Real talk: Autumn has been crazy in the Vaudrey household. Between prepping for CMC-South, traveling the country to talk about math education, and moving my family across town, this li’l blog has been neglected. The next several posts in the #DearClaire series will be weeks late, but I’m posting them anyway.

Dear Claire,

Monday, I attempted to re-create Guess My Rule to introduce linear functions. It’s a lesson starter from my first year teaching, and as such, is ten years old.

It sure felt like something I hadn’t touched in 10 years. I give the lesson a D plus.


Three years ago, I used a trial Mathalicious subscription and did the Domino Effect lesson with my class (then-results here). Two hours before class on Tuesday, I decided that’s exactly what I wanted for the days’ lesson: a discussion about ordered pairs and what they represent, coupled with rate of change.

Woulda been pretty cool if I’d have planned the period better. Instead, I took too long on the buildup and we scrambled the last 10 minutes to get to the grand reveal.

C minus.

Educator and genius Karl Lindgren-Streicher points out that anything can be done poorly — even one of my favorite tools for math teachers, apparently.

Just before class, I tweeted this:

Claire, teachers in the #MTBoS wear two identites all the time. For one of them, we are teachers who want to get better at our practice and are honest about our failings. Beneath the other hat, we write books about math education and travel the country speaking about math education and have Twitter followers from around the world listening to our thoughts on math education.

Shouldn’t we have our act together if other teachers on Twitter are listening?
Shouldn’t we at least hide our struggles?

No. No we should not.

In that tweet above — one part modeling failure and one part fishing for encouragement — I was honestly and publicly reflecting about what to do when lessons bomb. Because they do.

Claire, you’ve been very kind to me in my two years working with you as an Instructional Coach, but you’ve also been frank with me about which parts of my demo lesson didn’t work for your class and what you would’ve done differently.

That honesty is important, as important as encouragement (which also came). Misty also saw that need in my tweets.

Ugh. Yeah. Fine. But it’s not working for the class.

Carly, for example — the student who respectfully pointed out “we shouldn’t be tested on this if we didn’t cover it in class” — called me over during test review last week.

She asked, “Mr. Vaudrey, when are we going to practice more… like… actual math? Like, I understand that all these things (she motions at the review problems printed on colorful “stations” around the room) are important, but like… are we gonna get more notes on, like, equations and stuff?”

Ugh. Carly just loves when school is hard.

“And can we please have more homework?”

Students like Carly are accustomed to math class working a certain way. When their usual method of success no longer works, they get nervous.

It’s not wrong to give students what they require to succeed in class; a variety of nutrients is necessary for a healthy diet. If they want notes, it’s okay to give them that for a meal sometimes.

It’s wrong to feed them a steady diet of PowerBars, then wonder why their teeth fall out (educationally speaking).

So where’s the line?

Have I mentioned yet that Twitter is the best staff lounge? I’ve never even met Misty in real life.

Wednesday, we took notes on expressing the same function four ways, then practiced in groups.

The students needed some structure, so I provided it. Then, when they tackled the Desmos activity the next day, it went much better.

While we’re speaking about the gap between theory and practice, between teaching teenagers and teaching adults, between modeling vulnerability and appearing an expert, let’s talk about Saturday.

The San Gabriel Valley CUE affiliate held its annual mini-conference. Six hundred people attended, I had a great time modeling Appetizers for teachers, and one of my favorite teachers won the award for which I nominated her. The room full of her peers erupted with applause, praising her well-earned recognition.

It was a great day for me as a coach, four days after a pretty gross day in the classroom.

Contradiction? Very well, then it’s a contradiction. Teachers are vast; we contain multitudes.

~Matt “Walt Whitman” Vaudrey

UPDATE: A Desmos activity was dropped a few weeks later that is much better for the purpose of getting students to understand functions multiple ways. Dan writes about it here.