AVID summer institute 2017

I realize haven’t written a lot about AVID in the past. This post from 4 years ago was the only post I could find that outlined anything in detail about what I learned at a past AVID institute.


This summer was my third AVID institute, not counting the weekend seminar I did a couple years ago. I’ve done the Math 1 strand (twice), and the AVID for elective teachers once. I was supposed to be scheduled for the Tutorology session, but long story short I’m NOT going to be one of the AVID elective teachers this coming school year. So I can finally do the Math 2 strand. Yay!

Besides all the quality bonding/team-building time with my colleagues, I walked away from summer institute this year with summaries on these 3 big essential questions:

1. How do I convince my reluctant colleagues to jump into the AVID cool-aid?

The people I know who are less than bought in on AVID all have one common thread amongst them: they dislike how AVID is very ‘my way or the highway’ in terms of the entire system, structure, pedagogy, and philosophy. And I see how that perception can come about. There’s an AVID book – er, books, I should say – that read like a sports play book. The highly structured binder checks, Cornell notes and interactive notebook, Socratic Seminar, Philosophical Chairs, etc….it can seem very paint-by-numbers and there’s a good contingent who don’t like that.

A lot of the strategies, and even the general philosophy, of AVID are not actually….well, AVID. AVID kind of claims these things, renames them, and stamps it with their brand. And if people don’t like that, well, me too. Any teacher knows that organization of both materials and thoughts are important for success. Socratic Seminar is a version of fishbowl discussion. Philosophical Chairs is basically 4 Corners. And Cornell notes came from Cornell.

However, I’ve never once got the impression that any AVID person, nor the organization as a whole, have claimed these strategies because they want to also claim the credit for coming up with them. What AVID does is compiles the practices research says improves learning, synthesizes then chunks it, and scaffolds it for teacher professional development. Yeah, schools pay for the AVID accreditation process as well as for the resources and services AVID provides – and it’s rather expensive and sometimes convoluted. But the expense of a product and the convolution of a company rarely hinders people from purchasing, say, $200 running shoes.

AVID highly encourages people to take these strategies and make them your own. They have an outline, description, and samples of each strategy that is incorporated into an AVID elective or subject matter class. But in no way is one limited to following these step-by-painstaking-step. The AVID handbook for each subject/strand changes from year-to-year. More is added. Things that were not clear are made clearer. The complicated becomes streamlined. The AVID site plan is a living, breathing document for a living, breathing process. These characteristics about AVID have helped me to become a more empowered teacher.

To summarize, a) you may already be AVIDed, since these ideas are not new. You just don’t realize it! And b) AVID is less of a defined box and more of a growing, living flexible blob.

2. What was the most challenging thing to implement?

This question was asked of me by a Math 1 person when I was asked to go and present what I learned from Math 2 and in my practice of AVID strategies. Surprisingly, I didn’t know any of the following until I verbalized it in front of a table full of AVID newbies. I’m grateful to the person who asked this question.

Nothing about AVID was challenging to implement. Gosh, I sound so conceited. Let me explain.

First, I again repeat that none of the strategies in the AVID handbooks are new. I learned the basics of all these things during my credentialing program, or at other trainings, or just through experience. Organization is a taught and practiced skill, not just something to nag a student about. Note-taking and note-revising is another skill that will serve students throughout their lives, whether in college or outside of it. Being culturally and linguistically relevant helps close the achievement gap between under-resourced students and their more fortunate peers. I didn’t just drink the cool-aid, I was born in it. I live in it. It’s my water.

Second, I have a lot of interest in refining my teaching practice. I’m invested in it. In the trenches, I see the lightbulbs go off. My current students tell me about the brand new world I helped open for them – math is accessible to them now. It’s not as confusing, not as anxiety inducing. Hey! A few of them even like it now. My past students come back and tell me how they have used every skill I taught them, and how well these skills have served them.

Implementing AVID strategies – any new strategy, for that matter – is difficult, time-consuming, slow, hit-or-miss, trial-and-error. It is also enjoyable. So I don’t find it challenging, even if it can be a challenge.

3. Is it possible for a non-advanced/non-accelerated class to also be rigorous?


I’m not sure that a lot of people, including my principal, understand this. I thought it was just him, but after doing some link research for another post, I realized that he probably isn’t the only one. Great Schools considers only advanced courses as rigorous. Many parents push for their students to be in the accelerated math pathway at my site. I suppose the people who DO think it is possible for a non-advanced/non-accelerated class to be rigorous is actually in the minority.

Anyway, when we were going through Costa’s Levels of Thinking, it totally hit me much harder than ever before. Higher order thinking does not necessarily equate with higher level math knowledge. In the Math 2 strand, I met a teacher who teaches a higher level math than I do, but at the same time struggled enough with the math part so as to constantly need guidance through solving the problems in each lesson demonstration – lessons that came from a lower level math than the one she taught.

Another example: An 8th grade student might not have any idea of how to find f‘(4) of a given function, but in essence this is still kind of a ‘plug-and-chug’ problem. In contrast, consider this volcano problem. The content standard is from 7th grade, or thereabouts. The threshold is at a low enough point that anyone can find a place to start. But it definitely NOT only level 1 thinking on Costa’s scale.

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In the end, I suppose it comes down to how a school site defines rigor. Clearly, my principal defines rigor to be higher math knowledge. I would respectfully disagree.

4. Never ever leave a street parking spot without checking to make sure whether it is metered or not.

Unless you want a $50 parking ticket. ‘Nuff said.

What has your experience with AVID been like?

Thoughts on passion at work

As I’m writing this, I’m standing at the front of a class of 22 middle school engineering students constructing their paper roller coasters. Everyone is engaged in their creations, and working appropriately within their teams. I have my eye on a couple of girls being rather slothful and making every excuse to leave the room (they just left again – and they better not make me regret that choice).

Several years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to multi-task in front of a class of students like this. My attention would be completely focused on the room and what the students are (or are not) doing. But more and more, I find myself reading and answer emails, or writing out future lesson plans during class time.

Granted, the engineering camp is very different from a normal math lesson. Most activities are self-directed, with very little direct instruction involved. This particular group of students are super interested in what they are doing, and in general work well with each other. If any of those things weren’t in place, I wouldn’t be blogging right now.

It has led me to question whether I’m gaining more skill in teaching or whether I’m losing some passion in this career. I’ve been a bit…bored.

But wait! Only ‘boring people are bored.’ What’s up with that?

I really don’t know what’s up with that. I don’t know whether I’m still tired from the regular school year, or this isn’t challenging to me anymore, or a combination of these two and then some.

Looking back, I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve:

  • chaired school site council
  • lead the math department for 4 years
  • created curriculum from scratch, including writing a workbook
  • presented at conferences
  • learned at even more conferences
  • graduated with a masters
  • created the math EL and intervention programs from scratch
  • interviewed new hires, both teaching and admin
  • mentored student teachers

I still like doing these things. I definitely love my co-workers. But I’m getting that ‘wanderlust’ itch to do something new. Something different. To take a risk and accept a challenge that involves putting myself in a vulnerable place to get judged, and possibly rejected or condemned. This blog fulfills a little bit of that.

Wow. That sounds horrible. Who would ever want to do that? But it’s that….or boredom. There has to be another solution, right? RIGHT?! I suppose I can also do more new things in my personal life as well. Too much comfort. Too much complacency.

What are some ways that you get out of your comfort zone?


As a self-professed introvert, I can sometimes have a rather tough time just being in the presence of people, even people I like. I’ll also be the first to admit my impatience can turn like into annoyance, and what was originally meant to be a nice gathering into something sharper and less kind. So I suppose this book and the activities within it are for the likes of my selfish heart.


I was first introduced to tribes during my teacher credentialing days. My pedagogy instructor was a fan (and also named Jeanne). Originally published at the turn of this century (2001), I didn’t get my hands on the actual book until a couple years ago. The introduction reads like a repetitive monologue I’ve heard over and over again – but only because I have. Back in 2001, the idea that schools need to change from training for factories to a more caring, conscientious model was probably state-of-the-art. And I do appreciate how this book doesn’t pretend it is the end-all-be-all, unlike some other books on culturally and linguistically responsive teaching strategies.

There are no easy answers, and certainly no single program or curriculum can revitalize a school.

About half of this book is spent describing ‘tribes,’ the theory and reasoning behind it, the use of tribes in classrooms, and the effect that can happen in various grade levels. The second half is basically a list of activities to use in the classroom, complete with introduction, materials list, appropriate grade levels, and debrief. The debrief is probably the most important – without it, this out just be a book of random get-to-know-you, ice-breakers, energizers, and team-building activities.

Some activities can be a bit too precious for my taste. But perhaps that’s what I need to learn and process for myself. After all, there’s something to be said about the appreciation of the less corporate side of life.

How to make an icosahedron star

Icosahedron = 20 faced polyhedron. Star = pointy things! Materials: clear, straight drinking straws and curling ribbon. Prior skills needed: know how to tie a knot, know how to thread ribbon through straw.


My colleague E showed me how to make these during the first year I taught 8th grade geometry. It was intended as a non-academic thing to do during class while state standardized testing went on. It still is, but I have brought it about to the regular 8th grade math classes. The accelerated 8th grade math classes sadly no longer has time for an activity like this.

We go to our local Smart & Final for the straws in the past. However, in recent years, they have either been out completely or don’t restock by the time we need them. Come on people, let’s not contribute to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Not that my 8th graders use these straws terribly efficiently either. But that’s my own fault. I was pretty lax about it this year. Reasons for which I’ll go into another time.


  1. Take 15 straws. Get an average estimate of how long one straw is by measuring a couple straws.
  2. Cut each straw in half. Trim straws that end up too long as needed. This step is the most important. It is more important to get the straws to be the same length than to find the midpoint of each one. If your straws end up slightly longer or shorter than half of the original length, it’s OK as long as you have 30 straws of the same length in the end. The half-way point is a guide to know approximately where to cut.
  3. Bundle the 30 straws with a rubber band, and mark your name on them. [This is a good place to stop for the day. Most students take 20-40 minutes on steps #1-3. Have a homework assignment ready for early finishers. If you have more time to continue, then by all means do so.] 
  4. Take a length of curling ribbon. [I limit my students to a wingspan’s worth of ribbon at a time.] Thread 3 of your cut-and-trimmed straws through the ribbon and tie it so that it forms a triangle. I personally like to form the triangle so that one end of the ribbon is much longer than the other. I’ll take the longer end and work on the next step without cutting the ribbon.

  5. Take 2 more straws and thread through the ribbon. Attach to your original triangle so that there are 2 adjacent triangles. NO TWO STRAWS should be parallel to each other – the shared side of the two triangles should also have a shared straw.
  6. Continue attaching 2 more straws to form an additional triangle until you have 4 triangles in a pac-man shape. [A lot of students get on a roll and continue until they form a hexagon. These students have gone too far and will need to undo some straws.]

  7. Attach one more straw to ‘close’ the pac-man’s mouth. Once you do this, the center of the shape will pop up to become the vertex of a pentagonal pyramid.

  8. Repeat steps 1-7 so that you have a total of 2 pentagonal pyramids. [This is another good place to stop for the day. I like to take a permanent marker and have all students mark their names on each of their pyramids PLUS the remaining bundle of straws.]

  9. Take one of the pyramids and attach triangular ‘legs’ on each side of the base. Leave the other one alone.


  10. Tie the ‘feet’ of each leg to each of the base vertices of the other pentagonal pyramid. Once all vertices are tied, you will have an icosahedron and ALL of your 30 straws should be used up.
  11. Next, decide if you what whole straws or half straws for the points of the star. You may use a mixture of whole and halves as well. If halves, take 30 straws and cut them in half again. If whole, take 60 straws. Bundle with a rubber band and mark with your name.
  12. Identify a triangular face on the icosahedron on which to attach a point for the star.
  13. Tie one end of a ribbon to one vertex of the triangular face.
  14. Thread 2 straws through it and tie the loose end to another vertex of the triangular face.
  15. Attach ONE straw to the remaining vertex of the triangular face, then tie to the other two straws.
  16. Repeat steps 12-15 for each of the triangular faces on the icosahedron.


  17. OPTIONAL: Leave a little bit of the ends at each point for curling.

Touring with Education First

12 chaperones. 130 students. 3 cities all done with Education First. As a chaperone, my expenses were paid for, and this year’s group of 8th graders were really good. Yet, I walked away from this chaperoning trip with mixed feelings.

Breakdown of our itinerary:

Day 1 – Depart SFO on overnight flight. Arrive early the next morning. Stop for breakfast before heading to several Smithsonians and the Holocaust museum. Late afternoon walking tour of the Lincoln, Vietnam, and Korean war memorials.


Day 2 – Mt. Vernon visit, walking tour of Arlington and the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, White House photo stop, National Archives, and a Washington Nationals baseball game.


Day 3 – Tidal Basin memorials including Jefferson, FDR, and MLK Jr. Then a tour of the Capitol Building, the Newseum, and bus ride to Gettysburg.


Day 4 – Gettysburg battlefields and memorials bus tour, Amish country bus tour (BEST PRETZELS EVER), Amish dinner and bus ride to Philadelphia. (Don’t mind the edge of my finger in the frame of Gettysburg below…)


Day 5 – The Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art steps, Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall. Flight home.



  • Buses had it’s own port-a-potty. A/C was well appreciated, especially in DC.
  • Each bus came with a tour director who spoke to use on the mic about the things we were to see while walking around
  • Kids were really good overall
  • The docents at each site were good, especially the Gettysburg park ranger.
  • Newseum was a winner.


  • It was HOT. And we spent the hottest days, and the hottest part of the day, outside walking around looking at stuff.
  • Buses were not equipped with coolers of ice and bottled water, like they said we would have.
  • That red-eye flight destroyed the student’s energy. Which made them drag their feet, and everything took that much longer. I was afraid I would be herding cats, but it was more like herding turtles.
  • Departure flight to DC was changed 6 times. Students had to be broken up into smaller groups and flown on different flights. All these changes were done by the teacher chaperones, forced on us by United Airlines, and not helped at all by EF.
  • The tour director on my bus basically read off of wikipedia on her phone the whole time.
  • The tour director also refused to give the bus driver the full list of places we would visit beforehand. She just directed the bus driver as we went. On top of that, she couldn’t properly use Google Maps (didn’t click the start button, only dropped a pin on the location and routed it) which meant a lot of time wasted turning around and around in circles
  • The first hotel we stayed at didn’t have our rooms cleaned by the time we arrived. The second hotel we stayed at was on the shabby side and had holes in all the linens and towels. The third hotel we stayed at was the only decent one.
  • There was a lot of miscommunication between each bus’ tour director and the DC head tour coordinator.
  • We crammed so much in during the first half that the last half was rather anti-climactic
  • Not very educational overall. I didn’t learn that much from the tour directors, and there wasn’t a time for reflecting on the things I did learn.
  • Tour directors left us hanging at the airport for our departure flight home, after American Airlines originally refused to print out a group set of boarding passes for the 142 of us. In their words, “Our responsibility ends at getting you to the airport. Bye!”

EF did handle a lot of parent communication, but I can totally see my school doing the entire tour ourselves – booking the transportation, getting tickets and museum entrance times, getting the educational part of it all done properly.

Have you toured with Education First? What are your thoughts? Are there better companies out there?

What’s in my chaperone bag?

Returned from chaperoning the 8th grade DC trip late Friday night/early Saturday morning. Reeling from sleep deprivation, but it was fun. We had a few kids who got lost, or meandered off with another group, but that’s to be expected with 140 students amongst the sea of students in DC. They were all found again, and at least they had the sense to join another bus from our same school.

NOTE: All of the lost students ended up joining my group. Because we are the best bus, and the best chaperones!

Before I left, I filmed myself packing for the trip. Here’s the video:

Reading for inspiration

My school district has been a member of SVMI for as long as I can remember.


This past school year, I actually went to some of their PD days. One of the PD days included the California Mathematics Council conference at Asilomar, CA.

And part of attending that conference meant a subscription to the CMC and their quarterly newsletter, the ComMuniCator.

Not that I have the time to read, although I suppose I can bring one with me on the plane to DC. The thing is, they are paper bound magazines, and not glossies, so I fear for their durability on a chaperoning field trip. Especially when they actually contain things I would like to use in my classroom.

The first first edition I received contained a dodecahedron 2017 calendar. I printed the template out on card stock and gave it to my students to make on their last day of school before winter break. It was super fun. However, one of the science teachers at my school had already used an origami dodecahedron template, so it wasn’t as cool for many of my students. It did make for an easier time cutting and folding these, so give-and-take, yes?

I’m next interested in the article about strengthening multiplication skills. The intervention students often come to us with VERY WEAK basic facts skills. I haven’t read the article and the lessons thoroughly yet. When I do, I’ll implement it in the fall and make a post about it later.

What kind of math teaching readings do you recommend?