Reading: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


For my flight back from summer traveling, I treated myself to a book at the airport. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was on sale at the Relay store in HKIG terminal 1, so it was a no-brainer decision.

I knew about the story, and I know how it ends – I’m a sucker for spoilers! – but I wasn’t expecting how much parts of it touched me. Talk about cutting onions.


Polyup! – User testing panel

A few years ago, I participated on a teacher-fellowship with IISME – now called Ignited. I learned a lot that summer – mainly I learned that the cubicle life isn’t for me. It still isn’t, but perhaps I’ll try it again sometime.

Ignited still sends learning opportunities to its alumni. Two weeks ago, they invited me to be on a user-testing panel for a brand new ed-tech start-up. It was only 3 hours, and I got a $150 Amazon gift card for my time, but I also learned a whole lot.

The ed-tech start-up ended up being Polyup, a new app that gamifies ‘modding’ – for modification. Modding was a new word for me, but they explained it pretty well. Modding is changing what already is in order to fit whatever needs you need it to be. Chefs and bakers are modders. So are designers, crafters, and of course coders. I like to think that teachers are as well. I was thoroughly impressed with the app, but you should go and experience it for yourself.

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It was the user testing panel experience that intrigued me the most. We were asked to give our honest feedback about the app website, the sign-up process, and the features and use of the app itself, from both the teacher and the student’s point of view. A lot of the work I did for my Ed Tech Leadership masters came back up to the surface. If interface design and user testing is this interesting, then I’ve got another pathway outside of the classroom to explore.

At the end of the panel, we were asked if we would be interested in further partnership with Polyup. Of course I signed up. And I’m really hoping they contact me back.

How to long-range lesson plan

This year, I’m experimenting with a digital lesson plan book. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing so satisfying as a paper planner, especially a minimalistic, but quality Muji one.

But I’ve struggled with keeping a paper lesson plan book for the past 2-3 years now to the point where all the pages from spring break to the end of the school year were empty. From what I can identify there are two reasons: A) I know what I’m teaching fairly well now and have pretty much all the lessons, except for the homework page and problem numbers, committed to memory, and B) I’m rather good at winging a lesson now, even if it’s a fairly new activity I’m trying out.

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In addition, the need to have some sort of easily accessible/searchable document to keep past lesson outlines has increased in urgency. It was must easier to share pacing of lessons, assignments, and test dates when there’s once central document my colleagues and I can use and refer back to. My district issuing all teachers a laptop has also helped.

A digital plan book also helps with long-range planning. I use a new tab in Google sheets for each chapter of our Math 8 book. Each tab basically has the same format:

  • Intro for each chapter – includes chapter title and a list of the essential topics within it
  • Pacing – the section number (if it has one) and title for each day’s worth of lessons
  • Materials, homework assignments, and other notes
  • Hyperlinks to resources used within a particular lesson
  • Assessments given

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It worked out really well last year when I was building the skeleton for my digital plan book. Now all I have to do is make a copy of the previous year’s plan book, rename it to this year, and then make edits/shift around lessons and dates as needed. Woot!

How do you organize a lesson plan book? What kind of items do you include in it? Leave your comments below!

Preparing for the first day of school

Lots of schools are already back in session by now. As of the posting of this entry, my site just had our 4th annual staff retreat.

However, as of the writing and scheduling of this post, I’m still deep in summer mode: Summer school just ended, I watched a friend be a sea urchin in a local production of The Little Mermaid, I hosted my cousin and we walked the Golden Gate bridge and had brunch in Sausalito, I hung out with additional friends and our activities included pilates in the park, lunches, dinners, boba, ice cream, shopping, and baby-sitting a pair of hilarious, bilingual kiddos. I hosted a bridal shower, am in the middle of planning a baby shower as well as excursions to Redding, Santa Cruz which includes a wedding, and visiting family in Hong Kong. A very productive summer 2017.


Yet, the first day of school is stewing at the back of my mind. I officially received my teaching assignment a few weeks ago and am happy to find that my Math 8 intervention (Boosters) has been moved up in the day to first period, Math 8 EL is back, and I have prep during 6th period – the period when I’m at my lowest energy level. This year, I’ll be thankful to have that period as a break, and my colleagues teaching those tough Math 8 classes at the end of the day will have an empty buddy classroom to send any misbehaviors for a time-out.

This fall, I’m going to experiment with a completely online syllabus. The only paperwork I’m going to send home to my students is a half-sheet for parents to sign and return if they need a hard-copy of my classroom info. If they don’t return it, I’m going to assume that they don’t need one.

When crafting my new class website and online syllabus, my masters work with instructional design came in super handy. Here’s my new site, if you wish to peruse it. I’m open to comments, suggestions, and questions.

The first day of school at my site is anticipated to be a minimum assembly day. Meaning each class period will be around 20 minutes long, with an hour for the assembly near the end of the day. That will be kind of weird, but there’s not much action that can be done on the first day of school anyway. I will probably only get a chance to introduce myself and the class, set expectations, and handout the above mentioned half-sheet.

What are your plans for your first day of school?

Job interview tips for teachers

Three months before graduating from teacher credential school, I started sending out applications for jobs all over the globe. It was 2009 and the recession’s effects were taking a toll on any civil servant job. Teachers were getting pink slipped left and right, even those who had been with their district for 5+ years. It was a rather grim time.

Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons

My credentialing program took some initiative and encouraged their pre-service teachers to expand their credentials. Some of the people in my program got added credentials in foreign languages, science, P.E. I think I was the only one who got one in math. My credentialing program also spent a good amount of time training us on job application processes, resume writing, and interviewing (if we were ever so lucky to land one). I credit all of this training in landing me my first (and current) teaching job.

Fast forward to today. I’ve been on the interview panel for new teacher hires every year for the past 7 years. I’ve been on principal interview panels as well. I’ve seen some good candidates, some not so good candidates, and even candidates that appeared alright but turned out not such a good fit after all.

All the good candidates had several things in common. I’ll describe a few of these things below:

1. All their paperwork were in order, consistent, and honest.

Oh my goodness. I can’t say how important this part is, even though it’s not necessary to have the ‘perfect’ resume (whatever that is). It is important to have everything done. Cover letter, resume, the application itself, and any other documents/forms that are expressly required to be filled out. Edjoin makes the whole process super easy, since it saves your info and uploads for you.

In addition to the physical/electronic paperwork, the contents of these items should be consistent with each other as well. The reasons for leaving each previous job needs to be clear, concise, and makes sense. “Spouse’s job relocation” and “To be closer to family,” even “Recently graduated and seeking first job placement” are all acceptable reasons for leaving your current/past jobs. “Differences with staff” or “Seeking to teach a different student population” are not reasons that reflect well on the applicant.

One year, I interviewed a person (who we ended up not hiring) because his entire story was a bit, well, weird for lack of a better word. What he said on paper was completely different than what he said in person at the interview. And he had no idea that they were different at all – actually he didn’t believe that his answers were different until we showed him his paperwork. Inconsistent stories just seem rather shady and dishonest.

2. They were interested in the job as more than a job.

Yes, everyone needs a source of income and that usually comes with a job. It’s not needed to say this on an application or in an interview. Teachers don’t go into teaching for the money anyway, even though no one says no to a raise.

But I think there has to a quality of interest in the job beyond going through the motions to obtain a paycheck. You like learning. You have a passion for the subjects you teach. You enjoy the school environment, one of the last places on earth where everyone is working towards a good goal that benefits others more than yourself. These things are fairly clear to read in a normal conversation.

Translation: Ikea job interview (title). Please have a seat! (speech bubble)
Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons

3. They have realistic ideas of classroom management.

The classroom management question is typically the make-or-break question of the interview. If you want your students to behave properly, but give no details as to go about that, it’s not a good sign. On the flip side, if you have nothing but strict rules and make no mention of building trusting relationships that’s also not great.

Also a must is the ability to be realistic about classroom management. Perfect days are rare and far between. Even the best of the best students may come across bad choices. The attitude of planning for prevention, working through all the low interventions first, an emphasis on communication with the students’ families, seeking help as needed, and starting each day fresh is key. There’s a reason why the classroom management question often is followed by ‘Tell us about a difficult situation with a student and how you dealt with it.’

4. They openly admitted to their weaknesses and areas of growth.

If no student is perfect, then no teacher is perfect. When I interviewed, I openly admitted to my lack of consistency. I had struggled with that all throughout my student teaching days. And because I had struggled with it, I also was able to speak to a lot of the things I learned and the actions I now take to make sure that this weakness will no longer be a weakness with a bit more time and practice.

Another person I interviewed admitted that they were the most impatient person in the world. She said something super insightful that went something like, “I tell my students I’m impatient because I know they can be so much better, do so much more. So I encourage my students to let me know when I’m rushing which will be a hint for me to slow down. Because often times, I move so fast because I’m so excited to teach them more.”

5. They asked questions of the interviewers.

Every single person I’ve interviewed and were successfully hired asked questions. Not the type of questions where the answers can be found on Great Schools. Much more in-depth questions. Here are some ideas:

  • What do you like/dislike about working at your site?
  • What’s a piece of advice that you wish someone had told you when you first started working at this school?
  • Tell me more about the people in your team/department.
  • Describe a typical day-in-the-life of a student at your school.

6. They are prepared.

There’s nothing that speaks louder than a person who has clearly done their homework. They dress well. They come with extra copies of their CVs to hand out. They have a portfolio for you to look at during the interview. Their responses to the interview questions are both practiced and sincere. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed and confident you’ll seem.

Practicing the interview questions were my biggest help. In my credentialing program, we were made to write our teaching philosophy in essay form, and then break it down to match the top ten most commonly asked interview questions for teachers. More than likely, you’ll be asked about the following:

  • Tells more about your education and work history. How would your skills fit into our school?
  • Describe the components to an effective lesson you created or observed. How did you know it was effective?
  • What does effective collaboration look like to you? What would you offer to your collaboration team? What do you need out of your collaboration team?
  • What role does technology play in your lesson plans?
  • What are some strategies you use to reach all students? How do you differentiate lessons in your classroom?
  • Describe your classroom management style. How would you respond to a student who makes an inappropriate comment in class?
  • What do you do to communicate with parents and families?

Then, especially in math, there could very well be a mini-lesson that you would be asked to teach to the interviewers. My mini-lesson involved teaching how to factor a trinomial – something I hadn’t done in years, as I’m originally a multiple subject credential holder. I did it, but I ended up doing it wrong. When I was called back for a second interview to meet the APs, I was asked to tell them about my mini-lesson from the original interview. The conversation went something like this:

AP1: Tell us about the lesson you did the other day for the principal.

Me: Well, it was about factoring a trinomial, and I actually made a mistake.

Principal: Yes, you did. ::smiles broadly::

AP2: Oh, really? What happened?

Me: I had dropped the GCF from my final answer. Just forgot about it completely after factoring it out earlier.

Principal: And if that had happened with a student, what would you have done?

Me: Well, wrong answers are just as important to discuss as the correct ones. It would have been a great teaching moment to talk about double checking your work, and remembering how the mistake happened so that it doesn’t happen again.

This all worked out to my benefit. Which underlines the importance of item #4 above. My principal told me over a year later that every candidate for that position had made a math mistake, but I was the only one who reflected enough to spot mine, let alone talk about it the way I did.

Now of course, I know one of the strongest math teaching strategies known to research is making students analyze and spot the incorrect steps of a worked out math problem. Some call it The Favorite No. It not only pulls in higher order thinking, it also allows for reteaching a concept in a different way AND dispelling some long-held student misconceptions that they might have picked up along the way.


Recently reading: Newsela

I first heard of NewsELA from the EL coordinator at my site. It used to be a site that collected and paraphrased English news articles from around the world at the elementary and early middle school reading levels. Now, it’s expanded to other texts and has a classroom function where you can assign articles for students to read, mark up, write about, and respond to.

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The EL social studies teachers very much enjoyed it, and to the best of my knowledge, use NewsELA quite often. EL ELA teachers also use it of course. I’m not sure what the science teachers at my school do with this, but then I’m not sure what the science teachers at my school do at all. But that’s a story for another day.

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Only money…..?

On the math front, sadly, there isn’t much. There’s a money filter for news articles, which is basically all that the news seems to offer in terms of authentic text about math. Even the AVID people don’t really have resources for math text outside of technical writing and reading.

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Some text sets about women in math, but not much else.

I want to like NewsELA, I really do. And I suppose it is a good resource to use. Unfortunately, I can’t do much with it in my middle school math classroom.

What are some of your resources for authentic text?