April 2014 archive
Nothing to do with math here, except for the context of “what does a math teacher make when struck with impromptu urges to cook but not the urge to follow a detailed gourmet recipe?” It’s that time of year…planning IB exams, prom, graduation, and my own wedding. All that added together equals an enormous need for comfort food.
After finding Phillips lump crab meat and Kerrygold butter at Costco, I decided to make crab rangoon grilled cheese. I am a Food Blog has a great recipe for it, so I followed that (making extra to use as dip for Popchips).
I mixed the following things in a bowl:
lump crab meat
minced onion (note: mince it way smaller than what’s in the picture and use sparingly)
whipped cream cheese
pink Himalayan sea salt
I buttered one side of two pieces of Ezekiel 4:9 bread with Kerrygold butter and made the grilled cheese sandwiches in an ungreased cast iron skillet over medium heat.
TEDx is “designed to help communities, organizations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences. At TEDx events, a screening of TED Talks videos — or a combination of live presenters and TED Talks videos — sparks deep conversation and connections at the local level. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, under a free license granted by TED.”
I had a great time speaking at Overachieve: TEDxTJHSST last Friday at my alma mater. It was an honor to be selected, and I am so grateful that I could share my experiences and ideas with TJ students. Below is the written version of my talk (the actual version ended up coming out a bit different because of nervousness and my inability to memorize). I’ll post the video when it’s ready.
Overachieve: Let it Go
Back in 1998, one of my teachers said to me: “you should come back and talk about all the biotech things that you accomplished after mentorship.” Back then, I thought I knew it all: that I’d major in chemical engineering at UVA, become an engineer, and live happily ever after in the suburbs of Washington D.C. I’d have a “we came for the sports” bumper sticker on my car and my children would know the TJ cheer by heart. I went after that goal hard…and ended up in a completely different place. However, I am just as successful, maybe even more. And that’s the story I want to tell you today: the story of how I learned to “let it go”, learn how to really learn, and pursue my passion of bringing high-quality education to the urban high school where I teach.
In spite of my perfectly laid out 1998 plans, I felt a bit unsure as I kept knocking out different pieces. I thought these fit society’s definition of success. First came the undergraduate engineering degree, then the master’s and then the consulting job. I did well at all of those things, but the seed of being unsure kept on growing even as I collected more gold stars. I realized that I loved working with students back in 1994 when I started tutoring at Weyanoke Elementary School next door. It took many years of doing more volunteer work to tell myself “hey, if you love this stuff more than your “real” job, *make* it your real job.” In 2007, I quit my consulting job to go to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and become a teacher.
Making teaching my real job was much harder than solving differential equations, writing my master’s thesis, and working with government clients to develop wireless communications solutions. Furthermore, each small victory in classroom management or lesson planning felt much more satisfying. Midway through my first year of teaching, I came back to speak to Mary O’Brien’s Humanities class to share my experiences and encourage many of those students to pursue education as a career. Five years later, I’m thinking more “big picture” about my journey from exam-school kid to urban teacher.
Yes, it’s cheesy, but the journey truly is the destination. Earlier in my journey, I would have probably talked to you about incorporating creative, project-based learning for STEM education, because I was still focused on overachieving. After more years of math teaching and getting involved in school leadership, I still love to incorporate those projects. I now have a very different perspective about implementing them, particularly overcoming the fear of mediocrity. You know FOMO as Fear of Missing Out. I’m coining FOM as Fear of Mediocrity.
During my educational journey, fear of mediocrity took up more energy than pursuing my passions. I thought that I had to keep collecting gold stars and working hard so that I’d still be excellent and not mediocre. It took a long time to let go of that fear and focus on what would make my teaching better. I often tell people: “you don’t become a math teacher because you like math. You become a math teacher because you like working with youth.” I stopped fussing so much about having perfect worksheets or PowerPoint presentations. I focused on creating simpler lessons and then doing on-the-fly adjustments to make them easier or harder based on how the kids were responding.
I teach a lot better without that fear. I feel like myself in my classroom, joking with kids and checking in on them like a mother hen. I used to be afraid of being “nice” like the character Miss Nelson from Miss Nelson Goes Missing. I wanted to be her alter ego, Viola Swamp, the terrifying witch who inspired fear with just a look. I used to think that becoming Viola was teaching’s gold star. Now I’m not either of them, but my own quirky mix. I’m also more focused on helping students let go of their fear of math, of asking questions, or of just being themselves.
Learning How to Learn: Let (Your Imagination) Go
Letting go of that control was tough. It was way easier to set up what I thought was the perfect lesson “script,” but then I’d get caught up in wondering why my students weren’t aligned to it. I often credit Carolyn Gecan and Jane Gullickson, my 10th grade Humanities teachers, with inspiring me to implement creative projects and with developing the mindset to let go of control to make room for learning. In their class, lessons ran smoothly yet they let go of enough control to let us develop fun skits and learn some group skills along the way. I may never have my students develop skits for MacBeth, but I’m now okay with unstructured time for developing a probability carnival or stop-motion animation.
1) Play more.
– Many of you may be taking more AP classes than there are periods in the day. Many of you may pack your schedules so tightly with extracurriculars that you feel like the Energizer Bunny bouncing from activity to activity. I urge you to loosen up those schedules and schedule in some unscheduled time. I urge you to cut down on the Starbucks and Red Bull and get more sleep.
2) Make space.
– Make space not just in your schedule but also in the perspective you take when figuring out what your passions are. I spent way too much time crowding out what I didn’t think would earn me gold stars, and even in my teaching life I spent too much time aiming to copy my mentors and create scripts. Making space to let my creative side run free and do more with less was one of the best things I did for my teaching.
– Many of you have been used to always being at the top of the class, so much so that anything but #1 is equivalent to failure. Don’t be like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights. He said “if you’re not first, you’re last.” I think the opposite: it’s how far you’ve progressed, not where you end up. It’s okay to be middle of the pack, or even at the back of the pack! My biggest mistake was thinking that my previous gold stars automatically conferred “good teacher” status upon me. It didn’t help to have non-teaching friends say to me “oh you went to Harvard. You must be such a good teacher!” even before I’d made it out of student teaching. I was one of the worst first-year teachers I have ever seen. That crimson H on my resume meant nothing in the classroom. In fact, the best first-year classroom teaching I ever saw came from a grad school classmate who was an improv comedian. He could adapt on the fly and stay cool under pressure…much more important than a high GPA or SAT score.
That’s how I went from exam school kid to a teacher in an urban, International Baccalaureate for All, Boston Public School. I could’ve given up after my first year in Boston Public Schools. I cried over tough classroom management experiences, struggled through piles of grading, and dreamed of coming back to Fairfax County, where I thought everything was perfect. When I say “I teach in Boston Public Schools” I often get the reaction of “wow, that must be so tough. That must be scary. Aren’t you scared?” I was definitely scared, but not of violence. I was scared of the very fluid nature of teaching, scared of mediocrity, and scared of what it meant to change my mindset about overachieving.
I wish I’d know then that playing more, making space, and reframing would help me teach better. I’d always reverted to the same strategies that earned me A’s: adding more caffeine or working more hours. At Harvard, I learned tons about math education, pedagogy, the dynamics of race, class and power in urban schooling. However, they didn’t address the unique challenges of the overachiever-turned-teacher. I’m glad I let go of those strategies and trusted that I could teach with less structure and more space.
I tell you my story not only to raise awareness of urban teaching as an awesome career opportunity, but also to raise the issue that “exam school” students need support for pursuing teaching in urban schools. You may be in Differential Equations now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll graduate from here with the ability to teach math well. Overachievers may not come out of the gate as awesome teachers right away, but they still have a ton of potential to be! You may be recruited for programs like Teach for America because you’re the best and the brightest. If you go that route, props to you! Young adults like you have a lot of potential to effect change in education, but roadblocks like FOM can hold you back. FOM almost held me back from becoming a grade team leader and IB coordinator, both of which involve managing people, influencing teaching and learning, and facing administrative challenges. I never thought I’d be in an administrative role, let alone enjoy it!
I challenge you to bring the best of your TJ learning to urban teaching or to K-12 education in general. Use your amazing education to pay it forward by bringing opportunities for service learning, mentorship, project-based learning, or educational technology to other communities. Play more, make space, and reframe.
Cyrus Stoller’s Rules for Requests are these:
If you need something to be done in:
30 minutes: call
two hours: text
a day or later: email
Teacher schedules don’t fit that.
I’d like to propose an adapted set of rules for teachers, which will totally depend on the teacher’s attachment to his/her cell phone and quickness to respond to emails. For example: I usually wear dresses when teaching, so I don’t keep my cell phone nearby at all times. However, I have more opportunities to check email because my leadership responsibilities allow for a reduced teaching load and more planning periods (most of which are taken up by meetings).
But common to all is the dislike of getting disrupted in the middle of teaching. It throws off one’s lesson flow and as another teacher has told me, “you don’t interrupt someone when they are in battle mode.” Because of that lesson flow, the call/text/IM methods now have huge ranges of response. Most classrooms do not have landlines nowadays, and it would be insane to expect a teacher to pick up his/her cell phone in the middle of class to answer a voice call or a text.
So here’s my thoughts on the matter.
If you need something to be done in:
1 – 30 minutes: visit in person during planning period to discuss.
30 minutes (+ the amount of time left teaching before next planning period): visit in person during class. leave a written note on the chair (on the desk or laptop, and it’ll just get pushed aside into a pile of grading).
1 minute – 1 full school day: email (depending on how much time teacher has to get back to laptop)
1 minute – 1 full school day: text or voice call (depending on if teacher locks up his/her phone because of no place to carry it, i.e., if wearing a dress)
0 – infinity days: gchat (depends on adopting of said technology or hiding via invisibility)
1 – 2 days: leave a note in their mailbox
If you need to experience some teacher wrath:
by email: email late at night and then accost the teacher at the beginning of the school day to demand why they haven’t answered you yet
by gchat: send them inappropriate gchats when you know they are projecting from their laptop
by text: text while they’re teaching and get angry when they don’t respond
in person: barge into their classroom and demand they stop what they are doing to immediately answer your questions
Today I went for a run with my friend Jess. We ran side by side and both used RunKeeper on our iPhones (both with Verizon service). At the end of our run, I ended up with 5.03 miles and she ended up with 5.22 miles.
A friend asked if I’d used anything else to map it out, so I tried MapMyRun, which gave me 5.06 miles (using the out-and-back route setting).
The Math Problem:
Using the stats of your choice (explain why you chose them):
1) What is the absolute error?
2) What is the percent error?
3) Explain how we could get such different results.
I’m up to playing Chopped chef again, this time with Loacker Quadratini wafers! The challenge: create a unique recipe which incorporates one or more of three flavors of Quadratini wafers (I got lemon, vanilla, and dark chocolate). The recent sunny springtime weather inspired me to make a peach-blueberry cobbler with the vanilla Quadratini wafers and candied ginger. The cobbler turned out well, so now I’m pondering other fruits to go with the lemon and dark chocolate!
2 16-oz packs frozen peaches (or fresh if you find a good deal on them in season)
1 carton blueberries
2 packets rolled oats
1 cup candied ginger, chopped
1.5 cups Loacker Vanilla Quadratini wafer cookies, crushed (I used a mortar and pestle for this)
3/4 stick butter, diced into small cubes
Ingredients and Prep
1. Heat the oven to 350.
2. Mix the peaches and blueberries in a bowl.
3. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and incorporate the small pieces of butter until you have a crumbly mix.
4. Toss the fruit with the crumble mix and distribute into ramekins or baking dishes. I made four ramekins and one 9″ circular dish with this recipe.
5. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.
6. Serve warm with whipped topping.
The Finished Product
**To vote for my entry, re-pin my Pinterest pin onto one of your boards with the hashtag #PureIngredients**
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When I started teaching, I used to lug around a Precalculus teacher’s edition, a calculator, a pencil case, cell phone, wallet, keys, and folders full of grading in a North Face backpack. I often added a lunch bag and a gym bag. No wonder I was cranky…I was hauling way too much! I also looked like a high school kid with that backpack, so I upgraded to a more professional look with a black Lo & Sons OMG back in December 2011. That bag lasted through numerous work commutes, domestic travel, and international travel. This purchase helped put me on a bag diet: cutting down to one work bag + one lunch bag (a pink Whole Foods Medford soft-sided insulated bag).
Over the course of the past two+ years, wear and tear took a toll on my poor bag. First the shoulder strap gave out, followed by the zipper to the passport/wallet compartment. Those two things I could deal with since the bag has two straps and the compartment is covered by another zipper. However, when the shoe compartment zipper broke, that interfered with my gym-going. Luckily, the kind folk at Lo & Sons sent me a replacement bag after I explained what had gone wrong with my old one. I really appreciated that level of customer service!
What I Love About the Bag
– The classic look. It’s sleek and simple. It looks at home on a business trip, on vacation, and at the gym.
– The durability. Boston weather does not play. Unexpected rain or snow can wreck all of one’s papers and books in a bag that is leather, canvas, or open-top (not to mention that it can wreck the bag). This bag can also stand up to being used as a gym bag.
– The sleeve for placing the bag on top of one’s rolly cart when traveling. It makes running through the airport much easier.
– The key holder. I like not having to dig around for my keys, especially when I’m hauling groceries or other things.
– The shoe compartment. This is a godsend for keeping gym shoes or sweaty gym clothes separate from everything else in your bag.
– The pockets. There’s a place for your phone, your pens, your wallet, your laptop, and your papers.
The Laptop Caveat
I have never understood how people can carry laptops in thin-strapped shoulder bags or totes such as the Longchamp Le Pliage or Louis Vuitton Neverfull. I thought that the Lo & Sons OMG might finally make the “easy breezy shoulder bag for laptop” functionality happen for me, but no such luck. I’ve carried my 13″ MacBook Pro or my 13″ work MacBook in my Lo & Sons OMG, and it’s so uncomfortable if I have to carry it on a T commute rather than driving somewhere. If using the OMG, I prefer to carry no electronics heavier than my iPad (sticking to my Wheelmen & Company Babylon backpack for laptops).
What’s in My Bag
This is what it looks like for a work day followed by a spin class.
– Truffle case with iPhone charger, pens, headphones, tic tacs, hand sanitizer, extra contact lenses, and lip balm. I adore these cases now. Though the OMG has many pockets, I like being able to see through the clear plastic of the Truffle cases and move my stuff from OMG to backpack if needed.
– wallet (with cell phone pocket)
– keys on a KeySmart and UVA lanyard. I keep just the KeySmart in my pants pocket (on lanyard if wearing a dress) so that I can keep my bag, wallet, and phone locked up in a cabinet when at school.
– card case with all my membership, loyalty, and punch cards
– *one* folder with school work (not pictured)
– iPad (if doing any lesson planning via Evernote after school)
– Moleskine (Squared Notebook) Bullet Journal + a Uni-ball Signo 207 gel pen (influence of Louis from Suits + my fiance) + a pink pen for grading
– bkr water bottle
– gym clothes (tank, sports bra, crops, socks) + extra change of clothes
– spin shoes
– Truffle case with shower stuff + makeup
Other Things for Non-Spin Days
Those spin shoes take up a lot of precious bag space. If I’m going to Btone, I only need a gym outfit and if going to Exhale or Pure Barre, I only need a pair of barre socks. That makes more room for my lunch bag, my various knitting projects, or books.
I would definitely recommend the OMG (or its slightly larger cousin the OG) for fellow T-commuting, gym-going teachers. It is pricey for a teacher budget, but that ends up being worth it when calculating cost per use, considering the quality of the bags, and considering their functionality/organization. These bags will last through the long haul, and Lo & Sons also provides impeccable customer service if your bag does happen to break. I’ll stand by my splurging philosophy on good teaching shoes and good teaching bags!
Check out Lo & Sons!
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Me and Jess with owner Brian Weller
I attended my first Barry’s Bootcamp class last Saturday via a blogger subset of a class that was provided for us thanks to Jess @ Little Miss Runshine, along with Allie, Danielle, Jen, Katie, Semirah, and Whitney.
Barry’s Bootcamp is one of the latest boutique studios to hit the Boston area. After the influx of barre studios and spin studios, there is likely going to be an influx of bootcamp studios! I love my neighborhood boutique studio soul.train fitness‘ tabata and boot camp classes, so I was already psyched to try this one. However, the prospect of doing sprinting intervals after a long hiatus from track workouts scared me a bit. At Barry’s, an hour-long workout is divided into two treadmill sections that alternate with two floor sections. The weekend class I took focused on Full Body (vs. the Hard CORE Abs, Butt & Legs, and other classes offered on weekdays). It was taught by the energetic Chad Flahive (who also works at Equinox and runs the outdoor bootcamp Public Body).
Half the group immediately sprinted for the treadmills as soon as the studio doors opened, so I started on the floor section by choosing a step aerobics riser, then bringing over a set of 12 pound dumbbells and a mat. Any similarities to college step aerobics classes or BodyPump ended as soon as the thumping dance party music, orange lights, and Chad’s cheerful instruction started. We did exercises such as plank shoulder raises, burpees, hammer curls, renegade rows, bicep curls into pushups on the dumbbells, alternating lunges on the steps, bicep curls, hammer curls, lunge pass-throughs, and lunge with bicep curls.
In spite of the “Bootcamp” name, I found the instruction friendly and motivating. I know that some people prefer tough drill sergeant instructors, but I dig Chad’s style more. He’s so peppy and funny that you forget the hundreds of pushups and the holding on to the treadmill for dear life. He also offered modifications so subtly that no one can tell if fellow classmates need to modify down (e.g., when I had wrist pain in renegade rows, Chad told me to do the same motion in an elbow plank, but only so I could hear). As a teacher, I’ve become more conscious of making sure that students don’t feel embarrassed when they have to modify down or ask for help, and I appreciate similar efforts in a fitness instructor. I also appreciate a sense of humor and willingness to be silly in an instructor. I never thought I would see a Pure Barre move in Barry’s, but we did do hip raises and circles when kneeling with our butts over our heels and our upper bodies angled back. Chad kept our minds off the burning in our quads by cheerfully acting like a gyrating genie.
After our floor set, we switched to the treadmills to do what the treadmill folk had just done. I only finished a little over a mile in each of the treadmill intervals but found the approximate 24 minutes more difficult than an all-out 5K. I went with the 5.5 mph (10:54/mile) warmup pace, 7.0 mph (8:34/mile) run pace, and the 9.0 mph (6:40/mile) sprint pace and tried to to keep to those numbers the entire time (except when I finally had to modify during a 15% incline run and bring the speed to 6.0 mph during the second set). We did a bunch of incline runs and sprints. Chad made sure to use positive reinforcement by calling out praise for those who could push to double digit sprints (I bet Jess was one of the ones who made it to 11 mph!) but never made those who did 9.0 mph sprints feel inferior.
We switched back to the floor after the first treadmill set. I scampered over to the 10 pound weights as soon as I found out where they were. Working with 12-pound and 10-pound dumbbells was a big shock after only using 2-pound dumbbells at Pure Barre, Exhale, and spin classes. We did two AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts that involved more bicep curls, Arnold presses, burpees, tricep dips, and other dumbbell or body weight exercises, followed by abs exercises. This felt more like soul.train or CrossFit, but still hurt like the dickens. I noticed the guy next to me absolutely killing it on the AMRAPS and even modifying up to do things like tricep dips with his feet up on his neighbor’s step aerobics riser (and later found out it was the owner).
On the second treadmill set, the inclines grew higher (6, 9, and 15%) but thankfully the sprint durations remained at 30 seconds. The recoveries felt like oases in the desert and I was so glad to have Whitney’s familiar face on the next treadmill. After we finished that set, we proceeded to the floor for a stretch and cooldown.
Overall, I was very impressed by Barry’s. The high-energy but not “I’m more hardcore than you” vibe, fancy details like Equinox-esque lockers and Malin+Goetz toiletries, rockin’ dance music, and rigorous workout appeal to me. Some people might say “$28 for that? I could do the same thing on the treadmill and in the free weights section at the gym with a GymBoss timer.” I know I “could” do that…but I probably won’t make myself do it. The fun “we’re in this together” atmosphere of a class (and fear of losing money for not showing up) will trick me into doing it. I also like that Barry’s uses accessible exercises that can scale up for you as you get more fit. For example during AMRAPs, everyone’s working for the same amount of time but as you get stronger, you can knock out more sets or add modifications like doing tricep dips with your feet up on your neighbor’s step. Similarly, you can increase your sprint speed on the treadmills.
Because I have ClassPass and lots of class packs at various spin, barre, yoga, and fitness studios, I won’t be signing up for a class pack at Barry’s Bootcamp right away, but can definitely see going as a periodic treat. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous to call the love child of a CRC track workout, a CrossFit WOD, and a dance party a treat, but it is 🙂 Some of Exhale’s best barre teachers (Nicole Estebanell and Meg Scannell) also teach there, so I’m interested in trying their class as well as more by Chad or Brian.
30 Chauncy St
Boston, MA 02110
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Last Wednesday, I went to Camille Albane salon on Newbury Street for #BloggerBeauty, a makeup + hair party provided for Blog and Tweet Boston. Fellow attendees included Amanda, Amy, Emily, Jane, Janelle, Jen, Jessica, Jilian, Katherine, Kelsey, Morgan, Trianna, Victoria, and Whitney.
Friendly staff members welcomed us and told us about the history of Camille Albane’s Newbury Street location, which opened last April, and the overall brand history (including its relationship to Dessange). In spite of the impressive salon pedigree, the staff and the atmosphere were both down-to-earth. We chatted more over sparkling water, espresso, macarons, cheese, crackers, bread, and olives while groups of bloggers were taken to the hairstyling stations. I enjoyed the bonus mingling time (with bloggers and staff). At other blogger events, it’s hard to get to know fellow attendees with the fast pace of activities (especially if it’s CrossFit or Barry’s Bootcamp)! The mingling time also enabled me to find out cool Paris trip advice from Amy and that those very Laduree-looking macarons came from Whole Foods.
When it was my turn for hairstyling, my lovely stylist Liliya assessed my hair and talked to me about what I wanted (which, as it always is, more volume). She shampooed my hair while I sat in a ridiculously comfortable massage chair and watched the latest Paris runway fashions parade by on a flat-screen tv above the styling stations. She then put a moisturizing masque in my hair for about five minutes before taking me back to the hairstyling station. I was a bit intrigued by the Pigma color masques, but I think they would not have shown up on my hair. She used mousse on my hair, then worked her magic with a rolly brush to create a sleek, voluminous look, finishing it with some hairspray. I then proceeded to the makeup chair to let Jen work her magic with the new spring line of eyeshadows. Normally I would only pick such a bold blue for my running shoes or tank tops, but upon seeing Jen’s extremely well-done and bright makeup, I told her “I trust you, do what you want!” She put on a champagne base, blended in some blue shadow, and then lined my eyes with dark blue shadow. Jen’s work verified the theory that blue eyeshadow accentuates brown eyes 🙂
The salon sent us home not only with pretty hair and bold eyes but with blue + white makeup bags, shampoo, and conditioner. My only quibble? That we couldn’t do the event a few hours earlier and then go out and show off the results! I would definitely recommend checking out Camille Albane for its posh location, friendly customer service, and wide variety of hair cut and color options. The Yelp reviews on the bayalage look particularly favorable.
252 Newbury St
Boston, MA 02116
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I may be tardy to the party, but I must share my love for Self Control, which blocks you from websites of your choosing for a time period of your choosing.
Goodbye for now, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Bloglovin.
Check out my feature in Gradeable’s Beyond the Red Pen!