Two Schools of Math Teachers

Today, I witnessed an excellent old-school lesson. The teacher was engaging, funny, and had play-doh on the desks with toothpicks to demonstrate angle relationships to the sophomore Geometry students.

Students inserted a Cloze Notes-Style handout into their plastic dry-erase sleeve and followed along, filling in words to define the vocabulary in sentence frames. By the end of class, all the students were giving the correct hand signal for Adjacent Angles, Vertical Angles, and more.


But something… just didn’t feel right about it.

No… not right… something didn’t feel complete about it.


Earlier this week, I was chatting with John Stevens and Jed Butler on Voxer.

Picture group texts, but with voice messages instead. It's awesome.

Voxer – group texts, but with voice messages instead. It’s awesome.

We had just gotten our issue of CoMmuniCator (the monthly publication of CMC) which featured two-page descriptions of lessons, like visual patterns and drawing the ideal polygon.

It occurred to me, those are two things that prominent math educators have done extensive work with online, yet CMC has no idea, nor do the teachers who are submitting these articles.


We appear to have two schools of math teachers.

The first school is the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-sphere (affectionately and mercifully abbreviated #MTBOS).


Hundreds of math educators across the world weigh in on blogs, twitter feeds, and Voxer channels to inform best practices on teachers thousands of miles away that they’ve never met. The focus is professional growth that helps students learn mathematics in a meaningful way.

The second school is the CoMmuniCator crowd.

They spend hours writing a two-page description of visual patterns in their math classroom, include a worksheet, and submit it to the local Math Education journal, feeling satisfied: that their environment is full of opportunities like this.

To these, I insist; there is so much more than your pond.

Clouds_over_the_Atlantic_Ocean from wikimedia

Outside the pond, there is a wide large world full of dynamic educators whose students aren’t just learning the standards, they’re learning to wrestle,

to challenge,

to critique,

to debate,

to seek meaning out of chaos.


In short, there is an ocean of educators growing children into little mathematicians while others are making really cool photocopies in their pond.

I’m not saying that they’re bad teachers. Not that they’re boring.

Just that they’re missing out.


I’ve had dozens of conversations with math teachers since my recent job change to EdTech Coach. Less than half have heard of Dan Meyer or Desmos.


Evelyn Baracaldo, a representative of NCTM 2015 – Nashville, sent out a few emails to teachers (including me), inviting us to present on “Emerging Technologies”. Some digging on my part revealed:

  • The deadline to submit proposals is 15 months before the conference date. (Proposals for a conference on “emerging technologies”.)
  • There will be no wireless internet available.


NCTM, the largest group of Math Educators in the nation, is missing the point.

This feels like the keynote address at Twitter Math Camp (which I didn’t attend this year, though I heard whispers and elevator summaries). Those of us in the ocean have a vested interest in the thousands of ponds across the country.

Backyard Pond by Todd Ryburn

Some of those ponds are excellent and need no help.

This year, I’m excited to show the pond-fish just how big the ocean is.

~Matt “The Sand Shark” Vaudrey

On AppleTV in the Classroom

This tweet tagged me (in the responses) this week, and my response is more than 140 characters long.

One of many things I like about the #mtbos is the math conversations that happen one line at a time.

It just so happens, I have a lot of thoughts on this particular topic, more than I could share on a tweet.

On SmartBoards

While it’s not the focus of this post, I had one of these. As with most technology, it’s tempting to drop it in someone’s lap with little to no preparation, and be disappointed when the individual doesn’t produce Nobel-Prize winning lessons after a week. Every classroom at my school had a SmartBoard, and I never saw a lesson that did anything more innovative than I did.

And I wasn’t doing much.

Tina, if you can afford both, great. But if you’re between the two, spend the money on tech that promotes student creativity, instead teacher creativity. I loved my SmartBoard, but the stuff that my students created in an hour was much more satisfying than any cool lesson design.

And speaking of that…

On AppleTV in the Classroom

I had one in my 8th grade Math class for two years. Here’s the quick version:


  • Students (on the same network as the Apple TV) can quickly and easily share their work with the whole class. My struggling students suddenly became the star as they showcased their problem-solving on the wall and walked the class through their reasoning. Below, you can see two students teaching the class from their iPads during Teacher 4 a Day.

Photo Apr 18, 8 20 32 AM

  • Students who found new apps or iPad tricks can teach the class about it on the big screen wirelessly (from their seat if they’re shy).
Name with code

Andrew, a timid 8th grader, wrote his name using computer commands during the Week of Code and taught his classmates his tricks.

Didn’t Love:

  • I had my AppleTV with open access, no password, no confirmation; anybody could just hop on. The first week of school, Adrian (from his desk) bumped my iPad off the projector during a demo and showed the class a picture of a bunny from his iPad.
Take a moment to think of what he could have shown. I'm glad it was JUST a bunny.

Take a moment to think of what he could have shown. I’m glad it was JUST a bunny.

Immediately, I knew it was him (the usual signs of middle-school mischief, furtive glances to classmates, frantic motions to hide what he was doing, chortling, etc.) and pounced on him.

“Adrian. That’s not okay. If we’re going to work well with iPads in class this year, we have to be respectful of each other, and it’s not your turn right now. You’ll get your turn later. Ask me first.”

He was surprised. I was going for firm and kind, but he was also surprised about my declaration for the year. I was laying the groundwork for our class and what we would do with these new fancy tools, and he–and, more importantly, the entire class–heard me say, “You will all have a chance to share.”

Finger face with a question by Tsahi Levent-Levi

“But, why not just protect the AppleTV with a password?”

Yup. That would solve the problem, but it would also show students that I am the Chieftain of Class Culture instead of the Guide.

I was confident in the class culture that wouldn’t need a password, and the openness–I feel–gave the students some autonomy and respect. They would casually ask, “Can I show this to the class?” and my answer was always “Yes” or “In a minute”.

I never had that issue of AppleTV control again, with Adrian1 or anybody else.

In the Math Classroom

  • My class had an unusual situation; the iPads were used as an intervention tool in conjunction with a bonus hour of time with me and no curriculum.


That's right. An unsupervised hour with low-performing students and iPads.

That’s right. An unsupervised hour with low-performing students and iPads.

That free hour allowed us to explore other pseudo-core-curriculum exploits, such as the 20 Time project, Estimation 180, Visual Patterns, and Would You Rather?. Also, training the students in how to best use web-based tools like Google Drive (with whom, I have an inappropriate infatuation) and introducing them to computer programming with Hour of Code.

In short, the AppleTV provided opportunities for my students to get excited about Mathematics, art integration, and a collaborative learning environment. Yeah, I did those things before, but that little black box provided access and confidence for students who were usually silent, lost, and confused.


Worth it.

~Matt “Not sponsored by Apple, just satisfied” Vaudrey

1. Adrian eventually flunked out of 3rd period and joined my 1st period, which did not have iPads. He was surprised by this, after three parent phone calls, two conferences, and three failing report cards.

A Week in the Life

School started Monday.

For the first time in nigh a decade, I didn’t welcome students into Mr. Vaudrey’s class with a handshake and a smile.
I didn’t take roll and ask each student how to pronounce their name and “Do you prefer Bernardino or Bernie?”.
I didn’t prep a beginning-of-the-year icebreaker activity.
I didn’t even hang up colorful examples of student work or revise a syllabus.

Because for this first time in eight years, I’m not starting the year in the classroom.

In May, I accepted a job as Teacher Coach of Instructional Technology for Bonita Unified.
bonita USD logo
“But Matt, didn’t you just take a new job in March?”


And I learned a lot while I was there, but it wasn’t for me. In this position, I’m in the classroom every day, I’m helping teachers with a variety of needs, and I retain the title “Teacher”, which is important to me.


Here’s what I did in my first week as EdTech Coach:

  • Trained about 100 teachers on Music Cues in the classroom, which was well-received by many elementary teachers (a target market, in which I have very little experience and could use some credibility).
  • Visited all but one of our district’s schools and met principals and teachers, nearly all of whom had no idea that I was even hired, but were thrilled to hear it.
We have an EdTech Coach?!

We have an EdTech Coach?!

  • Performed bread-and-butter tasks with my new department (e.g. tag the Chromebook carts with District ID, follow up on tech needs from New Teacher Orientation, deliver keyboards) and actually enjoyed it. As 33% of my department, we’ll likely get to know each other pretty well, and Kris and Cheryl are both a hoot.


  • Visited 15 (wow… that’s a lot) classrooms to help teachers with various tech needs. Most of them Elementary, most of them for Music Cues, all of them delightful and eager to learn.

Here’s the cool part: I log each visit here and get the results in a spreadsheet (below), so I can quantify just how helpful I am in a given week. My new boss liked this form so much, she had me make her one, which she then showed to her boss, who wants one, too.

Walkthrough Responses

Click to enlarge

And I can color-code the “Future Needs” column based on who I want to invite to a future training. For an upcoming Music Cues follow-up, all the teachers I visited who expressed interest are in green cells.

Next workshop is probably Google Classroom, so I’ll change the formatting to show me those cells and invite those teachers.

Oh! And I can use formulas to separate out the email of those teachers using the first and last name, concatenated with the district email!



Seriously, if you haven’t used Concatenate yet in a spreadsheet, you are missing out.

It’s more fun than Revenge of the Sith.

"You were the chosen one!" "=concatenate(left(A2,1),B2,"")!

“You were the chosen one!”
“I hate you!”

Anyway, the new job is great and I’m thrilled to have it.

Next post:

What’s in my purse as I visit classes?


Matt Carries a Purse His Wife Tried to Donate to GoodWill


Stay tuned.


~Matt “Speadsheet and Star Wars Joke…this site is now complete.” Vaudrey

Why I Let Students Use Calculators All The Time

“Sure! I’d  love to have you demo a lesson!” Ms. B’s eyes widened as a smile grew on her face. I was surprised and thankful that she was so open to the idea.

“Great!” I replied. “What unit are you doing right now?”

“Well, we just finished Quadratics and we’re about to start Volume and Surface Area.” Ms. B replied, pointing to the standards list on her wall.

“Okay, so how about I introduce Circumference and Area of circles?”

“That’s fine. What do you need for that?” Ms. B asked, ever eager to help.

“Do you have graph paper, calculators, rulers, that sort of thing?” I asked.

“Calculators? You let your students use calculators?” Ms. B countered, incredulous.

"You what?"

“You what?”

Yes, I do let my students use calculators.

Here’s why:

Lifelong Need

My wife doesn’t know her times tables. She’s a university professor and will regularly grade freshman Theology papers sitting on the couch. She’ll call out while I’m cooking or playing with the baby.

“What’s eight times six?”
“What’s 27 plus 18?”
“What’s 85 divided by 15?”

I'm a walking, smiling, calculator in the Vaudrey household.

Husband: a walking, smiling, calculator

When I’m not home, she has a calculator in her pocket all the time. Even if her phone is in the other room, she can Google it.

My wife doesn’t need computational skills.


…but she needs the reasoning.

She needs to know what the average means, when to find the sum of a row and give the total student points, and how to explain to her college freshmen what it means to have 6 quizzes, each worth 10% of their grade.

"But what if I miss one? Can I still get a C?"

“But what if I miss one? Can I still get a C?”

The students in Ms. B’s classroom also have calculators in their pockets. I want them to know how to use it effectively, which is a much better use of their time than memorizing their 12s tables.

Diane Kinch, former president of CMC and board member of TODOS, gave this truth bomb at a recent workshop:

Students have had 15 years to learn their times tables and they still don’t know them. At a certain point, I have to stop boring them, give them a calculator, and say “Let’s do some math”.

In my own classroom, we use TI-83+ calculators nearly every day, which I like for a few reasons:

  • TI-83s keep a record of the last 8 or 10 calculations, so if students clear accidentally, they can recall it.
  • There are tons of other buttons that do weird math stuff that we won’t use this year. This (f0r some) serves to build creativity about what’s coming next. About 2/3 of the students found the Stats Generator application and did coin-flipping trials four months before our unit on probability.
  • They could easily show their neighbor the order of steps and describe the reasoning that led them there.

Let’s work backwards


Students who focus on reasoning instead of computation are better prepared for college and career in the US.

(It’s notable that most of the grunt work for my CPA buddy’s tax clients comes from the western coast of peninsular India. Computation is a high value there.)

That’s why I use calculators in the classroom all the time; because I think that reasoning is more important than computation.

~Matt “Which one is the minus sign?” Vaudrey

Summer Update

I had a new baby.

IMG_4892 IMG_4902 IMG_4965


And still have this baby.


…so summer’s been pretty busy. I do have two things (in addition to that) to note.

1.) What a tragedy that Fawn Nguyen nearly lost hundreds of posts. If her content were lost, I imagine a herd of furious math teachers would’ve stormed the headquarters of and burned it to the ground. I’d hold a torch for that venture, too.

2.) My grandparents (who are 70+) live in Seattle and wanted to meet baby Clay. I walked Grammy through the installation of the Google Hangouts plugin and boom!

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 5.11.37 PM

Cross-country goo-goos and ga-gas.

My grandparents (who still use disposable cameras and balance checkbooks by hand) are open to new technology, and I hope that teachers in the coming year will be as receptive as they are.

~Matt “Close the window… it’s the red X” Vaudrey

P.S. If you want to follow the morning adventures of Pickle and Daddy (as Mommy and the new baby sleep in), you can follow me on Instagram.

Open Letter to Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent

Mr. Torlakson,

Good morning, you’ve no doubt heard that the existing tenure situation was ruled unconstitutional yesterday.

I myself was tearing up as I read the brief. For my entire career, I’ve felt what the court realized yesterday, and my relief and joy nearly made me weep during my meeting.

Mr. Torlakson, you’re currently “farther up” in the education chain of command than I–a lowly teacher–so it’s been a while since you’ve sat in a staff meeting or observed stinky teaching by a tenured “permanent” teacher.

It’s probably been even longer since you watched a stinky teacher make more money than you. For me, that memory is fresh.

Anyway, let’s talk about education.

In the court briefing:

“… teachers themselves do not want grossly ineffective colleagues in the classroom.” (page 13, line 1)

If I were in your position, posed for reelection, I would be tempted to please the California Teacher’s Association (one of my biggest supporters) in order to secure my seat in November.

I’m asking that you focus on the students instead. Our students deserve great teachers, and as State Superintendent, you’ll have the proper pull to drive the design of a system where great teaching is rewarded. This would help flush out the dummies and keep the hard-working professionals.

I hope you see that, by encouraging teachers to be our best, we place the students first.

In short, I’m a teacher, and my right to a job matters less than my students’ right to a quality education.

Mr. Torlakson, please support this court ruling in the next few months and continue to reform teacher tenure after your (probable) reelection in November.

~Matt Vaudrey

UPDATE June 25, 2014:

P.S. No doubt that by now, you’ve read the highly polarized brief from the CTA website, you’ve heard complaints that the “1-3% of teachers are grossly ineffective” statistic is unfounded on any data or studies, and you’ve seen that Students First is hailing the decision as an important step, with many more to address going forward.

Two things:

  1. As a classroom teacher, the “guesstimate” of 1-3% of all teachers are grossly ineffective is not only statistically likely, but it sounds pretty generous based on my anecdotal experience.
  2. The CTA press releases are full of negative language and the Students First releases are full of optimism and urgency. Why do you think that is?

Common Corgi: Mascot of Common Core

Marcia and I were discussing the need for a Common Core mascot this morning. She’s a dog person, so we came up with…

The Common Corgi.

Common Corgi - speak

Common Corgi - word problems

Common Corgi - cite

Common Corgi - effective tools

Common Corgi - independence

Common Corgi - investigate

Common Corgi - literacy

Submitted by Matt Enlow:

Common Corgi - staircase

Got an idea? Tell me about it:


~Matt “My Corgi Is Not Common” Vaudrey