Embracing Her Rules


I want to preface this post with a declaration: My daughter Maria is the love of my life and being her mother is my greatest blessing.  That being said, to describe her as a “free-thinker” would be a sugar-coated understatement of my little non-conformist. (I mean would it kill her to play one game of Sorry by the rules?)

Enter Math-on-a-Stick.  The very purpose of the exhibit is to help parents help their children develop their own ways to make sense of ambiguity.  Relax, Mom!  Even a business teacher can do it!


My husband, Scott, creating a tile design.


But wouldn’t you guess, my sweet darling figured out a way to diverge.  Here she is making “caves.”


There’s nothing wrong with this, by the way.  She just threw me for a loop when it came to asking probing questions. Onto Malke’s table.  Maria decided to make a bird.


This is where the conversation gets good.

Me: How do you know it’s a bird?

Maria: (tossing paper) Because it flies. Let’s make another bird.

[She folds the paper once, makes her cuts, and opens the paper]

Maria: It’s not a bird.  There’s no wings.

Me: What do you think went wrong?

Maria: Maybe I didn’t make the cuts big enough.

[She grabs another paper and tries again with bigger cuts]

Maria: It’s still not a bird.

Me: Could we maybe try folding the paper twice instead of once?

[Bird-making, take 3 with two folds, instead of one]

Success.  We ate delicious food, we rode rides, we bought trinkets and treasures. But this conversation with my precious, independent child was the best part of the fair today.

This angel will be 5 years old tomorrow. Happy birthday, sweet girl.  I learn from you every day, and I am the luckiest mommy on the planet.


An Open Letter and a Note of Gratitude


“I’ve been married for forty-two years which means I’ve been to forty-two state fairs.”  I’m not sure why this little tidbit from the Park-and-Ride attendant didn’t instantly put me in great spirits.

And then I walked up over the hill, took one look at Math-on-a-Stick, and the indifference melted.  The humble smile of satisfaction from Christopher Danielson was enough to warm the cockles of my heart for months.  But the kids and the konversations around shape, number, space, and patterns were nothing short of inspiring.  “This is exactly how I envisioned this,” Christopher said.  And his vision becoming state-fair reality is going to change the way parents and kids talk about math.  I love hearing kids explain their reasoning.  It’s what makes my job as an educator joyous.


Dear Adults: (all of us)

The children in your life are creative, driven, passionate, and intelligent.


Ask them how they see the pattern. Let them experiment with the shapes.  Let them lead the conversation.

Listen to what they notice. Encourage them to say more.

Then ask them how they know.

The “right” answer is so much less important than a child leading you on their own mathematical journey.


Thank you, Christopher.  Today you not only added a great new structure to the landscape of the Minnesota State Fair. But tonight, in hundreds of households, the conversation around mathematics is changing. And after nine more days, thousands more will get a chance to embrace this shift.  When my husband and I have been married forty-two years, we’ll go to the fair and stop by and listen to the kids talk at Math-on-a-Stick.




Arooo to the #MTBoS

National Dog Day seems like an appropriate time to create a blog post using the photos I collected from #DogsOfMTBoS.  (You had to see this coming at some point, right?)

I find the love that people and dogs share endearing and also inspiring.  I recently created a Polygraph using photos of beagles.  I actually put some time into this and tested it with Sadie Estrella and her nephew.  There’s some quality craftsmanship in there for sure.

Alrighty!  Here they are, the Dogs (and a few cats) of the MTBoS!


IMG_20150730_000548 IMG_20150730_000554 IMG_20150730_000601 IMG_20150730_000619 IMG_20150730_001345 IMG_20150730_001925 IMG_20150730_054733 IMG_20150730_054804 IMG_20150730_054819 IMG_20150730_055405 IMG_20150730_055419 IMG_20150730_055429 IMG_20150730_061633 IMG_20150730_061817 IMG_20150730_081741 IMG_20150730_081750 IMG_20150730_082608 IMG_20150730_082611 IMG_20150730_082815 IMG_20150730_082822 IMG_20150730_082829 IMG_20150730_082836 IMG_20150730_082848 IMG_20150730_082901 IMG_20150730_082908 IMG_20150730_082918 IMG_20150730_083942 IMG_20150730_084005 IMG_20150730_084246 IMG_20150730_084252 IMG_20150730_103642 IMG_20150730_114652 IMG_20150730_114658 IMG_20150730_114704 IMG_20150730_114711 IMG_20150730_114717 IMG_20150730_121310 IMG_20150730_121320 IMG_20150730_121329 IMG_20150730_121342 IMG_20150730_121353 IMG_20150730_133201 IMG_20150730_144345 IMG_20150730_144619 IMG_20150730_153024 IMG_20150730_153027 IMG_20150730_181118 IMG_20150730_181121 IMG_20150730_181156 IMG_20150730_182358 IMG_20150730_185732 IMG_20150730_192525 IMG_20150730_192530 IMG_20150730_192536 IMG_20150730_192552 IMG_20150730_192557 IMG_20150730_192601 IMG_20150730_192605 IMG_20150730_192611 IMG_20150730_192613 IMG_20150730_192615 IMG_20150730_192648 IMG_20150730_201328 IMG_20150730_201440 IMG_20150730_201516 IMG_20150730_201523 IMG_20150730_201531 IMG_20150730_201949 IMG_20150730_203047 IMG_20150730_203051 IMG_20150730_214914 IMG_20150730_214925 IMG_20150730_223833 IMG_20150731_095656 IMG_20150731_095702 IMG_20150731_204022 IMG_20150731_204026 IMG_20150731_214959 IMG_20150731_223906 IMG_20150731_223909 IMG_20150731_225944 IMG_20150731_233043 IMG_20150731_235454 IMG_20150731_235743 IMG_20150801_073202 IMG_20150801_073231 IMG_20150801_081612 IMG_20150801_081616 IMG_20150801_154159 IMG_20150802_110805 IMG_20150805_205835 IMG_20150805_205839 IMG_20150805_205843 IMG_20150809_132632 Screenshot_2015-07-30-08-17-32 Screenshot_2015-07-30-08-18-20


Topper just wants to give you some love.




Practice These Principles…

From: http://shebrand.com/more-gratitude-less-attitude/
From: http://shebrand.com/more-gratitude-less-attitude/

I’m in the process of starting a new blog to post about my sober journey.  I’m not sure what to start with so I’m posting this here until I figure that out.

I’ve had an eye-opening summer, to say the least. I have experienced an emotional enthusiasm like I haven’t felt in years, yet weeks later felt lows that made me question my role as a mother, a wife, and a teacher.

Paraphrasing Step 12, as addicts, we are tasked with “practicing the principles” of the twelve steps in every aspect of our lives.  I’ve said this before about AA.  The only step that mentions alcohol is step one.  The other eleven involve self-renewal, relationship mending, and spiritual enlightenment.  (Here is a link to the steps if you are curious.)

The desire for alcohol has left me, but that does not mean my addiction has been cured.  Far from it.  Hidden right beneath the surface is the pattern of addictive behavior that got me into this mess in the first place. That isn’t going away, and I have to deal with it every time it bubbles to the surface.  The other alternative is to let the addictive behavior slowly take everything from me, just like alcohol tried to do.  

I need to repeat that because it’s that important.  I may never drink again.  But if my addictive behavior isn’t dealt with and eradicated as alcohol was, I’m doomed to the same fate as if I were still actively drinking.  “We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves,” (Eric Hoffer) and I’m lying to myself if I think that sobriety simply means living without alcohol.  

I’ve written about acceptance on here before, and I definitely think acceptance is key to a healthy recovery from any addiction.  Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go, offers an additional challenge:  gratitude.

To accept our circumstances is another miraculous cure.  For anything to change or anyone to change, we must first accept ourselves, others, and the circumstance exactly as they are.  Then, we need to take it one step further.  We need to become grateful for ourselves and our circumstances.  

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

My goal for the 2015-2016 school year:  More gratitude. 

Custom Polygraph from Desmos

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about a math-specific activity.  But today, I spent the better part of 5 hours creating a Polygraph Activity with scatter plots on Desmos, and it was a ton of crazy math fun.  Here is the link if you’d like to use it. 

It’s kind of like the game Guess Who, but with mathematical concepts like parabolas, quadrilaterals, and systems of equations.  It’s relatively easy to make one of these activities, but incredibly complex and time-consuming to create a good one.

Christopher confirmed my inclination:


Bob and Michael had some helpful thoughts:

Here’s what I came up with for my scatter plots:




I had my husband field test it for me.  He used language like “mostly linear” when eliminating graphs but then seemed to focus on how many points are in each quadrant.  I took out the axes to see if that solves the problem but I’m worried that might make the graphs indistinguishable to students.



What I learned:

  • The Math:  By first experimenting on StatKey (thanks @rockychat3), I was able to determine the effect on the line of best fit when maneuvering points.
  • The Logistics:  The only window available is -5 to 5.  I had to edit most of my graphs to fit in that space.  Also, intermediate saving is not currently available so ensuring your graph inputs are ready to go is helpful.
  • The People: I’m never short of completely humbled when I reach out for help with something on twitter.  Thank you everyone for your input.


Safe Spaces at #TMC15

We talk a lot about creating safe spaces for students, but it’s important to acknowledge that teachers need those safe spaces as well.  In many ways Twitter Math Camp IS that safe space where math educators can explore their ideas without judgement and overall be themselves.  But I realized this time around that as inviting as #MTBoS is, it’s ok to seek out further safety nets.

Based on my own experience and what I’m reading on Twitter today, it seems as though there are many of us that need a safety net from the safety.  An example:  everything from Twitter Math Camp ends up on Twitter. There was a presenter who purposefully refrained from using pithy comments simply so they couldn’t be taken out of context on social media.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced a tweet interpreted differently than we intended.

It’s not a secret that I deal with alcoholism.  But this post isn’t about my issue in particular.  It’s about our need, no matter the issue, for a safe space.  And there needs to be safety within the safe places.  Anne Schwartz talks about this in her recent blog post where she talks about surrounding herself with the people she needed after being apprehensive about attending TMC this year.   For Julie, the safe place was the Piano Bar where she could break away and be free to dance with close friends like she loves.

It took me until Saturday to recognize what that safe space looked like for me.  And once I realized it, it was so crystal clear, I can’t believe it took me 2 TMC’s to figure it out.  I don’t mind being around the alcohol one bit, and I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable drinking around me.  In fact, the silliness at the end of the night is usually something I enjoy (sorry not sorry, you guys are hilarious after a few drinks).   BUT at some point in the night, I need a safe place a deep conversation with someone who isn’t drunk.    At TMC14, that person was Justin Aion who walked 1.5 miles with me to get club soda and spent a good deal of Saturday night listening to me.  In Claremont, the sobriety of my pregnant roommate, Teresa, was more important than I realized pre-TMC.  Thank you, Teresa, for just being in the right place at the perfect time.

The patio on Saturday was delightful.  So many people, so much joy, so much community.

But all I could see was the alcohol.  It literally was suffocating me.

I know there were probably lots of you that weren’t drinking.  But the addicted mind sees what it wants, and my imagination had created a courtyard drowning in liquor.  So I returned to my room, texted a friend and called my husband.  This was a powerful realization for me because although those safe places presented themselves organically in previous TMC gatherings, it’s vital that I proactively ensure that safety exists from the get-go.  And that’s what I will do from now on before heading in unprepared.

I know a similar story can be told for a lot of us regarding our interactions in large groups of semi-familiar people.  I would encourage you to look deeply inside and identify the source of your discomfort and examine what can be done to alleviate it.

We Admitted We Were Powerless

I wrote this blog post about a week ago when preparing for my presentation at Twitter Math Camp.  I don’t have any resources to post to the TMC Wiki page.  All I have is this glimpse into my humanity as a teacher and an account of how I release myself from the burden of powerlessness.

On March 31, 2012, I made the choice to put down my drink for the last time and join Alcoholics Anonymous.  This decision had a profound impact on not only my personal relationships and my health, but also on my role as a teacher and my relationships with students.

If you’re at all familiar with the 12 steps, you know that step 1 is the only one that mentions our substance of choice.  (Step 1:  We admitted we are powerless over [insert substance here] and our lives had become unmanageable.)

Many of the other steps involve an appeal to a power greater than ourselves.  Many unfortunately dismiss or reject the real, profound, positive change that can result from a 12-step experience because of this mention of a higher power.  The incorrect assumption that this refers to only a religious deity robs many of even exploring the impact the 12 steps can have on their lives.

BUT, since my goal here isn’t to convince you of AA’s ambiguous, non-definition of “God” as you understand Him, I thought it was more productive to talk about how I have applied this work with the 12 steps to my work with students, administrators, and other teachers.  Also, my goal is to look at how these same ideas can be applied to your teaching, sans 12-step meetings.  I’m here to share my experience, strength, and hope, and consider that the real power you have in your classroom is through accepting your powerlessness over it.

I shared a survey a few weeks back.  One of the questions was What do you feel powerless over in your job as an educator?
Because survey answers presented in Wordle form are visually interesting, see if you can pick out some of the common themes here:



Most of us can clearly identify what we are powerless over, but how do we actually rid ourselves of the resentment we have toward that powerlessness?  How do we really accept it and focus our energy on something we do have the power to positively change?   For example, we are powerless over the brown-nosing, pompous, know-it-all teacher at the other end of the school.  We know we cannot control that they say outlandish things at staff meetings and toot their own horn whenever their mouths are moving.  Regardless, even the mention of their name sends us into an anxiety-laced, physical reaction, complete with a roll of the eyes.  Wouldn’t we like to be free of the anger that accompanies our interactions with this individual?  Because no matter where you go, what school, level, grade, or subject you teach, that person will be there in one form or another.

For me, I’ll call this person…Bert (not his real name).  We started teaching at the same time.  We had a…miscommunication of sorts.  The details don’t matter.  What does is that all of my future interactions with Bert were strained, anxiety provoking, and negative.  If I was to be completely honest with myself, I needed to make an amends with him.

Whether you get to this point through 12-step work or through your own examination of conscience, the only thing in your control is your actions and your reaction to others.  I’m completely powerless over what happened with Bert in the past.  I felt he had wronged me.  I continued to hold a grudge.  And I remained angry and hurt.

It was a Tuesday, really early, 6:30 am. I was sure I’d be the only one needing to talk to Bert.  Hi Bert.  Over the last seven years, I have not been very friendly.  Perhaps you’ve noticed.  I’ve had expectations for you that were unfair because you did not know about them. I’m very sorry I’ve treated you in a way that was unkind.  

You could tell he was surprised, but relieved.  He told me thank you, that my words meant a lot and that he was very glad I took the time to clear the air.  I felt fantastic.  Like, floating on air, free as a bird, happiest person on the planet AMAZING.  The physical reaction I had to the mention of him – gone.  My annoyance when he’d speak up at meetings – vanished.  I no longer required myself to carry around the burden of being bothered by his actions, which I couldn’t control in the first place.  By turning the table to my contribution to the breakdown in communication, I was able to release the effect that his contribution had on me.

This empowered me to use this release of resentment in so many other areas of my teaching.

I was absolutely humbled by the humanity and authenticity that was shared at my session.  In the spirit of anonymity, I am not going to share any of that here.  I know that when we share our humanity with each other, our students, our fellow colleagues, and our “friends in our phones,” we then allow learning to happen.