Pebbles and Boulders

For much of my life (and almost all of my career as a teacher) I have been captivated by those with a “vision”—with big, audacious, world-changing goals that just might work with a lot of sweat and a little luck. Who can help but be inspired by President Kennedy’s challenge to put men on the Moon, or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of a world without racism, after all? More recently, however, I’ve become convinced that, at least in my own life and work, small is the way to go. Leave the big dreams to those with a big audience and a lot of power. In the world of the…

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Lost in the Noise

And so the cycle repeats again.  During the summer when the need to have something, anything for the kids to do the next day is off is when you make your wish list of strategies and activities to try this year.  “This year will be different,” you tell yourself, only to fall back on tried-and-true if less than spectacular activities once the crush of the school year is upon you. There are so many small details to keep on top of when opening the school year, and you need to stay on top of them all in order to set the tone for the rest of the year that planning…

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The Perfect Petri Dish

One of the biggest benefits of teaching elective classes like CS is that these classes are perfect laboratories for trying out everything I’ve always wanted to give free rein to—things like true, Gold Standard PBL, differentiation, and true collaborative learning to name a few–free of the testing industrial complex and tyranny of being a tested subject, i.e., math. With some students already coding in text-based languages while others can barely figure out how to turn on a tablet, there is a much wider range of achievement levels in CS than in math, and the challenge is to implement differentiation so that students at all levels are pushed a little beyond…

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Dumb Goals

This is the perfect time to set goals—on the eve of the start of the first day of students when equal parts anticipation and nervous energy are coursing through your veins.  Rather than heed the expert advice about setting SMART goals, I’m just going to do things my own bull-headed way and stick to generalities. My three primary goals for the year across-the-board are (in no particular order). Assessment Expand my repertoire of (especially) formative assessment and actually use the data in a meaningful way to “inform instruction,” as the “experts” say. Standards Actually pay attention to what the standards say on a daily basis.  CCSS for Algebra 2, AP…

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In With the New and Old Together

One of the interesting things about my line the past couple of years is that it is a split line.  Not since my second year of teaching nearly twenty years ago have I had a line with classes outside of math.  Rather than a section of physical science, however, this time around it’s computer science—two intro sections and one AP (CSA, not CSP).  Also this time instead of being what’s left over for the new guy, it’s entirely of my choosing, and indeed, something of the fulfillment of a long-held dream, something that I’ve worked towards and advocated for for quite some time. The two subjects (math and CS) couldn’t…

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Putting the Horse Before the Cart

I have a sneaking suspicion that like many members of Congress who never read bills before voting on them, many teachers are trying to implement standards without knowing very much about them themselves.  Take a random sample of math teachers (elementary, middle, or high school; rural, suburban, or urban; it doesn’t matter) and my guess is that fewer than half—much fewer—have read any part of the Common Core State Standards document at all, much less in its entirety. Classroom teaching when done right is a tough, all-consuming vocation in which making it to the finish line at the end of the day with just enough left over to do it…

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Initial Conditions

Considered essential since antiquity for the development of a sharp and keen intellect, the study of mathematics continues to form the basis for the secondary school curriculum in the twenty-first century. In addition to providing students with the language of the natural and social sciences, a rigorous course of study in mathematics hones students’ problem solving, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning abilities like no other. More than ever before, a sound knowledge of mathematics is essential for success in both public and private life. For those who use mathematics daily and directly—scientists, engineers, and the like—this is obviously true. However, even those engaged in occupations less manifestly numerical need to…

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