Week 2 – Let The Learning Begin

Week 2 – Let The Learning Begin

I’m finishing up my second week of classes.  For the most part they went well!


Students turned in their applications and I’m in the process of assigning positions.  Students picked their top 3 job choices and I told them I’d do my best to give them one of those three jobs.  A few jobs required a letter of recommendation and I was impressed with a few of the the letters that came in (I told them I’d be extra impressed if it was delivered in an official school envelope).  The hard part is working through the matrix of applications to ensure that people get their top choice AND all the jobs that are essential for day-to-day work end up getting assigned.

My class of 8 left me assigning a few folks with two jobs where my classes of 18 left me with a couple students who weren’t able to get any of their top choices, as well as doubling up on jobs I originally meant for just one person (like newsletter writer).  I plan on emailing out job assignments by early next week and including a description of what they need to do.  A few jobs (like bankers or newsletter writers) will need more in-depth training and I’ll meet with them during office hours.

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I’m almost through the Week of Inspirational Math resources from YouCubed.org.  The videos are pretty rich with mathematical ideas I really want my students to take to heart (everyone is a math person, depth is valued more in math than speed, math is less about formulas & algorithms and more about recognizing patterns, etc), but the ‘presentation quality’ of the speakers in the videos leaves something to be desired (it’s usually one of the comments the students make how you can sort of tell the presenters are just reading a script).  The activities that have gone with them have been pretty rich as well!  The students loved the opportunity to find patterns in Pascals Triangle as well as taking turns being the ‘convincer’ and the ‘skeptic’ to learn how to articulate their thoughts and reasoning mathematically.


The pre-assessments went pretty well (wrote about how I was doing them in last weeks entry).  I kept reiterating that it was to help me see where they were at before we started the unit and that it helped them begin to struggle with the new concepts we’d be exploring (wrote a bit on pre-assessments HERE and HERE.)  I told them they couldn’t leave any answers blank as to deter any students from just saying ‘uh…I don’t know anything so I guess I’m done.’  I did have a 6th grader shed a few tears during it because he didn’t know how to do a handful of the problems.  I just reminded him that it was expected and OK and to just give them a shot.  He just kept saying he didn’t even know how to start.  I wondered ‘should I keep pressing him and let him know from the get go that while it’s OK to not know, it’s not OK to not try?  He’s pretty upset…should I just let him off the hook?’  I guess I did both.  I told him to keep trying and then he sort of just stared at his paper until we went over them.

It was pretty cool to see some of them put the pieces together and actually make some headway on concepts they had never seen.  For example:

Write 3.4 x 10^6 in standard notation

One student actually wrote out 3.4 x 100,000.  He ended up doing the multiplication wrong but I was like YES!  THAT’S IT!  IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MOVING DECIMALS LEFT AND RIGHT!

I handed them back to the students and plan on having them refer back to it as we work through the unit so they can see how their own thinking is changing and monitor their progress.


With all the class economy, YouCubed, and pre-assessment stuff, it’s taken until about midweek this week to finally get started on our first lesson in the curriculum for each class.


Our first objective is for students to be able to identify, compare, and contrast various number sets as well as classify which sets numbers fit into.  I actually collaborated with a few folks in developing these early Pre-Algebra lessons, including some amazing teachers at The Number Lab here in Austin as well as a contact I made at an inquiry-based learning conference this summer, Lee Mahavier.  Her father worked under R.L. Moore, who was one of the first guys to teach math in an inquiry-based manner (ie. The Moore Method).  I used the idea of a Russian nesting doll to get at the idea of sets and subsets.  Here’s the lesson slides to give you an idea:

We got through defining set and subset with the example of students in the city.  Next week we’re going to try and make the connection to number sets.


I didn’t really dialogue with anybody about these lessons and I feel it sort of showed.  Once we got into the first lesson of understanding decimals, I saw a lot of the engagement drop to the lowest level it’s been it in these two weeks.  A part of me thought ‘crap, I got them all excited about math with these other activities we’ve been doing and now I’m going to fall short of that expectation with these less exciting lessons!’

The goal was to be able to model decimals visually of decimals and compare numbers up to the thousandths place.  I started the lesson out with the following:

  • Draw a picture of 2.0
  • Draw a picture of 0.2
  • Draw a picture of 0.02
  • Draw a picture of 0.002

IMG_2773About half were able to do it.  I then had a few go up to the board and share their thinking.  My hope was that it would lead to a dynamic conversation where students were asking each other why they did what they did and aha moments would be had.  What it turned into was students who struggled to draw a visual of each decimal ended up staring blankly at the drawings that were made by others, with me asking all the questions.  I need to come up with a plan of attack over the weekend.  I need to have a better opening to the lesson; something with multiple entry points (like the Pre-Algebra lesson…you didn’t have to have a lot of background knowledge to talk about the concept of sets and subsets).

I’m also wondering how to get to the idea that when you’re drawing base 10 blocks, you can really define ANY of them as the 1.  For example:


Thinking of it, I may just ask them to look at these two pictures and discuss what’s the same and what’s different about them.  Feel free to share resources or ideas.


Robotics is going super well.  We’re using the Google CS First curriculum, but the students are just blowing way past the initial lessons.  There’s a big handful who have a lot of experience coding in Scratch, but the newbies are picking it up crazy quick.  Luckily I’ve set up a pretty open ended first project where the more experienced students can make their project as elaborate as they’d like, while still giving the newest students a chance to still develop their skills.  For the project, they have to tell a story.  Most have turned their stories into a video game.  HERE’S one of the ones that was turned in today.


In non-educational news, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight in the past few weeks.  I figured I was running and lifting several days a week and not really slimming down or losing weight.  I found a diet where I actually enjoy the meals I’m eating, plus I get a cheat day.  It’s called the slow-carb diet and was made popular by Tim Ferriss.  At the end of my vacation in June I weighed 190.  Yesterday I clocked in at 173 and have been on the diet for about three weeks.  I’m eating just about the same thing everyday.

    • black beans (which I buy canned and then keep in tupperware in the fridge throughout the week, cooking them in the pan for a minute before I add the eggs)
    • 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg (with some of my favorite salsas or guacamole)
    • a handful of raw spinach with balsamic vinegar
    • pinto beans (also buy canned and keep in tupperware and microwave for lunch)
    • fajita skirt steak (which I prepare on Sun evening and Wed evening to portion out for the following days.  I slice it first, season it, then cook it in a cast iron skillet, then microwave it at work)
    • dollop of guacamole (I get pre-made stuff from the produce department and scrape the brown layers off that develop over the week…a little gross but works for me)
    • a handful of raw spinach with balsamic vinegar
    • Low-calorie plan from eMeals (meals planned for the week for like $8 a month).

Cheat day is usually Saturday where I literally eat more than I can handle.  On my first cheat day, I ate three breakfast burritos and two slices of pizza for breakfast, burger and fries for lunch, and sushi for dinner.  I felt kind of sick after lunch and surprisingly started to feel kind of glad that I didn’t eat like that everyday.  Having the cheat day gives me something to look forward to throughout the week and helps prevent falling off the wagon.  It’s a lot easier to think ‘ok, I can just wait until Saturday to eat pizza’ instead of trying to deal with ‘man…I’m never going to be able to eat pizza again :(‘


I’m looking forward to the 3-day weekend.  I’m going to be working with Mark Rogers on a new math song parody he’s written.  Have yet to meet him but I reached out a few months ago and said would love to help him record his next parody.  Should be fun 🙂

I’ll leave you with the video of his most popular math parody- Triangle Style.

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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