The Time of a Learner

“The only journey is the journey within.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

During this time the world seems to be shut down and locked in place, the desire for personal learning has simultaneously stricken me as a pathway through learning and growing together. In other words, the intersection of space and time becoming more available and the desire to learn have become proper subsets during this time. And the process goes a little deeper than that for this as well and begins the first time I am processing this in writing and publicly.

I struggle with bouts of depression and a paranoid feeling that at any moment everyone will find that I am a fraud. Couple these feelings with a perpetual feeling that 9 out of 10 times I say something it is generally disregarded or misunderstood, and you start to unravel the ball of internal monologue inside my head on any given moment of any given day. When I was younger, I would bury these thoughts and feelings, sometimes relying on less than healthy alternatives to self medicate. As an adult, I have found many healthier avenues to channel, but the struggle varies day to day. I share this now because after a long time of battling various stages of these things, one of the healthiest signs for me is the desire to learn, a strong passionate desire to quench a deep seated need to understand, that I haven’t felt in a long, long time.

Laying these embarrassing stories out there, writing them to be open is a very, very hard thing for me to do. Just to give an example, publishing a video on YouTube is pretty rare for me, especially videos that I’m in or highlight some element of a lesson. Although I have recently been cleaning out my digital closest, publishing that content would never have happened a few months ago, and I have published a few videos already. And while these paragraphs were not the intent of this post, I am interested in following these lines down the rabbit hole a little further.

In short, with so much happening and with so much being uncertain and unclear in this pandemic state, one thing has become certain: The Time of the Learner has dawned. And with that, for me, the hope of tomorrow has never felt brighter. Finally, speaking of hope, I have created a YouTube Playlist with that title, the idea is if you have a video that provides you with hope, add it to the list to inspire others, my choice was a wonderful feature on Gabriele Grunewald, and if you don’t know who she is then watch the video because she’s inspiring.

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20191202 Creation Sharing

Welcome Back!

After a few years and many struggles to find the time, the commitment, and the many barriers of attempting to get back to blogging I am happily returning to this mode for processing, sharing, and learning.

Onward, Upward

In the spirit of repackaging for usability, I want to share a collection of tools over the coming weeks to help make navigating resources a lot easier for those looking for specific resources.

Sharing is Caring!

Each image below is linked to a clickable PDF with highlighted resources available based on a graphical basis. Please share, enjoy, and help make this better.

2018-05-19 Simi Performance Task Clickable Resource

Math Resource - 3 Act Tasks

Math Resource - Fraction



20180221 A Reflection on Leadership

If you would have asked me a year ago how important is leadership I would have thought it was important but I wouldn’t have thought it was as important as my journey shows me now.

Leadership is THE change that makes the difference. If you want to affect change you have to leverage leadership.

Simon Sinek helps me understand what a leader is and how it is connected to ones leadership needs to be connected to ones why.

Hamish Brewer helps me to realize that change is slow and challenging, but we must be #relentless. Developing a mentality that is like a gang. We need to be #allin. “How are you going to be better for students today? Tomorrow?”

Adam Welcome showed me how to be better for kids because they deserve our best everyday. #kidsdeserveit #noexcuses. Adam also showed and inspired me through his relentless running to not be afraid to #getyours.

Cori Orlando has taught me the power of being able to #failforward, to stretch and be sticky with your sharing of learning, and pushing yourself to be better despite being uncomfortable.

Jon Corippo has taught me how being tenaciously inspiring and leading through empowering others and challenging them others to step up and be the example.

There are many, many others that added pieces to this story. I know my brain often hurts from thinking about all this, it’s addicting like a challenging problem in nonlinear dynamics it’s hard to see a solution as you are seeing pieces to the puzzle and you know it will lead to something beautiful but the journey is long, hard, and ongoing.

20171218 The Power of Visual Models

A Twitter friend (I cannot recall at time of posting) posted this problem out for others to solve and/or showcase how to explain how to solve it for students.


As I love problem solving and those sorts of challenges, I jumped on this to make sense of the problem and to see if I could offer some assistance….well, I was trying my usually algebraic approach to solving this problem and I was getting answers that were either negative or didn’t follow the ratio rule embedded in the problem. So I know my answer was incorrect, but I was failing to see the problem.

Reading the problem, like actually reading the last sentence (I sound like our students) and describing what was being asked, I changed how I was thinking about the problem, and that unlocked a completely different way of seeing the problem. Being able to solve it in a few moves, it made me smile that my learnings should have pointed me this way, but I needed to attend to the reading of the problem and I was stuck in a loop and didn’t think about solving other ways….a good reminder that if we get stuck, doing the same thing and expecting different results is silly.


With Christmas break upon us, I have the opportunity to learn, explore, and reflect as we move forward into the new year.

20171211 #MyWhy

A moment of joy. I have found through this recent journey a way to make sense of my learnings and I am so excited because amazing people in my PLN that I care about are on their own similar journeys and I want to share their stories in parallel to my own.

100 words

A dear PLN and active #MathConceptions friend has been honored as a finalist for teacher of the year (TOTY) and created a challenge for other teachers to follow.

In 100 words, describe why you love teaching and this is my response.

I love teaching because it allows caring adults to positively interact through meaningful relationships to empower the next generation into being better humans by igniting curiosity, fostering empathy, and being mindful of others.

6 Word Sentence

An incredible individual that inspires me daily created this independently and concurrently, further evidence of the awesomeness. So here is my best attempt so far at my 6-word teaching sentence on my why.

Foster better relationships to ignite curiosity.


My own call to action is to share my personal truth through a graphic organizer that Simon Sinek coined the #GoldenCircle and I want to see like-minded individuals to take up the cause and make their own with #MyWhy.

My Why

2017-12-04 Learning

Recently, I have been growing and learning in many, many areas, while I was preparing for CMC North, I revisited some ideas and found a rabbit hole that is so very deep. The pathway within this rabbit hole led by Simon Sinek’s famous Ted Talk about starting with your why,  and connected to a variety of other things.

Here are my current learnings

  1. Numberless Word Problems (Brian Stockus)
  2. Clothesline Math (Chris Shore, Andrew Stadel, and Kristen Acosta)
  3. How does a wimpy, nice guy become an inspirational leader (Simon Sinek & others)
  4. #Relentless and #ALLIN and #NoExcuses #RunLAP (Hamish Brewer and Adam Welcome)
  5. Many other smaller avenues…

I am searching for how this all might fit together, the journey of understanding, of growing, of becoming, and realizing I just need to be a little better today than I was yesterday.

2017-11-27 CM-C You There

I am excited about being able to represent the amazing Cue organization at California Math Council CMC as I have been honored to be a speaker on mathematics and technology. My 90-minute session was selected too late to make it into the actual printed version, but I was on the app schedule.

Last year, I was able to present with three other amazing educators Lindsey Blass, Fawn Nguyen, and Ed Campos. Having to go solo was a different adventure, and I got to meet some amazing math people, many of whom I know from Twitter as part of my amazing PLN. Overall, it is such a bucket filler, being surrounded by math geeks doing math PD is amazing fun.

2017-11-20 Performance Anxiety

Although we started this journey to improve our district’s abysmal SBAC scores, we were really searching for ways students could learn. This is an abridged version of our story to this date.

I believe that we, the teachers, want what is best for kids and are trying our hardest to make that happen. Extra duties and other difficulties are thrown in our way that makes it very challenging.

I, as a math coordinator, never want to run a professional development that either adds more to teachers’ plates or worse, is a waste of their time. and that gives rise to this week’s full disclosure from the vantage point of several weeks hindsight. From the perspective of the teachers I serve, I have failed in this regard.

In the effort of full transparency, I am going to share all from this point forward, the uncomfortable, the successes and the failures, and I hope that like-minded folks will pull together to help us all get better together.

Here’s the situation: Our district scores on standardized testing have been in the toilet (no sugar coding) and I take full ownership as the leader of mathematics in my district.

The structure our team created through their hard work and vision was built out to look like the following:

  1. Give students a performance task cold, teachers record data to how students are doing across metrics we hope to inspire (think developing grit).
  2. We meet on our PLN time, share out trends we are noticing, and build instructional strategies to improve student learning.
  3. Teachers return to classrooms and instruct students using strategies to help students improve learning and develop grit.
  4. We are focusing on this idea of fostering productive struggle, as part of developing grit.
  5. After a few weeks, we come together to attend a couple of classrooms and observe what students do on the performance task, as we attempt to see if our work is giving students better access to the content.
  6. We collect data from observations to refine, redefine, and improve for next round.

These were the professional development moments that I shared to assist, support, and reinforce this structure

  1. The dry run of the performance task (first-time students see task) was the first week of September.
  2. We calibrated our learning a week later, most teachers picked CUBES as their strategy to teach students. (Our initial kickoff PD is here.)
  3. From mid-September until mid-October teachers taught CUBES when we met again. Bringing the game to the next level, we explored this article that Jon Corippo had recently reminded me of. I wanted teachers to use a research-based strategy, together with the article strategy, were the focus of this meeting. To help ensure teachers committed to implementation I also asked them to book a mentor teacher, or myself, to view their instruction of the strategy they chose. (This PD is here.)
  4. I failed to communicate the timing, so no teachers gave the second dry run.
  5. Enter Hamish Brewer and my journey changed, this video inspired me to want to change the conversations that are happening around us.
  6. So our third meeting, I went #ALLIN to become #RELENTLESS (Our PD is here.)
  7. The teachers asked at this point for a lesson on what productive struggle looks like in the classroom. So when we had our PD day on 11/20, I was asked to put up or shut up.
  8. The lesson I created for 7th graders is embedded in our PD slides from that same day, it is here.

The results from the day are shown in teachers reflections from our day. (For context, light yellow is <4, or unacceptable grade in my book.)

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 9.38.06 AM

And suggestions from the teachers

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 9.38.47 AM.png

There are some valid points here, and the teachers didn’t feel that I delivered on what they needed to see what productive struggle looks like in the classroom. In addition, the setup for how to plan in the afternoon did not meet their needs. In short, I had violated my biggest decree, that any PD I give is not a waste of teachers time, and I empower them with something better than before they arrived. This post is not a pity party, but a moment to reflect on mission statement, and role as a leader. I failed my team, I cannot accept that as a result.

What might I learn? How might I pick myself up and move forward? How might I inspire in them what I know that they are capable of (which is greater than what kids are currently getting)?

These are the questions that I am working on now, I can’t fail, like Hamish says, the mission of our students learning is too important, their futures…no, our futures depend on us being successful.

2017-11-13 A Perfect Instructional Storm

There are challenges in your life as an educator that let you know you have really grown. Recently I had an opportunity to really challenge myself, learn, and grow.

Let’s set the stage.

  1. Let’s start with 71 fifth graders eagerly awaiting me like a school of pirañas.
  2. Let me decide to teach this on a Friday afternoon, before a 3 day weekend.
  3. I’ll time it so students have been on a morning field trip for half the day.
  4. I’ll choose two of most challenging topics that has not been seen by students before this lesson.
  5. Having chosen two of the hardest learning targets for the grade level, now I’ll present them both simultaneously.
  6. Oh, this is fractions and word problems together, and did I mention they haven’t seen either yet.
  7. Now, let’s add in some classroom disruptions built into the mix, so half the students will leave and come back in at random times for a play tryouts.
  8. The lesson plan calls for 90 minutes, essentially the second half of the students day.
  9. Did I mention there are 71 sugar filled 5th graders on the Friday afternoon before their first 3 day weekend in over 2 months attempting to tackle difficult material they haven’t seen yet…ok.


Now the stage is set for the challenges before me and I am excited about the opportunity.  So what I have in my arsenal are three key weapons: 1. Notice Wonder 2. Numberless Word Problems 3. Relationships


My lesson starts out with a series of short animations (too fast in hindsight) showing the algorithm and a visual model for 5.NF.2. Students write a NoticeWonder statement, then pair share. Students will repeat this process four times, with the same videos (which is why I made them fast animations), each pass getting more specific with the content they are meant to pull out. I am testing if students can tell me how the algorithm works without me saying anything about it, and I am also testing if they can replicate the process with minimal instruction. I learned the animations were too fast to make this an accurate test, so I do not know yet.


Although I had a word problem to go through as well, as I was circulating and listening to student responses, I made decision to dive into their understanding of the algorithm. In general, we are attacking their understanding of fractional relationships with unlike denominators. Utilizing various visual models to aid this understanding, we had a great discussion about the various pieces, using pizza as an analogy because 100% of 5th graders love pizza.

Having students start with an agreement that two pizzas are identical, so this is our unit. Now the number of slices we cut the pizza into is our denominator, these are the equal sized groups. The numerator is how many slices we have left of the pizza. Students relate to this understanding because they have a context around it. The next question usually gets them, “Can we add these two pizzas with different sized slices together?”


After some discussion, the students agreed we could add them together, but we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the tray evenly since the slices were different sizes. Which brings context to why we need to find a common denominator, we’re just trying to make the pizza slices the same size. We can do this by cutting up the pizza slices from one size into as many slices as we made in the other and vice versa. For example, in our problem we had pizza A with 4 slices and pizza B with 7 slices, so each remaining slice of pizza A was cut into 7 equal sized slices and each remaining slices of pizza B was cut into 4 equal sized pieces.


We were at the point that around 65% of students were understanding the content of the above paragraph, and of that group 80% could tell us why the numerators also changed, and why the number was bigger. One student was rocking the denominator early, still had trouble with the numerator piece specifically, her strength is in the numerical understanding, not the visual model, so it’ll be interesting to bridge that gap with her. The great thing is you could see her making sense of the problem, and it bothered her it wasn’t clicking yet….I’ll be anxious to see what she uncovers.


Although, I didn’t get to the actual word problem, we had a wonderful conversation, and the students given the tremendous hurdles were highly engaged in the discussion. I was quite happy with the turnout, and I already know a couple of things that would make the lesson so much better. Five years ago, if you’d told me I was teaching a lesson with the setup mentioned, I’d thought you were crazy, but this is evidence of growth, maturing and understanding of how learners engage with content. All that to say, so much of this learning comes from being connected, both in my district and to my PLN, that make this a great learning experience.

P.S. My lesson in PDF format is here.

2017-11-06 Three Huge Tasks and a Lesson

The culmination of this past week has seen three huge events come to pass and a wonderful lesson series.

Event 1. The Central California Youth Summit.


Event 2. CVCue STEAM Learning Experience


Event 3. My 2nd Marathon of the Year (PR again)


And the lesson. Using personal experience with Numberless Word Problems, diamond paper, and Notice Wonder to make learning sticky.


2017-10-30 Fall Cue Review

Thursday was an incredibly long day, I arrived at work an hour early for some awesome co-planning and co-teaching of a lesson in 7th grade mathematics. After rocking the long day at work, I changed clothes at work before heading to another city to teach an induction class in content specific (mathematics) to secondary teachers. Although I love learning with new teachers, on this day, with another four hour drive ahead, I was a little apprehensive. The class flew by and it was time to hit the road, time for my secret weapon…my wife had chosen to go with me, and she promised to drive. Now you may think I probably went to sleep after a 13 hour day and now a long drive, but I also had a Twitter chat #MathConceptions to plan for on Monday, which is what I did on the drive up.

Luckily the drive flew by as it turned into one endless streak of lights. Before long we were at the hotel and less than five minutes after check in, I was asleep. The next morning came early, but the excitement of going to Fall Cue was too much to hold me back. My buckets are in desperate need to be refilled, and the amazing folks here are my bucket fillers.

Before the opening keynote, I found the amazing, incredible Karly Moura who offered to share a spot with me, I am so blessed to have these amazing folks in my #PLN. The opening key note with Brad Montague was so empowering and just really set a beautiful tone for the next two days. A perfect example of this chat and how it speaks to me may be found at my friend, Cori Orlando‘s amazing blog here.

Cori, Bill, and I were given the opportunity to be social media representatives for Fall Cue, which meant we had a charge to highlight the amazing things happening at Fall Cue, and share those things with the world…so, you know, no pressure…I certainly didn’t have a breakdown and eat tons of chocolate at every chance…ok, you got me, I am guilty, I’m a chocoholic and any excuse will work. I could spend months talking about the amazing sessions I had the opportunity to witness, but the two I’ll highlight quickly were Karly and Kelly‘s Flipgrid session and Laura Nielsen and Bill Selak‘s Problem Investigators which pushed first graders through a powerful process to investigate and learn about real world problems through solution seeking ways.

All that to say, it is the people of Fall Cue that make the experience, having so many passionate and amazing educators in one place makes the possibilities for what we can do to change the state of education for the betterment of all students so uplifting. Thank you to all who helped make this event possible and for all who let me share their world this weekend. It was so powerful. And like how Brad opened with the perfect message an incredible educator, Pernille Ripp, closed out the event in a powerful, meaningful, and authentic way. I didn’t know Pernille before this moment, and I’m so much better because I can say I know her now.

2017-10-23 3 Lessons to Creating Student Authors of Mathematics

A series of three lessons that sparks curiosity, inspires learning, and promotes literacy.

Diving into a connected series of lessons this week, I am trying my first rep at creating students who are authors of their learning in mathematics. The lesson series is the culminating process of three areas of mathematics innovation I have learned from Brian Stockus’ (@bstockus) Numberless Word Problems, Chris Shore’s (@MathProjects) Clothesline Math, Annie Fetter’s (@MFAnnie) #NoticeWonder, and mathematical literacy. Similar to app smashing, putting these pieces together made sense to me, so last school year, I created this series of lessons around 3.OA.4, a problem our girls were having a hard time with at the time this series was created. Through this process, our girls formalized their thinking, and became masters of their understanding here.

As with most learning experiences, I wanted to start the girls with a #NoticeWonder experience, but I needed a problem to build this around. The right problem makes a big difference in getting exhausted students with negative mathematics experiences to begin the journey anew. The Frameworks for California Mathematics for third grade provided an excellent pseudo context to build the problem around, when I found this example, I knew I was on to something.

Two things that made this problem stand out:

1. The problem has a feminine hero, powerful for learners to identify themselves in the role of the main hero.

2. The problem has monkeys, who does not love monkeys, so interest factor immediately built in.

Although I had the problem in hand, the problem was too manufactured, it lead straight to the problem, and students could access, or they cannot. About this time, I had discovered Brian Stockus’ Numberless Word Problems, I loved, loved, loved this approach to inviting students into the learning, and this seemed like a natural fit. Stripping the problem down to build up to an open ended prompt, the natural fit for this process was a #NoticeWonder approach. I went one step further, using a strategy similar to my use of the Fraser model, called a Diamond Paper that Dr. Boaler introduced to our learning cohort of improvement specialists. The one sided paper is now two sided, with the problem solution on one and the #NoticeWonder problem on the back.

For each passage, students write a #NoticeWonder statement, then share with their partner, then share out whole class. This slow process grows in complexity each time. And with a couple of reps under my belt now, I am not surprised that students will proudly proclaim the answer to the Frameworks problem usually around the third time we #NoticeWonder, which provides immediate satisfaction, but isn’t the center stage of learning.

The 4 statements I created for this problem are:

Once students are through this process, they create a question from their #NoticeWonder statements. The range of questions if usually interesting, but this is their first rep at doing this process. Next, the students share their created questions with their partners, and then their group. I then have them flip their sheet over, and they must synthesize their questions together, or create a new question that the whole group is going to answer. After a few moments, the group shares out their questions, I project them and write them down by group, and this is their second and third reps. Finally, we, as a class, synthesize these questions down into one more question, we all write down in our diamond on the flipped side.

Once students have their question, the students go about solving our problem. Having usually done this in pieces, this week I got a chance to attempt this part and it took a whole two hours for students to get through these pieces, including the solutions. I will note that the students were with me the entire time, and we did do a couple of brain breaks (a stretching routine and a couple of GoNoodle sing and stretches). The great thing was one student stopped me and said, “This is so great, I wish we could do it everyday.” I asked her what about the process she liked and she said it was the writing…I know, these students liked to write about the mathematics. Another good note, the teacher said after she returned from taking the students to the bus that several of the students told her that their brains hurt, and they knew that that meant they were learning – we are a growth mindset district and that’s the power of harnessing the work that Dr. Jo Boaler and others are doing.

The next day is our short day, the second lesson is a kinestetic activity for students, and to test if the learning from the previous day actually stuck. A bonus from the previous day, I lucked out that one of the students started solving the class problem with a number line and that made for a natural opener. So I started with a picture of this students work and I ask the students to #NoticeWonder again (I loved when the student recognized his work was being highlighted). Moving into modeling what the students are going to do, the teacher, a student, and myself all worked together to model it. We had less that 30 minutes to launch this problem, with almost five minutes before the students left for the day, the students were launched on their task. It was an amazing flurry of using jump ropes and paper tents to sequence the numbers. There were three blank tents that students were asked to write the number they identify from the pattern. This uncovered some great misconceptions, as most students nailed the pattern, but made mistakes on writing the blank numbers. One group wrote had 0, 4, 8, 12, 16, 18, 24 and another group sequenced 0, 4, 5, 10, 12, 16, 24, do you see the misconceptions? Both mistakes are easily understandable in the context of the day, and both groups told me the pattern was counting by 4s.

Now the moment I was dying to know, I asked each group, “How might the pattern they sequenced be related to the problem we did yesterday?”

EVERY STUDENT could tell me that the number sequence represented the number of bananas and the number of cards represented the number of monkeys. Apparently the process and the sense making from the problem really, really stuck. And one student summed up this experience for everyone, “This is the funnest math thing yet!” I couldn’t help but think, “Wait until tomorrow my friends.”

The next day launched the newest addition to this family of lessons, I want the students to write an ebook about their own problem related to this problem sequence. We will start with a traditional paper style book, but I’d like to push this beyond to the point that students are creating a powerful learning experience for other students. The students were introduced to the book “written” by our girls when they were in third grade last year. I handed a copy of the book to each student and we read through it whole class. Many students noticed that the bulk of the book was the scaffolding sequence of sentences we #NoticeWonder about on the first day. As time was again limited on this process, I wanted to make sure we got exposure to the book idea and build the students excitement to diving into the writing process in another class meeting.

I am excited to dive into having students formally dive into writing their two books and how I might sequence out those pieces in detail. I do want students to write one book that is around the same content, and I’d like them to write another that is open to their hearts desire. I am not sure how to sequence all these pieces out yet, that is some careful thinking and sequencing I will need to do today to get ready for next week. Once students products are available, I will gladly share them here, and I’ll look forward to your responses.