Stuff I Like: Summer 2016 Edition

As I said in my last post, I’m taking part in #MTBoSBlaugust, organized by the awesome @druinok. I missed posting yesterday, but am hoping to double up today (post 2 should be more education centric).

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and at the end of every episode they have a segment called What’s Making Us Happy where the panelists share one thing in pop culture that they’re enjoying that week. So my hope going forward is to do something similar here and post a recap of the things I like from the week, either in the popular culture or the wonderful world of education.

So here is Stuff I Like: Summer 2016 Edition

Podcasts: I listen to a ton of podcasts, here’s what is in my regular rotation: Pop Culture Happy Hour (fun round table discussions of pop culture); The Relevant Podcast (the podcast I’ve listened to the longest, is ostensibly about Christianity and pop culture, but regularly veers into hilarious 15 minute long digressions about things like Nic Cage movies); The Bill Simmons Podcast (I’ve been listening to his podcasts since the beginning of The BS Report, great interviews with athletes, pop culture figures, and his recurring cast of regulars); Keeping it 1600 (Part of the Ringer Podcast Network, a political podcast hosted by former Obama staffers Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer breaking down the week’s political news); The NPR Politics Podcast (political coverage without the idealogical bent); Tales from the Chalkline (MTBoS’s own Anne Schwartz‘s excellent new social justice/equity in education podcast); PS I Love You XOXO (the internet’s #1 Playstation Podcast from Kinda Funny); Code Switch (Race and identity from NPR); The Ezra Klein Show (great long form interviews from the founder of Vox); The Lowe Post (a basketball podcast from my favorite basketball writer); Radiolab Presents: More Perfect (a limited series on the Supreme Court’s most interesting and important cases, I feel like a better citizen every time I finish an episode).

Music: As you can probably tell from the above list, most of my listening time is taken up by podcasts, but occasionally I’ll throw on music if I’m in the car (I play a lot more music in my classroom at the beginning of periods, but this is a post about my summer). So here are the albums that have made it into my regular rotation: Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (my favorite hip-hop album of the year, a little uneven, but the dude is the future); Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (probably my favorite Ye album since Graduation); The Hamilton Cast Album (is there anyone who doesn’t love this album?); The Hotelier – Goodness (part of the new wave of emo bands harkening back to my college days); Car Seat Headrest – Teen of Denial (the 7:45 long “Vincent” might be my favorite song of the year); Jack Garratt – Phase and Gallant – Ology (part of an excellent new psuedo-R&B wave); The Avalanches Wildflower (I’ve been waiting 15+ years for this follow up to their impeccable Since I Left You, and though it wasn’t what I was expecting, it doesn’t disappoint).

TV: The show I’ve put the most time into this summer is Bob’s Burgers, which might be the most consistently funny show on television. I started watching the new season as they were airing but hadn’t watched seasons 1-5, so I’ve been binge-watching those episodes on Netflix. I’ll never tire of Gene’s fart jokes. Other things I’ve been watching: Stranger Things (only 2 episodes in, plan on main lining the rest tomorrow when both kids are at daycare); The Bachelorette (this season was beyond boring and predictable, but I am super pumped for Bachelor in Paradise); Master Chef (I love to imagine that some day I will try out for this show); Mr. Robot (Season 2 has gone off the rails a little bit IMO, but Season 1 is a masterpiece); American Ninja Warrior (what started out as something my wife would watch by herself has turned into a family obsession, Beckett not routinely turns our living room into his own ANW course); Any Given Wednesday (as you should be able to tell from above, I am a huge Bill Simmons guy, this show isn’t quite good yet, but I haven’t canceled my HBO Now subscription, but that’s probably because of…); Last Week Tonight (

Movies: I don’t really have time (2 young kids) to go out and watch new movies, but I did watch Spy and Kingsman: The Secret Service on VOD and both of those were excellent. I’m going to see Suicide Squad tomorrow, but after reading some reviews, I don’t think it will every make it onto the Stuff I Like wall of fame.


A No Work, All Play, Very Good Summer

To help myself mentally prepare for the upcoming school year I’ve decided to jump into the #MTBoSBlaugust challenge. You can check out the other awesome participating blogs here.


If you look back in my archives, you’ll notice that I haven’t posted anything since last year. I’ve had a lot of big things going on in my personal life, so my ability to write professionally, even if it was doing a #teach180, wasn’t really on my radar (just to recap: my wife and I welcomed our second kiddo in January, he suffered through some respiratory issues in his first couple months, but is now doing fine; I lost my dad in February; all in all, not a lot of stuff by volume, but a lot of stuff by weight).

This summer, I’ve had my amazing 3 year old son home with me (in previous years he would continue going to daycare to keep his spot, but he’s starting preschool in the fall) and that has been a major adjustment for me. Every summer since I started teaching high school has been an equal mix of prepping for next year, video games, and napping, and this summer I haven’t touched a spreadsheet, planning document, or textbook (I’ve had a little bit of time to read teaching related stuff like the excellent Classroom Chef book), only play video games during nap times or while the rest of the house is asleep, and have taken fewer than 10 naps (a travesty).

Even though I haven’t done the things I usually do during my summer, I’m learning to embrace the idea of OUR summer with my son. We take weekly trips to the San Diego Zoo and Sea World (over the last few weeks I’ve learned that both of those places are excellent spots to catch Pokemon). We have both learned about patience. We have bonded and gotten closer over the last month than we have at any other time in his life. I’m fascinated by his innate desire to learn new things, explore without thought of consequence, and order his world in rational ways. Seeing that these traits are innate in young kids shows me that they could be there for my juniors and seniors as well, we just need to be able to draw them back out of hiding.

Homework! Oh, Homework!

Recently I came across Henri Picciotto’s writing on lagging homework. To say that this idea piqued my interest is an understatement. It had me up well past midnight last night trying to figure out how it would work in my AP Calculus classes. It fit so nicely with what I had been reading in Make It Stick (like this book needs any more publicity on the MTBoS) on spaced practice that it’s at least worth a shot to begin the year. So here’s what I have so far.

In class students will work through a new topic for a day or two, depending on the complexity. Whenever they’re done with the topic they’ll do an exit slip during the last few minutes of class as a check for understanding. They will then have the opportunity to self evaluate by placing their exit slip into one of three folders: Got It, Kind Of, Not Yet. I’ll give a quick pass through these and make sure I agree with their self evaluations. The following class period I’ll spend the first few minutes working with the Not Yet group on some remediation, while the Got It group works on extension problems and the Kind Of group works together on fixing their small mistakes and then moves on to the extension problems.

On the first day of each week, the class will get a handout due on Friday. That handout will cover material that was taught the previous week. So during the first week of school, in class they’ll be learning about evaluating limits, but at home they’ll be doing precalculus review problems. During the second week of school they’ll be learning about continuity, but their homework will be on the limit evaluation problems from the week prior.

I want to be able to give written feedback (without a grade) to my students on their homework prior to them taking an assessment on it, so that will have to come on week three.

So the work flow will be something like this:
Week 1 In Class → Week 2 At Home→ Week 3 Assessment

Classes don’t start for me until after Labor Day, so I have time to tweak and rework these ideas so your thoughts, comments, and questions would be really helpful.

Here’s the handout I’m planning on giving students explaining the system to them:

The Block Game as Formative Assessment

I’ve used the Antiderivative Block Game in my calculus classes to help students practice their ability to quickly take basic derivatives and integrals (shout out to Maria Anderson, Bowman Dickson, and CheeseMonkeySF.) So far, I’ve seen Words into Math, Exponent Block and Factor Pair Block, and the aforementioned Antiderivative Block. In John Scammell‘s Twitter Math Camp morning session we had been talking about formative assessment and on the last day he asked us to create or investigate different formative assessments and the block game came to mind.

So, here is the list of other potential block games my cohorts and I came up with:

  • Unit circle/Trig
  • Logarithmic to exponential
  • Fractions/Decimals/Percents
  • Distributive Property
  • Binomials/Trinomials
  • Graphs/Equations

Have you created any block games that you use in your classes or found any that I haven’t listed here? Please comment and let me know. Hopefully I’ll be creating these block games over the rest of my summer break and you can play test them this school year.