My Math Story

Valentines Day was this past weekend, which historically was a chance for me to triumphantly also exclaim, “One Month until Pi Day!”. This year, not being even in a school district… not as much. Last year I even went to Computech (my old

Pi Day 2007
Pi Day 2007

school) for Pi Day celebrations and was not disappointed.

This year, with the absence of students, I’ve decided to tell my personal math history. It’s not what everyone probably thinks – but full of twists and turns. Some of it might be boring, and it will mostly be all about me and my personal journey (I’ll reveal enough so anyone reading who knows nothing about my past will be able to understand). I’ll divide it up into three parts:

  1. Elementary-High School
  2. College
  3. Teaching

I would expect a blog post a week, although I’ll start working on the first one tonight(they are now linked above!). I feel it is important to tell this story not just for myself, but for others who may read it and realize that their story of their struggles and triumphs with math is important.


Questioning is at the intersection of art and science in teaching. Week three of the MTBOS blogging initiative was supposed to be about questioning – two weeks ago BTW – but I had a hard time coming up with something math related. It’s almost been two school years now since I was in the classroom…

The questions I seek to ask I’ll refer too in terms of questions I ask teachers when designing lessons or their students, as that’s primarily the domain I’ve been in for the past two years.

  1. Is it student centered or teacher-centered?
  2. Are there multiple ways for students to express their understanding? (And then naturally, rubrics that assess the what not the how are important)
  3. Why is this lesson important for student learning?

#1 is often very hard for teachers to see and takes practice and feedback. As an adjunct professor and also in my work at OpenEd, I often use Google docs to give feedback to people so that I can ask questions to help drive them to greater student-centeredness. It isn’t how they were taught so is hard to get them to think about it in new ways.

#2: I typically do a unit on what I call storytelling tools – what others might call presentation tools – for my student teachers and masters degree students that they love. I talk about how things like Powerpoint are alright but they’re so linear there’s not a lot of room for creativity. Instead, to use tools like ThingLink, Padlet, Powtoon, Prezi, Storybird, and Zaption to allow students different paths to convey their learning.

#3: I remember during the days of Understanding By Design, they would talk about the ONE THING that students will remember about your class. Recently I had the privilege of going camping with a handful of students who used to be in my class (and on my sports teams that I coached) as far back as ten years ago. I asked them the one thing they remembered about my class or coaching. I suppose I was hoping for “you explained things well,” or, “you pushed us.” Their common answer?

You didn’t give up on us.

Postscript: Sentimental Pictures from the camping trip. (From 2007-2014 I started a triathlon club–>nonprofit that helped low income kids get into triathlons. One way we funded it was running races where the kids would all camp with us and set up/do the race.)

2010: Raymond, Albert and Ben were there… (and I wasn’t even married yet)








2016:Now everyone is turning 21 or higher…


Favorite Lessons: I Bless the Rains Down in… Fresno

You know in movies/tv shows usually at a moment of desperation they say something like, “Well, we’ve been testing something but it’s not quite ready yet…” but then they release the weapon or whatever and it saves the day? (Think the ‘crashed’ alien spaceship in Independence Day.)

Yeah, this lesson was sort of like that.

California has been in a drought for a number of years, and this took place in early to mid 2014.  I was working on an investigative lesson for students involving rainwater, perhaps wolfram alpha etc. In the spirit of a three act task, I wanted to have them estimate something and then actually solve it.

Well, one day it started raining during a block period (so I had twice as much time with first period) and I just went for it.

Craig Kohlruss, Fresno Bee – part of another great lesson I’ll share later

I had a graduated cylinders in my class due to using density to teach about ratios. So we set them outside and for an hour they collected rainwater. I asked the students what questions they could ask about the rain and then we voted what to solve for. Questions of course started out as, “How much rain is coming down?” but other students correctly reasoned how could we figure that out. Eventually they realized if we knew how much rain was coming down inches-wise, and we found the area of Fresno (roughly) we could figure out the ‘volume’ of water coming down and then even the weight. Of course some exceptionally thoughtful kids realized that rainfall wouldn’t be 100% consistent but we decided that was ok to not include for now.

Wikipedia was used to find the area of Fresno; kids also printed out maps of Fresno and used their skills in creating/finding the area of irregular polygons to find the square miles of Fresno. We talked about acres vs square miles and other measurements of area. Some kids found an approximate answer (I don’t remember) but not everyone did and the period was over.

Here’s the cool part. Towards the end of the class I told them that sure, I had something else planned for that day, but wasn’t it fun to do something spontaneous? Most kids were ambivalent (we’re talking about 7th graders here) but one kid wrote me a note after class saying something like, “That was really fun, thanks for making math interesting and a class I look forward to every day!”.

Lesson Idea: How Heavy is the Rain on Your Town?

Necessary Supplies: Graduated Cylinders, Access to Internet

Standards: 6.G.1, 7.G.1, 7.G.6, probably others

Math Practices: 1,2,4,5,6

MTBOS New Year!

This is the year I will be blogging a lot about math and technology. I’ve been doing more lately, but want to blog deeply about specific math content as well as what’s going on in my day-to-day life and thinking.

The blogging task of the month is to share a lesson you’re happy about. I don’t work with students everyday anymore, so don’t have student work to share, but I do have some artifacts from lessons past!

My last year at Computech Middle School I gave my students at the end of the year an adaptation of the Domino Spiral Task. (Inspired by Dan Meyer’s 101qs and Timon Piccini)

I gave them the first video as a loop and told them they could solve it any way they wanted – knowing it would be an approximation. Many methods were used – area, circumference, counting and approximating, etc. They loved it! Everyone made guesses of course for how long it would take to get all the way around based on their calculations. This is a video of the big reveal. You can see when certain kids’ estimations were revealed to be too short and when one particular kid gets it right! If this video doesn’t show how great curiosity can be in a math classroom I don’t know what would!

domino spiral reflection from Brandon Dorman on Vimeo.

I was happy with this lesson because it succeeded in making them really THINK! Many students came up with more than one solution and helped one another. They worked on it for a couple of days because often that was how long it took. I loved watching kids watching the video over and over… and I loved the collaborative spirit.
If I was still in the classroom, I’d want to do projects like this every week except have the kids make the videos explaining their work more often.

Note: That was my smallest class and not all kids wanted to be on camera; most classes were about 40… that was only 24 and thus often was able to do the most exploring.

Short Reflection Document with links to source material

Article I wrote about technology students used in creating this.