There are nearly 500 classrooms I can visit on the clock. I’ve probably set foot in half of them, and I regularly hit the same 100, because as the only EdTech Coach serving 13 K-12 schools, I go where I’m called.
Three things are observable whether my jaunt in a classroom is 30 minutes or 30 seconds:
Regardless of age, demographic, or ability, those three things let me infer something about the class.
The door closes behind me and the class is noisy, yet calm. The talk I hear as I weave between student desks is littered with vocab terms mixed in with casual language.
“Yeah, but what about … theorem … mad at Mrs. Frizzle … Prussian independence … monks built them to trade … article after the subject… no idea why… centered on the page … son las diecinueve de diciembre… the fuzzy part on the line.”
Noise in an effective class is fine; it rarely rises above a hum when focused on the material. Seasoned teachers can tell when it gets too loud, and it’s usually due to one group that isn’t focused.
Rather than yelling over the din, “Hey, I need you all to bring the noise level down!”, seasoned teachers mosey over to Francisco’s group and just stand there.
Conversation drops off as all students silently stare at their desks. Maria picks up her pencil as the teacher asks, “Whatcha guys talkin’ about? Sounds fun.”
The girls avoid eye contact and Francisco grins, “We’re talking about how the verb in the sentence is jumping and we’re thinking about how to make a new sentence.”
“Sounds great! Carry on,” and the teacher leaves.
I’ve watched fantastic Kindergarten teachers herd a whole room of 5-year-olds to the carpet and read through a book, unbothered by their noise along the way.
Teacher: On Monday, he ate one apple, but he was still hungry…
Students: I don’t like apples. I had an apple for lunch yesterday!
Teacher: On Tuesday, he ate through two oranges, but he was still hungry. Marco, keep your hands to yourself.
Students: My gramma has an orange tree in her yard. My favorite car is orange. I’m wearing orange socks today.
Teacher: On Wednesday…
Noise is not the enemy, which leads me to number two.
There are loud classes that are hard at work and there are silent classes bored out of their skulls and doing nothing.
I walked through four classes this morning.
Silent, diligently working on a computer assessment
Loud chattering about a Twitter war between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton
Light chatter, grading a sample student’s performance task in pairs*
Cacophonous covers of Justin Bieber in “Modern Music” class
Four very different noise levels, all with students focused on the task at hand, productive.
Those four classes differed greatly in the Mood, though.
For the classes above, the mood was palpable in each case.
Entered silently in a single-file.
Tumbled in, got right to their seats, and took out their notebooks.
Stumbled through the door, stopped at their friend’s desk to say hello, and ruffled the hair of their crush on the way to their seats.
Digging out their song lyrics and iPods before they even entered the bandroom.
The mood of a class is the toughest to quantify, but the easiest to notice.
Teachers who had militant, Draconian mentors early in their career might have a mood that is subdued and frightened.
Teachers with youth-ministry training might attempt to be “the nice teacher,” and get their ass kicked for the whole first year.
But teachers who value student voice tend to be unbothered by noise.
Here is where many teacher preparation programs fall short. Pre-service observations focus on “noise level” and “students on-task,” but the third category directly informs the other two, and a focus on the classroom mood naturally leads the teacher to discover how much noise they prefer.
And students will work hard in a room where they feel safe.
~Matt “The Nice Teacher…Usually” Vaudrey
*Yes, grading a sample performance task. So they know how performance tasks are graded, so they know how to score highly on the performance tasks during the SBAC test. It was a real bummer.
One year, eight and a half months ago, I packed up my little hatchback with the last few boxes of classroom materials, hugged a few students, and left the classroom, not knowing when I’d return.
There’s a chance — a slight chance — that I’ll be back in the classroom in some capacity next year.
I took the four steps down the hall and propped myself against the door frame to Kris’ office. “So, five years from now, when we have nine tech coaches — “
“Hah! Right.” Kris hasn’t looked up from her computer yet, but we have these conversations on a regular basis. No primer, no warm-up, and eye contact only once both parties are engaged.
“Nine tech coaches, but only six coaching at any one time. Each year, one-third of the coaching staff is back in the classroom. Keeping their chops up, trying out new instructional strategies, and filling a blank spot for the master schedule.” I’m still in the doorframe and I know she’ll spin and I can raise my eyebrows and feel smug and proud of my great idea.
“Hm,” says Kris, looking out the window above her computer and slowly turning her chair. I raise my eyebrows, like I’d planned, “I know, right? It’s the best idea in a long history of my great ideas.”
“I … don’t know about that,” she laughs. “Principals won’t like that plan; it’ll make hiring a nightmare. What if we used the tech coaches to fill temporary vacancies? Pregnancy, leave of absence, illness or injury; stuff like that.”
My jaw drops. “Oh, baby. That’s fantastic! That’s way better than my idea, which was already good.”
“Yeah…” Kris taps on her phone in her left hand, absently staring at the ceiling. “There’s something there. Let’s keep thinking about it.” She spins back to her computer and I retreat to my standing desk.
About six months after leaving the class, I attended CMC 2014, as I do every year.
Here’s the thing about leaving a conference with no classroom to return to; that feeling of “I can’t wait to try this!” remains unfulfilled. I’m pumping up a water-bottle rocket, but never releasing it.
In the few short months of instructional coaching, I’d already filled my satchel with great ideas that I can’t actually implement. That feeling has only grown in the last year-and-a-half.
Until Kris hatched this plan.
I’m already dreaming about how to teach differently. Here are a few benchmarks that have evolved since I left the class:
If you’ve taught more than a few weeks, you’ve noticed something.
Your highest-achieving students will do your homework. Your lowest-achieving students will not. Students in the middle might or might not.
“Mr. Vaudrey, can I talk to you outside?” Roger was a 16-year-old sophomore that arrived late in the year to my Geometry class. He fit in quickly and earned his B+ through hard work and sharing with his table, which I appreciated.
“I don’t have my homework today.” He shuffled his feet.
“Hm.” I folded my arms and put on my tough teacher face. “Why not?”
“It’s cuz… last night, my dad came home drunk, so we hid until he passed out and we left at midnight. My math book is at the house and we can’t go back for a few days.”
Roger wasn’t the only student with a shitty home life that year.
The students who most needed success in their life had the most stress once they left my class. Homework is just one more thing that they can’t control and isn’t going how they planned.
How arrogant that I punish those students with guilt and missing points.
Our students most in need of our support also face even more negativity in the land of teacher crackdown:
“No food, no gum, no drinks in my class.” “If you don’t stop bothering him, you’re not going to pass the class.” “Stop talking!”
My sister is a psychologist who specializes in child development. My wife and I get to benefit from her work with kids, and we don’t even give her a copay.
In parenting with high-needs children, naming the “positive opposite” is a common practice. Kids don’t automatically know the alternative to their bad behavior, so name the behavior you want.
Instead of “Don’t hit your sister!” say “We use nice touches.”
Listen to what teachers are saying when they manage a class. Is it like the negative language above? Or are they naming the positive opposite?
Make Learning Matter
There are plenty of other class culture ideas that I’ve formulated in my time away from the front of the class, many of which, I dabbled in prior to leaving.
Instead of describing it in depth, I should just write a book.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Math department at one of my High Schools, working with Teacher.Desmos.com, building activities, and preparing to roll out Barbie Bungee to all the Algebra classes.
Yesterday, I was in Adriana‘s class during her planning period; she asked me to help her find “a performance task for rational functions.”
So after daydreaming about a graphing activity where students protect their house from a tornado that travels in a rational-function-path (h/t Nora Oswald) and playing with Glenn Waddell’s 1600 Rational Functions graph, Adriana handed me this:
“This is what the department wants to use for Quadratics.” Adriana said. “Do you know of a Performance Task like this for Rational Functions?”
So picture you’re me.
Years ago, you gave a well-received workshop at CMC about performance tasks. That workshop morphed into a full-day training that you now give for schools and districts up and down the state. You’re developing that workshop into a book on how to make math class less like the paper you’re now holding, which the teacher insists is “a Performance Task.”
Got it? Do you feel what I’m feeling?
In that moment, a lightbulb went off.
The performance tasks that I see teachers use in the #MTBoS ask students to think critically, track down missing information, utilize available tools and find new ones, and connect abstract concepts to concrete representations as they work in groups toward a goal with cloudy, uncertain steps.
Compare that to the proper noun “Performance Tasks” that standardized testing services provide as sample items and on the triennial “assessment.” Their Performance Tasks (capital P and T) are merely long worksheets with uninspiring questions orbiting a central topic.
The SBAC Performance Tasks are not my performance tasks.
For the last year, math departments in my district have been asking me to find Performance Tasks (capital), then have been disappointed when I delivered performance tasks (lowercase).
I imagine this feeling is what Hydrox felt when Oreo became a household name.
Don’t all students deserve a fantastic classroom? Are you willing–teachers–to pay $4.99 to give them an awesome classroom? It’s for the kids.
Teachers like Jeremiah–thoughtful, growth-minded, and dedicated to the kids–spend hundreds of their own dollars to make their class awesome. Many of these dedicated teachers find themselves buying materials from other teachers.
Why Some Teachers Hate TpT
Yes, teaching is a noble profession.
Yes, service of our next generation of citizens deserves the best that money can buy.
And yes, many teachers believe in sacrificing for the betterment of each student.
An unfortunate implication follows those truths: teachers should spend extra money to be awesome at their job.
This summer, a couple teachers asked if I’d be willing to tutor them on Google Tools. Here’s my email response:
Dear Mary, Here’s a better plan; you and I schedule our Google-day some time in August, and you fill out a time card so you get paid for it.
You shouldn’t have to pay to become awesome at your job. You should get paid to become awesome at your job.
Vaudrey’s qualm with TpT
First: What I mentioned to Mary above. It’s a bummer that the culture of Education drives teachers to spend money to become awesome. A smaller bummer is me working daily within that culture trying to get teachers to question that culture.
Second–and this is the problem–TeachersPayTeachers is complicit in furthering that culture by creating a hub for it. In addition, they profit off of that culture by sapping a percentage of each teacher’s purchase in their quest to help children learn.
It’s a tax on teachers, people who deserve more income, not more expenses.
“But wait!” cries Hadar, a friend-of-a-friend who made $120K from TPT last year from selling her cute Kindergarten stuff. “Shouldn’t teachers be paid for the creative stuff they do?”
“Ab-so-lutely,” I respond, inserting a foul word between syllables. “But not from the pockets of other teachers.”
Today is the first day of school for Bonita Unified School District. Last week, I puttered around classrooms and chatted up new and returning teachers, aligned SmartBoards, planned out musical cues, and suggested desk placement.
All of which is great, most of which was helpful, and none of which was stressful.
This is year two in my role as Educational Technology Coach, and it’s the first first-day-of-school in my career where I’ve slept soundly last night and not had an anxious, runny poop this morning.
In the classroom, the first week before students arrive is my favorite week of the year. The desks are clean, the rows are straight, nothing smells like sweat or feet or Flamin’ Hot Chee-tohs. Nobody’s gotten detention or dumped or an A-minus when they really wanted an A.
In a classroom without students, only potential exists.
Every teacher–the weekend before school begins–is an idealist. The class, before filling with bodies, is full of hope.
For seven years, I prepped my room in a frenzy, often putting in 10 or 12-hour days to get it just right.
Unpaid, by the way.
Without fail, some student with no respect for my hard work would tag “Kiki flexxxxin” on one of my posters. My carefully-constructed classroom crumbled to dust within weeks.
But that first week? No tears; only dreams.
Dreams that every student will learn. Dreams that no students will exclaim they hate me as they flip over chairs. Dreams that none will scrawl “asshole” in pencil on my door.
Anyway, that’s not even what I wanted to write about.
The Bottom Ten
During my first year as tech coach, I sought to make disciples at each of my 13 school sites. By building into the Top Ten Percent of tech-hero teachers–those who would still innovate without me–I’d pump motivation through the “sprinklers” at each site who would spread the word about how helpful and approachable I am.
That kind of happened. Many teachers I never met know who I am.
This year, as my office is full of dreams and potential, I’m shooting for the Bottom Ten Percent.
At our kick-off event, the Bonita Educational Technology Adventure (BETA), I gave a workshop for the Tech-Hesitant. It went pretty well, answering questions, tackling real-classroom situations, and addressing the things that are scary.
One of these teachers chatted with me later that week to ask about how to use Google Classroom, but then lock student work after it’s done until the test.
After attempting to dissuade her, I promised to ask Twitter about it. As I expected, none were interested in even trying to find an old-school solution.
While my business card says, “EdTech Coach,” I’m actually more interested in learning. And not just for students.
During my workshop, I pushed back when I heard Tech-hesitant teachers use phrases like these:
“It’s probably easy for you, you’re so young.”
“Well, I’m not a digital native, so…”
“There’s just not enough time to learn ______.”
When someone drops one of these dismissive excuses to continue hiding from challenge, I have a dozen responses, but the one I chose for the BETA event was this:
“When I go to the weight room, I see people in there that are enormous. They have shoulder muscles and neck muscles and … their muscles have muscles. They’re huge.
I can tell that they’ve been to the gym before. They didn’t get those muscles without spending time specifically working on them.
Technology is no different. Years ago, I was clumsy with technology, didn’t type well, and had difficulty navigating the internet. But I kept spending time in the gym, and my tech muscles grew.
You–the tech-hesitant teachers–you can also grow your tech muscle. Just keep putting in the time, even when you’re feeling weak.”
~Matt “Finger-Muscles” Vaudrey
P.S. I’m content to refer to this group as “The Bottom Ten” for several reasons:
1.) They’ve admitted their low status to me, “I’m probably the least techy person at my school.”
2.) Those that cling tightly to what’s comfortable are those who can transform their classroom the most with fresh ideas.
3.) Seventy of them attended my workshop, that’s the bottom fifteen percent of our district, and they were willing to self-identify.
4.) Growth can happen anywhere. If they believe that they were in the Bottom Ten and could become the Top Fifty, they’ll be interested in improving.
After dinner, taking a swim in the Atlantic, stopping by the Carnegie debrief dinner, and strolling on the beach with some of the staff, I returned to the bar on a Thursday night after giving the keynote address that morning a few weeks ago.
Around the table are some folk I’d met at the conference earlier that day. One of them had asked for some of my time, so I was glad to catch him in a social setting.
After several minutes of me listening and nodding, the group finally asked me some hard questions.
Questions that nobody in my current circle is asking me and questions that I won’t likely answer how they expect. Questions that made me pause and write them down in a Google Doc titled “Questions to ask myself later.” Questions like:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
You just spoke to a room of 150, how will you get to a room of 500? A thousand?
Do you want a drink? We have a tab open.
Vision and Math
My initial responses headed down the usual, paved path of most of the country’s educators:
“In five years, I’d like to be in progress on an Administrative Credential. I could go for an Assistant Principal job, but probably not a Principal. Of course, I’d be happy to return to the classroom. I really love teaching; in fact, I may return to the classroom and retire from there.”
The director-type on the end shakes her head and pounds her drink on the table. “Bullshit. You’re eyeing the classroom because it’s easy and you know you’d be awesome at it. Think bigger. What are some goals that scare the shit out of you? Get outside your comfort zone.”
Boy, she pulls no punches.
Am I scared of big goals?
I don’t think so.
The classroom is a comfortable place for me, but that’s where student relationships are the closest. Relationships are far more important to me than math.
After attempting to communicate this, it becomes clear that they aren’t buying it.
Next to me, a guy says, “You may have impacted… fifty teachers in the room? Let’s say fifty. Each of those teachers have, what… 150 students? Think of that impact; think of how many students you’ve impacted today.” He raises his eyebrows.
From the end of the table, one of them says, “What would you do if you could impact a million students?”
“Look at it this way,” I clarify. “You say I may have impacted 50 teachers today to change something. That’s probably… at the most, a 5% impact on fifty teachers times 150 students. If I impact 40 teachers in my district at, say, 80%, that’s likely still a greater net impact than if I am a full-time speaker.”
We debated for a while longer until I noticed my flight was due to leave in 7 hours. I decide to leave on a high note.
“Okay. The dream that scares the shit out of me; I’d like to start a Teaching School in the same vein as a Teaching Hospital, like a lab where pre-service teachers could observe, learn, and practice alongside veteran teachers in cohorts. Glass walls in the back of all classrooms and it’d be paired with a nearby university, just like a Teaching Hospital. The teacher candidates get tons of classroom experience and observation hours. Plus, it draws teachers and students to the school, who are certain that it’s a great place to be.”
The director-type on the end raises her eyebrows. “Fuck. I would love that.”
I strolled back to my fancy hotel room, my head spinning with new questions and new ideas for my own career, wondering if I could steal director-type to run this kind of school.
There’s a lot to think about.
I realize that there’s an easy way to compare the impact of various careers.
It’s clear that there’s no contest. Even after adjusting the numbers to be crappy curriculum vs. mediocre coach, it’s tough to argue against a curriculum writer impacting the most students.
Still not enough to make me pursue that route, though. While “student impact” is a strong enough statement for a business card or a grant proposal, I’m not convinced that it’s specific enough goal for me.
Students slowly building their risk-taking muscles.
Friends having tough conversations that will strengthen a relationship.
Teachers plucking up courage to try new strategies.
Spouses learning more about what makes each other tick.
A group of pre-service teachers figuring out their own classroom management style and defining a classroom culture.
I love these things because I love personal growth.
And it can be done with only one person; I don’t need a million.
~Matt “Teacher of Teachers… of Teachers” Vaudrey
P.S. A few of these “lab schools” already exist. Some other dreamers and I are buying bricks to build one in Southern California.
Last week, I spoke to 170 teachers in Florida about Reaching the Unreachables.
I really wanna talk about it.
(Video coming soon)
Hitching an Uber to the airport while carrying a suitbag still feels very Metropolitan. I hope it always does.
It was a boost to my ego to have people recognize me from the bulletin while we sampled the open bar and seafood appetizers.
In jeans and sandals, I look like a 19-year-old undergrad hoping to pick up a few pointers at an ed-conference.1 Despite that, everyone I met was delightful, and they let me show pictures of my kids.
6:20 AM Eastern: Wake before the alarm to get dressed and have a quick bite before heading downstairs to meet with the sound guys. I have two hours before my keynote address and I want everything to go well. Also, I’ve been adjusting my sleep schedule to Eastern time all week, so my body doesn’t feel like it’s 3:20 Pacific.
7:45 AM: Everything is looking good, so I have time to fill a plate with fantastic breakfast.
7:50 AM: Nobody’s touched the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. What a shame. I’ll remedy that.
8:00 AM: Three time-zones west of me, my wife wakes before her alarm. She tunes in to the live webcast and texts me that she’s watching. I’m comforted by the thought.
8:30 AM: After a brief introduction, we’re off and running. A Lady-Gaga mic is taped to the hair on the back of my neck and I’m pacing back and forth like a chain-smoking fiction writer. My palms are sweaty and I note that my phone (from which, I’m running the slideshow and reading speaker notes) has a subtle shake.
In my head, the room was smaller and more intimate. In reality, they’re crammed eight to a table in a room the size of my dream home. Centuries of teaching experience stare back at me and I stutter a bit.
But I quickly hit a stride and am impressed by the room of nearly 200 presenting their undivided attention.
Nobody is texting, nobody is murmuring in the back or eating more breakfast. They actually… they actually want to hear my message.
That surprising fact steels my nerve and I slow down, speaking in a slow, even tone that belies the speed with which I’ve rehearsed. It helps that I know only half the time is me speaking, and the rest is “stand and talk” reflection for the room.
[[NOTE: I’ve been promised access to the footage, which is fantastic. I’ll add my slides and post it here when I have it.]]
10:00 AM: Right on the downbeat of my 90 minutes, I close with the words of my mentor, Dr. Kimasi Browne, and give a room full of teachers this charge:
All success is the product of thousands of failures, none of which matter after the success.
Go forth and change the culture of your math classroom to make math meaningful.
A round of pleasant applause and I’m done.
10:11 AM: Several handshakes later, at least three attendees admit to paying closer attention to my delivery than my content. As P.D. Specialists–they point out–they recognize that teachers are a tough crowd and they picked up a few things from me.
10:30 AM: The attendees trickle off into the first workshop. I hide in the lobby to make sure all my materials are ready for second and third period, where I am to give workshops. The note-taking doc has six pages; some people even googled images to go along with my content. Sweet.
12:00 PM: Lunch with Rich and April, who both independently asked about an online math community. Luckily, that community organized itself into a system, so it took very little time to show them the hashtag, the directory, and the landing page for TMC. They also watched as I crowd-sourced the finding of a crowd-sourced movement. Very meta.
After a teacher attempted to explain the method she used to choose one fraction of pie over another, she murmured, “I don’t know, that’s just how the trick works.”
In a room full of math teachers, that’s like saying, “I think Star Wars was just okay.” or “Birkenstocks are so uncomfortable.”
What followed was a great discussion about teaching students at every level the why behind the tricks, so that they carry meaningful math skills with them, rather than a tool box full of metal they don’t know how to use.
Cathleen, I did the best I could to keep our colleagues civil, and it appears you learned your lesson. For more on how tricks are harming our math students, read this.
2:45 PM I’m suddenly and acutely aware that I’m about to do a Google Drive workshop to a room that has a variety of devices and ability levels. That dude in the corner is making a Google account right now.
On an iPad.
At work, I do this workshop in the computer lab. Forty identical computers, all with Google Chrome.
We move at a glacial pace through my Google 101 workshop, leaving nobody behind and I accidentally use some foul language as I describe the use of GAFE in the classroom. Not my best work, but the attendees were pleased, so a great day ends with a C-plus workshop.
5:20 PM: Sara and Lisa meet me in the lobby to find some local dinner. The Village Eatery, a few blocks away, serves a sublime, mood-altering chicken sandwich as we discuss the integration of technology into their classrooms. It was a fantastic meal with fantastic comrades; I’d be thrilled to work with either of them.
7:04 PM: The entire staff of Carnegie is chatting and dining as I walk by, on the phone with my lovely wife. I weasel a chair between Janet and Cassie and pepper them with questions.
Putting my Prejudice Aside
We have regular discussions on Twitter, Voxer, on blogs, and at conferences about The Dark Side of teaching.
The scorn we visit upon non-teachers who talk about education is paltry compared for the ire we reserve for teachers who leave the classroom.
For better or worse, there’s a hierarchy in the field of Education. It looks like this:
At every conference I’ve ever attended, there’s at least one Educational Company in the exhibit hall with a plucky, well-groomed twenty-something asking me if I’m interested in reaching more students.
Of course I am. I’m giving up my Saturday to attend a conference.
And yet, here in Fort Lauderdale, I’m surrounded by Carnegie staff and they’re all… knowledgeable. And friendly. And competent. And they like students. And love teaching.
I was baffled.
These two ex-teachers bookending me on the patio weren’t the first Carnegie employees to impress me, and now I’m curious about the textbook they produced.
(Which I’ve never seen. That surprised a few people, considering I’m speaking at their national annual conference. It shows me that we agree on some stuff.)
Leaving the Field
Later that night, somebody pointed out that many charismatic ex-teachers make a living doing keynote speeches for educational conferences, and are you interested in doing that?
Despite a fantastic day, meeting new people, and getting questions that challenged and intrigued me (more on that next week), that profession strays too far away from the classroom for me.
I’m not so much worried about how my Ed Cred appears to others, it’s how credible I feel.
So I’ll probably never go work for Carnegie.
No hard feelings.
~Matt “Keynote to Quicktime to Final Cut with iTunes to Quicktime to Keynote” Vaudrey
1. As a white, straight, middle-class male, I’m not about to complain about the one area where I’m occasionally maligned. It’s not anything close to “oppression”, it’s just a bummer.↩
In early May, Claire and I were talking about non-traditional math lessons to make her department more interesting. She’s already using Visual Patterns with Algebra students and is pleased with the spike in their reasoning skills, but…
“There’s tons of cool stuff on the internet and I don’t know where it is or how to use it.”
After a few prep periods of chatting about math curriculum and Common Core standards, we decide on a three-day Barbie Bungee performance task.
The last time my class did this lesson, we realized that I didn’t adequately set up the reason for this silliness. This time, Mrs. Verti and I worked hard to connect the individual data to the jumps and emphasizing their value to calculate the medium jump and big jump.
After deciding to make bungees the dependent variable, I couldn’t decide if we should have stations inside the classroom or give the platforms to each group to hang outside.
Claire pointed out that we have two wildly different ability levels (Honors Pre-Calculus and Freshman General Algebra), so we can try both methods.
Four Days Out
Claire and I meet on Friday before Memorial Day to discuss any remaining details. She confesses she’s a big nervous; that this is a weird, different way to do math class.
I assure her; weird and different is where I live. And if it bombs, that’ll be on me and not her.
Two Days Out
After three years of hauling around awkwardly-shaped platforms, I realize what’s missing: hinges.
Further, I realize, after I build six new platforms, it’s hardly any work to retro-fit the old ones so they will fold flat into my storage bin.
Plus I had some adorable helpers.
Day One – Data Collection
First period is Pre-Calculus Honors. I meet them at the door and shake their hand, then they grab the study guide off the back table and staple it. Mrs. Verti gives details about the final exam next week and it’s my turn.
“Good morning!” Big smile.
“Grrd Muh-huhhh.” The class moans, unsure of what to do with me.
“My name is Mr. Vaudrey. Everyone say Vaudrey.” Vaudrey.
“Thank you. I’m here today to talk about this.”
Students: Oh, snap! Where are they? Is that a missile silo? That makes me dizzy. Mark, you wanna do that? No!
The smooth jazz fades out and Mrs. Verti pulls the lights back on. “What do you suppose,” I begin, pausing for their full attention. This class doesn’t know me, and the end of May is a pretty awful time to try a demo lesson. For the next three days to go well, I need to flex my teacher muscles early.
“What do you suppose they were talking about as they drove through the Russian wilderness to go jump into a missile silo? Talk to your neighbor; what things are important to the jumpers?”
This was a great spot for a music cue, but they wouldn’t know what to do with it, so I just wander the class and listen. After a minute, I take some student answers.
Vaudrey: What do you suppose they were talking about? Yes, go ahead.
Student 1: How to not die. *smirk*
Vaudrey: What do you mean? Can they control that?
Student 1: Well, yeah. Like, they have to have enough rope to reach across the thing.
Vaudrey: Somebody else, why is that important?
Student 2: If the rope doesn’t reach across, then they just fall into the thing.
Vaudrey: Okay, so we need lots of rope. Lots and lots of rope.
Student 1: Well, not too much.
Vaudrey: Why not too much?
Student 3: Cuz they’ll hit the bottom and die!
Vaudrey: Ah, so just barely enough to reach across the missile silo? That’s the perfect jump?
Student 2: Yeah.
Student 4: No! Cuz then you’re just hanging at the top!
Vaudrey: Tell us more about that.
Student 4: Well… like, you’re stuck on top.
Vaudrey: Isn’t that good? You won’t hit your head.
Student 1: But that’s boring.
Student 1: The whole point is to jump in, not… like…
Vaudrey: Okay, I think I understand. If we use too much rope, it’s not…
Student 5: Safe.
Vaudrey: Not safe, because (thunks desk dramatically) you’ll die. But we want to use enough rope the jump is…
Students 3 and 1: Fun.
Vaudrey: Fun. So we want to have fun, but also be safe.
NOTE: A 50-foot jump is a little fun, an 80-foot jump is more fun because the ground is closer. I should have asked them to define the fun here. Something like, “What’s the most fun jump you could have?”
Vaudrey: Today, we’re going to recreate that jump using…[dramatic pause as I lift the bag of Barbies and slowly pull one out] …dolls.
After making their own groups and building a short bungee, we head outside with our data-sheets, dolls, bungees, and platforms. There was a light drizzle as students hung their platforms on the fence and began gathering data.
After a few minutes, students began to notice the nearby baseball field, with its much-taller fence.
Then we returned to class to discuss (in groups) how many bungees we’d need for tomorrow, when we’d go into the gym to jump off the top of the bleachers.
Student 5: We’re gonna jump off the bleachers?!
Verti: No, your doll is. The one you’ve been using all day.
Student 5: Ohhhh.
First period ends and we repeat the process with two Algebra classes and two more Pre-Calc Honors classes.
Freshman Algebra is–obviously–louder, sillier, and requires more directions, but they rotate through the twelve stations around the room just fine.
Here’s a good snapshot.
Day One Student Quotes:
Can we break their limbs? Does that still count as safe?
We took our jumps too close together, we should have spread it out more.
The numbers are making me nervous, I’m gonna average to sort out my life.
I had PE first period, so I saw you guys. I don’t know what we’re doing, but I know it’s something fun outside.
I feel like this cute stuff is made for elementary school.
Student 1: This is a “performance task”? Noooo! That means it has to be right.
Student 2: Yeah, see? [holds up his phone showing this tweet]
Freshman: Do you wanna join Alien Club?
Vaudrey: What are my duties as a member?
Freshman: You have to take an oath (makes the Vulcan symbol).
Vaudrey: No, thank you.
That freshman continued to talk about Alien Club the next two days.
Day 2 – Desmos and Bleachers
First period begins sweaty at 7:40.
I’m sweaty because I hauled six tubs of iPads to room 908, but I’m hoping the payoff is worth it.
On the wall is the first of several slides directing students to submit their raw data from yesterday. It’s noteworthy here that these students haven’t used the iPad much in class all year, but required very little prompting to open the internet and navigate to the URL I gave.
This wasn’t the first nor the last time I noticed rich kids are way more motivated than … well… my usual clientele.
Vaudrey: Here, you will input your data from yesterday. If you don’t have any jumps for six bungees, leave it blank. If you have multiple jumps for two bungees, enter the others at the bottom. Then… watch this… drag the sliders to fit your line to the graph. Everyone say, “Ooooo”.
One of the marks of a Common Core classroom is minimal instruction from the teacher. I am confident that students can figure out how to drag sliders and input data, so I don’t need to waste my words giving more explicit instructions.
And yes, that is a skill that classes must develop; the previous 10 years of school have trained them well to value compliance over curiosity.
It takes a while to shake off those blinders.
After a few minutes of playing, I show the class how to click on the intersection of the purple and green lines. We talk about what that number means and begin building a bungee with that length.
Student: What do I do if my line doesn’t hit all the points?
Vaudrey: Do you all have the same intersection?
Student: He has 16, she has 18, and I have 21.
Vaudrey: Would you rather have too few bungees or too many? Discuss with your group.
With the remaining time in class, we discussed possible improvements, then showed this video:
Verti: That’s what we’re doing tomorrow. Tomorrow, Barbie jumps off the back of the visitor side of the bleachers. Start thinking about what you’ll do.
Day Two Student Quotes
We need 18.6 bungees… what should we do?
We should get the average, like find how much one bungee gives us, then divide.
Whoa! We figured out a way to do a half-bungee!
What do we do if we have one point that’s like… out there?
Let’s set up a proportion!
It shouldn’t be this hard. If Algebra kids can do it, we should be able to figure it out.
I told you to add an extra bungee, but you said, “Noooo, we gotta be saaaafe.” Safety’s for losers!
I don’t like technology; I’d rather do a worksheet.
Day Three – The Big Jump
Students got right to work, grabbing iPads, opening Safari1, navigating to the link on the board, and awaiting instructions.
Vaudrey: Today is the day. You have a new graph where you may enter your data, AND you have the option of checking your line against the data from other classes by clicking the folder for your doll’s weight class.
NOTE: Claire and I realized that we didn’t actually tell students to input their 301 cm jump from Day Two, which might have helped their data a bit.
After building their long bungee, we began the seven minute trek past the fence from Day One (yellow ellipse) to the back of the visitor’s bleachers.
Then, the fun part.
Bad Idea: attempt to have a conversation about bungee length from 32 feet in the air.
Good idea: Have the discussion in class before walking outside. It allows the meticulous teams some more time to build their 61.5-bungee cord2 while the rest of the class can be validated or made nervous by their classmate’s calculations.
We used 17 bungees yesterday to jump 301 cm, so we multiplied that by 3 to get 900, but we figure it’s gonna stretch from so high, so we left it there.
We divided yesterday’s 301 into today’s 981 and got 3.26, then multiplied that times the 19 bungees from yesterday.
Our graphs all had… um… all intersected at different spots, so we took the smallest number because we wanna be safe.
Claire and I got more and more excited hearing the variety of reasoning skills, the students got less and less certain that theirs was the “right answer”.
Day Three Student Quotes
Our data is right inside the average, so we’re feeling pretty good about our data gathering skills.
(points to a data point at the bottom of the cluster) This group was playing it safe, they probably just took the first jump and didn’t see how close to the ground they could get.
Keep the head on, if we take it off, it’ll mess up our whole calculation.
S: Is he a real teacher?
Verti: Yes, he’s a real math teacher.
S: He is?!
S2:We have 37 bungees, that feels like a stupid lot of them.
V: Someone last period used 33 and it was a safe jump.
S1: But was it fun?
V: I don’t know.
S2: Uhhhhh, I don’t like this uncertainty! This is stressful!
Day Four – Exit Ticket
This is the first year that I haven’t given the Teacher Report Card to students, so I welcomed some student feedback. We didn’t use the Exit Ticket on Day One, so we tweaked it and Claire gave a voluntary link for students to complete on Friday.
We then color-coded it; Green for Great, Yellow for Next Year, Red for Ouch.
If you so desire, have a look and mourn the students clinging tightly to final exams and grades.
Barbie Bungee is a yearly staple in Fawn’s class, and she bundled the rubber bands in groups of seven so students can’t keep any (I assume). I gave out rubber bands like Oprah and–of course–had a couple freshmen shoot each other on Day One.
Vaudrey: Come here.
Freshman: It was an accident!
Vaudrey: … you’re a freshman, right?
Vaudrey: … hm. [Deliberate, silent eye contact] Don’t do that again.
For the first time ever, I planned a lesson in Google Docs. I missed my spiral notebook, but for Claire and I to co-plan, we needed something collaborative, so this worked okay.
Here’s the folder with everything in it except the pictures. Some of Claire’s students haven’t signed media releases.
On Day Two, I was beat. My throat hurt from using my teacher voice and I was fried from plowing six periods through the gym to do bungees for a mathematical purpose that was unclear. This was the second-last week of school and it felt like it: disjointed. We got some great feedback here on how to improve it for next year.
Stacy’s head popped off years ago. This year, Grace and Sparkles lost heads, too.
Before tossing them from the top of the bleachers, I loosened all three of their heads so they’d pop off, prompting an “Ohhh!” from the students below.
I regret nothing.
~Matt “Please, Can I Borrow Your Classroom?” Vaudrey
P.S. Attendees at Twitter Math Camp this summer can come experience Barbie Bungee firsthand, featuring Fawn Nguyen.
1. Desmos in Chrome on the iPad was glitchy to the point of unusable. More points in the “Buy Chromebooks for Secondary Students” basket. ↩ 2. One group figured out a way to tie the bungee so it’s only half as long. I asked how they knew it was exactly half. Could it be 0.6 bungees? How much of a difference does that make?↩
Stacy, one my teacher sisters, shouted across the playground, “Why don’t you ask him? Mr. Vaudrey! Mariah has a question for you!”
It was the end of the day, and I was walking back to my car as Stacy’s 4th graders walked to the bus.
Mariah blushed and squeaked, “What if you were our principal?”
I grinned and said, “Maybe someday, but for now, you have an excellent principal.”
After nine months as EdTech Coach of Bonita USD, I’m starting to smell an administrative credential in my future. My wife made me promise to keep a job for at least three years before chasing the next thing, and there are plenty of ways to grow that will take longer than three years.
But it doesn’t cost anything to dream. So I’m dreaming.
Much like Mariah’s current principal, my style would be hands-off, empowering teachers to take risks and figure stuff out, knowing they have my support. I’ll be picky as hell in interviews, so over time, my staff will be full of people like Jo-Ann, Elizabeth, and Jed.
However–since you’re reading–I’d like to share a couple things I saw this year that have no place in my school and that I would absolutely chastise immediately (but I can’t this year as a teacher coach).
Your an educator and your students are their to learn. You’re door should have correct sentence structure on it, so there always seeing good grammar modeled.
If you noticed the problems with the previous paragraph, you may come work at my school.
Being Mean To Kids
During state testing, the bell rang for lunch. Two 3rd-graders whispered, “Yesssss!”.
The teacher stood up straight and barked, “That’s three minutes off lunch, right there! You gotta be quiet during testing.”
He has no place at my school.
Months earlier–during a demo in a first-grade class–the teacher interrupted me and pulled a squirelly, excited, 6-year-old to the side of the carpet, directed him to sit, barking, “If you can’t sit still, you won’t get to use the iPad today.”
And he burst into tears.
It gets worse.
Offensive or Ignorant Remarks
It’s eight weeks into my new job as Tech Coach. I’m sitting in the lounge with the principal and three veteran teachers, pleased to have some camaraderie as I commute through the 13 district schools in my car.
“My husband is a cop,” says Margie, swallowing a mouthful of spinach salad. “And he says that every time he pulls somebody over now, they’re filming on their phones!”
“And thanks to Twitter, that video can be shared publicly, so everybody can tell their stories,” I added, acutely aware that the conversation was about to go horribly.
“Yeah! The cops are tried in the court of public opinion before their shift is even over,” adds the Principal.
“Like this whole Mike Brown thing!” Adds Paige.
“This huge kid tried to take the cop’s gun, and now he’s like… some martyr!” Margie stabs another mouthful of spinach salad. “He’s a thug!”
“Matt! Can I borrow you?” A blonde, middle-aged teacher in the back row waves me over during a break in our curriculum training.
“My students all recorded video reports for their biographies, and I want to put them into Google and print out a Q code that parents can scan during Open House. Can you help me with that?”
I grin, “Sure! How about after all of this is over?” I don’t correct her vocabulary; she’ll figure it out eventually.
“That sounds great!” She replies, “I’m a huge tard with this stuff, so you might have to go slow.”
I wince visibly on the word tard, but I don’t know this teacher’s name and figure I must have misunderstood her.
“You used the word tard before. What did you mean by that?” Playing confusion tends to gently remind, without telling her what I would like to say.
“Oh, like a retard,” she declares. Nobody in her row of tables turns to look. “I’m really slow when it comes to tech stuff, but I do want to learn. I’m gonna write everything down.”
I’m heading to her class after this. We’ll see how it goes.
I doubt she’ll earn a spot at my school.
~Matt “Principal V” Vaudrey
UPDATE 2 June 2015: Andrew respectfully pointed out the need of a Principal to be gentle when needed. We both agree that a relationship provides reciprocated input between admin and staff, and a Principal must be a listener first. My rant-like tone here is rooted in helpless frustration for the things I cannot change.
Karena: I love everyone around me, that’s why I always say ‘Hi’. You’re my homie.
Bubbly, friendly, social, hard-working, and musically-gifted, Karena played guitar and sang in her family band while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She had a thick Mexican accent, but that didn’t stop her from loudly proclaiming her affections for one of my younger students in the Pre-Calc class:
Karena: Gustavo, you look cute today. Guys, when me and Gustavo have our kids, you are going to be the Godfathers.
Karena: Gustavo, where you going? Oh, he got me a ruler, how cute. I’m-a take you to Mejico and show you my ranch and my cows. I’m-a put you on my burro. Do you want to see my burro?
Ray: I’ll see it.
Karena: No, I’m only showing Gustavo. And I will buy you a cow. And then I’m-a take you in a airplane.
Gustavo: Ugh! Leave me alone!
Karena: Gustavo, I brought you an apple. Here, open up you mouth.
Gustavo: What? No! Who feeds somebody an apple? Mr. Vaudrey, why are you laughing?
Karena: Come on, mi chiquito amor porcino…
Gustavo: You just called me a pig!
Karena: … Are you sure you don’t want your apple?
Karena: Ah! Gustavo. Stop rejecting my apple. When we get married, I’m-a divorce you.
Gustavo: Mr. Vaudrey! Shouldn’t you be stopping this?
Vaudrey: Gus, you should be flattered! Winning the affections of an older woman.
Gustavo: She’s not even that old…er!
Vaudrey: She’s a senior.
Gustavo: I’m a junior!
Karena: That’s okay, I like leetle kids.
This was a typical class period. Interspersing math with loud public advances on the shy boy (who smiled the whole time).
After Winter Break, Karena and the other seniors begin the trudge toward graduation, which increased in pace until Frantic May and Emotional June. In February, however, life was pretty good in Mr. Vaudrey’s 4th period.
We had just wrapped up periodic functions and were packing up to file out to lunch when I realized that Karena had been strangely quiet today and appeared to be staring hard at her notebook instead of packing up.
Once the class had emptied, I sat across from her. “Karena, what’s going on?”
She immediately burst into tears.
“Meester Baudrey,” she wept. “I’m sorry I didn’t finish my homework last night. I had to work late at the store and I fell asleep behind the counter. These are the same clothes I wore yesterday, I just come right to school this morning with no shower. And my parents had to take my college money to pay bills.”
We sat in silence. Karena sniffled and dropped tears onto her immaculately-highlighted notebook, and I was stunned.
“What am I gonna do?” she asked, and looked at me.
I paused for a moment. What is she gonna do?
I have no idea.
Twenty-five years earlier, I was born the oldest of five children of a doctor. We had a big house and I could attend any college I wanted. We qualified for student loans and a large inheritance paid off most of my debt before I even graduated.
Karena worked late into the night and did her makeup in the bathroom this morning. If she goes to college, she’ll likely work full-time and be saddled with a pile of debt when she’s done.
That is the main reason we should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Karena’s parents are undocumented immigrants.2 They work very hard to provide a better life for Karena and her four brothers.
My wife and I are both educators with Master’s degrees, two paid-off cars, and a home with a pool. Neither of us have jobs were we have to work “hard”, and we’re still in the top quarter of the wealthiest in the nation.
The minimum-wage earners can fight for themselves (and many are), but they need the support of the rest of us, too, if the higher-ups are to pay attention.
Currently, businesses like McDonald’s have little incentive to raise the minimum wage. While smaller companies can cut a bit from the top and spread it evenly along the bottom, McDonald’s pay increase would cost them quite a bit of money. They’ll continue to keep things the way they are, exploiting immigrants and the poor to build a profit.
Does that make you uncomfortable? It makes me uncomfortable.
I didn’t know how to help Karena. Five years ago, I gave her a tissue and a granola bar, and I haven’t seen her since graduation.