Dear Claire,

For the last three weeks, we’ve started class each day with an Appetizer; something quick and accessible to every student to get the math juices flowing.

Last week’s Visual Pattern was a textbook example of how I hope Appetizers get students thinking critically, attending to precision, critiquing the reasoning of others.

...and some other stuff, too.

…and some other stuff, too.

Here’s the thing, though; we’re three weeks into class and beginning to settle into a routine (aided heavily by Music Cues). But… the routine is still really front-end heavy. When I time out each of class next week; I’m betting that the start-of-class routine still takes between 15 and 20 minutes (Work on Appetizer while I stamp HW, go over Appetizer, glue stuff into your math notebook, discuss last night’s HW, announce the daily Learning Objective).

That’s… like… a third of class minutes spent on the structure of the notebook and building critical thinking skills. Your teammates are leaving the freshmen to structure the notebook themselves; am I treating them too much like the 8th graders they were 4 months ago?

I confess; I’m feeling some doubt.

We took and graded a test on Thursday/Friday. I haven’t recorded scores yet, but my peeks over shoulders made me wince as I walked around. In 6th period, two students straight-up said, “Mr. Vaudrey, we didn’t get this far in class. Problem 10 goes into stuff we didn’t do, and I don’t think it’s fair to test us on that.”


In an attempt to model being wrong and keeping our class a safe place to speak one’s mind, I said, “Huh… yeah, you’re right. Let’s make this test out of 9 instead of 10.”

They both got high-fives for respectfully standing up to an authority figure, but the sinking feeling of Guilt (one of my Three Friends) is making me wonder:

Am I spending too much time on stuff that Mr. Vaudrey thinks is important? And not enough time on stuff that the math department and curriculum guide says is important?

It’s easy to give excuses:

The teacher edition doesn’t match the student edition of the textbook.
That chapter isn’t aligned to our pacing guide.
We don’t have enough time to plan as a department.
I’m just a sub; I can do what I want.

The truth is far more haunting:

These students are accustomed to straightforward instruction where they sit in rows and take notes.
They will likely score better on tests that way.
They will definitely be more pleased with the points they earn that way.
Claire, you might not do Appetizers with your class regularly.
It’s way easier to march in-step than to drag 36 freshmen off-course for 53 minutes every day.


Claire, I’ve written this advice in a book, on blogs, on tweets, and now it’s time I heard it myself:

Yeah, it’s hard to change the culture. Our students need to engage math in meaningful ways, and for many, they haven’t before. They might revolt, parents might complain, and the pacing of the course may suffer, early on.

But it’s worth it. I believe that chasing the SMPs is more important than chasing discrete skills, and they will be better prepared for the Common Core standards if math class is more… mushy… than it was back when it was Algebra I.

Days, weeks, months, or years from now, these students will be more likely to persevere in their problem solving and the rest of the content we cover in class will be easier for them and they’ll be more likely to dig in. Further, the “pure math” will come easier when they’re more motivated to tackle foreign-looking problems.

Claire, I just hope I’m around to see it. You’re back from maternity leave in 9 weeks.

~Matt “Onward” Vaudrey