Every so often I stop and realize that I have been at this for a decade. I have never been actively working on such a particular idea for so long. I think it’s safe to say the crisis of career I faced a long time ago has been settled. This is what I’m supposed to do. In recognition of this “holy crap 10 years” and the fact that I like making charts, I present a series of charts about things I’ve been doing for the past decade.

This time, the saga of how Varsity Math started as a tweet and turned into a massive merchandise brand. A very limited supply was offered to the public this year, but it is but a fraction of what students receive. Here’s units shipped of Varsity Math merchandise for the last 5 years:

Next to each year is a rough approximation of the money making all this possible. Each stack of bills represents $500 in real money. Students pay for their items. Currently, a base fee of $20 gets a student a t-shirt, sticker, patch, and sunglasses. No student is ever denied the base package due to an inability to pay. Other items are offered a la carte. If you’re interested in sponsoring a student, options are available.

We started small. Kids like t-shirts, so we got t-shirts. Then Andrew Stadel got me hooked on Sticker Mule and I started ordering stickers. As the whole premise is making a joke about letter jackets, I ordered patches in 2015. These were adhesive backed and the thought was kids could stick/sew them to their actual letter jacket. The concept did not take off. In 2016, I ordered patches with velcro backs and the rest was history. You want to spot a Varsity Math kid at my school? Check the lanyard. This simple addition increased our visibility 10x. Suddenly, kids were hooked on the patches. HOW DO I GET A PATCH? random underclassmen would ask me.

But oh….we weren’t done. Summer 2016 we added Summer Camp and a merchandise line to go with it. These shirts and stickers are among the most exclusive because you had to be there. Before you know it, we’re in the sunglasses business, the sweatshirt business, the sock business, and the shoe business.

Eleven kids signed up to make custom Vans with a Varsity Math logo. These shoes weren’t cheap and took 4 weeks to arrive. For this year’s round, I started collecting merchandise money in August 2018, and by Dec 1 over 800 items had been delivered. Simply put, the kids are merch crazy.

I design all the merchandise (force teaching myself Illustrator has worked wonders) and developed a whole slate of contacts who can make me just about anything. It has been a fascinating study of design, manufacturing, and logistics. By no means do I suggest it if you’re looking for a casual hobby, but if you’ve ever seen the tweets and were curious about what kind of scales I operate at, well here you go.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Since becoming a goofy idea I revealed to the public in 2015, it is FINALLY time for you to get involved in the action. I am proud to announce that Varsity Math merchandise is now on sale for a limited time. Grab a t-shirt, sticker, patch, socks, or a full matching set! If you would like to donate to the classroom needs of my students, you have that option as well.

Varsity Math is something I enjoy very very much and I think the kids like it ten times more than I do. Come join the team!

For some more background info, have a look at the highlights from last year’s Varsity Math Day.

Limited to customers in the United States only. TX residents add 8.25% sales tax on all purchases (except donations made through the button). Store open for a limited time.

VARSITYMATH.NET

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AuthorJonathan Claydon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

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

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

Year Four of Varsity Math. Every year there seem to be weird things that make each group unique, adding new features to our brand. Last year saw the juggernaut of Baby Shark. And boy is that sucker still going strong. We also constructed a Hall of Fame. What's new this year?

Varsity Math has become a brand unto itself and brands have to be managed. You have to keep them in the public eye. The hardest part for us is that 99% of the members graduate. This year we had 0 returning students. For 2018-19 there will be 3. Summer Camp has served as a great on boarding tool, bringing kids into the program in a fun way and hopefully making them that much more excited for the start of the school year. But what about during the school year? How do you get all the kids who didn't go to summer camp and who might only vaguely remember seeing goofy dorks with t-shirts running around?

Promote the crap out of it. Collecting money and generating merchandise takes some time, but once it all arrives I like to have a Nerd Day. A couple weeks ago was the 2017 edition. All the AP kids wear their shirts and patches and stickers on the same day. It gets people talking when ~100 kids not on a sports team all dress alike. At the kids' request I diversified the merchandise and added custom sunglasses:

And in what is by far the goofiest stunt I've heard of, a bunch of them had a parade of sorts at lunch. I was clueless it happened until after the fact when 10 or so kids ran to my room to tell me what they did. It was pretty simple, they did a lap of the cafeteria, sung a poor unsuspecting kid happy birthday and took a group photo:

The contingent that eats lunch earlier in the day was sorely upset that they missed out.

Recognizing that this is the future and something doesn't happen unless it gets recorded on social media, I bought a Snapchat filter for the day. It was geofenced to the classroom and cafeteria sections of the school and I told kids to post, post, post. They did not disappoint:

And the stats were pretty impressive:

I collected as many of them as I could and assembled a giant collage for posting out on the Hall of Fame (2 of 9 pages shown):

The parade was a little silly and over the top, but a sign of how much fun the kids were having. And were you to hang out in my room, you'd find that "over the top" is kind of the status quo anyway. To have the kids in AP math excited to be a part of it is one thing, but the fact that we can generate buzz around the school at large is so awesome. AP math as the cool kids club, who knew?

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

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.

Economics

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.

Attendees

Some general information on who attends:

Spreadsheets

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.

Drones

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).

Statistics

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.

Engineering

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.

Games

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
Posted
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.

Posted
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. 

Agenda

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.

Purpose

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.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon

Earlier this week was my 100th day on duty. I'm at school quite a bit. While walking through a common area the other day, a kid asked me if I was "low key homeless" because I can be seen at school all hours of the day it seems. Other than being a little tired, it's been fine. In fact, the main portion of the school day in my classroom is great. It's all the work that happens after hours to make that great that can be a bit of grind (looking at you endless cycle of AP benchmark typo correction).

Here are some things that I've been pushing in my classroom:

Literacy

Pre-Cal assessment requires students to give a lot of explanations. As someone said on Twitter the other day, Pre-Cal is one of the first opportunities students have to see the skills they get from Algebra and Geometry put into practice. I have been really impressed with what some of my students have been bringing to the party here.

Technology

We moved on from iPads and have a class set of Chromebooks now. I bought a massive enterprise level network printer and make it available to my students via Google CloudPrint. Through some magic on my classroom computer they can print from their phones as well. Pre-Cal students have an assigned Chromebook. They've done a number of activities in Desmos that are making them more fluent in the calculator than any of my previous groups. It is the second language of my classroom. Kids bust it out on their phone when they want to prove something. It's their preferred method of graphing. If you ever wondered what that "students consistently use technology in meaningful ways" objective on your technology goal rubric looks like, give us a visit.

Presence

Varsity Math is here to say hello. I spot a kid in one of the t-shirts almost every day. They've got patches on their lanyards. I have random younger students asking me how to join. A small batch of students have just been invited to be our first ever straight BC class next year. As one kid put it in their end of semester survey "this is the only AP course I feel I have a chance to brag about."

Pre-Cal has something to say too. Several years ago I had some Algebra 2 students build their own estimation tasks. This year, during our final block period before the break, students brought in ideas for a brand new round of tasks (over 100). We made a giant mess. Kids came up with some awesome ideas. Early next semester we will install mega Estimation Wall 2.0.

Acknowledgments

Shout out to the students for being awesome as always. Shout out to those of you in Twitter land who give me new ideas. Special shout out to Team Desmos for having a really polished product that just works.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon