Ready For Launch

“You know Mr. Dull, my mom finds it ironic that my math teacher’s name is ‘Dull’

— a very observant 4th period student

It’s Testing Season by me. English yesterday, Math today for juniors. Which meant my classes would be sparsely populated for most of the day. Like in: 7 kids in my 2nd Hour class. Way too few to do a traditional lesson that I’d have to repeat for tomorrow, or else leave my absent retesters to fend for themselves on Direct & Indirect Variation. Time for an on-the-the fly executive decision.

Yep. WCYDWT.  What is this, 2008? I’m gonna do a ripped-from-the-internet thing and then blog about it? Damn right I am.

So kids, I’ve got a little piece of video I’d like to share with you:

We keep the Silver Beach Web Cam up on my screen when we’re mathing most days, so my kids are pretty familiar with frozen lakes. I showed them this story on the current state of Lake Superior ice coverage. Currently 75% covered, above average for this time of year but not quite the 100% coverage in 1996.

Many of my kids have been to Mackinac Island, so we talked frozen Straits of Mackinac – in the winter snowmobilers can ride across the straits. Also, at this time of year there is a huge Outdoor Pond Hockey Tournament in St. Ignace. I told them I guess they shovel out the rectangles for the rinks, because what are you gonna do, drive a Zamboni out there?


But, could we Zamboni a whole lake? (“Oh God Mr. Dull, you’re gonna make us math this aren’t you?)

I mean, how long would that take? Give me a guess that’s too high. How about a guess that’s too low. Now a Game Show Guess….

WCYDWT Zamboni

They were totally into it. How do I know? The story has gone viral and it’s pretty hard to miss, and none of my kids (in the first two hours anyway) even googled for the answer. Later on when they did, I just said “I’ll come back to you on that” and by that time we were far enough along that I could say “let’s check this guy’s math”. Because juniors love proving somebody wrong.

So we went with “Jo’s Plan” (as it came to be known) – if we can find out how big the lake is, and how big a rink is, we can divide to figure out how many rinks it would take to cover the lake. Then all we need to know is how long to resurface a rink. ( One kid in 3rd Hour said “I’m gonna text my friend and ask. He drives the Zamboni at the rink downtown.” They are very resourceful.)

Let’s go.

We did all kinds of math. Converting square miles to square feet, minutes to hours to days to years, estimating time to resurface a rink (they googled that later too, which was cool).

And we were off by a factor of 10. Came up with 9884 hours or something ridiculous. That “1700 square feet” up there? That’s a problem. Especially since I gave it to them. Dammit.

But the biggest benefit of building a culture of curiosity is you get curious kids.

“Let’s find the error”. Woah.

Keanu Woah
Ted Theodore Logan says woah. (Source)

They didn’t but my next period class did. Which was so cool. The only other tweak was we guessed 10 minutes to do a rink, based on 15 minutes between periods of a Blackhawks game. Turns out it’s more like 7.

“Are three minutes gonna make that much difference you guys?” Times 52 million rinks they are, yeah.

We adjusted the time to do one rink and hit the number almost exactly on the head.

On the button
On the button, baby

So, a couple of things from today. It’s 2019. It’s hard to get their attention, let alone keep it. I hate being the Cell Phone Police, but I’ve had some long talks with my Lunch Bunch lately about the subject. It’s pervasive. They are close to changing my mind. In the midst of “too high/too low” in one class, my most cynical, blase student shouted out “almost 700 years“, tapped the google app closed and went back to scrolling her snapchat. I could almost see her huffing her bangs out of her eyes in an act of supreme boredom as she said it.

But 95 % of my kids were hooked. They were helping each other, checking each others’ calculations, and shouting out intermediate steps. I was just sitting back and watching the magic happen. It was awesome.

I capped the day with two things:

We talked about how an astronaut once addressed a group of middle school kids in NW Indiana and challenged them to solve the big problems they’ll face as adults. She talked about manned space flight to Mars and the challenges of keeping humans alive in a tin can at 17,000 mph for six months. Think water and bodily waste. Yep, she went there. They’re middle school kids. They ate it up.

And when I brought up space in class today, one of my kids’ eyes lit up. She told how she had written a paper recently about our current and future plans for space exploration. I totally ceded the floor to her – her enthusiasm lit up my entire room and did more to make the point than I ever could.

A google search isn’t gonna solve those problems. Thinking deeply about solving insanely crazy problems will.

And, then, a tweet back:

The guy who originally did this math and put it out there for the world to see was scared that his math was wrong. Just like high school kids everywhere.

But he did it anyway.

And then:

Three-Act Math continues to be awesome, and the Internet continues to deliver a steady stream of it right to us. WCYDWT is seemingly alive and well, too. Plus the added bonus of the owner of the UP Supply Company replying to your tweet is kind of cool.

“This kind of thing makes me happy.” A collective “Awwwww!”

And then:

“Mr Dull, can we solve crazy insane problems and make people happy every Thurdsay?”

Can’t promise anything kid, but it’s tempting.



Apollo SHDH



So #ObserveMe has finally arrived at my school. I’m pretty psyched. Even got my first drop-in a couple of weeks ago, after having my sign up outside my classroom door since late 2016. That was exhilarating. Our tech coaches and department chairs all have their signs up now too. There’s even a GSheet we can add the class periods we are available to host visitors. Our department chair invited us all to join in at our meeting last week.

I should be on Cloud Nine right now.


I took my sign down as I left school last Wednesday. It sat on my desk for the rest of the week, through the weekend. At that point I was really wondering whether I actually want random people dropping in on my class anymore. Unrelated to #ObserveMe, I’m finding out I’m not exactly a teaching role model I guess. So down came the sign. Leave me alone and let me be miserable in peace.

Kemil In Winter
Mental Floss, Region Style. Winter at Kemil Road, shelf ice included.

(Important reminder: the purpose of #ObserveMe is not to set myself out there as some kind of teaching role model for the wannabes to come watch and wonder and adore. It’s so other folks can come in, see what’s going on in my class (good and bad), and give me feedback on how I can improve. And: I need improvement. I’m such a self-centered jerk sometimes I can’t stand it.)

“Conversion is the task of a moment; sanctification is the work of a lifetime.”

— St. Josemaria Escriva

One of my favorite Polish saints is Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who was martyred at Auschwitz when he volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who was part of a group sentenced to die of starvation in retaliation for a prisoner’s escape. Kolbe led his fellow doomed men in prayer and hymns, and died with a smile on his face when the Nazi guard injected him with carbolic acid to kill him after two weeks in a starvation bunker.

Photo taken at the National Shrine of St. Maximillian Kolbe, Libertyvile, IL.

That’s a dude who knows what he signed up for. Who was who he was until the end, knowing the cost. Sanctified the world in death. He’s kind of the patron of our family. We even named our youngest son after him.

So, it’s gonna kill me, and hurt the whole time I’m dying. But I’m putting that stupid sign back up. It was a childish, impulsive thing to take it down. Prideful too. Like, I can’t get better at what I do.

So bring it on. Let Adrian wince. Mickey can yell “stay down!” all he wants. Make Apollo shake his damn head (2:05 mark) at how resilient I am. Rip open the wounds. Bleed it out. Heal me. Make me better at teaching.

Adventures in EduProtocols: The Fast And The Curious

At my building we’re in Year Two of a 1:1 environment. There are a lot of things you can do with a device for every student. Some of those things are even better than pencil and paper tasks.

Some aren’t.

Not everything is gonna make fireworks explode.

Caesars Fireworks

Tasks like My Math Lab and Canvas quizzes leverage the technology for self-grading practice or assessment, and that’s cool. It’s got its place. Kids get plenty of reps and instant feedback. Saves teachers a ton of time grading so they can get down to the business of using what they learned from those formative assessments to adjust instruction. I’m not sure I want 25 kids staring at screens all day every day tho. I need some interaction, and in math, some pencil/paper practice as well.

I launched a flipped instruction model at semester last year to carve out more time in class for students to work together on problem sets and to get help from me when needed. That part has paid dividends. That classtime is pretty valuable real estate. Could I get even more out of it for my students? I mean, I see all of them every day, even if it’s only a quick two-minute check-in. The piece I could get better at is holding them accountable for taking the notes, and being more formal about checking for understanding.


There are a lot of ways to do that too. I’ve been enchanted by the prospect of introducing eduprotocols to my classes this year. We’ve done an Iron Chef-inspired student-created slide deck for the open house, and we’ve used Cyber Sandwich to great effect in Algebra Lab. Launched Worst Preso Ever in Lab last week and my kids had a blast.

But where Jon Corippo hooked me was The Fast And The Curious. I first saw him on Matt Miller’s Ditch That Textbook Virtual Summit. Jon’s a pretty good interview if you get the chance to catch him. (Quickie tutorial on TFATC from Matt Miller here). The game app Quizizz is what makes the whole thing run. It still takes time to create, probably about the same amount of time as a Canvas quiz, but has the added benefit of cutthroat competition. That leader board had them cheering and agonizing all through the first 15 minutes of class. Plus Quizizz offers a ton of data including overall class accuracy, student accuracy, and percent correct for each question.

That’s the real benefit. After the quiz is done, we look for areas where we can give some instant feedback and remediate problem areas. Then we take the quiz again. There is pretty much guaranteed to be improvement, and for my Algebra Lab students that is huge. They feel (accurately) that they’ve learned something and that they are now primed to work on their regular Algebra teacher’s daily assignment.

That sounds like a win to me. Wait til tomorrow when we do it all again and push their accuracy rate through the roof. I told them we were shooting for 95% at the end of the week. From their response at the beginning of class, I might as well have told them we were gonna fly to the moon.

By the end of class tho… I think they believe they can do it.

Come Fly With Me
Yeah, totally had the COB playing while they mathed this morning. So chill.

Getting Gruntled

Gruntle Definition
OK, so there’s a little more to it than that.

If it’s possible to be disgruntled, you should be able to get yourself “gruntled” again, right? (Turns out, originally, no, but….)

I was at an event this week when one of my students’ moms leaned across the table and asked me, “So, are you ready for the school year to be over?”

Kind of an odd question, considering it was mid-February. Although, ’tis the season. My backyard neighbor (a junior at my school) pointed out Thursday we have about 14 weeks of school left. So there’s definitely counting going on. I answered the question in the spirit in which it was intended, but in the back of my mind I was thinking:

Actually, yes. Yes I am.

It was pretty much the day before yesterday, sitting on the back porch in shirtsleeves on a January Saturday afternoon, when we were wondering if winter was gonna skip us altogether.

Not so fast my friend

The first two weeks back from Christmas break went off without a hitch. After that tho? Since mid-January: MLK Day -> early release due to Ice Storm -> Ice Day -> two days of school -> Snow Day – Three Days of Polar Vortex -> then 7 whole days of school in a row before another Ice Storm Day. I mean, that’s winter in the Region. Should be used to it by now. But still.

I’ll be pretty honest. The last three weeks of weather, combined with some other things, have kind of broke me. I feel a little bit like a hockey referee after a brawl near the end of a period. I just want to send both teams to their locker rooms and tack the additional time onto the next period.

Clearly it’s time to Find Your Happy Place. Saturday we scooted up to St. Joseph, Michigan for a late Valentine’s Day celebration. We ended up at Schu’s (with the other 30 humans within a 50 mile radius who weren’t at Silver Beach Pizza) where we had a fantastic Valentine’s weekend dinner.


At one point I kinda caught myself staring out the window at the shelf ice and the twinkling of the North Pier Lighthouse beacon and realized I was sitting there smiling like a fool. The company, the atmosphere, the Round Barn Kolsch, all of it: perfect.

Tuesday morning seemed very far away.

It Will Hurt the Whole Time
It feels like this sometimes, doesn’t it? (Source)

Not every year can be duckies and bunnies and unicorns and rainbows. Some are definitely better than others. This might be one of those years I just suck it up and put on my teacher face and give myself a pep talk every morning and keep showing up. Even if it kills me a little bit every single day.

As my freshman son wisely pointed out Saturday night, “three months from now we’ll be sitting in this same spot at the same time of night watching a sunset.” I needed to hear that. The Mid-Winter Blues have taken hold. It’s a passing thing, I’m sure. Unless it’s not.

But really, teaching is what I do. Especially if these are the options.

Time to find my happy place. Even if it’s a beach in winter. Maybe especially if it’s a beach in winter. I mean, if “gruntled” and “disgruntled” can mean the same thing except by matter of degree, then by all means, get me by the water. That’s not any weirder. Especially if it keeps my head in the game for three more months.

Hehehe. “Keep Off”.  Such rebels. A mild winter day, 2017. Weko Beach, Bridgman, MI. Photo cred: me.