(Summer ’13) Maria Cassidy, ’14

Maria spent the summer in New Mexico interning at San Andres High School, now Rio Grande Preparatory Institute, an alternative high school that sees less than 30% of its students graduate and was in need of a superhero with a heart for tutoring and a genuine yet communicable love of math. Maria spent the summer developing hand-on math lessons in Geometry and Algebra 1 utilizing technology such as iPads, Sketchup, RC Cars, and Mini-Catapults with the end goal of making math real and likable.  She also saw a whole new world of teaching in which administrations and names and programs shift, districts battle yet support their schools, and teachers constantly step up their game to provide for their students. Encouraged by every colleague and a newfound love of West Coast Swing, Maria knows both that she will end up in teaching at some point and that everyone’s passions complexity, and potential deserve to be understood, cherished, and cultivated.



Post 6: ‘Think about how much you’ve learned and how it will shape you.’



Post 5: I am always Genuine but often Mistaken,

which doesn’t mean my lack of hard still work isn’t my fault.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” my superviser said today about my genuinely wanting to go hard in the last week here.

I have gone so long really believing in what I (want to) do yet not showing it that no one but me would probably believe any of my personal or professional goals. They shouldn’t. My behaviors and patterns would tell any employer that I don’t have enough to do. And I know the secret that I have plenty to do, I’m just bad at it. At MIT, I always have so much to do that I ‘have to’ do, so I don’t actually understand how to me motivated in self-paced work. I understand it logically, just not intrinsically. I don’t LOOK outside of the box much in terms of thinking what more I can do, even for ways that will help shed light into the project work I’m doing and really believe in. I don’t know how to look outside of my current work without feeling either completely overwhelmed or drowned in guilt about all of my past productivity (many years of it lacking).


I’m genuine about my beliefs and what I imagine for myself, but I’m often mistaken about what I actually do and what I actually say. What am I doing with my time? Why? What does that say about me? I haven’t thought about it much because my lazy is way better than some other’s hard work. But alas, maybe I’ve gotten trapped in comparing myself backwards just as much as I have forwards, with being so insecure becaue everyone seems to be able to do more than me. I don’t judge people for being less competent than I, but the excuses sneak in for not doing my best on a daily basis.

“My personal best”- something I’ve never been willing to understand and utilize.

My superviser said she didn’t want to chew me out- she’s the best about being realistc yet soft, but I wish she had been chewing me out from the beginning. It would have been more effective with motivating me and helping me out of “this rut I fell into by mistake.” I gotta get out of it, but I haven’t, and she wasn’t effective. Time to move on anyway to the same end, if not better, than would have happened if I had gotten yelled at.

Everything that’s happened has been for my best, for sure, but there’s the weight of this whole summer of inefficiency (and therefore failure, believe me) that’s still trying to hold me back. I won’t let it this time. I’ve matured more emotionally at just the right time to lead me into this season of maturing professionally. It’s not exactly pleasant, but it’s good, and also desired.

I am so exceedingly immature professionally. So much that when I realize it I feel terrible and feel like I simply no longer understand myself. Or rather, I remember how much I hate that about me. But it won’t be a crutch anymore, not with God’s power and grace. It won’t be a crutch despite me and it won’t be a crutch because I don’t believe in that version of normal.

I don’t feel confident, I still feel really embarrassed.

That’s okay. It will pass. I still have every reason to boast in Christ.





Post 4: Humility part 2

These last 2 weeks have been uncomfortable. Yet the flipside is that they’ve been uncomfortable, and at times frutrating, in a good way. The two math teachers and I have met more to talk about all our plans, goals, and individual tasks for my last weeks here. I’ve been here for 11 weeks, and only last night we realized we had different perceptions of what ‘a team effort’ means. They knew it meant doing mostly individual work, and donig the best individual work and that you seldomly come together, whereas I saw teamwork as being more collaboration than individual time. It was a good experience getting a lot of criticism for that, for seeming like I’m 1/2-assing things and making excuses for my quality; but I’m a lot more used to working closely with pset groups in my course, so in my mind I would come back to them for feedback often, taking one or two baby steps towards the ‘goal’ at a time. But what really needs to happen is me doing a solid job on my own for tasks given, to the fullest extent they’re expecting, and then I come back and present what I have for tweaking, not for okay to do the next steps, to then do more to reach the goal.

I reach the goal first. That might sound pretty obvious, but I didn’t get it. But I’m glad I get it now. Under notes on the google doc I’ll mention next is behaviors and patterns we talked about to really start working at a high level and professionally.


 So I’ve also had this issue my whole life where any agenda items, lists, and even important notes don’t get revisited because as soon as they go out of my sight, they’re out of my mind. And this has generated a lot of reinventing-the-wheel and frustration for feeling like I don’t know what to do next after I’ve already worked out the fact that I can always change gears and put solid work into something else. So here is the list of my final weeks’ assignments, and I’ll be really trying to revisit these notes to cut down on my being-stuck-forgetting-what-really-i-have-to-do time. I thought I’d share it with you guys in case you wanted to get a real-time feel for my work here. This is my comprehensive last-weeks-plan list. This is what I hope to get done by August 23rd at 4pm.

Let’s do this.


“Thanks for sharing your final weeks’ assignments and thoughts on your discussions about teamwork. It sounds like that was probably an uncomfortable process, so I hope you’re feeling good about where it got you. It’s often hard to be clear about other’s needs and perceptions without tackling a difficult conversation. Good for you for being open to this.” -my program director





 Post 3: Goal-Oriented vs. Behavior-Oriented

I’m finding that MIT is great at teaching us how to solve problems and achieve goals. It teaches us how to reflect upon our quality of work. But what I’m missing is the reflection on my own professionalism beyond the result, the “What does this behavior say about who I respect or what I value or why I’m here?”

Since at least Junior year of high school, I’ve been completely ruled by guilt, and it’s all been guilt over performance- “I should have done more, I should be doing more. I should be working harder even though I don’t have to. I seem to fail at every PSET on my own. I can’t do as well as I want to. I’m terrible at knowing how to figure things out.” Yet, I value the personal side of things- intention, motivation, etc. I’ve divorced the two for some reason. And I’m not going to blame every adult who’s never pushed me or MIT or even myself; I’m going to move forward. (shoot, not blaming myself is hard)

So the next step in really being a part of the team that is the math department is not just creating goals and time schedules, but behavior/pattern norms, as well as asking myself ‘how much do I respect X, and so how should that shape my behavior?’


I’ll keep you updated on what this all is going to look like =)





Post 2: The Summer School Post


The Rundown:

San Andres hosts summer school for the district and packs 400 kids into a building that normally holds 150.

That’s not all at once, though, as there are two sessions of classes- morning and afternoon.

Each class runs 3 hours, with 10 minute breaks each hour, from 8:30-11:30 and 12-3.

Each class costs $100 and can get you 1 credit. That means that automatically, we have a different population of summer school kids than we do the regular San Andres students. A lot of students that end up at San Andres have that I-rule-and-I-don’t-have-to-care attitude, but people in Summer School are more invested because someone paid for it. San Andres does give out scholarships to some of its students for summer school, so some kids, even if they have a shot at graduating that summer, still don’t feel the need to try or care.

And yes, from my limited experience, you can tell who some of the San Andres kids with scholarships are.

Algebra 1 and Math Labs:

So this summer, I’m on a service project that I proposed to be centered around curriculum development, ie the creation of engaging math lessons at San Andres High School. And of course, summer school was an amazing opportunity that God provided to be able to test-run some of those lessons!

Except we stepped outside of the realm of straight up lessons and gave my projects-to-be-developed the title of ‘Math Labs.’ They are hands-on or technology-based mini-projects/activities that help kids primarily see an application of the math they’re learning, not primarily to learn. Math labs should also hit the key concepts of the lesson to help them go from simple exposure to learning.

But of course, for where I am, what I’m doing, and the dynamics of summer school, I have no ‘regular’ or ‘basic’ format for the labs yet, so I’ll be telling you about one hybrid lesson/math lab I ran. My host teacher Jasmine Carr was kind enough to let me try teaching from time to time, and I taught the day we were going over inequalities…

So I’m going to run you through what planning one math lesson and lab as well as executing them looked like, and hopefully you’ll get an idea of what summer school was like for me, and maybe for the kids. Feel free to ask questions or comment on what’s not clear!

I don’t remember when exactly the inspiration came, but the whole lesson and lab was Thrift Shop themed

Yes that song by Macklemore.

Steps 1-10: Plan

Turns out that Post-its are the only way I can keep track of the flow of information in my head effectively.

When feeling overwhelmed by the intricacies of a lesson, to Post-its I go, and they help me marvelously.

This is a picture of the desk in the office I commandeered during summer school.

Note the algebra textbook and color coding =P

Step 11: Teach About Inequalities!

So I played parts of the Macklemore music video and printed out select lyrics for people, so we could really capture that the real life scenario is talking about math.

I had kids tell me different ways to say “only got $20 in my pocket” in the shopping context.

Then, we looked at what parts of the number line would match with the statement.

Then we moved to the notation of arrows and dots in describing inequalities….and so on!

Also, I taped a number line on the board for reuse, which was handy!

Step 12: The Thrift Shop, Video-making Lab!



In the spirit of Macklemore, I went to a thrift shop and spent about $20 acquiring random action-figure type things, multi-colored objects, a ‘guitar,’ and more.

Then I threw in all my random things I brought with me like bouncy and juggling balls that I had brought for the express purpose of trying to find something to do with them lesson-wise.

Then I threw in other random things like a Pikachu hat and goggles in case kids could find a good use for them =P

The students had to make a 2-minute-or-less educational video on a small subtopic, such as ‘why do you have to do to one side of the inequality what you do to the other?’

To (attempt to) force them to be creative, they had to use at least 2 props from our Classmade thrift shop.

This seemed to work really well for creativity!

  • One group did a scene where bank robbers have to solve an inequality in order to crack the safe (they used the High School Musical Box as a safe and even brought in their own mini-mini-slugger as a prop the next day! Good thing they didn’t get kicked out for bringing a small bat to school…).
  • Another group used the ceramic people as a teacher coming across a student whose car broke down and then said you have to balance an inequality like you do a car.
  • And then this one group had its main characters be Pikachu and Kirby (one person in the hat, talking to the pink Smiley-face ball.

Not ever group was spot-on in terms of making their content creative, but as a first-run on this Math Lab, I think it was a good go.

You know, I didn’t even realize until writing this that the main improvement it needs is to more systematically work in the creativity. It’ll be fun thinking about how you can get them to be creative about not just the situation, but about working with the content!


The Last Day of School: Algebra 2

So, I’m not expressly here for Algebra 1, but for math in general (which here will consist of Alg 1+2, maybe some geometry), and the Algebra 2 teachers were super welcoming and open to letting me run 2 math labs on the last day of school.

The first was on exponential functions because the San Andres algebra 2 teacher and roommate had said people really have a hard time with understanding exponential functions.

Well being in Environmental Engineering having learned through several lectures about world population growth….and also being a Nerdfighter that watches all the Vlogbrothers videos and was told by Hank Green about Google Earth Engine…..well that’s what I went for, a lesson talking about what population growth is and how human population has been growing exponentially.

Photostory, Go!

So they didn’t actually learn about the exponential function in a 20-day class, but that’s okay! I explained it!

In hindsight, I should have not worked with e…but that can be tweaked by teachers for their lesson examples.

I also played a video of bacteria dividing to get to the concept of ‘it keeps doubling.’

Then, we talked about human population growth by looking at world population data and watching a couple Google Earth Engine videos. http://earthengine.google.org/#intro/LasVegas

Me demonstrating the activity.


Then in the name of experimentation and noms, people drew their own ‘world’ on an index card and grew their own population of M&M’s (‘roll’ the start population; for every M facing up, add another M&M. Roll the new population, stop this process when you can’t fit any more M&M’s on the sheet). One group was super efficient about distributing their population….


LAB 2! Catapults

Step 1: Give people materials

Step 2: Let them build and try to hit target boxes!


The building lab and teaching point were separate, but I got a lot of good feedback on ways to work to really integrate it and keep math in it.

I thought to keep the space to the classroom, but I really didn’t have to- should have had a competition, and I could have incorporated more quadratic functions, even geometry, into the launching and kept them working at the math while they launched. Stuff like that. =

Lastly, feedback/survey!……..And my real gem!

I made up a 6-ish question survey for the students to fill out at the end of the day, open response. Trudging through 60 students’ responses was….AMAZING.

Some responses were funny, such as ‘one thing I learned today was the strength of styrofoam’ and ‘one thing I learned today was that there’s a lot of exponential growth going on.’

Some responses were inspiring, showing that some kids are reeeeally thinking in powerful ways…such as ‘what we did today was put our innovation skills to the test with limited resources and quadratic formulas’ and ‘one thing that went wrong was that I underestimated my structural flaws’

This kind of open-response questioning really sparked something in me. It’s extremely valuable to get in the head of students and see what they see in a lesson, both to see if they get it and know how to design better lessons for them.

But also, maybe I have a passion for the research aspect of education. I have a passion for students and learning about them, but also seeing how and when learning actually takes place….and I don’t know where to go from there, I really don’t. If I pursue a career in education, where is the niche for me? But I’m excited for my (and their!) futures no matter what…


So that was summer school,

minus the endless time discussing students and how they learn, also minus the times I also helped in class with spot-tutoring (usually only linked to days I was running labs). It was an awesome experience that did NOT fly by too fast…until the last few days.




 Post 1: For the love of: Something

Though I’m going into my senior year at MIT, I still consider myself a young mind. I would call myself mature but not experienced; passionate but not driven. So this introductory blog is like the tourist intro video to a wild frontier state, the state of my mind. It’s the tourist video because it doesn’t get into the inner workings, the way it’s run, but the exciting things that are the most accessible.
Possibly the biggest reason I’m here is to explore something I think I love. I’m dating Teaching, and we are in the phase where we talk about our relationship. Except since teaching is not a person, the talking is more like working my butt round the clock all for a couple dozen whiny punk kids and hoping that I will even love the feeling of burning out for them.
Sorry if I’ve led you, the reader, on. It’s not quite as dramatic as Stand and Deliver or Dangerous Minds. But it CAN suck up all my time, I DID have a do-it-all attitude my first week of helping with summer school, I DID burn out, and I do still think God is glad I’m here. I think I will start the teaching certificate program when I get back to MIT because I’ve been loving this. Except ‘this’ doesn’t really have a definition yet. I’ll keep you posted. Thinking about the future, more specifically my purpose in continuing to live, is very weird. What am I really doing everything for the love of? The entertainment I can buy (movies theater!) after working hard? The kids? The community? Myself? God?
I’ll be exploring that this summer. As well as, you know, doing my projects, trying to create some long-term stuff. The weirdest part is I fear never taking the step to start/keep on some of my personal long-term projects.
Like I said, this is just the state of my mind right now. Thanks for tuning in =)

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