Monthly Archives: February 2014

This Week in My Math Life

I joined ICTM and NCTM this week.  I’m 4.5 years into my math teaching career and I’ve never actually been a member of any professional organization relating to my content area until three days ago.  I feel good about that.  Maybe all it will be is something to add to my LinkedIn profile, but I hope not.  There is some “member’s only” content associated with both org’s, and I’m aspiring to use a bit of it.

My joining ICTM was sparked by Thursday’s outing to the regional conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  I should have made a major post on that event, but time elapsed, I didn’t write, and now I don’t think I’d do it appropriate justice.  In short, I went to three breakout sessions and listened to a keynote speaker.  I honestly can’t remember who the keynote speaker was, but she didn’t really move the needle anyway, so I won’t spend the time looking it up.  What I did take away was getting to meet and hear from (in Sessions 1 and 3) a middle school math teacher from Charleston, IL.  I’ll link to his stuff and share his name in a later post, but he got me energized.  Ask my wife, that’s hard to do.  He doesn’t use homework scores as part of his summative grades, and he’s into curriculum planning.  So that had me listening.

Lastly, my high school hosted the Illinois Council for Teacher’s of Mathematics Regional Math Contest yesterday.  Happy to say we won *every* event and will be headed to the state contest on May 3.  Competition was weak this year due to our main competitor moving to a different regional location, but a win is a win, and I was proud of our kids.


Preparing for the ACT Booklets

I usually get a lot of use out of the “Preparing for the ACT” booklets that come out every year.  I used to get paper copies of them, but that time has come and gone.  Now, they’re usually hosted at ACT’s own website for free, but the older ones are still posted around the internet if you’re willing to go on a hunt.  Lucky for you, I’ve collected the past ten year’s worth and have them ready to share in a dropbox folder.

Link here:

You should probably look at the ReadMe file in that folder as well.  The sample tests repeat for a couple years at a time, but there should be a full 4 unique sample tests in the booklets I’ve collected.

LearnZillion Dream Team Application Part I

I just submitted Part I of my application to be a part of LearnZillion’s 2014 Dream Team.  You can read more about it here.  I thought sharing my answers to the short essay questions would make for a nice blog post.

1) Why do you want to be on the Dream Team?

I am hopeful of becoming a member of the Dream Team because I believe this could be an opportunity that propels my role as a teacher leader in my school and community.  For the last few years, I have felt my voice growing louder and my opinions carrying an increasing weight in discussions of curriculum, strategy, and planning with my administrators and co-workers.  People in my school who I respect are looking to me far more frequently for my input in important decisions.  I’m proud of the influence I’ve built and impact I’ve had on students’ learning experiences, but I know it can be more.  Possessing the experience and knowledge afforded to me from the LearnZillion Dream Team, I will have the confidence to speak louder, stand strong in my convictions, and lead teachers and students on a path of educational success.

2) Tell us about a time in the last year when you received feedback that was not all positive.  What happened?

My December mathematics department meeting began with an introduction to the district curriculum director.  She had never attended one of these meetings, and this was the first time for some of us to even meet her.  The agenda was to examine the previous year’s state test scores.  We had been briefed on these numbers individually, so the low marks for the junior class came as no shock.  As far back as sixth grade, this class has been collectively weak in math.  The principal underlined the fact that even though they displayed above average growth while at our school compared to state and national standards, their nominal scores were, indeed, below average.

The curriculum director, apparently, needed to hear no more.  The following morning, the mathematics department was greeted with a condescendingly worded memo outlining the fact that we needed to take responsibility for the lacking scores, that our teaching assignments were in jeopardy, and that we should look toward teachers from neighboring districts for guidance.  We were floored.  She had spent a total of 45 minutes with us over the past three years, yet she was “directing” sweeping changes to our department as if she knew the intricacies of how our classrooms are managed.

This matter has yet to be formally resolved, but the mathematics department has held strong.  We have impressed upon our administration and our board of education that the positive growth numbers should be encouraging.  We took a low achieving class and raised them up to the best of our abilities.  Our department has become more of a team since this incident, collaborating and sharing ideas.  And while the bitter taste remains, we hold by the fact that we have our students’ best interests at heart.

3) Tell us about a time when you saw a problem in your school or district that needed to be fixed and took steps to fix it.

Two years ago, on the day before school was to begin in August, I was in the classroom of my department chairperson making small talk when she received a call from our principal.  Apparently, one of our school counselors had mistakenly forgotten to enter schedules for a group of freshmen coming from one particular feeder school.  Because of this, the master schedule did not contain enough sections of our Rapid Pace Algebra 1 course.  He was calling to get ideas for a solution.

Overhearing the conversation, I checked my own teaching schedule (which already included four “preps”)  and enrollments in each of my classes.  It was conceivable, I noted, that my three periods of Trigonometry could be combined into two, allowing me an open period to pick up the extra needed course.  I interjected with this idea while they were still on the phone, but neither particularly wanted to weight me down with an already busy schedule–and the day before school started, at that.

Later that afternoon, I went to see my department chairperson and my principal separately.  I impressed upon them that I would be happy fill the need and teach the class.  As there were no other viable options, and a solution needed to be found by the end of the day, they each agreed.  So just 16 hours before school would start for the year, I was given 20 new students and a fifth prep, one which I had never taught.

I’m proud to say that the year was a great a success.  I received high marks on my evaluations, the new students were a delight, none of my other classes suffered, and I learned so much about being the teaching profession that year.  If I stay organized, focused, and ready, I can accomplish anything.


I Deleted the “About Me” Page

It was horrible.  It started off with a picture of me at the St. Louis Botanical Gardens from two summers ago.  That was before I decided to become a semi-serious runner and dropped 25 pounds.  And the autobiography was painful to read.  It read like something I was being forced to do, but secretly liked because of the attention it might get me.  I’m not going to have an About page for awhile.  Not until I think I can write something I won’t be embarrassed by in two years.