Finding a Church Home

One of the struggles we’ve had since moving to Atlanta 4 years ago is finding a church we can call home.  We have visited several in our community as well as some in Buckhead, Brookhaven, Midtown, Roswell, Alpharetta, Downtown Atlanta, and Decatur.  I thought moving to the South from California would make it easier to find a church home because there is such a higher percentage of church goers here.


One of the things I’ve discovered is that being a conservative Christian in California is not the same thing as being conservative Christian in Georgia.  What was conservative before moving is definitely moderate/liberal here.  Neither my husband nor I have a lot of patience for legalism and making faith more about judging others.  We lean towards a focus on the grace of Jesus, a grace that we are in need of daily.

I miss being a part of a local church community.  I miss fellowship, discipleship, and serving others.  Yet, I don’t think I fit at most churches here.  It’s weird feeling like I don’t fit or belong.  We have found one church we like and think we could fit in.  However, it’s 30 minutes away on a Sunday.  For those of you who don’t know Atlanta traffic, that means it would take at least an hour to go to the church for any type of mid-week involvement.  We live in Dunwoody, it’s in Decatur.  That isn’t part of our local community.  …sigh… I really didn’t think finding a church would be this difficult and makes me want to move.

Summer Reading List from a Nerdy Math Teacher

Reading is one of my favorite past times.  During the school year, it’s difficult to do as much as I would like, because teaching.

I have created my “dream” reading list for this summer. Most are about math teaching, a couple about theology & faith, one required by admin, and one just for pleasure.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – started last summer and never finished!

Theology & Faith:

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark Noll

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll

Required by Admin (all K-12 Ts are reading this and writing one PBL Unit by August):

Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, and Suzie Boss

Math Teaching:

CPM Algebra 2 – piloting this year, correlating to our learning outcomes

CPM PreCalculus – piloting this year, correlating to our learning outcomes

What’s Math Got To do With It by Jo Boaler

Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler

Accessible Mathematics by Steve Leinwand

On Your Mark by Thomas R. Guskey (not math, it’s about grading & reporting)

What are you planning to read this summer? I need more pleasure reading books and would love suggestions.

Integrated Math vs. Traditional Pathway

I’m on a “STEAM Team” at my school for the next year.  We are looking at ways to include more STEM/STEAM offerings and what kind of changes, if any, we should make in our Science and Math curriculum.  I’m the math teacher representative on this team and my awesome colleague, Dr. Brande Jones, is the science teacher representative.  Brande and I have been talking quite a bit about both integrated science and math.  She already teaches her Bio classes in an integrated manner, including Chem as that is natural to her, she is a BioChem major.  However, this isn’t done formally at our school, nor throughout the science classes.

I have been interested in Integrated Math for a while, especially since that is how the majority of countries teach math.  The State of Georgia implemented Integrated Math a few years ago, and it didn’t go well.  I’m working on trying to find out why it wasn’t successful.  This article from Education Week (2014) helps a bit and has a quote from the Fulton County Superintendent that makes it clear the planning was done poorly.  A 2015 Education Week article states that West Virginia has given up mandating Integrated Math as well.  However, it doesn’t state why it failed.

Our math consultant tweeted a few ideas as to why Integrated Math isn’t always a success:

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How about you?  Do you have experience with Integrated Math – good or bad?  How have you seen it implemented well? poorly? Thanks for any insights!

What’s Homework (Individual Practice) Got To Do With It?

For the last 4 years I’ve taught primarily 9th and 10th grade students at an Independent School in Atlanta.  Before that, I was at a parochial school in Northern California.  Both situations have allowed me some latitude in trying new things, including grading and assessment.  I’ve been doing SBG for about 5 years now.  That has also meant moving to not grading homework, even for completion as is common for math teachers.  This past year, I did grade homework (only 5%) for my Algebra 2 CP class as another teacher also taught Algebra 2 CP and we wanted our grading to be similar.

A problem of practice that we both encountered was a small percentage of students actually even attempting their homework.  While there are always a few students with this struggle, I have never seen it so large, including with my Honors classes.  It was common for both of us to arrive at class and no more than 1/3 of the students had attempted their homework, both in the CP classes and Honors classes.

When I would ask students about this, the common response was that they had homework that counted for more of a grade in their other classes, so that was their priority.  Even though they would acknowledge that doing their individual practice work would greatly help them in understanding the material and on assessments, behavior didn’t change.  They would rather not do the homework, see how they did on a quiz, and then retake the quiz over and over if necessary.  As expected, this created a horrible cycle for them and me.  I didn’t assign a lot of homework, I mostly stuck to Steve Leinwand‘s 2-4-2 recommendation for a total of 8 problems.

I made modifications throughout the year to try and change this negative cycle.  Change #1 was to require students to fill out a form for a retake and do 3 separate learnings to be eligible for a  retake.  This didn’t make many changes to the cycle and students, quite frankly, lied and made up the separate learnings.  Next, I changed it so that if they wanted to take a retake, all the homework for that unit needed to be turned in.  So, they just stopped doing retakes altogether.  Again, this isn’t the result I was going for.  I tried having students coming in to make up homework during Enrichment/tutorial, but not all would show up.  Additionally, I don’t think I should need to force my students into doing their homework and take away my time from the students who really want my help.

How do others handle this? How do you motivate students to do homework? This cohort of students has similar struggles in other classes – how do we encourage change across the board for a cohort that has a lack of motivation?


Interleaving and spacing practice

How might we help students with learning and remembering without giving them 30 of the same math exercises each night? 

This is a question that I had pondered for a while.  I really enjoy reading about cognition, so in addition to my cognition book for grad school, I was also reading “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) and “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel.  The topics of interleaving and spacing practice kept coming up.  While it is more difficult for learners, it helps increase the “stickiness” of what they are learning.  Willingham states, “But something else does protect against forgetting: continued practice” (p. 117).

Interleaving is the opposite of how most math teachers assign practice work.  Typically, math teachers assign massed practice – students work out examples that are all on the same topic.  Interleaving is mixing up the topics. This is much harder and slower for learners initially.  From Make It Stick, “…research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it” (p. 50).

Spacing is what it sounds like, spreading out practice instead of cramming.  If you will study for 3 hours, it’s better to space out that 3 hours instead of doing it all at once the night before a test.  You will forget less and remember longer by spacing.  More from Willingham, “If, on the other hand, you study in several sessions with delays between them, you may not do quite as well on the immediate test but, unlike the crammer, you’ll remember the material longer of the test” (p. 119).  Spacing is for the long term.  As a teacher, I want my students to remember for the long term.  The math they are doing in my class will continue to be built upon in future coursework.

Catalyst for change

Even with reading about this in 3 different books, I still hadn’t made any changes to the practice work I assigned to my students.  Then in November 2014 I attended the NCSM Regional Conference in Richmond, VA and heard Steve Leinwand (@steve_leinwand) speak for the first time.  (If you’ve never heard him live, I highly recommend rectifying that situation!)  Steve also spoke about spacing, interleaving, and giving students no more than 8 practice problems per night.  That was it, I was sold.  I couldn’t escape that I was being directed to change my assignments.  I try to have one major takeaway from any conference that I implement immediately – changing how I did practice was done my first day back at school after the conference.  I told students what I was doing and why.

Here is how it looks (typically) in my classroom.

New Unit:

Day 1 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on review material, 2 are high-level on review material

Day 2 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on Day 1 material, 2 are high-level on review material

Day 3 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on Day 2 material, 2 are high-level on Day 1 material

This pattern repeats throughout the unit.  It cuts down on end of unit review time because we’ve been reviewing all unit long.  Additionally, we use ALEKS & I would assign some exercises on ALEKS that were review.  I could see details of each student with each topic and use the weak topics as our warm up the next day in class.  New this year: our math team has agreed to have all unit tests include some amount of material from previous units.  We are hoping this shows students the importance of remembering what they’ve learned.

If you want to read more on this, I recommend the 3 books listed at the top of this blog post.  In addition, read anything and everything by the incomparable Henri Picciotto (@hpicciotto). He has an excellent post on how he lags practice.  I haven’t done lagging that way, yet!  Finally, you may want to check out the #eduread thread on Twitter.  A conversation I had there last week inspired this blog post!

Interdisciplinary PBL Collaboration (with a side of Design Thinking thrown in!)

I’ve had the pleasure of working with 2 fantastic colleagues, Zach Strother and TJ Edwards, on an Interdisciplinary PBL “Unit”.  TJ had the idea of HMW we redesign a bike for an urban commuter that he wants to use in his Tech, Engineering, and Design (TED) class.  Zach teaches AP Physics.  I teach Algebra 2.  As I left our time of collaboration this morning, I reflected on how fortunate I am to work with these guys, how well we work together, and how learning from them is making me a better math teacher, which benefits my students.  Part of what works in our collaboration is that we chose the project and each other.  We come from similar mindsets to education, though not identical, which probably minimizes the disagreements.  Yet, we also feel comfortable enough to push back on certain things and talk through disagreements as we get to unity.

This started when I was at NCTM Boston in April.  I noticed a lack of Design Thinking at the conference.  I emailed TJ & Zach before I even left Boston asking if they wanted to put together a proposal for the NCTM 2016 conference. And oh, by the way, proposals are due on or before May 1.  They both were in and when I returned to the ATL, we got to work.  TJ already had the idea of the bike redesign.  We worked together as to how we would lead a conference session through parts of the DT process, while also sharing the results of how we implemented the project at our own school. Proposal submitted on exactly May 1 and now we await word if it will be approved.

Zach suggested we apply for summer grant work from our independent school as they were wanting teachers to create interdisciplinary projects.  TJ submitted that proposal, we were approved, and so we have spent time this summer creating the UbD plans for our individual courses, times when we will have the students together, rubrics, and the timeline for the whole project.  (My Alg 2 UbD plan is here.)

It was chance that my CP Algebra 2 class is the same period as Zach AP Physics.  We don’t have any students in common, and we think that makes it better.  TJ’s class will start the DT process with interviewing users (empathy) & 3 bikes, then fill in a project brief to hand off to the AP Physics students.


Zach will have some labs pre-designed, but also have the students design 1 lab from scratch based on the needs of the TED students.  The Alg 2 students will do the labs with the Physics students, take the data back to work on in our classroom, and then fill in the project brief with their results.  The AP Physics students, who are further along in their math career than the CP Alg 2 students, will give feedback on the math to my students! I love students getting directions and then feedback on the results from other students. After all of our labs, the project brief goes back to the TED students for iteration.

We will each be assessing our students on our specific content learning outcomes, content area processes (for example, in math the Standards of Mathematical Practice), and then we picked two of our school’s Mindsets – Collaboration & Communication.  We used BIE’s Collaboration & Presentation rubrics as a guide and merged/changed the pieces we wanted to focus on for this project.  So, all students will be self-assessing, peer-assessing, and have teacher-assessing done on the mindsets using the same rubric across all 3 classes.  Additionally, we’ve picked 3 times during the 1st semester where we will get all students together so that they can give each other in person feedback, not just on the planning brief.

I’m excited.  I’m excited for my students to see how the things we do in Algebra 2 get applied in other disciplines.  I’m excited to do physics labs! I’m excited to learn how to bring more science into my classroom.  I’m excited for my students to be a part of a project and realize that they don’t have to be involved in every aspect – much like teams in various occupations – they pass the baton.  I’m excited that I’m finally doing something like this in my classes.

Thanks MV for giving us the grant to make this happen and trusting us to meet both our content learning outcomes & the MV mindsets.

My first attempt at Project Based Learning – Exponential Investment Project

I’ve been reading a lot about Project Based Learning – I’ll call it PjBL to differentiate from Problem Based Learning, which I refer to as PBL.  I’ve been wanting to incorporate PjBL into my math classes, but have really struggled.  One of my Ed. S. classes this semester will require me to create a project with  LoTi of level 4 or above.  So, in the shower this morning, all that thinking & reading started to come together. (Side bar – am I the only one who does their best thinking in the shower?) I’m sure others have created similar, better projects.  That’s ok.  I’m just excited that I’m actually STARTING to create!

I mentioned LoTi in the first paragraph.  LoTi stands for Levels of Technology Implementation.  There are 6 levels.  Level 4 and above is when the assignment/activity/project is more student directed and constructivist in nature.  Some links for LoTi: Loti Framework, LoTi Level Decision Chart, LoTi Sniff Test.

I’ve also been studying indicators of engagement in the same class.  Using this doc from my Prof as a guide, I think this Investment project would include the following indicators of engagement: standards-based, challenging, authentic/meaningful, student-directed, multi-disciplinary, culturally responsive (possibly), explorer, teacher, producer, facilitator, guide, co-learner/co-investigator, collaborative (if I have them do it in dyads), performance-based, seamless/ongoing.

So, my idea is that students research mutual fund investing, create their own investment portfolio using 3 mutual funds (1 high risk, 1 medium risk, and 1 low risk), and determine what they would have at retirement age of 65.  They would also work at analyzing if this were a true situation, would they keep all 3 until retirement age (most people would sell off the high-risk as they get older).  Additional questions I’ve been brainstorming center around the MV Mindset of Ethical Decision Making and having students analyze their spending, saving, and giving decisions based on this and their own faith tradition.  I know, not earth shattering or ground breakingly new, but new for me! Here is a link to the Google Doc where I’m starting to brainstorm and would happily welcome suggestions and/or links to similar projects,  The doc is set so that people can comment directly.  Thanks in advance for any feedback!