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.


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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:

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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.

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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...

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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. 

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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.

click for bigger

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

Previously...
TMC13
TMC14
TMC15
TMC16
TMC17

Somehow I've now been to six of these things, and it's still the best conference around. The community emphasis makes it impossible to beat. It's hard to characterize really. I mean, what conference ends with a song about the experience?

I did a lot of sharing at this one and had a great time doing it. Several years ago I decided my goal for TMC or conferences in general was just to find one little thing to take home. I wasn't going to worry about finding THE transformative practice, though that happens sometimes. And despite presenting a ton, I managed to find my own goodies.

Always bring your bananas.

Presentations

Assessmos - a popular session that myself and keynote superstar Julie Reulbach delivered twice on Wednesday and once on Saturday. All told there might've been close to 60 people who came to see us at one of those three sessions. In it we discussed a variety of ways we've used Desmos Activity Builder to conduct assessments in the classroom. I've written about the two major assessment tasks I conducted last year. At some point in the future I'll wrap up our talking points into a post. Essentially, Desmos is great and more efficient than paper in certain types of assessment tasks and students enjoy the experience.

Calculus for the MS/Algebra Teacher - I conducted this session twice as well. Once on Friday and again on Saturday during the flex block. It was a repeat of the session I gave last year making connections between middle school concepts and how they get repeated in Calculus. To the shock of many, a 7/8/9th grader works with derivatives and integrals more than you might think. We looked at local linearity, approximation with tangent lines, and accumulating area under a curve. This one is overdue to a be a post.

My Favorite - I gave a very brief My Favorite on Friday. Three years ago at TMC15 Glenn Waddell shared his high five greeting strategy. Every student gets a high five on the way in, every day. I took that home and turned it into every student gets a high five on the way out the door every day. Since added it to my classroom, it has become a hallmark feature, and I've given approximately 73,000 high fives. And started washing my hands 5 times a day.

Sessions

Embracing Variability - Glenn Waddell and Bob Loch hosted a morning session on data variability concepts in Statistics. I know almost nothing about Statistics and I'm always looking for ways to improve that. We went through some opening activities and how those make connections throughout the year. A concept I really dig. Then we talked about Beyoncé and I introduced everyone to the Infinite Screaming Twitter account.

Calculus in Geogebra - Steve Phelps walked us through solids of revolution and Riemann sums in Geogebra, a task that was really straightforward. I was able to apply it in short order as it made for a handy demonstration in my Calculus for MS teachers sessions.

Desmos-ifying My Favorite No - Alison Krasnow talked about the My Favorite No methodology and how you can quickly set up Desmos Activity Builders to gather tickets from students and center discussion around them. This was helped by the newly launched Desmos Snapshot feature.

Mathematical Ideas in the Game of SET - Amie Albrecht traveled very far to share the work she does centered around the game of SET, a mathematical pattern matching game. We discussed a lot of the number play at work with this game and how you can play it in three and four dimensions. That was something else.

Conclusion

There's always a little something for everyone at a TMC. Yes, it is small. Yes, there is a subset that has been going forever and will probably continue to go forever. Yes, there is a lottery to get in (though it's not as competitive as you might think). But, a big population attends for the first time and there are many many ways that first timers are encouraged to jump in. A significant percentage of My Favorites were delivered by people attending for the first or second time. Don't be scared to apply to attend, or apply to do a My Favorite, or apply to present. You will be welcomed if you get the opportunity to do any of these things.

Thanks to all the people that make TMC special. Thanks for many of you who offered encouragement in light of my lackluster AP results, and especially to Dave Cesa for walking me through some information from the AP reading. Thanks to those of you who read from a far and got a chance to say hi, or found something I wrote to be useful. It is very humbling to know that I've inspired you in some way.

Those of you looking for Varsity Math merchandise, please contact me in the fall when the new stuff arrives. I'm also go something in the works with regard to that, so stay tuned.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

It's time for another round of Twitter Math Camp live from Cleveland!

TMC is really the only conference I attend in a year. I don't get a lot of value from massive conferences because I'm not usually on the look out for the kinds of things those conferences have to offer. Even in any given TMC I'll usually find one random thing that proves to be useful. Here's my collection from the previous five.

Philadelphia

Desmos was a more fascinating tool than I realized at the time. I went to a session that demo'd Penny Circle before it was live to the world and it became a useful activity in my class for a couple years after.

Jenks

I learned to contribute at this one. I helped run a morning session on Algebra 2 which validated a lot of kooky ideas I had about the subject.

Claremont

Glenn gave a My Favorite about high fiving students that has become a daily routine in my classes. Students often comment about how it's favorite thing and that it's sad when it's time for their last one. An extremely close runner up is the My Favorite I presented where I went public with Varsity Math.

Minneapolis

Had a mini revelation about Calculus here. The morning session I attended offered a lot of interesting problems but one in particular about the way f, f', f'' interact with one another really stuck with me. I've used it to model how I approach the topic ever since.

Atlanta

Attended a quality morning session on debates in math class that helped me remember how fascinating Talking Points can be if you can find the right prompts. I have yet to get a chance to implement this one but it's definitely been on the back burner for a while.

If you happen to be attending TMC for the first time, I encourage you to just find one thing that's particularly fascinating to you. There are going to be lots of great sessions. You don't need to implement everything you see. Honestly, for me it's not really about the content of the sessions but the big positive vibe you get being around so many people who are REALLY into being a math teacher.

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AuthorJonathan Claydon
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AP scores came out last week. Last year I did some digging around with my numbers and was hopeful. This year, well...

This data combines kids in AB only and the AB subscores from the BC group. They were, by far, the most capable group I've had. They showed a lot of growth during the year. They did some great stuff when I made an explicit point to get better on free response. All my indications told me that they should've done fine. I even had what I thought was an extensive prep process. All told, great group. I am not mad at them (any of you random kids who might read this, I'm not mad at you, for serious kthxbye). And yet CollegeBoard replies "lol, you wish."

I've got nothing here. Apparently something went terribly wrong. When you pull out BC, it's like, kinda better, but not really.

Most likely the sheer scope of the course got to them in the end. The fact that so many at least registered on the AB scale is encouraging. I don't think there's anything wrong with how we invite kids into this course.

But It's Just...

A thousand times yes. It's one indicator. I'm still good at teaching, yadda, yadda, yadda. I get it. I'm more or less just frustrated and some of that you wouldn't necessarily understand if you don't work at my school and understand what happens at all points in our feeder patterns. There are a lot of issues out of my control. There have been some meetings with admin (who are super supportive, btw, no one's mad there either) to discuss what we can work on that's within our control. There are some ideas in the works.

That said, there is not a single thing on these exams that is outside what our students can do. If we're going to put ourselves out there as super proud nerds and everything, it would be reasonable to have some results to back it all up. Accepting that we're going to suck at these exams forever is not going to happen. I would like to quit hiding behind the "it's just one indicator" thank you.

Anyway, teaching is hard. Reading these reports sucked and now I have more work to do this summer than I thought. Blehhhhhhhhhhhhh

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AuthorJonathan Claydon
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A few weeks ago I was in a training and during a break I sketched out an idea I have been playing with for a long time. Can you make a single graph that can display all the big ideas of Calculus in such a way that students can work through how and why they relate to one another?

I finally set out to make it real while ticking away the hours before AP scores released (more on that punch in the face later). The result is pretty nice:

The starting function can be whatever and the x-interval is adjustable. On screen is the y-value at each end of the interval, the slope of the graph at each of the interval, a short line segment indicating the slope at each end of the interval, the area accumulated in the interval, and the value of the second derivative at any point in the interval.

The idea is to use this to have a discuss early on in the process about some properties before we put a name to them. That's why other than the y-values the other numbers are unlabeled. This combines a lot of half-hearted attempts at this I've made on the fly in the past.

I have found my students have big problems visualizing how all of this stuff works together. Concavity in particular is a weird one, what with positive/negative readouts at seemingly arbitrary locations.

Play around with it and edit as you please: Calculus in One Picture.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Next school year marks 10 in the business. You would think teaching is a very consistent career over that length of time. Not so much! I realized I accumulated a lot of different preps and duties over the years and wanted to see what it looked like mapped out.

This doesn't include the 3 or 4 things I considered doing or was asked to do and later didn't happen. With the kind of staff turnover you have in education, you never know what opportunities will become available.

Yes, this is a subtle announcement that I'm returning to coaching, though in a more limited capacity. A combination of staff turnover, limited replacement options, and what was best for the kids (since I'm not leaving any time soon).

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AuthorJonathan Claydon

All of a sudden the third year of Varsity Math Summer Camp has come to a close. I had one group of 15 campers this year and it represented a more diverse set of incoming AP students. This year ran super smooth thanks to a decision last year to have a simple structure to each day (also I've got a stockpile of all the random junk I need). Every day would feature an opening competition, a main (1.5 hour) activity, and a game. Each one a little different and each one designed to give the kids a nice while to get into something and interact with one another. I was not going to get them excited about coming up here for the summer and then talk at them for 3 hours, no way.

Kids attending represent are future students in all of our AP options (Stats was only 7% of the population in 2017, similar in 2016):

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Day 1

Competition of the Day: BrainQuest 7th Grade Trivia

Activity: Algorithms
A borrowed a common idea from computer science courses. Given the ingredients, write very specific instructions for building a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Kids worked with a partner and had a little while to construct their steps (ranging from 9 to 32!). Then they swapped with another pair who had to follow their instructions exactly as written.

This had some pretty funny results. From the "that's a lot of jelly" when the instructions said to squeeze for 3-5 seconds, to the group spreading peanut butter with the knife handle because the instructions never said HOW to grab the knife.

Second Activity: Drones
I have an ever growing fleet of drones of all price ranges ($40-1500) to demonstrate the general idea of quadcopters, and what spending a little more money gets you. All the kids got to fly the whole range of options. For once we didn't break anything.

Game of the Day: Spit on your Neighbor

Day 2

Competition of the Day: Make 24

Activity: Spreadsheets
A basic overview of some simple spreadsheet commands (average, sum, countif, etc) to assist with Wednesday's activity. We discussed spreadsheets as a simple database and how formulas help with problems that need to work at scale. Then they played with a demo database where they had to apply to some formulas to determine a set of information.

Second Activity of the Day: Flextangles

Game of the Day: Coup

Day 3

Competition of the Day: 4 4s, specifically, come up with as many combination of 4 4s to create 1-15.

Activity: Statistics
Almost half of the students attending this year are taking Statistics in the fall. Last year I added an intro lesson and it worked so well I had to do it again. As an introduction to variance and standard deviation, kids tear into candy bags and count the distribution of the various colors. We talk about patterns in the data and how to quantify just how far off center a given bag of candy might be by calculating the standard deviation of total candies in each bag and the total of each color in the bag. Though with only 11 bags of candy, we have to be careful about how we interpret our results.

Later on we collected heights and wingspans and did a similar analysis to figure out who represents the average person in the room, and how much the population varies.

Game of the Day: Trivia Murder Party
Despite the grim premise, this game is a huge hit with the kids because the questions are challenging, the minigames intense, and the narration really funny. One such minigame involves frantically doing simple math problems as fast as possible.

Up to 8 people play the game (much like Guesspionage) using phones or computers. With 15 campers they played as partners on a shared device.

Day 4

Competition of the Day: 5 x 5

Activity: Engineering
I do a brief talk about my time in the construction industry and show them architectural plans from a project I worked on. They have discussions about what each kind of drawing tells you about a particular room. Later, they participate in a bid/proposal exercise. I, an owner, am soliciting designs for a structure that suspends a tennis ball 11 inches above the table. Kids have two kinds of pasta ($1/each or $2/each depending on type) and three kinds of tape to choose from ($1/ft for masking, $6/ft for electrical, $10/ft for duct) as building materials. They have to track costs. After an hour, they have to present a structure that meets the requirements as the final cost for me to review.

A few projects didn't succeed at the task, and a few succeeded but didn't meet some of the requirements. We had a discussion about how in some cases requests for proposals are flexible. The owner might have one idea, but your presentation might convince them to go another route, depending on the project. The most successful (and clever) design was very expensive. A similar (though shorter) design came in at 43% of the price. What might the owner have to say about that?

Game of the Day: Jungle Adventure

Conclusion

A great time as always. It's very relaxing to just hang out with a group of kids with a flexible agenda. The kids enjoy the novelty of the topics and really have fun together by the end. One year I'm going to figure out how to have a longer camp.

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Still no love for poor mommy shark.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon