Emotional Baggage Around My Wrist

This blog post is more personal therapy than it is educational reflection, but I hope that others dealing with similar strife can relate and find solidarity.

Two weeks ago, I was in a car accident on the way to school on a clear, dry, sunny Monday morning.  I was heading north on a county highway when a car pulled out from my right to head south.  My SUV slammed into him at about 50 miles per hour deploying all of my airbags and sending my car into oncoming traffic.  When my car came to a stop on the opposite side of the road, I was relieved that my Sync system was dialing 911 on my behalf.  Who knows where my cell phone was at that point.  Fifteen minutes later, a police officer arrived.  The driver of the other car was issued a citation for distracted driving and my mangled Escape was hauled away.


My Ford Escape immediately following the accident.

The pain that remained in my hand kept intensifying as the morning went on, so instead of waiting for a doctor appointment to get myself checked out, I headed for the ER.  Sure enough, my left thumb was fractured.  The airbag that saved my face instead broke my thumb when I gripped the wheel, bracing for impact.

I was angry.  Thumbs are important.  Two working thumbs are a lot more productive than one.  I didn’t cause this accident, yet I’m the one left with a broken hand, smashed car, and sore neck. To add more gas to my resentment-fueled fire, the Doogie Howser-esque orthopedic surgeon informed me that my busted digit would require pins to heal properly.

This past week, I’ve thankfully moved past anger but haven’t seemed to be able to rise above the emotional grip this hand cast has had on my day-to-day functioning.  I couldn’t imagine that having difficulty taking the cap off of a dry-erase marker would have such a strong emotional impact.

This week we began a new trimester, so I struggled with the decision to take a few days off of work so I could wrap my brain around this injury and release myself from the emotional handcuff surrounding my thumb.  Our culture accepts physical injury, but the unseen toll on our mental well-being is what really needs the most care.

The part of the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is accepting powerlessness over alcohol.  While this is true for addictions in general, that thinking is also applicable here.  I am powerless over my broken thumb, the 6-week casting period and my physical disabilities resulting.  My emotional interpretation of the event, however, is completely in my control, and I’m determined to make the best of it and be a better person because of it.  Life is full of lessons, and this one is teaching me humility.  I am determined to be humble enough to accept it.

Dear Students: No. I’m Not Sorry.

Picture from: http://www.advantagecapitalfunds.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/I-Promise.jpg

I read a very moving blog post in which a teacher apologizes to her students for the problems plaguing our education system and hold students back.  While I agree with Lizanne Foster’s view on the way schools are structured, I felt she was taking blame for elements of students’ experiences over which she has no control.  I wanted to follow her blog up with a reminder that students don’t need teachers to feel sorry for them; they need teachers to empower, inspire, and motivate them to do better when they leave the classroom than they did when they entered.

Although you have to be at school so early each morning, I promise to make those early morning minutes worth getting out of bed for.

Even though you have to ask permission to use the restroom, I promise to respect your good judgement for appropriate times to leave the classroom.

I promise to create opportunities for you to get out of your seat and move about.

I promise that even though you are pre-grouped by age, I will provide you with problems that engage all levels of intellect:  problems that stretch you as well as provide scaffolding as needed.

I promise to create an environment where you feel safe in making mistakes.

I promise to allow you to solve problems collaboratively because I know “together” is where the best solutions come from.

I promise to work hard to provide the support you need to further your learning.

I promise to do my best to help open your mind to subjects and ideas that may have once seemed boring.

I promise that you will have my respect at all times and do not have to earn it.

I promise to never make you compete for grades.

I promise to give you opportunities to apply mathematics to solving our world’s economic, environmental, and political problems.

I promise to encourage curiosity throughout your learning experiences.

I promise to always let you examine, explore, experiment and experience.

I will try every day to re-ignite your passion for learning you had when you were young.

I will attempt to bring out your inner-scientist/writer/architect/artist whenever I am able.

I accept and understand that you were born to learn and that memorizing is not learning.

I promise to never make you feel that the only learning that matters is learning happening in a classroom and I promise to never focus your learning on just what will be covered on the test.

I promise to facilitate as much “out of the box” thinking as I can and will always present problems that allow for multiple solution paths.

I am mostly powerless over these powers-that-be that determine funding for your education, but I will do anything I can within my control to make learning in my classroom a positive experience for you and your classmates.


Your Teacher


Thanks, Jenks

When you build up a future experience in your mind, it is not often BETTER than how you envisioned it.  Twitter Math Camp was that experience for me.  It was so much better than it looked on a hashtag.

In 2008, I began my twitter journey.  I mostly followed celebrities and friends.  My brother swore that twitter’s true gold was in following real people that have similar interests and ideas.  As it turns out, he was right.  Since jumping head first into the Mathtwitterblogosphere, I’ve experienced nothing but a genuine willingness to help one another become better educators.  TMC solidified my understanding of this network of delightful people that make up the math-educator-online community.

Recently, twitter was abuzz over the thought that TMC should be more theory, less play.  Part of the beauty of this experience was the organic nature in which everyone gathered and collaborated.  At professional conferences, you never see groups of teachers still talking pedagogy at 6pm, still at 8pm, and at midnight, and still at 2am. This went on for FOUR solid days.  Can you imagine this happening at school:  students staying after school into the night to work on the math investigation that they can’t stop talking about?  It doesn’t happen.  But anyone who’s been a summer camp counselor knows that there’s always that group of kids that can’t get enough interaction with their peers and choose to forgo sleep to soak it all in.  That’s why the C in TMC stands for CAMP and not Conference.

Some highlights for me: 

  • Justin Aion is the same ball-of-fun in person that he seems online.  I’m grateful for getting to spend time with him.
  • Max Ray is an artist at facilitating problem-solving.  His session was masterfully orchestrated.
  • Steve Leinwand is a humble communicator but an electrifying presenter.  I was moved by his keynote very much.
  • Malke and Christopher’s willingness to teach Math in Your Feet afterhours was generously spectacular. I was skeptical at first about my ability to engage, but I’m so thankful that I was pushed to do so.
  • Bob Lochel knows more stats activities than pages in a textbook.  I enjoyed working with him in the morning sessions very much.
  • Glenn Waddell is an amazing human being.  I’m humbled to have gotten to steal some of his attention this weekend.
  • Eli Luberoff is a humble genius and a class act.
  • I have the two greatest coworker friends, Teresa and Dianna, who came with me to Jenks and dove head first into the awesomeness of this community.


I had hundreds of interactions with some fantastic people.  This isn’t something that can be re-created online, despite the fact that the community began there.  Thank you, Jenks, for hosting such an incredible event.


Crafty Math

I was recently inspired by @mathinyourfeet‘s post: https://twitter.com/mathinyourfeet/status/479332580227964928 Hoping that this was a project that could be adapted for 3-5 year olds, I inquired about the details.  Malke Rosenfeld was one step ahead of me with a blog post.  Some background on my craftiness:  My mom is the crafty one.  Growing up, I’m sure she was frustrated that I never took to sewing or quilting, but her gift in that area is unmatched.  (Luckily, my brother ended up being the artsy one.)  It’s hard to believe I became a math teacher, but I don’t excel in the realms of ‘measuring’ and ‘cutting.’ I knew the 3.5-year-old focus on this was going to be short (9 minutes to be exact), I wanted to maximize our mathematical conversation.  First, she decided that she would be pink and I would be yellow (our respective favorite colors).  She also decided that the strips should be weaved in a pattern of pink/yellow/pink/yellow. IMG_5596

Next, she noticed that the papers were making small squares.  Because of the pink/yellow pattern, she pointed out a face with eyes and a nose.  🙂


After about 3 pink strips, she groaned, “mommy, I’m getting really tired.  Can you finish it for me?”  Of course I wasn’t going to allow this craft to remain undone, but I think she appreciate the outcome.


Luckily, the extra strips of paper didn’t go to waste.  They ended up as a wall decoration as well.  IMG_5603

Thanks Ashli for the spectacular idea of sharing what adorns our classroom walls.  I’ve got the regular math posters, sports schedules, school policies, and motivational cliche’s, of course.  A classroom would not be complete without a stock photo along with transformational words like, “the key to success is self discipline.”

What really brings me the most joy in my classroom and truly makes my classroom mine is my dog wall.


Ok, it’s actually two walls.  Backstory:  I love dogs, beagles in particular.  Duh.  But the reasoning behind my dog wall runs deeper than that.  Yep, the dogs are adorable and the kids love that they can put a picture of their own dog in my room.  I love it when I have younger siblings of former students, and they ask “hey, you have a picture of my dog!”

The real power behind the dog wall is acknowledging what dogs can teach us about love.   In short, no one on earth is capable of loving you as much as your dog.   Oprah gives us a nice example when remembering her cocker spaniel, Sophie.  If you have a dog, you know what I’m talking about.

I recognize that not all students are lucky enough to own a dog.  I also let them bring in a picture of any dog, but I make sure to mention that I like beagles best.

My plans for the expanding dog wall include using them for some estimation and data exploration.  Someday.

#TMWYK – The Return of the Sand Pool

It’s a tough time of year for teachers, and I don’t say that to garner any sympathy.  But I’m going to take a moment to deviate from the regular musings of my classroom and write about my favorite topic:  my daughter.  The discussion won’t be completely unrelated as I have learned a great deal about my students’ development of mathematical literacy while watching my daughter make sense of numbers, quantities and shape.  And of course, Christopher Danielson’s development and facilitation of Talking Math with Your Kids has encouraged me to continue the conversation with my own child.  Specifically, I appreciate that his daughter is a few years older that Maria so that I know what I’m looking for and what to look forward to.

Maria (3.5 years old) loves to be outside.  As soon as the snow melted, she insisted that it was now summer and hence every activity from that moment forward must be done in the great outdoors.  A personal favorite is the sandbox, with water.  I’m not opposed to the sandbox overall, but mixed with water, it becomes more like a swamp.  Plus, let’s face it.  It’s Minnesota. It’s Spring, not Summer, and taking out the hose just isn’t in the cards just yet.

So we made a deal that when the temperature on my weather app reached 70 or above, we could take out the hose.  In the mind of my three year-old, this meant that the first of the two digits needed to be a seven.  On Saturday, this lucky girl got to take out the hose.


Results as expected.



Sunday, I decided to test Maria’s understanding of these numbers.  She again asked “is it seven on the phone?”  I instead showed her Chicago’s temperature which was a balmy 82 degrees.    As expected, her response was “Aww, it’s not seven so we can’t do water.”   I know she knows 8 is bigger than 7, but hasn’t yet connected that a temperature that begins with an 8 represents something warmer than a temperature that begins with a 7.



Seeking Shelter

WARNING:  This post might challenge some of your views on the responsibility we have for failing students

From Simplifying Response to Intervention:  Four Essential Guiding Principles (Baffum, Mattos, and Weber)

It is disingenuous for a school to claim that its mission is to ensure that all students learn at high levels, yet allow its students to choose failure.  Unfortunately, at the secondary level, it is all too common for students to be “offered the opportunity” for help.   But if a schools gives students the option to fail, is the school teaching responsibility or merely punishing students for not already possessing the skill?  By “offering” help, the school expects students to either have an intrinsic love of learning or to fully grasp the lifelong benefits or life-damaging consequences of not succeeding at school.

I hear occasionally from teachers that we need to teach kids “responsibility” and we can’t force them to learn if they don’t want to.  This line of thinking bothers me a great deal as places the burden of being eager to learn on the student.  Some kids place “learning at school” very low on their priority list.  We must acknowledge that rather than disregard it with “he/she never came and asked a question.”  If we are being honest with ourselves, we know exactly which kids need the help but won’t outwardly seek it.  We know which kids won’t ask questions when they have them, and which ones won’t make an effort to turn in assignments that they’ve missed.   It’s not that they are incapable of seeking help, asking questions, and turning in assignments.  But by stating that “help was offered but not taken” we do not absolve ourselves from the responsibility to reach these students.

I am putting this in blog format to hold myself accountable as the end of the year approaches, but anyone who would like to join me is welcome.  I want to make a commitment to those students that struggle but don’t know how to seek help:  my job is not to teach students, but to make sure that they learned.  I want to do better at addressing those kids in my classroom.