Sunday, May 22, 2016

I'm Going to Have to MTBoS the Sh*t Out of This

This year I got the opportunity to start a Computer Science program at my school, which ended up meaning I got to teach two semester-long sections of Intro to Computer Science in both the fall and spring semesters (and teaching myself Python last summer). The plan was that we were going to try to hire a real computer science teacher for 2016-17 but, since that didn't happen, I'll be teaching the Intro class again next year, along with an Advanced Python class and a Javascript class (and a colleague will thankfully be teaching a Java class) as we try to grow the program.

None of that preceding paragraph is really relevant to this post, other than to give some context as to why I'm asking for your help. Not that it needs context, because asking for your help is a good thing in and of itself, but I'm hoping to make you feel a little bit sorry for me and guilt you into helping. (Hey, it's worth a shot.) Because in addition to learning some more Python, and teaching myself Javascript, I'll also get the opportunity to teach a section of Algebra 1 again next year.

Now, the good news is, I don't have to teach myself Algebra 1, I sorta, kinda already know Algebra 1. Long-time readers of this blog may remember about 6 years ago when I got the opportunity to teach Algebra 1 after many years of being completely out of the classroom in my role as technology coordinator for my building. At that time I tried to blog my planning and did great for a couple of weeks and then petered out. This time I hope to do better, and to hopefully do a better job of tapping into the online community of teachers to get your help.

Six years ago I experimented with what's now almost universally called the "flipped classroom" (at the time there was still some debate about what to call it). While there are strong opinions on both sides of the flipped debate, I still feel like it was a worthwhile approach for me at the time because it allowed me to free up class time to do better things than I would be able to do otherwise if I had to "cover" the material in class. I was trying to bridge the gap between the expectations of my school and the rest of the math department and where I was hoping to take my Algebra class, and flipping allowed me to do that to some extent.

Well, now it's six years later, and I haven't taught Algebra the last two, and some things have changed. My district has transitioned completely to a common-core based Algebra course, using Agile Mind as the "textbook." But, more importantly, I'm more willing to go even further away from the mainstream (at least what the mainstream is in my building), and the resources available to me are even better, including even more teachers blogging about math, Desmos has gotten even better, and technology in general has gotten easier for students to use in the classroom. I think I can do better than flipping and, while at least some of the lessons/activities I used in class before are still great, I think they can be improved on.

So I'm sitting here planning my summer (last official day of work is this Tuesday) and trying to figure out how best to structure learning a bit more about Python (I have a rough outline for my new advanced course, just need to make sure I know it well enough to teach it), teaching myself Javascript and planning that course, and planning my new-and-improved Algebra class. I'm worried because the easiest thing for me to do is to focus on the computer science stuff that is new to me, and to slack off on the Algebra planning, because I know I can just rely on what I've done before and do an okay job.

But I don't want to do an "okay" job, I want to do a really good job, and take advantage of all these great resources (and my additional willingness to diverge from the traditional in my building). As I was thinking about how to do this, a line from the movie The Martian kept going through my head:
I'm going to have to science the sh*t out of this.
So the way I'm framing planning for Algebra is,
I'm going to have to MTBoS the sh*t out of this.
For the uninitiated, MTBoS stands for the MathTwitterBlogosphere, which is the self-given name of all the math folks who are sharing their thinking, asking questions, challenging each other, and generally discussing ways to improve their math teaching. My hope is twofold: first, I'm going to tap into (borrow/steal) all the wonderful resources the MTBoS has collectively created and, second, that by publicly blogging my planning I will not only encourage feedback from the MTBoS, but guilt myself into not slacking off on the Algebra planning part of my summer.

We'll see how that goes. If you're interested in helping, I would appreciate it if you would follow along with the blog I set up for this (right now the only post is a cross-posting of this one, but beginning on Wednesday I will start in earnest - RSS, Email). Fair warning that there is at least a 50% chance that this will flame out but, if everything goes swimmingly, perhaps this will not only help me tremendously, but serve as a resource for other Algebra 1 teachers.


  1. GustavoWoltmann6/2/16, 4:53 AM

    Hi there, Great blog you have there, really. I learned so much from your posts already so please juse keep up the good work! :)

  2. Hi Karl, I worked at Arapahoe High School in the 1990's. I am now at Air Academy High School teaching Physics in District 20. I really like your reflections about teaching and your opinions about standardized testing. I am taking a class "Learning to Blog and Blogging to Learn" which required me to post on a website.

  3. Hello. I taught at Arapahoe High School in the early 1990's. I am now at Air Academy High School teaching Physics. I am taking a class "Learning to Blog, and Blogging to Learn" and your blog was linked as an example. I really like your reflections about teaching and your views on standardized testing.