Educators, Rise Up!

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

In her poem, ‘Still I Rise,’ Maya Angelou represents the black community as a collective and proclaims that she will no longer stand mutely by and allow herself and her people to be shackled by a white-dominated society. “The phrase, “I rise” is not about a singular uprising. It’s a collective revolutionary voice that consists of the raging uproar of a class, oppressed and betrayed for a long time. (Corfman, 2022).” You may be asking yourself, how does this relate to being a math educator. While the oppression of black and brown people is a battle against oppression from first breath to last, and cannot be marginalized by comparing the oppression to any other experience, I am motivated by Angelou’s challenge to rise. If you are like me, you are being bombarded with news stories about the teacher shortage. In addition, you are probably being inundated with testimonials on social media about reasons teachers are abandoning education for other professions. To say the pandemic has been difficult for our profession is a colossal understatement. Education and our profession, as usual, are being denigrated.

Since its inception in 1867, the department of education has been under attack. “The department was small, ambitious, and astonishingly short-lived. Congress abolished it and demoted its reformist chief just a year later (Kosar, 2022).” Since that time educators have realized that they are employed in a highly political career that often results in feelings of being assailed, depreciated, and out of place. It doesn’t take long to realize that educators have few choices in how we respond. We can accept our place in this political arena, or we can be like the dust and rise.

Recently, I decided that I will no longer read articles about burnout. I will no longer listen to the stories about teachers leaving in droves. This profession is my passion and I cannot afford to allow myself to be dampened by despair. Granted, this has been the most challenging teaching year of my career. Yet, this is what I know. I love my career. I love my students. I love my subject matter. I love my colleagues. I know that my voice can and does affect a difference, and if I want a change to happen my voice and my actions are what will affect transformation for my students, my colleagues, my school, my district, my state, and myself.

This may seem a bold proclamation, but I know it to be true! It is not only true for myself, but it is true for all of us! Does this mean stepping outside of my classroom and using my voice in a way that may make me feel vulnerable or uncomfortable? Possibly. The key is to start small and to let yourself grow! Start with checking out the OCTM Advocacy page on our website. From there you can learn how to send a letter to your elected officials. You can also check out the NCTM Advocacy toolkit. Another great way to start is by introducing yourself to the Oklahoma State Department of education leadership team, Gena Barnhill, Director of Elementary Mathematics,, @GenaB_123, @GenaB_123, Director of Secondary Mathematics,, @brigitm7, and Christine Koerner, Executive Director of STEM,, @christinegoko. When you have a question or an idea, contact them. Without a doubt, they value you and your ideas and want to hear from you! And of course, we encourage you to become involved with OCTM by contacting your board members, committee members, and district representatives and letting us know how we can help you! The key is to start! Of course, if you are not in Oklahoma, these suggestions are the same for you, just with your local affiliates and contacts!

While I had hoped that those in positions of authority would have used the pandemic as a wake-up call to enact changes for the better in education I realize little progress has been made. So, while the politicians continue to villainize educators and the battle to privatize education continues I declare as Maya Angelou, I will rise!

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. (Angelou, 1978)

Works Cited
Angelou, M. (1978). And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems. Chicago: Random House.

Corfman, A. (2022, March 16). Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. Retrieved from Poem Analysis:

Kosar, K. (2022, March 16). Kill the Department of Ed.? It’s been done. Retrieved from Politico:

#My1MathThing Student Version

As the semester came to an end I found myself contemplating how to evaluate my students’ learning via some kind of end-of-semester assessment required by my district. In my pondering, I recalled learning about #1TMCthing at Twitter Math Camp. The idea is to identify the one thing learned at the conference that resonates with you and tweet and write about it. Then others can connect with you around those ideas in the months to follow.

With this in mind, I created a #My1MathThing Project. Students completed an outline in which they identified the one thing they were proud of learning this semester. Then they wrote or identified a real-world math problem that requires the use of their “one thing,” and showed how they solved the problem. Next, they identified the skills needed to be able to do their “one thing,” and what math they will be able to do in the future because they know this “one thing.” Following that, students identified five jobs/careers that require the use of their “one thing,” along with a brief description of the job requirements. Finally, they completed this prompt, “I am a math person because… I have grown in my mathematical abilities this semester by… and added a picture of themselves.

My students had a good time recalling all that we have learned this semester and identifying jobs/careers that utilize the math that they have mastered. I LOVED reading the reflections and hearing how my students believe in themselves as math people! Some of my favorites:

“I am a math person because I notice and wonder when I solve a math problem.”
“I am a math person because I have grown in my mathematical abilities this semester by trying really hard math problems. Reading was my favorite thing in school. But now math is my favorite because it’s a challenging thing.”
“I am a math student because I don’t give up on my problems. And when I don’t give up it gets easier and more simple for me to understand.”

I plan to ask my students how this project could be improved! With their help, I will DEFINITELY be doing this project at the end of the school year!

Humanizing Math Class

I am fortunate to be a member of the EF+Math Educator Leadership Council which affords me the opportunity to collaborate with the Mathematical Thinkers Like Me R&D team on concept, design, and implementation plans to ensure that the program being developed is useful and usable in real-world classrooms especially for black, brown and historically underserved students. In this work, I am learning and growing in my understanding of executive functions in practice, developing conceptual understanding in mathematics, and fostering equity in the classroom. Furthermore, I am learning how to humanize my math class and create a community where all feel welcome, valued, and safe.

I routinely ask my students to bravely show up to occasionally get their asses kicked in the mathematics arena. Therefore I must help them develop the confidence to put themselves and their thinking on the line. To do this I engage them in activities designed to create an ‘Ubuntu’ environment of belonging and love. As a member of the Mathematical Thinkers Like Me team, I have discovered the Four Hs protocol and Life Values Writing Prompt to foster this kind of community.  

The 4H Math Interest Interview developed by Jamaal Sharif Matthews draws on the knowledge and experiences among students within your class and aids in planning for instruction that is most meaningful to them. The components of the 4Hs are as follows:

  • Home refers to consistent activities engaged at home or the properties of the home space (e.g., cooking, interactions with family, the heating bill, dimensions of the living room). 
  • Hobbies are personal activities engaged in at least once per week (e.g., sports teams, social media, work, smartphone apps/games). 
  • Hopes are personal aspirations, interests, or goals (e.g., desired career or major, making the varsity team, making my paycheck last all week). 
  • Heritage is a connection to a tradition or a people that is a source of pride (e.g., local celebrities in the community, Black female mathematicians)

To get started, I distributed the Math Interest Survey as part of my Parent Survey at meet the teacher night. I explained to families that I wanted to get to know them and use what I learn to help students connect math to their homes, hopes, heritage, and hobbies. I asked each family to choose four of their favorite questions, discuss and answer them as a family and then return the survey to school as soon as possible.  I received several responses from families, but I really wanted all of my students’ responses. Therefore, I also conducted the survey in class. I shared this presentation with students and then distributed the survey and asked them to answer four of their favorite questions as well as the mandatory question. I followed this activity by asking students to complete the Life Values Writing Prompt.  According to Luis Rivera, self-affirmation writing helps students connect with “values associated with our personal and social identities and are important and central to individuals. Furthermore, self-affirmation writing serves to buffer threats, particularly in the domain of biases.” This in turn results in higher academic achievement. Following these activities, students were asked to reflect on their writing and use the information to create and write about three goals for themselves this school year. 

Conducting these activities was a powerful way to connect to my students. I am better able to understand what they value and how they see their culture, interests, and hopes. Therefore, I can authentically engage with and plan more effectively for them. Most importantly, “this activity gives students an opportunity to be heard and feel like they are being paid attention to.” Furthermore, this activity is “powerful because it is about more than just “getting to know” students. It is geared toward showing them that their prior knowledge and experiences are important to your instruction and their own learning. It gives them a chance to feel seen and heard.”


Matthews, J. S. (2018). On Mindset and Practices for Re-Integrating “Belonging” into Mathematics Instruction. Teaching Works.

Rivera, L. (2021, 10 1). Luis Rivera. Retrieved from Rutgers:

Twist It, Bop It, Turn It

Bop it, twist it or pull it? - Album on Imgur

Twist It, Bop It, Turn It! How fun!  We are two full weeks into the new school year and on day one I launched my Unit Zero. The purpose of Unit Zero is to create a community where students bravely show up to occasionally get their asses kicked in the mathematics arena while developing the confidence to put themselves and their thinking on the line. Additionally, I aim to create an equitable collaborative community that values mathematical growth mindset, utilizes the standards for math practices, while developing students’ executive function skills.

Throughout Unit Zero we explore low floor/high ceiling math tasks, learn about the science of growth mindset, become familiar with our daily math routines, and engage in community/team building experiences. For many years I have utilized the “Missing Puzzle Piece” activity. I start with six 24-piece puzzles and before students arrive, I remove one piece from one puzzle and hide it in my desk. I then take pieces from all but one puzzle and scramble them into the other puzzles. I tell my students that this is a competition and the first team finished will be crowned the winners. Prior to this activity we have discussed learning as a social construct and the importance and need for discussion and collaboration with others. As groups start to realize pieces are missing, they discover the need to communicate and negotiate with other teams to complete their puzzle. Following the activity, we discuss the strategies used for all teams to complete the puzzle and how the members of the team that could not complete their puzzle felt. We then talk about how these strategies can be transferred to problem solving in math and the importance and need for every member to participate. Our “puzzles” are incomplete if not all are represented and have a voice.

This year I discovered a new puzzle team building activity on TikTok (Teacher TikTok is a wealth of bite sized ideas, resources and support!).  ExcitedToEducate shared this Team Building Puzzle slide and an overview on her post. I had each group choose a team leader before I shared the activity with students. The leader was asked to choose a 24-piece puzzle for their team to complete. I instructed teams to take the puzzle out of the puzzle frame and turn all piece right side up and place the frame in front of the leader. I then shared the Team Building Puzzle slide and directions with the class. Once directions were shared, I asked, “What questions do you have?” When there were no more questions, I turned students loose to complete the task.

As students worked together I circulated and recorded snippets of exchanges and repeated conversations loud enough for others to hear if I heard great vocabulary, instructions or encouragement happening. Some of my favorite snippets are as follows:

·   This is hard, but we are getting a lot done!

·   I need more information.

·   I’m trying.

·   I can envision where we started.

·   Do you remember where the dog was?

·   Good idea!

·   Are they winning?

·   I don’t know- don’t worry about them!

·   If we do the outside edge first, would it be easier?

·   Look what you did! You did great!

The vocabulary I overheard included, rotate, slide, translate, flip, edge, and vertices. I also heard, flip it, turn it, slide it so often that I started to hear the Bop It game play over and over in my head! So much fun!

Part way through the activity I asked students if they wanted to change roles and allow others to be the leader. Some teams chose to switch, and some declared that they had a great thing going and would keep roles as they were. At one-point teams were not all finished, but I asked them to stop and debrief with me so that we would not run out of time. I was met with groans and protests because everyone wanted to finish. I reminded the students that moments ago you were complaining how difficult this was, but now they did not want to quit. I also told them that I hope to instill that same passion and perseverance for math. I then facilitated a discussion in which we examined strategies and compared and contrasted those to the problem-solving process.

This  activity was more successful than I could have imagined. Every student felt proud and invigorated by the experience! After we debriefed and they finished their puzzles I asked them all to stand and raise their right hand and repeat after me, “I solemnly swear that I will attack every math problem from here on the way I attacked these puzzle problems. I will persevere, communicate, collaborate, strategize and never give up because I am an mNm Math Nerd!”  I then gave them all a little box of Nerds and welcomed them to the math nerd family!

Teaching is the best dang job on earth!

Will Rogers Junior High Facebook Post

Perception Is Not Necessarily Reality

Seniors Benefit From Daily Routines | Family Resource Home Care
“Instructional Routines are specific and repeatable designs for learning that support both the teacher and students in the classroom.” Fostering Math Practices

If you are like me, the coming school year seems daunting. Last year the challenges and pivoting caused it to be the most difficult year of my teaching career. As we face another uncertain school year, I find myself asking how I will address the perceived learning and opportunity gaps. I have spent countless hours brainstorming how I will foster social and emotional well-being while nurturing and facilitating a safe learning environment where all feel welcome, confident to productively struggle while working to develop positive mathematical identities. 

A practice I have engaged my students with disabilities in is a rich unit zero. I start by asking myself:  How do I get to know my students and humanize my math class in a way that:

  • creates opportunities for students to have interpersonal experiences with others that counters implicit biases and stereotype threats while connecting to one another and the world at large?
  • inspires students to show up courageously and vulnerably to persistently become the center of their learning, productively struggle, expand the competencies that are valued while addressing issues of status in learning interactions?
  • encourages and supports students in centering their ideas and thinking?
  • builds student executive functions through the effort to get good at collaborative practices?
  • establishes a foundation in conceptual understanding?
  • develops problem solving strategies
  • cultivates and reinforces identity and belonging through story-telling and reflection and sharing with other students?
  • surfaces and is responsive to student interests and expertise?

What I have developed in response to these inquiries is a Unit Zero that includes relationship building, initial and ongoing learning about the science of growth and mathematical mindsets, explicitly teaching and learning how to apply the Math Action Processes, and exploring and co-creating norms and expectations. If you would like to get an overview of my Unit Zero you may check out my Community, Norms and Math Practices Oh My! presentation from the #NEOKMath Conference. Another amazing source for grade level Unit Zero ideas is the OKMath Frameworks!

What I have come to believe is that a rich unit zero is paramount to establishing a community of learners that are excited to show up in the math arena to wrestle with math. I also believe that the routines that I explicitly teach my students during this unit and then utilize throughout the school year are fundamental. Instructional math routines are designed with an anticipated flow and structure the learning experience. 

The predictability of the routines supports students by answering:

  • What is it that I am supposed to be doing?  
  • What question will I be asked next?
  • How will things work today in the lesson?”

Furthermore, routines focus on developing critical thinking, productive struggle, supporting all learners, and are brimming with the Math Action Processes. I have discovered that routines are responsive to the students’ understanding and build deep number sense, algebraic reasoning and conceptual understanding . When students engage in quality routines, the practices and habits utilized become intrinsic and transfer to the math lesson as well as to life!  Because routines are low floor/high ceiling, student voices are centered and all input and ideas are valued providing equitable inclusion. And finally, students are developing the ability to pay attention, ignore distractions, keep track of ideas in one’s head, and think flexibly to solve problems and utilize the executive function skills needed in math class.

I firmly believe that because I engage my students with disabilities in a robust unit zero and continue integrating the practices and instructional math routines throughout the school year, my students have and will continue to be highly successful people and mathematicians. I believe, if educators give themselves permission to focus on students, relationships and instructional math routines, the perceived learning gaps will not hinder student progress and formative and summative assessments will support these practices. Special education teachers have spent years working with students that have come to them with seemingly insurmountable perceived learning gaps. I hope we take the time to talk to these experts and learn from their successes! If you would like to talk more about mathematical routines, please reach out to me! My Twitter handle is @mnmmath and my email is You may also check out my bank of mathematical routines here.

Are You Ready For More?

Are you ready for more? That is the question the authors of Illustrative Mathematics and Open Up Resources ask students following engagement in problem solving routines and instructional activities.  This week my students responded with a resounding, “BRING IT ON!” Not only that, they attacked the activities and problems with such zeal this educator was left with goose bumps and happy tears!

I teach 6th – 8th grade middle school students with disabilities and have the honor of looping with them throughout their junior high years.  My current eighth grade students were my first sixth grade group. From day one I have incorporated Dr. Jo Boaler’s Growth Mindset research, teaching students the tenants as we have explored the Weeks of Inspirational Math. We have embraced the belief that with struggle, mistakes, problem solving and a growth mindset everyone can learn maths to high levels.  In addition, my pedagogy has included constructivist ideals with heavy doses of productive discourse, collaboration, and joint construction of knowledge. I have consistently utilized the routines of Notice/Wonder, Estimation 180, Which One Doesn’t Belong, Visual Patterns, Empty Number Lines and Grayson Wheatley’s Quick Draw as tools to teach students the problem-solving process, and  have been utilizing curriculum that is inquiry based and student centered.  To this end my students have become familiar with self-talk and working through the problem-solving process in a way that makes sense to them. We have developed the following anchor chart as a guide if we get stuck.

problem solving

We have also created an anchor chart to remind us what we expect from each other when working in groups and collaborating.


When I discovered Open Up Math Resources, a beautiful curriculum grounded in routines for reasoning, research-based practices, student centered, world connected, inquiry based instructional practices that resonate with so many of the constructivist philosophers I have come to passionately embrace, I became an instant zealot for the curriculum!

Following is my attempt to capture a moment in time that happened this week in one of my classes. For this educator this is evidence that the paradigm shift educators are being asked to make concerning their pedagogy is vital and life altering!

Are You Ready For More?

When students completed the exploration of the instructional activities in lesson 6.1 Tiling the Plane they were given the following prompt:

On graph paper, create a tiling pattern so that:

  • The pattern has at least two different shapes.
  • The same amount of the plane is covered by each type of shape.

My students have disabilities and they have learned that there are many tools available in our classroom to aid them in the removal of barriers to their access to the mathematics we are exploring. Many of my students have dysgraphia, dyslexia, fine and gross motor challenges as well as a plethora of other disabilities that require supports. For my students with gross and fine motor barriers, drawing with conventional paper and pencil as well as on a computer is too restrictive.

With that in mind one of my students went straight to the pattern blocks to tackle this problem. The student expressed the desire to create a tessellation that would satisfy the prompt.

The tiles chosen by the student were hexagons and trapezoids.  After a little while working with the chosen tiles the student created the following pattern.

step 1.png

While I was circulating among the students to monitor understanding, strategies and misconceptions I found this student working diligently. They asked me what I thought of their creation.  I find I always channel my mom in these situations and turn the tables by saying, “It doesn’t matter what I think of it, what do you think of it?”  Who knew mom was a constructivist?  The student said they really liked their design, but was not sure if it was correct.  I reread the prompt and asked, so what do you think?  Are your shapes covering the same amount of the plane as the question asks?  The student counted the trapezoids and said they know it takes two trapezoids to make a hexagon so there were too many trapezoids.  They then decided to try an easier problem to help them break down the design. To do so they pulled out a portion of the pattern to critique (solve an easier problem).

step 2.png

The student then said, “I notice that for every one hexagon there are two trapezoids. So, in this pattern there is a two to six ratio.” I asked, what relationships do you notice or wonder about that information?” The student said, “Well, I will need to think about common multiples and maybe factors.”  They thought for a while and then said, “I know I can multiply 2×3 to get six, so I wonder if I start with six hexagons and 12 trapezoids, will I be able to create a hexagon pattern with them where the yellow and red cover the same amount of the plane?”  With that I left the student to explore on their own for a while.  When I returned, the student was experimenting with several patterns, and was starting to create a straight-line pattern like the following using six hexagons and twelve trapezoids.

step 3.png

At this point I was happy to see that the student was showing understanding of decomposing a shape into different shapes, and that the new decomposed shapes still cover the same area.  My student on the other hand was not happy.  They did not like the design and expressed the desire to create a hexagon, and a more elaborate pattern.  They rotated, translated and wondered aloud about orientation and were quickly on to something! After a short period of time the student created the following beautiful piece of mathematical artistry that met the requirements of covering the plane!

Ready for More.jpg

The student was disappointed that they could not physically draw their design, but was thrilled when I suggested they take a picture of their work and upload it to our Google Classroom with their assignment.  They were also not happy with the gap in the middle and said they were going to work on this more at home!

This one moment in time is what every educator lives for.  It is a moment when all that is learned before, and what is being learned come together cohesively and flawlessly. This moment would not have been possible if this student did not feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, make conjectures, develop strategies, reason abstractly, and problem solve.  This child that has been identified as having significant learning disabilities has a beautiful mathematical mindset and disposition as well as a growth mindset! This child is a critical thinker, a problem solver, a risk taker, and a world change maker! This child proves that everyone can learn maths to their highest level and if educators will make the shift to teaching students to think critically, problem solve, collaborate, communicate, take risks and have a growth mindset, the possibilities for learning are limitless!

So again, I ask, Are you ready for more?  I know I am!  I can’t wait to provide routines for reasoning and instructional activities for my students so they may become amazing mathematicians and thinkers! As a bonus, I will have the opportunity to stand as witness to their mind-blowing awesomeness this school year!



First Week in Review

A new school year always makes me a little nervous because there are so many unknowns. Who will my students be? What are my class sizes going to be? Who won’t return this school year, and why? What triumphs and tragedies will my students have experienced over summer break, and what will that mean for their school and life experiences? After so many years teaching these, and so many more worries, run through my mind for weeks before our first day of class.

Now that the first week is in the books I am breathing a little easier while at the same time feeling stress from other worries! This profession that I, and so many others have chosen, is a 24/7 way of life!

The first week also has me celebrating a plethora of successes!  I always spend the first several weeks establishing norms, teaching the problem solving process, and building a safe learning community.  First experiences indicate that this year’s community is going to be amazeballs!

Here are a few of the activities the MNM Math Nerds have engaged in thus far:

Kid President’s Letter To A Person On Their First Day Here

Time to put away FORTNITE// “I Gotta Feeling” The Black Eyed Peas Parody

Name Tents thanks to Sara Van Der Werf!

Me…By the Numbers, Math Activity by Donna Boucher


Math is….. snowball fight ala Sara Carter

Go Ahead Break the Ice from Twitter Math Camp 2016

You Are an Important Piece of Our Puzzle

Give Us Your Champion adapted by me from a game I played at a workshop this summer


All of these activities were not originally mine, but they are gems in helping establish community! I am so grateful for a wonderful Math Twitter Blogosphere, #MTBoS,  community that so readily shares and collaborates!  In addition to these activities MNM Math Nerds also learned the process of problem solving though www.estimation180 activities as well as developed a class set of expectations for one another while working in groups.

These are the ideas we brainstormed for our group work expectations:


And here is our final product:


The final activity for the week was to jointly create a class creed. From these collaborations  I realized that I am going to have the honor to learn with some dedicated and serious mathematicians this school year!

cree in prog

Our final product:



We start every class period with a Take Five because we are a Great Expectations school,  and this  routine sets the stage for our learning. I am excited that my MNM Math Nerds already have Great Expectations for themselves and one another!  It is going to be a great year to be a Zebra! #GoZebras

I Am An Open Book: Take From My Pages What You Need

I recently had a frank conversation with a friend that has caused me to reflect on my teaching practices outside of the classroom and my personality. From those reflections I feel compelled to write a disclaimer blog concerning me.  I am fully aware of my idiosyncrasies and short comings because I am the analytical, problem solving, giving, surviving me that I apparently was created to be.  Readers, the things that annoy you about me, also annoy me about me.  I am a fixer, and believe me, if I could fix me, I would have been “fixed” decades ago!  I am a work in progress, and I am constantly trying to be a better me. Hopefully the following insights will help those around me tolerate, and maybe even embrace me, with open arms.

First of all, I am the oldest child in my family, and I display the typical organized, reliable, achieving, and tightly wound characteristics as such. This was not a choice I made or embraced. It is hard to believe, even for me, that I was once a quiet and shy child that wished to disappear into the paint on the wall. My childhood circumstances caused these characteristics to surface as I came from a dysfunctional family, and in order to survive I had to adopt these traits in order to help my family members.  I will not share gory details, but the surface story goes like this:

My parents got separated/divorced seven times from each other. I have attended sixteen different institutions for learning. My mother had bi polar disease, my brother had schizophrenia, and my father was a recovering alcoholic.  When my parents finally divorced when I was sixteen, my mother chose to live with an alcoholic drunk and my father moved in with a woman who had six children of her own.

One day, when I was in second grade in California, my mother came to school with two suit cases and checked my brother and I out of school. We went to the Greyhound bus station and for the next three days we were on a cross-country journey to Oklahoma. Unbeknownst to my father, my mother had sold everything in the house that she could, and gave the rest to charity. My father came home from work and had no idea where his family had vanished to. As a second grader I thought this was just one big adventure, but as the years went on I learned how crisis and change devastate lives and families. Amongst all of this I became the parent, the caregiver, the rescuer and fixer of my birth family.

Fortunately, among all of this dysfunction and upheaval I had teachers that chose to see past the dirty little transient kid sitting in the corner of their classroom. They looked past my terrified eyes, my dirty second-hand clothes and saw me. They saw my potential, they saw my talent, they saw a future that I dared not dream for! They taught me to see me, to believe in me, and to dream for me. I believed and I became.

The becoming was no joy ride as I still lived in a dysfunctional family embroiled in poverty. I still had emotional scars that needed healing. I still was living in a situation that is typically statistically impossible to overcome. If you have ever read the books “Running With Scissors”   or “ The Glass Castle: A Memoir” you have had a glimpse into my childhood. Despite these barriers, educators stepped up and helped me with the bureaucracy and paperwork that comes with getting an education. Unfortunately, no teacher EVER did this for my brother, and the differences in our adult lives are staggering!

I am the lone survivor from my birth family. My mother passed away fifteen years ago due to a complication with her mental health. My father passed away ten years ago as a complication of smoking, and my brother died from lung cancer in a mental hospital five years ago. In contrast, my husband and I have been wonderfully married for 33 years. We have not been without heartache as our first-born child died from congenital heart defects.  We are blessed that God sustained us and nurtured us through our loss.  We have two hugely successful college educated children that are living their dreams. On the surface it would appear I live a fairy tale life. I feel truly blessed and grateful to be living this life and do believe God has granted all of my dreams come true. The reality is, on the inside, I am still that little dirty transient kid in the classroom corner just trying to make a better world for myself and others.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a True Colors® personality exploration as part of a professional development conference.  I discovered that I am considered to be a Green/Gold. The following table shows how Green/Golds see themselves as well as how others see them.  This was reaffirming while at the same time disheartening.  While I see myself as someone who is exuberant, passionate and sharing, others see me as a know it all, uptight, snob. Nothing like a slap in the face to wake you up!

See Self Others See
  • Tough-minded
  • Efficient, powerful
  • Original and unique
  • Rational
  • Great planner
  • Calm not emotional
  • Precise not repetitive
  • Under control
  • Able to find flaws objectively
  • Holding firm to policy
  • Stable
  • Providing security
  • Dependable
  • Firm
  • Always have a view
  • Efficient
  • Realistic
  • Decisive
  • Executive type
  • Good planner
  • Orderly, neat
  • Punctual, expect same


  • Intellectual snob
  • Arrogant
  • Afraid to open up
  • Unappreciative,
  • Stingy with praise
  • Doesn’t consider people in plans
  • Critical, fault-finding
  • Cool, aloof, unfeeling
  • Eccentric, weird
  •  Rigid
  • Controlling, bossy
  • Dull, boring
  • Stubborn, pig-headed
  • Opinionated
  • System-bound
  • Unimaginative
  • Limiting flexibility
  • Uptight
  • Sets own agenda
  • Rigid idea of time


My favorite quote sums me up in a nutshell. “I am part of all that I have met” Tennyson.

I am me because of everything and everyone that I have encountered in life.  I would not change anything that has happened to me because I would not be me. So many people have given of themselves to help me through this life, and now it is my turn to give of my time, talents and resources to help others. I work hard not to be an over sharer. I am contentious about how much I talk and share. I try desperately not to dominate a conversation or situation. If you have been a “victim” of my over zealousness, and are turned off by it, I truly apologize! Please know that my enthusiasm comes from a place of authenticity and passion for humanity and the teaching profession. So many opportunities, so much help, so much love and acceptance were withheld from my brother, mother and father that I cannot fathom holding back ANYTHING that I have that may help you be a better teacher or person.  I have no other agenda, no other motivation, no other egotistical reason for sharing, other than I care deeply, love wholly and am passionately on fire to make the world a better place like so many educators did for me.

So, to state again, I am an open book: Take from my pages what you need.  The only thing that I would ask is, please, don’t judge this book by it’s cover. I am so much more than the hard and loud exterior that you see on first glance.

Now that you now know that I am an over sharer, I hope some of my favorite things will be of benefit to you and that you are not offended or turned off that I want to share with you.

MNM Math Resources


Open Up Resources


Great Expectations

True Colors


DESMOS Activities

My Growth Mindset Channel

Team Building Channel

12 Things You May or May Not Know About Mrs. Naegele

Instructional Routines and Geometry


As the world quickly moves from the industrial age into the age of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), it is becoming imperative that today’s schools prepare students to become critical thinkers who can reason, problem solve, and collaborate.  Weckbacher and Okamoto assert that spatial skills, the foundation of geometrical thinking, is paramount to success in STEM careers (Weckbacher & Okamoto, 2015). According to Smith and Stein (Smith & Stein, 2011), children in America are not required to think critically, problem solve or wrestle with concepts or ideas. Instead, they are taught rote procedures that require memorization of ideas and facts that do not prepare them for college and careers where problem solving and critical thinking will be expected. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)  (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014) puts forth that effective teaching practices must include:

  1. The establishment of mathematics goals to focus learning
  2. Implementing tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving
  3. Using and connecting mathematical representations
  4. Facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse
  5. Posing purposeful questions
  6. Building procedural fluency from conceptual understanding
  7. Supporting productive struggle in learning mathematics
  8. Eliciting and using evidence of student thinking.

This review will examine instructional routines as a teaching strategy as well as the Quick Draw and Block Building instructional routines/tasks that aid in the development of critical thinking, spatial reasoning and geometric thinking and utilize the effective teaching practices called for by NCTM.

Mathematical Instructional routines are learning activities designed with a predictable flow and structure of the learning experience.  As outlined in Routines for Reasoning (Kelemanik, Luenta, & Creighton, 2016), the predictability of these routines supports students by answering these questions, “What is it that I am supposed to be doing?  What question will I be asked next? or, How will things work today in the lesson?”  When students internalize the components of the routine they are free to attend to problem solving, critical thinking and the strategies of their classmates.  Likewise, educators are able to attend more effectively to the strategizing and sense making by students as the structure of the lesson is predictable.  Furthermore, the authors assert practicing predictable instructional routines allow for the strategies, questions, methods, and skills used to become intrinsic.  Thus, creating a mathematical disposition that students use in other problem-solving situations. Effective instructional routines should be focused on the development of critical thinking and should support all learners by including the following components:

  1. Articulation of math practice goal- math action process identified.  This is the why.
  2. Think time – provides adequate processing opportunities, especially for those with disabilities and those who are English Language Learners, promotes independence, builds on strengths. Think time should be provided throughout the routine.
  3. Partner work – aids in developing collaboration skills, critiquing the thinking of others, constructing viable arguments and allows for more processing time
  4. Whole group discussion – is not just explaining the process or strategy, but what students noticed or wondered during strategizing and how those observations helped in the strategizing. Also aids in language development by exposure to vocabulary, restating and comparing and contrasting strategies.
  5. Math practice reflection – utilization of sentence starters to support language and focus the reflection.
  6. Access through multiple modalities and representations – integrating universal design for learning by utilizing concrete and abstract, graphic organizers, gestures, tables, graphs, and drawing.
  7. Liberal use of math practice-focused prompts – emphasis on thinking and not answer getting.

When utilized correctly, Kelemanik, Luenta, and Creighton, indicate the use of quality instructional routines remove barriers for learning mathematics by providing “authentic contexts, multimodal techniques, rich opportunities for language use embedded in mathematical learning experiences and, an instruction that scaffolds students’ development of increasingly abstract thinking,” When instructional routines are facilitated as outlined, students will participate in cognitively demanding tasks that will develop conceptual understanding and math pracitices.

Quick Draw is a geometry instructional routine developed by Grayon Wheately.  In this routine the teacher projects a geometric line drawing for three seconds and then instructs students to draw what they saw.  Student drawings are completed on lineless plain paper.  Once students have been given time to draw, the image is revealed for a second quick look, and students are again instructed to draw what you saw.  When students are comfortable with their drawings the teacher facilitates a whole class discussion about what students saw and how they drew what they saw. According to Richardson and Stein (Richardson & Stein, 2008) the use of the Quick Draw routine promotes the development of spatial sense and communication skills in students.  The predictable questions students can expect in this routine include, “How did you see it? and How did you draw it?” The conversations generated by these questions aid in the development of a common language that becomes an intrinsic part of students. Expanding on the benefits of this routine, Wheatley and Reynolds (Wheatley & Reynolds, 1999) espouse Quick Draw is a low floor, high ceiling routine that promotes growth mindset, flexibility, and each of the mathematical action processes. In addition, they support Weckbacher and Okamoto and believe that the industrial age ideals of rote memorization and mass production no longer serve the best interest of students in our modern STEM driven world.  The use of Quick Draw promotes the development of spatial sense, mathematical language and vocabulary, offers think time/processing time, encourages attention to precision, and inspires the joint construction of knowledge. Therefore, Quick Draw meets the five guiding principles set forth by Kelemanik, Luenta, and Creighton by being a high cognitive demand task that builds on students’ strengths, uses multimodal access in an environment that is rich in language and promotes growth mindset. Utilizing Quick Draw then promotes the critically needed spatial sense needed in our modern STEM world.

Problem Solving with Cubes is another potential geometry instructional routine.  This activity is outlined by Browning and Channell (Browning & Channell, 1992) as follows:  A picture of a 2-D cube model is given.  In addition, a pictoral representation of the front, right, top, and base view is shown on dot grid paper.  Students are provided with fifteen one-inch cubes and a piece of paper.  Students are instructed to work in their groups to construct the cube model.  This activity was presented as a lesson/activity and progresses from the perceptual level through the representational level of geometry by scaffolding the images and eventually removing the blocks and encouraging students to visualize rather than build. Throughout the activity, students are encouraged to communicate, explain, and reflect. The authors also suggest that this activity be followed by abstract activities available on the internet. Browning and Channell indicate this activity supports the development of reasoning skills, the ability to visually manipulate images for understanding, and forming generalizations.  These are vital skills when students are exposed to images and visualizations in subjects such as mathematics, science and history as well as in their perceptions in the world.   The Problem Solving With Cubes activity has the potential to be a great geometry routine with adaptations such as creating a predictable routine and questions to support students and teachers and by delivering the images one at a time over several class periods rather than a multi-page worksheet.

Instructional routines are a powerful tool for promoting the mathematical action processes.  They support students as well as teachers with their predictable nature and provide a framework for students to take into other mathematics explorations.  In my class the math questions that have become intrinsic are, “What do I notice and wonder?  Have I done a problem like this before? Is there an easier problem I can solve that will help?  Will working backwards help? What tools, tables, graphs, pictures or models will help me? and What patterns and relationships do I see, and what do they tell me?”  The use of instructional routines is a non-threatening and often fun way for students to practice problem solving and critical thinking strategies and practices and they lead to the development of growth mindset.  I was disappointed that I could not find more peer reviewed instructional routines that are specific to geometry.  I wonder I there is more research and exploration needed in this area.  I was able to locate several resources that are not peer reviewed, but meet all of the requirements as established by NCTM and Kelemanik, Luenta, and Creighton.  These resources and others may be accessed here:

High Yeild Geometry Routines

Sky Scrapper Spatial Sense

Sky Scrapper Puzzles

Designing Instructional Routines to Support the Math Practices

Routines for Reasoning

Instructional Routines

Quick Draw


Browning, C. A., & Channell, D. E. (1992). Problem Solving with Cubes. The Mathematics Teacher, 447-450: 458-460.

Kelemanik, G., Luenta, A., & Creighton, S. J. (2016). Routines for Reasoning; fostering the mathematical practices in all students. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to action: ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Richardson, K., & Stein, C. (2008). Developing spatial sense and communication skills. Mathematics teaching in the middle school, 101-107.

Smith, M. S., & Stein, M. K. (2011). 5 practices for orchestrating productive mathematics discussions. Reston: The National Council of Mathematics.

Weckbacher, L. M., & Okamoto, Y. (2015). Discovering space in the elementary school. Journal of education and learning, 35-39.

Wheatley, G., & Reynolds, A. M. (1999). Image maker: developing spatial sense. Teaching Children Mathematics, 374-378.


Fraction Strips Before Geometry

On first thought one might be hard pressed to connect the ideas of rational numbers and geometry, and yet a strong case for a connection is made by the authors of Developing Essential Understanding of Geometry for Teaching Mathematics in Grades 6-8 (Sinclair, Pimm, Skelin, & Zhiek, 2012).  The book authors put forth that there is a plethora of connections between geometry and ratio. They state, “much of geometry involves the idea of ratio – how one thing compares to another.” Often learners of geometry are asked to compare the ratio of side lengths to diagonals and conjecture about relationships and congruence based on ratios.  Geometry, at its core, deals with measurement, properties and relationships.  Before students can delve deeply into these concepts it is paramount that they have a conceptual and fluent understanding of rational numbers.  With this in mind, and as part of the rational numbers unit that precedes my geometry unit, I posed the following multi part task/lesson to my students.

  • Use strips of paper 8 ½ inches long. Each strip represents 1 whole. Fold the strips to show halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, eighths, ninths, tenths, and twelfths. Mark the folds so you can see them easily, as shown below.


  • As you fold your strips, think about the strategies you use to make them, and about the relationships you notice.

On the surface, this task may not seem to demand higher order thinking or be considered a high cognitive demand task.  According to Stein and Smith (Stein & Smith, 1998),

Tasks that ask students to perform a memorized procedure in a routine manner lead to one type of opportunity for student thinking; tasks that require students to think conceptually and that stimulate students to make connections lead to a different set of opportunities for student thinking.   High cognitive demand tasks involve making connections, analyzing information, and drawing conclusions. High-level tasks require students to think abstractly and make connections to mathematical concepts. These tasks can use procedures, but in a way that builds connections to mathematical meanings and understandings.

Therefore, when this task was posed to middle school students with a wide array of disabilities the rigor begins to skyrocket as it was anticipated that they would make connections to their previous study of common factors and common multiples when creating unit fractions. It is predicted that this foundational task will lead to connections in creating equivalent fractions and ratio relationships.

When launching the task, I only provided the above directions and an endless supply of strips of colored paper.  I told students that they could work with their shoulder partners as well.

I anticipated that students would be able to create a 1/2 strip and would discover pretty quickly if they folded that in half they could create a 1/4  strip, followed by a 1/8  strip.  I also anticipated they would believe they would create a 1/12 strip by folding the 1/8 strip in half.  Not all students made this error, but most did.

When students are failing to move forward, or when an error is quite common, we stop working and have a whole group discussion.  We utilize these questions when we are problem solving and discussing in our class.

problem solving

We noticed the following and decided to put the information in a table.  When the information was in the table the students noticed that each time we folded a fraction strip in half the denominator doubled, and that the denominator was a multiple of the previous denominators.


When Folded in half created
 1/2  1/4
 1/4  1/8
 1/8  1/16

We wondered then how we could create the remaining fraction strips of thirds, fifths, sixths, ninths tenths and twelfths.  The students conjectured that if they folded a  third strip in half that they would make a sixth  strip and if they folded a fifths  strip in half they could make a tenth strip .  They wondered what they would fold in half to make a ninth  strip, but when they thought of half of nine they concluded that there would be no strip that would have unit fractions that were half of nine. They decided that this would be their next big challenge and set to work to discover a solution.

Students struggled for quite some time in their efforts to create the  third  and fifth  strips.  They tried several ways of folding the strips that depicted the desired unit fraction, but wrestled with creating equal units.  It was fun to hear them struggle, encourage one another and also critique one another.  In anticipation of struggles I had these questions on hand to promote the thought processes of the working groups:

  • What fraction strips can you make by partitioning halves strips?
  • Which strips can you NOT make by partitioning halves?
  • What fraction strips, besides halves, could you refold to make twelfths?
  • Which strips can you NOT make by partitioning halves?
  • Can you see a relationship between repeated partitioning (folding) and equivalent fractions?
  • What happens when you fold fifths and then fold the fifths in half? What happens when you fold others in half?

When students are working in groups or independently and ask me for affirmation about their work or a correct answer, I almost always ask them to convince a friend or ask a friend before they ask me for help.  This practice encourages students to collaborate with one another and work to communicate their ideas effectively.  This also aids in the development of self-reliance skills and confidence.  During this task, when I noticed groups becoming too frustrated I asked them the above questions as well as what strategies and methods they used to create their halves and fourths.  Students could explain the process of lining up edges so that the units were equivalent.  I then asked if they could use the same strategy for the other unit fractions.  These questions and support served to move the collective thinking along and allowed reentry to  the task.

This task took two full class periods to complete. Students grumbled and struggled, but encouraged each other to persevere. In one of my seventh-grade classes, a student declared, “Mrs. Naegele, you are evil!  This is making my brain hurt!”  He quickly followed that statement with a “just kidding, I know you are letting us struggle so our brains will grow.”  Eventually the students were able to discover what they called a “Z” fold that allowed them to create equivalent unit pieces for the  1/3  and 1/5  strips .  Once this was shared among the group the fraction strips began to come together quickly.

When students are working I utilize the collection sheet below both as a way to conduct formative assessment, and as a tool for deciding how to scaffold follow-up discussions.



The follow-up discussion entailed some of the ideas shared about numerators doubling when unit fractions were folded in half.  In addition to using the Notice and Wonder Routine, I also regularly ask my students what relationships and patterns that they notice.  Students were able to notice that the fraction strips that have equivalent parts are those that have common factors and multiples.

The following day I introduced my students to Annie Forrest’s Fraction Strip Creation Lesson and challenged them to create a stop motion animation movie that would teach someone how to create a  1/12 fraction strip.  I introduced them to the Stop Motion app and showed this tutorial video about creating stop motion movies using the Stop Motion Studio app available free for Apple and Android.  Students were instructed to create a plan and write a script before they began filming.

I chose the 1/12   strip because there are multiple ways students could choose to create the strip, and I chose the stop motion project because my students often have difficulty explaining in writing their ideas and strategies.

I started this task and lesson during a four-day week.  I felt that two days for folding the strips and two days with the long weekend to finish if needed, would be adequate time for the stop motion project.  Little did I know that my district would have a bomb threat that week and that Oklahoma teachers would stage a walkout.  So, following 2.5 weeks of lost instruction, we returned to class and students resumed their stop motion project.

With such a long break, it was as if we had not done the initial paper-folding task.  Students were allowed to use their fraction strips, but they had forgotten all about their discoveries during the paper folding task.  Instead of going back and doing that activity again I encouraged students to talk in their production groups and explore their fraction kits using our routine of notice and wonder and our other regularly used problem solving questions.  It was as if they were discovering the information all over again.    This experience affirmed that students need multiple experiences and interactions with a concept to truly know and learn it.

For the stop motion piece of this activity, I anticipated that most students would create a third strip, fold that in half to create a sixth strip, and then fold that in half to create a 1/12  strip.  I also knew that students could opt to create a 1/3  strip and then fold that in half to create a sixth and then half that to create a twelfth strip.  I also knew that students could create a fourth strip, fold that into thirds to achieve their goal.  I was pleased that all three of these strategies were used.  I did have some students that created a 1/2  and took that all the way to a 1/16  thinking they were creating the correct unit strip as they had done in the initial exploration of this task.  When this occurred, I asked them how they could create a relationship with 2 and 12.  If they were not able to grapple with that and come up with an idea, I asked, what numbers are we exploring that you know that have a relationship with 12?  Some students were able to think about the factor pairs of twelve and consider the pair of two and six. They then rationalized that to create a 1/6 from a 1/2 that they would need to use the “Z”fold to fold three equal parts to create a sixth strip. Once at this point they could half that to create a 1/12 strip.  Some groups did not make this connection and chose to use the three and four factor pair and start with a 1/3 strip.

To date, students have finished their stop motion videos and submitted their scripts and plans.  An overwhelming majority of scripts and plans mirrored the movies, but there were a few that the script and plan did not depict the movie submitted.  Before students uploaded their videos to they had to show their movie to another group and the other group had to create a  1/12   strip following the movie tutorial. All of the movies did teach someone how to create a  1/12  strip if the viewer was really watching!  The plan going forward, is for students to present their movies and entertain questions and critiques from the other students when state testing is over.  I will begin this follow-up by showing them my movie and letting them critique me!  I am looking forward to doing this kind of activity again in the future, and so are my students!

Works Cited

Sinclair, N., Pimm, D., Skelin, M., & Zhiek, R. M. (2012). Connections: lookingback and ahead in learning. In N. Sinclair, D. Pimm, M. Skelin, & R. M. Zhiek, Developing essential understanding of geometgry for teaching mathematics in grades 6-8 (pp. 69-79). Reston: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.

Stein, M. K., & Smith, M. S. (1998). Mathematical tasks as a framework for reflection: from research to practice. Mathematics teaching in the middle school, 268-275.


The MNmMath Nerds had wonderful couple of days watching and critiquing our 1/12 fraction strip stop motion videos!  Following each video we spent time noticing and wondering about each production.  We utilize the Notice Wonder Routine almost daily making this was a wonderful way to facilitate conversations in this situation .  Students are familiar with the process and eagerly contributed their ideas.  We critique one another’s thinking regularly as well, but we have never critiqued a final production before.  These critiques were much more personal, therefore we spent some time talking about how to provide and accept productive feedback.


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Following each notice and wonder the film producers answered questions from the audience.  This was an awesome learning experience for all.  To close this exploration we held a whole group discussion about what we learned about math and fractions from our experiences. We noticed that every video utilized methods that created fractions that had denominators that are factors of 12.  This was a wonderful connection to our previous Prime Time Unit that focused on factors, multiples, greatest common factors and least common multiples.  Students also noticed patterns and relationships between division and multiplication as related to fraction denominators.


This was a wonderful investigation!  All mathematicians decided we MUST do more explorations like this in the future!