One-Tweet Post

Because I can.

And because I really love the kid who wrote this on her test. I’ll call her G. She tells me more than once, “Ms. Win, I’m not good in math. I struggle a lot, but this is my favorite class because you’re my favorite teacher!”

G has a tough time paying attention in class. She is always digging around in her backpack looking for something — the way an adult looks for misplaced keys or wallet. I love her mom too who has big sections of her hair dyed pink plus some other neon colors. Mom chills out in my room after school on Mondays because that’s when I offer extra help to students, and G is made to attend. I like watching G and her mom put their heads together and work on the problems. Mom acts like a kid when she’s doing math, and I say that in the most heartwarming way.

Sometimes I think about what my students will do when they grow up. I think G will just be fabulous because she really doesn’t give a shit about what others think of her. It is true because it is true.

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Mental Math of 45 x 25

Wow. I suck at this #MTBoS30 thing.

Couple days ago I tweeted this out because my kids were working on the same one.


Thousands of folks — okay, maybe 7 or so people — responded, and I thought it’d be fun to see what some common and not-so-common strategies were.

Most common (22 people):

(40 x 25) + (5 x 25)


(4 x 25 x 10) + (5 x 25)

Second most common (11 people):

(45/4) x 100


(45/2)/2 x 100

Tied with 6 people for each strategy:

(45 x 100)/4

(45 x 2 x 10) + (45 x 5) = 900 + 225

Equally popular with 4 nods each:

(50 x 25) – (5 x 25)

(40 x $0.25) + (5 x $0.25) = $11.25 –> Change to 1125

4 quarters = $1 –> so 44 quarters $11 –> plus extra quarter = $11.25 –> so, 1125

Still others:

35² – 10²

(100 x 25)/2 – (5 x 25)

40 quarters + 5 quarters = 1,000 cents + 125 cents

(9 x 5) x (5 x 5) = 9 x 5³ = 9 x 125 = (10 x 125) – 125 = 1250 – 125

45² – (45 x 20) = 2025 – 900

25² + (20 x 25) = 625 + 500

doubling and halving: (45/2) x (25 x 2) = 22.5 x 50 = 11.25 x 100

And an area model from Mylene:

Yay to math tallks! Also, I think it’s really important that we are intentional about what numbers we give students for mental math. Jason Zimba once said, “Think of mental calculation as being the best approach only in cases where a readily apparent mental strategy is probably both faster and more reliable than the standard vertical written algorithm.”

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


Jean-Dominique Bauby was 43 when he suffered a massive stroke that resulted in “locked-in syndrome.” He was only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. This is his book.


And in truth I would have been pleased to trade my yellow nylon hospital gown for a plaid shirt, old pants, and a shapeless sweater — except that it was a nightmare to put them on. Or rather to watch the clothes manipulated, after endless contortions, over these uncooperative deadweight limbs, which serve me only as a source of pain.

Like the bath, my old clothes could easily bring back poignant, painful memories. But I see the clothing a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere.

And then one afternoon…, an unknown face interposed itself between us. Reflected in the glass I saw the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde. His mouth was twisted, his nose damaged, his hair tousled, his gaze full of fear. One eye was sown shut, the other goggled like the doomed eye of Cain. For a moment I stared at that dilated pupil, before I realized it was only mine.

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Jerks, Brats, Nincompoops

I write and speak often about how much I love my students and teaching mathematics.

Mathematics and problem solving were love at first sight for me; I’ve loved these things as a kid growing up. But students and teaching were acquired love; I had to get a teaching credential and meet the students before I could grow to love both.

But this post isn’t about love at all really because in all honesty I don’t love all my students all the time.

It’s spring time, almost progress report time for the last quarter, and the 8th graders at our K-8 school are itching to leave the campus where they’d spent the last 9 years. Our 7th graders are uniquely a rough bunch — something is amiss in their group dynamics. And our 6th graders behave like “squirrels on crack.”

Friends remark that I must have a lot of patience to be a teacher. I claim that because I need to reserve my patience for students, there’s not much I have left for adults. Grownups can piss off with their nonsense, I’m here for the kids.

But the kids can be jerks, brats, nincompoops. They can be manipulators, liars, bullies.

I believe there are actually good reasons why kids can act in any of the aforementioned capacities.

But I also don’t believe in making excuses for them. We must know at least one or two or a dozen adult assholes. Well, I don’t believe these folks became narcissistic a-holes overnight; instead they have been self grooming and unrepentant because the folks around them have made all sorts of excuses for them.

It might all be a timing issue. If we could just nail down the right time to say the right thing. Think about the times when we held our tongue to discipline a kid because we think he/she is too young. (Unfortunately the word “discipline” has gained an erroneous negative connotation when its original meaning from the Latin disciplina is teaching and learning.) Think about the times when we thought quietly or said aloud, “Oh, she didn’t mean it.”

I was in a store not long ago when a young child — he was still slightly unsteady on both feet — was allowed to hold a ceramic vase. I say “allowed” because his mom said to him, “Be careful with that, honey.” What do you think happened two minutes later? Yup, he dropped the fucking vase and shards of ceramic went fucking flying everywhere. The manager had to show up with a broom and a dustpan. Meanwhile the mom held her son tightly to her fake boobs to soothe him, “Oh, sweetheart, you didn’t mean to break it. That’s okay. This lady here will clean it up. You’re okay, baby. Everything is okay. I know you didn’t mean to…”

Jesus Christ. I wanted to smack the mother with the dustpan. If children cannot stand steadily on two feet, then they are probably not old enough to hold a fragile piece of anything. (And maybe I made up the bit about her boobs being fake.)

This post took a weird angry turn. Anyway, we need to love our kids — or get out of teaching if they are not our type — but let’s stop making excuses for them. Spring fever is not an excuse. Most of us are probably wrapping up or done with testing. If the students are truly “acting up” more at this time, then I wonder if they’ve picked up from us that we’re not really into “teaching” any more.

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Google Classroom

Falling behind on #MTBoS30 already!

Here’s my excuse.


Bonanza, Oregon


I’m loving Google Classroom. We have effectively gone nearly paperless by doing warm-ups, weekly PoWs, problem solving, almost anything and everything in Classroom. I appreciate the efficiency of organizing folders and the seamless integration with Google Drive. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m excited with how we’re using Classroom already.

I put a visual pattern in Google Draw for students to mark up the pattern and figure out the equation.


Visual Pattern #195 from


Visual Pattern #177 from

Students complete a Google doc for other warm-ups. Here’s one we just started today.



Students do PoWs (from NCTM The Math Forum) in Classroom, and I can give them feedback directly on there.


We save valuable class time by posting answers to textbook problems in Classroom.


You get the idea. I would love to learn how you use Classroom! Please share in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @fawnpnguyen.

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Tracy Zager’s New Book

[Posted earlier today on FB.]

Two plus years ago Tracy Zager contacted me for an interview about a post I’d written; she said she’d like to include parts of it in a book she was writing. Of course I was stupid with joy and honored. Then I got to meet Tracy in person at a math conference in 2014. Her warmth radiates wildly and affectionately. Then I got to be her designated live-tweeter for her ShadowCon talk the following year. But between our two face-to-face meetings, Tracy had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer fucked with the wrong woman. Tracy is grace and heart and badass. How blessed and honored I am to call her my friend.

Here is her beautiful book.


Expected publication in December 2016

I’ll be sure to remind you when it comes out. :)

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A Few Thoughts

A few questions and thoughts are bouncing around in my head this week.

What is computational thinking? How much of what my students are doing can be considered computational thinking? I like this related post from today. Hoping to talk a lot more about this after I’ve gathered more background and practice.

Many of our students needed a lot more time for the CAASPP than we’d allotted. Then their laptops keep booting them off the system, how does this affect their concentration and their will to finish the test?

[This problem is on my desk, so I cannot not see it. I got this problem from Michael Shaughnessy when I took his problem-solving course back in Portland, OR.] In medieval times, the inhabitants of a remote village decided to lock the village valuables in a giant chest to protect them from marauding thieves. They placed a number of locks on the chest, with each lock needing its own distinct key. For additional security, the villagers made sure that any three people from the village would always have among them the keys needed to open the locks, but no two people would have the keys to do it. How many locks are required, and how many keys?

What is the difference between cilantro and coriander? I’m having a quasi-argument with a friend about this. I think I should win this debate just because I’m Vietnamese and our dishes incorporate more herbs than any other culinary cultures I know of. (Btw, this is how you pronounce herbs — 0:51 to 0:57.)

I’d appreciate it if God could turn down the stress dial for me a bit. It’s set between MED and MED HIGH right now. But if I were a big pot of water, then I could take all the heat and then blow off steam. But I’m not. So I remember a joke Annie told me on Saturday and feel a bit better: “What did the blanket say when it fell off the bed? Oh sheet.”

Sometimes I wonder how I make it through the week. Then scrolling through my phone to see my son’s texts to me, I know how.


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Teacher Appreciation

Today I remember my 7th grade home economics teacher Mrs. Quiggle. Marge Quiggle. She was already old when she was my teacher. I didn’t speak a whole lot of English then, but I suppose one does not need to be well versed in the language to sew a sundress or make a baked Alaska. A couple of months ago I started sewing again, and I thought about Mrs. Quiggle a lot, how she made me press open every seam before continuing on.


Then there was Mr. Anderson. He was my 8th grade social studies teacher. I had a crush on him. I don’t know why because he was not particularly handsome. I worked extra hard to submit an extra awesome book report on Nigeria. Before I moved away (leaving Minnesota for Oregon), he gave me a picture of him standing next to his wife. Nobody cared about his wife of course, but he was my favorite.

Today I’m also reading my 6th graders’ responses to this warm-up. The answer is there are 30 days left of school.



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Joint Investment

Would you have known immediately that the number 1729 is the sum of two cubes?

You think you’re so smart, but you’re no Ramanujan. He told Hardy that 1729 is the sum of two cubes in two ways: 13+12and 93+103.

I read The Man Who Knew Infinity a few years ago. I might check out the movie when it hits a theatre near me. Like Netflix.


Also, I subjected my students to this 14-minute podcast about Hardy and Ramanujan.

One more “fair share” task for my 8th graders from Peter Liljedahl’s site because I like it and don’t want to work in the textbook as our students are taking the Smarter Balanced Tests this week.

Joint Investment

Six years ago you made an investment with a friend – you bought a house together. It wasn’t only an investment, it was also a favor. Your friend didn’t have a place to live and didn’t have enough money to buy a house. So, you pooled your money and bought a $300,000 house for your friend to live in. You provided $50,000 for the down payment and your friend provided $25,000. Because of the size of the down payment it meant that the mortgage was relatively low – only $1000 a month – which your friend paid. During the six years all property tax payment were split evenly between you as were all major renovations and upgrades. Well, it is now six years later and your friend is getting transferred to Ontario. So, you have sold the house for $500,000 (the market has been good to you). There is still $200,000 outstanding on the mortgage. How will you split the $300,000 equity between you? Justify your decision.

A couple of solutions thus far:



Posted in Math 8, Problem Solving | Tagged , , , , | 1 Response

The Shoe Sale

(On a side note, I’m not sure what I love more, my left foot or Google Classroom.)

This problem is from Peter Liljedahl’s site.

The Shoe Sale

You decide to take advantage of a buy 2 pair get 1 pair of equal or lesser value for free sale at the local shoe store. The problem is that you only want to get two pairs of shoes. So, you bring your best friend with you to the store. After much deliberation you settle on two pairs of shoes – a sporty red pair for $20 and a dressy black pair for $55. You friend finds a practical cross trainer for $35. When you proceed to the check out desk the cashier tells you that your bill is $90 plus tax (the $20 pair are for free). How much should each of you pay? Justify your decision.

Peter lists this problem under “Senior High School (10-12).” I give it to both my 6th and 8th graders. I like this problem because I like hearing how kids think about “fair sharing.” A few 6th graders think each person should pay $45. I don’t think these kids have too many friends. (That was mean.)


One of my 6th graders says one person should pay 2/3 of the $90 and the friend pays 1/3. But her answers are $59.40 and $29.60, respectively. My math says 2/3 of 90 is 60, so I call her up to explain. She has her calculator in hand, and I see her punch in .66 while mouthing “two thirds.”

It was an opportunity for me to yell and scream at the children for turning a perfectly good number of 2/3 into mush.

Posted in Course 1 (6th Grade Math), Math 8 | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Responses