All posts by Kristen


A few months ago, I was invited to come back to my alma mater, Frostburg State University.  You might be saying…Frost who?  Yes it sounds cold—and yes it holds true to its name.  Frostburg State University is a university situated in a small, former coal mining town in the Alleghany Mountains of western Maryland.  Over 100 years ago, FSU used to be a teachers college (and a terrific one at that), but eventually diversified into a university.  It’s not a huge college by the likes of UCLA, USC, or any of the other big name colleges.  As a matter of fact, you probably didn’t know it existed.  But that’s what makes it oh-so-special.  And as I drove in on Friday morning (fresh from my red-eye flight from LAX), there was snow falling and 32 degree temps to welcome me.   I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


This weekend, they held a conference (called the Sloop Institute for Excellence in Leadership) in which future leaders of FSU participated and learned from alumni about different leadership topics such as teamwork, communications, and building relationships.   I was asked to present on “Developing and Empowering Others.” 


For the beginning part of the day, the directors had the alumni “host” tables as the students moved about the room every 10 minutes.  It was like Leadership Speed Dating.  The topic I hosted was about empowerment (did I tell you I felt like a morning talk show host leading the discussion?!?)  They gave us a few questions that looked like this….


I asked the kids if they knew what empowerment was.  Here’s a few answers I got.

  • “Bringing out the potential in others.  Helping others find what’s in themselves that they didn’t know existed.”  ~Melanie
  •  “Building others up with positive energy”  ~ Emma
  •  “Lift & motivate.  Do something they wouldn’t do.”  ~ Magnus
  •  “Instill change, be positive” ~Madison
  •  “Give a bigger role within their skill set” ~Ben
  •  “Facilitate opportunity to better themselves” ~Lucas
  •  “Giving people the tools they need to succeed” ~Katie
  •  “As you become successful, you want others to be successful with you” ~Tyler
  • “Use weakness as a strength.  In order to be empowered, you have to be empowered yourself” ~ Marilyn

We had not officially started the presentation portion of the day, and I was impressed.  In my head, I kept thinking “you better bring your A game—they are not messing around.”  These students weren’t what I was expecting.  They were insightful.  They took initiative.  They had drive. They had purpose. They had passion.   They already exuded professionalism.  It was quite extraordinary to hold a mentoring-type conversation with these young minds because they were highly engaged.  They wanted to learn from our experiences.  What was unique was that there were so many alumni from so many different fields of study.  I was the only alumni with an education major, but I found that my experience was just as valuable as anyone else’s. 

After the round-table discussions, we were excused to the next building where 5 of us alumni would spend the rest of the day with the students and complete our presentations.

One alumni presented on Communication.  What I learned from his presentation was about what the “Sound of Silence” meant. 

The Sound of Silence could be…

  • sound of someone thinking
  • sound of new ideas
  • sound of calm determination in face of a challenge
  • sound of leadership
  • silent opposition

Another colleague presented on the effective teamwork.  We discussed the characteristics of effective teams by looking at pictures of fireman, a football team, and “Modern Family.”


And then eventually it was my turn.  Last presentation of the day.  The students have been sitting there patiently all day looking forward to dinner. Their heads were saturated with leadership jargon.  Because of those circumstances, I was really nervous.   

And even though the teacher part of me was screaming to come out, I held back.  Instead, I became a story teller in hopes of inspiring them. I started the conversation with defining empowerment.  We discussed power versus influence.  And then I told my story. It’s the story of 2 teachers empowering each other.   We laughed. We cried.  We wondered.  We learned that titles/power don’t matter.   They could affect more people with their influence.    Screenshot 2018-03-13 20.17.12

And instead of just talking about it, I gave them an assignment to do it.  Go empower someone and then tell me about it.  Just because I’m headed back to the west coast doesn’t mean that the conversation has to stop.   The conversation is just beginning.  They were tasked to keep in touch and tell me their stories of empowerment.   


Luckily, the FSU students were with me the entire way.  I had one student stop me afterward.  This student had tears in his eyes and thanked me.  He said that our story reminded him of his mother.  His mother was a teacher of over 20 years and she’s trying to challenge herself too.  All I could do was give him a ginormous hug and thank him for sharing.  It was a heart-felt moment.   Another student ran up telling me that she realized that empowerment was “good karma”.  Yes! Spot on. High Five!!  The students were buzzing afterwards.  They looked like they were ready to conquer the world.  It made me feel proud to be a part of their education.


Now I await to see if the students do their “homework.” I’m anxious to see/hear how they take the topic they heard about and put it into action.   I’m curious how far my story or my messages will go.  I wonder what will happen next.

Until next time,


Southern Cali. Kinder Conf. 2018

When you hear “kindergarten”, some of my math peeps will shudder and shake. The idea of teaching “the little people” is an exhausting task.  However, this has been part of my universe for a few years now in thanks to my math partner, Stacy.

We have been exploring different conferences with enthusiasm.  We have brought our math story to primary teachers in Northern and Southern California.  At these conferences, I looked forward to meeting different math educators that I kept up with through MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog-O-Sphere).  I would eagerly introduce them to Stacy and tell our story.  They welcomed us with open arms and were intrigued by our partnership. 

This weekend was different.  Instead of Stacy entering my world of math folks, I entered hers of the kindergarten clan.  Rather than be one of thousands of math educators, we were one of three sessions featuring math.   It was a world of songs, bright colors, and construction paper.   Stacy spent the time pointing out different people to me while I tried to “blend” in.  When introducing myself as a 6th grade teacher/math coach, I was repeatedly asked “What are you doing here?”  But then I told our story and why I attend, and they were interested in what we had to say.  

We were scheduled during the toughest time slot–Friday at 5:45.  These primary teachers had been sitting in sessions all day long.  But we persisted.  We showed them “Which One Doesn’t Belong”, clothesline math, and the flipped hundreds chart.   Luckily for us, our participants were enthusiastic.  We challenged their thinking.  And in turn—they challenged us.  One asked, “why are you here for kindergarten?”  I answered her “it was because the little ones are outstanding mathematicians.”   I stand by that.  

We were different from the other sessions in that we didn’t sell our stuff on Teacher Pay Teacher.  We weren’t at the conference with any company selling their goods.  We were there to spread the word of math.  “Math can be fun and interactive,” we told them.  While presenting, we kept telling them we have them covered.  We gave them thumb drives will all kinds of files on it (including all the clothesline cards).  “That deserves a round of applause,” claimed one of our participants.  When I heard that, I remember looking at Stacy who was beaming with her brightest smile.   We did it.  

In a previous post, I had explained how we keep trying to improve our presentation skills.  With this one in the books, we have hit our stride.  We have accomplished what we have set out to doempower more teachers and reach more children with our love of math.  As I keep exploring other conferences and venues for our work, there’s more that can be done in helping the primary teachers.  

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Screenshot 2018-02-13 08.47.05

Until next time,

Kristen (& Stacy)

Asilomar 2017

My math partner, Stacy and I were once again fortunate to present this last weekend.  We were invited to speak at California Math Council’s northern conference at Asilomar. We had never been to the northern conference, so we were eager to compare it to our experience in Palm Springs (last year).  I had heard that this was smaller and more intimate, but with better speakers because of its proximity to the Bay Area.  

First of all, the ground of Asilomar are gorgeous.  If you never been, Asilomar was like a leadership retreat-type place surrounded with trees all the while the ocean waves were crashing in the background.  When we were checking into our rooms, there was a random deer waiting for us (no joke).   It was quaint.  It was peaceful and zen-like. 

We were running into all these math heroes every step and every turn.  While backing out the car, I was close to running over Dan Meyer, Zak Champagne and Mike Flynn.  While walking to explore the beach, there was Marilyn Burns taking a stroll in maroon hat.  We helped Ruth Parker get inside our residential building.  It was like being at an  All-Star Math Camp.  

Friday night we went to see and hear from Dr. Jo Boaler.  While waiting to hear from her, I ran into this guy–Chris Shore.  We’ve been planning something for next year.  Incredible guy.  We caught up with each other while Stacy listened in on Dr. Boaler.

Chris Shore (@mathprojects)  #ClubClothesline

Saturday morning came and it was our time to shine.  Stacy and I presented on the flipped hundreds chart and our work on clothesline math to about 15 teachers.  Really engaged participants.  Lots of conversation.  Lots of sharing.  We felt incredible.  It seems like we keep getting better.  We have found purpose with what we are doing.  

One of our participants stopped us in the hall afterwards and congratulated us on our session.  He said that he couldn’t believe how engaging we were.  We made the session feel really personal.  We were really energetic with our participants and made everyone feel welcome.  Usually there are sessions where there are “talking heads,” but we were the quite the opposite.  And on top of all this, that we made him think about what’s going on in the classroom.

The rest of our Saturday was spent seeing other speakers.  We got to listen in on Annie Fetter and her thoughts on writing for math.  We listened in on Cathy Humphreys as she explained her dissertation on mathematical agency.  Lastly, we attended Ann Carlise and her K-2 number talks with number lines session.

Usually I look for one thing to bring home and use.  I say that if you can just gleam one thing from any professional development, then it’s worth it.  I was lucky enough to have a math partner to talk this through.  We like poking each other with questions and then come to a conclusion. 

When all was mostly done, we questioned what we got out of this conference.  Stacy and I learned something far greater then what some of these great authors and math educators were telling us.  

  • We figured out what kind of speakers we want to continue to be.  We need to be us. The comments from one our participants really was thought provoking.  And that was just our personalities.  We want to be personable in our sessions.  I don’t want to be a “talking head.”  If you know who we are, we are completely the opposite of that.  And we won’t change that.  That’s who we are.
  • One of our expectations is that our participants walk away with something that they could use the next day.  In some of the sessions we attended as participants, that wasn’t happening.  There was lots of theory, but I wouldn’t know what to do with the information in my classroom.  Because of us flying up north, we couldn’t bring our full “show.”   I’ve been expecting our participants to look up all our resources on my blog, but I don’t know if that’s happening. How do we make sure they fully leave with something in hand?  (We have ideas).

We would go again in a heart beat.  We learned more about ourselves then we expected and that was major leap forward.  We didn’t expect that, but we couldn’t pass up processing our thoughts on the subject.  

And so we continue to grow.  Onto the next conference.

Until next time….

keep laughing & keep smiling,


Making sense of conversions

My son, Jared, is in 6th grade.  He has told me he thinks it’s “cool” that I’m teaching 6th grade too.  According to him, we have stuff to talk about.  I can finally help him with his homework.  (Really?  Like I’ve never been able to help you with any of your other homework?!?  What the what?!?!?).  Of course I left that last editorial in my head, but I think I knew what he was talking about.   I think he meant that we are finally at the same grade level as teacher (me) and student.  

On one evening, he was having trouble with conversions of measurements. This was his homework.IMG_6073

I asked him about his notes from class.  “How did your teacher teach this?  Where are your notes?

And this is what he showed me.

“Memorize the 3 steps.” Uh–no.

 I was not thrilled to see “memorize” on my son’s notes.  It dawned on my husband and I that our son’s teacher has only been teaching a few years.  He’s probably used to just memorizing steps and procedures.  I don’t like to teach that way.  I like to teach for understanding.  I like to teach more conceptually.  I like to have my students make sense of a problem rather than “memorize” steps.

Just for kicks and giggles, I went to page 290 to see what is said.  This is what I found.

Here are the “steps” my son was asked to memorize

I sat and stared at his paper and at the “steps.” If my son didn’t understand and remember the steps, how could I get him to comprehend what they were asking?

I looked at the 1st question again.  “If 16 C = 1 gallon, then 8 gallons = ________?”  Rather than doing a fancy algorithm or proportion (which he hadn’t done in the curriculum–my husband had an issue with that.), I went back to the basics.  Let’s draw a picture.  


16 cups are in one gallon (rectangles).  8 gallons with 16 cups in each.   Once I sat and explained the situation to my son, the lightbulb went off in his head.  “Oh mom, all you have to do is multiply 16 times 8 to get the number of cups.”  BINGO!  

And the rest of the hour, we drew pictures, diagrams, and whatever else helped him make sense of the conversions.  And each time we drew a new picture, the lightbulb kept going off in his head.  (Proud Math teacher and Mom!)IMG_9373

The next day after school, I asked my son if his teacher said anything about the homework we did.   My son told me that his teacher said,you should have done it the way I told you too.”   ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?

I “heart” Tina Fey.

MATH RANT – –   After close to twenty years of teaching math, this just blew me out of the water.  It is no secret that there are many ways to get answers to math problems.  I usually give the anecdote that there are many ways to get from here to New York.  Some ways are faster, some ways are slower, some ways are more expensive and that’s ok.  Pick which way works best for you… long as you get to NY.  Same goes for math.  It is our job and soul purpose to teach our students.  It is well known that one size doesn’t fit all.  One approach to solving conversions doesn’t work for everyone.  Why are we still having students memorize procedures if they don’t understand the problem?  What happened to making sense of things? It only happens to be the first standard of math practice!!!    It baffles me that this is from a newer teacher who hasn’t done any conceptual lessons and/or applications.   The whole thing blows my mind! Maybe it’s also the realization that not every math teacher thinks or teaches like me.  

So what do we do?  Do we challenge teachers like this?  Is it worth the fight when they may not understand the importance themselves?  

My son’s situation just proves that there’s more work to be done out there.  Teachers still need training.  And just because we, in our youth, learned to memorize procedures, doesn’t mean we actually made sense of things.  

Math rant over. Disengaging.  

Until next time, 


Sassy Cents – a 3 act lesson

Since being back in the classroom, I’ve made it a point to include either a performance task, a 3 act lesson, or sometimes both with every unit of math.  I have to admit that it’s been fun to put what I’ve learned as a coach to work.  Not only am I a better teacher for it, but my team trusts my judgement and goes along with all my crazy plans.  

This lesson started when I realized how many coins my family had collected in a jar.  We usually run off to our local grocery store to exchange them for Amazon money. IMG_2306 It was all I could do to hold off my husband from exchanging them.  I saw much potential in this pile of coins.   

While planning over the summer, I came across the standard 6.NS.B.3- Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standards algorithm for each operation.  With the suggestions from my son, this new 3 Act lesson, Sassy Cents, was born.

Act 1 –

While the video played, I wrote down the classes comments to each other.  Some sat in silence. As the video progressed to show the emoji, I heard “OOOOHHHH.”  “She’s rich”  “That’s a lot of change.” “It’s huge!”  “How long did that take?”  

(Awesome—I have them hooked!)

My students love doing notice and wonder.  They know the routine so well and expect with any new “thing” I show them.

Notice – 

  • There’s a pattern —dimes had heads/tails
  • many piles of change
  • there’s a tongue
  • emoji made of coins
  • only 1 eye opened and 1 eye closed
  • dime – penny – nickel – quarter = 1 stack
  • coins going from small to big
  • all money is cents or coins
  • each pile – 41 cents
  • lots of coins
  • emoji on table —–> we saw a chair

Wonder – 

  • How long did it take to do?
  • How many coins make up the emoji?
  • Why did I use only coins?
  • How many of each coin?
  • How many sets of coins?
  • How much does the emoji cost?  or total worth?
  • What that emoji?
  • Which part took the longest? —did it take hours or days to make?
  • Why made video?
  • Why one eye opened and one eye closed?


The next step was an estimation bit.  I wanted them to estimate how much money the emoji was worth.  A great observation came from one of the students.  Do we estimate in dollars or cents?   They settled on dollars and cents.  Their best estimates ranged from $20 to $80.


Act 2 consisted of making sure they knew what a bit of info.  I gave them info on what one stack of coins looked like.  I also gave them the amount of stacks for each part of the emoji.  For differentiation reasons, I figured it would be helpful to give them a choice of how they wanted to solve for the emoji.

 The students worked vigorously on their calculations.  This was a perfect way for them to practice their multiplication and addition of decimals.  Lots of practice with decimal points.  

At one point, one of my students sat there finished.  I checked his work and asked him to explain his method.  This is what he told me….


Act 3 – 

Screenshot 2017-10-05 20.55.58It was a relief to see one of my students articulate his thinking so well.  Many of the other students seemed to figure out each part separately before adding their totals up.  This child did his own thinking and that’s ok with me.

I love telling my students that’s there’s many way to get to New York.  Some ways are faster, some ways are slower, some ways are longer….but the important thing is that we get there.  Math is the same waymany different ways to get to an answer, but the important idea is that you find a method that works for you and you go for it.  

Until next time,


The next term is…

Usually on Thursday nights, I try to squeeze in an hour of professional development by participating in a #elemmathchat on Twitter.  It’s a terrific hour of discourse between coaches, teachers, and all kinds of math peeps.  

Recently, Mark Chubb (@MarkChubb3) hosted a #elemmathchat and posted this.


My students know that I love throwing them a “challenge” question every now and again.  I use lots of things that I find on Twitter or just online.  I’m just curious as to what their perspective will be and what their conversations will be.  And they are getting used to me bugging them for a picture of their work so that I can blog about it later.  

Here’s a slide show of some of their answers

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These two students had a pattern similar to what I would think would be the next shapes.

What do you think it should be?  Or do we need more info?


After this experience, I’m thinking of re-trying this type of exploration with Visual Patterns.

Until next time,


Mills, Bills, and Trill

The first week of school lesson plans usually consist of getting-to-know-you type activities.  In planning, I figured it would be a great time for exploring in math.  I hemmed and hawed about it.  At first I thought I’d do a 3 act lesson.  They are always exciting and engaging, but I couldn’t think or find one that these kids hadn’t seen in 5th grade.  

But then I found this……


This was a picture I found a long while ago and kept it in my files, never knowing what to do with it.  I saw the math in it, but didn’t have a solid idea.  However, over the summer, inspiration struck and I got to work.  

Have you ever asked your students about millions, billions, or trillions?  Do they truly understand the magnitude of these ginormous numbers?  It was worth a conversations.

Part one of our investigation was showing the above picture and simply asking “what do you notice and what you wonder?”

My students recognized notice/wonder which thrilled me.  Some perked right up when they saw those questions (which made me smile).  I noticed that my students focussed on the picture itself.  Some of my higher thinkers started pondering the saying.  Finally, we got to the question I was looking for….which was how many pictures are in a video.

Here’s the information we were looking for…Screenshot 2017-08-19 21.24.24.png

We decided we needed to figure out how many pictures were in a second, then a minute, and so on.  They determined that one second of video would be worth 2400 words.  And the video would have to be less than 1 minute.  One minute of video would be 1,440,000 words.   Not bad for my 6th graders.  They were getting the hang out this.  


Then I asked them how long it would take them to draw a billion circles.  Saw this at a workshop given by Graham Fletcher back in January and I finally found a use for it. The students were thrilled to investigate this for sure.   

Screenshot 2017-08-19 21.23.53.png

With much enthusiasm, the students were jumping with energy on this one.   One girl raised her hand and asked, “are were really doing a billion?”  I looked at the clock and responded, “we got a few hours left so I don’t see why not.”  Their eyes got bigger.  

First we took guesses.  I felt like I was on the Price is Right.  “I’ll say 7 hours…I’ll say 7 hours and 15 minutes.”  One group kept whispering about the question and concluded that it should take about 1 second per circle.  I loved this observation because I could tell they were not only thinking, but trying to make sense of the problem.   The class concluded that we should just try it for a minute.    Before we got started though, there was more discussion on how big of a circle they should draw.  Wouldn’t that be a factor in how many they could draw in a minute?


I started the timer and the students worked vigorously on their circles.  The looks on their faces was priceless.  They focussed, they concentrated, they were super-serious about getting this done.

When the timer went off, they counted up their circles.  We took a poll to see how many circles were drawn and the range was between 80 to 120.  For our purposes, we kept using 100.  Next, we figured out how many circles in an hour, a day, and then a year.  Finding out how many circles in a year was a bit of a doozy for them, but they persevered.  I was also happy to report that they knew how to read their place value very well.  Whew!


We even discussed what would 2 years looked like, and they told me it would only be one hundred  million circles.  “That’s not enough.”

I revealed the answer and they were floored.  I’m not going to reveal the answer in this post because I want to leave a little mystery to the question.  Go ahead…do the math yourselves.  (Answer is in the lesson PDF below).

We weren’t done yet.  For the last piece to this investigation,  I remembered this Twitter pic from Mark Chubb.   And I also saw a ripe opportunity to break out the clothesline.  I asked my students “Where would 1 million go?  Where would 1 billion go?”


After much debate and moving cards back and forth, this is what they agreed upon.  I was puzzled because they didn’t really know the relationship between billion and trillion.  I let them watch a video I found on Youtube and some referenced that when they were validating their answers.


However, I wanted to push them further.  I inquired why each of the cards was equally spaced.   Were there an equal amount of numbers between each number?  Some answered yes.  Some were completely puzzled.  Rather than beat the horse to death, I wrote a few new numbers on cards to see if they could show me the relationship.  I wrote 0, 10, 100, 1000.     The conversation got a little more exciting because my students were dealing with numbers they could relate to a bit more.  Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the final clothesline and specifically where they moved the cards.  

Final thoughts…

  • We hear how the US and other countries have trillion dollar debts, but how many people truly know the size of that number.  It’s quite “ginormous” but how does it relate to millions and billions?
  • The students loved that they got to “investigate” something tangible.  They could all draw circles.  It was an easy task that they all handled.  It was hilarious to see them take it so seriously.  
  • The idea of the trillion clothesline was spot on with the investigation, but I saw many blank stares because the students couldn’t really fathom a trillion.  Instead of beating the idea to a pulp, we went with something they were familiar with based on their discussion and reasoning.  
  • This showed their lack of knowledge in how 10 related to 100 and so on. 
  • Considering this was the 2nd day of school, this showed that we will be making math fun, accessible, and worthy of their attention.   Many of my students said this was their favorite thing of the day.  


Here’s the lesson if you’d like to try it out for yourself.


Until next time,




Welcome to Acosta Academy

Welcome back to a whole new school year!  I’ve spent the whole summer steadily preparing for my new assignment and it’s one that I’m embracing.  

Here is it…the night before my first day at a new school, new routines, new students, new colleagues—actually, they aren’t that new to me.  I’m supposed to be trying to rest up and review my plans for tomorrow and all I can think about is “I have to blog about this!”

To catch you all up….I used to be a middle school math teacher for 16 years.  The last 2 years, I was a elementary math coach.  Now I’m going to conquer teaching 6th grade, but at an elementary school.    I get to be with little kiddos again.  Ok…my kiddos won’t be so little, but I get to experience the joy, the smiles, the high-five moments, and the celebrations that come with learning.   

This transition was tough at first.  In the months following my decision, I had weeks where I was raring to go and then weeks when I was doubting myself.  I kept asking myself if I made the right decision by heading to an elementary school.  My 6th grade buddies at the other elementary schools were cheering me on every step of the way.  And with positive mindset, much support from the other 6th grade teachers, and lots of studying over the summer, I’m ready for my challenge.  This is going to be an awesome year.

In diving into this new experience, my inner elementary teacher started coming out.  I spent a good 2 months planning for decorating my classroom.  One of the kindergarten teachers at my site asked me back in March, “what’s your theme going to be?”  My reaction was “Theme?!?!?  Middle schools teachers never did a theme!?!?!?”  I go home and tell my husband about the conversation and he starts looking up things on Pinterest (he is totally a teacher’s husband!).  Low and behold, he holds up this picture….

the inspiration for my classroom

My classroom is completely decked out with college stuff for my theme.  I created something from nothing.  All of what I’m about to show you is because of this single picture.    As a matter of fact, I’m calling it Acosta Academy.  I’ve had colleagues come in to see my progress and were completely floored with what I had done.  

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I also had a revelation.  I put more energy into putting together this elementary classroom than I had in all my 18 years of teaching.  I embraced the belief “Go big or go home!”  More is more in elementary.   

And in the little time that I’ve been in the elementary community, I’ve learned so much.  For instance, who knew that you could buy Walmart flat bed sheets for $5.00 and they were big enough for your bulletin boards/walls?  And I’ve discovered the joys of lamination.  It’s such a magical treat.  I can’t get enough.

And I’ve created some goals for myself for this year….

  1. Integrate 3 Acts, Which One Doesn’t Belong, Estimation,  Clotheslines, Open Middle, Numberless Word Problems, number talks and engaging math activities/stations into my math curriculum.  
  2. Learn and implement Google classroom as well as other Google tech with my students (Recently took a Google Cue Launch workshop and will be taking the first test soon)
  3. Conquer my fear of teaching English/Language Arts.  It’s a monster. 
  4. Find creative activities for partnering my kids with kindergarteners.  The kinder teacher and I have a few great math ideas/activities.
  5. Use my time in the classroom to embrace the joy, to foster curiosity, and to give my students the best for their last year at elementary school.


On a side note, I’m proud to announce that my kindergarten collaborator and I have been asked to speak at 2 conferences.  One of them will be at Calif. Math Council’s northern conference in Asilomar.  The other is at the Southern California Kindergarten Conference in February in Pasadena.  

I’ve also been asked the speak at my alma mater, Frostburg State University.  Sloop Institute on Leadership & Excellence has asked me to present on “Empowering Others.”  I love the topic choice and have already outlined what I’d present.  Even though the conference isn’t until March, it’s never to early to brainstorm.

There’s more exciting plans coming in the 2018-2019 year, but I’ll wait to report on that when things are more finalized.  

Until next time,




Math in a box

Happy Summer everyone.  Hadn’t expected to blog much this summer as I’m vigorously preparing for my new teaching assignment.  However, something  “mathy” showed up  and I was asked to review it.

Sumboxes is a new subscription company that comes to your door step.  It’s essentially math-in-a-box.   In all my years of teaching, I haven’t seen “teacher” boxes, let alone subscription boxes that include math.  The sample box I received was geared for teachers or parents of kindergarteners.   Upon further research of their website, they also have boxes for first grade and second grade.  



What’s in the box?  

Let’s get to the nitty gritty before anything else.  Watch below….

Let’s lay it all out…. You have 2 math activities that include directions/notes, 2 PVC zipper bags, dice, cards, dinos, a magnet, and a sticker —-all included in a neatly blue and yellow schemed wrapping.  

Upon my inspection, there’s a lot going on in this box. First, I liked that there was not one, but two quality activities.  I can totally see kinders at my school excited by the fact that they were playing games with dinos (who doesn’t get excited by that?!?!).  Secondly,  the instruction cards, notes, and activity boards were on good quality card stock.  They weren’t flimsy at all.  It seems as though they will survive some wear/tear from little ones.   I also was thrilled to see that I can store the activities in the zipper bags (if you haven’t come across these before….get them!!!!)  Lastly and most importantly, it’s all there.  As teachers, we scour the internet (Pinterest, Teacher Pay Teacher, or blogs) or our activity books (blow that dust off of them) to find quality activities.  If/when we do find activities, we then have to rummage around for the right materials, supplies, etc.  All of this takes time, effort (copying, laminating, cutting), and money.  And sometimes—in the case of TeacherPayTeacher—-you don’t truly know what you’re getting until you download the file (just because it has a cute font doesn’t make it good).   

Long story, short — it is refreshing to see an idea like this come along where more math  content is being offered.  No fuss, no muss.  

My thoughts…

Heading back to the Sumboxes website, I read about the company more and came across this.

Screenshot 2017-07-17 12.37.07
I like what I’m seeing


  It’s usually perceived by parents and students to be hard, difficult, and boring.  To read this mission statement is refreshing.   This mission statement also aligns with my views that math can be intriguing, invigorating, and enjoyable.  Why can’t students play games and do activities that practice math skills?  I can imagine the look on students’ faces when we take out one of these boxes.  Pure excitement! 

Here are a few questions that rattled around in my brain…..

  1. Would SumBoxes offer a menu of what math concepts are going to be covered in my future boxes?  For instance, this month we are adding, but next month we are covering subtracting.  
  2. Will SumBoxes eventually create boxes for third through fifth grades?  I can see the potential for fractions, decimals, etc.
  3. If I’d like another box of the dinosaurs, can I get an additional box without having to pay for a full separate subscription? 

(As I ponder more, I will be adding more questions in the future.)

My advice for teachers and coaches would be to check out Sumboxes.   I can see schools/principals subscribe to this for individual teachers and/or grade levels.  Teachers could try a box out for a month and rotate them among their colleagues.  The potential to for support in math is there.  It’s a great tool/resource to have around which will engage our students in math.

****This review was completely unsolicited.  I’m not getting paid and compensated in any way, shape or form.  I just like math stuff. ****





Reflections 2016-2017

  Teachers are trying to survive the last 3 days of school.  Bulletin boards are being tossed, broken pencils are discarded,  and trash cans all over my district are being filled.   As I sit and watch all the end-of-the-year activities, I can’t help myself but think and reflect on the past year.   And it was a wonderful year.

My year in review….

  1.  Presenting at CMC was nothing short of incredible.  As my mind rewinds to my short days in Palm Springs, I catch myself smiling at the memory.  Yes, it was a lot of work–7 months of planning, collaborating, and practicing—>but it was well worth it.  You can read about it here.
  2. Publishing for the California Math Council’s magazine,  Communicator. Stacy’s and my work on the flipped hundred’s chart went state-wide. Teachers from all over the state were retweeting the blog post.  And because of this, my little blog post got over 600 views (and still counting).  That maybe small potatoes in comparison to some blogs, but that’s big news to me.
  3. Graham Fletcher and 3 Act lessons For two days in January, I got to see, meet, and “hang” with Graham Fletcher.   Terrific math specialist who presented conceptual ideas surrounding 3 Act lessons.   And what is even more amazing is that he linked this site with my 3 acts onto his.  Educators around the world have been viewing my lessons.  In addition, he liked what Stacy and I did with one of his lessons so much, that he included on his website. Overall, Graham Fletcher is the real deal. He’s really sincere, humble and full of magnificent ideas.


  4. Clotheslines – this routine started a few years go when I saw Andrew Stadel present it.  However it was presented for the middle school/ high school teachers.  I took the idea and developed it for elementary teachers.  And it grew exponentially in popularity around my district.  Since publishing my cards, this page has been getting more and more hits. 

    A sample of cards for kindergarten
  5. School Wide routines –  I presented to a few schools about some of the engaging routines that they could be doing in their classrooms with their students.  As a follow-up to my presentations, I’d start surprising the staff with some “mathiness.”  I started school wide estimation contests and had posters of “Which One Doesn’t Belong” in staff lounges.  Teachers were hard core/competitive with coming up with  answers.  However, the conversation continued well after my presentations and that was the point.  To keep the conversations going….and hope that they’d try it in their classrooms.

    6. More of everything… In my reflection last year, I made it a goal to just have more of everything.  And I got that.  I was in so many classrooms.  During my busiest day, I was in 6 classrooms, plus was scheduled to meet with my boss.  I ran marathons on certain days.  But once again, to empower teachers, see smiling kids enjoying math and understanding it—was all worth it.


Looking forward…

I’m having difficulty writing this part.  The reason is that I’ve been told my position has been dissolved.  I’m going back into the classroom.  For months I’ve had to carry on with my work knowing that my hardworking, dedicated teachers would no longer be receiving my support.  I was crushed.   It is only recently that I’ve come to terms with the district’s decision.  

With that said, I have accepted a position in my district teaching 6th grade at an elementary school.  There was a lot of strategic thinking involved in my decision. It happens to be my son’s former school.  This school is also where the staff really made an effort in trying out my math strategies techniques.  It’s also where my collaborator, Stacy, works (she’s already asked me to be kindergarten buddies with her–and we are going to be doing some awesome math projects).  And when it was announced to the staff that I’d be joining the team, the staff was excited and so happy.  The math wizard has a new home.   

It would have been too easy to head back to middle school and fall right back into my routine.  Going back to my elementary roots after 16 years at the middle school level will be a challenge.  But I’ve never met a goal that I couldn’t reach.   I love taking on a new challenge.  

And there is plenty of other opportunities to look forward to. First of all,  Stacy and I submitted two proposals to speak at conferences.  The first proposal was submitted to the CMC North conference in Asilomar.  The second proposal was submitted to a kindergarten conference in Pasadena.   We are not able to make it to the CMC South conference this year, but we have several ideas for the next round of proposals.  Secondly, I’ve been recently asked to join a team of people to present at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  Andrew Stadel has contacted me and I’ll be representing the elementary side of clotheslines.  

Recently, a teacher asked me if I regretted taking the position.   I don’t live a life of regret.  I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done. My work has never been about me.  It’s been about the teachers and the students.  To see teachers smiling and invigorated by new strategies has been a thrill.  To see students engaged and excited to do different activities and lessons was amazing.  And to see my work being talked about via Twitter or this blog has been fulfilling.  Finally, if I didn’t take this position 2 years ago, I wouldn’t  have had the stories and experiences I can talk about now.  None of this would exist.  

I saw this at Target and it reminds me to be the best no matter where I go during this next chapter in my career.

 I’m just going to see where life takes me.  I am open to all possibilities and opportunities.    That’s all I can do.

Until next time,