Summer Camp has concluded. It exceeded expectations. In the end I had 40 campers who learned a lot of stuff and played a lot of games. And for a brief second we were almost derailed by a tropical storm, but a Tuesday night right turn sent it elsewhere. Let me take an opportunity to break down the lessons in greater detail and give you a glimpse of the economics of running this thing.


What's it cost to run this thing? I charge a $20 fee (there were 4 no-shows), got a donation to cover food expenses, and my principal is able to compensate me (we have a policy where certain extra duties can earn you $25/hr assuming that duty is approved as extra).

Overall I wound up behind by like $30. Primarily due to some drones that broke between Session 1 and 2. Fees get deposited into an activity account I control and expenses can be deducted from there. It's the same account that covers operating Varsity Math as a whole. Anyone who has been the business long enough knows most of this gain will roll back into classroom supplies at some point.


Some general information on who attends:


The kids attending got some basics during the school year. The spreadsheet lesson expands on that with a study of conditionals (if statements and conditional formats), specifying ranges, using built-in formulas, sorting, and how to lock on specific cells. After some brief explanation, kids spend 25 minutes figuring some things out with a dummy data sheet (~50 entries of names, ages, locations, and preferences). Functions used: COUNT, AVERAGE, MEDIAN, MIN, MAX, COUNTIF, IF, SUMIF, SUM, and RANDBETWEEN.


A discussion of the physics behind drones, and examples of what various amounts of money get you (from $25 to $1200). The main takeaways are that all quad copters operate on the same control scheme, operate with localized 3D coordinate systems, and more money gets you a greater set of self-preservation features. Kids spend 15-20 minutes flying a drone from a set of 6.

Once the batteries die we go back in the classroom and I give them an opportunity to fly a Mavic Pro if they're feeling brave. Fun fact, they all find it easier to fly than the smaller ones. The extra money buys you a lot nicer flight platform.

Let's Buy a House and Car

A short version of the lesson Calculus students got at the end of last year. We build a spreadsheet that calculates monthly payments for a house and car based on loan terms and amount borrowed. It then adds the payments together and outputs the theoretical yearly income to afford that stuff. Students pair up and role play as if they were making the purchasing decision together. One student finds a house (max $300,000), the other finds a car (max $35,000). Once they agree they come visit the bank and ask for a loan (randomized on index cards handed out by me). They make use of the local real estate database and property tax database to get a real sense of what it's like to own a home. Then for fun we see what it'd be like to manage a house that costs a few million. "I don't want to grow up" is the common sentiment at the end of this one. Primary goal of this lesson is to debunk the myth that renting is for suckers (given our location in a big city, most of our students rent).


A quick intro lesson involving variance and standard deviation. We start with giant bags of peanut M&Ms. Kids get a partner, bag of M&Ms, and open a shared spreadsheet to input the counts of the colors in their bag and the total candies in their bag. We have a discussion on what seems "normal" for a particular color and which bags are outliers.

I walk them through calculating the variances and standard deviation of the bag totals, then have them analyze the individual colors. We talk about what we can infer from the standard deviation, with the caveat that we'd need a bigger sample to apply this logic to all M&Ms.

Then I have them collect wingspans and heights in centimeters.

They perform the same analysis. We talk about who represents the average person in the room and whether the bigger sample size makes this more statistically significant.


I started my career in construction, managing budgets, writing contracts, and dealing with the million little problems that result when trying to put a building together. I hung onto the drawings from one of the projects I worked on. I pick one little area and pass out most of the drawings associated with that section (wall layout, electrical, fire protection, etc).

They spend some time with a partner deciding which drawing is which (they aren't labeled). I let them wander in the wilderness for a bit and then provide some vocabulary to help. Once we're in a agreement we talk about some of the finer details on each drawing and I show them the larger drawing that these were sourced from.

After some Q&A of what it's like to be 23 with a staff and 4 and in charge of $7 million, they get an engineering task of their own. It's your standard pasta structure that supports a tennis ball, but pasta costs money ($1 for round spaghetti, $2 for flat linguine) and so does tape ($2/ft for painter's tape, $5/ft for duct tape, $10/ft for electrical tape). Assuming the structure succeeds at the task, we discuss the various amounts groups were able to spend and accomplish the task.


Students don't get enough exposure to games. I spent the last year finding a variety of things to teach them. Some of them became huge fan favorites. Coup was by far the surprise hit. Once introduced they'd often get a game going as we waited for everyone to show up in the morning.

  • Spit on (or Screw) Your Neighbor - a quick card game my relatives taught me
  • Coup - an advanced rock/paper/scissors kind of situations where bluffing plays a big role
  • Trivia Murder Party - part of the Jackbox Party Pack (sold on consoles, I used a Nintendo Switch), 8 players and an audience compete in a trivia game with a twist, it has a fantastic final round mechanic
  • Z-Ward - a parsely game from Memento Mori, an RPG-lite experience modeled off text adventures from the 80s where kids take turns giving one command at a time
  • Flappy Space Program - get as many little birdies orbiting your planet as possible
  • Wits and Wagers - if Estimation 180 were made into a board game
  • 5 x 5 - the excellent quick strategy game from Sara VanDerWerf
AuthorJonathan Claydon

We finished one day of Summer Camp and I instantly remembered why I love it. There's a great energy in the room and it's pretty relaxing to have an ocean of time available to accomplish what you want. I have 45 eager campers this year (up from 30 last year) spread out over two weeks. I extended the time as well, allocating 3 hours a day. When I sat down to plan I was worried there wouldn't be enough to do but I very quickly found there was too much to do. The eternal guiding principal: kids need time. Stuff got cut.

To organize myself a little better, I carved out some themes. Every day features a competition, a long learning component, a moment to get up and play/build, and a game to close us out. Then to really make sure it would fit, I wrote a schedule.

The kids get to see this as they're just as curious about what they're going to be doing. Last year's group got input into what we did. This year I decided I had enough in the back catalog to cover our bases. Most of these activities were hits from last year, or build on ideas I used during the school year. For example, Let's Buy a House is a shortened version of what Calculus students did. The engineering task is a longer version of something we did in camp last year. I offer a variety of building materials and tapes for sale, and the kids have a budget. They design and build something that completes a task with a cost of materials. I have more elaborate plans for this project, enough to make it a separate piece. As the kids attending camp are incoming AP students, I gave statistics an entire day. And bought like 10 lbs of candy to make it happen.

Hopefully each kid can walk away with one thing they can make use of later. I don't care if it's a spreadsheet command, engineering idea, or a new card game they can play with their family. You know, other than make another generation obsessed with Baby Shark. So much fun.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Every year I'm amazed at just how much there is to do at the end of the year. It's already time for the second year of Summer Camp. I mused last winter that offering an enrichment program to my existing students might be a hit, and they proved the theory correct. Despite the wandering topics, the kids had a great time. I had a great time. It was a great time.

After the first day last year I knew I was doing it again. 


Like last year, I want the students to dictate the agenda. If they want to wander down a rabbit hole, we will explore all there is to see. I'll lay out a few base objectives and go from there. I want to simplify the focus a bit and just have a few bullet points to hit.

  • financial literacy
  • spreadsheet/programming literacy
  • space
  • drones
  • games

A new component will be a game of the day. There are a billion non-phone non-video games out there, and the only one my kids seem to know is UNO. I think we can do better here. Last year's live action parser proved to be quite popular.


The surface objective is to explore some random stuff in the summer. The secondary objective is to focus on relationship building. All of these kids are enrolling in AP Math next fall. Unlike last year, about half of the campers will be new to me. This a unique opportunity to work with them prior to letting them experience the full insanity of Varsity Math.

The fascinating thing is just how many kids are super excited to do something in the summer. Most of my participants jump at the chance because their summers are fairly unremarkable or their parents want them to be up to something productive. I handed out 60 permission slips for about 50 spots. Two days after handing out the forms both sessions are half full. I expect camp will sell out before the deadline. It's awesome.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Here's a little reverse jinx I pulled:

I say reverse jinx because as Februarys go, this one wasn't too bad. Normally I have an increased work load from being soccer season, the push towards AP Exams, and it's all compounded by abysmal weather. With an absolute lack of winter around here, the work load felt a little more tolerable.

While it appears I've been pretty quiet, I have a lot going on:

Math Department

In October Varsity Math made a splash by taking over a blank wall in the hallway. It now features current class photos and our Hall of Fame. With a load of painting supplies on hand, I turned my attention to an old feature of our math department office.

It dates from the 80s, maybe? I took my painters and we're turning it into a unit circle:

A slow process (we have about 1 hour/week), but soon to be completed.

Summer Camp

It's almost time to start thinking about things for Varsity Math Summer Camp. Despite the random nature of the topics (from my point of view), all the kids consistently said they enjoyed themselves. One of them even made use of some things we talked about to work on a physics lab this year. I've done the initial advertisements to Pre-Cal students, and several are already convinced this is the thing for them. For $20 it's a pretty good deal.

Focus is the goal. Fewer topics and more time. I have a better idea of what you can accomplish in a 2.5 hour session now.


A big change is I have access to Chromebooks this year, making spreadsheets a more realistic tool at my disposal. I learned in Summer Camp that there's a real desire by kids to wrap their heads around spreadsheets. Most having no idea of all the math stuff you can do with them. Both Vectors and Polar Coordinates can make use of these. Recently we've walked through combining vector components and finding magnitudes and directions. A spreadsheet can do this quite nicely:

We jump over to Desmos, and with the help of super slick things like auto-connecting points and labels, we can quickly render our interaction:

It's almost time for the 6th Sidewalk Chalk Day. There's a possibility Calculus will get involved, allowing us to cover a truly massive amount of sidewalk.

Sidewalk Chalk means it's time for polar coordinates, a unit I started teaching after Vectors because so many of the concepts and math are identical. Traditionally I start polar coordinates with some hand calculation and plotting of points:

But computers are so much better at these things. Can we teach a computer to calculate polar coordinates? Let's used what we learned from vectors to speed up the process:

And thanks to the super bananas awesome data table pasting, we can get something far more sophisticated than our markers could accomplish:

Very excited to see how this goes.


Ugh, I don't know where to start here. It's time to register for the AP Exam, and as part of my five year plan, I said I wanted 80% (54 students) to register for the exam and have 30% pass. Well, determined to avoid the absolute fake out that happened to me last year (I had data to suggest that many many students would do well, it was wrong), I have tweaked the process. And well, ugh. But at the same time there are positives.

First, I learned I have a solid 20 kids who don't seem to have learned anything. It's late February. How did this happen? How much of that is my responsibility? At the same time, I have 25 who seemed to have learned everything. I'll spare you the details of my benchmarking calculations (the older a benchmark, the less it's weighted in a student's rating), but the data identified 8 highly proficient students last year. Using more difficult assignments, that same method has identified 16 individuals this year, with a higher average than the previous 8.

While there was a lot wrong about my methods last year, those top 8 all registered a 2+ on the exam. To have doubled that group is a positive.

The real disheartening thing is at the other end of the spectrum. 16 nailed it, another 9 did alright, and the remaining 55 are just wandering in the wilderness.

I have to make some hard decisions about what happens next and what is best for each student. My first year of teaching Calculus taught me that allowing kids to leave knowing nothing is a disservice. But slowing everyone down is a similar disservice.

Calculus BC

We identified 16 individuals willing to start the first full Calculus BC course in the history of my school. They're excited. I'm excited.


Lastly, in 3-4 weeks I'm getting all new furniture. It will be a bit more flexible than what I have now but will still let me establishing the grouping methods I have come to like. More on that when it arrives.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

I've stumbled upon a lot of random things in the midst of camp, and this is a good one.

If you're of a certain vintage, you probably played a text adventure or two. You remember, the "use lamp" and "exit north" variety as you try not to die. Well these folks Memento Mori make a variety of "text adventures" that can be played out loud with a group of people. The maps/situations are small enough to fit on a single sheet of paper and you can run through the game (with plenty of error) in about 40 minutes.

Best part? There are a ton of scenarios and the PDFs cost a whopping $1.99.

It's a fun introduction to some old school computer programming, as your players have to speak in simple commands such as "go north," "save game" and "examine backpack." As the moderator it's great to stymie them with a "I don't understand that."

In camp this week I have 8 pairs of 2. Each pair gets to say one command then the next pair goes. Watch as the group hopelessly wanders in and out of the same place as the other side of the room screams in frustration!

If you'd like to hear a few adults wander around the jungle aimlessly, listen to The Incomparable Game Show #33.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Session 1 of my camp ended a couple days ago. Within seconds of the first day ending I knew we were doing it again next year. Such a great week.

The Good

There's always that small amount of dread when you plan a big event that attendance will disappoint. But no, everyone showed and were eager to see what I had prepared for them (no pressure).

I was equally nervous about how much I had planned, and maybe it was the time off, but I forgot that it's actually pretty easy to fill class time, students take (and need) a lot more time with things that you anticipate.

Opener? Solid.

Quadcopters? A little quirkier than I expected. I only had a couple kids really into them, drones in the $40-50 range are tricky to control well. But, we had a good physics discussion about them.

Space? Great discussions here. I had to cut out a lot of my planned material. We focused on a few things. Main idea: space is hard. I had research some of the launch systems that have been used, the new ones under development, and we watched a bunch of videos. We briefly discussed the Curiosity and New Horizons missions with a few spoilers for the The Martian thrown in there. There was just too much here.

Engineering? We had a great discussion about my previous career and we scaled it down a bit with some spaghetti constructions. Materials had a cost associated with them ($1 for thin spaghetti, $2 for thicker stuff, tape was $5/ft), then we compared output and cost of materials. I had some research planned here but had to cut it.

Financial Literacy? Probably the most successful part. We played with Sheets for two days. We played with some basic formulas/functions and I gave them a task designed by my sister (an Excel genius) to work through.

Computer Science? Playing with Snap! was minimal, unfortunately. A longer camp would be required to do it justice. The Sheets stuff was a good, immediately practical substitute.

The Great

The kids had a blast. Many of them wished it was longer, and quite honestly, I wish it was too. Such a great time with these inaugural campers. We had a lengthy discussion about how to give the non-attendees #summerjealousy when they return for Calculus in August.

Next year will be huge (and probably backed by a grant).

Extra exciting? There's another session, it starts Monday, OMG!

AuthorJonathan Claydon
2 CommentsPost a comment

Varsity Math Summer Camp is here, finally. By the end I hope to have an interesting answer to the question "what happens when you have no official curriculum?" In addition, I get to see what's it like to teach small groups for the first time in a while. Around 35 kids/class has become the norm. Long ago when I was less adept I maxed out at 20. What could I do with small numbers now? Session 1 has 20 kids, Session 2 not but 16. My room is going to feel massive.


Big Ideas: Space Travel, Computer Science
Small Projects: Quadcopter mechanics, engineering scenarios, financial literacy

I have 2.5 hours for four days with each crew. In my planning, the first thing on my list bolded and underlined was "OMG you better not lecture for 45 minutes on any of this." A lot of what we're studying the students have limited prior knowledge, so it would be easy to sit there and wax on about the nature of the Apollo launch system or whatever, but it'd be far more productive to let them find out how it worked on their own.

Second, I like the results when students are given multiple passes on a topic. Each 2.5 hour session is broken into small pieces to facilitate one talking point. Rather than spend a marathon on space, we'll do a little space over the course of the camp.


I thought we'd have a little fun at the beginning of each day. I subdivided the room into 4 groups. Each team competing for a varying number of Starbursts. Through happenstance, I found out about the Remote Associates Test, a old instrument for measuring creative thinking. Given three words, what's a fourth word that ties them all together?

In addition to that, a BrainQuest pack of 7th grade trivia. Should be fun with a group that just finished 11th grade.


You can find a billion of these of Amazon. I bought four of a model that was highly rated and not super expensive. Handy bonus, the radio is 4-channel allowed all four to operate simultaneously. The batteries last 5-7 minutes, but extras are easy to come by.

For roughly 30 minutes for 3 days, I will hand each group a radio, copter, and manual. They figure out how to fly it, why the propellers are oriented the way they are (two spin clockwise, two counterclockwise), what "six-axis" motion means, and how the copter might be changing its orientation in any axis. Then we race them. And I show them the big one.


This batch of students was in 7th grade when the Shuttle retired. They don't know much about it, or the litany of vehicles that get things into space, or even where we've been in space.

For two days, the students will do some research on the methods NASA and others have used to fling things into space. Plus we'll throw in some Flappy Space Program. Day 1, the variety of launch platforms used since the 60s. What were the payloads? Which ones had manned missions? Who are the new players? Can anyone find the sweet video of the SpaceX auto landing? Day 2, we get more specific and discuss the missions that went to Mars. Which ones failed? Which ones are currently ongoing? How did they get the vehicles to the surface? How insane is that Curiosity landing rig anyway?h

Each group will have a chunk of research to do and then they'll present to rest of their group. Initially I wanted to make some display pieces, but this is summer and anything we put in the halls will eventually be destroyed in the back to school cleaning. Though maybe we do something here.

Lastly, we spend some time on the STS specifically and a look at the technical problems that lead to its retirement.

I might modify this section a bit for Session 2, perhaps with a focus on the International Space Station, for the sake of variety.


A brief paper airplane contest, then a spaghetti construction project. Teams will be given an objective. Supplies will have costs associated with them. Structures of different heights will have different profit payouts. It's like Hotel Snap but with pasta.

Financial Literacy

Over two days we'll run through the basics of a spreadsheet, learning how to manipulate cells with formulas, sorting things, etc. In the end we'll look at how to build a budget, how recurring expenses affect a budget, and how you can determine the amount of money you make each day.

Second, we'll do a overview the housing market. Why are they so expensive? Am I really a sucker for renting?

Computer Science

The big one. We explore the Snap programming language. Everyone is a novice with programming, so there's going to be a lot of start up exercises. Eventually I hope to get them to the point where they can develop a maze. Or at a minimum draw some geometrically styled art.


I really want to value students time here. The kind of learning you do of your own free will should be engaging, interesting, and active. Bringing kids to school in the summer just to do all the talking would be a waste of this opportunity. I'm hoping this experience trickles its way into the regular school experience. The quadcopters already have me thinking about new ways to introduce 3D Vectors. What else could benefit?

AuthorJonathan Claydon
2 CommentsPost a comment

Time to shift modes. Summer is a chance to digest all the issues from a school year and reconnect with people that enjoy this work as much as I do. Bonus, the Varsity Math franchise is expanding!

Varsity Math Summer Camp
June 13 - 16, June 20 - 23

A random idea that provides an opportunity to build on what makes Varsity Math so successful, the relationships. Having so many (61 of 68, 89.7%) for two years was an excellent experience, and I'm seeking to build on that even further. I have 36 campers who plunked down $20 to spend four mornings of their summer with me. It'll be my first real 1:1 situation as I checked out a Chromebook set so that we could work on programming, financial literacy, space travel, and some engineering topics. I don't have all the details planned, but each morning is 2.5 hours and I want to give them time to research and discuss things as much as possible. Oh, and did I mention we're going to fly a bunch of quadcopters around?

CAMT, San Antonio, TX
June 29 - July 1

It's the big Texas Math Teacher conference. I'm not going explicitly for the conference, I was invited to be recognized as part of the ongoing PAEMST PR Tour. They're having me wave to the crowd on Thursday morning. If you're attending, I know the tallest people on twitter will be wandering around.

Twitter Math Camp, Minneapolis, MN
July 16 - 19

The big one. Really the main thing I look forward to in the summer. I'll be presenting a session on the 17th about chopping curriculum up into more logical pieces, sharing experiences from Calculus and Algebra II. There's no snow in July, right?


I have two main ideas to look at, teaching wise.

Mainly, Pre Cal is in need of a reckoning. I've taught it for six years now and it needs an update. Teaching Calculus for a couple years has given me a lot of insight into what needs to change at the level below. I need to improve my ability to get kids thinking more abstractly about certain topics.

Second, in another small step for Varsity Math, I have a BC student next year. If you go to Calculus trainings this is usually how any big time AB/BC program is built, one experimental student at a time. This student showed stunning aptitude in my AB course, has a desire to pursue engineering, and is a great candidate for giving me a chance to see what BC is all about. In my long term goals for the program, having a full class of BC is one of my targets. The kid is really looking forward to it, and so am I.

AuthorJonathan Claydon
3 CommentsPost a comment

The thought occurred to me over winter break, what would be my ideal teacher-student environment? My current situation is quite good, but what if a lot of (curriculum based) restrictions were removed?

I'm at the very beginning of making a successful math program. The Calculus kids I have this year are amazing, and some of that is because we've spent a year together already. I have a group of 11th graders in Pre-Cal this year primed to take their place, and in theory out-achieve them. How can I serve their needs? What would they want out of school if some restrictions went away?

Enter summer camp.

It starts with a hunch that a lot of my 11th grade students are like me, they enjoy learning for the sake of learning on some level. What would they like to learn? What are some things they've always wondered about but never had access to? It relies on a second hunch that they like learning things with me. It wouldn't matter what we were talking about as long as I were in charge.

I posed the question, would you be willing to come up to school for a few mornings in the summer and learn whatever, if I taught it?

Short answer: camp got approved and I have a healthy list of attendees. Now what happens?

Soon, I'll need to get real, legit commitments. I gave the kids two possibilities (the week of June 13 or the week of June 20) and had them bounce the dates off their parents. Some had to work, some are going out of town, but a lot were available and willing to learn stuff in the summer. Imagine!

What are we going to learn? I have some ideas but I want this to be driven by student interest as well. Programming is at the top of their lists, and some wouldn't mind discussions about space travel, astronomy, robotics, or even mundane things like how to their taxes or something.

The camp needs a name. I already have an established brand. Rolling a summer camp into the Varsity Math universe of nonsense was an easy move even if this isn't explicitly a math camp. T-shirts and stickers are likely. We're also probably going to charge about $20 just to give the kids a sense of investment (make it free and they'd probably bail when June came).

AuthorJonathan Claydon