Plan The Work, Then Work The Plan

From Mrs. Dull: “I have no idea how someone as traditional as you can NOT like pumpkin pie.” Truth. But that one exception notwithstanding, I’m Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Guy all the way. Image via

All those things my twitter bio says I am? I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not very good at any of them. Mediocre at best. But I suspect if I could eavesdrop on my own wake, I might hear that I put on a pretty decent Thanksgiving dinner. I picked up a lot by watching my dad (and my grandma, and my aunt and uncle) host. Little things, like the proper appetizers (shrimp cocktail, chips & salsa, black olives). Big things, like the correct mix of drinks (good beer, well-matched variety of wines, diet Pepsi). Like most people, my first few times cooking for the family were pretty rugged. The undercooked turkey one year, the paste-like gravy another. Did I tell you about the time I forgot to turn on the oven? But after a while, things all came together. With a large assist from Alton Brown. (Spoiler Alert: Don’t stuff the turkey. You can thank me later.)

I’ve made the Big Meal often enough now that I occasionally feel like I could go on autopilot. But in all areas of life I live in constant fear of forgetting something extremely important. You should see my packing list for Marathon Morning. I actually take out a piece of paper on Thanksgiving morning and write out a timeline for the day, from Turkey In The Oven to “Dinner is Served”. Folks who have peeled back the curtain and seen the list are properly impressed, being in the presence of a professional and all. That, or they back away slowly.

More of a defense against disaster than anything else, but still. Then this week I ran across this, courtesy Lifehacker:


I bow before thee, Oh Queen Of Thanksgiving Day Logistics.
I bow before thee, Oh Queen Of Thanksgiving Day Logistics.

Yup, a Gantt Chart. For Thanksgiving day. Not sure if I should be proud or horrified. I know for sure I’m downloading the spreadsheet for next year. Hell, I might use it Thursday.

That got me thinking about one of the best long-term gifts that came from my two years teaching in Las Vegas. We had a quarterly standing date with our regional Algebra coach, the entire department (or at least the portion of it teaching at least a section of Algebra) meeting at one of our feeder middle schools. At the very first meeting, we carved out part of the day to plan the entire quarter in advance, day-by-day. Our department chair was wise enough to guide us in the process, helping us to see topics that would need built-in reinforcement days. As a first-year teacher, it had never occurred to me to plan that far in advance. All of us in the CCSD were doing BAM (Backward Assessment Model), planning a unit at a time. But the benefits of planning 9 weeks at a time were huge. And I’ve been doing it faithfully ever since.

Except when I started doing this, none of days included "Desmos Activity"
Except when I started doing this, none of days included “Desmos Activity”

Document here: Term Planning Grid

Could I wing it, on Marathon Day? On Turkey Day? On Slope-Intercept Form Day? Sure. But I don’t want to if I don’t have to. I’m gonna plan my work, then work the plan. And enjoy a five-day weekend with family & friends & a stack of PLTW Puzzle Cube projects to grade.

Do You See The Real Me?

Image via:

I read. A lot. Some might say too much. I’ll snap up a few pages of whatever I’m reading in morning while brushing my teeth, or as a nightcap before turning in for good. And if find something I really like, I’ll return to it again and again. I must have read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” fifty times, Gerry Faust’s memoir “The Golden Dream” half that many, and I can pretty much recite “Pierced By A Sword” by Bud MacFarlane Jr. word-for-word. (It’s OK if you’ve never heard of that last one. It’s Catholic fiction, and for a book written 20 years ago, a lot of seems “ripped from the headlines” these days.)

In a note regarding the second edition of “Pierced”, McFarlane states: “I’m a Catholic (and a guy, and a Notre Dame grad, and a New Jersey native) and this book reflects that.” This week I spent a good amount of time wondering how much of my work reflects me – who I am.

Kids can smell fake a mile away. And that’s a relationship killer. I don’t think I could stand in a classroom 180 days a year, 5 classes a day, and be something I’m not. And truth be told, why would I want to put up a front all day, every day?  What’s the gain? Too much work, not enough benefit. So I find myself checking myself often – to make sure I don’t have to worry about somebody pulling back the curtain.

There is a Purdue University regional campus a few blocks from my school, so each school year we host a new class of pre-service teachers for observations. I know there is supposed to be a sharp decline in the number of students in teacher formation programs in Indiana these days, but you couldn’t tell from seeing all the PUC students in our hallways. Seriously: dozens. I’m hosting two students this semester. I told them when they came to see my Algebra 1A classes for students who have previously failed the course (some multiple times), that what they would see wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be real.

I found out a long time ago if I was going to teach that class, I’d have to teach different. I still don’t have it figured out (believe me, when I do, I’m writing a book, getting a web site, going on the speaking tour, the whole schmeer. And maybe hiring some of my teaching besties as consultants.)

So I’ve been on a quest for a while. Last week one of my observers saw Speed Dating as a review for a chapter quiz. Both guys were scheduled to come in on Friday, which I reminded my students would consist of the usual Friday Fun. “What’s Friday Fun?” you ask?

Well, let’s start here:

Guaranteed two or three of them will be going “That’s my jam!” and be up out of their seat dancing for a minute on that second one. Makes my day, every damn time.

Follow that up with a self-reflective activity, via @approx_normal.

Self Assessment EC

So we did the music, and the dancing, and the reflecting, and then we needed to hook ’em for a month-long journey through the joy of linearity. On a Friday. After Hammertime. So I eased my way into an activity lifted from Dan Meyer.

Alg 1A 5.2 Opener – pairs that add to 6

We backed that up Monday with my maiden voyage into the land of Desmos Activity Builder.

I Got Your 6 Screenshot

I’ve been dying to try it out. Gonna have to write about what I saw, I imagine.

Now look. None of this is a screaming cry for attention. I’m not sitting in my upstairs computer lab plotting ways to get my fellow teachers to notice me and think I’m tech-y and cool. Everything I’ve rolled out is designed to make learning happen. Still, my observers… did they see the real me, or am I putting on a dog and pony show? And my students… they’ve got to think this is all pretty bizarre, right? (At least I’m not alone in that regard.)

Personally, I feel like I should be ready and willing to have anyone walk through the door at any time, on any day, and not feel like “Oh God. Busted.”

Image via:

Regardless: Nothing strikes fear in my heart like the term “unannounced evaluation”. Even though I know what I’m doing is good, even though I’ve been through it all a million times, even though I get in the zone when I’m in the midst of one of those 900 performances a year, I’m still that guy that gets nervous when he gets called to the principal’s office.

Then one day I read this. Yep, a teacher who told her administrator “Come see my craziest class.”

That takes cajones.

So yeah, I don’t worry too much that they (observers of any stripe) might feel like I’m putting on a show. Here I am…

Not World Series Champs, YET…..

You could forgive my Algebra 1A repeat students if they have a pretty low self-worth when it comes to math. They think they’re “dumb”. Math stopped being fun around 5th grade or so when “=” stopped meaning “put the answer in this blank” and started meaning “these two expressions have the exact same value”.  Math makes no sense to them, so of course it is “stupid”. It’s something they’ll “never use in real life”, so why learn it now? I’m exaggerating only slightly here, for effect, but the student sentiment is real.

If you said, “Gosh, there, Mr. Dull, I think you need to get their heads straight before you try to teach them math”, you are so 100% absolutely correct it’s not even funny. I’ve worn a groove into my student’s heads with “No, I’m not good at math YET” these last couple of years.  If you’re familiar with Carol Dweck’s concept of Mindset, you know where I’m coming from.

Several of the teachers in my circle (both online and IRL) are subscribers to the growth mindset theory. Truth be told, why wouldn’t you be? If students were stuck at their present level of understanding and skill forever, hell, why show up to work? Let’s stay home and play Madden and eat Doritos and call it a life.

But there’s more to growth mindset than “hey, good job, you tried”, as Dweck points out in this article. We’re not just sending these guys out there to get their brains beat in, then saying “Awww, nice try!” when they fail. It’s building strategies to learn from that failure and move towards success.

So I stumbled across this post from Larry Ferlazzo this week.

You need a little background here. Ned Yost is the manager of the Kansas City Royals, his third major league managing gig. He has been roundly criticized for his managerial decisions – in a baseball world more and more dominated by the quants, he flies by the seat of his pants, often disdaining the percentage play suggested by advanced metrics… and oh, yeah, his team won the World Series this week. Ferlazzo linked to a New York Times Magazine profile of Yost, including part of his managerial philosophy:

Later, Yost would be criticized for not replacing erratic infielders when he had late ­inning leads and allowing untested pitchers to compete — and often fail — in crucial situations. The critics didn’t understand, he told me, that he wasn’t necessarily trying to win those games. ‘‘The difference between 72 and 76 wins doesn’t mean a damn thing to me,’’ he says. ‘‘I wanted to put those young players in a position to gain experience, so that when we could compete for a championship, they’d know how,’’ Yost says. ‘‘You can’t do that when you’re pinch­-hitting for young guys. You can’t do it when you quick­hook starting pitchers. They’ll never learn to work themselves out of trouble. People would say, ‘What’s he doing?’ They didn’t understand. I’d rather lose a game on my watch so they could win later.’’

Or, for my visual learners out there:

This week during our Monday PLC time PD, the topic was Rigor and Relevance and Relationships. Point being, rigor only comes after relationships and relevance. Back to Yost:

One night this season, Yost encountered a knot of players leaving the team hotel in Milwaukee. It was nearly 10. Hearing that they were headed to a late dinner and then a casino, he nodded. He wasn’t giving his blessing, exactly, but he wasn’t disapproving either. ‘‘I know these guys inside and out,’’ he told me later. ‘‘I know they won’t stay out too long. Their goal is winning. They won’t do anything to detract from that.’’

He’s got the relationship part down. But equally as important, he’s got players who can see the prize waiting for them at the end. They’ve got a whole off-season to celebrate a title now, because they got down to business during the season. As a baseball guy, I get the analogy. As a teacher, and a reflective practitioner, I ask myself: “What does this look like in a classroom? Does it translate?” I’m going to go out on a limb here. A major league baseball player, who has ridden the busses and slept in the flea-bag hotels and eaten Mickey D’s three times a day every day for years while trying to make The Show, actually wants to be there. Nobody is making him. It’s not a requirement for graduation anymore. Hell, it’s all you want to do ever since you could pick up a bat.

My students? They don’t have “Learning For Learning’s Sake”… yet.  I leave them alone and say “hey, do what you want, you know I trust you”, you know what I’ll get.


I’m a Three-Act Math believer. I’ve busted out of the worksheet mentality. I think we’ve been able to at least occasionally peek outside the windows and apply math to cheeseburgers or digging holes.

100x100_large.jpg (680×1024)
100 x 100. Oh my. Image via Robert Kaplinsky.

But a “players’ manager” who gives his squad free rein without that goal of winning? With a roster full of 1st and 15th Guys? That guy ends up selling insurance in a hurry.

I wonder still if I’m helping all this to come together in class, so that actual learning occurs. I think I have the relationship part down. Getting the buy-in on the math? Work in progress.