How Do We Define “Pep”?

Unexpectedly, I decided to supervise the commons area during a pep-fest and took that opportunity to take a page from Christopher Danielson’s book and bring some games and leave them for students to “discover.”

I chose a few that were more portable and set them out.  No one bit.  

I could have packed them up and continue on my merry, grading way, but I thought, “NO.”  This was the second time this week my game-bait had been rejected and I was not having it. (The first was from my daughter who caught onto my clever placement of shapes as soon as she walked in the door)  There were about 15 kids in the commons area, and I was determined to get at least 5 of them to play Set Cubed with me.

So I called a few of them over, taught them how to play, and some serious fun ensued.  It was four boys and I for 45 solid minutes, and no one flinched for a second to check his phone.  Not one of them.

Here’s what I learned:

This week was Snow Week at our school.  Four themed dress-up days,  a talent show, a dance, and a pepfest. Something for everyone!  Well…most everyone.   Students who don’t wish to attend the pepfest must bring a note from their parent excusing them or they can sit in the commons area for the hour.  It’s safe to assume that the heavily involved students attend the pepfest, some begrudgingly go, and many students opt to bring in a note excusing themselves.

That leaves a small group of students who do not feel a connection to school spirit and do not have another ride home.  They’re marginalized for one reason or another.  And what do we do to accommodate them?  We put them in a room, ask a few teachers to supervise them, and cross our fingers that they sit down and put their face in their phones for the hour.  We silence them because they don’t want to sit in a crowded, noisy gymnasium and watch the crowning of Snow royalty and see a principal kiss a pig.

I want to be clear, my goal is not to not criticize pep-rallies or school-spirited events.  Our students and teachers do an excellent job of making sure these events are entertaining for those who attend.  But we need to acknowledge and honor the fact that there are students where school is their safe place but overt participation in it is not comfortable for them.  Their needs involve being supported by school, which doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t support their school.  And because of this deep need, we need to offer them a place where they can feel valued and not marginalized and unappreciated.

I will finish with this: it sure felt good making those kids feel comfortable today.


Math is Messy. So Are Gender Roles.

I have been absolutely humbled by all of the positive feedback I have received from my previous post.  Thank you to infinity for taking the time to read, write, and share.  I believe that it is our common humanity that makes it possible for us to learn from one another, not necessarily our knowledge of content.  There is so much of my sobriety that goes into my teaching.  It is an incredibly freeing feeling to be able to be honest about that part of my life as I blog.

Rose Eveleth wrote a great piece about the roles that girls find themselves taking on in group work.  In short, Eveleth focuses on acknowledging that girls often self-assign the “recording” role, absolving (and downright excluding) themselves from a problem solving opportunity.  The end result, career-wise, may lead women away from high-profiled positions.   As teachers, it’s easy for us to overlook this discrepancy because girls, generally speaking, are neater and more organized, and may seem like the best fit for the job.  In a related article, Dale Baker does a great job of asking teachers to examine gender preferences that exist in our classrooms in order to help encourage all students to step into the “lime light.”

On Friday, I tried a simple version of this.  First, students were presented this scenario (taken from the Math Forum POW section):

The Student Council at Rahkenrole High School is planning a concert.  They’ve hired the Knox Mountain Boys, a popular local band, for $340.  A poll among the students has shown that if tickets cost $5, 140 people will come to the concert.  For every dollar the ticket price goes up, 10 fewer people will come, and for every dollar it goes down, 10 more people will come.  

I’ve been a huge fan of the Math Forum, long before I joined Twitter (and got to fangirl Max Ray at TMC14).  The reasons might not seem obvious from this scenario, but kids noticed right away that there was no question asked at the end.  What’s brilliant here is that there is literally an infinite number of questions that we could ask here.  Granted, some questions are more important than others, but I framed the task in a way that elicited what I needed.

I handed out a big white piece of paper to each group of 4 and had them divide the paper up into sections.  This way each person in the group was both the recorder and the problem solver.   I asked them to write down 2 questions they think that I would ask about the scenario and one question (anything) that they would ask.  They identified their group’s most important question and put it up on the whiteboards on the wall.

Low and Behold!  They READ MY MIND! They asked about maximizing profit, income, and people, and also requested modeling equations for each.  The excellence in this scenario (and the Math Forum in general) is that it can be applied to so many levels of math for so many reasons.  For example, most high school kids can make a table and figure out a reasonable answer for the maximization questions, and kids with more know-how can develop mathematical models.

Some great things happened:

  1. They knew they needed ONE set of answers in the center of their paper.  This meant they had to communicate the work in their section. The traditional group roles dissipated, and they all had equal stake in solving the problem.
  2. They solved the problem in so many different ways.  (Do you remember these types of questions from Algebra 1/2?  I’m sure they have a trendy textbook label that alludes me at the moment. But they are solved by making the variable “number of price increases. Interestingly, very few students solved it that way successfully.)
  3. They were messy. And I loved it.  In fact, I made the second class use markers exclusively so that they could not erase.
  4. They were uncomfortable leaving some of the questions unanswered.  When I didn’t label certain questions as “bonus” or “extension” they felt that all were necessary to be successful.  My goal was for them to collaborate with ownership in their individual contribution.  I may have gotten more joy out of this part than I should have 🙂

Here are some fun photos of their work:

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Hi. I’m Megan.

The time finally came for us to move the crib-turned-toddler-daybed out of my daughter’s room and clear the way for her new big girl bed.  While clearing out the menagerie of clutter that remained from under her bed, I came across a card that I must have given my daughter to play with when she was collecting “credit cards.”  It was my therapist’s business card, and on the back, as was typical when I was attending therapy, was a question for me to reflect on before my next session.  “What is Normal?

Growing up, I experienced more square-peg, round-hole situations than I care to recall.  Moving, switching from private to public school, changing swim teams to find the right fit kept “normal” seemingly out of reach for me.   A career change, divorce, and seven years of therapy later, at the age of 31, I realized that this “normal” that so many of us live in constant pursuit of does not really exist at all.

[Side note: If when you hear the word therapy, you think  “I don’t need to pay someone to listen to my problems.  I’ve got friends for that, I want to be the first to tell you you’re wrong. There’s a professionalism and unbiased skill that a therapist has when uncovering the root of an issue. Just like content experts don’t make the best teachers, friends don’t make the best therapists.]

I’ve struggled internally with how to write this blog post for a long time.  I wrestled with the idea of writing anonymously, but “unnamed” has never been my way about things.  My ultimate goal in this is that my experience, strength and hope can inspire, encourage, and support someone who is having a similar struggle.  I feel I can do that most effectively with a genuine story, rather than an incognito account.  So, without further introduction, I’m taking a deep breath, putting my big girl pants on, and opening up.


Hi.  I’m Megan.  I’m a mother, a wife, a vegan, a dog lover, a math teacher, and an alcoholic.  On March 31, 2012, I admitted my powerlessness over alcohol and this March will mark 3 straight years of sobriety for me.  I’ve attended AA meetings, in numerous cities, and the message is the same:  The addiction is merely a symptom to an underlying problem.

On August 29, 2010, I gave birth to a baby girl named Maria.  Her perfect eyes, toes, and full head of hair illuminated my world like I could not have imagined.  Being a mother was going to be the most rewarding, beautiful experience of my life, yet I felt the heavy burden as the life of this child was placed in my arms. Nothing short of divine intervention was going to come between me and protecting my child.  Nothing, of course, but the power of an addiction to alcohol, which no human force could ever remove.  I remember looking at Maria’s perfect blue eyes and stroking her soft baby skin, while slowly emptying the remaining contents of a bottle of Kettle One vodka I’d stashed under the sink.  Alcohol pulled me deeper and deeper into helplessness as it seduced me night after night.  That first sip after a hard day dealing with students sent a rush of relief throughout my body. But that relief was short lived when the need for more grew greater and greater.

Everyday, people are touched by the promises of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Every profession in the world has been affected by the disease of alcoholism.  But as a teacher, I have experienced the anxiety that comes with wondering if AA is truly anonymous. I hesitated so many times to walk through the welcoming doors and admit my powerlessness over a drug that held me down.  Fearful that inside those rooms I’d lock eyes with a parent, former student, or colleague who would divulge my secret that I struggled with alcohol.  As teachers, we desire control and order.  Trying to control my intake of alcohol was something out of my reach, yet the fear of being recognized as a teacher kept me from attending a meeting and seeking real help.

I still attend AA meetings and no longer fear running into school parents or former students.  In fact, I’ve become friends with a few that also attend meetings.  When I run into former students, I look for ways I can be helpful to them rather than shying away.    Along with therapy, I’ve learned to embrace my abnormality.   I’m a math and dog-loving, vegan, alcoholic.  I’ve been told not to open with that description, but that’s who I am at the core.  I don’t fit into many social circles naturally, but I’m fiercely committed to those I call friends.  Since I’ve put down my drink, my life has not stopped getting better.  And I’ve built a confidence in myself that there isn’t anything I want to accomplish that’s out of my reach.

There’s a lot of cliched “if I can do it, you can do it” rhetoric that follows stories like this, so I’m going to try to go a different route.  Social media does a lot of great things, but the glow of perfect Instagram photos and self-congratulatory Facebook statuses seems to tell us to put our best foot forward and discourage us from showing the hurt that lies underneath.  Many of us mourned when Robin Williams lost his battle with addiction by taking his own life, but how many of us reached out to the Williams’ in our timelines?  The face of addiction isn’t necessarily the homeless person on a bench with a bottle in a bag.  Because it’s also the teacher down the hall who holds it together during the day and falls apart at night.

I will be an alcoholic for the rest of my life, and my goal in posting this is to shed light on the deep rooted issues that even the most connected of connected educators hide.  If you struggle with addiction, please reach out.  Alcohol happened to be my drug of choice, but the many threads of addiction run together under common themes.  Please share this post far and wide, especially if you think it would help someone who is struggling with this destructive, life-threatening condition of addiction.

We open our hearts and souls to our children every year, but struggle with opening ourselves to help.  We support each other with twitter chats and lesson sharing, but I know that so many fellow educators struggle with similar issues that don’t translate well in 140 characters.  But we can’t heal a hurt we keep hidden underneath educational technology and growth mindset posters.  Let’s lift each other up in a way that helps us grow from the inside and helps us appreciate our own abnormalities as perfection.