Aimless Wanderings

I suppose this will have to be a meandering post. I don’t have anything specific to say, so I’ll just do a little free form.

I feel bad that this year I haven’t created any seriously new resources to share. I realized that when @cheesemonkeysf  wrote about how she’s using my “completing the square” worksheets in her class. I remember making them, and how happy I was when I saw my kids finally latch onto the process. I’m sad that I haven’t been playing around with making more resources. The SBG thing has been taking up a lot of time.

Recently in calculus, I have been teaching my students the formal definition of the derivative, and we’ve been chugging through that. I really emphasize this type of work. As one student wrote a year or two ago:

“Mr. Shah likes to go the long way, the real building block method. First you learn the theory, then you learn the original (prehistoric) way, then (then!) you’ll learn the quick fun way. And later still you learn that you could have done it on your calculator all along.”

I take pride in that. And love that the student recognized it. Anyway, in calculus we finally got to the point where I’m having them explore and find some basic derivative rules/patterns on their own. They’re doing this using Wolfram|Alpha. I didn’t write the packet (only slightly modified it), so I can’t share it here. [UPDATE: Here it is, online!] But it is amazing, because it works to get students to understand why \frac{d}{dx}[x^{25}]=25x^{24}. Instead of showing it works for a few cases, it leads students to see why the power rule for derivatives will always work. (Well, the packet only does it for positive integers, but that’s good enough for me.) I also like that I am formally introducing students to Wolfram|Alpha. Two excerpts from the packet are below.

My second favorite quotation from class: “If Google and Wikipedia had a baby that was good at math, it would be Wolfram|Alpha.” (My first was: “Mr. Shah, I hate it when you secretly make us learn things!”)

Something else that has been taking up a lot of my time has been running the Student Faculty Judiciary Committee. That’s my school’s disciplinary committee. Each case probably takes me 3-4 hours of work, and in addition to that, there is a lot of behind the scenes work. I organize each hearing, I write up announcements for student representatives make to their classmates, I plan our monthly meeting, I meet monthly with the Head of the Upper School, and I have a few larger goals for the committee that I want to work towards. Recently there have been a good number of cases, and I work hard to get the cases “closed out” as soon as I can.

Last Thursday, I left school early to attend the wedding of a high school friend. I got to meet up with my besties, from way long ago, in our hometown. I saw my old house, and visited some old haunts, and marveled at the fact that I was still close with these people. I remember the awkwardness of going to a new school (my family moved after freshman year) and the fear (and slight thrill) of not knowing anyone. And the overarching question: will I make friends? That snapshot juxtaposed with the snapshot of me being silly with them at this wedding — priceless.

While at this wedding, I had my multivariable calculus students read the awful section in the textbook on Kepler’s laws. Then I had them read the paper that my multivariable calculus students wrote two years ago. What was cool was that one of my students this year told me when they looked at the paper, they were intimidated by all the equations and didn’t think they’d be able to figure out what was going on. However, they were able to read and totally understand it. HOLLA! I wish I had the email addresses of the four students who originally wrote that paper so that our class now could write them saying they found their paper useful. Heck, I’m sure I can find the addresses somehow… Also when I was gone, I had my calculus students work on the WebQuest that I wrote last year ( I’m excited to read what they came up with. I got one batch today, and will get the other batch on Friday. I will read them all en masse over Thanksgiving break.

Over Thanksgiving break, I am also going to be completing my applications for two summer programs. One is the Park City Math Institute (PCMI), the unbelievable three week program I attended last year. The second is the Klingenstein Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers , a two week program that many people I respect have attended and have spoken highly about. It is weird, having to ask people to write you letters of recommendation and compose essays. The Klingenstein program even asks for college and grad school transcripts! I get a small taste of what my seniors are going through with their college applications. If there are any summer programs for math teachers that you love attending/participating in, throw them in the comments. (Two years ago, I attended the Exeter math conference, which was very good.)

I guess I’ll leave letting you know of a math book that I recently finished and thought was very good. Duel at Dawn. Be warned: it is an academic book, meant for a specific audience. In other words, it can be dry if you aren’t used to reading that sort of stuff. But it makes a few pretty interesting historical claims by tying large-scale cultural movements (the Enlightenment and Romanticism) to the development of modern mathematics.

With that, I’m out.



  1. Sam,
    Klingenstein is awesome—and you’re just the type of teacher they’re looking for. You’ll love it. It was what kept me in teaching.

  2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–PROMYS for Teachers ( For those unfamiliar, it’s actually primarily for Massachusetts-area teachers, but every summer they admit a handful from other parts of the country. I’ve been involved with it in one way or another for the past four summers, and it’s been the best PD experience of my (albeit short) teaching career.

    Oh–and you get PAID A STIPEND to participate. So there’s that.

  3. Wow, summer is so far away. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it. (BUT I REALLY SHOULD. I’ve never gone to a math institute over the summer but would LOVE to!!)

    1. I know – SO FAR! But the applications are due in early January, and I don’t trust anything to get done after winter break (read: recommendations). So I am trying to get everything done beforehand.

  4. Please don’t feel even a LITTLE bit bad about not having the time to develop new materials right now!

    This is just a part of the seasonality of the teaching life. Sometimes you’re in heavy-duty curriculum development mode. Sometimes you’re running the Student Faculty Judiciary Committee — and teaching a full load.

    All of these things are important and inform your practice inside the classroom. Remember that your students are seeing — and being influenced by ALL of this.

    I will write more this weekend about the thrilling conclusion (or non-conclusion, as the case may be) to “Completing the Square.” Coming soon to a blog site post near you.

    Elizabeth ( @cheesemonkeysf )

  5. Sam, you’ve inspired me! I’m going to apply to Klingenstein. (Since this is my last year to qualify to do so… I might regret it otherwise.) It sounds really competitive, so I’m guessing I probably won’t get in, but I can’t lose anything by trying! :) Any idea why they only accept independent school teachers?

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