Maybe Less Tech in Math and School?

I’m sipping hot sake while waiting for my food. I scan the restaurant, about half full already for an early Friday evening. Two kids are on their smartphones at the table with their parents. They don’t even look up as the waiter arrives to take their orders; I guess the parents already know what to order for them. At the next table, I see a young child sitting in his high chair and watching a video on a propped up smartphone. Nearly every kid in the restaurant is doing something on his/her phone. Never mind the adults.

This scene is all too familiar, too common — so common that it would be “odd” if we didn’t see this. And we’ve been seeing it for some time now.

I embrace technology like it’s the softest fluffiest stuffed animal. I need my laptop and cell phone — every goddamn thing is on them. (I still need a real book to read from, however, like this one that just came in the mail because the Internet said I should read it.)

But the restaurant scene is particularly jarring to me because I’ve always valued meal times as sacred, a time to say grace and connect, a time for storytelling, a time for pause and reflection. Dinner time is a time to be social. Ironically, our children are silent at the dinner table because they are on social media with 600 of their best friends. I’ve seen kids with earbuds on too while dining out with the family.

If children are plugged in at dinner time, then I’m going to assume that they are plugged in most of the time at home. This makes me wonder if schools should embrace less technology. I witness that we have over-digitalized everything, not because there was a critical consumer-ish need for it, but because we felt the weird need to do so. Recently, I tweeted this and meant every character.



We have an incredible privilege to reach our students in the space and time that we have them. I want them talking and interacting more than anything! Learning mathematics is a social endeavor. Here’s my perennial classroom routine, “Turn and talk with your neighbor.” I want to bring back the arts of speaking and listening, reading and writing, debating and presenting. Last week, Jennifer Wilson (you’re missing out if you haven’t heard Jennifer speak in person) wrote about how time is needed to develop MP3 in our students, “It takes time to determine the conditions for truth.”

I’m happy and grateful that technology is here to stay. But I hope we seek opportunities to connect more humanly.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , , | 12 Responses

Scoring an Ordered List

My 7th graders have a question on their exam that asks them to put eight numbers (integers and fractions) in order of their distance from 0 on the number line, starting with the smallest distance.

These types of questions are tricky for me to grade, and because there are eight numbers in this sequence, the task of grading it fairly suddenly becomes thorny and irksome.

Let’s change the question to this:

Put these numbers in order from least to greatest: 5, 7, 2, 3, 1, 4, 6, 8

The correct order is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (you’re welcome) — for a possible score of 8 points. How many points would this response earn?

1,  2,  4,  5,  3,  7,  8,  6

So, only the first two numbers — 1 and 2 — are placed correctly. Is the score just 2 out of 8 then? But I want to give some credit to 4 and 5 being next to each other, likewise with 7 and 8.

I’ve tried to come up with some metrics to score this, and then I would want to apply the same metrics to different sequences to see if any would break my invisible “fairness” barometer. For example, whatever score I came up with for the above sequence, I think the below sequence should get a lower score because the 7 and 8 are farther upstream than they should be.

Anyway, I have some ideas. The above two sets are Sets A and B below.

I wonder if there’s a way to score an ordered list that half of us math teachers can agree upon. I’d like for my students to think about this too. Meanwhile, here is a spreadsheet with my scores if you’d like to take a look and play along. Just enter your name in row 1 (and link your name to your Twitter, if you want) and the scores you’d assign to these sets.

[02/01/18: @MrHonner had a similar question over 4 years ago: Order These Things From Least to Greatest.)

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , , | 22 Responses

How I Use “Between Two Numbers”

I’m overwhelmed by the number of teachers who have asked how I use Between 2 Numbers (B2N) in my class. So this post is for all three of them and for anyone else who might be interested.

It has become one of our regular warm-up routines. (We do visual patterns and math talks, too. Duh.) Before I launched the site, I was just referring to this routine with my kiddos as a “tidbit.”

Take tidbit #5, for example. I ask three questions on Google Form, the first two are identical.

Question 1 is asking for a guess, an estimate, a gut check, a what-do-you-think.

Question 2 is the exact same question, except now, students are allowed to search the internet and use their calculator to figure out the answer. However, on a few of these entries — like #2 and #6 — I let kids know ahead of time that they may NOT search the internet but may still use their calculator. The reason is the internet readily provides the answer with a simple search.

Question 3 is always the same.

When about two-thirds of the responses have come in, I then make an announcement that I’m setting a timer for two (or so) more minutes. When the timer goes off, I ask for all students to please submit their form.

I show the class their guesses for Question 1.

In their math journals, we go over the calculations to get to the answer. Then, I reveal their responses to Question 2. (Thank goodness this class had done well on this question. On others, not so great and some downright dismal results, yup, my kids need more practice working with ratios and using the calculator.)

The site has allowed us to:

  1. Learn some fun facts
  2. Explore large numbers, imagine the magnitude of these numbers relative to other large numbers
  3. Work with scientific notation and use the [EE] key on the calculator
  4. Work with equivalent ratios

We have a friendly competition among the four classes (two 7th-grade classes and two 8th-grade classes). One of the students suggested this scoring scheme, and it’s what we use: 3 points for the class with the highest percentage, 2 points for second place, 1 point for third, and the 0 for the lowest.

Of course, Jules Bonin-Ducharme (@jboninducharme) is responsible for translating all the entries into French! (You just need to hover your mouse over the section links near the top to see the entries in French.)

I hope you can find some time to try this with your kiddos, and I’d love to hear how it goes.

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Send Doughnuts

I had a wonderful time working with a roomful of teachers over two days at my Grassroots Workshops last week. During a morning break, I talked with a teacher who was concerned about not being able to reach all her kids, that there was a handful of students who were failing the course, and that she’d tried everything. I said, “But you are reaching the other 25 or 30 kids in your class.” She said, “Please tell my principal that.”


Dear Principal,

Your teachers are working really really hard at this thing called teaching. The role of a teacher is not unlike that of a parent. And if you’re not a parent, then think of being a neurosurgeon or an astrophysicist, being a parent is way harder than that.

It’s practically guaranteed that your teachers have not reached all their students today. But, there is tomorrow and the day after that. Please remember that Teacher A in room 23 may not have reached all her students in the academic sense, but she smiled and said hello to Melissa, gave Joey a granola bar and Jake a sharpened pencil, laughed at Amanda’s joke.

Your teachers need your implicit trust and continued support to thrive. Show them you have their back and give them feedback frequently, but wrap each feedback in kindness, empathy, and humor. This makes all the difference in whether or not they want to show up for work tomorrow.

Some years ago, I had a principal who asked me the same question more than once, like he forgot or didn’t hear my answer the first time. He asked, “Fawn, how do you motivate kids?” I replied, “I don’t know. If I knew the answer, I’d write a book and make millions and quit teaching.” Now that I think about this, clearly he thought I’d given him the wrong answer, therefore he had to ask me again in hoping that I’d learned something over the course of two weeks.

Before I became a parent, I judged all parents. You’re a horrible parent because your child is a brat and disrespectful. It’s your fault that your spoiled kid is ungrateful and entitled. What a loser of a parent you are that your kid fails half of her classes and makes all sorts of excuses while doing so. You must be a bigger asshole than the little asshole you’re raising.

Then, I gave birth to three kids. At one time or another, honestly, more like an extended period of where’s-the-goddamn-light-at-the-end-of-this-tunnel, my own flesh and blood were disrespectful, ungrateful, entitled, jerks, assholes, whiny, rude, arrogant, mean, neurotic.

But, if you had said any of these things about my kids to my face, I’d probably stab you with a fork. I’m equally defensive as I’m protective. Until you walk in my shoes, you have no right to judge me. I’ve been a teacher longer than I’ve been a parent. One role blended into the other.

When an administrator makes a statement or asks a question to imply that his teachers are not working hard enough, it unravels the trust like pulling on a loose thread of yarn. Sure, there’s ineffective hard work, but it’s hard work nonetheless. Teachers want pretty much anything and everything to help us do a better job, but this advice or suggestion cannot come at a cost of making us feel any smaller and more unappreciated.


Dear Principal,

Please stop being evaluative, start being helpful and send doughnuts.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , , | 3 Responses

Green Olives

My 7th graders are working on “percentages of” problems currently, and late last night, I saw this problem on one of Don Steward’s handouts.

There are 75 olives, 40% of which are green. I eat some of the green olives until 10% of the olives that remain are green. How many green olives did I eat?

How would you solve this?

I solved it using algebra. Then, immediately, I thought, Fawnzie, since when do you use algebra to solve stuff like this. C’mon, do your rectangles.

I think of 40% as 2 of 5 boxes.

So, 75 olives must split into 5 groups of 15, so there are 30 green olives.

Then, I ate some olives to end up with only 10% of the remaining olives are green.

Well, since I didn’t eat any of the 45 black olives, so these 45 must make up 90% of the olives remaining [in the 9 boxes], so 45 must split into 9 groups of 5.

Oh, look! I began with 30 green olives, I now only have 5 green ones left, so I must have eaten 25 of them.

Okay, your turn.

There are 80 olives, 75% of which are green. I eat some of the green olives until 20% of the remaining olives are green. How many green olives did I eat?

Because if I tried to show my kids the work below, or versions thereof, a few might just shit in their pants.


Posted in Algebra, Course 2 (7th Grade Math) | Tagged , , , | 10 Responses

Global Math Week Starts on October 10, 2017

It was the summer of 2012 when I talked my colleagues, Erin and Melissa, into signing up for a week-long training in Palo Alto, California, to start a new Math Teachers’ Circle (MTC) program in our area.

It was there that I first learned about Exploding Dots from Diana White, an associate professor from the University of Colorado Denver. Diana said that Exploding Dots was developed by James Tanton — and I recognized his name instantly because I have his book Solve It and have seen many of his great videos online.

Exploding Dots is way fun! It was like playing a game [with an exploding dot machine] that became more and more challenging, and this machine invited us to make connections and explore different algorithms. And when we got to explore a fractional base, my mind was blown. Of course, we wanted to share Exploding Dots immediately at our first MTC, so here’s Nate Carlson, one of the leaders at our site, facilitating the session back in September 2012.


If you’re not familiar with Exploding Dots, you want to get in on this!

And this brings me to the Global Math Project (GMP)! Founded by James Tanton, Raj Shah, Brianna Donaldson, and others, the GMP is launching its first Global Math Week, starting this October 10, 2017. Its goal is to do what the Hour of Code did for coding, but for mathematics. The goal is to reach 1,000,000 students across the globe to do Exploding Dots! (Over half a million students in over 100 countries have already registered!)

Please register and join me and my 130 students in grades 7 and 8 to experience this wonderful and joyous content of Exploding Dots!

Posted in General, Problem Solving | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response

Upcoming Grassroots Workshop in December

I’m super excited to announce my upcoming Grassroots Workshops event being held on Friday, December 8 and Saturday, December 9. It’s the first time that I get to spend TWO FULL DAYS sharing math teaching, math learning, and math awesomeness with teachers.

So, if you teach mathematics (grades 6-12), please-please consider signing up! Registration does not open until October 16, but I know requests for funds can take time, and you’d want to ask before your school’s budget goes to curriculum X and supplies Y that may end up collecting dust in storage land!

Even if you live in Brussels or Shanghai, you should still try to make it because Disneyland is less than 3 miles away from the hotel. Yup! So, bring your whole family and make a vacation out of it. :)

I’m still in the classroom full-time, and this year I’m teaching Math 7, Math 8, and Coding. I feel your pain. Yes, we work too hard for too many long hours. Yes, we grade papers while we scoop dinner onto our face. We have the most neglected bladders of all humankind. We lie sleepless at night because we want to find a better way to explain concept A to Johnny and build math confidence in Mary. And I share your joy. If teaching mathematics is not a joyful profession for you, then maybe we can talk about that. We need to talk about that. Our failure is not here to shame us, it’s there to remind us to seek smarter and kinder ways to operate.

I’m truly hoping that you’ll come away from the two days inspired and motivated to make your classroom the best that it can be for all the math learners in your care.

If you sign up using this link — — then we’ll email you a pre-sale link to register before the general public and a discount code.

This is an incredible opportunity for me, and I’d be honored to share the learning with you.

Posted in General, Teaching | Tagged , , | 3 Responses

Between 2 Numbers

I created a new site, it’s called Between 2 Numbers.

From the About/Contact page:

The inspiration for this site came from John Allen Paulos’ book Innumeracy. I read the book back in 2008, but reading it again this past summer reignited the inspiration and turned it into fruition. In my lesson plan spreadsheet, I started a column of “tidbits” to share with my students; it’s filled with mathematical fun facts, latest news, and stuff you see on here. I teach middle school mathematics, and ratios and proportional reasoning make up large portions of the curriculum, so I’m always comparing stuff, like tossing my flipflop onto this big Danish clog while visiting Solvang, CA, and wondering how big or tall the person wearing such clogs would have to be.

My goal is to have at least 40 entries to match the number of school weeks.

I would love to hear how you would use the site with your students and any other feedback.

And I hope your school year is off to a great start. I get to teach 7th and 8th-grade math this year. We’re on a block schedule for the second year now, and I’m getting used to it. Be well and teach well, my friends!

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Responses

All I Got on Classroom Management

Not enough people write about classroom management in a practical and realistic way. But this does! Helpful tips.

— Michael Pershan (@mpershan) August 9, 2017

Classroom management is hard, and what’s “practical and realistic” for one person could be entirely impractical and unrealistic for someone else to follow. Take a math lesson taught successfully at a parochial school in a class of 12 students wearing uniforms and bring it into an inner-city public school in a class of 37 students wearing skins in shades of brown, black, and yellow, and you might find that you need to tweak the lesson a bit.

You and I are two different people. You and I are two different teachers. What irks me may not even faze you. You and I can tolerate different ranges of decibels emitting from classroom activities. You like foldables, and I like baguettes.

Your students are different than mine. The humans in our classrooms are fussy and demanding and moody and social and shy and are constantly muttering under their breath I-hate-this-shit. Good luck with that lesson on factoring trinomials.

Therefore, any advice on classroom management is making huge assumptions about who you are, what your students are like, and what your admins had for breakfast. I don’t blame you if after reading a how-to book on classroom management, and you feel stuck at step 4 below.

Unfortunately, the final step of “add small details” is what you must do — like practice, fail, practice, fail, shit, practice, shit, fail again — in the classroom!

No book is gonna help you master this thing. I’m sorry. You don’t become a chef by reading cookbooks. You just gotta go into the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, make a big mess, and voila boeuf bourguignon! Or not.

But before you accuse me of writing a post that is completely useless and unhelpful, please allow me to offer just these three tidbits.

Observe your colleague.

Intentionally schedule a time when you may come in to observe a colleague whom you hold in high regard and whom you may ask a thousand follow-up questions. It’s equally important that this colleague reciprocates the observation and gives you constructive feedback. Most likely you know this colleague better than you know any author of some book, and of course, you two share pretty much the same clientele. For optimal efficiency, and if possible, choose a time when your colleague has the same students who seem to be giving you trouble. Kids act differently for different teachers.

Know what you absolutely value above all things.

For me, it’s respect. Not just respect for me the teacher, but respect for all of us in the room. I don’t always handle this gracefully when disrespect unveils itself in my room because it tops my list of all things that make Ms. Win go ape-shit crazy. But because I know this about myself, and being proactive always yields better results than being reactive, I tell my kids of my zero-tolerance for disrespect from the get-go. I say, “I need you to be respectful. That’s the only way we are going to get along in here. Before we can do any mathematics or have any fun in here, we are going to be respectful to each other.” And may God give me the grace to apologize when I am being disrespectful to my students. I find that doughnuts help them forgive me quicker.

Separate the behavior from the child.

We know this already. But there are adult assholes out there. My hypothesis is that we teachers — and parents and society at large — have allowed the adorable children in our care to morph into assholes without effective intervention. What happened? I don’t know exactly, but I do know that we tend to let misbehaviors slide for fear of hurting the kid’s feeling or that it’s not the best time to deal with it. Well, I always try to immediately find the time and will immediately tell a kid that her actions/words are not okay because while the humans are young, their behaviors are especially removed from their true selves. I’m reprimanding the behavior, but I’m keeping the kid. Being a parent for 22 years and a teacher for 26, I conclude that children are highly manipulative. Not because they think it’s a desirable trait, but because they can’t drive and have no income, being manipulative is their survival mode of choice.

A few years ago I was sitting in the lodge at CMC-North in Asilomar when someone recognized me from my Ignite talk and came over to chit chat. He was lamenting the frequency in which his students were asking to use the restroom pass. I asked some related questions to learn more before I realized that he wasn’t lacking classroom management skills as much as just lacking a good lesson.

So, there’s that, step 0 as I call it — find that great math task.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , | 12 Responses

Long Live the #MTBoS!

Dan Meyer is calling for the retirement of the hashtag #MTBoS. He’s suggesting and going with #iteachmath or #iteachmaths instead.

I get it. I get it that #iteachmath means I TEACH MATH. I get it that #MTBoS could mean anything. I get it that Dan’s intention is no more than to simply make the math community more inviting and inclusive. After all, Dan is among the first handful of math bloggers who helped transform my teaching, and he continues to inspire and challenge my craft. I’m grateful for Dan’s work.

What I don’t get is folks saying #MTBoS is exclusive and alienating and cliquish.

This kind of statement actually hurts my feelings, like someone just said something negative about my children without ever having met them. I feel hurt and insulted because the #MTBoS that I am grateful to be a part of and the people who are in it are anything but “alienating” and “cliquish.”

That’s because I know of the ENORMOUS amount of TIME, WORK, and LOVE that had been poured into making #MTBoS what it is today.

Don’t know what #MTBoS is? Please start here:

When you’re done there, please see here:

It takes ONE click to learn what #MTBoS is.

Anna Vance’s tweet exactly expresses how I feel.


Posted in Teaching | Tagged | 32 Responses