Treat Tuesday / Thirstday 02/05/13 and 02/07/13

My snacks and coffee mugs were too rad for me this week to bypass this Tuesday and Thursday’s memes, even though I am late.

I am late on much of my writing lately, it seems. I still need to put together an ALAMW post, and I have a Nerdy Book Club post that Colby kindly pushed back. I DID get my report cards done on time. And I have National Board stuff to mess around with.

But first, SUPER-QUICK, you’ve gotta see this:


I’m not where I want to be, both health-wise and weight-wise. But my pants reached a critical point where I couldn’t pretend they were fitting any more. So I bought my Orange Pants of Guilt, which isn’t a terribly healthy name body image-wise, but it was kind of true. Plus, the pants were amazing.


The orange shade of my Orange Pants of Guilt is the same shade as Taki dust, which we discovered when we had a Hot Cheetos and Takis party Tuesday in class. It’s also the same color as Taco Bell hot sauce, which you can see from the photo.

The book above, Dignifying Science, is written by the guy who wrote Feynman, and it’s illustrated by a bunch of rad women cartoonists.

And then there was Thirstday.

thirstdayOh haaaaaay! It’s Thursday again and I’m drinking coffee again.


Making some espresso for Toby too. His cup is from Crate & Barrel.

The book is my FAVORITE book on Bucky Fuller, called Starting with the Universe. It’s a book that came out to go along with the retrospective exhibit at the Whitney in 2008.

I think pixel art is pretty much the best thing in the universe. It might be because I’m a child of the 80s or because I’m a big cross-stitch nut, but I love that little squares can wind up representing things pretty clearly. This mug was designed for the holiday collaboration between Rodarte and Starbucks, but it makes me think of Minecraft, Lego art, and this book trailer by Julian Hector:


Happy reading!

Treat Tuesday 01/22/13


Lunch is a challenge for me. Most days, it’s not unusual for me to make it clear through until 4 in the afternoon before I realize all I’ve consumed for the day is a cup of coconut mocha coffee and 23439246627 cups of tea.

I’m fortunate that our office clerk Danielle is usually looking out for me and will sometimes force a tuna snack pack on me.

Me and Danielle last weekend. We ate LOTS OF FOOD after seeing The Book of Mormon.
Me and Danielle last weekend. We ate LOTS OF FOOD after seeing The Book of Mormon.

But look! Today I packed a banana WITH my yogurt and granola (and a stack of books that need to be added to our class library). I’m on FIRE!


Do you like that I used the “grunge” filter on my Camera+ photo to make my treat seem edgier?

Hope you’re eating something yummier than my overripe banana. Happy Tuesday!

It’s Monday… What are you reading? 01/21/13



Happy MLK Jr. Day! I’ll be spending today as a day ON in service, not a day OFF. I’ll be serving in a high-needs classroom in Federal Way……. my own classroom. It might seem like a cop-out, but I’m doing what I can.

I gorged myself on Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel adaptations of the Baby-Sitters Club books this week. Olive liked them too:

oliveI also met Kadir Nelson and shared his new I Have a Dream book with my class.

kadirnelsonHe doesn’t look that thrilled to see me, but it’s OK.

Here are the other books I’ve been reading this week!

Screen shot 2013-01-21 at 9.35.23 AM

Have a good week, and an enjoyable day of service!


Seattle Commuting Tips for ALAMW13 (and otherwise)

I’m SO EXCITED you’re coming to Seattle! Yes, you! You’re going to have such a fantastic time! Yessssss! Books! WOO! And I’m hoping I might be able to help you out during your time here!

So I’ve been bus commuting a 70-mile round trip pretty regularly for two years now, most of those with cumbersome teacher bags in tow and wearing overdressed teacher clothes. Based on my experiences, I would like to humbly offer a few transportation suggestions if you’ll be coming to Seattle later this month for ALA.

Photo by James Thigpen.

To get around without a smartphone, I cannot help you. Seriously. Sorry. I truly don’t think I would be able to bus commute without my iPhone. I CAN tell you that bus drivers (and most riders) are VERY willing to help you puzzle out where you need to go. So if you DO have a smartphone, you should get One Bus Away and make sure you have the most recent version of Google Maps, which provides directions using public transit.

Black Sun, Isamu Noguchi

A word about Seattle distances: things might seem close, but distances are different than what you’d encounter in a suburban community. I’m from metro Detroit, where driving nine miles for a restaurant wasn’t a big deal. In Seattle, that distance puts you WAY out of the downtown core and up into suburbia. My parents stayed at a hotel that was four miles away from us, and although it was close, it was also six neighborhoods away. I tell you this not as discouragement, but just so you have some perspective.

Next: light rail from the airport. DO IT. It’s cheap, it’s roomy, and you’ll feel good about the environment. If your organization is comping you for transportation (ha?), help a pal out and share a taxi with them, but otherwise, LIGHT RAIL. A word of caution, the distance between the Sea-Tac terminal and the Sea-Tac light rail station is a littler longer than you might expect. Your hotel is probably at the University Street or Westlake Center stop.

You should get an ORCA card if you plan to use public transit any more than once during your time in Seattle. Seriously. Even just having an epurse (loading up the card with money) is cheaper than getting a physical ticket for light rail. You can even do this before you ever leave home!

From the 2010 Bucky Pop Up Party.

Don’t bring an umbrella. Seriously. Coat with hood, yes. Umbrella, no.

Photo from Roger Wilkerson.

Speaking of coats, I alternate between a puffy vest over fleece, a wool car coat, and a rain coat. They all serve me just fine; the only reason I choose one instead of the other is based on my outfit for the day, honestly. I don’t have a multiseason squall, but if you do, you’ll be set.

Boots would be nice, yes, but none of that heavy duty Sorel or L.L. Bean business. Complete overkill. These are the besssssst. For one thing, it’s not that cold here. For another, you probably won’t be walking outside THAT much. And one last thing: if you have sweaty feet, you will HATE YOUR LIFE in boots that long. I usually wear cowboy boots in the winter if I’m not wearing my rain boots.

If you get frustrated with the bus system, keep in mind, Seattle wasn’t really designed to be an enormous city. Our interstate goes underneath the Convention Center and can’t ever be widened, for goodness sake. So although our mass transit system is pretty rad, we’re obviously nothing like New York or D.C. 

Cabs will be easy enough to find downtown, but I lurrrrrve using Uber. They almost always have a deal going on, so run a search to see what you can track down.

Photo by Mr. Schu.

You’ll be close enough to the walk to the legendary Seattle Public Library. You should. Obviously.

A few other caveats, because I always like to hear those when I receive advice. I’m not terribly in shape, but I am pretty slim. Bus commuting for the larger among us, particularly with luggage, can get a little cramped. Nothing to the point where I’d advise you AGAINST it, but again, I know I’d want to know that in advance.

Also, just a friendly general public transit reminder: If I have somewhere I need to be RIGHT on time, I always try to catch a bus one earlier than I’d need just to be safe. That said, unless the weather is awful, time estimates from both One Bus Away and Google Maps are pretty darned accurate.

Any other transit-related questions? Just ask in the comments, or track me down on Twitter!

ThirstDay 01/03/13

Awwwwwww yes. All I ever do is drink beverages while I read. Thanks to David Etkin at {Eat the Book} for hosting. Here’s what we’ve got today:


I was fortunate enough to receive an Aeroccino from Toby for Christmas this year, which means that I no longer have to douse my espresso shots with a splash of cold milk. (Toby received a Nespresso machine for his birthday. It’s pretty much the best thing ever.)

So I’m hecka spoiled, although in Seattle this sort of thing is kind of par for the course.

I have a bunch of picture books that I want to shuttle back to the library today, so I’m going to work my way through those. I’m also halfway through The Hound of Rowan. Which is excellent.

The mug is from my trip to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan in 2009, funded by the Cultural Exploration Program.

Seeking Bookroom Advice

Our school guided reading leveled bookroom needs some love. And I need some advice on where to start. How do we make the bookroom work for our teachers, rather than making our teachers work for the bookroom?

We began a major overhaul of our bookroom in 2009 as we began our schoolwide transition from SFA. We were asked not to get rid of the SFA resources we had at our advantage, so we kept everything. (SFA sets usually include 30 copies of a book and a teacher’s guide)

Here’s a (novice) video I put together to give staff a tour of the resources available.


So that was good. But then it became apparent that having 30 copies of each SFA text was a little excessive. Because if six boxes were full of Level M texts, we might not suspect that we actually only have 20 different titles.

We’re trying to weed out extra copies we have, but we’re starting from a rough starting point. This month, when I entered the bookroom, there were six paper boxes of donated book sets (woot woot) stacked up inside the doorway.

Items donated to the school bookroom; transferred to the “bookroom annex” to be processed.
Book sets to be processed.
Book sets to be processed.

PISH POSH, you say. USE SKILL GROUPS, then you won’t need all these pesky sets of texts! Yes, perhaps one day. Sometimes. But for now, we’re meeting teachers where they are, and where we are is at guided reading groups.


Surprise! Bookshelf is broken. Didn't realize until months(?) later...
Surprise! Bookshelf is broken. Didn’t realize until months(?) later…
Book sets tossed on top of a filing cabinet.
Book sets tossed on top of a filing cabinet.
Entire buckets of books taken out of bookroom without being checked out.
Entire buckets of books taken out of bookroom without being checked out.

What should we do? I understand that people are busy, so I know why things might not be left in fantastic condition. But WAT DO?

Notable Books I Read In 2012

The BEST BOOKS of 2012 have already been covered extensively. Mr. Schu has a great roundup of Best of 2012 lists if you’d like to peruse the bulk of them. ERMAHGERD BERKS!!!

All I can really add to the conversation is to humbly provide recommendations for books I connected with this year. I’ve tried to filter out some of the great books you probably know about (Wonder, Green, etc.), unless they particularly resonated with me. Some months have more books than others, because some months I read more than others. You can tell when I was finishing my National Boards.

I didn’t consciously chose to include more nonfiction than most lists I’ve seen, but I do want to point out how important I think it is to highlight more traditional expository writing. YES, lyrical nonfiction books are fantastic, but we do a disservice to our kids when we aren’t seeking out good books of the type they’ll encounter when they’re doing research, even if they’re not as thrilling for us to read.

I owe a lot to the book recommendations from Nerdy Book Club folks who I’ve given shout-outs below.

I’ve included children’s books and adult books, and not all of them were published this year. Images were either created by me or swiped from GoodReads.





TRUTH TIME. I actually like the trailer for C. R. Mudgeon better than the book itself. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) Julian Hector’s work:





Watch me pimp out The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place on Mr. Sharp’s Nerdbery video:









Phew! What a year! I eagerly await your input on these selections.

Integrating Sound with Math

Time to rethink my integration of science with math. My attempts to connect proportions of the human body with measurement went down in flames in my entry last year, so I’m focusing on Systems, Order, and Organization related to sound this time.

I know sound, math, and science are all suuuuuuper tight. What I don’t know is how to adequately organize my sound unit so it includes great inquiry-based investigations. My guiding framework is an annnnncient curriculum from the National Science Resources Center (published when I was in junior high) that has such profound extension activities as the one featured below:

Ugh. Not helpful. It’s worth noting that there are a whopping two math extension activities in this entire unit.

The wise and enthusiastic Katie Weichert gave me some great ideas to chew on and think about. I wish I saw her more often. But in her absence, I had to get a move on.

So I started trolling the Internet.

This Aztec music lesson seems compelling.

I’m also interested in harmonics, but I don’t know how to build this into a full lesson. My students already use harmonic series as a procedure to line up from music class, so I wouldn’t need to go over the basic musical idea of third and fifth intervals.

THIS could be useful. It appears to be a sound generator. Could I have kids compose a song using fractions and then convert them to their frequencies? Speaking of composing music…

I imagine I could show snippets from Donald in Mathmagic Land and have students generate questions from that? Yesssssss, I could totally do that… That way the learning would be authentic and related to the curriculum we already have in place!

My only concern remains starting with a video. I want to make sure I’m looking for an introduction that inspires perplexity, not just engagement. After the 27-minute video was released in 1959, Walt Disney admitted:

“The cartoon is a good medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

(emphasis is my own) Now in looking at moving from merely interest to investigation…… I suppose that recording student questions will take care of that fear, right? Then having their questions shape the following lessons?

Hmmmmm. Of course, there are a wealth of videos available on sound and math, but much of the information is so complex that I can’t figure out how to simplify it.



I’m also interested in looking at the materials used in instrument strings and the number of strings included in different instruments. How do the number of notes an instrument is capable of producing related to its system? Can systems be different sizes? Is a larger system necessarily “better” or more “complete?”

Anyway. Let’s see how this goes.

Rigorous Math Every Day

The open-ended math from the Wall Street Journal a week or so ago was pretty rad. But lessons like those are admittedly woefully rare in my classroom. It’s a huge shame, right? Learning like that shouldn’t just be a once-a-month or even (eep) once-a-semester event.

So I started pondering why doesn’t math look like this in our classroom every day. I needed to keep myself real. Here’s what I came up with:

I’ve purposely chosen those phrases because I think we teachers sometimes use them as ultra-self-deprecating or unproductive language and the conversation just stops there. But I want to explain why these really are often valid concerns (or at least, valid-feeling concerns) and then focus on how I’m personally working to move past them.

Perhaps you’ve already heard me rail against people who say “I’m just not a math person” and seen me express frustration that the idea “math is sooo hard” is a bunch of bunk. That said, I’m still thoroughly unconfident in my own math abilities. I was mortified when I transposed two numbers in our soccer math. I freaked out when Mr. Brown informed me I HAVE BEEN DOING ORDER OF OPERATIONS TOTALLY WRONG. So it’s fair to say that when I deviate from our district frameworks, it’s a little stressful.

I’m moving past this excuse by being willing to really lean on my secondary-level colleagues. I love collaborating, but I don’t particularly love admitting that I need help. So this is a huge area of growth for me. Also, taking the leap to put detailed lessons online has given me a chance for feedback from folks from across the nation, like from my favorite ladies in the Midwest.

I was euphoric when our class completed its project last week. I was also exhausted. I can get sucked into manic cycles really easily. Although spinning my way into a cycle can be absolutely exhilarating. I need to be honest with my body and realize that it’s not healthy for extended periods of time.

“The management is hard.” That’s what people tell me when I share our latest project. I agree, but not in the way they intended. Teachers often mean, “I’m going to have children stringing stuffed monkeys from the room if I open the lesson to exploration.” I share with my kids the explanation from Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit that in order for creativity to take place, it happens within a system of order. A dance studio is essentially a bare floor and mirrors. An artist can’t create a masterpiece if she can’t dig out the right paints in her chaotic mess. And we can’t have deep, meaningful conversations about math in our lives if we’re not already solid in our class expectations.

So, the management I’m talking about isn’t the student-secretly-reading-under-the-table-instead-of-doing-math business. And it’s not because issues like that don’t exist in our classroom — the aforementioned situation actually happened last week and was dealt with swiftly. I’m talking about the mental gymnastics I put myself through as I’m wandering about the classroom facilitating conversations. Although the brain only takes up 2% of our body weight, it uses 20% of our energy, according to Bill Bryson‘s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

So I’ve gotta keep myself mentally in shape. That means reading tons of books I love even when other teachers tease me. That means blowing off grading homework for a night to paint my nails. That means making time for my physical health and not necessarily devoting hours of lesson planning each day.

Not enough hours in the day. I’m, frankly, super-pissy when I hear teachers say this, and then five minutes later I’m nodding at the truth in it. Because yes, our job is impossible and yes, there are insane demands coming at us from all angles. But I feel like you can’t automatically default to complaining about time without carefully looking at how you currently do spend your time.

For me, this has meant a intentional devotion to super-quick transition times and an up-tick in the priority I make in keeping my room clean so I don’t have to scrounge for materials. Now, my goal is shifting to providing great math instruction by still letting me be a human.

Among neuronormative folks, the general consensus is I’m an overachiever. *I* don’t feel that way, but apparently the speed with which my brain works and the resulting efficiency I have in completing mental tasks makes me one. When I think of overachievers in my mind, I definitely don’t want to be someone who spends hours constructing the perfect math centers that can only be used for a week or two. I’m certainly not that extreme, but I admit I’m still working on this. Mainly because I get sucked into interesting information online and can’t pull myself out. But limiting myself to a half-hour of prep time before class begins seems to have been a good boundary to set.

I want a system, whether it just be an internal mental process or a procedure I can use in my classroom, to ensure that I’m pursuing great math with my kids but I’m not spending hours in the staff lounge or on the Internet to do it. I suppose a time-hog that others might forgo would be the time I spend documenting my process and further questions I have through blog posts here, but the writing-about-it part is just fun.

I could continue writing, I suppose. But I’m off to redo my nails. Because I’m only going to really be a good teacher if I know when it’s time to let go.

Air Time

When you take time for yourself, good things follow. In this case, it was some REALLY AWESOME MATH.

Friday morning, I missed the bus (oops) and was able to drive to work at a legal speed.

I had an opportunity to drink some nummy nummy coconut mocha coffee and read my Wall Street Journal. And lookie what I found!

The art of the slow-motion soccer goal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dan Meyer commenting on how we spoon feed each step to a problem solving situation, and so today, I went out on a skinny limb and used this graphic to help us work on our measurement skills. I wasn’t sure where our work would take us, but we’re early on in the unit, so many of my students are still working to measure accurately using a ruler.

I showed them the graphic, and Samuel helped me pronounce all the players’ names. He was our resident expert. Then I opened the floor to mathematical questions.

Here’s what we brainstormed as our big questions.

 The questions with green dots to the left are the ones we decided to pursue.

Then, people started asking more “nitty-gritty” questions, which we identified as being the “questions along the way” you had to answer to get to your big ideas. We kept this poster up as we worked. I stayed near my computer so I could capture students’ comments.

“You need to know how big the field is,” Savanah spoke up. I handed her my iPad so she could find the field size. She paused. “Do I need to know like, how BIG it is or how long the sides are?”  “I think you’re asking me whether you need the area or the perimeter?” “Yeah… ohhhh, I need the length of the sides.” Here’s the information she found.

After checking another site to verify the accuracy of her information, we added the dimensions of the field to the poster. (Yes, I know I could have taken a screen shot of the iPad, and I did, but I couldn’t get the image sent to my computer. Hrmph.)

“But what’s a yard?” “Who can answer that?” “It’s three feet,” Ivy answered. “How can you check to see if you agree?” “Well, I could look in my math book, but I remember what yard sticks last year look like, and I know there are three rulers.” (I knew we’d need to convert from yards to feet to inches so they’d be able to convert the lengths they measured on their papers into the actual lengths)

“Well, then you need to multiply by three to get the length – 120 times three.” “Woah. How’re we going to do that?” “Use a known fact, 12 x 3.” “36?” “Yeah, 36.” “So it’s 360 feet.”

They did the same for the other side. Then a group of students wanted to determine the linear distance the ball traveled for each player. I asked how many inches long their picture was, and Marcos stopped us all.

Marcos: WAIT. You blew up the picture from your newspaper article. So our picture isn’t the same size as yours and the distances will be all different. (I photocopied the graphic at 121% so it’d be easier to read than my original copy of the newspaper.)

Me: Nice. That would be a problem if the image were STRETCHED like a rubber band and warped, but since it was enlarged to scale, we’ll be okay AS LONG AS you don’t let me use my original copy, okay?”

Marcos: Okay. So the field is 11 inches long.

“You know, if they would have just included a map scale on this picture, we wouldn’t have to do ANY of this measurement.” “I guess that’s why Miz Houghton wants us to be able to use map scales in social studies.”

Then a few of us worked to create this poster.

We knew the field was 11 inches in our image, but we wanted to know how far just ONE inch would be because then we could find out how far Jone Samuelson’s 6-inch kick actually went. We also knew how long an actual field was, so we tried to find the relationship between the two.

Using a fact family (the triangle drawn above) helped us figure out the ratio. Or. What I initially THOUGHT was the ratio. DO YOU SEE MY GLARING ERROR??? I didn’t notice until lunch. I neglected to convert the 240 feet into inches so the units matched. Drat. I frantically called AP Calculus teacher James Brown to make sure I didn’t make any further errors.

So after lunch we converted 240 feet into inches, THEN used the ratio and found out that one inch in our picture equalled approximately 33 feet.

Some students switched to using calculators for these larger computations, which gave us a chance to talk about how calculators represent 1/2, equivalent fractions (5/10), etc. Above, Alejandra calculated how many feet David Villa kicked the ball (5 inches, according to her measurements, making the kick 165 feet). I asked her about the “33 in. in a inch” she wrote, and she said, “Oh no no no, it’s not 33 INCHES or that would be like a mini soccer field.” So she was also looking at reasonableness of answers.

Another group wanted to know how far the balls would have gone if they were kicked on the moon. Again, I told them to ignore the parabolic motion and just look at linear distance. I know the physics of this aren’t entirely correct, but I didn’t think it  hurt the integrity of the original problem situation.

Oh, actually! Selam originally asked how far the ball would go in SPACE, but Maya pointed out that if the they were in space, the player and ball would both push off each other and the ball would never land (AMAZING INSIGHT, RIGHT???). So we clarified that the ball would be kicked on the moon, where there was still a force acting on the ball, but a lesser force than what we’d find on Earth.

Adam went to the classroom library to find out what the gravity was on the moon. Here’s the passage he found, from the DK Eyewitness Book UNIVERSE.

Eayn: It says the gravity is one-sixths of Earth!

Me: So the gravity is 1/6 of the gravity on the Earth. So if we are converting from the moon, what would we have to do to the distance we calculated for the ball kicked on Earth?

Adam: Multiply it by three?

Me: Where did you get three from?

Adam: I dunno.

Milena: Multiply it times five.

Me: Five? Where did you get that from?

Milena: If the moon’s gravity is 1/6, then the rest of the fraction that’s left is 5/6.

Me: Ohhh, I think I see what you’re picturing in your head. But think of the gravity on the Earth as being one whole, and the gravity on the moon being 1/6 of that whole. You’re not looking at the other 5/6ths.

Vy: You’d multiply it times six.

Me: Where did you get six from?

Vy: If it’s dividing by six to get the pull on the moon, then you’d multiply by six to show how much further the ball would go when it has a sixth of the gravity slowing it dowwn.

Me: So you’re saying that fractions can be a way of dividing.

Vy: Yep. And then the opposite, er, inverse, is multiplying, so you times by 6.

(It is perhaps worth noting that Vy has not voluntarily spoken in front of the class in the past year and two months)

Wow. So now that we knew how to find distances on Earth and on the moon, we plugged away, with at least three people needing to agree on their measurements to the nearest half-inch before we would post the results. (reviewing our estimation and rounding unit from earlier in the year)

As we approached second recess, we posted what we’d come up with so far.

We also reflected on what we’d learned over the course of the day, and on the math we used.

As you can see, we didn’t finish everything, so some students asked if they could finish the calculations during Math Daily Five. UM, YES OF COURSE.

What suggestions or modifications do you have to offer me and my students? Where can we take things from here? Other thoughts?