Tag Archives: MTBoSBlaugust

How I Teach: Julie Reulbach

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.

Many thanks to Julie, who agreed to write up this post in the midst of everyones wildest week of the year. I had the pleasure of getting to know Julie at TMC16 where she would often burst out in song while at dinner. Julie is a Desmos Fellow with me, she blogs at I Speak Math, and tweets at @jreulbach.

Current Job:
Algebra 2 teacher at Cannon School in Concord, NC

One word that best describes how I teach:

Current mobile device:

Current Computer:

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.23.08 PM.pngWhat software or tools can’t you live without?
DESMOS Activity Builder. I use it everyday and can’t imagine teaching without it. I also love Pear Deck, especially now that they have a self-paced mode. I often use these two things together. Continue reading


Is that against the rules?

In Algebra I, we’re having some fun with order of operations and also still getting to know one another (via some nice problems). As students finished a quiz the other day, I put the numbers 1 to 10 on the board and told students to see if they can use four 4’s and any operation they like to get each value. Sure enough, as kids finished the quiz, they would saunter up to the board and write down a solution. A few values started to gather multiple approaches.

We saw some like this   or this .

Then one student wrote this

An audible “ohhhhh” could be heard around the room. Then,

Student: Is he allowed to do that? Is using 44 against the rules?

Teacher: I don’t know. It’s pretty cool, right?

Student: Yea.

Teacher: Yea, I’m not sure. I didn’t make up this game. But, it feels like a good solution. So I see no reason to deny it.

Sometimes the students are too hung up on rules (or unstated potential rules) to get creative and think outside the box. I say, take a shot. Worst thing that can happen is that you are wrong and have determined an extreme case that doesn’t work.

How do kids learn to play video games?

During a discussion about (-3)2 vs -32, I remind my 9th graders that Desmos and TOC (the other calculator) agree with what we said in class.

Student: We were never allowed to use calculators in 8th grade.1

Me: That may be, and there is a time and place for being allowed to use calculators, but I guess my point in saying that was if you’re at home working on a problem and you don’t remember how it all works, your calculator is a good tool to use to play around and test stuff out.

Students: <thoughtful look>

Me: Let me ask you something. When you get a new video game, the first thing you do before you play is crack open that manual and begin reading from the start, right?

Students: <snickers>

Me: OH COURSE NOT! What do you do?

Student: I just play around, see what happens.

Me: Exactly. You hit some buttons, explore territory, see how it works. Trial and error. Maybe explore a tutorial they made for the game, or work through a level challenge. Now, from time to time, you may need to ask a friend who has more experience, or go online and look at a forum on the game, or watch a video of some other person playing, and that’s a good thing.

Students: <nodding>

Me: So why can’t math be just like that? I’m here to tell you it can be.

My apologies that this transcript is mostly just a monologue. But the students really liked the analogy. I am certain of two things:

  1. There is no way this is the first time someone compared learning a video game to learning math.
  2. This has legs.

Anyone? Research, blog posts, rumors?

1 I have my own thoughts on this, which range from: good way to reinforce fundamentals, to why not give them every tool, to there’s a good chance this 9th grader is an unreliable narrater.

Claim and Warrant all over the place

At TMC16, I attended a 3 day class led by @stoodle and @Plspeak. For reference, here are their materials on the wiki and a collection of the tweets from the class.

Chris started the class by demonstrating how he uses Claim/Warrant statements to structure class discussion. He models formal debate by forcing students to present a solution or opinion in terms of “My claim is ______. My warrant is ______.” The warrant is the justification.

Another strategy they demoed was in presenting two solutions (and sometimes two errors) and having students pick which they liked best.

So today, on the 3rd class day with my Algebra I students, I gave it a whirl.
Continue reading

First Day: Speed Demon and Talking Points

Today was Day 1, folks. All students come for 10 minute mini-classes earlier in the week, so today they came in with some minor stuff (seats, etc) out of the way and we were ready to math. And we mathed.

I have two preps this year: AP Calculus AB (mostly 12th grade, 3 sections) and Algebra I (mostly 9th grade, 2 sections). My general strategy on first days is to get as much math in as I can. Especially in a day where other classes may be reading syllabi and passing out books, students will remember classes that dig in and get to it.

Each year, I start with Nathan Kraft‘s Speed Demons 3 act in order to set up average rate of change and begin a great discussion about shrinking that time interval for greater accuracy for rate of change. In the past I would play it, hold a good discussion with students about how on earth we can measure things like distance on this video, and then send them off to measure, calculate, and make conclusions at home.

This year I saw it as a good opportunity to have my table groups work on this problem together to start the year. In each section, the conversation went similarly: we acknowledge the need to measure a distance on the road, they suggest using cars, people, or telephone poles as a unit and extrapolating, they acknowledge that those units in this context are ok but flawed, and then someone suggests Google Maps. In each class, there was a burst of energy when I suggested they take out their laptops and check out the satellite. From there, paper, whiteboards, chalkboards, and rulers were flying around. Here are a few shots of the action, including a nice use of “ruler on the screen” to get a good measure.

They concluded that all cars were speeding. We had a good chat about accuracy and what could have lead to more reliable speeds. The best line of the day was a student that said which interval we used would have a lot to do with that–as in, an interval near the start, middle, or end of the car’s journey. I have been doing this problem for a few years and I had never considered different pieces of the cars’ journeys, just shrinking one interval down.

For reflection

  • Lots of great discussion at tables once real work started, but in the class discussion there was still way to much student-teacher talk and not enough student-student talk.

In Algebra I, I dipped my toe into the Talking Points pool for the first time. I used the “Being Good at Math” set from this collection Dylan Kane posted from TMC14 and credit Cheesemonkeysf. Let’s hash this out list-style…


  • Lots of great on-topic chats at the tables which is no small feat for 9th graders in a math class on day 1.
  • We had several braves souls willing to step forward and talk about changed minds in the group chat at the end. They did a good job describing their process as well.
  • I was happy with most of the attitudes they had coming in–most tended to growth over fixed mindset.


  • Many groups had no idea what to do when they all agreed or disagreed together after round 1.
  • I worry about making sure this type of activity sticks with them as we move into traditional content.
  • Either few students were changing their minds OR few were willing to admit it. Either way, there is room for improvement.



My big theme this year is reflection, both for me and the kids. I’m most happy that I made some inroads on that today.

Room 212 in 2016

Students are coming through today and tomorrow on a 10 minute schedule, and classes start for reals on Thursday, so the room is pretty much set. Have a look around.

I asked for some of these triangle desks this year so I can get groupings of 4 students on a more regular basis. My room isn’t exactly tiny, but it’s too small for larger tables. These things are great, and they still leave open the possibility for alternative arrangements. I have 7 groups in the room.


Tables are numbered and the numbers look like this. Each takes a different approach (one is in binary). The plan is to shake those up as we go, but we’ll see what kind of priority that deserves. Obligatory XKCD poster is below, one of three in the room.

Stripped down desk setup in the corner. My main work area is in the office, so this is a spot to hang out in during conferences, testing, etc. I probably won’t use it much, but there are other teachers in here as well. The surface was cut from an old logarithm pull chart.


Here is The Game. Arbitrary points assigned or deducted for random reasons. Not totally random, I suppose. Many of those old school “extra credit” points will be diverted to this board. I forget who I stole it from (and I just spent 10 minutes searching), but someone wrote a great post on it.

And the horse with a tie.

Not pictured but essential: my set of 10 large whiteboards, my document camera, my slide rule museum.

How I Teach: Meg Craig

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.

The inaugural edition of the series has Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) breaking open her process. Meg contributed to the question set and was a strong supporter of the series from the start. Thanks! Meg blogs at Insert Clever Math Pun Here.

Birmingham, AL

Current Job:
Presently ACT Prep teacher but previously Precal & Alg II teacher

One word that best describes how I teach:

Current mobile device:
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact (it’s the smallest Android available that actually works)

Current Computer:
Dell XPS ultrabook
Mr Craig’s hand-me-down PC

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 6.46.53 PM.pngWhat software or tools can’t you live without?
Microsoft Word. Anyone who says gDocs is just as good doesn’t want to face the truth.
Snipping Tool
ShowMe videocasting app
CamScanner pic-to-pdf app
The Old Reader blog reader. I really don’t know how people can follow blogs without a reader.

What was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
My phone! I had “smart” phones before that were smart-in-name-only. Now that I have a phone that works I understand why people are on theirs all the time.

What’s your workspace setup like?
At school I have a separate “work” desk (for grading and lesson planning) and computer desk. (actually I have the same at home as well, except the work desk also doubles as a craft desk)

How is your classroom set up?
My classroom was set up in groups of 4, my teacher desks in an “L” on a side wall. My favorite thing is my standing desk that has really big shelves below it. It has room to spread out my papers and my document camera and pens and such on top. It’s like having the world’s biggest flat podium. I got it from overstock about three years ago and it was fairly pricey but if you spread that out over the school days I’ve used it’s probably less than $.75/day and SO worth it. I’m a big believer in making the space where you spend the majority of your waking hours into something pleasant. So yes, I spent a lot on that podium and also spent some money on a nice desk chair (I do a lot of typing and grading). I also put up a Wall of Cute that has old pictures from Cute Overload calendars because sometimes you need a corgi butt or a disapproving bunny to make your day better.

Where at your school can you honker down to get shit done?
Fortunately in my classroom.

What non-math stuff do you do at your school?
I do some tech workshops for teachers-stuff like how to use word, timesaving tips, etc. I’m more of a curricular teacher, not an extra-curricular. I am helping out with prom this year.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I have two! One is picking out my clothes for the week on Sunday. I’ve been doing this since high school and it just makes mornings so much easier. Some people are overwhelmed by it but try to have some basic categories to limit your decision making. I usually have two dress days, two skirt or pants days, then jeans day Friday.
My time-saving shortcut for tech stuff is actually creating a shortcut: clicking and dragging the address of a website to your desktop to create a shortcut to it. I have ones for our online gradebook, email, and class google docs.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
A 5 x 7 lined post-it pad.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My Kindle. At least 50% of the book I read are free downloads from the library with-get this-NO late fees! (And if you’re in the middle of a book that’s about to be due, just go into airplane mode!)

What gadget or tool or software is a necessity for your particular subject?
Calculator and desmos. ☺

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I can make a one-sheet graphic organizer or worksheet like nobody’s business. I’m known for putting tables inside text boxes inside tables just to mess with people’s minds when they try to edit it.

When it comes to work, organization, teaching, what do you need to work on the most?
Organization throughout the school year. All of my files are super organized, and I know what I’m doing each day, but I’m really bad at having just a big pile of “important” papers that just grows through the year.

What is the key to good classroom management?
Have a plan for bell-to-bell. If kids are occupied, they are less likely to act up.

While you’re teaching, what do you have in your hand (if anything)?
A Flair pen.

How do you manage the flow of paper in your teaching? How do students hand in paper? How do they get it back?
Students put papers in a turn-in tray on my desk. I’m really good at grading & returned tests by the next day. But classwork? Free response practice questions? Those just linger forever, traveling back and forth from school to home and back again ungraded. And then I can never find time to hand them back.

What do you use to plan? Do you use a different tool for the bigger picture (unit/course)?
I use the textbook as a course outline. I usually do the homework for each section to figure out what the issues are going to be to make sure I address them. I then make a NoteTakerMaker (graphic organizer) for each lesson and my own homework worksheet as well. I usually use Sam’s virtual filing cabinet to see if there’s anything cool I should add in from the MTBoS.

I keep everything that I create/use in a binder (usually a 4 inch one per semester)-that means a blank NTM, a filled-in NTM, worksheets, reviews, tests. If something doesn’t fit in the binder, I’ll add a sticky note (“speed dating review for 3.4” ’Use polar battleship app”). I also use sticky notes to remind myself of things I want to change for next year or maybe a really good explanation that a student came up with.

I have a 1.5-inch binder that I put the current chapter’s stuff in from each class so I can take that home easily.

How do you manage your time in the classroom?
I am really bad at this! I always underestimate the time it will take for anything. I do use my timer cubes and a regular timer a lot just to keep us on track. Again, I usually underestimate the time but at least it’s a start.

How does your grading system look different from anyone else?
We are forced to use a grading system by our school. I will refrain from further comment.

What do you listen to while you work? Do you play music in class?
We don’t listen to music in class, but after school I listen to my “Awesome Happy Songs” or “Good Indie Songs” playlists that usually involve Lumineers, Jack Johnson, and a surprising amount of ‘60s music for someone my age.

What are you currently reading?
Good as Gone by Amy Gentry. It’s quite the page-turner!

How do you recharge?
I admit to playing Two Dots when I come home from school because my brain usually needs to unwind. I also like to play in the dirt in my garden, watch television, and read. And as much as I hate to admit it, I usually do feel better after I exercise so am trying to make that a 5-days-a-week thing.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I need at least 7 hours but would prefer 8. During school I usually fall asleep for a half hour while watching tv and still go to sleep by 10. I set the alarm for 5:30 so I can have 3 snoozes before waking up at 6.

I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions:
Anna Vance (@TypeAMathLand) I feel like she’s going to have some awesome system for everything.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. It’s really easy as a teacher to feel guilty taking time for yourself when maybe the lesson you have planned for tomorrow isn’t super-awesome. But sometimes you just need a SportsNight marathon or a trashy book to read or just a night on the patio doing nothing.