Posted by: rdkpickle | 09.14.2011

little things

Table of Contents:

1) gnomes
2) jumper cables
3) new
4) puzzling
5) grace

A series of anecdotes:

1) This is my first year teaching Algebra 2 Trig Honors. I taught Algebra 2 Trig last year, and so far I have felt like I have a pretty good sense of how to “beef things up” to provide appropriate depth and challenge for an honors level class. (More on that to come, soon.)

On Day 2, we were talking about the subsets of the Real Number system, and I started by asking them to tell me: “what’s a set?” After reaching a solid definition, I took a moment to point out the (seemingly random) picture of a gnome I had included on the slide. No, I’m not like super into garden gnomes, or something. It’s there because in college, I had this super wacky (read: amazing) Linear Algebra professor who described a set as “a burlap sack – full of gnomes.” This got some laughs from the students and I made a couple of references to the analogy as we worked our way from the innermost sets out (natural -> whole -> integer -> rational, etc. A natural number is a gnome inside a sack inside a sack inside a sack…)

Fast-forward to a couple of days later, when we are brushing back up on solving linear equations in one variable. I’d given them some pretty gross ones with fractions, distribution, etc. to try to highlight some nice techniques for solving (hate fractions? multiply both sides of the equation by the LCD to clear them out!) and to allow ample time to uncover any strange mathematical misunderstandings (or areas in need of clarification.) We moved on to looking at the identity/contradiction situations. Identity -> all real numbers are solutions, great.

Me: “So what do you think the solution will be for a linear equation that produces a contradiction?”
Them: “No solution.”
Me: “Yeah, and you know that special symbol for writing that down?”
Them: “Looks like a zero with a slash through it?”
Me: “Yeah! That actually doesn’t mean ZERO, it means THE EMPTY SET. A set with no numbers in it. So, so, so, so… literally… burlap sack…”
Three different students, in unison: “No gnomes!”

2) I’m not quite sure I was ready for what it feels like to step into the school building, year 3, and realize how many current students I have either taught, coached, or advised at this point. Those hard-fought hard-earned relationships with students that were a year in the making? Those students are still there, and they wave at me in the halls, and they hang out in my room, and they want to hear how my summer was. They want me to have a jam session with them in the choir room, and when I go to watch their volleyball/soccer/etc games they wave and get super excited that I’m there. It makes me feel home, and comfortable, and part of a family.

There is one student in particular who I had in class last year and again this year, whose sister pitched for us on JV softball last year, whose mom knows me and when she runs into me always stops to say hello and ask me how I’m doing. Last Thursday as I’m leaving school after watching a volleyball game, he comes running up to me in the parking lot, arms flailing, goofy grin. “Ms. Kernodle, do you have jumper cables? I’m preeeetty sure my car battery is dead.”

Drove over, gave his car a jump. (Had a super unreliable car in high school so I’m a pro at jump-starting a battery in a high school parking lot. It’s kind of my specialty.) Attracted a small crowd of students! Several of them: “I can’t wait to tell everybody about this in advisory/class/etc tomorrow!” (me: grin)

3) Precalculus is also a new prep for me, this year. Because I taught Algebra 2 Trig last year, I kind of “moved up” with the students into this class. This means I have quite a few of the same students I had last year… and even for those I didn’t have, I know exactly what to expect from them. (I planned Algebra 2 Trig last year with the other 2 teachers who taught it and we had very similar pacing, assessments, and expectations.)

Except that there’s a student in the class who is new to the school entirely, and in addition to transitioning to an entirely new social and academic world in her junior year, was feeling overwhelmed by the content we were treating as review at the beginning of the year. During a class activity/game early on (Day 2?) that had me running all around the room checking their answers, I got the sense that she was struggling just a bit. Maybe not entirely with content, but with confidence: afraid she didn’t remember the right thing to do, afraid to write something wrong down, maybe trying to fly under the radar?

I was lucky that my spider-senses were especially heightened that day, for whatever reason (too much coffee?) because I zeroed in on her struggle pretty quickly, and was able to address her issue with a pretty nice balance of quickness and patience. (Something that I often find difficult inside the classroom, when you’re being called back to the masses but wishing for a little more time to wrap something with an individual.)

It must have been a positive interaction, because I had encouraged her to come back after school for some extra practice/to see if there were any more topics she wanted a more thorough explanation on, and she came. We had a great help session, and over the weekend she emailed me to set up a meeting Monday morning for one more quick help session before Monday’s quiz.

She had the highest score in the class on the quiz, and I just checked my email to find a thank you, and a “can I stop by again later this week to check in on the next few sections?”

4) I must have made my enthusiasm for puzzles clear early on to my students, because yesterday before a quiz in my Algebra 2 Trig Honors class I had a student come in armed and ready to go. “Ms. Kernodle. Try this.” (on the board)



I gave the class the quiz, and proceeded to stare at the whiteboard, pondering. I think I must have made some audible noises of frustration at some point, because the students looked up at me (adorably, they thought it was hilarious that I was so stumped) and I told them that when they finished their quiz they should join me in being puzzled. As more kids finished the quiz, they took me up on it.

Eureka! (The answer is actually pretty cool, and once you’ve figured out the pattern you should be able to start with any number you want and generate the correct string.) I think I gasped when I figured it out, and after that it was just GOLDEN to watch the lightbulbs turn on for a couple of students.

They were so into it. We had more stuff to do after the quiz, but I left the puzzle on the board while we did other things. The ones that didn’t get it were dying to know the answer once class was over, but I didn’t give it to them. I just left it on the board. We’ll see.

5) This one… I don’t know how to start this one.

A student I had last year. Someone who doesn’t love math, but has such a sweet spirit and wonderful attitude. Unafraid to put herself out there, unashamed to admit when she’s confused, a talented artist and unique presence in the school. She had ups and downs throughout the year last year, and probably could have done much better in the class if her time wasn’t consumed with other interests.

She’s the student that emailed me over the summer, when she found out she had me for math again. “YAY!!!! I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE GOING TO BE MY PRECALC TEACHER!!!!”

Stayed for extra help yesterday after struggling on the first quiz. We had a great session, one on one. She says: “Ms. K. I don’t always do that well in math. I was worried about taking Precalc. But when I saw you were going to be my math teacher again, I just knew it would be okay. I knew I could trust you to take care of me, and that with your help I could get through it.”

Cannot for the life of me remember what I said in response. Because: my memory, horrible as it is, was working overtime to be damn sure I don’t ever forget those words, or that feeling. That’s it.


In these early days, it’s the little things. I’m loving, and loving, and loving the little things.


Gone with the tightly wrapped, tightly written posts, at least while school is in full crazy and so am I. Jason: “Rambly and ADHD in the best way possible” may be the new normal around here. LOOK OUT.



  1. Your FHS family loves you 🙂

  2. AWWW!!

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