This moment is a little surreal. If you’ve never heard the origin story of Varsity Math, here’s the moment I revealed it at TMC 15.

At TMC 16, I spread the love to everyone in attendance, offering a free sticker to all 200 some-odd attendees. In the years since, Varsity Math has become an enshrined institution at my school. Kids are incredibly all in on the concept.

At recent conferences, I’ll sport my Varsity Math merchandise and people will ask me for some. I am only able to give out a handful of extra stock that’s left over from the school year. And I always feel bad because there’s not really a lot to go around, and I don’t want people to feel left out. Others want to get something going like this with their department but may not have the means to generate merchandise. This year, I am excited to announce that you, teachers at large, can join on the fun as well. After figuring out a lot of random paperwork, Varsity Math is now a legally recognized company in the state of Texas.

Starting in November, an online store will open at varsitymath.net which will redirect to a page on this site. It will be open for a couple weeks as I test out taking and fulfilling orders. Some months later it will probably open up again. You can guarantee I will do a run for TMC 19. On offer will be stickers, t-shirts, socks, and sponsorships. If you purchase a sponsorship, 100% of that money will go towards the various Varsity Math activities at my school. Students are not always able to cover the costs associated with the merchandise and activities I provide. Traditionally I am able to cover their costs, but outside help will allow me to do more and possibly, one day, lower the cost of entry for all students.

I have put out feelers and it seems like there’s a demand, now we’ll see what happens. If you would like official Varsity Math gear, keep an eye on this space and Twitter for the opening of the store. Talk to people in your math department and buy shirts as a group! I would love to see you all sporting the best in math clothing (next to Desmos swag).

Huge thanks to everyone who has shown enthusiasm for my little high school joke and got me to this day. See you soon!

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

It’s about time to start talking about antiderivatives in AB Calculus. We’ve defined a few rules so far: power rule, chain with trig, chain with e^x, and chain with ln x. For several years I’ve wanted to be early about our discussion of integrals. It has been helpful for conceptual understanding later if they know about the relationship between derivatives and integrals early. In fact, knowing about integration makes Curve Sketching a lot easier.

I was just going to do some simple introduction, but then I decided we could use a moment to get up and walk around.

Start with a 53¢ pack of index cards. Write a function on the top of the card and its derivative on the bottom. Repeat about 40 times.

Cut the cards in half. For fun, include several functions that have the same derivative.

Shuffle the cards a bunch until they’re good and scrambled.

The plan is to hand them the stack of cards and tell them that each card has a match. I’m not going to say how the cards are related to each other, only that have a match in the deck. After we spend some time sorting them, we’ll talk about the results.

How are the cards related?

Could some cards match with multiple cards?

Eventually they’ll tease out the idea that one card was the derivative and one was the original. Then bam! we hit them with the idea of antiderivative, the result of working backwards from a derivative. It is highly likely that when finding some matches they will do this, knowing they have the derivative in hand, in search of the original.

The fact that multiple functions can have the same derivative is always an interesting discussion, and just like that we’ve justified the presence of +C.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

I have traditionally had trouble fitting in Intermediate Value Theorem and Mean Value Theorem into Calculus without them seeming arbitrary. Kind of by accident, I found a nice way to not only talk about both theorems, but introduce early idea for curve sketching. And it was super simple!

Start with a table of a continuous function:

Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 11.26.51 PM.png

Have students calculate the average rate of change on all the intermediate intervals. In this case, 3 to 7, 7 to 11, etc. In addition, have them calculate the average rate of change for the extreme values of the table, in this case 3 to 26.

We now have a list of slopes: 1.525, 2.975, -8.6, -1.3667, 1.683 with an extreme slope of 0.1227.

Next, have students graph the values from the table.

They did this by hand, but I used Desmos here for demonstration purposes. Have them describe the behaviors of the function. Next, make a graph of the slopes, including the slope we found from the endpoints:

Great moment to talk about why we would graph the slopes this way, and the assumptions involved when taking an average rate of change. Now some questions. How many times is the slope zero? How many times is the slope equal to the overall slope? Could we sketch a function that would output these values?

Go back to their description of behaviors. When the function was increasing, what type of slope did you have? when the function was increasing? when the slope appeared to be zero?

Before you know, you’ve teased out the concepts behind the relationship between K(t) and K’(t) in addition to a good demonstration of the Mean Value Theorem at work. Finally, with a graph of the original function, a discussion of Intermediate Value Theorem comes naturally. Pick some arbitrary y-values and have students decide if they should exist. How would you know?

I don’t even know what made we think of it, but adding the graph of the slopes to the mix really made this an interesting problem. Everything I need to cover in the next few weeks is sitting right there! And students found it all intuitive, we just needed to add some formality to our justifications. I really enjoyed how this turned out.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Based on a Global Math Department Presentation from 9/18

I have a single goal, that within a few days of the start of school, my students are convinced that their time with me is going to be the best part of their day. I even say this on the first day of school. Although once you’re at a school long enough, you earn a reputation. In recent years I’ve appended that statement to say “this will be the best part of your day, I hope it lives up to the hype.”

At the same time, I want it to be the best part of their day for the right reasons. Yes, we are going to have some fun, but we’re going to be productive at the same time. Kids can have weird perceptions of what makes a “great” class. I’m reminded of a conversation I heard between middle school students talking about their really fun social studies class in which they did nothing and watched movies every day. That’s not the sort of thing I’m going for here.

Inspirations

I draw most of my inspiration from two teachers. I loved going to their classes every day. It was exciting to spend time in their room because I knew I was going to have a good time. As a teacher, I really want to have a good time as well, since I’m in the room all day after all. So if I’m having a good time, they should too.

My 6th grade math teacher, Mr. Richardson, was a legend. In my elementary school there was a buzz about him. When you got to 6th grade, you needed to have math with this guy. He had a counterpart in social studies that was equally hyped, but sadly, I didn’t get them both.

What did he do?

First and foremost he organized us into teams. These would change throughout the year. We had jobs. We had to have a logo. There was an in class economy. Each week you’d earn a salary depending on your job, and his currency could be traded for trinkets from a store. How this man kept track of 150 some odd salaries is beyond me, but we got paid every week.

He gave us interesting problems. There was a curriculum to tackle, but he went out of his way to challenge everyone in the room. We did a multi-week travel project, where we had to plan out every detail and track every expense, writing the checks and everything. He was the sneakiest direction writer I ever met. There was ALWAYS some little treat hidden in his directions. It was his way of teaching us to pay attention. I sucked at these.

Most importantly, he respected everyone in the room. It didn’t matter that we were 11. If you came up with a clever method, he’d name it after you. He was constantly grouping and regrouping us based on our needs. He would give different types of assignments to everyone. And he expected you to keep them all organized. I was horrible at keeping them organized.

My 12th grade Calculus teacher was Mrs Westerfeld. Compared to the other guy, her classroom operated a lot simpler. She’d do two things consistently, complain about George W Bush (she was from Crawford, TX where he has a ranch) and let you know she cared.

Twice a year she’d sit everyone down and read you a story. She read us the Polar Express and gave us all a little bell. At the end of the year she made the whole class write one nice thing about everyone else in the class. You’d put your name on a card and pass it around in a circle. When you received a card, you wrote your nice thing, and she’d add hers. She did this for 150 students.

But the other days of the year she got down to business. Plenty of homework and challenging tests, but you loved it.

Classroom

I send several important messages to my students. I never say them out loud, I let the actions speak for themselves. The setup of my classroom is integral to this process.

There are six tables in the room. Students sit in semi-random groups throughout the year. The goal is to build an identity with their table mates. If we do a group activity, kids work with their table. If we have a contest, kids compete with their table. If it’s time for classwork, they do it with their table. If I start flirting with rearranging seats they will give me the biggest STINK EYE if I even THINK about breaking them up. They were complete strangers on day one! Are you serious? Several times a group of kids who were complete strangers at the beginning of the year have asked if they could do Secret Santa for JUST THEIR TABLE.  It’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve had several students for multiple years, and these repeaters want their table back. Doesn’t matter that the kids are slightly different. That’s THEIR TABLE.

Why in the world would a kid care so much about a seat? Let me explain.

You Are Welcome

I greet everyone at the door and I greet them by name. I have been the quiet kid in the back of the class. I never felt like those teachers knew who I was. I’m not doing that to my kids. I want them to know I notice them. At the end of every class period I give them all a high five as they leave. I’ve been doing that since 2015 thanks to a presentation by Glenn Waddell. Since then I’ve given about 75,000 high fives and have washed my hands about 3,000 times. Seniors are legitimately depressed when it’s time for the last high five. They’re excited to steal extras at graduation.

You Can Relax

If I have to talk in front of the whole group, I treat it like a discussion. Kids can interrupt me at any point with a question. Initially they’re all very polite and will raise hands or whatever, but they figure out pretty quick that I want them to just jump in. If I ask them to think about something and prepare an answer, they’re not allowed to shout their answer. We want everyone to have time to think. If I have them make a calculation, or estimate a quantity, I write down anything I hear. I never confirm anything as right or wrong unless it seems like that’s the consensus. If the answer is 5, and one kid says 5, I’m not moving on until the group agrees. If a kid said 3, I never disparage them for saying 3. I ask them why they thought 3. Some less daring kid might also be wondering why it wasn’t 3. If I make a mistake, I announce my mistake. Sometimes I’ll explain how I make the mistake. You should never be afraid to be incorrect in front of the group, and that starts with me.

You are also welcome to ask an off topic question. Often I will acknowledge the question and deal with it later. Often I’m the one with the off topic remark. I am easily distracted.

If a kid wants to know where I went to high school, I’ll take a minute and show them. If they want to know where I live, I show them a house that could be mine. I might have a question about how the football team did. That might inspire someone in band to tell a funny story from the football game. I welcome the story. The other day kids were asking about hurricanes, so we spent some time discussing the current hurricanes and what it takes to track to us. I want them to be curious about things, and it doesn’t always have to be about the current discussion. I also want them to know that I care what they’re up to and that their stories are interesting to me. We’ll entertain the idea and go right back to our main discussion. Honestly, I think this helps absorb the day’s content better. It offers a natural opportunity for me to repeat something, and it’s given their subconscious a minute or two to process what we’re doing, even if we were talking about something random. Our curriculum is not so sacred that we can’t take a second to deviate.

You Will Be Productive

I love student work time. All the stories and distractions are great, but students know that in my room, when it’s work time, it’s work time. As much as possible I give students their class time to get their work done. This is also when I secretly get to know them the most. As they work, I wander. I’ll look over someone’s shoulder for a second, or I’ll listen to kids discussing a problem. I rarely intervene. I hop slowly from table to table. If a table needs me, they’ll stop me. The whole table will perk up and listen to the question, and I’ll move on. If I pass a table that hasn’t said much in a while, I’ll stop in to see how they’re doing. If they happen to be off topic, this is fine. 99% of the time kids are naturally back on topic within a minute or two. If they take longer, I’ll politely suggest they get back to it.

Every student has a notebook and every assignment we do is in that notebook. I started doing it a long time ago and it’s a proven winner. At the end of the year a majority of kids can’t believe how much stuff wound up in there. It’s their physical artifact that ok, yeah, I did a lot of work in here.

If a kid is really struggling, I’ll either take a seat next to them or kneel down and talk them through it. Often they’ll want to quit.

I’ll remind them that they do know what they’re doing, and that there’s something they know that will help us here. If they need to go slow, we’ll go slow. I wait patiently for them to rewrite a problem, or correct a mistake, or fiddle with the calculator. We are never in a rush. Last year I had a student who struggled with just about everything. I helped her individually all the time. But this girl was determined to keep at it. Throughout the year I’d have kids show me their classwork and this girl would BEAM when she showed me everything she did by herself. She was in 12th grade and had never felt that way in a math class before.

Sometimes I’ll jump into their conversations. Throughout the course of a school year, I develop an individual relationship with each table. If there’s six tables in the room, I’ll have six inside jokes going amongst them. I don’t care how big a class is, I want kids to know that they can have my attention whenever they need it.

We Are A Family

I was really attached to my Calculus class. There were 12 of us and I dubbed us the dirty dozen. At the end of the year our teacher let us decorate a ceiling tile. I went back to visit her and our tile was still sitting up there. This was us.

So let’s talk about Varsity Math.

I took over our Calculus program 5 years ago. Kids were fairly apathetic about the course. They heard it was difficult, so they’d try it for like 3 weeks and drop. I wanted to change that attitude. Kids were going to be excited to join an AP Math class.

Varsity Math is an initiative for AP Stats and Calculus students at my school. It has become a signature institution. Younger students ask for it by name.

We have t-shirts. We have stickers. We have sunglasses. We have snapchat filters. We have a big end of the year party. And we have a monument. We also adopted that baby shark song as our anthem. We played it at prom, twice.

The main idea here is that the 100 or so AP Math students are in this together. They are proud to be in a challenging class. Because they should be proud to be in a challenging class. Since starting this initiative, the drop rate in our AP classes plummeted. AP Exam performance has been ticking up too. And for crying out loud they had a PARADE during lunch last year. The kids are so into their math class that they want everyone else to be jealous of their math class. Kids are ECSTATIC the day I hand out the merchandise. Their time has come. They’re part of the legend.

Take Aways

First and foremost, I’m admittedly a little ridiculous and some of this stuff take a LOT of time. Do not feel like you have to drop everything and start your own clothing line to gets kids hyped about math. Though I hear that works for Desmos.

Even the most difficult student wants to learn something. Kids are very aware of what their classes demand of them, and they adjust appropriately. If they know English is a joke, they’ll treat it like a joke. The biggest compliment a kid can ever pay me is when they say “we really do a lot in here” or “wow class goes fast.”

If you were going to pick something to change, the biggest move you can make is to yield as much class time to students as you can. My lessons are very condensed. If they’re longer, there’s almost always a day of classwork that follows. In College Algebra last year I stopped whole group instruction entirely. Kids would come in, and I’d give them a series of structured tasks. They came to expect it. Within a few minutes of class starting even my most difficult child would ask when she could get the work for the day.

Sit down with your kids. Chit chat with your kids. It doesn’t have to be about math. They will become the hardest workers for you if they know you see them as an equal.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon
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College Algebra is an interesting course to teach because for the kids involved, the topics aren’t really new, but there are certainly new things they can discover within them, or get better insight hearing about something a second time. This last week we were starting an introduction to transformations. That prompted this bit of lesson planning:

Opening Acts

I used a set of three pre-built Desmos Activities with the group. I intended to use these last year but just never forced myself to do so.

Opener: Transformation Golf

Middle Innings: Translations with Coordinates

Closer: Practice with Symbols

For the ability level of the kids involved, these went really quickly. They are simple, straightforward activities but do present some interesting challenges. The kids really enjoyed transformation golf in particular.

It prompted a lot of good discussion and offered just enough challenge for everyone. We completed that activity in one 50 minute class period (about 40 minutes or actual working time). The other two (coordinates and symbols) were done in a single 50 minute class period. The combination of these three activities were just to job some memories and reacquaint with transformation vocabulary.

Proving Activity

A longer version came later, but using the polygon() tool in Desmos, we did a short proving behavior. We built polygons using a table, and applied some coordinate rules to those polygons. Students had to modify their polygon in 4 ways, writing down what they did. Then they submitted a link to their graph (my subtle way of teaching them how to sign-in with Desmos and save things). This took about 25-30 minutes of real class time:

I really liked the progression. Kids got to take a familiar skill and learn something new about the calculator. A few days later they did a more involved polygon transformation and applied what they learned to transformations of various parent functions (quadratic, absolute value, radical, natural log). The best part? These three days worth of lessons only took 15 minutes to map out thanks to the great resources in the Desmos Activity Library and the incredibly slick polygon command (launched only a few months ago).

Really happy with how all this came together.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

I’m working on community building a little more within my classes. Now that things are a little smaller I want to place a greater emphasis on the whole group being involved, rather than 5-6 kids at one table. Last year’s BC Calculus group was my first foray with a sub 20 class in a while, and I structured like it was a big class. Kids sat at three tables, and they stayed more or less confined to those tables. At the end of the year I felt like in a room of 15 people, they should’ve known each other and worked with each other better.

Year two I’m trying to fix that. This year’s group of 14 sits at two tables of 7 normally. I didn’t assign seats, they could just pick wherever. In this setup they’re with long time friends or whatever. But at least once a week I make them mingle.

I randomly assign partners for the day and make them combine the two tables into one big table. Sometimes there are snacks.

One, I want to make sure they’ve had multiple conversations with everyone in the room. As we progress through the year, I want them to seek out any kind of person for assistance, because they’ve worked with everyone in the room. Second, I want them to operate like a unit. Last year the class was all seniors. This year it’s a mix. I want the 11th graders to feel like they belong, and the 12th graders to respect their membership in the class.

There are things to improve upon, but this is a good start. They’re now used to the idea that I will randomly arrange them whenever I see fit. I want to better tailor the assignments for partner day, make them use 1 computer instead of 2, or version the task a bit so everyone isn’t doing the same thing. At the moment I’m making them confirm all work with their partner, and it’s working for the most part.

This isn’t anything special. Search for “visual random grouping” and you’ll find people who have been doing this and doing it better than me for years. I felt like the scale at which I had to operate wasn’t conducive to it. With that no longer a problem, I figure this pilot couldn’t hurt.

It also does more of what I always want in a classroom, students facing other students. My location in the room is irrelevant. When they’re sitting at the dinner table and we need to talk about our findings of the day, I’ll grab a seat with them. It is an incredibly relaxing way to teach. It’s the way my AP Government teacher always started class, everyone in a circle, discussing the current events of the day. I really looked forward to it every day.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

This is a bit overdue and was intended as a first week of school update, but the conclusions here have really been reinforcing themselves over the last couple of weeks.

At the start of the school year I was in a bit of a funk. I found staff development week to be particularly uninteresting, not because of the content but just for that delay of being at work but not really doing my work, teaching kids. I think it was a mix of three things.

Rinse, Repeat

Like most of you, I have to break down and rebuild the room every year, and I’ve gotten that system down to a science. I used to take tons of stuff home. Now it’s just one reasonably sized tub and the whole place is in October shape after 1 day. I am very into setting up my classroom, but after the 10th time there’s only so much to this. There was some uncertainty compounding the process this year though.

So Tiny

The massive reduction in student load really threw me off (I’m now up to 73 students). I’ve spent the last 5 or so years delivering stuff at big big scale. My very classroom management style has been predicated on the notion that there were going to be lots of kids in the room. How in the world do you readjust when you’ve got a class of 9 people? A lot of stuff was just thrown out. Named tables? Gone. Seating charts? Gone. Dumb Points Game? Very sadly, gone.

Mainly, I felt like a weird outlier. My school is bursting at the seams with kids, my colleagues are dealing with 30 some kids in classes, others are having to float, and here I am twiddling my thumbs with half that and my own room. But what am I supposed to do about that exactly? I stumbled into teaching specialized stuff, and there’s only so many kids that can take it in the first place. I don’t really know how to explain it really, like I was unneeded or something, even though that makes no sense.

Imposter

More than anything, I got absolutely punched in this face this summer about my effectiveness. And of course, I was front row center when Julie Reulbach delivered her excellent keynote on Imposter Syndrome. I spent a very long time this summer thinking over and over “it’s great the kids have fun, but how long are we just going to suck?” Varsity Math, etc has put us very out there as an organization. And to have nothing to show for it really doesn’t make me feel good. I have to admit I was not enthusiastic about grinding out another year of teaching AP Calc (and the loads of work that comes with that) only to be told “yeah, nice try” yet again.

And Yet!

More than anything I just needed the school year to start. Being around kids is very energizing for me. I am very motivated to do my best job for them, and I need their energy to push me to get it done. Sometimes it’s as simple as a kid from last year who put a shark on top of a llama to remind me how fun and random teaching school can be.

Once school started within just a few days I instantly felt better. The kids were excited to have me, I was excited to have them, and it was back to having laughs all day long. After some deep breathes I had a look at some things that could improve in Calculus and I made a plan. I’m forcing myself to attend to a lot of things with better detail this year. The new batch of kids doesn’t know the burdens of the past, they’re ready to show me what they can do.

It has been a long long time since I have had classes this small and I am infinitely better prepared for it this time around. My class of 9 is amazing and a really fun way to end the day. The 21 in College Algebra are super chill and are eager to figure stuff out. This will be the focus of a future post, but it is amazing to me that the natural state of a student is that they want to learn something from you. So many people are just content to give them very little to do. If you set the tone that we’re going to get stuff done during our 50 minutes, they will get that stuff done regardless of their overall attitude about school or experience with previous teachers.

So despite all that negativity hanging over me during the start of school, I love being back at it. Kids are great. Teaching is great. Thank you to every student and fellow teacher alike who remind me of this.


Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

A few nights ago I was working on an assessment and I spat this in my twitter machine:

I do this often as a way of talking to myself while working on things late in the evening. Often it's just to be funny, sometimes it's a little more serious, but I always I figure it's late and not a lot of people are reading. Not so much this time. It happens. There were a few reactions I want to address though, as my use of "points" there was misinterpreted in a couple ways.

Don't use them!

Ideally, yes. I feel you here. Unfortunately I have a gradebook I have to maintain with a minimum number of assignments per grading period, so I've got to do something.

Let the kids decide!

I tried this once before. In 2015 I implemented A/B/Not Yet grading in Calculus. We'd take an assessment, kids would look at the solution, and then rate themselves. Generally, kids were not adept at rating themselves. I had no good system for dealing with students who rated Not Yet, I was too busy with athletics to have any kind of viable after school system. Collecting the ratings was very time consuming and I was poor at communicating how to determine what should be what. A rubric you say? At that point this work saving system has now become more work than another system would be, so no thanks.

It was interesting experiment, but one I chose not to continue. Your experience may be different.

SBG!

I never never never assume someone is familiar with my teaching journey. These responses were expected (and welcome!) and I chose not to reply to them, because it'd be too easy to come across as that guy who is all "well I wrote the book on SBG blah blah blah..." because that's not a good look. But to those who suggested SBG, yes, I love it as a system and it works super great in a lot of contexts. I have used in Algebra 2, Pre-Cal, and College Algebra with great success. If you are interested in my history with the systems, I believe I have tagged the posts appropriately.

What I do these days...

In general, most classes work great for SBG. I have an SBG system in place with College Algebra and the kids like it. It's extremely similar to the system I came up with a long time ago. However, AP Calc has really never been SBG friendly in my opinion. Implementing a built-in retry system is really the problem. And with the speed you have to move with AP Calc, eventually in class assessments just become a burden. Last spring, AB Calc shifted entirely to free response based assessment because that's what we needed to do. It didn't work, but I still liked it and have some thoughts for this year. In general, with Calculus I will break stuff into a topic, assign some general value to the category, and give a handful of questions about that standard. The points vary, the kinds of questions vary, and there is no built-in retry. It's not really SBG. It's also not a test worth 100 points.

Here's the assessment I was working on when I tweeted:

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 11.13.28 PM.png

This particular assignment was for my BC group. The complaint was about how to weight the various sections based on the time it would take to complete them and the complexity. When I grade something like this I take an overall picture of the work. I check for correctness, offer comments, and give students a chance to discuss their work with others. Each one of these sections is an entry in the gradebook. But 1 point ≠ 1 correct problem, I take the whole body of work into account based on any trends in error I may see.

Maybe that clears things up, but maybe it doesn't. Non-traditional graders of the world I'm very with you.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Since starting work at my school, we have been experiencing a population boom. We had roughly 1700 kids back then, and the biggest class I taught was 25. Most were less than 20. Slowly, steadily, and surely those numbers rose and rose and rose until I was serving up hot and fresh math to 36 people at a time.

I had to make a big investment in restructuring my room, finding ways to get more kids to be able to see what we were talking about, and incorporate a lot of creative classroom management strategies. For years this worked and it worked well.

And now, just like that...

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 9.00.49 PM.png

The dropoff is...dramatic. What happened?

School within a School

Seven years ago our school district launched an initiative with KIPP and YES Prep public schools to incorporate charter programs within established school buildings. One middle school would house a 5-8 KIPP program, another a 6-8 YES Prep program. When students entered high school, they enroll in a 9-12 YES Prep program housed within our building. Because it is a charter, spots are awarded by lottery and the high school caps at roughly 1000 students. It was billed as a way to provide school choice to parents but to keep people invested in their local school. Students living outside or inside our district are eligible to apply for the lottery. Increased preference is given to in-district students. Roughly 95% of the students enrolled in this charter are students who would attend our schools anyway.

For the local schools it keeps the community involved and keeps people from moving away. For the charter, it gives access to extracurricular programs that aren't usually offered at stand alone charters (full range of athletic teams, fine arts, etc).

This year is the first time students in this charter program enter the 12th grade. We have 2700 students total, only 1700 of them non-charter.

This is not a debate on whether or not this was a wise decision or if that decision has actually improved anything. It is a program that exists in my building. They have their own teaching staff. As a result, there are fewer kids for people in my half of the building to teach in the first place.

Specializing

Part of this I did to myself. In those increasing years I was teaching more general access classes, on level Algebra 2 and Pre-Cal. Significantly more students take those classes. I stumbled into Calculus, which is generally accessible for fewer students. Then we added BC Calculus into the mix, a class with even fewer students able to take it. Simultaneously a couple years ago we started a discussion about better math options for seniors. At the time we had Pre-Cal or an AP math. There is a subset of students who could be better served. I volunteered to revive Algebra 3, a class we give to students who have ahd Algebra 2, are currently only 50/50 for going to college (and even though most likely community college), and who could use another year of reinforcement with algebra concepts. Students take this instead of Pre-Cal. When it was conceived I thought the population was about 30-40 kids. This year there are only 15 students enrolled.

Stats

Our Statistics program has had some ups and downs, enrollment wise. One year it didn't even make, then bounced back to about 40 kids, bottoming out last year with only 10 kids. To breathe some life into the course, we started improving our messaging. Students in Algebra 2 were unaware that AP classes were available to them. We printed up some Varsity Math flyers and gave kids more information about what they could be doing senior year. That messaging worked, with 30 stats students this year. Calculus should never be the class everyone takes. A healthy stats program is a healthy math department.

Adjustments

What's all that mean? Time for the great downsizing. So much of my classroom management methods will be retired. It's like I'm starting over. An increased ability to give students my attention will be welcome though. Last year I had two sections of Algebra 3 (17 and 15) and I got an incredible amount of face time with those kids because there just weren't a lot of them. 

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Though created by accident, I have a deep investment in the Varsity Math brand. There are, apparently, 7 - 12 key strategies to branding depending on which clickbait article you'd like to read. Here are a few thoughts I have about the messaging and look of Varsity Math.

Be Visible

We should have an obvious presence on campus. Other kids should know who is in Varsity Math. We achieve this in a few ways. Students wear patches on their lanyards. It is by far the most visible aspect of our campaign. It starts conversations. Twice a year we have spirit days.

Most importantly, I want people to know a Varsity Math shirt when they see one. Our primary school color is maroon. As such, students own a lot of maroon merchandise as they progress through. Each shirt and sticker is unique to its particular year, but follows a set of conventions. The fonts and layouts are standardized. Recently I made myself a design document to organize the various aspects.

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Be Persistent

Two years ago we created a monument. I post brief information about the courses and competitions available. I display previous yearbook ads, current photos, and a hall of fame. It serves as a regular presence that's necessary when 99% of your members graduate every year.

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It takes time to get merchandise to the new crop. The monument helps remind everyone that we don't disappear. The Class of 2020 will be the first to have this has a permanent fixture their entire high school career. In the last year in particular Varsity Math has very much become a thing we are known for over here.

Be Desirable

Kids should want to be in Varsity Math. It should be a privilege to be a part of the crew. We have an end of the year party that's just for us. If you aren't in you can't come. Our exclusivity is our strongest asset. A lot of this is on me and the enthusiasm I show for the brand. That, in turn, makes the students in the classes excited to tell other kids about the classes. We're now at the point where students in Varsity Math have younger siblings in middle/elementary school who know this is the thing they want to be in when they get to high school. I have had more than one conversation with 9th/10th graders about how they could plan their schedules so that they too could take a Varsity Math course one day. It's extremely unusual for a school to celebrate its math program. And it awakens a unique pride within our students. They brag about their math class. Imagine that.

Conclusion

Many people have told me they want to start something similar or have implemented some kind of math pride at their school. Just the other day a teacher at a feeder middle school wanted to start Junior Varsity Math with her kids. This is amazing! The biggest piece of advice I have about these programs is that you have to believe it. If you say you're going to get shirts, get the kids shirts. Produce on your promises. Be enthusiastic. Give the kids opportunities to celebrate. If you want success you're going to need to be the biggest believer in the cause. You can't just print some stickers and be done with it.

 

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon