Monthly Archives: September 2016

Love and #BlackLivesMatter

This week Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott were shot and killed by cops. I read about Keith’s death in bed and was upset – I couldn’t sleep. I realized I could stay silent, or I could tell my students, who are almost all Hispanic or Black, how upset I was. I decided I could no longer be silent. I remembered Jose Luis Vilson’s saying that he told his students he loved and cared for them the first day of school and realized it was the least I could do. So that’s what I did.

With my  juniors and seniors we started off class as normal with 5 ACT questions. After checking our answers, I had them direct their attention to these graphs – looking at ACT performance, broken down by race/ethnicity from the 2015 ACT Report (PDF).


I asked “What do you notice? What do you Wonder?” After a minute of think time we shared out. A couple of things that stood out:
– Students noticed how well Asians performed in comparison to others
– Students noticed that Hispanics and African Americans underperformed nationally
– One student pointed out systematic racism and wondered what the impact that has on their performance.
– “What resources do they have that we don’t? How can we get them?” was the most disheartening wonder…because sometimes it feels that we have so little and I can’t get them everything they deserve.


Calculus’ Discussion

Here my classes diverged. With my precalculus class, I talked about why we work hard (to combat systematic racism, to make gains and improve our community). I told them I cared for and loved them. But, I didn’t have the guts to tell them why I told them today.

Calculus started the same way – then I asked”Why do you think we are looking at this today?” Students said things like “To motivate us” “To show us where people like us score.” While I validated them, I then told them the real reason.

I’m tired of black men being shot at rates that exceed that of whites.

I told my students that it feels like there is so little I can do so far away, especially as a white male. I told them how we, right now, might not be able to make the change we need, but we can make an impact on these ACT statistics by working hard. Then they, as well rounded, educated people from the community can make an impact and make much more significant change within their community than I can.

Then I said: “In case you haven’t heard recently, you should know that I love you, I appreciate you”  Then I started crying so no one could understand me. I tried again:”I love you, I appreciate you. Even if no one else says it at school, we all care about you. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”

I tried not to make too much eye contact cause I was crying, many of them were too.

I didn’t make too much of my conversation, since after we went back to finding implicit derivatives. I didn’t know if it made a difference to them, but it made a difference to me.

After school, I checked in with our secretary and two of my students were chatting with her. She said that students had already told her what happened in class that morning.  One of the students said “I’ve never made a teacher cry” I said with a smile “Not until today” As I left, the secretary said “But that was a good cry.” She was right.

Then, two days later at our whole staff meeting another teacher well respected by students mentioned that Juniors and Seniors were touched and moved by our discussion of both data and Black Lives Matter.  Once again, I was and am surprised that our ten minute divergence from math was that impactful enough to share with another person my students respect.

Was our conversation perfect? No. Has it made a bigger impact than I could possibly imagine? Yes.


Starting Over in Week 6

This year I planned on using GreatMinds Eureka Math curriculum (a.k.a. EngageNY) for Algebra 1 since I was going into the year with four preps and thought it would be better than what else we had (nothing). I wrote semester exams based on the course map and then started teaching. As I talked to colleagues and opened each lesson, I became more and more disappointed in what Great Minds had to offer me and my students. I began taking each lesson’s objective and then turning to the #MTBos Search engine, my google drive and my own mind to create each and every lesson. I wanted a resource that would make my life easier and provide some sort of coherence- not increase my workload and decrease coherence.

I was left without guidance on the rigor that was expected of students, and this past week feared that I wasn’t teaching the standards, but instead was just teaching Algebra stuff without a bigger picture in mind (which was true since I was focusing on procedural knowledge anyway. And while that is a “my bad” I do think that GreatMinds is partially at fault since I spent so much time redoing their work quickly, instead of pushing myself and my students to think deeper.)

After this week when I looked at my plans, the standards and said “Am I even supposed to be teaching this?” I couldn’t find good answers about inequalities- but what I did see was that I wasn’t using my time well and that class is/was too procedural. I’ve decided to reboot the course and follow the pacing of a more trusted curricula we have access to that doesn’t suck butt, with the long term goal of seeing if it is something to adopt formally. So, we’re rebooting, starting over – Unit 1, Chapter 1, Day 1 – on the sixth week of school.

I definitely have struggling learners who will benefit from seeing the content again and cycling through the math we’ve already done with a different flair. I’ll definitely benefit because I don’t have to write every lesson for the next 150 days. I’ll also benefit because I have the privilege of not ever going back on the GreatMinds website ever again.

Sucky parts: We’ve spent five weeks making progress and now we’re taking a step back to make leaps forward. Oh, and I wrote two semester exams that I won’t be using anymore. But those are #SunkCosts and it is essentially now or never for SY16-17. My kids deserve better than EngageNY and that’s what they’re going to get.

P.S. Dear Illustrative Mathematics team,
Please finish your 6-8 curriculum work, then move on to high school. I trust you and that your curricula will be worth the space it will take up on my Google Drive. Other free curricula don’t even meet that standard.
– A not-so-secret admirer