Super Math Teacher

The thoughts of a middle school math teacher

A Visit to Cappadocia

Last weekend, a group of teachers set out for an overnight bus trip to Cappadocia.  The region is about 4 hours drive away.  It was a reasonable cost (only 750 Turkish lira) and a lot was packed into the itinerary.

Since Mom is coming in December, and we are going there, this was the perfect opportunity to get away from Ankara and see some other sights.  I have already made day trips to Konya and Eskeshir.

My favorite part was visiting the Goreme open air museum.  Seeing all the different churches, which are over 1000 years old was incredible.  Climbing on the rocks to enter the caves, seeing frescoes that are just as old.  Wow.

IT was a short trip, and I definitely will be back to spend more time in this amazing place.  Going there with friends, old and new, was also alot of fun.

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Has it already been one month?

Wow.  It has already been one month here in Turkey.  

I have made the transition from Common Core to Cambridge standards.  I am getting used to a schedule that seems to be very inconsistent (40 minute periods, sometimes a single period, sometimes a double one).

Moving to BLIS was definitely a good choice.  I finally feel that I am actually part of a department.  IN the MS math department, there are 6 of us.  All female.  I am the only non-Turkish teacher in the group, and expectations are high.  I share lots of ideas with everyone, and they have all been very receptive.  🙂

My students are definitely different from those in Vietnam.  While the Vietnamese students were driven to perfection, these students want to do well.  THey look for opportunities to think outside the box.  Today, for example, students were creating graphs about a set of data.  They chose what type of graph would be appropriate.  Many students came during their break times to work, instead of using the time to play basketball or hang out with their friends.  Talk about dedicated!

I also enjoy working with my colleagues.  The other Grade 7 teacher and I collaborate several times a week.  It is true collaboration.  We share ideas and discuss what we want to do.  Both of us feel that we make a good team.  Today, she taught me Turkish division and I taught her American division.  We both are benefiting from this partnership.

Another positive is the sense of welcome and community at BLIS.  We have had a welcome picnic, have a welcome cocktail tomorrow evening, have a couple of trips planned for October.  This is in addition tot he small group that I do a lot with.  Again, there are dinners, movie nights, trips around town, and so on.  It is nice to have friends to do things with.  We also have weekly Turkish lessons, provided by the school.

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Ready for a new year?

School officially starts for students in 2 days.  Teachers started on August 13, but we have since had an entire week off, due to the Bayram holiday.  I’m not quite sure exactly what the holiday is about, except that it is 4 1/2 days.

Tomorrow is the last workday before our students arrive.  So far, my teaching schedule has changed 3 times.  I’m still teaching Grade 7 math, but the different classes have changed times and when they are double blocks.  I guess I’ll find out more tomorrow.

I’m a little nervous this year, which is something that hasn’t happened in a number of years.  The main reason is the change in curriculum.  BLIS uses the Cambridge standards, so I am teaching a british curriculum, complete with some different terminology.  So far I have learned that “directed numbers” are integers, “indices” are exponents, and a trapezoid is called a “trapezium.”  I guess I’ll get used to some of these terms, but it is going to be an adjustment.

The other reason that I am nervous is because we also have to meet the standards set out by the Turkish Ministry of Education.  The only problem is there is no available English translation of the standards.  I have been told that they are more rigorous than the Cambridge, but would like to see for myself.

In addition, there are 5 sections of Grade 7  math, and I am only teaching 4 of them.  That means I must collaborate with one of my colleagues.  As the only non-Turkish math teacher in the middle school, I am hoping that meetings will remain focused and in English.  We have department meetings every week, according to the schedule.  At least everyone in my department is female, so I will fit in.  We have already decided that we will learn from each other.

So, to sum up, I am nervous, as well as excited.  Turkey is an amazing place, and the people here have been so friendly.  Hopefully, my students will be the same, and this will be a great year!

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Ordering Pizza

You would think that ordering a pizza would be simple.  Decide who to order from, what type of crust, what toppings,, the size, and then place the order, either online or by telephone.  Well, when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, it is definitely NOT that simple.

After a long week of new teacher orientation stuff, plus back to school meetings, trips to IKEA and the local gym, a group of the new teachers decided to order pizza for dinner on Friday night.  What follows is a summary of our experiences.

Step one: go to the Domino’s pizza website.  Naturally it is all in Turkish.  Step two: Use Google Chrome and translate the page.  Now we can read it.  Or so we thought….

The translations were definitely not what we were expecting.  We had to choose pizza type (social, legend, myth, Fit & healthy, and so on).  We opted for Social.  THen there was the “Pizza Neck Size”  Default was middle, so we left that alone.  Type of crust was simple.  Then came the toppings……

Choices for toppings included Egypt, Bitter chili spring, Roasting,  Local Tastes Spring……plus standard ones like mushroom, pepperoni (made from beef, not pork), cheese, and so on.  THe highlight was when we had to choose between “I want it painful” and “I want extra cheese”.

We decided on the pizza we wanted, and went to enter our delivery address.  It is all drop down menu choices.  Our neighborhood is not a location, and there is no option to enter an address.  At this point, it has been an hour to place an order.  We changed websites, and went to a delivery site that has an English option.

We went through the menu again, with the same choices, and managed to enter our address (in this case, my apartment).  We got an email saying we would get a confirmation call.  SUre enough, there was a telephone call, and it was in limited English.  Ten minutes after the call, the pizza arrived.  Once we placed the order, it was only 20 minutes to get our meal.

Part of the challenge, and part of the fun, is trying new things when you live in a country with a totally different language.  Placing an online order was fun.  We needed the laugh!

Here are a few things we saw:

  • Choose your materials instead of choose your toppings
  • I want it painful
  • Egypt is a pizza topping (we later learned Egypt means corn)
  • Cracked chicken couples (still haven’t decided on that one!)
  • Turkey chest (instead of turkey breast)

Anyone who travels overseas should definitely try to order something as simple as a pizza in the local language!


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A new beginning

I have moved on from Vietnam.  It was time after 4 years in Ho Chi Minh City.  Starting today, I am now employed at Bilkent Laboratory and International School (BLIS) in Ankara, Turkey.

Naturally, there were a few hiccups along the way as I prepared for the move.  Getting an employment visa was the biggest.  I made a trip to the consulate in Miami.  I submitted forms and documents.  I paid almost $400 for the visa.  Then I was told it would take 4-6 weeks!  I was 3 weeks away from beginning my contract.  Of course, after I made the trip, new teachers were told to just get a tourist visa.  So easy, and only $20!

THen came the packing and moving to Ankara.  I packed 4 suitcases of clothing and such, with a few school supplies thrown in (very few, however…..).  Only $410 to check a total of 4 bags (2 were free).  Then the flight from Raleigh was delayed, and I was hoping I would make the connection in Boston to Istanbul.  Luckily, I made it with about 10 minutes before boarding.  After that, everything was smooth.

Arriving in Ankara, I was brought to my apartment.  Although it is smaller than in Vietnam, it is still a good size.  I have 2 bedrooms.  Best of all, the kitchen has an oven!  I have 3 balconies (one off each bedroom and one off the living room).  They allow for a great breeze.  The windows and door have screens, so I can leave them open and not worry about bugs.

Today was the first day for new teachers.  We accomplished filling out paperwork, getting our health check, receiving our settling in allowance, and going to the mall that is just down the hill.  Tomorrow is the day that returning faculty report, so everyone will be there.

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The end of an era

Today was the last day of work for me at AIS. It was graduation day for my Grade 8 kids.

It was a bittersweet time. I gave the teacher speech. I recognized students. It was a moving ceremony.

Afterwards, there were the numerous pictures with the kids. There were lots of tears.

It has been a long ride, and it is time for the next phase of my overseas adventure tires to begin.

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Saigon Junior Math Competition 2018

Saturday was the final math competition of the year for me.  It was the Saigon Junior Math competition, designed primarily for middle school students.

This year, AIS took 3 teams of 3.  We also had 4 alternates, but only 1 chose to attend.  He actually ended up competing as part of another school’s team, who had a member not come.  All in all, 10 students competed in the 4 rounds: Individual, Pass Back, Cross Number, and Relay.

Although we did not win any individual or team awards, I am proud of the students that went.  They knew they were up against students from other schools who tend to win these competitions.  During the awards, we predicted which school would win.


Two weeks ago, we competed against the same schools in the Saigon Junior Logic competition.  Our teams, composed of 2 students from Grade 7 and 6 students from Grade 6, were the youngest ones  there.  However, our B team, made up of 6th grade students, won the Engineering Round, where they built the tallest free-standing tower of marshmallows and spaghetti noodles — an impressive 113.5cm tall.  The second place tower was just under 100cm.


I am happy with the students’ overall performance.  At the same time, I am relieved that the competition season has ended for me.  These students gave up other after school activities to practice, and then gave up 2 different Saturdays in order to attend the competitions. (Meeting at 7am in order to ride the school bus to the competition locations was not fun!)

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Solving Quadratics

My students have been working with quadratics and their graphs for a couple of weeks.  I love this unit, because there is so much real world math that can be used.

Yesterday and today, I decided to change things up.  My students can take any equations and graph it, with and without the aid of Desmos.  So I changed it a little.

I gave students 16 graphs.  THen I gave them the equations, in both Standard Form and Vertex Form.  Students had to match the two forms of the equations and the graphs.  I don’t teach vertex form at all, but I thought my students would rise to the challenge.  And they did.  There was a good deal of discussion within their groups.  At first it was “What is vertex form” and “You didn’t tell us about vertex form.”  However, during the 55 minutes students worked on the activity, the conversation changed.  I heard students saying “All we have to do is expand the equation” and “THis is just another form of this [as they pointed to the different equations].

Few finished during the class period.  That was okay.  I listened as groups explained their strategies to determine which ones matched.  The strategies were varied, but they led to student success.  I did not have to intervene, except to remind students to work as a group.

I can’t take credit for the activity; I modified a cut and paste activity that I found online so that students did not have t cut.  Even with the typo in an equation (thanks Mai and SK), students were engaged and working.  A tough thing to d with 12 days of classes remaining!

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So one of my students came to see me today about a grade.  He started the conversation by saying he learned his lesson about checking in his folder for assignments, and realized he did not have the assignment due today.  After checking with other students, he asked for a copy.

THen the conversation changed topics.  He told me he knew that he should be penalized for another assign,ment because he knew he turned it in late. (I had forgotten it was late.)  So we talked about it.  I asked him if he felt he should be penalized because he turned in the assignment late (I usually deduct 10 points).  THis young man decided that because it was his fault, I had to deduct the points.  I really didn’t plan on it, since he was so honest.  However, I told him that it was his choice.  I showed him how the grade change would affect his average.  Even seeing his overall average drop, he still wanted to have me lower his grade.

There is still some honesty and integrity left in today’s students!

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Got your attention, didn’t I?

It wasn’t really a fire.  I was cooking dinner.  There was a lot of smoke from the oil I was using on the stove, and it set off the smoke detector.  The next thing I know, there are 5 security guards, and someone from management (I think) at my door.  They came in, and started to laugh.

I  guess it is funny.  After the apartment fire in another part of the city, there seems to be a greater awareness of fire safety.  The guards came, and opened the doors, and cleared the detector. I kept saying (in English) “Cooking dinner.”  They looked in the kitchen, and sure enough, they saw I had been cooking.  The whole time, they are laughing at me.  I was laughing with them.  After all, it was a dumb thing to do.  There wasn’t a fire, just a lot of smoke.

At least I know the smoke detector works!  And there is a quick response!

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