One Good Thing: Volume 7

My students are starting to get into the play table more, and it’s like having a little piece of Math on a Stick in my own classroom!  Right away as they discovered these, they started doing things I never would have thought to do!  I love it!


We’ve been working on area in 6th grade, and I’ve shown students several GIFs to help them understand the formulas.  One student commented, “All of these GIFs are just so perfect for this!  Where do you find them?!”  I love when they appreciate things I’m sharing with them.


A pair of students called me over and asked, “Can you help us?  We’re arguing over here.”  Me:  “Arguing?  Over math?!  I LOVE it!”


I’ve done a worksheet like this in a couple different classes this week, and I LOVE how persistent my students have been.  I know that these types of worksheets can be frustrating because students are forced to get a correct answer rather than just move on, but for the most part, they’ve embraced the challenge.


We played the game linked in this post this week and a students’ comment as she left class, “PLEASE tell me we’re going to play that again.  THAT was fun!”



I’ve been sick this week, and one day my eyes get really watery several times throughout the day.  One student was in the middle of a sentence when she looked at me and with genuine concern asked, “Are you ok?”  These kids.  I just love them so much.


One of my lessons this week did not go how I hoped.  We were working on simplifying expressions.  Every year I’ve taught this I’ve forgotten where students are when they come to me.  When planning this lesson, I always think of where the prior year’s group ended -not remembering how much that group had learned over the course of the year.  Anyway, the lesson combined too many new things together too quickly.  As I was teaching, I knew it wasn’t going that well, but I didn’t know how to improve the lesson on the fly.  I made a slight change from the first class to the next class that helped a bit, but I ended the day frustrated with myself for forgetting how this lesson had gone the previous year.

We came back the next day and did an Open Middle (more on that later), reviewed briefly before going to the whiteboards for some Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces.  They ROCKED it that day!  They were so focused and worked so hard!  I was SO proud of them!


I introduced students to Open Middle.  Because it was the first time students were introduced to this type of problem, I wanted them to feel success without it being too easy.  I think this problem worked well with my goals.  At first students were confused, and I sensed some were hesitant to even get started because they were unsure of themselves.  However, once they grasped what was being asked and dove in, they were able to solve the problem, and most often come up with more than one solution.  Cheers of excitement could be heard throughout my room as students successfully solved the problem.

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We followed that one up with another one the next day and they dove right in.

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The 8th grade football players were practicing as I was leaving school one day this week. A few of my 8th grade boys noticed me leaving and started waving at me -it wasn’t just your typical wave.  It was the practically jumping up and down because they’re waving so big kind of wave.  What a great way to end the day!


A student as he left class, “Thank you for teaching me today.”


Friday High Fives have turned into a Friday hug with one of my 6th graders.  6th graders are just the sweetest.


I wore my Desmos shirt for the first time this year.  I got by far more comments on that shirt than anything else I’ve worn this year -both from current and former students.  Some students thought it was cool.  Some asked, “WHY do you have a Desmos shirt?” and now think I’m even weirder than I was before.  🙂  One girl asked, “Does Desmos sponsor you or something?”  When I told her no, she replied, “Well they should.”  Haha!


A couple of groups finished what they were working on earlier than the rest of the class. Without prompting, they started helping other groups.  It was like having 3 or 4 teachers in the room as these students walked about the room asking groups if they had questions.  These kids.  I tell you.  How did I get so lucky that I get to spend my days with them?


Math on a Stick

This past summer was FULL of wonderful math things!  I finished up my last two math grad classes (Yay!), went to TMC, and got to learn from Fawn Nguyen!  And if all of that wasn’t enough, I got to end my summer with Math on a Stick!

Math on a Stick started thanks to Christopher Danielson.  It’s essentially a math playground that is open every day of our State Fair.  You can read more about it here and here.


Tiling Turtles

You can also read a reflection from Laura’s daughter here.  I so enjoyed meeting her and the conversations we had.  Here she is running the spiral machine.


This was my second year volunteering, and it is always a great time, rain or shine!  If its rainy, that usually means more time to reconnect with the other volunteers, but if the weather’s great, Math on a Stick fills up quickly!

Above:  The Chris, Christopher, Annie, and Phil having tetrahedron building contests when it was raining.

Below:  It was so fun to see how many people came to play!

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Every day there is a visiting mathematician with some activity for people to do.


The math bus that Christopher and his crew put together when he was the visiting mathematician.


The visiting mathematician this day was from the Fractal Foundation.

It’s so fun to see all the different things people create throughout the day.

Casey flew in from California for Math on a Stick!  When we weren’t volunteering, we went to a few “must sees” at the State Fair.


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I was so fortunate that I was able to see so many people from the MTBoS community  that flew in for math on a stick as well as reconnect with many MN friends.

It is always so fun to meet Twitter friends in real life!


I’m already looking forward to next year!  The last weekend of the fair is Labor Day weekend.  Come visit!!

First Days Good Things


On day 1 I used Sara’s 100 Numbers Task again.  Every year I am reminded of how much I love it!  It leads to great discussion on group work and how math is the study of patterns.  My classroom looked like this on day 1 with middle schoolers!


I also got to try out the new version of the task that I created.  I definitely liked this version better than the one I created last year.  It’s also fun for me to see that I’m able to make improvements to things I’ve done in the past.



As my first class was close to finishing, I remembered being reminded of Glenn’s high fives at TMC and decided to give it a try.  That’s not a typical thing for me to do, but it was easier for me to do with my 6th graders -give a high five and say “Way to go!  You made it through your first class of middle school!”  (One 6th grader, “If I didn’t have my hands full of my books, I would hug you right now.”  They are the best!)  I debated whether or not to do it with my 7th and 8th graders later in the day.  I decided since it was the first day to just go for it.  Some of them acted too cool for it, but I was sort of surprised at how many students smiled because of it, and because of that I decided to make it a first week thing and plan to make it a Friday thing after that.  Today was day 2 and more students waited for their high five rather than trying to rush out the door and less students acted too cool for it.  🙂


I had a student thank me as he left my room.  I know that is the norm for some places, but it is definitely not the norm in my school.


I have bigger classes than I’ve had in the past and was a bit worried about how that would go.  So far so good!


I used Fawn Nguyen’s Noah’s Ark problem and had students thank me for making them do some work on the first day of school, use “challenged” and “fun” in the same sentence, and ask why it’s my favorite.  After learning from Fawn this summer, I realized I need to let my students know when I’m excited about something we’re doing.  I don’t always do a good job of that and want that to be something I work on this year.



I debated whether or not I should use Sara Van Der Werf’s name tents with my 7th and 8th graders since I had them already as 6th graders, but in the end I decided to.  I was reminded day 1 that they are still a great way to learn about my students.  I’ve already learned a ton of stuff I never would have learned without them.


It felt like I picked up with my 7th and 8th graders right where I left off.  I loved having them come in and already know my expectations and procedures.  (They even remembered the goals for math talks!)


I have prep 5th hour this year, and only have 2 classes left after that.  I’m used to having 3 classes after my lunch or prep, and my afternoons are going so much quicker!


Twitter to the rescue when it comes to hanging up posters!  I threw this out there and thought someone might have an idea for me and was shocked at how many people did! Many of the responses I got are for brick walls, and my walls aren’t brick. However, I will still have plenty of other things to try!


I introduced one class of 6th graders to Set today!  I used notice/wonder to introduce the game for the second year in a row, and it went so well!  I also had a few students already familiar with the game!  I don’t know that that’s happened before!


We were working on the Noah’s Ark problem again today, and a student said, “I was working on this last night at home…”  It wasn’t assigned.  🙂  I nearly hugged the student.


I recently moved and when I was talking with a coworker yesterday it came up that I don’t have a microwave yet.  She had an extra one from her kids at home and brought it for me today.  My coworkers are so great!


I was finally able to make a play table happen in my classroom.  So far, not many students have engaged with it, but I’m excited for more students to start playing!  I didn’t last year because I wasn’t quite sure where to put it, but I was able to find a place next to my desk.  I’m really excited about that because I hope to be able to connect with and chat with students while they are playing and I’m sitting at my desk.



A former student emailed me tonight asking if I would proofread her English essay.  Making connections and forming relationships with students is the best part of this job.


Finding “one good things” is easier now than it was when I first started writing these.  🙂

Marbleslides 2017-2018

Last year (well 2 school years ago now) I shared a Marbleslides project I had my students do.  I realized I never got around to sharing some of the things this past group of students  created.  Again, I was blown away by what they did.  This became one of the tasks students could work on if they had extra time.

For whatever reason, I almost didn’t do this activity with students.  I’m SO glad I changed my mind.  Students got into playing around with the view window to see how long it would take the marbles to show up on the screen or how slowly they could get them to roll.  Some students also got into naming their creations.

It’s so fun for me to see what students figure out just by playing around in Desmos.  They figured out how to restrict the domain and range, make parabolas, circles, and many other things we had not talked about.  I love hearing students ask other students how they did something and seeing them teach each other.

Here is the link to their creations.

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Fawn Nguyen

I remember last spring when I heard that Fawn Nguyen was coming to Minnesota.  I honestly couldn’t believe it!  Fawn was the first middle school math person I followed on Twitter.  Her name comes up often (more like all. the. time.) in the MTBoS, and I use her stuff frequently.  I’ve met numerous people at Twitter Math Camp who know her and sing her praises; however, I hadn’t had the chance to meet her in person yet.  So when I heard she was coming to Minnesota, I immediately signed up.  I honestly didn’t know what she was even talking about until I looked it up as I was getting ready for bed the night before the workshop.  I didn’t care.  Fawn was coming, and I was going to be there.

A few weeks prior to her coming she shared this on her blog.  I had no idea she had a connection to Minnesota.

There was a meet and greet the night before the workshop.  It was so fun to reconnect with other math teachers from MN that I hadn’t seen in a while and meet new people, as well as meet Fawn prior to hearing her speak.  Like so many of the other math educators I’ve “met” online prior to meeting them in real life, I found myself thinking, “Hey!  She’s a regular person too, just like me.”  I had heard so many great things about Fawn already, and meeting her in person solidified all of the things I had already heard.

And then I heard her speak.

I quickly learned that everyone else was wrong about her.

She is SO much more amazing than everyone said she was.

I wanted to take pictures of every one of her slides to remember for later and wished there was a recording of her entire presentation because I was torn from wanting to listen and absorb everything she was saying and wanting to type everything up as she was talking.  It was ALL. SO. GOOD.


Below is a recap of the day.

Here are some websites she shared.

Visual Patterns

We started by going through a visual pattern together.  I really enjoyed seeing how she facilitates this in her classroom.  I’ve seen these before, but I have only really used the images as dot talks at the beginning of the year.

Here is the general routine she uses.  (She modifies it based on where in the year she is.)

  • Quiet work time where students give a rough sketch of stage 4 and try to come up with an equation.  (2-3 minutes)
    • Fawn uses a timer in her classroom.  She makes sure that students know that the timer signals that they are moving on to the next thing.  NOT that they need to be finished with their work.
  • Share with a neighbor (1 minute)
  • Call on 3 random students
    • Students bring up their paper and share under the document camera their method.  Even if they have nothing on their paper, they still come up.
      • She may prompt with the following questions:
        • What part do you see staying the same?
        • What part do you see changing?
    • The rest of the class is writing down on their papers (they have multiple copies of the pattern) what the student is sharing if they haven’t already thought of that method.
    • She and her students use LOTS of color when sharing.
  • Invite others who did it differently to share
  • Teacher shares his/her way


When going over the equations she will ask questions such as, “Where do you see the ‘1’ in the image?”  She also will not always simplify the equations down all the way.


She mentioned that sometimes people ask her why she doesn’t organize the patterns on the website by equations because they teach younger students and only want to use the linear ones.  Her response hit home with me because I too have had the same question before.  She said, “Just because students are younger doesn’t mean they don’t see rectangles.  That’s all quadratics are.”  Yes!!  As soon as she said this and seeing how she uses it with students made so much sense to me.


Another way she uses visual patterns is to give the 2nd step and ask students what steps 1 and 3 could be.


Problem Solving

The next portion of the workshop was spent on problem solving.  We got to work on several of the problems she uses in her classroom.

Fawn has 2 rules in her classroom.

  1. Never give up.
  2. Never tell an answer.


Her problem solving routine:

  • Posing the problem and checking for understanding
  • Individual quiet work time
  • Small (groups of 3) random groups
    • “everyone talks once before someone talks twice.”
    • Groups must come up with 1 solution that they all agree on.
  • Whole Group Discussion (5 practices)
  • Reflection

She said that if she gives 5 minutes quiet think time for a problem and a student has solved a problem in those 5 minutes, then she picked the wrong problem.  She said, “I have high respect for my students’ thinking.  If I didn’t struggle with a problem, my students don’t even see it.”

Here are some of the problems we worked on:

Fawn encourages her students to “share your progress” a lot.  She wants to see really messy papers because that shows a lot of thinking.  She also says, “I hope you’re struggling.  That means I picked the right problem.”

One of Fawn’s criteria for a good problem that I hadn’t thought of before is that you, the teacher, truly care about the problem.

She does problem solving tasks like this once or twice a month.  I always think that teachers who share things like this are doing them every day and wonder how on earth they do it?!  It was encouraging to hear that this isn’t something she does every day.  One of the things she mentioned that I appreciated was that, “pacing guides are good to have…to tell me how behind I am.”  Amen!

Where to find problems:

  • Existing curriculum (look for “enrichment”, “challenge”, “problem solving”)
  • Consider the extension or sequel in 3-Act tasks
  • If you teach grade (x), dig into books and websites for grade (x + 2) or higher
  • MARS (I think it’s this, but I’m second guessing myself now.
  • Desmos
  • Mathalicious
  • NCTM Illuminations

Here are a couple of books that she recommended:

Number Talks

Of the routines we went through that day, number talks was the one I was most familiar with.

When she calls on a student to share their thinking she will say something like, “Ok, we have more time now.  Can you give me an estimation?”

At one point during the day Fawn said this.

“You’re not good to anybody if you’re not good to yourself.”

I so appreciated that she was honest with us and admitted that she’s said no to things this summer.  Realizing that she may be an absolutely amazing teacher, but she can’t do it all was good for me.

Laura Wagenman also shared this great post after attending the workshop.

I drove home after the weekend with a full heart.  This math teacher community is truly one of the best.



I shared here a little bit about Twitter Math Camp (TMC) this summer, but this post is all about the stuff I learned and did while there.

As I’ve started going through stuff for this post, I’m reminded of how much I love TMC.  It’s the best.

Travel Day

My trip to TMC started on Tuesday.  I found Dianna and Teresa in the airport.

Once at the hotel in Cleveland, a group of us were in the lobby, and Bob was hungry.  Long story short, Casey assured him that if he said he was going to get food and left, people would follow.  It turned out to be somewhat of an adventure.

There were some food trucks by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the Taylor Swift concert that night.  We thought we’d walk down there since there would be multiple options for people.  Turns out Taylor brings in a bigger crowd of “Swifties” than we realized.  Eventually we came across a really good Mexican restaurant so it was worth it in the end.

One of my favorite things from TMC this summer are getting to see all of the teacher moves of the presenters.  I don’t know if I just never picked up on these things as much my first year going or if now that I have five years under my belt as a teacher I’m picking up on these things more, but I love getting to see the little things that others do in their classrooms!

David Butler from Australia attended TMC last year in Atlanta, and wrote a really great post on it just prior to TMC.  He describes the TMC Attitude in this post.  In short, he describes that attitude as a combination of two things

  • “Everyone in every face-to-face session is there ready to learn something. Not just expecting it but looking out for it — they are actively seeking for something to learn.”
  • “Everyone is there ready to be part of the community.”

I would argue that every teacher at TMC has a similar goal as one of the Desmos’ goals:

Desmos Day

I love the Desmos precon.  There’s just something about the fact that Desmos finds value in flying 5+ of their employees to Twitter Math Camp to spend time with us, that makes me love Desmos even more.

I spent part of my day with Christopher Danielson.  He lead us through Marcellus the Giant.  I did this activity in my own class last year, so it was good for me to see how Christopher facilitated it as well as to have student responses to look through as we went through it.

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Christopher referenced this post in his presentation.


Later on in the day Eli gave an update on Desmos and things they have been working on.  The Desmos museum was new to me.

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The exciting new feature that was shared at TMC was Snapshots.  I’m SO excited to try this out this year.  You can learn more about it here and here.  It allows you to take a screenshot sort of students’ work and then you are able to select images to discuss as a class.  Students’ names are taken off the images so you can solely focus on the work.

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I also heard Julie and Jonathan talk about how they use Desmos on assessments.  Here are their resources.  Here were some of the tips they mentioned.

  • Some of the test is on paper and some on Desmos and will include in the instructions “You only get credit if you show it algebraically on your paper.”
    • 1 slide per question.  Even if there’s a question that is just on paper, include a blank slide in Desmos to keep the slide numbers and question numbers the same.
  • Have students type in their last name first so Desmos alphabetizes their names.
  • You can go into the activity and sign in as a student to enter correct responses so that you have a key.
  • Note that if a student doesn’t answer a question, their name doesn’t show up in the summary.

Morning Session:  Talk Less, Smile More

This year I went to “Talk Less, Smile More” led by Chris and Mattie.  It’s the third year they’ve done this presentation, and every year it’s one of the ones that I have on my list of possibilities for morning sessions.  Every year I back out of going because I’m afraid of what they might make me do.  “Talk Less, Smile More” leads me to think that they probably won’t do a ton of talking and they’re going to make me do all the talking activities they have their students do.  Talking in front of large groups of people, especially if I don’t know them very well, even if it’s just for a short time is not my thing.  (And what do you know, about an hour into the first day I was called on to share my response and I had no. idea. what to say.  The question was something along the lines of “My favorite movie is___________.” or “The most important math concept is______________.”  Fun fact about me, when it comes to picking out my favorite anything, I most likely won’t be able to do it.  I just can’t, so this was one of the worst questions ever for me to be asked to share in front of the group.  BUT, I survived.  I was put on the spot and made it through just fine -a good experience for me.)

Well this year I obviously went to the session.  I’m so glad I finally went because I took away many things I want to try.

Some of the structures Chris and Mattie shared with us were things I were familiar with, but it was good to participate in them myself.  Other structures were new to me.  Below is a picture of all the structures we participated in over the course of the three days.

Here are some debate-y words they shared.

Since Chris and Mattie have been giving this presentation, I have heard many people at TMC say “My claim is__________ and my warrant is_________.”  in conversation or others will ask, “but what is your warrant?”  I never knew where this was coming from…until now!  This is the format they have students use to debate in math class.  They mentioned that this structure helps students form their answers and that the “stuffier” the wording is, the more comfortable students are to share.

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Here are some more specific examples they shared in their session that I really liked.

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Here are some other things I got from their session.

  • Chris gives students a “life pass” at the start of each semester to place on their desk.  When this is on the student’s desk Chris knows not to call on them that day because something outside of school is going on.  I think students in his class have one pass per semester.

Jill was also at this session and made some passes for her classroom.

  • Alli shared how she uses “participation chips” in her class.  Students get a chip when they walk in and have to spend it that day.  She talked about how one advantage of doing this is that students who typically want to answer every question are now more selective in ones they are willing to answer because they don’t want to waste their chip on an easy question.
  • This website was mentioned, and I want to look more into it.
  • Rose shared this link to some Talking Points questions from Elizabeth.

Here is the link to Chris and Mattie’s resources from their session.  You can also search #talklessAm as well as look in the TMC Wiki from the past two years (2016 and 2017).

My Favorites

My Favorites are short 5-15 minute presentations to the entire group that happen throughout TMC.  I’m not going to share every presentation, but here are a few that stood out to me or were new ideas for me.

  • Casey gave a great presentation on her alphabet book she’s done the past three years at TMC.  Casey is absolutely amazing!
  • I really enjoyed Chris Nho’s presentation on problem solving.
    • “Come to a stopping point.  Maybe you just learned some things about the problem.  That’s fine.”
    • Chris also shared a poster from his presentation.

  • Chase shared some things his doing with Desmos and Estimation180.
    • #EstimationStation

  • I really liked the stickers that Allison uses with her students.
  • Megan’s love letter to elementary teachers was great.
  • I enjoyed hearing Annie talk about her phone calls home.
  • Kent has a great math games website.
  • Mattie shared about the MTBoS community.


All of the keynotes were excellent, but Julie’s was a message I needed to hear for myself right now.


Edmund Harris, John Golden, and Glenn Waddell:  Mathematics isn’t everywhere.  It is more awesome than that.

  • Pam Wilson:  Formative Assessment Lessons -Where do I begin?
    • Pam shared information from her session here.  A lot of her information is in that post, so below are other little things I took from her session
    • She has a Where’s Waldo “mascot” that her students hide around her classroom.  She likes how this brings the students together in her room.
    • She has a “creeper seat” that mechanics use for her classroom so she can help students without hurting her knees.
    • I loved her cube timer and may need one for my room this year.
    • One of her favorite exit ticket prompts
      • Something I’ve learned…
      • Something I’ve realized…
      • Something I’ve been reminded of…
  • Tom Hall:  Being Purposeful with Soft Skills

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  • Jonathan Claydon: Calculus for the Algebra Teacher

  • Amie Albrecht:  Mathematical Ideas from the Game of SET
    • Here are some resources Amie has shared.  Post 1 Post 2 and another article she shared.
    • I really enjoyed looking at the math behind SET.  This is a game I play nearly every week with my students.  We also got to play 4D set at game night.  SO FUN!!!

4D Set at game night!


And 5D set!


  • Chrissy Newell and Casey McCormick:  Making progress in K-8 geometry
  • Sara Van Der Werf:  The H-Word
    • Devalue the answers.  Give evidence that these are the correct solutions.
    • Give phrases to Google
    • Model the routine of doing homework for students.
      • If your kids aren’t doing homework, do they know how to do homework?  Have they been taught how to do homework?

Other Stuff

This made me smile:

These pictures were outside one of the restaurants in Cleveland, and I’d say they describe the people at TMC pretty well.  The people at TMC are on the same mission, and everyone there is willing to help others improve.

Lastly, here’s the TMC song.