I have spent over ten years teaching math and programming classes at the Kirby School in Santa Cruz, CA, a private school for grades six through twelve. I developed and taught over four programming and computer-science courses for the school.
Prior to that, I taught dual-language classes at the Latino College Preparatory Academy in San Jose.
Philosophy of teaching
Every student has agency and makes their own decisions about what gets their attention and efforts. This is the reality of working with human beings. I must work within the quirks and limitations of human attention, and present my teachings in ways that the students can receive. Graceful cooperation — founded on mutual respect and commitment to see each other as we really are — yields a healthier dynamic, and is more sustainable, than attempting to override our human failings with an authoritarian approach that is willful and hard.
The central principle of my work is that whatever I teach, I must attend to that which serves all my students. Though it is important that each student have a solid grounding in arithmetic, statistics, geometry, and basic algebra, we mathematics teachers often mislead ourselves about the direct applicability of our course content to students’ daily life and future work.
For example: How many quadratic equations have you had to solve in the past week? Unless you are a math teacher, or are working in one of a few specific math-intensive fields, probably not many. Yet we make quadratic equations a centerpiece of our traditional Algebra I curriculum, and spend a great deal of time trying to teach ninth-graders to factor quadratic polynomials. This isn’t to say that there’s no value in studying quadratic equations (or any other math content); the point is that when we read math content standards, it’s easy to get bogged down in tiny chunks of measurable skill and lose sight of the bigger picture.
So, my intention is to focus primarily on cultivating growth mindset and teaching students new ways of thinking, and let the skill development follow. Starting from well-chosen problems — true problems, not exercises (though those have their place) — we can have fruitful discussions about how we think and what makes a solution good and where insight comes from. Using real problems also allows us to address the real transferable skills that will make a student successful in any future career:
- perseverating and observing patiently in the face of confusion
- asking probing questions
- attending to detail
- communicating accurately and clearly
- defining problems and solutions
- estimating numeric answers
- checking answers against reality (and not just the back of the book)
- working compassionately with others, assuming good intent
I also believe:
Rules work best when simple, universally applicable, stated positively, and connected explicitly to their intended purposes.
Formative assessment must be woven into each class session.
Intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic in the long run, since it’s self-sustaining.
My classroom design and layout must
- maximize everyone’s ability to see me and the screen,
- minimize distractions, particularly for “distracty” students,
- provide an environment rich in visuals the students can learn from,
- and let me get to any student in two seconds.
As a teacher, I have the responsibility to continue reflecting on, and continually refining, my own practices and processes.
On classroom management: This generic instructions sheet for substitute teachers covers my classroom routines; I supplemented it with specifics about whatever the students were studying in my absence.
On summative assessment: This holistic rubric covers the meanings of the letter grades in the courses I was teaching at the time. Each column gets one box circled, which we do on two copies: I fill out one, the student self-assesses on the other, and we conference to resolve discrepancies. The conferencing takes one class period and is done during students’ group or independent work.
This problem set was part of the final exam in geometry, and allowed me to observe students’ discussion habits as well as their understanding of the semester’s geometry material.
Painting the walls of my geometry classroom: