Posted by: rdkpickle | 10.08.2015

looping loops

“The newspapers, even some in France, said it was the marvel of the age; better than the Eiffel tower – and it was a Ferris wheel.

That almost mundane sensation we have now of looking down from above and moving through space, up and out and down and around again, no one had ever felt those things before, and of course now we can’t really feel those things again. We’ve gone around too many times. We’ve looped too many loops.”

High Above Lake Michigan – The Memory Palace

There’s something profound here about rhythm and routine vs. the novel and once remarkable. There’s a transition from terrifying and thrilling to comfort and confidence. I have a few more loops to loops, but I’m getting closer.

(We listened to this episode in Precalculus this week: working on circular motion, angles, linear and angular velocity, etc.)

Turns out other folks have been thinking about loop-de-loops lately:

Posted by: rdkpickle | 09.09.2015


One wonderful thing about my new setting is that I live close enough to school to walk to work each day. My morning commute has thus been transformed from the quiet 395-to-66 D.C. carpool, with quick stopover in the short solo suburban pre-dawn drive, to (now) a nice 12-15 minute walk downhill in the brisk California morning air. I find myself listening to podcasts of every variety to pass the time, and the confluence of physical and mental activity starting my day means I arrive awake and a bit more at ease with the transition from slumber-self to work-self.

It also means a lot of my footwear is no longer appropriate for daily wear. In my first year of teaching, I invested in a couple of awesome, neutral, comfortable heels that I generally relied on to set off a maybe-not-quite-fashionable-or-even-close-to-matching outfit. It also lent me the advantage of height over my students in early years – those heels meant “I’m the teacher, you’re the student; I’m tall and I know what I’m doing.”

Here, I’m wearing flats. As I work hard (and it’s hard work!) to move into a much more student-centered space, I find it doesn’t make sense to rely on those extra 3 inches of height, literally or metaphorically. As groups of 3 or 4 students work together to puzzle through warmups, groupwork, or homework review, the better move is to get close, crouch down to desk level, wait a bit, and listen. It’s a blessing that I can see this modeled by colleagues who are experienced and thoughtful, and that students coming to me from others’ classrooms are used to looking to each other as they grapple with new ideas instead of turning to the tallest voice in the room.

There’s still more nuance here. I’m working to establish classroom norms that were hard to talk about upfront as a newcomer to the community. Every one of my classes is in a different place in terms of what parts of class are working well and what parts need work. And yet, every day feels like forward motion. One step at a time, one (comfortably outfitted) foot in front of the other.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 09.03.2015

short + sweet

From beginning of the year student survey:

“I fall behind when i don’t ask questions. It’s a pride thing. Pride isn’t very compatible with learning.

Oh, how I’m feeling that last sentence. Growing quickly under the guidance of incredibly supportive, welcoming, thoughtful colleagues. Loving my new classes, new students, new environment. Working hard.

Starting over is humbling, but I’m strong and incredibly fortunate for the opportunity.

Much love to all of you as you journey through first days and weeks.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 08.29.2015

summer recapitulation

What a fantastic, and fantastically long summer. This summer, I:

  • Drove across the country – twice
  • Drove through 22 states + D.C. (South Carolina was accidental.)
  • Attended Brentwood High School and Flint Hill graduation ceremonies
  • Visited the Museum of Mathematics in NYC
  • Saw Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, and more at Dia: Beacon
  • Went to two weddings
  • Hiked. Mountains! Alpine lakes! Wildflowers! Geysers! Bison! Elk! Yellow bellied marmots! (No bears.) ((That we saw. Fairly positive plenty saw – or heard – us as we sang our way through Black Hills, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Sawtooth, Tahoe, and more.))
  • Played the license plate game and found every state except Rhode Island. Come on, Rhode Island.
  • Hung out with @sarcasymptote in Yellowstone National Park
  • Read How Children LearnMake Just One Change, and Eleanor and Park
  • Listened to a lot of great new music: recent faves include Tyler Lyle, Jason Isbell, Liza Anne, Lucy Rose, Best Coast
  • Attended #tmc15 in Claremont, CA
  • Gave my first-ever conference presentation at #tmc15 on Better Questions
  • Wrote and performed another “camp song” with Sweens and @calcdave
  • Oh, and moved to California.

dream team

grand prismatic

grand canyon of yellowstone

mt washburn wildflowers


The hiking, driving, on-the-road summer gave me plenty of opportunities to be quiet and feel connected to nature. I embraced my in-between state, enjoying both solitude and simple times with friends and family across the country.

Summer has ended but its spirit lingers. Happy 2015-2016 school year, all!


Posted by: rdkpickle | 06.08.2015


“The spirit behind such games should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, including the game of trying to find out how the world works, which we call education.”

– John Holt, How Children Learn

Beyond its utility or beauty, mathematics – and the teaching of math – grips me with the promise of joyful discovery. All of my most meaningful mathematical memories have been less about competition and more about connection. Filling a whiteboard with invented notation that makes us laugh on an extension that has our hearts pounding, a tiny notepad whipped out past midnight to share a favorite proof with a tired/huddled/eager group of math teachers, a student who walks laps with me around the B-hall to discuss his mathematical wonderings, posing puzzler after puzzler at red lights during a city bike ride (shouting hints while avoiding train tracks), waiting patiently for the visible “aha” to light in the eyes of a student at work – once-timid, now powerful problem solver.

It’s in this spirit of joyful curiosity that I close one chapter of my teaching career and begin another. I spent two years nestled in my childhood home, teaching at the high school I attended as an awkward teenage daydreamer. I grew closer to my sisters. I said goodbye to my grandfather. I struggled in a way I hadn’t before, and learned I have worth – I am worthy – full stop. I learned just a bit more about building a positive classroom culture with classes of 30. I fell in love with all species of freshmen – loud, angsty, serious, eager, anxious, silly – all endlessly surprising. I adjusted to the grind of daily 47 minute classes and developed routines and procedures that maximized most of the minutes we spent together. I was welcomed as a colleague by former teachers, chaperoned trips I used to participate in, and on Fridays wore a T-shirt that said “Bruin for Life” on my 7 minute commute to work down the same streets where I learned to drive.

Up next is a new adventure, vividly imagined but far from begun. What I’d like: to root myself in my new community. To be more focused in my professional growth. To collaborate with and learn from colleagues who bring vastly different experiences to our meeting. To walk alongside my students as we try to find out how the world works.

“I never want to be where I cannot see it. All that energy and foolishness, all that curiosity, questions, talk, all those fierce passions, inconsolable sorrows, immoderate joys…”

How I hope as I journey forth that joy remains central to my approach of the teaching of mathematics, and the being of human.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 04.15.2015


There are some things about fear and bravery and teaching that I still haven’t completely ironed out.

A zillion quotes from John Holt’s How Children Fail to get things started, here:

“I asked them why they felt gulpish. They said they were afraid of failing, afraid of being kept back, afraid of being called stupid, afraid of feeling themselves stupid.”

“We adults destroy most of the intellectual and creative capacity of children by the things we do to them or make them do. We destroy this capacity above all by making them afraid, afraid of not doing what other people want, of not pleasing, of making mistakes, of failing, of being wrong.”

“I am horrified to realize how much I myself use fear and anxiety as instruments of control. I think, or at least hope, that the kids in my class are somewhat more free of fear than they have been in previous classes, or than most children are in most classes.”

“I had not lost all of my distrust in myself or fear of the world, but I had lost enough so that I could see the trials and failures of the classroom not as threats to my authority or sense of personal worth but only as interesting problems to think about and try to solve.”

As someone who has been (at times) held hostage by her own anxiety, teaching daily forces me to face my own vulnerabilities. I understand how important it is for me to feel comfortable in my own classroom. I understand how important it is for me to create a classroom where students feel comfortable, open to making mistakes in service of making meaning out of mathematics.

I’m still unsure about how to remove my sense of personal worth from the equation here. I know that if I dwell on every small failure, I will drain what little energy remains at the end of each day when I need those reserves to plan the next. Teaching problems – the trials, the failures – are interesting problems to think about and try to solve, but the breakneck pace at which those problems crop up often leaves me reeling. How do I face each student interaction with the patience and sensitivity it deserves? How do I set my own [ego, distractions, stressors] aside and allow myself to experience struggle as a part of professional growth?

Contributing to the growth of these gulpish teenagers into confident young adults is an important, consuming task. Some days, when I have slept fewer than 6 hours as a result of some crazy attempt to have a personal life in addition to a professional one, it can feel easier to wield fear as an instrument of control rather than bringing my calm, laughing, messy best to my students. Just a reminder to set my ego aside. Just a reminder that my best is enough.

While I’m posting: some odds and ends.

1) Yesterday in study hall, I was busily typing on my computer while a student looking over my shoulder out the window asked me if it was currently raining. The sad part is I immediately stopped what I was doing, flipped around, looked out the window, and nearly answered his question before I stopped myself to exclaim “are. you. kidding. me.”

2) I have spent a lot lot lot of time lately researching whatever I can dig up about the new standardized tests slated for 2015-2016 school year in Tennessee. I am sitting with ears perked listening to stories of SBAC and PARCC test administrations in other states.

3) I teach all freshmen classes this year, which is a first for me. I started my first year of teaching with mostly seniors, and have kind of inched my way down to these needy, wonderful 9th graders who are equal parts exhausting and energizing. As the spring weather creeps in and summer looms large, I’ve had so many friendly conversations with students ready to share their thousand thoughts with someone who will listen. It matters for students to have an adult in the building who they feel cares about them.

4) It is an unwritten law that if you plan a lesson requiring laptops and internet access, inevitably a cable in the county will get cut (?), knocking out all internet other than networked attendance and email clients. (Today.)

5) Teacher appreciation lunches this week have gifted me 5 extra minutes in the morning that I’m not spending packing my lunch, and a couple hundred extra calories each day in the way of delicious desserts. Thank you so much to the parents who are supporting us with their time, service, and yummy food.

6) I love working one-on-one with students, and I’ve gotten a ton of it this week. A few years in and there is _still_ nothing like the push and pull of working with a student – wherever they happen to be in their current grasp of a topic – to reach new levels of understanding. Those small victories, unique to each individual I’m working alongside, are a purely joyful experience.

7) I have a lot of thoughts about how to make my school a better place for new teachers. I hope my thoughts translate into concrete action, and that I follow through on the responsibility I feel to leave this place better than I found it.

7) I need to learn how to listen better. My voice takes up a lot of space in my classroom, and in my conversations with colleagues. Suggestions?

Have fun at NCTM Boston this week, friends. Think of me in my classroom in Tennessee, dangerously near the downhill slide to summer, fighting small battles every day to make my classroom, school, and community a place I am proud of.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 03.29.2015


First full week of classes since the week before Valentine’s day! (No joke.) We just got back from spring break and finished up our unit on quadratics with graphing and applications.

Some good stuff:

MondayDesmos Polygraph!

I knew this would be a total blast, and it was. For those unfamiliar with the activity, it’s essentially a computerized “Guess Who” style partner game with a set of 16 parabolas. (Desmos has done some really smart things here, like starting off the activity with a practice round against the computer to see how the game works, and inserting questions between each round so that students can build vocabulary and get better at asking questions.) Other folks have done a great job writing up their experience leading this activity (see Dylan’s post here, which I now realize I should have reread Sunday night when I was prepping, oops) so I won’t go into details. For laughs, though, here was my favorite question asked throughout the day. Brilliant. :)

outsmarting the system

For homework, I asked students to read through some of the sections in their book on graphing quadratics and create a one-page “cheat sheet” synthesizing the important ideas and vocabulary. Here is one of my faves:

parabolas cheat sheet

Tuesday – WODB and Graphing Quadratics foldable

For Bellwork on Tuesday, I used a “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” question from the brand new, awesome site created a couple of weeks ago by Mary Bourassa. We had done one of these style questions before, and I’ve noticed that a wide range of students are eager to offer suggestions for why each one is different – not just the students who typically speak up in class.

wobd parabolas

After the bellwork, we made a foldable to organize all of the info about graphing quadratics that students had read about the night before. I had photocopied some of the info on already to save time, and called on students in the class to help us fill in definitions and work examples as we went.

graphing quad foldable 1

graphing quad foldable 2

graphing quad foldable 3

graphing quad foldable 4

Finally, we practiced graphing quadratics by hand, from start to finish by finding opening direction, width, axis of symmetry, vertex, y-intercept, and x-intercepts.

graphing quad class practice

Wednesday“Make these Parabolas” and groupwork

In our Algebra 1 course we don’t go into vertex form for a quadratic, but I thought my Honors students would pick it up pretty quickly based on their prior work with transformations and absolute value functions. So, I used this Henri Picciotto task “Make these Parabolas” as bellwork – first showing students a bit about vertex form with sliders on Desmos, then writing one equation of a graph as a class.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 12.33.53 PMI turned them loose for about 5 minutes, and was super excited to see how many students were able to create the designs without any other instruction or help from me. (I even had a student ask me after class if there were more graphing challenges like this he could try. Don’t worry, I pointed him straight to Daily Desmos. :) )

make these parabolas 2

make these parabolas 1

make these parabolas 3

make these parabolas 4

make these parabolas 5

make these parabolas 6

After the bellwork, students worked in groups of three on a packet with some questions about graphs of quadratics that came from the textbook. This included some of the skills we had worked on the day before, some questions where they were given the graphs and asked to write the zeros, vertex, axis of symmetry, domain and range, and some pretty straightforward application problems.

On the homework for my Honors class, I included a couple of challenge problems I was hoping would help them to connect what we already studied with quadratic formula and the discriminant to the graphs of quadratics.

quad challenge

Thursday – Review (entire quadratics unit, including solving equations)

Friday – Test

It was a good week. Only a few weeks of instruction remain before we begin preparing for the Algebra 1 End of Course Test. I’m grateful for sunny days and renewed energy to tackle the last few topics in the course.

Posted by: rdkpickle | 03.18.2015


It’s spring break. (Hooray for warmer weather, longer days, and a pocket of time off to visit friends and get things done!)

Today I stopped by the school to accomplish a handful of tasks and managed to finally take some pictures of a few organizational things I have done this year that have made my class run more smoothly and my life a lot easier. Thought I’d share.

student mailboxes

student mailboxes

To cut down on time spent handing out papers in class, I created hanging file folders for each student, organized by class period. All graded papers are returned here, as well as copies of any handouts given when a student is absent. Additionally, I use the table space in front to lay out the day’s handouts and/or trays for collecting work. Students are used to taking care of picking up and turning in papers on their way in the door, before class starts.

agenda/homework board

weekly agenda

I’ve always posted the daily agenda for my classes, but this year I sacrificed some whiteboard space to posting the weekly homework assignments as well. (Sorry that everything is erased in the picture – spring break!) Super helpful for students who want to plan their week, absent students, etc. I used to post homework info online at my old school, but a physical board in the classroom seems to make more sense here.

index cards

index cards

At the beginning of the year, I had each student fill out an index card with some information – name, interesting fact, favorite song (title + artist), favorite book (title + author). I keep these in the containers on my desk to use for a couple of different purposes: 1) as equity cards, to randomly call on students to answer the bellwork (or other times I want to randomly select a student) and 2) to randomly assign seats when I group the desks into clusters of 3 or 4 by setting them out on the desks (students know to find their card.) You can also see that I keep the regular seating charts in this basket – we switch seats after every unit test.

homework binders

homework binders

I keep a copy of the answer key to every homework assignment (with all steps worked out by me) in the 2 binders at this little round table in the front of the room. I project the homework solutions daily as part of our start-of-class routine, but for absent students these binders are a way to ensure they have access to check their own work. It’s also been great to have them during the lunchtime enrichment period – both for students who want to get a head start on an assignment/see if it is going well and for those who really struggled/would like to look over the work. Again, at my last school I used to post answer keys online, but the physical binders work well here. Occasionally students will ask to take photos of a key to use for checking work on their own time – works well, and doesn’t require me to manage a massive online library of files like I used to.

That’s it! Back to break. :)

Posted by: rdkpickle | 02.25.2015

work worth doing

From the fantastic series finale of Parks and Recreation. I love everything about this.

“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about. Small, incremental change every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”

“Now, go find your team and get to work.”
Posted by: rdkpickle | 02.16.2015

ode to the b-hall copier

your arrival was greatly anticipated:
in the math workroom, we cleared out books for you
had to rewire the electricity
(still can’t use the microwave at the same time)

every day, i arrive around 6:15, coffee and papers in hand:
you’re there, waiting
sometimes i’m first to turn the lights on – i wake you up
occasionally a colleague beats me to greeting you and
you’re warm to the touch

last year, in your absence:
i faced a long walk to the front office, jockeying for the 2 used and abused older models
often finding a line of grumpy teachers, no sympathy for the newbie to the school
who was running on coffee fumes and far too few hours of sleep
(they’d be copying exam reviews at 6:45 in september)

a-hall prospects were never much better
unjamming every third sheet of paper while
cookie store smells wafted in

my mornings begin just doors down the b-hall with you, calmly copied onto
reams of paper – white, pink, yellow, blue
your happy hum accompanies my own
(didn’t even know i needed you)
our enduring love runs 1 to 2 sided, stapled and punched

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