Prep Position

“Oh!… what do you train them on?” my sister asked.

“Mostly risk-taking in the classroom,” I responded, trying to sum up La Cucina Matematica into a few words. “Since most degree programs prepare teachers to teach the same way that they were taught, John and I try to get teachers to explore more interesting ways to teach.”

Good!” Bethany huffed. “You don’t hear about excellent teachers very often, just the awful ones. The ones on the news.”

“No shit,” I agreed. “Getting students excited about school is a different skill set. A teacher named Dave Burgess wrote a book about it.”

As I explained Teach Like A Pirate to my soon-to-be-doctoral-degreed sister, she exclaimed into the phone, “Like Ms. Mega!”

I asked Bethany to elaborate, and she told me this story.


When I was in 6th grade, Ms. Mega answered the door after lunch dressed like a doctor. She welcomed us into class with her hands held up like she had just scrubbed in to surgery. Written on the board was the word PREPOSITION in huge letters.

We filed quietly into our seats, unsure of what came next. Were we in trouble? Is there some kind of outbreak? Are we in quarantine?

“I need a volunteer!” Ms. Mega proclaimed loudly from the front of the class. in front of two student desks. While all of us were curious, my friend Sheree was the only one who raised her hand. “Sheree, please come lay on the desk.”

I was so glad I didn’t volunteer; I don’t want to have elective surgery at school.

Once Sheree was laying across the two student desks, Ms. Mega wrote the word “ON” below “PREPOSITION” on the board.

“Sheree is on the desk. She is in Prep Position. Her Preposition in on. Give me an example of another Prep Position.”

And she waited.

“Under?” offered Ryan shyly.

“Sheree, please assume the Prep Position under the desk.” Ms. Mega wrote UNDER next to ON as Sheree climbed down and balled herself under the desk. “What is another Prep Position?”

A room full of 12-year-olds quickly picked up steam, “Around!” “Through!” “Inside!” and Ms. Mega wrote all the prepositions on the board as Sheree tried to wrap herself around the desk or climb through its bars.

And to this day, I remember what a Preposition is, all because Ms. Mega had an interesting lesson about it. That was… 15 years ago. Ugh, that sounds like a long time.

~Matt (and Bethany) Vaudrey

UPDATE 12:53 PM We had this conversation today regarding this post.

Bethany Text Ms. Mega

2014 Reflection

The best record of the good things in 2014 is my Twitter feed, so here are some of the best moments from 2014, in Tweet-form, semi-chronologically:

January of 2014, John Stevens and I gave a training for the Mariposa County math teachers called La Cucina Matematica.

A year later, we’ve done six or seven of them (all way better than the first one), and it spawned a website and we’re both getting calls to train staff across the country. Pretty sweet.


A few months later, I interviewed for a job in-district as Professional Development Specialist.

That meant leaving the classroom mid-year.

Even though I had more time at home, the job wasn’t professionally satisfying. I enjoy doing math with students, I don’t enjoy structuring curriculum maps for integrat—Yegh. I’m bored already.

I did have more time to blog, though.

So eight weeks later, I interviewed and accepted a different job. It was immediately fantastic.

In between all of that chaos, we had a baby on Father’s Day.


My wife looks terrified because baby Clayton didn’t cry/breathe right away. It was the longest, scariest 7 seconds of my life.

But he’s fine now.

If you’re curious, he has a hashtag on Instagram and so does his sister, which makes compiling pictures really easy with IFTTT.

Then I settled into the glorious routine of “figuring out a new job that has no job description, total autonomy, and a supportive supervisor who’s a hoot”.

Out of “the rat race”, so to speak, of day-to-day teaching, I had more mental energy to play with my kids, read books, and think about education and my future in it.

This new job is just as supportive as the classroom position when it comes to attending conferences and presenting. It’s notable that some of my top tweets of the year happened during CMC, CUE, and GTA.


Also, I had a little help compiling this list from My Top Tweet and some fancy Googling.

For 2015:

I turned 30 in 2014. While that meant throwing a 1997-themed birthday, it also meant looking forward.

What can I give to Education that nobody else can give?

While I may never have a good answer for that, I’m getting closer to a coherent response.

In 2013, I gave 150 students a fun place to talk about math; a safe place to take risks and trust each other.

In 2014, I taught (or attempted to) a hundred or so teachers about how to build their classes into that type of class. Also, some other like-minded individuals and I began to wonder, “Could we find a way to effect greater change in Education? How do we get there?”

In 2015, we will keep asking hard questions and dreaming. We’ll see what happens.

~Matt “I wanna change the world, but I also want to teach” Vaudrey

How do you know all this stuff?

That question was asked by the principal at one of my Elementary schools.
Initially, he was hesitant to ask for my help. As the new EdTech Coach for the district (hired this year), he and I were both unsure of my role at his school (or my role at any of my 13 schools).

In September, the discussion went like this:

“How open is your staff to new ideas?” I asked cautiously, seated across from the principal of one of my 8 elementary schools. As a life-long avoider of trouble, my palms sweat a bit every time I enter the Principal’s office.

“Oh, very,” declared McKee proudly. “I show them something, they’re using it in class the next day.”

“Great! Would you say you’re the leader for those types of innovations on campus?” The keys on my iPad keyboard clack as I jot down digital notes.

McKee smiles wryly, “Not exactly. We have several on campus who are trying new and interesting things, but I can relate to those who are hesitant. It’s scary to try something new. They’re scared, but open; does that make sense?”

“Definitely,” I grin, pleased that he’s so honest about himself and his staff.

Three months later, I’m back in his office as we attempt to design a Google Form where PTA volunteers can log volunteer hours (which are then counted in a pivot table). There are dozens of similar designs in my Google Drive, but I remind myself, this is the first one that McKee has done. Be patient.

He’s a fantastic student. Within 20 minutes, the form is done and he’s changed the header to his school logo.

“Sweet!” I exclaim. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

McKee’s eyebrows raise and he smiles wide. “You mean I taught something to Matt Vaudrey?” He pumps both fists in the air.

I laugh with him, glad that he can see the value in enlightening a peer. Beneath the desk, my feet tighten in my shoes. That’s the third time this week somebody’s said that. Should I be worried that I’m becoming a know-it-all?

I file that thought away for later, and McKee and I press forward, building a master roster for lock-down drills.

“Drag that gray line down to freeze the top row. That way, you’ll still see the header when you scroll down.” I point to column 1 on his massive, principal-sized screen.

McKee shakes his head, “How do you know all this stuff?” He asks with a smile.

McKee asked the question in the most respectful way I’ve heard. Typically, the comments are more like,

“I don’t know how you do all this stuff.”

coffee disgust

Well… um…

“It must be nice to be so techy.”

Uh... yeah... but...

Uh… yeah… but…

“Of course it’s easy for you. You’re young.”



I bite my tongue every time I hear that last one.




EASY? Let me tell you about easy!

It’s often the more veteran teachers who pull out that line. Unfortunately for them, I taught math before I was an EdTech Coach, so I’m well prepared for that “fixed mindset” garbage.

It’s no secret that I have little tolerance for students content to be ignorant–whether a veteran teacher afraid of iPads or a 13-year-old at-risk student–but it’s tough to call out that attitude in an adult without sounding… well…


And no amount of cute smiling will solve the problem. Believe me.

And no amount of cute smiling will help. Believe me.

This week, as I was in the Apple Store repairing my mother-in-law’s iPad, I finally figured out my response when people express awe at my tech-muscles.

“I just started learning it earlier than you did.”

…(Also, I mooch like crazy, ask questions on Twitter, and work really hard at figuring out things that are confusing.)

~Matt “Huge iPad Muscles, Regular-Sized Actual Muscles” Vaudrey


Samantha (not Sam; do not call her Sam) joined our 5th/6th period a couple weeks into the school year.

Fifth period was math, sixth period was “Intervention”: a full hour where students with learning challenges had iPads, me, and no curriculum.

It was an absolute dream.

I was quite pleased that my principal trusted me enough to give me a full period to do whatever the hell I wanted to help students learn. Had I known it was my last year in the classroom… I probably would’ve done the same stuff.

Some days, we’d edit photos for our 20% Projects.

Some days, we’d finish up a math activity from 5th period.

Some days, we’d stare at Donte, then estimate how many Donte will fit across the width of the classroom.

A la Oliver Smoot.

A la Oliver Smoot.

Samantha didn’t quite know what to do with my class. It became immediately clear that she’d gotten here (an 8th grader with low basic skills stuck into a double-math period) by using the tried-and-true phrase of the struggling student:

“I don’t know.”

Or "IDK" to the middle-school teacher.


In Teacher Chemistry, IDK + Teacher Redirection = Student Excused.

Without the reagent of Teacher Redirection, the formula falls apart.

In Vaudrey’s class, “I don’t know” doesn’t excuse you from responding:

Vaudrey: Where did this 3x come from? Samantha?
Samantha: I don’t know.
Vaudrey: I’ll come back to you. Victor?
Victor: Umm… we subtracted 7x and 4x?
Vaudrey: Lorraine?
Lorraine: We subtracted 7x and 4x.
Vaudrey: Samantha?
Samantha: … um … we subtracted… 7x and 4x.

I wasn’t surprised to note that she didn’t actually look at the board until she responded.

A few days later, the “Discuss with your table” song was playing, and I swung by Samantha’s desk, knelt down, and whispered,

“I’m going to call on you, and you say, ‘parallel’, got it?”
Her eyebrows shot up and she pleaded, “No!”
I gave a comforting smile, “That’s it. Just say, ‘parallel’. You can do it.”

The song ended and 28 students returned their focus toward the screen at the front.

“Before we talk about slope, Samantha. Are these lines perpendicular or parallel?”

All 28 students turned toward the new girl. She stared blankly at the board. Come on, Samantha. You got this, I thought, my marker in the air. Like my instructions, the marker did not waver, but pointed straight at her.

Samantha took a breath.

“Parallel,” she said.

No question, no raised tone at the end. She was confident. Those two lines are parallel.

I smiled. “Good. Now if these two lines are parallel, then that tells us something about their slope, and I heard some groups talking about it. Ramiro, tell us what your group noticed.”

After a few dozen of those discussions, Samantha began to blossom into a confident young mathematician. She persevered, she took risks,  she responded well to the guidance of her classmates to fine-tune her ideas, and she volunteered answers that were way off (a sure sign of trust).

She also gave a fantastic 20% time project and even came to me early on to ask about changing her group. “I don’t think [other student] will work as hard as me. She’ll just slow me down.”

Alright, Samantha. You can work alone.

~Matt “Small Successes” Vaudrey

Year-End Christmas Activities

Younger Students

For elementary teachers, students can email Santa and he’ll write back! (He might have a grumpy Elf or a silly Reindeer answer if he gets too busy).

Visit and check it out.

Older Students

You know those moments when you’re excited for something, and you share that thing with somebody, and they look at you like you just suggested skinning a puppy to make a wallet?

My director gave me that look when I showed her the below slideshow. It’s not going to my district staff, but it’s just too fun to keep to myself.

For older students, this is a good way to pass the time on the last day before break:

In case you can’t see the embedded slideshow, here’s a link to full-screen.


~Matt “If you don’t celebrate Christmas… I got nothing” Vaudrey

Google Teacher Academy


How the Most Exalted Conference in EdTech Was Exactly What I Expected, But Not In The Way That You Think

Fifty-two of us from all over the continent converged on Austin for two days of … something. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect; the agenda (initially public) had been locked from view sometime that weekend, so we hoped that was a good thing.

My own district treated my acceptance to the academy (a month ago) with more excitement and reverence than I expected. My director, Kris, is likely to thank for that; there’s a very good chance she had conversations with cabinet members explaining why it’s a big deal.

Thanks, Kris.

Here’s why I went:

Screenshot 2014-12-04 at 10.33.15 AM

Thanks to Twitter and blogging, I know of a lot of outstanding teachers. Most of them–the ones equipping students with 21st-century skills–have a little badge on their website that says,

GCT badge

My role models (click here for a list) have this qualification, so I wanted it, too.

The application process (documented here) was stringent, but definitely worth it. I knew my cohort had worked as hard as I to apply.

Near and Far

GTAATX Location

You probably noticed what I did, so check this out:

GTAATX CA v TX v Everywhere else

This academy was in Texas, which likely contributes to the spike. Regardless, California was well-represented.

With one Canadian subbing.

With one Canadian subbing.

What Types of People

As you can see below, the average age of attendees was 37, and we stretched from 26 to 49.


Within a few hours of arriving, I was grouped with two teachers who were… veteran enough to have me as a student 20 years ago. Both showed and/or taught me something cool.

It was a fresh reminder that–as I often insist to my teachers–age does not necessarily correlate to tech ability.


Stevens pointed out that it’s likely people were reluctant to select “Stooge” as their job title.

GTAATX drinks

Stuck on a desert island with one beverage. One member wrote, “Choose between wine and coffee? This is the hardest decision all week.”

GTAATX Relationship status

The next question asked, “How stoked were you/your employer for GTAATX and these parts of it?”


What a bummer that 5.02/10 was the average excitement for districts and schools. Doesn’t match the group’s excitement at all.

I can’t relate; my district gave me the time off, covered expenses, and drafted a press release and an article in the paper. It’s a great place to work.

Fun Data

And, in the spirit of silly math, here are some interesting data:

Exactly What I Expected

Two attendees (separately) pulled me aside and asked if I was underwhelmed. As a lifelong optimist, my expectations rarely match reality, with its rough edges and imperfections. The last 30 years have seasoned me to adjust idealism (Twitter’s perception of GTA) with reality (52 game-changers from across the continent in one room).

I had some fantastic conversations, drank some great local beer, and bowled a 79. Teachers from Ontario to Missouri to Mexico challenged me to rethink my mindset, brainstormed solutions to my Moonshot problem, and encouraged me;  I hope some were encouraged by me, as well.

And some I’ll probably never contact again. That’s the thing about getting big personalities in one room; we’re gonna disagree.

In high school, I never studied. I showed up, napped, and got a B.

When I went to college, I had to work harder to keep my place in the upper quartile of academics.


Upper Quartile is not a defensive formation for the Steelers.

GTA was like EdTech College; many of us came from schools and districts (even counties) where we were the smartest kid in class. For two days, the big fish left their small ponds and dropped into a wading pool…

No, that’s not the analogy I want…

Tasty appetizers from several menus are spread on one table…

Eh, that’s closer…

A bunch of CEOs start a business. Working together and sharing ideas with each other, two days would be woefully insufficient to drink up all the great stories and experiences and knowledge in one room.

GTAATX Everybody

Drew addresses the temptation to coast after completing a big project, Rachel expresses thankfulness, and I make dopey charts by cramming math into inappropriate places.

… that sounds about right.

Here’s a list of all the books recommended by the GTAATX cohort. It seems selfish to keep that list to myself.

~Matt “Google Certified Teacher” Vaudrey

I Lost My Chops

Read all the way to the end. This is a short post.

Demo Day

Mr.  Guiles is a fantastic teacher at Lone Hill Middle School. While he and I are fairly matched on our interest in EdTech, we each have our own strongholds of knowledge.

So it’s simultaneously relaxing and intimidating to do a demo in his computer lab.

“Good morning, class! On the wall, you’ll see our agenda for the day.” I point toward the screen opposite the teacher computer, where I’ll be walking them through peer editing on Google Drive. There are three bullet points:

  • Log in

  • Share Documents & Edit

  • Google Form

In a class of 36, all but 5 had no trouble logging in and finding the correct link. Mr. Guiles (in the back of the room) hovered and helped three students who were stuck.

That left two.

“If you’ve already typed up your paper in a Word document, you can upload it by clicking and dragging,” I call as I walk by Karl, who is playing a racing game online. “Hey, um… what’s your name? … Close that, please. We’re … um… we’re working on your papers right now.”

He complies.

Next to the teacher computer, Frankie is looking at racy pictures of women in swimsuits.

Right. by. my. desk.

“Hey, come on, man!” I whine. “Seriously? You have to do that right now?”

“I don’t have internet at home,” Frankie replies, zooming in.

I look over at Guiles, who raises his eyebrows. “Come sit over here.” I point to a single desk with no computer. Frankie rolls his eyes and moves.

“What do we do once we’re logged in?” asks Jacqueline, a short 8th grader with glasses.

“Hang on,” I reply. “Let’s get everybody logged in first.” She sighs.

“Is everybody… um… is everybody logged in?” I pull on my collar and wonder, What’s with me today? I don’t feel confident at all, and I did this with adults last week. I’m sweating and nervous. Did I eat breakfast? Dammit, I skipped breakfast.

A suppressed giggle turns my attention toward the door. Karl is texting and giggling.

“Karl, come sit over here.” I point him toward Frankie’s now-empty seat next to my desk.

“No,” says Karl, without looking up.

I take a deep breath, about to put on my sour teacher face, when I hear from the door, “Hey! Are you my kid’s teacher?”

Standing in the door is a dad wearing a blue “Lone Hill Lions” T-shirt. He’s obviously never met Guiles, who has a huge beard and glasses, but I’m thankful for the break from Karl, so I engage him.

“What can I do for you?” I move past him into the hallway and he follows.

“You gave her a C and she’s an A student. I’m getting you fired right now, and I thought you should know about it.” He pokes me in the chest.

I break eye contact and take a step back. “Sir…” I begin, but I can’t find the words. 
I’m only a tech coach, this isn’t my clsasroom.
My main job is to help teachers use technology in the classroom, but today, it’s not going so well.

Teaching is much easier when I have my own classroom with my own kids. I miss my own classroom. 

The Dad pokes me in the chest again and I lean against the wall behind me, feeling 10 years old again. What’s wrong with me today?


My eyes snap open. I turn over in bed and see the clock. 4:51 AM.

WAKE UP! You've had a BAD DREAM! by Marta Moraschi

That was a terrible dream.

~Matt “Gotta stay sharp” Vaudrey