So, I’ve accepted a new position…

I’ve recently accepted an offer to become our the chair of our district’s Data Response Team, which is a district-wide group dedicated to using data to drive school improvement decision-making. This is a role in addition to my regular teaching role (similar to a department chair position), so I will continue my teaching.

This is not a new committee in our district. This week I begin exploring this group, its members, its mission, and the work in which it is currently engaged.

I hope that you will be willing to help me explore data as an effective means for creating instructional and organizational improvement. This new challenge is going to be just that. And I would be grateful for any help I can get.

Also, fair warning: Data discussion will be on my mind for a while, I’m sure. So, I hope you won’t mind it becoming a central theme in some/many/all of my blog posts for the foreseeable future.

As usual, thanks for everything, folks. I hope someday to repay all of you for all the help I’ve received over the years.

The Value of Face-to-Face

Today I got an opportunity to facilitate at EdCamp Mid Michigan, which was just the second time I served in any manner of leadership role at a teacher professional development workshop. The format was designed to be casual and conversational. Facilitators opened the conversation and the participants contributed for 45 minutes or so asking questions, telling stories, stating concerns and helping each other.

Sam Shah, a math teacher to whom I have received tremendous support developing a calculus class for next year recently posted a fantastic piece about the power of community. I encourage you to read the piece and reflect on how powerful a member of this sharing and learning community that you are. Each contribution matters, each “like”, each comment, each bit of dissent. We impact each other and we take it back to our classrooms.

And while I can completely embrace Mr. Shah’s post, I would like to offer a bit of a “yeah, but…”

Today’s EdCamp was a great microcosm of that greater community. There weren’t as many people, but each person was expected to contribute, because each person brings value to the table. They bring experiences, questions, concerns, anecdotes, advice… all of these parts are necessary for the community to flourish. The “mathtwitterblogosphere” or (MTBoS as it has come to be known) is a similar community. Some do a lot of writing. Some a lot of reading. But it is inclusive. (Shoot, if they’ll welcome me, they’ll welcome anyone.)

But EdCamp included one part that has been missing from my experience with the MTBoS: eye contact. That’s the one missing piece. The overwhelming majority of the teachers that I have communicated with through twitter and my blog are people who I have never met face-to-face. And while the MTBoS does it’s very best to facilitate conversations among folks all over the world… (I say that as though I have forgotten how remarkable it is that such technology even exists)… I wish that more could be done to create opportunities to get a chance to break bread with so many of the fantastic folks that I am meeting through twitter handles and avatar photos.

With that eye contact today, I tried (as Mr. Shah describes similarly in the aforementioned piece) to describe the value of the MTBoS to some math teachers who hadn’t explored the community much. I’m pretty sure I did a poor job. You see, one of the most important functions of face-to-face interactions is the power of facial expressions. Truth is, I am grateful for conversation because I often don’t know how well or poorly I’m explaining something until I see the faces people make when they are listening to me explain it. As I have moved out of my 20’s and into my 30’s, I am finding that I am doing more and more explaining to other people. The ability to look someone in the face and converse is one that I find incredibly valuable.

Bottom line: Thank you for all the support that you’ve provided MTBoS and thank you EdCamp Mid-Michigan for the support you’ve provided. I am thankful to be a part of both communities and hope that I’ve been a meaningful contributor. Today simply reminded me that while it is fantastic to embrace the resources and contributions (and amazing that it is even possible to do so) it is equally important to embrace the community that exists nearby me, too.

Developing a Calculus Course – Where I’m at so far…

As I reported back in January, I am working on developing the next generation of calculus at Pennfield High School.

To say this is overwhelming is a bit of an understatement. But the support has been strong from the math edublogosphere. To Sam Shah, Jim Fowler, Shawn Cornally, Justin Lanier, and Amber Caldwell I owe a great deal of thanks. I couldn’t be doing this without you.

Here’s what I’ve gotten done so far. At this point, I feel like I have enough material to keep my student busy for four to five weeks. Thanks most to Sam Shah, I have one unit done. Including handouts, formative assessments and summative assessments.

Also, after examining the incredible amount of resources that I have been freely given, I have decided on a couple of structures including student self-assessment sheets (a structure popular in standards-based-grading) and Friday Free-For-Alls, which give the students the opportunity to look at problems that are likely an extension of their geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus or stats work, but they may want to try to employ some of their newly-acquired calculus tools to find a better (faster, more efficient, more accurate, more realistic) solution.

The handouts and problems for unit 1 are posted under “The Calculus Course” to the right. I look forward to your constructive feedback.

Once again folks, thanks for everything and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you.


Reflections of a teacher who taught alongside Jim Boehmer

By the time I got hired at Pennfield, Jim Boehmer had been working there for quite a few years. He was a math teacher, like me. I was a 25-year-old novice. He wasn’t any of that. He was an experienced educator. And that was the perfect word to describe Jim… educator. I knew him almost 5 years and he embodied the label “educator” as well as anyone.

It’s easy for me to say nice things about Jim. He and I saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things. School things, home things, life things.

Jim and I were part of the District Math Team which included he and I and several of our administrators. One year, the group would meet monthly at a different school in Battle Creek with some other groups from the county. Jim and I would ride together. He would always drive because I get lost in Battle Creek. For that whole school year, once a month, Jim and I got 30 minutes to talk. Jim and I got to know each other well during that time. We talked about all sorts of stuff: school, sure, but also sports, politics, God, our similar faiths, singing, technology, theatre. It was enjoyable. We could disagree peacefully, but that didn’t happen very often.

What I did find out about him was that he was a thoughtful man who desired excellence. In the time I knew him, he never quit tinkering with his teaching style trying to find the formula that would maximize authentic student learning. He didn’t want to see his students simply pass tests. He wanted them to learn. He wanted them to enjoy real success. He knew his role in that. He was always trying to find activities that would engage the students. If you want, you can read about one of my favorite of his activities.

One more story: When the time came to reform the Algebra I classes to align with the Common Core, he and I sat down together and set out to realign the entire course. We began to review the literature and our resources and decided that we needed to create quite a lot of material… not only because we wanted them to align, but because our textbook didn’t impress us… and he wasn’t interested in a good-enough Algebra class. If it wasn’t excellent, he wasn’t done with it.

And yesterday he passed away.

And we have a giant hole to fill. But I’m sure my story isn’t unique. Jim was authentic and I’m not special. Who Jim was to me he was to so many others. And isn’t that all you can ask? Within my faith, we have a phrase that we use to honor someone special who has passed. We say, “Memory Eternal!”

If Jim was to so many what he was to me, the memories of him won’t be fading anytime soon.

Beyond Geometry (Help me please!)

A literary-minded student's contribution to my classroom decor

A literary-minded student’s contribution to my classroom decor

In my fifth year teaching high school geometry, an opportunity has come to me that seems interesting, challenging, and worthwhile. So, in addition to integrating the Common Core’s version of high school geometry into our school’s math program, the lot has fallen upon me to do the necessary research for (what could become) our school’s new AP Calculus class. Well, actually, I kind of requested the job because I need the hours for my masters program and I would be interested in teaching the class once it is planned.

Okay, so confession: I don’t have any idea what I’m looking at or looking for. I took calculus as a high school senior several (or more) years ago. I took Calc 1 at Lansing Community College and Calc 2 at Western Michigan University. I’d like to think that I could give the students a better experience than I had. In that mindset, I’ve spent the last two hours or so looking at different unit plans, textbooks, labs, and syllabi. I even put “the best calculus textbook in the English-speaking world” into a Bing search bar to see what came up. (Nothing useful, by the way.)

So, here’s where you can help.

I need advice. What are the best textbooks? What should I look for? What are my red flags?

I’m very inclined to project-based, or at least student-centered curricula. What resources are you familiar with that will support the students in an exploration of calculus instead of a year-long teacher presentation?

Can you provide links to awesome problems or labs?

All suggestions and recommendations is welcome. Even a word or two of advice would be welcome. Load up the comments. If it’s longer, is the way to get ahold of me.

Thanks for everything!