How I Teach: Matt Baker

In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.

Matt Baker teaches in Brooklyn, NY. I first met him at TMC17 in his class on cultivating conversations amongst students. This past summer he joined the second cohort of the Desmos Teaching Fellowship and we were able to meet up for a bit at the mothership in July. Matt was so kind as to send this to me all the way back in December 2016, and I promptly sat on it until now. He assures me that it’s all still pretty much on point with some minor developments.

This is the start of season 2 for How I Teach. There should be a steady stream of one per Sunday for a bit!

Brooklyn, NY

Current Job
Math teacher at The Brooklyn Latin School. I’m teaching Algebra 2 and IB Math Studies SL Year 2 this year, and I’m the senior grade team leader.

One word that best describes how I teach
My initial response was “Sarcastically”, but I guess “passionately” probably sums it up best.

Current mobile device
iPhone 6

Current Computer
If I’m at home I do my work on an HP laptop I got 5 years ago. At school I have a Lenovo Thinkpad with a trackpad that doesn’t work.

What software or tools can’t you live without?
Word and SmartNotebook sound like lame answers. Honestly I have the DocScan app which makes my life soooooo much easier, because I can make pdfs of keys really easily.

Screen Shot 2017-08-18 at 11.10.19 PMWhat was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
“Game-changer” was probably plickers, because it let me do formative assessment so much more quickly. But that was a few years ago after TMC. “Game-changers” are hard to come by. Continue reading

Desmos Fellows Weekend

This post was started in November when I was on my way back from the Fellow’s weekend. It languished in my drafts until today. 

As I write this, I’m on my way home from a weekend at Desmos HQ where I worked side by side with other Desmos Teaching Fellows. The Fellowship is meant to build “community, mentorship, early access to our best ideas and technology” among the 39 members of the first cohort. It was a heck of a time.

What we did

We spent pretty much all our official time in the Desmos office either engaging in presentations from Desmos staff and collaborating with fellow Fellows. Folks like Shelly, Michael, Christopher, and Dan spoke at length about how they teach teachers to use the calculator and the Activity Builder. Folks like Eli gave us the framework of Desmos’s history, guiding principles, and outlook for the future. And we spent a healthy amount of time just chatting and getting to know each other.

What I learned


The doorbell

The Desmos staff is insanely talented. They have done an impressive job finding folks that not only excel in engineering and design, but really do understand what makes for good math pedagogy. Every member of their team could create an exceptional Activity Builder lesson. They also clearly want to make their product better at all times. The whole staff was around all weekend and were constantly being pelted with “little suggestions” from 39 teachers with feature requests. Not only did they gladly take it all in, but they would follow up with deeper questions about what else would make the calculator and AB better for students and teachers.

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PD Recap: Know your saws with Polygraph

For all the Desmosing I do with my classes, Polygraph may be the least utilized resource for me. It does an effective job of having students play around with a set of new terminology and fosters a sky-high engagement level. It’s not exactly something I can use every week, so at times I forget it’s there as a resource.

It’s also one of the tools Desmos has created that can turn the head of a non math teacher. Since it’s pretty simple to import 16 images instead of 16 graphs, can’t it could be used to classify artistic styles and techniques, cathedral architecture, maps, biological specimens, or whatever?

Last Friday we had a PD day where a few teachers taught simulated lessons with specific techniques or activities. Each was followed by a little reflection and Q&A session. I offered up a session on Polygraph so that the rest of the school could see why the math teachers were so bonkers over an online graphing calculator and perhaps find a use for it in their classes. Continue reading

Ten Frames

Daughter Emily is halfway through kindergarten, and it’s been a lot of fun seeing all the math she’s been bringing home. As a secondary teacher, I don’t get to see much of the elementary CCSS math material up close. I have a deeper interest in Talking Math with Your Kids these days and ordered the most recent box of math for K and 1st grade. I signed up as a guest reader for a few weeks from now, and after chatting with her teacher, I’ll be working through some WODB puzzles and maybe some “How Many” prompts as well.

Well today, she brought home this worksheet.

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Ten frames are about the only early years tool I’m familiar with. After working through many a number talk, I am always intrigued with the different methods kids will use to group units when counting. So when she showed me this, the following took place…

Dad: So how many ten frames are in 80?

Emily: 8.

D: Cool. How many are in 70?

E: 7.

D: Ok, how many are in 100?

E: … I’m not sure.

D: How many ten frames in 70?

E: 7.


D: How many in 90?

E: 9

D: So how many in 100?

E: Oh! 10!

D: Ok, now how many units are in a half a ten frame?

E: 5!

D: Nice. So how many ten frames in 15?

E: …. 1 and a half!

That was a lot of fun. I really wasn’t sure how she would deal with the half talk. I have no idea if this is on target or ahead or behind where other kids in her class are. But she enjoyed it and so did I.

How I Teach: Sam Shah

In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.

Of all the How I Teach contributors so far, it’s possible that Sam Shah’s organizational style is most closely related to mine. Sam’s blog is one of my favorites. Subscribe if you haven’t already.

Brooklyn, NY

Current Job
Upper School Math Teacher

One word that best describes how I teach

Current mobile device
Samsung Galaxy S7. Let’s hope it doesn’t explode on me! *BOOM* *falls down in searing pain* *incapable of doing anything* *so now I don’t have to grade these tests that I’ve been putting off grading, right? worth. it.*

Current Computer
MacBook Air


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Make Your Own Best Mistake

One of the fun activities we bandied about in the Talk Less session at TMC16 was to ask students to create the best mistake for a particular problem. Each year in my Algebra I classes, my students (9th graders) have had some portion of Algebra I the year before. Many have had courses that didn’t take them all the way through, some experienced all of it but didn’t do so well, and some had PreAlgebra. We are a private 9-12 school, so we are in charge of placing them after an assessment. This is all to say that while my students need a year of Algebra I, many of them also need a fresh look at the subject–especially the intro topics that they most definitely hit last year. This activity is perfect for this situation.

Introducing this activity was as simple as can be. I gave them one equation to solve and asked them to create the best mistake they could. I had each table (3 or 4 students per table) put their mistake worked out on the board. After they were all done, a representative needed to explain their mistake. Here were all the results from one period.

I’ll tell you what, as happy as I was with these results, the next period wasn’t so great. As much as I don’t want to degrade or judge a mistake that a student thinks is relevant, they started going down a road of simply dropping numbers or introducing new ones. Responses weren’t as thoughtful. A lot of that is on me. Maybe the setup required more work than I indicated before. Maybe I need to respond to the specific combination of students in that room. Regardless, I’ll be coming back to this activity.

How I Teach: Joel Bezaire

In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.

I met Joel Bezaire at TMC16 where he presented on Variable Analysis, a game that is absolutely worth checking out. Check him out on his blog and on Twitter.

Nashville, TN

Current Job
7th Grade Pre-Algebra teacher at University School of Nashville

One word that best describes how I teach

Current mobile device
iPhone SE

Current Computer
MacBook Air and iMac

What software or tools can’t you live without?
Chrome with bookmarks that port from device to device

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-5-39-23-pm Continue reading