Tag Archives: #MTBoSBlaugust

Homework Ideas for a New Year

Last year I wrote about how I was going to start lagging homework in my AP Calculus class. To recap real quick: problem sets covered the information from the prior week, assignments were given out on Mondays, solutions were posted on Thursdays, assignments were due on Friday, feedback (but no grade) was given over the weekend and returned on Monday, if students did the work (and corrections) they got full credit.

Overall, the process worked well, but I still dealt with the majority of my class waiting until Thursday evening to work through the problems (which meant I never had kids in tutoring sessions or class asking questions on current homework assignments). In order to combat this phenomenon, I’ve decided to chunk their weekly homework assignment into daily portions that will be checked and stamped for effort at the beginning of class each day. Assignments will still be collected and responded to on Fridays and solutions will be posted for them on Thursday. I know this seems somewhat punitive but was the only solution I could figure out. If you have any other ideas of how this could work, it would be much appreciated!

Here’s an example of what an assignment will look like:


Before School Starts To-Do List

I have just under two weeks before I have to go back to work for two weeks of staff and student orientation, professional development, and team building (we don’t start school until the Tuesday after Labor Day, summer Eric loves this idea, 1 week till the AP exam Eric hates it). So, getting some sort of a to-do list down is probably a productive use of a blog post.

  • Create year plans for all 3 preps (and pray that I don’t get a 4th prep added at the 11th hour). I just try to get a general idea of where I need to be throughout the year on an Excel document, nothing earth shattering here.
  • Edit syllabi for AP Calculus and General Physics (I got AP Physics rewritten today).
  • Tidy up my classroom procedures and policies.
  • Edit concept/skill lists for all 3 courses. I use SBG in all my classes and right now AP Calculus is the only list that I feel confident in rolling out at to start the year.
  • Rewrite my unit 1 packets for AP Physics and General Physics. Thankfully, I’m using prewritten materials so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, there are some small things that didn’t work well last year that need to be tweaked.

In the weeks following I’ll probably add new things that come up and strikethrough stuff that I complete. What’s at the top of your to-do list?

PC: Jasper Nance via Flickr

15-16 Recap: General Physics

Last week I wrote reflection posts for AP Calculus and AP Physics, today I’m going to take a critical look at how my General Physics class went this past year and how I can improve it for the upcoming school year.

I teach two periods of physics to mostly juniors and seniors. We have a sizable population of international students from all over the globe, so I sometimes have a few international freshmen and sophomores in my sections as well. Similar to AP Physics I use the Investigative Science Learning Environment, created by a team led by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen, approach in my physics classes, which helps students build these skills, not just computational skills. Specifically I use their Physics Union Mathematics (PUM) curriculum with some resources from Dean Baird and others mixed in.

What Went Well

  • I had my students take the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) at the beginning and end of the year and statistically significant growth in my classes as a whole.
  • I emphasized the use of multiple representations (words, graphs, charts, tables, equations) throughout the year, so students got used to expressing their understanding that way.
  • Students had really productive struggle throughout the year and their biggest aha moments came when I took myself out of the learning equation as much as possible. Having well developed curriculum gave me a lot of freedom to step back and let them do the learning.
  • Students got to do a lot of hands on work throughout the semester.
  • My 5th period class was probably one of the most unique, supportive, loving classes I’ve ever taught. They went through a phase where they gave me akward compliments for minutes at a time. I had to call another teacher over and leave my class a few times, just because I was so embarrased. Plus they always seemed interested in learning!

What Can Improve

  • On the FCI, I had students who did worse, which either means that they guessed on both the pre & post tests or they developed more misconceptions throughout the year.
  • Homework was a disaster. I tried lagging homework like I do in my math classes and that didn’t work at all. The PUM homework was overwhelming for a lot of students, so I moved away from it as the year went on.
  • I haven’t figured out how to do reading assignments (I really dislike my textbook). Toward the end of the year I started assigning reading out of The Physics Classroom which my students didn’t seem to mind. Unfortunately, it’s an online only textbook, so that presents its own challenges.
  • Notetaking/notemaking. I need to teach students how to do this and why it’s important. Especially in science classes, where the reading is significantly different than in humanities, students need to be taught how to comprehend what they’re reading.

15-16 Recap: AP Physics

Yesterday, I wrote a post a reflection on AP Calculus, today I’m going to take a critical look at how my AP Physics class went this past year and how I can improve it for the upcoming school year.

Just to give a little background, I teach AP Physics 1, a course that just finished its 2nd year of existence. College Board decided to split what was AP Physics B into 2 separate courses, Physics 1 and Physics 2, each course representing 1 semester of college course work. The exam is now very light on computation (when I’ve taken AP practice exams, I have not needed a calculator) and heavy on deep conceptual understanding of physics principles and scientific thinking.  I use the Investigative Science Learning Environment, created by a team led by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen, approach in my physics classes, which helps students build these skills, not just computational skills.

What Went Well

  • I was able to cover all the topics in the Course Outline, which I wasn’t close to doing in year 1.
  • I gave my students an awesome final project, which led to some of the best work my students have done since I began teaching high school.
  • I had my students get familiar with using physics probeware and data analysis software early in the school year.
  • I allowed students to struggle through the process of breaking down misconceptions and building up correct ideas about how the world works and why things are the way they are.
  • As the year went on, I got better at writing assessment questions that really dug down into their conceptual understanding of a topic.
  • I assigned reading from the textbook and had students do some good reflecting about what they learned from their reading.
  • I stopped class one day, did no physics, and sat in a circle with my students discussing something that had come up in chapel earlier that day (I teach at a private Christian school and we have chapel once a week). One of my (highest performing and academically minded) students has mentioned this to multiple people (including in her graduation speach) as the most important classroom moment of her high school career.

What Can Improve

  • I spent waaaaaaayyyyyyy too much time on kinematics, which ended up putting us in a real time crunch at the end of the year.
  • On the final project, some students worked with a partner who clearly didn’t keep up their end of the partnership, so we ended the school year with some mild resentment between students. Next year, I need to either make it individuals only or add in some sort of group/partner accountability/evaluation piece to the project.
  • After introducing students to the probeware and software, we used it very little.
  • I still don’t trust students to do what they’re supposed to do all the time, so I intervened too early and too often in their discovery processes (I think part of this has to do with time, we have 52 minute periods, and I always felt like I was falling behind my year plan).
  • I just threw a bunch of AP exam review at them with a month left, but didn’t spend a ton of time with them on how to prepare for or what to expect from the exam.
  • My homework was a mess, inconsistent in both it’s frequency and quality.
  • I need to do a better job of organizing the class, from how we spend class time, lesson sequencing, homework, and assessments.

15-16 Recap: AP Calculus

As promised, this is post #2 today to make up for missing yesterday. This one will actually be about teaching, but since I apparently can’t do anything the easy way, I’ll be doing a series of 3 posts about what went well and what could be improved upon in AP Calculus (both AB  and BC flavors), General Physics, and AP Physics. So today, let’s start with AP Calculus. Lot’s of stuff to ponder, as I write this, I’m seeing that a few of these need some more unpacking, thankfully it’s #MTBoSBlaugust!

What Went Well

  • I lagged homework in AB (one of the few things I’ve written about in the past and something I need to write about more in the upcoming few days).
  • I posted full solutions to homework assignments in AB the night before the assignment was due and most of my students turned in fully corrected and annotated assignments on time.
  • I had students do 3 full 6 question FRQ exams and a full 45 question multiple choice exam prior to the actual AP exam in May. Gave them a lot of exposure to the type of problems they were going to see on the real exam and what they needed to spend the weeks prior to the exam focusing on.
  • I improved my pass rate.
  • Students did a lot of really good group work on VNPS.
  • I wrote a lot of good problems throughout the year to dig into student’s conceptual understanding.
  • I wrote some good notes and activity structures throughout the year.

What Can Improve

  • Students had difficulty transferring what they learned from lessons and the more skill based, formulaic problems they saw in their homework to the conceptually deeper AP style problems I gave them on assessments, midterms, and finals.
  • I’m not totally happy with the sequence of topics right now (might need to pick Jonathan’s brain more about the reasoning behind his sequencing).
  • By the time the third FRQ rolled around, a few of my students thought it would be useful to just memorize a bunch of FRQ solutions available on the internet (their ability to do stuff like this but not complete a simple homework assignment on time is staggering) and hope that they showed up. Luckily for them it did. Unluckily for them, those same problems weren’t on the AP exam (shocker!) and they got a 1 since they didn’t really study and prep.
  • I had a 4 person BC class that I structured more as an independent study course than a normal course. They were pretty productive most of the year, but didn’t do as well on the AP exam as they could have if they pushed themselves more throughout the year.
  • I had some students walk into an assessment (I use SBG), put their name on their paper, turn it in, and say they were going to reassess it next week. This is the first time this has happened in 4 years. Needless to say, it brought about a crisis of faith in the system and led to some long talks with these students about personal accountability in a high stakes class (due to the subject matter difficulty and exam at the end of the course) that sometimes feels like a low stakes class (due to reassessments).


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.