Become the Subject

My Speech is now live on youtube! For those of you who missed me talking at MfA’s MT-squared, here it is: Become the Subject.


Angry about Guns

I’m angry. I’m furious indeed, about the debate that’s raging in our country right now. I’m angry that it was almost 20 years ago that the shooting at Columbine happened, and we’re still letting these events occur and pretending that it’s unavoidable. I still remember how when that happened, the WB postponed an episode of Buffy several months because it involved a character, Jonathan, bringing a gun into a school campus. They even postponed the season finale because it involved blowing up the school (to kill the demon mayor). Now, school shootings are common enough that politicians send their THOUGHTS & PRAYERS (TM) and move on to the next tragedy, without making any major changes.  In fact, they argue over what changes to make and they literally stand in the way of making the real changes and reforms that are needed. I am furious about the way this country seems to love its guns more than its children. And now the Florida law makers are deliberately ignoring the demands of students AND TEACHERS who are saying putting more guns into schools is NOT the answer. But let’s be honest: the politicians are being paid by the NRA, so they are bought and paid for by dirty money.

I’m also angry with the Mayor of NYC for his lack of guidance to schools about how to react on March 14th for the school walk out. Although he promised he would soon give guidance on 2/222/23, and this week, the Mayor has yet to provide guidance to schools. Today at lunch, my principal held a planning meeting with some students and teachers who are interested. Unfortunately, my GSA meeting was happening simultaneously, so I couldn’t attend, but two of my students stopped by after school to fill me in (and my principal sent out an email to us at the end of the day).

Essentially, my school is allowing middle school students to walk out to the yard during third period (when 10AM happens in our schedule). After attendance is taken in third period, students will go to the yard where some students will give speeches. At 10AM, there will be 17 minutes of silence observed. Then there will some sort of post-it note reflection that students may complete and they will return to third period. Attendance will be taken again (to ensure students are accounted for) and then fourth period will be shortened to account for the extra 15 minutes.

One of my two students who came to share about this with me said she didn’t feel like it was enough, and she was angry that she couldn’t walk out of the school “for real.” When I prodded her for why she was feeling that way, she said she felt like adults had failed to keep kids safe and this protest was still being supported by the adults in the building. She felt like it was important to make the statement that students are rejecting the adult rules because the adults aren’t doing enough to keep them safe. She said “No offense to you, Mr. G” when she made her comment about the adults, and I realized she sees me as one of “them” – the adults who have failed to protect students. And it made me even angrier that I didn’t feel comfortable (and protected) for agreeing with her and sharing with her my own anger and frustration about the gun control laws in this country. I was only a year older than she was the first time (Columbine), and yet nothing significant has changed – at least, not where it matters! We spent more money putting security officers in schools – and it didn’t help at all! Her friend who was with her (both at the meeting at lunch and today after school) said she thought they would have more impact this way (because they would be able to communicate with other students at the school) and that she was worried her friend would get in trouble/suspended if she did walk out for real.

According to the ACLU and the Supreme Court’s decision is Tinker v. Des Moines, students (AND TEACHERS!) do not give up their right to free speech in the school building as long as it’s not considered disruptive to the educational process. And in fact, schools are prohibited from punishing a student more harshly due to political beliefs motivating their actions than anyone else committing the same infraction.

According to the NYC DOE’s discipline code:

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So that means, at worst, a student can be admonished, have a conference with a teacher or AP/principal, have a parent conference, or have in-school disciplinary action.

I volunteer as tribute! Any students who are in trouble for “walking out” or doing something beyond/outside of the “official” program – I’ll host a captive lunch – and we can spend the lunch period writing letters to Congress! We can talk about what their next actions will be!

It gets a little bit trickier when it comes to “political” speech as a TEACHER – the rules are a little unclear. I wrote a facebook post about two weeks ago about my feelings about arming teachers: (needless to say, I’m vehemently against it!).

But I haven’t decided what I’m going to do on March 14th – Pi Day. Is there some sort of math that I can connect to do a teach-in during ALL of my classes that day? Even if I just do it for the warm-up in class, it will make me feel more like we’re talking about the important things. I KNOW my students – and they’re very well behaved and they respect me. They will do the lesson I tell them to do. So what kind of message will it send to them if I say nothing? It will tell them that I don’t care enough about this, when it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mayor Di Blasio – I want reassurance that teachers won’t get in trouble for speaking up too!

Any other math teachers planning a teach-in?

ABC+M of Motivation (From @RhondaBondie1)

In coaching Rhonda’s online course, I’ve also purchased her new book. I’ve been reading chapter 1 and going along with the course’s assignment, so I can better give feedback to students. Much of it (so far) is review for me because of all of the ALL-ED courses I’ve taken with Rhonda at Math for America (probably part of why she asked me to coach!).

In chapter 1, I’ve been reading about motivation: both the ten facts about it and the “ABCs+M” of it. Here’s one video that I think should tell you why we should NEVER award “merit” pay for teachers who increase their student scores.

In the ten facts about motivation, the first one is dispelling the myth that motivation is a personality trait – something you either have or DON’T have. I wish I could convey this one better to my colleagues. So often, I hear my co-workers complain about “unmotivated students” and how their students don’t do anything for themselves – and I wonder to myself “Do your students feel autonomous? Do they feel a sense of belonging? Do they feel competent? What’s their self-efficacy for this task like? Do they find it to be a meaningful use of their time and energy?” If not, NO WONDER they’re not motivated! Sadly, rather than being self-reflective, I think sometimes teachers just feel too overwhelmed with the day-to-day and don’t question these premised – What can we do as educators to create an environment where our students feel ABC+M of motivation daily?

I think it’s funny, actually, because we often say that we can’t motivate anyone to do something, and while I think that’s true in many respects, I think that if we create opportunities for students to feel autonomous, belonging, competence, and meaning in the work we ask them to do, we create an environment that is conducive to motivation!

Specific Quality Criteria from @RhondaBondie1

As a teacher, I sometimes feel like I am a slow implementer. When I am exposed to a new idea, I need to spend a lot of time reflecting on it, analyzing it, often seeing it in action before I’m ready to implement it in my own class. The more extensive it is (or the better/more detailed I want to do it), the longer it’s likely to take me.

A few years ago, I was doing an ALL-ED course at MfA with Rhonda Bondie. She introduced me to the notion of giving students “specific quality criteria” or as I’ve begun to call it, “success criteria.” I wasn’t sure what that would look like in my own classroom yet, so I have been reflecting on how to do it. Then, last week, I met with Marvin Gruszka, and he showed me how he implements these quality criteria into everything he does with the students – and suddenly something clicked into place for me. I realized that all of the written work I have my students do in math class could “easily” be graded with his rubric (a “4 point mastery scale” that was also correlated to a “points” scale for grading).

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And then Marvin had different Must Haves and Amazing criteria, depending on the task itself. Here’s one example:

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This was for a written response students did in answer to the focus question of the day.

Yesterday, I used Connecting Representations with my sixth graders and I gave them some “success criteria” for the metacognitive reflections they wrote at the end of class.

My Must-Haves:

Complete sentences

Specific details from class


Cite a specific person by name.

Quote something someone else said.


Then, today, I had a double period with one of my classes, so I asked them for the success criteria! And they were way more detailed and came up with MUCH better criteria than I did!Screenshot 2018-03-01 16.42.32.png

I thought this was so awesome, I not only decided to share it with you here, but I think I’m going to actually use this criteria on their reflections from now on! Especially on their HW reflections (called My Understandings)!

Once we brainstormed these criteria, I had them write their reflections to the three prompts for the connecting representations we had just done. I asked my students to try to make it amazing, and gave them about five minutes of writing time (which is longer than a typical reflection, but we had a double, and I wanted them to focus on upping the quality of their reflections now, before we keep using this routine, because I’ve been disappointed by some of their previous reflections). Then they read their reflections to their elbow partners.

Then I decided to have them give each other feedback on their writing, so I had them swap notebooks with their mirror partners. I had them UNDERLINE examples of the student using the “must have” criteria in their response and STAR *examples* of the student using the “AMAZAING” criteria. Then they wrote each other feedback, using another routine I recently developed called “Positives and Deltas” They wrote two sentences: a + positive that the student should keep doing and a ∆ (delta, which means change): something you would recommend they change in the future.

I think it went really well, and I’m super excited to read their reflections the next time I collect them. I didn’t have an opportunity to read them today because the students wrote their reflections in their notebooks!