Highlights

The posts that have earned a Gold Star (literally). Which means that unlike with my students, I DO have favorites. These are the gems of the journey.

Golden 8all

In a sense, this day should not be any more1 important than the previous one hundred seventy.

Ideally, one should treat this day like any other. They importance of each should be equivalent.

The fact that they’re not to students can frustrate many a teacher.

The fact that they’re not to teachers can frustrate… teachers.23

Now that I’m on my eighth go-around, this much I know: This one day need not define me.4 I have always told my students on the previous 8 opening days that one number5 in the absence of additional context should not mean much. It wasn’t until recent campaigns that my mind fully accepted the same should be true for us teachers.6

There are personal and professional circumstances that I will not discuss here, but I have come to understand that sometimes, it is not until faced with the possibility of losing that which one is most insecure of losing does one allow themselves to face up to the reality there might be something more… something greater… something grandiose out there.

Earlier this Spring I went for a scramble down to Abiqua Falls in Oregon that could have ended me.7 Yet I felt an uncanny peace in my heart, knowing that should this ride come to an end later this Spring,89 that I would be able to walk away, knowing that it was a journey that I didn’t nearly deserve.

Yet in the back of my mind, one fear of insecurity rings out: That my fine-wine index may vary inversely with my ability to relate to my clientele. I have long told myself that I’ll continue on this ride for as long as I can do it well.10 This campaign11 has at least shown me that that golden balloon has not yet hit that line.

  1. nor any less↩︎
  2. To clarify: I mean that we can frustrate ourselves.↩︎
  3. Also, depending on the school or district for which one works: the fact that they’re not to administrators frustrates teachers. Basically, teachers are a shafted people group.↩︎
  4. Because I know there have been seasons earlier in my journey when I allowed it to.↩︎
  5. and as a corollary, one day, or one test score, et al.↩︎
  6. See: “Things that go through my head before the AP Exam (May 6, 2014)”↩︎
  7. No exaggeration. There are multiple paths down the ravine and let’s just say I took the worst one down…↩︎
  8. As of now, for the record: It is not.↩︎
  9. I’m talking about my professional journey — I was scared as heck for my personal safety while hanging by a rope down the near-vertical decline↩︎
  10. Which… sometimes I wonder. How do we even know…↩︎
  11. in which I have been blessed with some of the most wonderful students↩︎

Time Egg

If you’ve spent any meaningful amount of time on a treadmill, hopefully you’ll get the following:

stress vs 4th quarter

(For the record, I would never actually kick an actual kitten…)


One year ago this past Monday was the first day back from the Easter holiday, which I was able to spend with my sister and family up in Dallas. I got into my car after my last class of that fateful Monday and made the drive over to a strange, new place to discuss the possibility1 of starting over for the coming Fall. That was the day I paid my first visit to Round Rock High School.

It would be the first of a number of inflection points over the next three weeks of my journey. My visit would last for a couple of hours, and as I was getting the grand tour around the way, I remember how — with everything that led up to that moment and with everything that my mind would juggle in the weeks to come — that afternoon felt like a frozen moment in the stream of time.2

At that moment, the building that I now call “home” was little more than steel rods and concrete flats, and at that moment, changing allegiance to the Dragons would have meant no longer teaching AP Statistics.3 However, the thought of a much-needed reboot had me intrigued. Highly. intrigued.

I don’t remember much about the next couple of weeks,4 but this little, I know:

My mind see-sawed quite a bit. 5 And I didn’t get much sleep. Oh, and I was also in full-blown “pregnant-with-exam” mode.


I won’t lie: I may have had a moment or two where I’ve allowed my mind to take a glimpse at my life on the other side of those proverbial sliding doors. But in spite of the uphill climb that it has at times been, with two weeks-and-change6 to go until the big day,7 I know that I have been incredibly blessed8 with the way things have turned out.


Speaking of “pregnant-with-exam” mode, that is about where I am now. But with this being number five for me, it feels closer to “I’ve got this” and a lot less of “please put this zombie bovine out of its misery”. And that’s a good thing.

Multnomah Falls, just around the corner.

  1. emphasis on the word “possibility“… nothing would be decided for another few weeks.↩︎
  2. Hence the title of this post, for the very few of you gamers who will get the reference.↩︎
  3. At that moment, the discussion was not for me to teach AP Stat, but for Algebra II or possibly Precal instead… maybe. While this may be a surprise to some, by that moment in the campaign in mid-April, I had already come to grips with the possibility that I was teaching AP Stat for the last time. Ever. That was actually something I had resigned myself to before the opening day of Season 7, which made me cherish every day of the journey a little more so than normal.↩︎
  4. and there are also a lot of details that I am skipping for now…↩︎
  5. Think: mind jumping back-and-forth between potential alternate realities, a la Chrono Cross. I really didn’t know if I wanted to say goodbye to AP Stat — which, again, at the time was not on the table for me in Dragon nation.↩︎
  6. It occurred to me as I was typing that, that pretty soon, once we stop using physical currency, the phrase “-and-change” won’t make sense to kids anymore. #sadness #oldness↩︎
  7. game day #5↩︎
  8. and quite fortunate↩︎

Every ending has a story

Spring Finale

As final exams wrap up, and all of the life begins to leave the room, and the lights get turned out for the last time, the finality of it all begins to sink in, and things can actually get a bit… sad.

Until it dawns on us that we’re finally FREE and not actually sad. =)1

This week our seniors will walk the stage and officially embark on the rest of their lives. Earlier this month, many of the students that I taught as sophomores in Algebra II during my first full year2 walked the stage at their college graduations. The flow of time gets speedier as we age, indeed.

May 29, 2012

The above shot was taken on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.3 That was at the end of a wonderful three-year arc which took me through Algebra II (regular and Pre-AP), Geometry, Precalculus, and — finally — AP Statistics. Thanks to that trek, more than a third4 of the students in my classes that year were “stuck”5 with me for a second — or even a third6 — time. But having some of those students for multiple years allowed for some really special times,7 and as such, having to watch that year finally wind down to a close was rather difficult.89


This year is also a tough one to close out, for obvious reasons. Even on the first day of school, I could already tell that I had been blessed with an extremely special cast of characters. Ironically, though, when you feel like you’ve had maybe the best group of students that you’re ever going to get,10 that almost makes it easier for you to say to yourself: “It can’t get any better than this… now’s the time to walk off into the sunset.”

I'm fairly certain this kid (whom I have never taught) was trying to be funny with the "tears tears rolling down my face" bit
I’m fairly certain that this kid (whom I have never taught) was trying to be funny with the “tears tears rolling down my face” bit

Perhaps the toughest part of leaving for a new campus is personally knowing some of the students that you’re leaving behind. In recent weeks, I’ve had about a half-dozen of them come by my classroom or stop me in the hallways to introduce themselves, and tell me how excited they were to be taking my class next year.11 I’ve had to fake a few smiles, fully knowing — sadly — that they would not be in my class next year. (This was all in the timeframe after I had finalized my transfer to a new campus, but BEFORE I wanted to break the news to any of my students12 )

One of the luxuries I’ve enjoyed for the past five or six years is that many of the students that walk into my classroom on opening day already know who I am, and — thanks to word-of-mouth and such — know what I’m about. I’m reminded of the old theme song from “Cheers”“sometime you wanna go where everybooody knows your naaaaaaame”. Well that’s another tough thing about starting over in a new locale: I am literally going to a place where nobody knows my name.13


I don’t have a dog. But if I had a dog, even my DOG would tell you that I watch too much television. But my favorite TV show the past few years has been “White Collar”,14 and on an episode15 right before the protagonists take off for the Canary Islands, there’s a moment where Mozzie asks Neal if he’s ready to leave everything behind. Neal’s reply was a poignant, “I can always walk out that door, Moz. I can never walk back in.” Of course, Mozzie — being Mozzie — retorts by channeling his inner Orson Welles: “If you want a happy ending, it depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

A few days after I told my students that I would not be returning next year, one of my most respectable kids came up to me near the end of class and said the following:

So… you’re going over there to teach Stat… but you teach Stat here. And [some] kids here sign up for AP Stat so that they can have you… … [insert slight pause] … and that kinda sucks for them. Do you just not care about any of them?16

And honestly, that kinda sucked the air out of me for a few hours. :( 17 But this just goes to show:

Even if the situation is right and the timing is perfect, saying goodbye is never easy.


Every Summer I try to embark on a “clear-my-head-before-the-new-season” trip.18 Teachers need to travel.19

Upper-left: Big Sur, Cali.  Lower-left: Grand Canyon.  Right: Siena, Italy.
Upper-left: Big Sur, Cali. Lower-left: Grand Canyon. Right: Siena, Italy.

One of the things I spend time considering over the summer20 is a personal theme for the upcoming school year, which is usually a cheesy little moniker or catchphrase that — on a personal level — sums up my feelings for the campaign.

Next year will be “Season 8”, and while it normally takes some time of reflection for me to arrive at an appropriate title for the season,21 this one almost seemed too easy:

HOW TO TRAIN A DRAGON 22

  1. Well, it’s still a little sad. Just a little…↩︎
  2. Season 1: 2007-08↩︎
  3. Right after the end of “Season 5”. This was actually taken the day after the last day of school. For those not aware, teachers actually have to come back after the last day of school for a mandatory day of work (or three, as it is this year — thanks to all of the snow-free ice days that we endured back in January), and in my opinion this is sometimes the toughest day of the year.↩︎
  4. about 60 of the 160 total↩︎
  5. and while I put the word “stuck” in quotations in jest, I’m sure some of those kids genuinely felt like they got STUCK with me.↩︎
  6. Two truly blessed students had me all three of those years, from Fall 2009 to Spring 2012↩︎
  7. On the flip-side, it’s true what they say about familiarity breeding contempt… towards the end of that year some of those students were not afraid to let loose with their attitudes after having me twice.↩︎
  8. 2011-12 was the year where 106 of our students took the AP Exam, with 103 earning at least a “passing” score. Numbers that good are never going to happen again. But as I’ve said before, the numbers on the AP Exam should not be the single most important thing about teaching an AP class.↩︎
  9. Season 5 was such a tough act to follow. I remember how coming back the following August felt a bit anticlimactic, and getting off of the ground was difficult.↩︎
  10. or perhaps, tied for maybe the best group with every other class of students that I’ve ever had… teachers don’t have favorites of course.↩︎
  11. This actually happens a lot. Which, I think is weird, because honestly, I really don’t think I’m THAT great, but okay… whatever. :shrug: ↩︎
  12. I didn’t want students finding out about my impending move until after the AP Exam on May 9, which was a full week after the fact.↩︎
  13. But don’t “awwwwwww”… it’ll be fun.↩︎
  14. Especially since “24” and Jack Bauer have been off the air since 2010… well until just this month anyway.↩︎
  15. Season 3, episode 10, if you’re curious.↩︎
  16. But honestly, those kids will all be fine. They’ll have another very capable teacher and everything will be just fine.↩︎
  17. However, it was nice to find out that this kid thought well of me. That’s one of the things with teaching smart kids: You never know if they like you or if they think you’re a total tool bag (and it’s really nice when you find out that they don’t think that you’re a complete tool bag!) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised to get a note at the end of the year from a kid that was relatively quiet, telling me how much they enjoyed the year – I’m always like, “WHAT that kid actually liked me?!?”↩︎
  18. which, this year is looking to involve Nessy and Stonehenge↩︎
  19. Or at least “get away”, if not literally.↩︎
  20. Either while on the trip, or afterwards↩︎
  21. which in some cases I don’t even come up with until AFTER the year is over↩︎
  22. Well. This is THE END of this blog (or at least the current chapter of). As such, here’s one miscellaneous detail that never really found its way into any of my blog posts: my 404 page — which even the most vicious of blog-creepers have probably never seen — will tell you that I’m a big BIG fan of Chris Nolan. Cannot wait for “Interstellar” later this year. Oh, and with regards to the last picture above, yes, I know, the actual title of the movie is “How To Train YOUR Dragon”, but just go with it. Oh, and if you’re still scratching your head: the mascot at my new school is a dragon.↩︎

Font Control

For the past three years, I have been fortunate enough to have full control over the AP Statistics program at our school.

This came with a lot of perks, as I got to control the pace, schedule, assignments, and assessments.

If I wanted to make a last-minute adjustment that I thought was in the best interests do the students, I could do so without consulting anyone.

But one of the biggest perks of having full control over what you teach — in my opinion, at least — is something you’d probably not consider immediately:

I get to decide what fonts to use.

Typeface Collage

Yes, I care about font control.

Typeface on the first day handout sets the tone.
Typeface on the first day handout sets the tone. (Unfortunately, Gotham is everywhere now — even on that “this preview has been approved…” screen at the movies — so I may move on to something else)

Hey, scoff not. After all, why does one bother dressing up fancy for a job interview? Because the way that one presents themselves — both in terms of aesthetics and in substance — matters. Presentation matters.

black_white_bcs_t

It makes me cringe when I see a PowerPoint dressed in Calibri… or Cambria… or — Heaven forbidComic Sans.1 I would classify these as “MOST OFFENSIVE”.

Brings a smile to my face that I'm gifted enough to have students call me on this sort of thing.
Brings a smile to my face that I’m gifted enough to have students call me on this sort of thing.

“MILDLY OFFENSIVE” would be Times New Roman or Arial.2


One of these days, I am going to be working with a team of wonderful teachers who will come up with a wonderful assessment for us to give to our students, and it will be written in Times New Roman, and when that happens, a small part of me is going to cry.


Back in 2010 when I started teaching Statistics, my predecessor and mentor, Cathy Morgan was peculiar about her fonts. While she used a lot of Comic Sans (gasp), she did introduce me to another gem of a font:

CREEPY.

I like using this one when warning students about watching out for classic traps… or to remind them to SHOW THEIR WORK — BUT ONLY IF THEY WANT CREDIT!

"Creepy" in action (along with my serif of choice, Adelle)
“Creepy” in action (along with my serif of choice, Adelle)

Call it what you like… but it has its moments.


Earlier today, I managed a peek at next year’s AP Exam schedule. It appears that our AP Exam will NOT be on Friday afternoon next year3 — we’re back to the 2nd Wednesday4 while Calculus interestingly gets bumped up a day to Tuesday.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 10.47.18 PM

  1. While I coded the html/css of this post to use the actual fonts, I realize that iOS does not have Comic Sans installed, so while I meant for this to be in Comic Sans, it might not actually render in Comic Sans on your mobile device. And that might not be a bad thing.↩︎
  2. In the past I would put “Helvetica” in this category, but thanks in part to Apple with iOS7, Helvetica is currently trendy↩︎
  3. Good riddance! Although, truthfully, in spite of my complaints, ending the week with the AP Exam had its perks.↩︎
  4. and I’m not exactly overjoyed of being knocked back into the 2nd week↩︎

What “old school” means to me

I have always considered myself to be of a unique generation that got to experience life on both sides of the internet revolution.

Allow me to share a few examples:

When I was in the fifth grade and had to write book reports, I used a typewriter.

typewriter

Yes, a typewriter. The kind that you had to feed a ribbon1 and hit “return” and THEN do a carriage return. 2 Cut-and-paste literally meant using scissors, glue, and a copy machine.

Windows in the 90s

When I was a freshman in high school, my family got our first real computer: A 486 DX, 33 megahertz. Windows 3.0. 640×480 resolution monitor with 16 colors. Less than 30 MB of hard drive space. That’s when we started using Microsoft Word to type out school papers. As in: “Holy cow! You mean I can change the word “there” to “they’re” WITHOUT having to toss the paper out and start all over?!”

At the time, I had no idea what the "ceramic guide" was good for... but it sounded cool.
At the time, I had no idea what the “ceramic guide” was good for… but it sounded cool.

Back then, if you liked a song that you heard on the radio, you would keep a blank cassette in the stereo and frantically reach for the “RECORD” button as soon as that song came on again. Thus the first 5 seconds of any of your favorite songs was the stuff of unicorns.


After my sophomore year in high school, my family left cozy sunny Southern California to move to Texas. If you think that moving halfway across the country might be tough for a teenager just before starting the 11th grade, let me give you some additional context:

This was before internet.

That’s right. This was WAYYYYY before Facebook and Twitter, AOL instant messenger, and about a million other things that I would’ve given a leg and half-an-arm for back in 1993.

Back then, the only way for a teenager in Texas to keep in touch with old friends in California was:

  1. Land-line phone calls.3 If you were smart enough to wait until after 7pm to make a phone call, it only cost 15 cents a minute.4 If you were dumb enough to call out-of-state during the daytime,5 it would set you back 24 cents a minute. 6
  2. Write a letter. On paper. Fold it up, put in an envelope, and stick a 29 cent postage stamp on it. By the way, that’s 29 cents if the letter is no more than 1 ounce. If you sent a letter that contained pictures (or had more than 4 sheets of paper), it would cost another 23 cents for each additional ounce.7 Oh, and then wait anywhere from two days to a week for delivery.
  3. Fly back to California. Thankfully, we had airplanes back then. Seeing as how we didn’t have Carl’s Jr. and In-N-Out in Texas until just recently, this was my favorite option (of course, for other reasons as well, aside from just the food).
I actually remember using these Elvis stamps...
I actually remember using these Elvis stamps…

Towards the end of my senior year of high school, my friends started hearing of this really interesting thing that allowed people to use their computers to communicate with their friends and family. It was called e-mail.

Then when I got to college, the internet pretty much boomed into existence, and the rest was history.8 If you ever wonder why stuff like Facebook is so fascinating to older folks, it’s because stuff like Facebook is actually amazing to them.

FYI: I have never used a slide-rule. I think I’ve seen one, though. Also: I did not use an abacus to do math in elementary school, although I recall my dad once trying to show me how to do multiplication on it (don’t even ask, I don’t remember how).


TI84PLUSSCHP

Of course, I thought of all this while trying to figure out if I had enough TI-84 graphing calculators for my students taking the AP Statistics exam on Friday. Which leads me to one last touch down memory lane. I’m just gonna let xkcd #768 do the talking:

Actually, I remember the first TI graphing calcs becoming available in 1992, when I was taking Algebra II as a sophomore.  $130 at the time, if I recall correctly.  Oh wait, they STILL cost $130...?
Actually, I remember the first TI graphing calcs becoming available in 1992, when I was taking Algebra II as a sophomore. $130 at the time, if I recall correctly. Oh wait, they STILL cost $130…?
  1. there was also a “white-out” ribbon on the snazzier models, which could be used to “delete” a typo↩︎
  2. It befuddles me that in some programming contexts, we still have a distinction between “line breaks” and “carriage returns”, as few people nowadays actually know the difference.↩︎
  3. cell phones existed, but were not ubiquitous among non-business users until around 5 years later↩︎
  4. Yes. Please, do the math. One of the things I knew cold as a teenager in the 90’s was that a one-hour phone call would cost my parents $9, and that a 3 hour phone call would earn me a stern discussion at the dinner table.↩︎
  5. which includes weekdays during Summer vacay!↩︎
  6. But you wanna know something totally wacky? It actually cost more to call somebody 40 miles away in the same state, than it did to call 1400 miles away, out of state. For instance, a phone call from Orange County, CA to Los Angeles might cost 30 or 40 cents a minute. I bet the phone companies are ticked that cell phones were ever invented… oh wait, they’re still ripping us off…↩︎
  7. As a math teacher, I’m sure I could make a piecewise function problem out of that…↩︎
  8. The internet actually allowed me to learn basic Japanese so that I could play Final Fantasy 5, which at the time was only released in Japan… that’s a whole other story.↩︎

Things that go through my head before the AP Exam

In previous years, I have felt like a moody, hormonal, pregnant bovine1 in the days leading up to the AP exam.

This just goes to show: never be surprised by what you can find on Google images.
This just goes to show: never be surprised by what you can find on Google images.

The following is a list of thoughts that have actually gone through my head at this point in previous campaigns:

  • “Do all of my calculators have fresh batteries?”2
  • “What if the box of AP exams catches on fire? There go the last 10 months of my hard work…3
  • “Why aren’t more students showing up to ask questions during tutorials?!? They don’t ALL know EVERYHING…”4
  • “What if the AP exams get lost in transit on the way back to College Board? There go the last 10 months of my life…5
  • “Why does senioritis have to be an actual thing? Can’t some biotech company come up with a free cure that would eradicate it forever?”6
  • “If my students don’t do well on the exam, my superiors are going to regret ever trusting me to teach the class…”
  • “I really hope they don’t put a question on the free-response over that one thing that I wish I had spent more time on…”7
  • “What if a student does something idiotic in the testing room and gets everyone’s score cancelled?8 There goes the last year of my life…
  • “I can’t wait until the AP exam is over… then I can go back to feeling like a normal living human being. Then I’ll be able to sleep at night again.”9

Truth be told, now that it’s my 4th rodeo, I am feeling almost none of the above thoughts this time around. I do NOT feel like a zombie. Nor do I feel like a pregnant cow. 10 I can sleep at night, and I remember the taste of food.11

On the first day of class, when I ask students if “99” is a “good number” to them and to introduce themselves and explain why, the overarching theme is that a single number by itself is almost meaningless. Last year, I had to allow myself to be reminded that such is true with AP exam scores: At the end of all days, it is just another number.12


Curious to know what some teenagers are going through this week?13 I actually have a handful of students that are currently running the following gauntlet:

  • AP Chemistry Exam, Monday morning
  • AP Calculus Exam, Wednesday morning
  • AP English Lit,14 Thursday morning OR AP English Language,15 Friday morning
  • AP Statistics, Friday afternoon161718
  • AP Physics, Monday afternoon19
  1. a.k.a., a cow. Yes, a moo-cow.↩︎
  2. I check out some of my yellow class TI-84’s on exam day, as not all of my students have one — and you really want an 84, not an 83 in Stat.↩︎
  3. Seriously. Back in Season 5 — May 2012 — I was scared to death that something crazy like this might occur and totally ruin my life. I can readily admit: the exam meant too much to me that year.↩︎
  4. Though some would see this as a blessing. I’m sure it’s because I’m such an awesome teacher that nobody has any questions. Mmmmmm hmm. No, that’s not it.↩︎
  5. Again, the kind of thing that was going through my head in 2012.↩︎
  6. Sigh. One can dream. Except for the “free” part. That one word puts this item in “neeeeeeeeeeeeeeveeeer gonna happen” territory.↩︎
  7. Last year, that one thing was simulations. Made special worksheets and activities for it… but decided not to do them. Thought we’d be okay without. Hate to be on the wrong side of prophetic, but… that came back to bite us a little.↩︎
  8. To this end, we actually used to collect every students’ cell phone on the morning of the exam and return them afterwards… but now that almost everyone has a $600 smartphone, this becomes difficult from a practicality standpoint.↩︎
  9. Because, again, I feel like a zombified pregnant mummy-moo-cow at this time of the year. Incidentally I wanted to find a picture of a zombie-cow for this post, but… no dice just kidding – found one!↩︎
  10. Though with the new nearby Whole Foods and their self-serve barbecue…↩︎
  11. You know, “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”, that scene where Sam and Frodo are on the rock right before Sam carries Frodo and the ring gets destroyed…↩︎
  12. No, I am not saying I don’t care about how my students do on the AP exam. I do care. But I also think that most students benefit more from getting a year of exposure to statistics while in high school before heading out to college than from just a single score on an exam. On the other hand, if a student makes a 3 or 4 on the exam and thus NEVER has to take another math class for as long as they live… well that’s a pretty sweet deal as well.↩︎
  13. #1stworldproblems, I know.↩︎
  14. for seniors↩︎
  15. for juniors↩︎
  16. Yes, this means my 11th graders are taking BACK-TO-BACK AP EXAMS. Or, as they like to put it, 7 hours of writing exams. Oh by the way, the Statistics AP Exam is much more writing than it is math.↩︎
  17. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE having our AP exam on Friday afternoon? If you’re not a teacher, let me impart this piece of wisdom upon you: Friday afternoon is the worst possible time to schedule a major exam of any type.↩︎
  18. I actually had a student suggest that we just order pizza and throw a post-AP-exam party in my classroom on Friday evening. lol↩︎
  19. this is the following Monday, just FYI.↩︎