Just Another Day

My first day of school is Monday. My 21st first day as a teacher. I set my classroom up (mostly), organized my lessons in my mind, went to some meetings and did some minivan karaoke on the way there. I’ve been rewriting lessons and projects and a syllabus, I could stay up all night all weekend but I am going to just write this post and then go play some guitars. I am teaching three Algebra 1 classes and one Geometry class, students at all different levels, and I mean all different levels. Our district does trimesters and students switch teachers at the trimester (not all but most) which gets in the way of relationship building but I don’t design the schedules. Anyway, because of this I have been planning three big projects each year with some smaller projects along the way as well.

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Weird Geometry

Warning, this post contains a large amount of links that are intended to open student’s minds and then blow them away. Use at your own discretion.

I started my geometry class this year with some weird geometry activities. The first was this task from the Harvard project, Balanced Assessments in Mathematics. It asks them to imagine life on a cubical planet. Then after looking more at scale, measurement, and the distance and midpoint formulas, we dove into some taxicab geometry with these problems. We then spent time learning about proofs of angles and segments until we could start talking about Euclid’s Parallel Postulate. I started off talking about proofs by looking at Elon Musk arguing that we are living in a game. We analyzed the argument, wrote two column “proofs” to synthesize it. It has been a wild ride and we are wrapping it all up with the lesson we did the other day, and the project we are finishing now. The lesson comes from this one I wrote a while ago where they blow up balloons and do some geometry on them. Here are the questions they needed to answer for this. Continue reading

Wrapping up With Some Social Justice

After doing our project on the X Games, and then doing some statistics lessons like our paper airplane competition, I had my students do a final project on whatever they wanted. I asked them to pick a topic and create a survey. We talked about topics related to social issues, topics for changing the school, fun topics, whatever. But giving freedom to algebra students isn’t always easy. My students have had a hard time with math, and school in general and when they are given the chance to say what they really think, it can get a little unruly. Many of them wanted to talk about immigration issues and I had to listen to some loud rants about racism, which is not normal ground for classroom discussions in math, and can be pretty dicey. Continue reading

I’m Fried. Here’s Some Circles.

It’s the middle of May and I feel fried to a crisp. Like bacon, or fakon, or sopapillas, or beignets, or churros. I have done some research and have found that I am not the only teacher who feels this way. My students, most of whom hated school to begin with, are right there with me, and sometimes against me. I could go on and on about this but that’s what happy hour is for. Instead, I need to write about something that reminds me why I am teaching. I could talk about in-roads I am making with kids in really tough, sometimes dark situations, but let’s keep it light-hearted today and talk about something less important but fun. Here’s a math lesson: Continue reading

Ramping Up the Inquiry

Is real inquiry-based learning possible in a ninth grade algebra class full of struggling learners? If so, what does it look like? Is it rigorous? Can you cover the content?

Here are my quick answers to the respective questions: Of course it is; See below; Yes and schools don’t understand the meaning of rigor (more on that in a future post); Don’t care.

For the past 5 or 6 weeks my algebra 1 kids and I have been working on a project about the X-Games. Specifically we have looked at skateboarding and mega ramps. I chose this project because I currently teach in a school that has a set curriculum and I have to teach quadratics right now. Since the real world application for quadratics has to do with things being launched in the air, I thought the kids could explore ramps and think about what it would mean to bring the X-Games to our town. Continue reading

How Food Trucks Will Save Civilization

This trimester, I am doing a project on food trucks in my algebra 1 class. We started off talking about pancakes thanks to a friend of mine, Vanessa Svihla from the University of New Mexico, who gave me a problem to pose, “How many pancakes can fit in my car?” Kids have been working on this problem and other pancake math problems such as “How many people would the biggest pancake in the world feed?” But things were too “mathy” and my classes are kids who have not been successful with math. At all. So I felt like what I was doing wasn’t really going to help them in the end and needed a place to land. It was really bothering me.

I am usually OK with these kinds of existential crisis where I feel like I’m not grounded and everything is falling apart because it usually means that I’m about to learn something great. In this case, I’m just went back to what I already knew, which is that we needed to end this three weeks with a deliverable related to our project at the end of the trimester. I had committed to have one of these every three or four weeks so before Christmas break, so I decided I want to have my kids have a business plan sketch for a pancake stand. That will give us a focus and a way to feel like we aren’t just floating around in pancake batter. So I had them design and start building custom to-go containers with a memorable logo, a menu, and a budget for a crowd.

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Democracy and Playgrounds

Why do some playgrounds look like infinite possibility and others look like cages? This is one of the questions I will be exploring with my geometry class this trimester which starts in two weeks. I have the 12 weeks planned out, though these “plans” usually change a lot. Here is my official planning document:


I have spent a lot of time this past year thinking about playgrounds as a stay-at-home dad. Now that I am headed back into the classroom, this is the result of that. Continue reading

Art City


This is my official planning form for the project I started describing in my last post. Kids are going to spend twelve weeks answering the question, “How do we fund art for a healthy democracy?” They will start with their own models of sculptures, learn some stuff about numbers and equations, use that to generate a painting, then learn some basics of quadratic modeling with technology and do some cool lessons about Angry Birds and bridges (the first is a tangent from the theme but relevant because of the content, the second is going to take a look at some public art done by a New Mexican artist on the SF Bay bridge a couple of years ago and the subsequent phase out of the old Bay Bridge and using the material for public art). Continue reading

Democracy and Public Art

I’m going back to work in the suburbs of the SF Bay after having taught 11 school years in Albuquerque. At my last school, we collaborated and built 12-week long projects together in teams of two or three teachers for struggling students. Now I will be back to having my own classroom, but I can’t leave the projects behind. I’m not even sure I’d know what to do with a textbook anymore, and think that they should be thought of as artifacts for a museum instead of tools for authentic or relevant curriculum. I was just given my teaching schedule, and in the first trimester I am teaching 3 classes called “intro to algebra 1” and one called “intro to geometry.” This post is my basic plan for the algebra classes. Continue reading