarah at Math = Love: She is showing off all her thrifted toys that will make something come alive in the math classroom. (Be sure to check out her mad "man" Barbie collection for Bungee jumping!) I am adding:

This is Cosmic Wimpout. We take it camping. I dream of having a school league. It is a rummy game. 3 of a pattern gets you 10 times the points: 3 dice with lightning bolts gets you 30 points. 10s and 5's are what they are, and if all six are addable, you get to keep going...

Maya Madness is adding and subtracting negative numbers, but the cool thing, is I started playing it with my own kids when they were 4 years old!

We all know Set, right? Has anyone incorporated it in a cool way?

Anyone figure out anything groovy to do with Rush Hour? Got our game with 4 different sets of cards and cars for $2.00 at the Goodwill.

Found this game at a garage sale for $.80

I had to make this one BIG. This is a family secret...and I am letting you in on it! Four games in one...another we have been playing since the kids were in Pre-School...and believe me, those youngin's are FAST. And it is a great game when you have someone over who doesn't speak English.
There are two sets of cards with all the designs on them, but scrambled. One set is laid out face up all over the table. The other is face down, and whoever's turn it is, gets to call the game: pattern, color, position (way hardest), and shape. Then you flip the card and the first person to find it, keeps the card.It is a rare find, once in awhile I break down and get it on Ebay.

Oops, that one wasn't supposed to in there, but I was so dang mad at this gopher! Little turd. The half eaten one under the kitchen table yesterday obviously didn't cause any alarm with his pals.

Happy Summer Folks!
This post is inspired by my blogging buddy Christopher at Overthinking my teaching:

18 year old daughter going off to University in Washington D.C. this fall:

SB: MOM! Is this a 9 x 13 pan? (check pan on top of picture)

Me: OY VEY! Really, they are going to let you graduate with honors? Should I sue the school?

Daughter's first try top: Mom to rescue Bottom
SB: Oh Mom, You are sooooooooooo dramatic!

Inspired by Sherman Alexie's Indian Education

A Teacher's Education

1st Year
      Bright-eyed and Bam-Bam-esque, I broke up a girl fight in the hallway on the second day of school. Hair flying, brown skin under long fingernails...over a boy.

2nd Year
     The AP asked if I was going to model the swim team's suit for him. This was before there were carefully crafted sexual harassment policies taped on every classroom wall.

4th Year
     On a leave of absence I taught 3rd grade in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria where the entirety of humanity was dictated by the gentle-boy 's rules on the picon (masticated volcanic rock) soccer pitch. I patched many bloody knees.
       Nada, a refugee from Liberia joined our class in January. Nada is not a good  name to have when you are scared and in the 3 rd grade. I cleaned up a lot of vomit.

6th Year
     Got married on September 29th. Being 3 weeks into the year, and having seen the zillions of notebook pages with the curly "Mrs." signatures of my high school girls, I kept my maiden name.
      For my 18th wedding anniversary, I tried to surprise my husband by joining our family and taking his last name. I got as far as the DMV before I gave up...deeds, passports, credit cards to go. Besides, I hate writing cursive D's. 

9 th Year
    After 3 years of due diligence, no baby would come. My husband and I decide to take teaching posts in India. Six weeks before  we left, I was pregnant.
    At Open House in September, I announced to a roomful of multi-national parents that I would be on maternity leave three weeks before winter break thinking I was making some grand announcement having skillfully concealed my pregnancy under flowing dresses. The parents laughed. They already knew. Their sons and daughters told them their math teacher was pregnant when they were asked, " how was the first day of school?"

11th Year
     An unsolicited notice came in the mail announcing a job opening at a brand new high school in a Windsortown.  Turns out the Latina women who used to fight in the hallway were tired of bussing their kids 12 miles up the road and organized the community to build a school right there in their own neighborhood.
     We housed ourselves and our 150 Freshman in 5 rooms on the middle school campus and 3 rented rooms from the nearby business park. My room was referred to as Skunk Alley.
     The football team was dismantled in late September...more than half the team was on academic probation.

14th Year
     We held the first graduation in the next town, at the local center for the arts. Everyone attending wore their Sunday best. No jeans, no flip- flops. We were so proud. The valedictorian was on his way to Stanford.
     (Stanford kid now teaches Math and Physics at our high school. He married his High School sweetheart 2 years behind him at our high school. She is finishing up her work helping  the Afgani's write their first democratic constitution.

15th Year
     We moved onto our own 20 acre campus with the town's first live theater,  2 story multi-media building, state-of- art science labs, and room for a football stadium. We enrolled 360 Freshman.

16th Year
     September 11, 2001. My 32 students and I were sitting in our shiny new room. We couldn't stand being alone. We joined 75 Juniors and Seniors in their Humanities Core and watched the CRT TV in silence.

Years 17 through 23
    A big fat blurr...

24th Year
    With our 6th and 9th grade daughters' blessing  we take teaching posts in Ghana, Western Africa. A year with limited water, sweltering heat, working, playing, and going to school together is the stuff of dreams come true.
    Watching lizards chow down on our left over French fries, ducking fruit bats on our bikes at dusk, cries of "cake bread" in the early hours, holding HIV babies at the orphanage every Wednesday afternoon, releasing newly hatched leather back turtles into the Atlantic, and being offered 2000 camels for our eldest daughter 's hand in marriage on our Spring Break trip to Egypt joined us profoundly as a family of appreciators and travelers.

27th Year
     The school district with the fancy new high school, after 16 years of steady growth, laid off 40 teachers to meet its fiscal responsibilities.
     Don't worry mamas, we're still gonna get your babies into Stanford.

28th Year
     The eldest daughter is moving across country to attend a university with an amazing study abroad program.
     The youngest daughter is spending the YEAR in France.

      We are empty nesters way sooner than we expected.
      It's our own full-hearted faults.
Ach: Extra Credit...

Every other kid is coming in at the end of the year asking for "extra credit."

I have sometimes, sparingly, throughout the year offered extra credit:

--Extra Credit using Desmos. Create a face using a parabola, a nose, a mouth and two eyes.       This is the minimum requirement

--Factor and Simplify Odds. Evens Extra Credit

--Extra Credit: Find 4 rectangular objects in your house. Make a quick sketch. Label what it is, and its dimensions.
Compare the length to the width: How close is this object to the Golden Proportion (1.62)

or there will be that one extra credit problem on the test. 

I try to conceive extra credit for two purposes: to challenge the students who want to be challenged, and to appeal to the "out the box" student whose intelligence is on the creative or artsy perspective.

What does extra credit mean to you? How do you factor it into the grade? Does anyone except the 100%ers do it?

Does it even freakin' matter? Does it change or effect the crunchiness, the wonder, the engagement, the value of the math?

7th Block...yeah you read that correctly...block...put 28 mostly 9th grade Algebra 1 students in a basement room after three 95 minute block classes, lunch, and no air conditioning and you favorite class of the day!

We started with the premise that it sort of sucked to be us...and we rock! The basement is empty, everyone is gone. We watch the feet of athletes and the "lucky" students departing campus before we even start our warm- up ( our windows are below ground).  But guess what? We get to make noise! No one yells at us or sends us notes to be quiet! We hoop and holler about...MATH! We shout out answers! We eat lollipops and take teeny tiny breaks.

Today I was moving the students along this line of thinking:

So we did three old and one with a new twist together. They were getting it.

I stopped them and said, there is a story about why we study this kind of equation, and not mentioning it to you would be really mean on my part and would lead all of you into thinking Algebra was just smushing a bunch of numbers around (I said an exercise in futility, but I think I lost them).

So I told them the good ol' yarn about how it takes me 5 hours to paint the livingroom by myself because I am easily distracted and how it only takes my husband 3 hours because he is concrete sequential...Then we saw the POWER in doing a job together! The students were actually impressed...which led to a discussion about the alternative economy and what they could do to earn money (I said offer your neighbors to vacuum for $5 per room, or $10 to load the dishwasher and wipe down the sink after dinner). I also told them about the water treatment plant and how some liquid is pumped in and others are pumped out at different rates. (hence the possible minuses in the equations)

They WANTED to know how long it took Dom's uncle to replace the clutch on his '74 BMW by himself when it took Dom 8 hours by himself and took them 3.5 hours together. One of my squirrelly 9th graders (who will be repeating Algebra 1 next year) and who is beginning to think like a Sophomore said, "hey, I get this, this is kinda fun." 

May not be a 3 Act yet...but it was still a powerful afternoon.

Student Hand-out Exhibit A

This post isn't about the value of the planning, as much as it is about how much do the students need in advance...please continue...

One of my earliest colleagues, had two jobs. One at the high school, the other as an adjunct instructor at the local Junior College. It was from his hands, I first saw the monthly (or unit) plan given to the students. On this day, we will be on this page, and these will be the problems, and the test will be on this date.
He used this method in his high school classes too, though it was on a monthly calendar. I never figured out how he knew when he would be on what page and what would he do if he printed 100 of those things, then got all off schedule? How did he know when his students would be ready for a test that far in advanced? I was pretty new.

Now fast forward 25 years later, and I am facing these student planners again, only MORE elaborate. So much thought, so much time, so much planning. I am told these unit plans take 4-6 hours to produce...I sat in on one isn't an exaggeration.

Student Hand-out Exhibit B
Again, I am in admiration of the confidence and organization and years of experience that it takes to put this together. (There is another page to this unit, but with one such page, I thought you would get the idea). And again, with my AOADD (Adult Onset Of Attention Deficit Disorder) I just don't get how one knows when students will be ready, what happens when you want to do a modeling problem because you had an epiphany or read one my favorite bloggers latest posts and just have to try that thing? (The collaborative piece was an invitation to sit in, not a start from scratch.)

My young probationary colleague does this for Monday and each student gets a half sheet:
Student Hand-Out Exhibit C
And me, well...My students get this each day, no paper:
Student No Hand-Out Exhibit D
I get so much inspiration when I see the productive struggles, see how students are messing with the material. I have favorite activities, believe me...and I get them in there...AND I am open to new and better and different ways and learning from how my virtual colleagues look at the same concepts.

At every high school and middle school I have been associated with (by teaching or my own children attending) the students get a daily planner. I believe the accountability for students writing in their agendas is huge. 

I hate wasting paper.

I have a class website where my students can access their assignments and 99% of hand-outs are live linked. They don't even have to have a printer, they can just use the website as a mobile textbook!

Positives of the Student    + Students know where in the heck you are going
Unit Planner Hand-out:    + Everyone is on the same page at the same time
                                         + The kids LOVE these things
                                         + Once the hard work is done, the next 6 weeks are EASY
                                         + Kids have no excuses for not knowing what the assignment was

Negatives of the Student
Unit Planner Hand-out:   - Paper use and copying...expensive and not environmental
                                        - Moving things around is tricky
                                        - Students don't "push" the assignment through their pencils as            
                                         - Doesn't produce habit of checking the website where there is all kinds       
                                          of good information
                                          - Ack, takes the spontaneity out of my life day, especially now that I am  
                                         going to use Sarah's amazing idea next week. 

Please, my math community, weigh in...I haven't seen much on the topic and would love to get the discussion on!

Does it even freakin' matter? Does it change or effect the crunchiness, the wonder, the engagement, the value of the math?

Dan? Sarah? Mr. Miller? Matt? Megan? Anyone? Fawn?

Every teacher, man and woman, play a nurturing role in the lives of their students.
I am thinking of everyone of you today, with deep gratitude.
Thanks for fighting the good fight.


My Student, A, is a nice kid. This doesn't say all there is to say about A, but it says a lot:
He mostly pays attention...he is a bit of a clueless wonder in Algebra, although his arithmetic skills are super strong. He is affable and wants to do better. He does an entire page of work...and it is all incorrect. My main theory about A. is that he comes from a family where he hasn't been shown how to study, that he is just under-exposed to "how to do school."

When Fawn Nguyen says Do These Two Things, you better listen, and here's why:

I was telling my students a story (1. Do talk to your students about yourself)
about how I spent my Saturday morning having breakfast with a bunch of fellow nerds at the Sonoma County Math Council's Breakfast. It was a rare lecture, usually we get to the business of getting dirty in some math activity. John Martin is an amazing lecturer, funny, light, thoughtful, inspiring...he must be from Midwest originally, he is just so nice. His talk was on the Golden Ratio, and he was giving a shout out to Fibonacci along the way. In addition to explaining a rather elaborate way to convert miles to kilometers using Fibonacci Numbers that only a mathematician can appreciate, he went on to show us that the 100th Fibonacci Number is in the quintillions! This is just astonishing to me! So I shared my astonishment with my students.

Alex A, thought it was astonshing too. Before you look at the picture below and really absorb the profroundity of what is happening here, re-examine the picture above:

Powerful image. We see so clearly what is right and now I have to ask myself what is wrong with A's picture and what can I do about it?

(PS, the next class is right before lunch and the kids are STARVING) A girl in front busts out a package of seaweed (we are from Sebastopol after all) and you know what...the ratio of length to width in those sheets is 1.55, intersting, eh?

Thanks John for the inspiration...and a little pat on my back for spending my glorious Saturday mathland.

Oh and anyone have a better title for this piece?
1. Ross, a student with an IEP, Grade 10, repeating Algebra, making a little more progress than last year. Very quiet.
Students are in Part 1 of a Diagnostic Teaching Lesson ALA Phil Daro.
The problem is "What is the longest pencil that can fit into an 8"by 4" by 3" pencil box?"

The class has read the problem together. The students have had 80-90 silent seconds to put some of their initial thoughts about the problem on their papers. The students get to ask any clarifying questions before we begin working in partners to solve the problem. Quiet ol' Ross raises his hand and asks, "It that the measurement from the exterior or interior of the box?" That guy got at least 50 virtual pieces of candy.

2. D. Gr 9 whom I caught fighting with boxing gloves on in the Safeway parking lot across the street from school during the first week of the school year, is now passing all of his classes and is trying very hard to catch up in Algebra. I picked up a textbook off the ground near his desk. Me: I can't stand when a textbook is on the floor. D: I know all books are precious, they are the reason we are here, why would anyone show such disrespect? (Me: with big cartoon bubble, really, my bad ass D, just said that...oh my happy heart!)

3. Daughter is going to American University in the fall and will be in the University College Program for International Relations. Makes me happy in so many ways, just two are that AU is one of the most racially diverse colleges in the US, and AU is ranked the highest for their study abroad programs. (not happy at all about price, but they threw us a 20% bone...that will surely help, and Grandma, and Grandpa, and us, and her...we'll figure it out baby girl!)

I sent this letter this morning to Dr. Ivory Toldson, Howard University.
(Paper grading be damned!)

Dear Doctor Toldson,

I was glued to listening to your interview with Michel Martin regarding black male representation in prestigious universities. It made me stop and think about all the black male students I have had over my 27 years of teaching High School Mathematics.

Please bear with me...I know your time is extremely limited...

I am white. I am almost 50 years old. I am liberal and (Jewish) and lived in San Francisco through 9 th grade, attending the most racially balanced public school in the city. While keeping my Jewish cultural identity, I attended Glide Memorial Church, making posters to unite the farm workers and free Angela Davis. My father is one of the first white male members of the NCAAP.

I lived with my husband and daughters in Ghana for one year. My daughter has just committed to American University, largely due to the fact that is one of the most integrated colleges in the US (so proud!). (We left Ghana when daughter was 15, at 16 she traveled back, alone to see her friends!) younger daughter's best friend is one of the only mixed race black students at our high school.

And yet, I don't have a single black friend.

The point: I don't reach my black students. I am failing them. Granted we don't have many living in Northern California. And when I look at how they are doing in school...I want to shrink away. Sports, sports, sports. These are beautiful, gifted young men who are intellectually wasting away...the one young man who tries to be intellectual is ostracized by his sporty peers. Yeah, and we have even fewer Asian students and they are going to Brown and UC Berkeley this fall. And yeah, we have a few Hispanic students, and one is going to Stanford. Mixed race black young man, Junior play basketball.

Please educate Me. Please help me help our schools move these boys into being prepared for PRESTIGIOUS universities. Please help me help these young men (and women, well, my daughter 's bestie wants to go to Stanford!) create bigger images of themselves as intellectually worthy.

Thank you for all the work you do.

Sincerely yours,
Amy Zimmer
Sebastopol,  California
Education Blog: Http://
I am noticing all the very cool, thoughtful questions being thrown down on our blogs, so I thought I would add in and see what the next steps would be:

Okay, not sexy, but a little stretch for the test. Objective: Apply the Pythagorean Theorem.

Suggestions welcome!
Ms. Zimmer and Maddee are waiting for AERIES to load (don't even get me started)...the whole program drops and we hit "refresh" and start over:

Maddee: Doesn't it take the internet FOREVER to connect down here?

Me: What? Really, you did not just say that in MY classroom...

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha...

Well here is my idea for cramming in a topic we won't really get to cover until AFTER STAR testing...I am sooooooooooo ready for the Common Core Assessments, however they look. Real math, real thinking...


for f(-2) and f(0) and f(4)


for f(-2) and f(0) and f(4)

What do you notice?

Now Simplify                                       
And evaluate for f(-2) and f(0) and f(4).

I am guessing I will get something looking like this:

(or whatever other permutations your imagination will drum up)

OH NO MR. BILL!!! What just happened?????

Hopefully now they will be a tiny bit motivated ( beg even?) for the math.