Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mock Election Edition by Matthew Moulden

Thank you to Matthew Moulden for taking a risk and submitting this. Remember, this blog lives only because of the community supporting it and believing that sharing our struggles with clarity can be as valuable as sharing our successes. To share, email or share a Doc with

I teach AP US Government, a senior level course, in a rural suburban community in Texas. And every year I have run a mock election project for the class. Each year is a different theme - Star Wars, Superheroes, Villians, etc. I do this to avoid partisan politics and conflicts interfering in what is suppose to be a fun and educational project. 
This is a massive undertaking on the kids - it's a PBL thing. The kids must nominate a candidate (while figuring out how that process works), run a campaign for their chosen candidate (commercials, signs, polling, seeking donors, fundraising), and then run the actual vote (determining voting rights, election rules, exit polling). There is a lot to this - it usually becomes a school wide event.

This year - 2016, being an election year, I wanted to go BIG. I wanted it to do more than in a normal year, but 2016 was no normal election. I wanted to show the importance of the President and stress the role of the President in the election as well. So this year I chose the theme of Greatest President of All-Time. Thinking with the Hamilton play that my kids are obsessed with, the historical memes, and just pop culture, this would be a sure way to get people excited. 
It started that way - my kids really got into it at first. Nominations were a dog fight over past presidents, early fundraising was a hit, the first wave of campaign ads were well done. But then things went south quickly. 

2016 was 2016. The election was too much. The kids were tired of taking politics and answering political questions from donors and potential voters, especially tied to the real election (something I did not anticipate at all). 
My master plan of using this fun project to show the importance of the real election even more than it was designed to was too ambitious and my kids ended up just burned out, as did I. 
My plan of using past presidents to show the importance of the role of the President back fired, the kids and school used 2016 politics on historical characters and it didn't end well.
And in the end - the whole project fell flat. 
Kids are usually excited on election day, anxious to make sure their supporters vote, to know the results, to brag on social media that they won.
Not this year. Only a few kids were concerned if they won, must were just glad the whole thing was over and we could move on.

My take away - keep things within their scope. Don't try to over-stuff something (unless it's a burrito then go for it). A project that was hugely successful in the past was ruined by a over zealous teacher and his wanting to make a grand gesture of a process that kids already got from keeping things light and fun. I learned to let my kids be kids and they'll dig and they'll learn.

So while that didn't work in ways I hoped it would, I did learn from my kids and will be better for it. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Some Models Aren't Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking- by Elizabeth Raskin

This week's post is brought to us by Elizabeth Raskin. We all appreciate your honesty and openness. If you have a Well THAT Didn't Go Well story to share please email

This past week my 7th grade class was starting on multiplying rational numbers….which of course’s time to see what they remember from 6th grade. I went back and forth on how to present the I just remind them of the algorithm? Do I do a quick “hey, remember this model” then jump to the algorithm? Do I have them reinvent the algorithm? Due to the fact that I knew they modeled multiplying fractions last year and that we’ve been having some hard core discussions about what our operations mean, I determined that I would just see what they could do.  

I had students working in groups of 3-4 and in the middle of the table was a plethora of manipulatives...a sampling of pretty much everything I have in my cabinets.  I gave each group a note card with a fraction multiplication problem and the following prompt: "Use the stuff at your table to model your multiplication problem as many different ways as you can."  

I'll be honest, I had pretty high expectations of what I'd get. We've been doing What's Your Story every week since the start of school and we've had many conversations about what a fraction of a group could look like.  Unfortunately, this is what most groups did:

Problem: 1/3 x 1/4 = ???
Model: Cuisenaire Rods make great multiplication symbols!

​Problem: 2/3 x 3/4 = 1/2
Model: They obviously know the algorithm, but the model doesn't show any understanding of what we're actually doing to the fractions.

Problem: 3/4 x 2/3 = 3/2
Model: They actually were spot on with their model. They created 2/3 (purple) and then found 3/4 of it (pink). Their error appeared when trying to determine the answer.

​Problem: I think this was 1/2 x 1/4
Model: Again, this group created a correct (and creative) model, but they weren't able to decipher the answer.

​Problem: 2/3 x 1/2 = 2/6
Model: Their model didn't correctly represent the problem, but they inadvertently got the correct answer using a sort-of algorithm.

Well, that didn't work...

I decided to take a step back and discuss as a class what 1/2 x 1/2 means...1/2 of a group of 1/2. I asked each group to show a way to model it. Things went a little better, but I'll be honest...after the first flop, I was feeling defeated...I just wasn't as excited as I was at the beginning of the lesson. I was having that initial internal struggle with myself:
  • Do I spend time solidifying what multiplying fractions means before adding in decimals and negatives?
  • Do I say "screw it" and just remind them, "Hey! Remember that you just multiply across? Yes, the easiest thing you ever have to do with fractions can be completely convoluted and confusing by using these models I'm trying to force on you in order to glean some understanding of what's happening to the numbers???"
  • How soon do I start throwing in mixed numbers?
  • It's almost November and I'm STILL on Unit 1! WTF am I doing???

Long story short, I decide to put the manipulatives away and try our hand at modeling on paper using grids. We did some problems together and with about 5 minutes left in class I gave them a ticket out the door. Results were pretty much what I expected. About 1/3 of them tried to model and failed, 1/3 were able to draw the model and 1/3 didn't even try the model and just multiplied across.

I'd like to say that after that first failure I was able to change things up for the other classes in a way that made things wonderful for them and me...unfortunately, even with the minor changes I made to the lesson (like starting with the 1/2 x 1/2 conversation) the results were pretty much the same. My lower students were getting confused with the model. The higher students were annoyed that I was even asking them to model. It was just, overall, not a great math day.

Ideally, this is the part of the blog where I'd talk about what I'd do I'd adjust my lesson for next year...but at this point my brain isn't ready to process that. Right now I'm trying to think about what went so wrong...what did I do differently from years past to make this lesson flop so hard. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know.

​Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Success and Joy Turns to Failure and Stress by Sarah Windisch

Post submitted by Sarah Windisch. Thank you for your honesty and for your support of this project.

My greatest success as a teacher, the thing I am most spectacularly proud of, is also my biggest failure.

It’s not the failure I’m proud of - that makes my heart sick. I don’t know whether to rage or cry or keep fixing all the issues creeping up behind me. I don’t know whether to give up on the greatest thing I’ve ever done as a teacher and remember it as the most demeaned I’ve ever been. I can’t decide, because every time I see this project being a success, it’s the most amazing feeling. I can’t imagine a feeling that would compare.

And I don’t want to let that go.

You see, last year, students and I helped a blind student “see.” The jist is that we created vibration-sensitive devices that played a different song at various places in our school, so that when a blind student tapped them with his cane, he could form an audio map and navigate the building more independently. Fourth graders soldered, prototyped, problem solved and created, and they were so proud.

The blind student was so excited to use them. They were working. I was asked to write about them, and certainly agreed, because the devices would be crazy-easy to duplicate and were inexpensive. Other students in other places could benefit from this! We could create video tutorials! We were all on a change-the-world high.

The piece I wrote was picked up by another blog, and then shared on Facebook. (I felt your stomachs drop - you can feel it coming, can’t you?) The next thing I knew, I was in the principal’s office, desperately trying to edit a few words out, calling the editor of the other blog to have the story removed, on the phone with the Superintendent, having a mom submitting a formal ethics complaint to the State Board about me and trying to have my teaching certificate revoked. I’d used her son’s diagnosis descriptively and she didn’t approve.

Everyone picked sides. There was nothing but support from the district office. Other parents wondered who I’d take advantage of next or shared all the ways I was the best teacher in the universe. Some colleagues thought I’d get the recognition I finally deserved, others decided I was an opportunist. Out of all of this, the project sort of became untouchable:

Previously enthusiastic teachers decided they didn’t like having the devices near their classrooms because they were too loud and caused a distraction.

So I adjusted the volume.

The person in charge of charging the devices was so affronted by the way I’d been treated she refused to charge them any more out of spite, not realizing the vengeance she was actually taking was on the student and the project, not the unkind words and those who wielded them.

I just put students in charge of collecting them, charging them, and putting them back out. Carry on.

We’ve met all the roadblocks (Perseverance! Grit! Buzzwords!), but we’re not able to be consistent enough for the project to work the way it needs to. It’s thrilling to see the student hear his way around the building when the devices are up and running, but that’s not frequently enough for him to use it independently - his main outcome of the project. Well, THAT didn’t work.

The students who made the devices beam every time they see or hear them - their pride is evident. I’ve tried to shelter them from all the hurtful words tossed around in the fallout, but again, their parents are all on social media, and I can’t control what they consume or how they interpret it. Well, THAT didn’t work.

And here’s the failure for me: I retreated. I know that’s a wise maneuver sometimes, but it’s rarely one I employ. I was so hurt that something I was so proud of, something so good, was burning down around me that I didn’t fight back like I needed. I was cool and calm, good and professional. I jumped through all the hoops when I should have been shouting and balking. If I’d raised my voice, maybe others would have shouted for me as well. “Look at what they’re doing! Don’t investigate her semantic failings! Hold up this example of altruism!”

I also don’t want to stick my neck out for this student again, and that’s another huge failure for me. He didn’t do anything. But I’m not in a hurry to 3D print him Braille music LEGOs, because I’m terrified of what I might do wrong in the process of trying to be right. That CERTAINLY doesn’t work.

I don’t want this to be a failure. I don’t want to toss this in the trash bin of ideas. It changed the lives and minds of students - they saw, first hand, what they could do to help others. How to look at what was happening near them and think creatively about how to improve it. It’s all the things we aim for as teachers. And in that way, it’s a resounding success.

The way it changed me personally? That comes from how it didn’t work. It’s still bitter, not yet becoming sweet. Someday I want to be able to look at the whole project and let the breathtaking ambition and joy be what I see. But that’s not now. Now all I can think is,

“Well, THAT didn’t work.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sucker Punched with Elisa Pollard

The first real post of Well THAT Didn't Work comes to us from Elisa Pollard. I'd like to thank her for being brave and taking this first jump with us. Remember, if you have a story to share, named or anonymous, email me/share it with me at

Well, THAT didn’t work feels like such a great idea, and I really want to support the blog, but of course, as a “veteran” teacher I NEVER have those days (cough cough) and way back when I did, I have buried those memories deep in my subconscious. Trying to pry them out to share them with you has my confidence huddled in the corner, shivering, snotting, and weeping. (Yes, I absolutely do believe that the best teachers are a wee bit dramatic!)

Some of the earliest mistakes I made were outside the classroom. I was the first teacher to reach a fight in the hallway. Two boys were on the ground, wailing away. I fought my way to them and grabbed the one on top. I had him by both arms (my arms through his elbows). So the other boy popped right off the ground and sucker punched the kid I had hold of. OUCH. So. Yeah, THAT didn’t work.  

Same year, I bopped a kid on the head with the papers I had in my hand from the copier. He was slapping other children in the back of the skull with his hand, hard. I tapped him with folded up papers from behind and said, “Cut it out.”  End of story.  Except it wasn’t. I came into work the next morning. The Assistant Principal met me in the office and told me he would be sitting in on the parent conference at 8am. This child had gone home and told his mama I hit him in the head…. Which, yes, I did. (wince) Cold sweat broke out all over my body as I told my AP exactly what had happened. I had visions of my teaching career ending before it ever really began. He told me to remain calm, and that if this “angry mama” got aggressive or verbally abusive, I was to leave the conference (oh, boy). I didn’t see how I could reasonably argue that I didn’t hit this child in the head, and that just sounded AWFUL.  
Mom showed up with the teen in tow. He was a smug looking little booger. I introduced myself, apologized that we were meeting like this. And then I told her what had happened. She interrupted a few times to ask for confirmation from her son (who looked less smug now). At the end of my telling, she apologized for wasting my time, asked for permission to take her son outside before he went to first block. From the windows, we saw her pop her son on the head while asking him if he thought it was funny to lie on people and to embarrass her like that in front of good people. She didn’t have an umbrella or a large bag, but it would have been stereotypically perfect if she had. Not sure who that didn’t work out for, me or the child?  

Fast forward to the 21st century. (I’ve taught in two different centuries!) Technology does me in on a regular basis. The servers will go down. Links won’t work. Power outages. The endless spinning circle of loading doom. The day the computer started the “updates” and uploaded  at 38% for over an hour while docked to the active board where I anticipated running a lesson. Oh, and the uploading was only the first half. Then the updates had to INSTALL. Yeah, THAT didn’t work.

And then there was the time I tried out the new cute sticky notes on the corkboard link that you share with students as an exit ticket activity. And students used it to post where the party was that weekend and called each other names and edited each other’s posts. I couldn’t refresh quickly enough to see what the snickering was about. It felt like a bad version of whack-a-mole.  

Wait, WHY do we do this anyway? Why do we set ourselves up for public failure and humiliation in front of an audience of adolescents who are some of the snarkiest and unforgiving creatures to walk the planet? (That is the definition of teaching, right?) WHY having lived through that in real time, WHY would I drag it out of the lock box and share it with all of you? No one fails quite so wonderfully as a teacher. Or a writer. Or a writer who is also a teacher. Right?) [ed. note *sobbing*]

So why share? Why? Because those snarky insecure teens feel like failures all the time. They need to see us fail and handle it with grace… or even with less than grace. I might have pulled a hair or two or spun in place like Rumplestiltskin, or rolled my eyes until my scalp hurt. So throw your hands up. Admit defeat. Tomorrow you can try again. No one ever died from a day of down time in the classroom. And the next time you ask students to get out of their comfort zone, they might be a tiny bit more willing to try.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Welcome to Well THAT Didn't Work

It started, as it seems to so often now, with a series of tweets. I am a fifth grade teacher and I'm struggling with my class this year. I've got that perfect mix of kids that makes things difficult. And, since I'm dedicated to freedom and choice in my classroom, I'm having a hard time reconciling the fact that I might have to dial some of those freedoms back with that belief structure.

I'm also a firm believer in honestly online. Too often edutwitter and edublogs only show the best of us. And why wouldn't they? We're taking a risk by writing about our classrooms, we should put our best feet forward. Except when everyone is only putting their best feet forward it's not helping those lessons with two left feet. It's tripping those lessons up. I believe I've pushed this metaphor as far as it will go.

I try to talk about my failures and struggles. I try to be transparent and honest with struggles because I honestly think we're all in this together and it's important that we see each other stumble and fall. Hard.

And I'm not even talking the Fail Forward stuff we see online or the First Attempt In Learning cliches. Maybe you took a risk and it exploded, maybe you just had one of those days when everything was conspiring against you, or maybe you conspired against yourself. We can learn from all of those, and we can better see everyone as human. No one is a Super Teacher. No one has it all figured out. No one should pretend they do.

I think teachers are inherently cool and overwhelmingly conservative when it comes to speaking out. Here's what that means- Everyone wants to be nice to each other for the most part. But no one wants to be the first to jump. It's easy to say, "Yeah, we should talk about our failures more and more honestly," but it's something completely different to actually write that blog and put it out there, 

This space is for that. Named or anonymous, I hope teachers will talk about the times things went sideways badly. There doesn't even have to be a moral to the story. It doesn't need to end with, "And from that I learned to blah blah blah." Sometimes the problem is enough. I'll take submissions at, and I'll moderate and edit as needed. I have commenting set to requiring approval, so nothing mean or disrespectful will make it through my filter to the public blog. 

I have no idea how well this will work. I'll figure out a posting schedule when/if I start getting submissions. This is not my space, this is our space. I'm not going to carry it (though Science knows I make enough mistakes I probably could). I'm providing a venue. 

Once again, if you've got something to share that you think fits under the fairly broad umbrella of, "Well THAT Didn't Work" write it up in Docs (or wherever you process words), share it or email it to Don't sweat word count or images or anything. Tell us your story. Funny, sad, frustrating, all of the above. Tell me if you want your name on it or if you want it to be by A. Non Mouse. 

*deep breath* Let's see what happens. And, like Elisa says...