We started school last week, and then you may have heard we had some weather issues. A low lying road near my brother's house:

I'm fine, people I know are fine. As you read this the rains will be subsiding and things will start to drain. I've been stuck in the house for days. At first we canceled school Friday, then Friday became Monday and Tuesday, then it moved to we'll try again after Labor Day. If they let us have a work day on Labor Day I'd welcome it. Any reason to have something to do.

Let's talk about what I was able to glean from four days of school, shall we?


Seems like a good group of kids. I can definitely feel how big the program has gotten. I have about 90 between AB and BC. When it comes to assessment I'm going to make it up as I go along. I've realized that I just need opportunities to see what kids think. No variation on SBG or whatever has been able to facilitate that well. I'm just going to scrap it and say "alright, here are some problems, let's see what happens." More on that later in the week (I certainly have the time to think about these things). Something motivating this move is that in my transition from athletics I have more time to dedicate to looking at papers. Also:

More time and fewer kids presents a good opportunity to give more feedback.

Given the fast pace of the first semester (and especially now that we've lost at a minimum 5 days), I'm modifying my AP benchmark system. I think early on some more project type work might be more appropriate. They don't really have enough material under their belt to make a judgement call until February.

To the BC crowd I openly admitted I had no idea what I was doing really and that we'll just play around and see. There's only 16 of them, so opportunities abound. Though with the lost time what was already a condensed curriculum will be more constrained.

College Algebra

Nice groups, 30 kids between two classes. There is a lot of variability in their current working knowledge. All of them are fine, but I can tell others would appreciate a challenge. Working towards some differentiation options is going to need to happen quickly. All of them demonstrate an eagerness to work. I'm hoping the small environment they've been given will work to their benefit.

I made a decision to start with linear systems over linear equations and that was a smart move. They would've been bored. Treading the line between challenging and boring is going to the be an issue.


While it was four days, technically I really only had two with all the groups. We have a modified block schedule that kicked in immediately (in previous years we've waited a few weeks to deploy it), so I got the first day, a second day for instruction, and a 90 minute block for instruction. We were oh so close to finishing all the opening procedural stuff (setting up notebooks, assigning computers, schedules getting fixed, etc). When we return it's all going to be a big reset button.

And the other glaring question is what kind of modification is coming to the rest of the school year. We just started, so technically we have bad weather days to cash in. But in situations of great calamity (which would be an understatement if you've been watching the news), the state has granted reprieves for large block of time.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Beating that new-ish teacher anxiety is hard, or at least I find it hard. Because I'm enjoying the gimmick, here's nine things I used to care about but no longer do. Some of these are kind of duh obvious in retrospect, but it's my journey ok? Don't ruin my journey.

1. Microplanning

Early on I developed a very elaborate ritual for planning. It was exhaustive but necessary. I'd jot down some general ideas and then script out every day of the week. Having used this method for many years I have developed a superhuman ability to plan. I don't need all the references anymore, so I've ditched the redundancy.

2. Microprepping

I got a taste for colorful projects and things at some point, but the supply procurement was a lot of work. Scrounging around for this and that the day before the project was going to kick off. I was always chasing my tail on this. Then I decided the sane thing to do was to create a giant stock pile of project supplies.

3. Being Observed

By far the most nerve wracking process of your early career. From my point of view, I started as a pretender in a foreign industry. I hadn't the smallest inkling of expertise and was extremely worried I had no idea what I was doing. Fighting that internal confidence struggle and having an experienced educator take notes on my moves? Yikes. But I worked through it. I quite worrying about all the little details. If you come and watch me it's 99.999% the same as if you weren't there. I'll keep the group moving and you'll see some high quality learning, but it's no rehearsed performance. This is me.

4. Grading

I played the nitpicking points game for a couple years. It was terrible and time consuming. Taking a step back and being more holistic about what a kid's work is trying to tell me has kept me sane. I'm extremely chill when it comes to grading now. It's such an imprecise science I have no idea how -1 vs -2 could hold up in court.

5. Cursing

My kids say bad words. They're 17 and 18, and they were probably raised by Fawn. I'm not saying I'm a fan of kids dropping f-bombs (or worse), but I'm not going to let it ruin my day. Small redirects usually get this issue to sort itself out. Now, if a kids wants to direct some naughty word at me (which happened once forevvvvvvver ago), that's different.

6. Phones

You may disagree with me here. But I think we lost that battle a long time ago. I understand if you're a situation where you have to enforce strict policies on this stuff. I get it. But after I while I noticed that if I was doing a sufficient job of redirecting and conveying at attitude that work time is important time, the phones are out, but they aren't a problem. Kid checks the time or dismisses a notification, whatever. Think about how your own phone habits have evolved over the last decade and try to imagine going 50 minutes without looking at it 10 times. If I can cut that in half I'll call it a win.

7. Markers Drying Out

I have this little marker bucket that gets fed at the start of every school year. It's filled past the top. By the conclusion there's a good inch and a half of space between the top and the marker level. It happens. It is my all consuming bucket. Except brown and yellow. It doesn't seem to digest those. I think the bucket is like half brown and yellow at this point.

8. Loaning Pencils

Kid needs a pencil I give them a pencil. Sometimes I give it back, sometimes I don't. I used to have one of those systems where they traded their school ID for the pencil. But it was another thing to manage. I kept winding up with stray IDs or forgetting to enforce it. Pencils are cheap. Just take the pencil.

9. Grading Pen Colors

Not for any of those "well, green is a more soothing way of offering corrections" kind of reasons. Just one of those "why did I care about this?" kind of things. I'm really late to the party here, sorry.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Houston is big on freeways (and tollways and ring roads and express lanes and on and on). If you try to communicate with anyone from around here, locations are always referenced based on a freeway. Near the north side of our downtown, two of them come together and pass underneath a rail line. For as long as I can remember (which is to say about 2002 or 2003), that rail line has some trademark graffiti. You can see it off to the right in this picture.

yes, I took this picture, #manyfilters

At highway speeds it's a blink and you'll miss it kind of thing. It's become something of an urban legend. The original artist is a mystery. Yet he or she keeps constant vigilance, intervening when people changed it in 2015 and 2017.

It's a simple little message but one that has resonated with me in the last twelve months, for a variety of reasons. Teaching has become such a human experience. There are so many unique opportunities in education, and the phrase BE SOMEONE speaks to that in such a simple way.

As you head off towards the start of your school year, choose to be someone, whatever that means for you.


AuthorJonathan Claydon

My ninth year in the business fast approaches. The classroom is more or less ready to go, but some unanswered questions remain. Here's nine issues for year nine. Who doesn't love a good gimmick?

1. Assessment

I have struggled with assessment structures I like in Calculus. It is the greatest struggle when teaching this course. For whatever reason they just get in the way. But it's still necessary to provide some feedback. How to do so efficiently is an ongoing problem. First I tried an SBG system that was bleh, then I went to A/B/Not Yet, but it was just a little to ambiguous. I don't feel like students were getting accurate feedback from that system. Especially through an idea that was faulty, in retrospect, whereby students only received feedback through my written solutions.

What needs to change here? I have some ideas, I'm not sure what I like yet. Unfortunately this question needs an answer soon.

2. BC

I am super excited about this course. The group of kids is great and I know they will be super eager. Yet at the same time I'm wandering into uncomfortable territory. I can't say that parametrics, Taylor series, etc are my strong suit. I had limited exposure to that stuff in college and it's been a long time since I thought about any of it. I have spent some time this summer studying thanks to the well written Active Calculus. There have been some rumblings among my Calculus kids for reference material, and this is something I'm finally ok recommending.

The big challenge with this course is finding a coherent approach. I'm close, but I should be closer. Since most of my classroom set up is done, I'm hoping to force myself to focus on this during upcoming work days.

3. Grouping

My school is in a weird transition. Our graduating classes are as large as they've ever been, yet average class size (at least in math) has been on a short decline. I was consistently above 150 students each year, but now even with six math classes I might not even hit 130. The standard group unit I spent years developing may be overkill now. I certainly will not need six groups of six. That will change a few things about how I run the show. Ok, really I'm just worried about my dumb game that means nothing. The BC kids (whom I told were in for a tiny class) spent more than a few minutes speculating how it was going to work, with legitimate concern in their voices.

4. Opportunities

In the works for a year, but only announced recently, I made the tough decision to walk away from athletics. It was incompatible with plans I had for my academic programs. I traded athletics for a sixth math class. If you know anything about the duty time required for athletics, adding a sixth class will seem easy in comparison. With hundreds of hours in new free time available, that opens up some new opportunities. I am going to take some of them for myself and just try to work less, and maybe not make it look like I live at school. I do enjoy being actively involved in my school community, and will be volunteering for things here and there, but overall it will be a big reduction. But previous impossibilities are now on the table, like our state academic math competition. For many years I felt like I should be involved, but just couldn't. I also want to spend some time being more involved in my department. For the last almost decade I've been a bit of a ghost.

5. Going National

I will have the opportunity to present my ideas on curriculum at NCTM Chicago Regional and the NCTM DC National. I've never really attended such a large event, let alone present. I have no idea how will it go or if anyone will come. I'm seeing it as a learning opportunity, and really as a way to see TMC folk prior to Cleveland.

6. Victory Lap

Switching to education was a giant risk. My previous job was something I knew I didn't like, and I was scared to death of what happens if teaching wound up equally awful. I never taught a lesson prior to my very first day of school. On the final work day prior to the start of school I remember having a moment in my classroom of "what in the world have I done."

I constantly worried about whether I knew what I was doing. I had all these unconventional ideas and took a lot of risks. Years later of thinking about this stuff way too much, I was honored as teacher of the year on campus, for my district, and as a finalist for my region (Texas has 1000 school districts subdivided into 20 regions, my region employs 95,000 teachers):

Awards are cool and all, and it's an honor to be recognized. Really these awards are a testament to the kids who do such a fantastic job and keep me laughing. I work with a lot of great people and it takes more than just me to make my school a lovely place to work. Despite the recognition, I've still got to organize my own marker bucket, you know?

Really this awards tour brought confidence and the ability to take a deep breath. The big risk I took has unequivocally been the correct choice. I don't have to second guess myself as much. We had a great dinner conversation at Desmos Fellows weekend about this, actually.

7. College Algebra

Another new adventure. With growing senior classes, we have had issues offering classes that meet the needs of our seniors. It's long been observed by myself and the Stats teacher that having two AP classes shouldn't be the only math electives on the table. I have two very cozy (about 15 each) College Algebra courses this school year. I'm excited because it gives me an opportunity to revisit my favorite experiment from my Algebra II days. Though they won't be receiving college credit, I think it's a good opportunity for this group. There's a lot of freedom to explore some interesting math here.

8. Community

One other opportunity is one aimed at community building. We have advisory periods that are now twice a week. Last year I crafted one with Calculus kids with the thought that maybe we'd do some interesting things. While we did succeed in building a hall of fame, some of the smaller goals got lost in the mix for a number of reason. I'm hoping to improve upon that.

9. BC, Again

So excited for this group. I'm not even sure what to do say or do with them on the first day of school and I don't have a coherent curriculum yet, but it's just going to be great, I know it. Or it will drive me insane. One of those.

Here's to a good school year.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

My favorite week of the year has come and gone, it's time for some Twitter Math Camp Reflections. Really, it's an examination of my greater participation in this community and how a group of anonymous people in my timeline have become real friends.

The real fascinating part has been watching the careers evolve all of the amazing people I have met through this conference, convention, family reunion, whatever you want to call it. On the surface it was professional development for teachers by teachers, and everyone gave a crap. Now you look around the room and you see people who write professional curriculum, work for Desmos, have written books, have won the biggest award in math education, have become math specialists, have risen in the ranks of NCTM committees, and on and on. There are some real influencers in math education in the room, and all of them still give a crap. More importantly, the percent of newcomers to TMC is always great. By wandering around the country, the conference always has a healthy population of local teachers who have heard the hype and want to see what things are about. All the newcomers I talked to said it was the greatest conference they'd been to. That really says something.

It's also amazing to see newcomers continue to volunteer to present or get up in front of the group with a My Favorite. As David Butler put it "everyone is worthy of presenting."


What's my role now in this community? I started as a wide-eyed participant in 2013, in awe that so many people from the scattered corners of the country could care so much about teaching math well. In recent years I have tried to share some yearly nugget to help contribute to that awe, to keep people coming back to TMC and walking away knowing it was the best week of the year. And that participation is starting to expand beyond TMC. This was immediately apparent when walking in the door to Desmos headquarters before TMC (and even before then at NCTM in April) and seeing so many familiar faces. These weren't just teachers I saw once a year, these were friends. We walked away TMC knowing that next time isn't so far away.

There have been so many humbling moments this year. To those who have found inspiration from what I have to share and those who tell me how much they like hearing my latest goofy classroom story or My Favorite, all I can say is thank you. I am inspired by all of you equally. To those of you new to TMC, I am so happy you had a great time.

I learned a lot this year and made a point to actually take some notes. Mattie and Chris made classroom debate norms seem so easy. The folks who ran off to write the Illustrative Math 6-8 curriculum blew me away with their newly finished product. Steph and Tamar showed me just what I was looking for, a web-based Python emulator. Rachel, Molly, and Jamie found a triangle you can play with for an hour and still be mystified. Bob talked about bean bags. And I got to show some middle school teachers that Calculus isn't super scary.

Push Send

All of this goes back to the message from Carl Oliver in his Saturday keynote. What happens when you muster up the courage to Push Send? In 2013 I signed up for TMC site unseen. I knew nothing other than these were some passionate people I had to see to believe. I don't know what came over me, but I volunteered for a My Favorite. I was nervous as hell. There's no video, but I remember clinging to the podium to make sure I wouldn't shake. I needed to do it. I wanted to say hello to these awesome people (and I masquerade as a cartoon and none of them knew my face).

Now I drop My Favorites like it ain't no thang, here's this year's:

And this could be you! All it takes to participate is to stand up and say hello, in whatever capacity makes you comfortable. At no point in my years of participation in TMC and the math teacher internet at large have I run into anyone trying to crush my dreams. These are the most supportive people ever. All of them eager to hear your ideas and eager to help you when you need a hand. If you email me, I will answer you. If you send me something on Twitter, I will reply. Push Send.


Our Global Math Department continues to excite me. I'm just going to mark off the last ten days in July from now until I can't walk anymore.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A series of seven posts on major turning points in my teaching career. A study of where I was, where I am, and where I'm headed.


Classroom Management is the most unique challenge in the profession. Every year brings with it new challenges and joys. Your experiences with this can vary wildly from year to year or even from hour to hour during the day. After you clear those initial hurdles and develop some solid strategies there are opportunities to expand on your relationship with the people in your room. How do you balance the need to have strong procedures in place for learning and offer flexibility for the unexpected?

Where It Was

This topic is so difficult to write about because teachers come from so many different place on this. I cannot think of something harder to replicate than classroom management styles. It is so heavily dependent on the personality of the individual. But, I did learn some important lessons early on and have been able to evolve the way I deal with young people.

I have been fortunate in that my altercations with students have been minimal over the years. I have always had a policy of being slow to anger and trying to hold on very tight to the idea that in times of crisis the issue is not a personal attack on me. My second year I got in a small shouting contest with a girl who didn't want to complete an assignment. I pressed. She pressed back. At a certain point you get caught in that moment where you think about what happens to your credibility if you let the class see you blink.

Coaching is full of these moments. I dealt with ninth graders and each and every group had different ways of getting to me. In each and every case I had to remember it was nothing to do with me personally, it's the nature of crowd dynamics when you get a certain number of 14 year olds together. You straddle a fine line of doing what's best for the young man in the long run and what's best for the team immediately. I can't say I always made the correct decision dealing with incidents.

But slowly, thing started to change. Kids were still kids, and yes, I had moments where it was time to hold firm on something. And yet, after several years of being deeply involved my school community, I started to see the residents of my room differently. Out there were kids I'd known since seventh or eighth grade. Others were younger siblings of former students, finally getting their turn in my room. It stopped being random names on an attendance sheet, but people I had a history with who happened to need some math education from me.

Where It Is

In the day to day, my primary goal remains. I have math tasks that need to get accomplished. I push on the to do list each and every day. Kids will say they like a class because they never do anything. That is never the reputation I'm after. Many kids tell me they appreciate how much they do. They notice I don't take my foot off the gas when it comes to learning.

However, that history was still getting to me. If this handful of kids I know run into challenges, surely this must be common? Are there some little things I can do to make everyone feel a little more comfortable? And when an issue arises, how can we prevent public confrontations?

I made three shifts that have made a huge difference.

Listen. Build in time where you can just wander around the room while students work. I do this frequently. Often a couple days a week are dedicated to classwork or a project. In this time while I do bop around answering questions, I just keep my ears open. What are kids talking about? Often it's work related, but you know kids, they'll talk about three things at once while working. From time to time I interject myself into the conversation. They'll balk at me being nosy, but I tell them it's my room, I do what I want. Sports, girlfriends, cheerleader drama, school events, or whatever, I just listen. After a while they welcome my participation. It makes it very easy to redirect them back to work. We'll have our quick chat and I point back to the papers. Everyone gets back to it with little argument.

Sympathize. Kids have bad days. I have bad days. I'm an old person though, so I recognize the importance of maintaining professionalism. Kids can't always cope in the same way. I made a point to keep an eye on the signs. A student suddenly has little to say, has a look of exasperation, or just can't seem to concentrate. Very quietly I will see if they're alright and if they just want to chill out. Some are fine, others need five minutes, and others need the tissue box and time in the hallway. Some will tell you what's up, others won't. I'm fine with either situation. Forcing them to complete an assignment isn't always the best medicine for emotional duress. Establishing this pattern communicates that it's ok if things are not ok. Some students need this policy more than others. One student last year would just give me the signal when it was hallway time. If a student makes it clear that today is just not the day, I'll leave them be and follow up the next day. Sometimes it was just a headache, other times it's more. Each student always appreciates that I took the time to notice.

De-Escalate. Incidents happen. Last year I had a class that had a dynamic of getting too riled up too often. A few students would consistently create a challenging environment for everyone else. Though I came close, at no point did I turn it into any kind of shouting match. I stopped what I was doing, silently waited for them to realize they were causing a problem, and then moved on. Much later, most often the next day, is when the problem gets dealt with. Often in 30 seconds or less while I'm greeting kids at the door. I'll stop yesterday's offender for a second and have a quick discussion about their side of the story. I have brokered dozens of peace treaties this way. Should the problem be so egregious that I really should do it right then, I never kick a kid out in the hallway. I press on and wait for a pause in the action (the benefits of building in lots of classwork time). I'll calmly (emphasis on calm, composure is everything) find the offender and ask them to come with me to the hall, or I'll nudge them to stay for a second after class ends.

Where It Is Going

These efforts have made me enjoy the school day more. I look forward to seeing my little communities as we laugh and learn together. My idea of classroom management builds on the family aspect I have talked about before. There's a level of comfort and productivity that is unique to the environment. Kids take risks, they'll let loose, and everyone benefits.

Things like Summer Camp came to be to further build community in my classroom. It is such an important building block in how I get stuff done. While there are a lot of math related reasons why my AP program is improving, the calm environment I provide plays no small part.


This is a really tough topic. What works for me may not work for you. Likewise I would probably fail at running a classroom like you do. But I think in the great classroom management problem there is some common ground. We all have a lot of complicated people that we spend nine months taking care of. The more we're able to see eye to eye with the people under our care, the better we can improve the learning experience for the kids of today and tomorrow.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

In May I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in Cohort 2 of the Desmos Fellowship. We would be getting the VIP tour of Desmos headquarters and get the opportunity spending the weekend learning about new features and brainstorming ideas with teachers from all over the country. As is the nature of the awesome teachers who use Desmos, for me it served as a TMC17 preview. So many familiar faces!

The in face part of the fellowship wrapped Sunday and here's what the great folks at Desmos had in store for us:


A nice meet and greet at headquarters to give us a chance to get to know one another. I was on the end of the arrivals, missing the initial introductions. I admit I must not have scanned the Cohort 2 names well enough because it was such a surprise to see so many familiar faces. It was also a pleasure to meet so many of the Desmos staff face to face. Excellent people all, and they have wonderful taste in fancy water. Just, you know, don't ask too many questions about the TI-Emulation Layer...

At the conclusion, most of the pack wandered out to dinner having received a quick briefing about the weekend ahead.


We spent the morning getting insight into the design process from Michael, Jenny, and Shelley. The primary focus of the weekend was Activity Builder and what we might want to do with it. The folks at Desmos were also looking for our feedback on what works and doesn't work about the current state of Activity Builder and the Teacher Dashboard. These folks know their audience and think really carefully about what works best for people in the classroom.

We worked through some Desmos designed activities and discussed the principles at play. Does an activity present a challenge? Does it build on student vocabulary? Does it create an immediate need for the math concept at hand? Does it minimize a student's ability to guess and check their way to completion?

These are some really big questions I've asked myself and were part of my reservations in waiting so long to deploy it.

We were given some unstructured work time to develop concepts for fresh Activity Builders, working in groups arranged by content area. Working with the handful of Calculus folks was tricky, it's a real no man's land of application for this stuff so far. Sam and Sarah had a great conversation about motivating the product rule with an area model. Myself, Josh, and Sean tossed around ideas about area under curves and solids of rotation. Both of these topics offered some technical challenges that required us to spend some time talking about the math before we ever created the first slide.

The rest of the day I volunteered to help Jenny user test some new ideas for Teacher Dashboard. I successfully managed to request a feature that was sitting right under my nose, if I had just bothered to stop for a second and click.

We concluded with an introduction of Computation Layer, a more advanced method to tie slides within a Activity Builder. It's not quite ready for primetime and something that's not quite on my radar. One day. I adopt things slowly.

There were some short breakouts in the afternoon, I listened to Dave and Julie discuss their uses of Desmos when it comes to assessment. This is something I plan to do more during the upcoming school year. Julie made us take her Desmos-based midterm.


The morning focus was on helping spread the word about Desmos in professional development. They get tons of requests for training from schools but don't have the staff to fulfill the requests. Being a part of the cohort gives you an opportunity to become a Certified Presenter. If duly motivated, you can prep a demo reel for scrutiny by Team Desmos and if they like what you got, you can get the official blessing and be deployed (and paid) where needed. Another opportunity I might consider for the future, but not right now.

To give us an idea of what they were looking for, Dan walked us through the Charge! activity. We had a discussion about what the go to tools would be for this task and how technology helps and hinders the solution.

We were given more free time to conclude our thoughts from the previous day. Lots of furious work on all sorts of interesting things. I mocked up a dynamic rectangle generator for Sam and Sarah:

I then spent my time hacking through concepts in sequences and series, eventually playing around with Taylor Series generation in Desmos.

We ended the day wandering around the room seeing what everyone had made. So much creativity and talent on display. Some people in the cohort have already developed some real chops with Computation Layer, and some really bonkers things are possible (yellow shading!).


Whenever I attend professional development, I keep my goals simple: have one good conversation about teaching and learn one new thing (and take pictures of random Lambo's that unfortunately don't belong to Eli). I had no idea you could display dynamic values on a graph (the "Area=" thing in my rectangle demo). Sam and Sarah's discussion of the area model proof of product rule (and the two page storyboard) really taught me something I thought I already knew. Dave and I talked Active Calculus, Scott and I talked Pre-Cal spaghetti, Elizabeth shared interesting info about SFUSD, Mary got real fancy with thrown footballs, Stephanie recommitted herself to blogging (we'll be watching, Stephanie...), and on and on...

Thanks to Desmos for being such active participants in the math teaching community and being excellent hosts! It was all over way too soon.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A series of seven posts on major turning points in my teaching career. A study of where I was, where I am, and where I'm headed.


I have found I like to obsess on the minor details of teachers: just how you make all the stuff it turns out you have to make. I rarely see anyone talk about it, but it's a more important part of the job that you'd think. What are you going to use to make your assignments? tests? graphs?

What about decorating the classroom? Pre-made posters are great, but what if you want to do your own? Let's say you manage to turn math class into a brand, how do you generate the merchandise?

The tools I have found to get the grunt work done have had just as much impact on my teaching as ideas behind lesson design.

Where It Was

Pretty simple. I was issued a laptop by the school district, it had Office and MathType, so I used Office and MathType. You get serviceable results:

What's wrong with this? Nothing really. But you spend enough time making stuff in Office and MathType and you learn the frustrations. Equations won't align, tabbing out problems is fiddly, images won't wrap properly, low-res graphs that don't scale nicely. And WordArt, while very extensible, suffers from the same fiddly nature. I wasn't happy, so I went looking for better methods.

Where It Is

Anyone who has taken a college math/engineering/science class probably knows LaTeX, whether you recognize it or not. The default font typically gives away LaTeX generated documents. Through observations in Twitter land I noticed that there were a few people using it for high school classrooms. Finally fed up enough with Word, I ordered a LaTeX book and set to the work in the summer of 2011. A year later I wrote a lengthy post about some fiddling I had done to make LaTeX comply with my needs. Most of the tricks I discovered then are applicable to how I use it today.

It solved my main problems with Word immediately. If you want 1 inch of blank space under a problem, you will get your 1 inch of space. You want a dotted line separating two sections, you got it. It offers a precision I was looking for with beautiful results. It make sound weird to say I care that my math problems look pretty, but I want my math problems to look pretty. LaTeX was designed to make math look as pretty as possible. It also makes my assignments distinct. Though tedious I find it important to generate my own assignments, it's the best way to give students work that's relevant to exactly what we've been doing. I have never liked being dependent on the disembodied "they" that students think are responsible for the origin of all problems.

I also wanted killer, crisp figures to go with the nice math markup.

I knew enough about print to know the differences between screen resolution (72dpi) and print resolution (300dpi). If you've ever scaled up an image and wonder why it looks horribly blurry you have fallen victim to this difference, 3 inches is not always 3 inches. The best way to always win this battle is correctly sized images from a vector image program. I happened to learn Adobe Illustrator. If you need a 3 inch by 3 inch image, you'll get it and it'll reproduce flawlessly on paper.

Of equal importance was giving students the opportunity to make nice looking products. The best classroom investment by far has been a high capacity laser printer.

Big printers like this do cost a bit of money, but at the scale I operate it's pretty cheap. A set of toner lasts two school years. With all my students hitting it from their Chromebooks, we probably cranked out 3000 pages of stuff last year.

Where It Is Going

Improving the tools behind my assignments helped me improve all other aspects of my classroom. Adobe Illustrator is a powerful print tool, I could now generate any poster I wanted. It is the central piece in managing all my Varsity Math merchandise.

Each iteration is a vector image and duplicating assets from year to year is simple. I get super sharp results every time. Wrapping my head around Illustrator had some start up costs, but it has enabled some really great products. I am by no means a great digital artist, but these tools have given me the ability to craft and develop my own personal brand, whether it's a t-shirt or a worksheet. The quality of my products is important to me.


Being deliberate in your workflow choices is an important part of the process. Find a way of production that works for you. Find tools that makes products that represent you well. You may never have a student say anything about it, but students do notice consistency. I noticed when my teachers put effort into their products. A quality worksheet didn't make many any more inclined to the do the work, but it was a subtle way of communicating they cared. Even when working in industry my bosses could tell who put thought into their products and who didn't. It mattered how you represented yourself on paper.

Take the time to think about how you produce. Find a tool that's outside your comfort zone. Teach yourself something new, you never know what the lasting impact could be.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A year ago I laid out a vision for my first five years of Calculus. We're now over halfway, how are we doing? Pushing the program forward is still a very slow process, but there are appreciable gains happening.

Data Dive

For those of you unfamiliar, for many years our program did not register on the AP radar at all. Kids would take the exam but nothing would happen. By the end of my first five years, I wanted to make the passing rate appreciable and predictable.

A passing rate exists, but is far from appreciable. A couple kids are starting to break through. The HUGE news here is the gains in the mid ground. There finally appears to be some evidence that my kids are able to clear the biggest hurdle, registering on the scale. The 1 designation is officially "no recommendation." All of these 2s are officially "possibly qualified" which was previously unthinkable to have so many show up here. The frustrating part, if you know anything about AP scales, is that means 50% of my exam takers were within a couple questions of passing.

Let's qualify this performance a bit. Not all of my students take the exam. The share of non-takers in these results:

Once we hit a point where passing is the expectation and not a surprise, I will be a bit more demanding about taking it. At the moment my priorities with exam takers are making sure they demonstrated some proficiency that could indicate success. Cost is also a factor for my students. I'm not comfortable forcing an exam fee out of a student who really doesn't need it.

Where are the gains coming from? I made significant investments in reinventing the curriculum. Most notably, students learn the major concepts early and spiral back on them through the year. It allows us to cover the depth of material more efficiently. I made a point of emphasis to focus on abstract matters more (derivatives where f(x) and g(x) are defined symbolically, for example). After the release of the FRQ I thought it'd come from this section. For the first time, all six questions were within the scope of what we covered well. Turns out, multiple choice finally had its day:

Our FRQ average remains the same (below 10/54, global average is about 20/54). Multiple Choice was a huge surprise, the average increased 8 pts. year over year (20/54) and is trending towards striking distance of the global (29/54). When dissected by question category, my students were pinging right at average on certain topics. While the top quarters are still pretty sparsely populated, raising the floor is the first indicator that bigger gains are on the way. On FRQ we are slowly squeezing out all the bottom tier performance.

What is the health of the overall program? Solid. Kids remain enthusiastic about enrolling in AP Calculus. The significant rise in the middle of our results will hopefully convince more that doing well on a scary AP exam is within their grasp.

Next year we will also be able to offer smaller class environments to our Calculus groups. This could help raise the number of eventual exam takers as well.


The existence of a "middle class" of scores was very encouraging. The hurdle to getting a registered score of any sort is the hardest part of the exam for our kids. Once you have a 2, climbing the ladder only requires a few additional questions. I have clearly misunderstood how I approach FRQs. Last year I increased student exposure to these kinds of questions. The feedback at the end of the year indicated that they wanted more. I also have not been strong on enforcing answer standards. It's probably a safe assumption that some amount of credit was left on the table due to notation and statement errors. The large number of responses landing in the middle quartiles of the FRQ show that students are doing really well on a couple questions, and really poorly on the rest. They are not consistently strong in enough topics.

Next Steps

I haven't finalized my curriculum for next year yet, but most of my notes involved circling things and writing MORE next to it. The essentials were there, kids seem to be lacking the reps. Exam preparation went well last year, many students answered the call of what it takes to get ready for something like this. Attitudes are definitely overall positive and all the kids give the class two thumbs up, and soon I feel like that success can be demonstrated on paper. If anything, BC is performing ahead of predictions. I thought I'd have 5 students for the inaugural section and wound up with 15.

And yes, the AP Exam is just an exam. It is not the most important aspect of our program (that's arguably laser tag night), but as an instructor it's nice to have an independent way of validating your ideas. My approach to Calculus is very non-traditional, to not only register on these metrics but show steadied improvement is a huge boost for my credibility.

If you find yourself in the midst of building an AP program, it is a long road, pace yourself.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

A series of seven posts on major turning points in my teaching career. A study of where I was, where I am, and where I'm headed.


I model a lot of what I do on the teachers that came before me, the ones that stood out in the course of my schooling. I mused on my various math teachers a couple years ago and tried to think about what made the good ones stand out. It has been a focus of the way I manage my classroom to bring a family atmosphere to the room, to make students look forward to walking in the door, and taking advantage of all the increased productivity that provides.

Where It Was

You can't really start with explicit goals about classroom culture, especially when you're new. You spend so much of your time the first couple of years wrapping your head around the teaching aspects that some classroom management is a second priority, if not lower. At the end of the school year you'd just like to be able to say that students generally do things you ask and seem to know a bit more than they did before.

I did notice that it is possible to not enjoy teaching a particular class. I've had groups where consistently there wasn't much noise unless I was the one talking. Students rarely spoke with one another and the minutes just dragged. If it felt boring for me to teach, what must it be like on the other side?

To improve student communication, I started playing around with desk arrangements. This was motivated by a desire to improve how students worked together and a need to accommodate growing class sizes.

Where It Is

I'll skip all the variations, but after a few years I settled on something that worked reliably. Tables that sat six people, each area with its own screen. It can hold 36 kids really comfortably, you'd be surprised.

The goal is to reduce the size of the room. Yes there might 30+ kids in here, but any given student gets to spend their time focusing on five others. These arrangements start out random and eventually students get input about who they're with. By the end of the year it can be hard to tear them apart from their tables.

Not every group becomes the best of friends, but nearly all of them become productive working units throughout the school year. When a student has questions, I'll catch them whispering to their neighbor about it first. When it's time for classwork, the questions are flying across the table. When it's time for a project, you really see them come together like a family, even if they aren't working with explicit partners. I have a soft spot for kids flinging "please" and "thank you" as they share supplies, jamming out to whatever pop music I have playing.

I encourage their bonding in a number of ways. Central to that is friendly competition through a little chart I operate on the board.

It's a game with no rules that has a million rules. Some groups get REALLY into this competition, others are a little less concerned. In all cases it's a small way of encouraging kids to work together for a common goal, even if that common goal is a bunch of made up points. A couple of times I've overheard Pre-Cal students strategize how they're going to beat the system in Calculus.

This desire for group identity comes from my 6th grade math teacher, who assigned us teams throughout the school year, complete with jobs and an in-class economy (you were paid a regular salary and could buy stuff from a store). While its tough to remember how well some of these groups worked, we were 11 after all, the concept was fun. That idea is one of many reasons I loved his math class. Throughout the year many students embrace classmates that ordinarily they'd probably never talk to.

As students work I make a point to visit each group, however briefly. Each takes up its own identity, each has its own little jokes, and I think it is important to allow them a private audience with me. They use these audiences as opportunities to ask questions, get feedback, or just talk about something random. I feel this face time is the most important and something that stuck with me in school. There were teachers who were personable and would take a minute to talk with kids informally, and there were others who were all business all the time, the ones you couldn't be sure knew your name. I felt the ones who demonstrated that there could be time for informal chats were the ones who got the most production out of their rooms. It's not about making them like me, but making them like their learning environment. It brings out the risk taker in them. Kids aren't afraid to be wrong around me.

Where It Is Going

The six-person dinner table style has been the most efficient use of my class space for years now. While there are classroom management challenges that come with arranging kids this way, the benefits have been more than worth it. The grouping encourages me to be efficient with my time at the podium and to give students as much time as possible to get to work. Student conversations are lively and friendly. I field a lot of questions, but a lot fewer than I would if they were sitting in rows. Kids in rows tend to look for you first. Kids situated around their own dinner table and more likely to spend several minutes dealing with issues themselves, either eliminating the need for me or saving me as a last resort. It also MUCH easier to field repeated questions when you can talk to a small cluster at once.

Next year I am keeping this methodology but with some more flexible furniture. I'll fill in some details later, but now I have some purpose built tables on wheels that allow for more dynamic arrangements. I will have smaller classes (some as low as 15)  next year that will allow us to go from multiple dinner tables to one giant family gathering.

Kids are more willing to take risks when they are comfortable. Giving them a small little family to work with has improved the comfort level for so many of them. It's easy to feel lost in giant classes. Reducing the number of people you have to focus on and arranging everyone such that it's simple to strike up a conversation gets even the quietist kids talking.


Math class doesn't need to be an individual experience. Giving students the opportunity for "math with friends" has paid tremendous dividends for me over the years. Some groups have taken the family concept to some amazing extremes. I have had instances of groups refusing to be separated, buying each other Secret Santa presents, and throwing their own private end of the year parties. And in some cases these were kids who didn't know each other well or at all at the beginning of the year. In fact, they were assigned that table at random and got 4 or 5 best friends out of the deal.

This method of grouping may not be feasible with your arrangement, but find a way to improve student to student communication. Encourage it as part of your normal procedures. You need to be a regular presence, but you don't always have to be the star of the show. Students, even the difficult ones, are interested in learning something new in math class. Raising the comfort level is an excellent way to foster that urge.

AuthorJonathan Claydon