Tag Archives: blogging

Good PD

Like many teachers, I have suffered through some pretty awful professional development (PD) days. Some where we are read to off a PowerPoint slideshow, one of the techniques we are told is not good teaching practice. Others are more interactive (e.g. think-pair-share) but still boring and/or not relevant to actual teachers.

I am a firm believer that PD needs to be much more self-directed to be effective. We, as teachers, are professionals. As such, we can be trusted to work toward our own professional growth.

I get so much out of reading blogs by and tweeting with other math teachers–including lesson ideas, projects, worksheets, innovative techniques, clear explanations, and feedback on my ideas. Mythagon does a great job explaining the value of the math blogging/tweeting community here. The engineering education community is smaller, but I’ve worked to create and find spaces for that collaboration to occur as well, including by creating an online course to share resources with other engineering teachers in Baltimore City, and by starting this very blog.

In an official PD Day setting, where teachers have school but kids don’t, what could a more self-directed PD look like? It could include time to develop and grow a virtual professional learning community (blogs, twitter, as described above). It could include time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or district, self-selecting colleagues in your subject area or outside it, and deciding as a group what topics need to be discussed. It could include a variety of seminars/presentations, each led by teachers, of which you can pick which ones to attend that you need the most development in.

The best PD is that which I can use in the classroom the next day or week or month. Some of the best days of PD for me personally have come from a series of workshops organized specifically for PLTW engineering teachers, through the Community College of Baltimore County and the Time Center. They’ve been offering these trainings for the past several years, and recently received an NSF grant to expand their ongoing-PD model to other schools and states across the country.

Crane, built from FischerTechnik parts and programmed via RoboPro

I attended one of these PD’s a few weeks ago about using and programming with FischerTechniks and RoboPro. We learned advanced programming techniques (variables, subroutines, displays, inputs/outputs, commands & operators, branches and wait fors). We applied some of these techniques to arithmetic operations, and some to operating the crane you see above.

For the second half of the day, we had time to complete a project of our own choosing. I needed some help and practice time with pneumatics, as they were not part of my original training in the Principles of Engineering and Computer Integrated Manufacturing courses but have since been added to the curriculum in both. To use the new curricula, we had to purchase supplemental kits, since our FischerTechnik kits did not come with pneumatic components. So this was still pretty new to me, and I really valued the time I had to explore, learn, and get help from both the professor and a teacher-classmate. We built the simple pneumatic system you see below, which will store compressed air in the tank using a motor and cylinder pump system, then convert the pressurized air to vertical or lateral motion. This has been especially useful, since I’ve been using the instructional resources provided that day, plus my greater understanding of this topic, to teach pneumatics and fluid power to my CIM students this week!

Our pneumatic system

I shall be attending another PD this Friday at CCBC to improve my skills in using Autodesk Inventor, a 3D modeling software.


It’s down to the home stretch for both Mustaches For Kids and #NaBloPoMo!

Please support my moustache & Baltimore students by donating at DonorsChoose via my page. Plus, if you give now, you can use the codeword JOLLY and have your donation matched!

Also please support my partners in Baltimore’s NaBloPoMo by visiting and commenting at their blogs:

Only one day left in November – we’re almost through!

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Halfway there

So it is officially halfway through the month of November!

That has meant 15 daily posts from me so far (scroll down to catch any you may have missed).

Lots of posts as well from my partners in crime (or at least in the craziness that is National Blog Posting Month): Surviving the SystemBmoreSchoolsEpiphany in Baltimore, & The Smallest Twine. Go check out their blogs and join in on Baltimore’s online education discussion!

Halfway through the month also means my moustache is halfway to its full magnificence and splendor.

Me, with a 14-day-old mustache

**Please donate to my moustache’s DonorsChoose page to help support Baltimore’s kids**

Hope everyone enjoys this ides of November, and good luck to you in your November endeavors!

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Pep Talk

Writing a post a day is difficult.

Recently, Smallest Twine has claimed to “fail at NaBloPoMo”, and A BCPSS Parent has said: “I feel like I’m producing vast quantities of junk that is somewhat embarrassing.”

Each of the last few days, I’ve also felt like I’m not putting top-quality effort into my posts. On Friday I posted a picture of solar panels and gave a factual description of a trip we had gone on. Not much creative effort there. And here I am talking not about some interesting topic in Baltimore education, but about blogging. I thought about some of the other topics I had planned, but figured they would each take too much time, and here it is 10:00 already–I should be in bed so that I may wake up bright and early, ready for a new week!

Last year, going through NaBloPoMo for my first time, I’d say only about 1/3 of my posts were any good. Those are the ones that I hope stick in your memory, and that I’ve since highlighted or linked back to. But I also had posts where I just posted a photo, just posted someone else’s photo, just copied and pasted a twitter chat I had been involved in, where I just summed up the prior week’s posts, and where I talked about the word “quadrimular”, which I’ve used approximately once since then. Certainly some pretty pitiful posts!

But the point of NaBloPoMo is quantity over quality. Some days you won’t have a brilliant post in you. Other days you may be on fire and write two (scheduling one for a day later, of course). Out of quantity will come some quality, and the daily deadline will bring a renewed life to your blog which had been sitting dormant.

NaBloPoMo is modeled on NaNoWriMo, which likewise is all about quantity: completing a novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, within the thirty days of November. I found some inspiration there in a page of pep talks for those who might be feeling frustrated, down in the dumps, or otherwise antagonistic toward this month of writing:

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.          – Neil Gaiman’s Pep Talk

So, to my fellow NaBloPoMo’ers, keep up the daily work! Keep writing, with the confidence that though we all hit a wall sometimes, our blogging is important nonetheless. Important to ourselves, as “thinking on paper”. Important to each other, as a Baltimore education community trying to re-start discussion. And, possibly, important to others out there in the world who may find one of our posts helpful or thought-provoking.

So keep blogging! Use the daily prompts from NaBloPoMo! Or use one another’s posts to inspire comments or a post of your own! Here are links to the other great folks participating in BmoreEd-NaBloPoMo:


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Kicking Off November

November is here! A much better month than October. October is overwhelmed with the craziness of a new school year (craziness that was hiding away in September as students and teachers get to know one another). In November, the amount of work doesn’t get any less, but we’re getting back into the swing of things. A rhythm and some semblance of normalcy is established, enough to carry on with other things–like blogging!

As mentioned in my recent post, I plan to do my second annual NaBloPoMo this November! That means a post every day. Be ready for wide swings in post quality and themes, like last year: anything from a just a picture with captioning paragraph, to a manifesto on proofs with example, to descriptions of lessons, to Baltimore City education politics. While not every post will be a masterpiece, the point of writing every day is to get words flowing so that some quality writing may appear.

Coming up in November are some great events and topics that I plan to address, including:

  • STEM Competition (our 4th annual!) – see more info under the STEM tab above if you are unfamiliar with the awesomeness that this entails
  • My school’s recruitment fair and open house
  • The citywide School Choice Fair
  • Election Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • 11.11.11
  • Work-based learning opportunities for our students
  • College and scholarship applications for our engineering seniors
  • Where my time is going
  • What it’s like working in a turnaround school
  • Recruitment and marketing steps we are taking
  • A look back at our first Industry Partners Breakfast
  • Several professional development trainings, conferences, and webinars
  • How to find money, grants, donations, and/or find ways to work without them
  • Lessons relating to robotic arms, triangles, circles, etc.
  • Our teachers’ contract, one year later

Let me know if you have another topic you’d like me to address, and/or which of the above is most interesting or important to you!

Also, don’t forget to check out my co-conspirators on this daily blogging project: A Parent, Bmore Schools, Epiphany in Baltimore, and Smallest Twine. They are on my blogroll at right, but are so awesome that you should add them to your own link list or blog reader. In addition to providing one another moral support and encouragement in daily blogging, I hope we engage each other in conversations across our blogs. This is a chance to rekindle some passionate but respectful discourse about education in Baltimore.

Happy November, everyone!

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NaBloPoMo Year Two, Here I Come!

Hi all,

I know it’s been a while.

All sorts of things going on at my school, many of them awesome! It feels like more work than ever—I know I didn’t put in quite so many 12- and 13-hour days last year—, but it takes a lot of work to help build a great school. [More updates on school stuff soon, I promise!]

One downside to being so busy and overwhelmed with work is less time for my blog 😦 . I haven’t posted in almost two months.

So, to get myself back in the habit of posting ,I thought I’d go from one extreme to another (what’s the opposite of quitting cold turkey?): jump into a commitment to post every day for the month of November!

You may recall that I tried this last November, my first foray into National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo, a la NaNoWriMo). At the start of the month, I was not sure I could make it. Especially considering that my blog at that time had fewer than 30 posts total from more than a year of writing, and here I was attempting to double that within a month!

But somehow or other, I made it through the month. Some days I only managed a really short post, like a picture with a one-paragraph description. I also learned how to schedule a post in advance, which I had never done before that month. That really helped me cover the very-busy or otherwise-focused parts of the month, including Thanksgiving. But I successfully posted every day in November 2010.

This evening, I talked it over with some other Baltimore education devotees on Twitter, and we agreed to help motivate each other to post more. So, with them as my blog buddies, I’m officially announcing my intent to join in NaBloPoMo for my second November, and post something every day for a month!

If you’re curious and might want to try it out too, check out the FAQ and news about NaBloPoMo, and also my post explaining why I attempted it last year. You can register with the official folks (see the “news” link last sentence) or stay under their radar and just post each day for a month. It’s always more fun when more people are involved, so give it a try!


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Blogging Month Complete!

Wow, I can’t believe I made it through National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo)! Coming into this, I figured that I had less than a fifty percent chance of getting through the month with daily posts, especially with being busy at work preparing for the STEM Competition and the high school fair, and with Thanksgiving travel plans getting in the way.

Somehow, I ended up posting every single day. I learned how to schedule posts in advance, which got me through the holiday. And I did meet my goal of writing shorter, more manageable posts rather than feeling like I have to write a ten-page essay for every post. In November, I more than doubled my total number of blog posts, from 28 in the entire year-plus that I’d been blogging until then, to 58 now (this one makes 59!).

Even though the month is over, here I am posting again! Do anticipate that the post rate will drop, but I expect (hope) to keep a more frequent pace than before November. Perhaps two posts a week instead of one post every two weeks?

In any case, since I know my own Google Reader is often stuffed with great things to read that I don’t always get to right away (or at all: once or twice I’ve skimmed and gone on a spring-cleaning of “Marking As Read”), I thought I’d take a moment and highlight some of my better posts from NaBloPoMo.

  • STEM Day is always a highlight of my year, so my blog post about it is quite exuberant and exclamation-mark-filled, but still has some valuable and exciting ideas that I’d love to see used by others!
  • For those interested in Baltimore education news or in national ed reform, I’m proud of my description of the ‘groundbreaking’ new teachers’ contract.
  • A pair of posts about the role of proof in teaching mathematics: the first is my opinion on proofs and mathematical thinking, and the second works through the mathematical thought process used to solve a challenging example in a way I’d like to see occurring more in math classes in high school.
  • Another post pair, concerning difficulties and successes encountered in teaching a unit on fractals.

Enjoy reading or re-reading these November nuggets, and see you again in a few days (after a brief blog break)!

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While I do think and plan ahead, I don’t actually do things often until the last minute.

In teaching, I am usually preparing that day’s materials in the morning. This is part of what brings me to school most days between 7:00 and 7:30am, more than an hour before the school day starts (except this semester, with first period planning, I’ve been slipping towards 8:00). [On a side note, I could not survive the way some schools have it, where you submit your pages to be copied by the secretary three days in advance!] While I do have a very clear and detailed picture in my mind of where I want to go, I usually leave the details (and powerpoint slides and photocopies and getting materials ready) until the day they are required. In manufacturing, this is called the Just-In-Time method!

With this blog, it has been the same way. Before this month, I would just sit down when I had an idea burning in my mind that I wanted to talk about or share (and time to do it in). I would hammer it out right then and there, do linkification research, proofread, and then click “Publish”. Occasionally I might jot down an outline when I didn’t have time for a full post, then save it as a draft to come back to and write another day.

This month, with my goal of blogging once a day for NaBloPoMo, I am surprised I’ve lasted this far with such an inclination toward procrastination (23 days down, 7 to go!). Again, I’ve sometimes saved ideas or an outline for a post in advance, but each day I find time to write and publish. Certainly my post length and quality have varied, and sometimes I’m running so last-minute that I publish that day’s post at 11:57pm.

But this week, Thanksgiving approaches, which means non-routine draws on my time and Internet non-connectivity (as well as time spent with friends and family).  So I am learning for the first time how to schedule a blog post to appear at a date and time other than right now! [Hint: it’s pretty easy.] I just successfully scheduled a Thanksgiving day post, and plan to schedule a few more before the night is out.

Here’s to conquering my procrastinative tendencies for once!


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Math Teacher Survey

I just filled out this survey, created by Sean Sweeney and Kate Nowak to aggregate data and information about the online math teacher community, with the goal of  creating an entrance portal welcoming new math teachers to that community and showcasing all the resources it has (we have?) to offer.

You should go fill the survey out too! [direct link to survey]

In answering the survey questions, I noticed that the blog posts I tend to value the highest are ones with great activity ideas that I can use. I chose as “killer posts” Sam’s write-up of his pendulum lab and Kate’s discussion (with videos) on her use of the spaghetti sines activity. While I greatly appreciate Dan’s “What Can You Do With This?” series, I actually picked one of his posts on an opposite-of-exemplary lesson, due to its role in clarifying thinking on how to improve our instruction.

So, in that spirit of providing activities that are useful, the two posts of my own that I chose as “killer”, or at least pretty interesting, are: Shadows, Mirrors, Scale Models, and School Measurement and Puzzling Out Some Quadratics. Let me know if you agree or have other posts that are your favorites!

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Why NaBloPoMo?

Why I Blog At All

I began reading math teacher blogs long before I started to write one [check out my blogroll for some that I read regularly]. I was inspired by the great lesson ideas being put forth, and the free-flowing dialogue about how to improve math teaching and learning. I “borrowed” (i.e. stole)lots of ideas that I used in my own classroom.  So when I started my own blog a little more than a year ago, it was with the idea of giving something back to the vibrant math blogging community that I had learned so much from, while also expressing some of the thoughts unique to my own position as a half-math, half-engineering teacher in Baltimore.

NaBloPoMo: A Commitment to Write More

Climb High
Climb Far
Your Goal the Sky
Your Aim the Star
Inscription on Hopkins Gate at Williams College

Now, other than a four-month break, I have generally kept up a pace of posting once every 1-2 weeks. To me, an ideal writing/posting rate would be to invert that: 1-2 posts per week.

So why sign up for National Blog Posting Month (a.k.a. NaBloPoMo, so named in honor or mockery of the more-established NaNoWriMo), wherein I commit to write a post every single day? Well, even if I fail in my aim of writing a post every day, I will at least have succeeded in achieving my goal of writing (and reflecting on my own teaching practice) more. And if, by some miracle of fortitude and online connectivity even during travel, I do in fact write a post every single day, I will have (in one month) more than doubled the number of posts written (in over a year)!

By making an external commitment, I am forcing myself to prioritize blogging. I believe it is good just to get my thoughts down into words, with side benefits of sharing resources, sparking conversations, and/or thinking more deeply about a subject. In particular, I wish to do more (and more-immediate) reflections on the lessons I teach, with the bad included among the good. Thinking through why things went wrong, and soliciting the help of others, will help me to become a better teacher.

NaBloPoMo: Shorter Posts

As anyone who has read more than one or two of my posts knows, I tend to be long-winded. Yesterday’s post is a prime example.  Relatedly, it often takes me 1-3 hours to write a blog post, from thinking things through thoroughly, to getting those thoughts expressed on (metaphorical) paper the way I want them, to researching related background ideas and linkifying the post, to editing for clarity and typos.

I know with absolute certainty that, although I am prioritizing blogging this month, I do not have the time to devote 1-3 hours every day to blog posts. So if I keep up that pace, I will wear out and drop out of my month’s commitment.

Instead, another piece of what I am hoping will transpire is that I will start to write shorter, quicker blog posts: just dash off a few thoughts, proofread for egregious errors, than publish. A 15-20 minute daily blogging commitment I can live with, and would be healthier to promote a lasting change in post frequency.

To my fellow NaBloPoMo participants, why are you writing?


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A Post A Day for November?

October is a difficult month, as attested to by teachers and parents. It is packed full of events and increasing busy-ness at school, as well as a time when students start pushing boundaries in class and in the school (the “honeymoon period” is over). Last year, I stopped blogging in October, and didn’t pick up again  for over four months.

This year, although I only managed one post in October, I am committed not to let a four-month hiatus happen again. So many interesting things happened in October that I need to tell everyone about: a CyberSecurity Awareness Day trip to Lockheed Martin, some great sessions at NCTM Baltimore, meeting up with other blogging/tweeting math teachers at NCTM Baltimore, learning about new engineering curricula at UMBC (and finding out about required equipment we don’t have!), a visit from the National Academy Foundation to view our progress toward becoming an Academy of Engineering, collaborating with an art teacher on a fractal printmaking project, and a trip to the National Mall in DC for the first-ever USA Science and Engineering Festival! And even more fun is coming up over the next few weeks: an advisory board meeting, a career & tech ed expo, the high school fair where we recruit 8th graders to come to our school (and our engineering program), and most especially: our third annual STEM Competition is planned for November 18th!

So, endeavoring to combat the October and post-October craziness that leads to a lack of blog posts, I have decided (to attempt) to participate in NaBloPoMo! [See info here and here.] Though this may be doomed from the start (especially due to Thanksgiving and my college homecoming falling within the month of November), I shall make every effort to post each day for the entirety of this eleventh month.  And with my first post now done, here goes!


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