An Abundance of Kindness

My high school Spanish teacher, Señora Dieterich, taught me two very important lessons.  First, she taught me that students are never too old for a class read aloud.  I won’t soon forget the way she brought Don Quixote to life.  Second, she taught me the act of showing kindness was something to do everyday.  My teacher took time out of our class each day for students to share stories of how they helped others since we last met.  That was more than 20 years ago and I think about that lesson in kindness often.

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Today, I work to share kindness with others abundantly.  I lead with kindness in my role as Math Director.  I interact with others kindly, regardless of their role in our education system or in my life.  I do this because it is through this generosity of spirit that happiness grows.

In mathematics, kindness is a necessity.  How scary it must feel to openly pose a question  in front of classmates or offer a response to a problem task with the fear of retribution or embarrassment.  Mathematics offers us the opportunity to learn about perspective and show empathy.  With graphing and data analysis alone we can see how stories are told and conclusions are drawn through numbers.  How beautiful is that?

As I encourage (and challenge) my teachers to take calculated risks and design innovative learning experiences in their classrooms, I am kind and patient with them in the process.  And, as our students explore new ideas, create content, and publish to a worldly audience, I am kind and open-minded toward their work.

I don’t make the decision to be kind.  I AM kind.  I help others.  The intentional acts of kindness I show are ingrained within me.

At 2:00 pm everyday I make a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes reconnecting with colleagues.

I share personal hand written notes of gratitude with my teachers to remind them that I value them and their work.

I spend protected time with my teachers as I interview them for a podcast series, celebrating them and getting to know them better.

I show generosity, exude happiness, inspire, share, love unconditionally, and look for beauty in everything, everywhere.  People deserve it.  And, I mean everyone.



Return to Reflection

In November I wrote about how I am working to redesign professional learning.  Five months have now passed since those first Elementary and Secondary Mathematics Academies and it is time to return the educators’ reflections on learning.

The educators were asked to script a commitment to intentionally support English Learners through the use of one/some of the strategies experienced that day.  These commitments were added to recipe cards – a nod to the understanding that this work is comprised of many ingredients and is very much personalized.  Many of these notes focused on Number Talks, integration of technology, inquiry (3-Act Tasks), the learning environment, and communication during Problem Strings – information for me to consider as I continue to build my math program.

I attached a note to each reflection before returning to the respective educators:

Attached you will find the recipe card you created at our Math Academy earlier this year.  Please take a moment to reflect on what you wrote, what you’ve implemented this year, and what your next steps may be in your math teaching journey.


The note also included a reminder of professional learning at the beginning of the school year:

In August, you made collective commitments toward the work to create, support, and sustain a culture of access and equity in the teaching and learning of mathematics.  Take a walk down memory lane and watch the videos of these commitments on FlipGrid:  (password masked).

This is one small action I have taken on my journey to lead ongoing professional learning – to nurture a culture of learning.  Reflection has been called a crucial and multi-faceted aspect of professional learning.  And, the action taken as a result is what makes reflection so impactful.  Here’s to more reflection, more intentional reflection, and more purposeful actions taken as a result.

Listening to Learn

*Note: this post should be considered differently for those students with hearing difficulties.  In those cases, other constraints may be used to increase the complexity of the learning and I would love to have a conversation around what that might look like.

Accessing Audio to Gain Understanding

What if there was a constraint placed on learning that increased the complexity of the experience?  What if that constraint was that students could only hear to access content before they began to build understanding?

Options for these learning experiences include: Animal Sounds in GarageBand (for a lesson in science), Library of Congress: Audio Recordings (for a lesson in History), or The Sounds of Numbers (for a lesson in math).

What does a concept sound like?  How might you bring in the sound of a topic to break that 4th wall in your classroom?  I encourage you to press record using voice memos  to capture sound and bring that into your classroom.  Notice how the need to describe, illustrate, and imagine ideas suddenly increases when the constraint of sound is introduced.


Creating Audio to Demonstrate Understanding

What if there was a constraint placed on the demonstration of learning that increased the complexity of the experience?  What if that constraint was that the students could only create audio to express understanding?

Ask your students to use only sound to demonstrate understanding.  They could speak and create a travelogue or audio journal of their thoughts.  They could make music to reflect a math concept or historical event.  They could draft an interview to provide perspective on an idea.

As they create audio, students can access authentic resources to build their products, such as NASA sounds from historic spaceflights and current missions.

The possibilities are truly limitless.

How might you support your students to use critical thinking to dive deeper into a concept or demonstrate understanding while constrained by using only sounds?

My Own Color Palette

Pause.  Look around.  What do you see?  How can you capture that and allow it to influence your creativity?

Often I grab a sound clip, a photo, a quote, anything unique from my corner of the world, or even from my travels, and let it gently touch my daily work.  Then, all of a sudden, I can’t help but notice things I love secretly hidden within my work.

This morning I snapped this photo (below, left) of the amazing Texas sky because, well, it can speak for itself.  Then, I threw it into Keynote and extracted a few of the colors from the image.  I named them appropriately (Sun Kissed Leaves, Oak Tree Green, Lone Star Sky, and Like a Cloud) and saved them as my Texas Sky color palette.

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These are my photos, taken from my perspective, of things that matter to me.  I extract these colors and give them heartfelt names to ring a bell when I utilize these palettes in the future.  How very personal my work becomes when it contains a touch of my personal life… like my girls and their killer blue eyes, chocolate brown hair, and sweet sun-kissed cheeks.

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Redesigning Professional Learning

Last week I facilitated my first full day of professional learning with a group of my elementary educators with no presentation slides.  Then, I did it again the next day with a group of my secondary educators.  I cannot believe it took me this many years to kick that bad habit – not that having a whole group visual is inherently bad, but slides should be used with intention and not as a customary routine.  This small change resulted in a complete focus on the learning and the contributions of the educators at the table, not only on the knowledge I brought to the day.  This was big.


I appreciate my educators’ grace as they participate in experiences that are a bit different than the usual professional development, especially as they compare PL that I design and lead to that from others within and beyond our district.  I am thankful that my educators notice that I pour myself into the design of my professional learning for them (all day, hour-long, after school, blended, virtual, … any format).  And, my educators also see that I take calculated risks to continually improve their experience because I believe they are my greatest asset.  They directly impact teaching and learning of mathematics every day.  They are worth my time and effort and I need them to know that – all 350 of them.

I began the design of this recent PL with these Enduring Understandings:

  • The instructional routines utilized in the classroom have a profound effect on the learners’ focus on learning, mathematical thinking habits, and problem solving skills.
  • The needs of English Learners and Students with Learning Disabilities in mathematics are best met when given opportunities to learn through (1) high cognitive demand tasks, (2) multimodal experiences, (3) a language-rich environment, (4) building upon their strengths, and (5) a growth mindset.

…and these Essential Questions:

  • What factors influence the decision regarding instructional routines to leverage in the classroom?
  • What evidence can be found to support the implementation or continuation of current practices? OR How do I know when to abandon or modify a current classroom practice?

Then, I used Numbers (of course) to map out the learning experiences in which I needed my educators to participate so they may be able to demonstrate those understandings and grow in their responses to those essential questions.  One of the outcomes of the day included a description of high quality implementation of the instructional routines that would lead to the way I will measure the impact of the PL.  Captured using recipe cards, I will compile these into succinct descriptions before I return them to the educators in a few months as a reminder of what they learned – like a letter to their future selves.

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Then, the fun began and is best described in 280 characters or less:

Elementary Academy

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Secondary Academy

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Resources I utilized in the design of this professional learning experience:

  • Numbers planning document.
  • Number Talks reflection document (Elementary Academy).  Duplicate this file in order to edit.
  • Problem Strings reflection document (Secondary Academy).  Duplicate this file in order to edit.
  • The Joy of Professional Learning series.  If you have any impact on professional learning, you MUST use these books as an inspiration and guide.  It will change your life.
  • EL Digital Toolbox.  A digital resource created by the great Narda Holguin (@PinkySpanish1), Trent Pickrell (@SrPickrell), and Amanda Mask (@UnmaskedEd) to support educators’ design of learning experiences that support listening, speaking, reading, and writing of content.  I’m proud of this work and you should check it out.  It will change your life.
  • Pattern Block Fractions on a Number Line.  This is the activity that May Voltz, 5th grade educator at Lee Elementary, created and used in the kick off of the Elementary Academy.  It was built in Desmos.  You should check it out – and explore more at  It will change your life.

My Next Steps:

  • Network Academy participants together as Professional Learning Partners (I prefer this name over Accountability Partners) – DONE.
  • Network Academy participants together through Twitter by setting up lists and encouraging the continued use of our hashtag (#75019math – that’s our zipcode!) – DONE.
  • Set up meeting dates/times to capture the educators’ stories in the form a podcast – DONE (some).
  • Communicate best practices for instructional routines experienced in the Academies and described by the participants as a result of their learning – share with educators and campus administrators.  Return recipe cards to educators as a reminder of their learning.
  • Visit classrooms to celebrate successes.
  • Meet with educators individually to capture their stories in the form of a podcast.
  • Repeat the Academies in January with two more groups of educators.

Professional Learning Playgrounds

Inspired by the work of Christine Klynen and Kurt Klynen (and the Joy of PL team) I kicked off the year with a series of professional learning playgrounds for my K-12 mathematics educators.

If you are interested in replicating these playgrounds, feel free to access this Numbers file for planning: Numbers for iCloud and/or contact me and let’s have a conversation about this!

The intended outcomes included: utilizing creativity to think deeply about mathematics content including representing concepts with unlikely materials, use of the camera in creative ways (slo-mo, stop-motion, photo, video) to capture understanding, and an opportunity for team building.

The organization of the playgrounds was a challenge because I needed them to be self-explanatory, as I was scheduled to be in another location leading other sessions simultaneously.


Playground #1 – Creative Mathematics

This playground included three sets of cards: materials (which specified CARS, PLAY-DOH, or LEGO), content (which specified math concepts), an photography (which specified SLO-MO, TIME-LAPSE, PHOTO, or VIDEO).  The instructions were provided via video as well as text and accessed via our learning management system:

  1. Shuffle each deck of cards (material, content, photography) and place face down on the table.
  2. Draw one card from each deck (material, content, photography).
  3. Use the material to create a model of the content and capture using the selected photography tool. Use the options within your Camera app to select either photo, video, slo-mo, or time-lapse.
  4. Use Twitter to describe the process and product – share with #CISDlearns.
  5. Replace the cards and materials for the next session of educators.
  6. Have time for another round?  Challenge yourself by using a different material or photography tool and share with #CISDlearns.


Playground #2 – You Can Always Add.  You Can’t Subtract.

This playground was about hacking math tasks.  That is, some math problems include too much information and actually promote impatient instead of patientproblem solving.  After the educators watched Dan Meyer’s TED talk, they rebuilt tasks in a similar way.  The instructions were provided via video as well as text and accessed via our learning management system:

  1. Watch Dan Meyer’s TED Talk: Math Class Needs a Makeover.
  2. Shuffle the deck of cards (You Can Always Add.  You Can’t Subtract) and place face down on the table.
  3. Draw one card from the deck.
  4. Use the camera on your iPad to scan the QR code and access the task.
  5. Copy the task to Notability, select Create a New Note, then Import.
  6. Similar to what Dan did, rebuild the task in a way that supports math reasoning and patient problem solving.  Think about what you can eliminate.  Use the annotation tools in Notability at the top to edit the task.
  7. Use Twitter to describe the process and product – share with #CISDlearns.
  8. Replace the cards for the next session of educators.


Playground #3 – Chopped: Mathematics

This playground included one sets of concept cards, a basket (box) of various manipulatives and a small mystery ingredient box containing Play-Doh.   The instructions were provided via video as well as text and accessed via our learning management system:

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards (concept) and place face down on the table.
  2. Draw one card from the deck.
  3. Open the basket (large box) and select two types of manipulatives.
  4. Use both manipulatives together to demonstrate the concept.  Don’t forget to use the mystery ingredient as well (in the small box).
  5. Take a photo of your work (including the concept card) and share on Twitter using #CISDlearns.
  6. Replace the cards and materials for the next session of educators.
  7. Have time for another round?  Challenge yourself by using different manipulatives and share with #CISDlearns.


The feedback on these playgrounds was so positive and the learning was so deep as a result of the collaboration and critical thinking required.  I cannot imagine facilitating professional learning in any way that does not promote creativity and conversation.

My educators are worth it.  Your educators are worth it.  I encourage you to think differently about professional learning and share with the world!




WW ADE Institute 2018

To the Apple team and my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators,

Thank you for loving my sometimes outgoing, sometimes reserved self.  You inspire me to be creative.  You let me be funny.  You help me to be humble.  You remind me that I am part of something bigger.  If this is a dream, please don’t wake me.


As 371 of the most innovative, creative educators on this planet were together in Austin, I felt like I was home, surrounded by my people.  And, after 40 years of Apple Education and 24 years of the Apple Distinguished Educator Program, we continue to change the world.

The creative genius behind Apple inspires storytelling like none other.  My top three videos shared during the week were Homework, Homepod, and The Making of Homepod.  I will watch them again and again, for sure.



The Making of …

Everyone Can Create

We were inspired to use Drawing, Photography, Video, and Music to create and, more importantly, to inspire others to create.  We learned about Creativity + Simplicity + Humanity and to Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.

Jonathan Cho, your chicken drawing was outstanding.  What was better was your stream of consciousness as you described the questionably accurate anatomy of the animal.  I will remember the value of the process.  The process IS the product.


Jodie Deinhammer and Julie Garcia, you rolled with the punches so well during your session – Connect Math and Science Through Creativity.  Please know your message was inspiring and embodied the work of Creativity + Simplicity + Humanity with a touch of math and science love.

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Wes Molyneaux, April Requard, Nancy Gadzala, and Ben Mountz (via hologram) your session – Foster Creativity Through Visual Storytelling with Keynote was well done, my friends.  With a nice blend of quick wins (masking shapes and magic moves) and grand plans (the sketching project), you nailed it.


Mia Morrison and Erica Galvan, thank you for sharing your stories in your session – Bring Student Voice to Life with Books on iPad.  Giving a voice to our kids is what it is all about.


Who knew so many of us were willing to get up before the sunrise to share a bit of exercise and good times?  Thank you to the team behind this.  Your signs were spot on.

The Project

Through a series of well-designed structures with ADE colleagues in small groups, one-on-one pairs, and individual work time, my project was developed, refined, and elaborated upon beautifully.  In 4 short days it evolved as I worked to simplify, simplify, simplify the content and then expand, expand, expand the reach.

Thank you Mia MorrisonApril Requard and the rest of ADE Team 1718 for welcoming me (all the way from group 30) in for that fantastic sharing and feedback session.

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ADE After Hours

ADE Meet

Kelly Croy your podcast message is awesome.  Thank you for working to capture our voices.  I am thankful that in doing so, your voice is captured as well.


The Pitch

Thank you Wes Molyneaux for sharing your story about microcredentialling and for letting me ask so many questions.  You are inspiring and your impact is so great.    

Deeper Learning

Noah Katz, you are a Keynote mastermind.  Where the Wild Things Are will never be the same.


Thank you to the team behind this fantastic opportunity to share a bit of a story, infuse it with a bit of humor, and enlighten others with some creative tricks for their back pocket.  I loved every minute of it.

Tip #1: Text Replacement

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Tip #2: Twitter QR Code Generator

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The Playgrounds

Thank you Christine and Kurt Klynen for your model of bringing the joy to professional learning and for the opportunity to be a small part of this at Institute through the Joy of Professional Learning’s Casino of Learning.

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Thank you to the rest of the team: Cheryl Davis, Alberto Valdes, Camilla Gagliolo, Casey Cohen, Jason Kathman, Johan Andersson, Kelly Croy, Chris Penny, and Reshan Richards.  Y’all owned it.


Katie Morrow, you are fantastic.  Apple Tools for Literacy done Hamilton-style was unforgettable.  Well done.

Anthony Stirpe, you are amazing.  What a story.  What an impact.  Thank you for reminding us that we do this work for kids and they need us.

One-on-one time with my fellow ADEs

Surrounded by 370 other ADEs, finding a bit of quiet time to share ideas and openly welcome feedback was absolutely the best.

Thank you Michael Hernandez for the great conversation and quick run on Tuesday morning.  Thank you also for the inspiration to use the Global Goals to leverage social justice as purposeful information for my project.

Thank you Don Henderson for your inspiration to bring Challenge Based Learning into my project.

Thank you Jon Smith for your inspiration to provide a greater audience for my project.

Thank you Noah Katz for your insight around data and for the inspiration to begin my project in this way.  You are quiet amazing.

Thank you Brian Timm for your feedback on the details of my project and for your keen design eye on my Keynote graphic.

Thank you Nicki Hambleton for your absolutely positive spirit when sharing my project with my homeroom group.  You faced so many challenges with grace this week, you are a beautiful person.

Thank you Cathy Yenca for sharing my love of mathematics and spending a small time talking about what we can do to make a big impact.


Thank you Jake Lee for your fantastic spirit.  You have no idea how much it took for me to hold it together in this picture.  I love your great personality!  And, your project is too much, but the way.


Thank you to my Coppell ISD ADE friends, Brian Timm, Jodie Deinhammer, and Mike Yakubovsky.  I am so lucky to go back to my day job and have you there.  I love y’all.


Also, thank you to the translators who speak the universal language of high fives through the glass of the sound proof booths.

Until next time.



Evidence of (Professional) Learning

As I work to design and deliver professional learning for my educators, I continue to seek ways to improve their experiences.  I am pursuing ways for my educators to capture their learning while they are in the sessions, share this learning beyond the session, and access later once the session is over.  Two examples from this summer are the use of Clips + FlipGrid and Pages with placeholder images.

Clips + FlipGrid

One day-long session related to supporting Gifted and Talented students in mathematics included 50+ elementary and secondary educators.  Early in the session I requested the attendees download the Clips app if they had not done so already.  Throughout our time together I reminded the educators to take photos and videos of the process.  These artifacts were stored in their camera roll, ready to access near the close of the session.

As the session came to a close, the educators used Clips to summarize and reflect on their time in the session.   In 20-30 minutes, all 50+ educators successfully created summaries of their learning with photos and videos as evidence!  These videos were shared within and beyond our time together with FlipGrid.

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Pages with Placeholder Images

Two half-day sessions related to teaching students supported through Special Education services in mathematics included elementary and secondary educators as well.  A portion of the experience involved clarification of our standards.  The educators were challenged to collaboratively model a given strand of the standards using manipulatives, images, and text.  These artifacts were captured and organized on a Pages document.  I created the Pages document with placeholder images ahead of time and shared through iCloud.

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The educators used their camera to capture photos and successfully demonstrated understanding of the standards as they created this artifact of their learning!

Next steps of my work include supporting my teachers to collect evidence of learning as part of their bigger professional learning journey.

NCSM 2018

Some of the most insightful, inspiring minds in math education converged upon Washington DC this week for the annual meeting of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.  I left recharged and ready to continue to do the good work, knowing I am not alone in this.

I am indebted to my friends (specifically Steve Wyborney, Kyle Pearce, Robert Kaplinsky, and Kris Childs) who spent valuable time with me before, during, and after the sessions to share ideas, challenge one another’s thinking, and re-commit to the work together.

The sessions I attended each provided a clear, consistent message …

Michelle Rinehart

Math Talks: Adapting the Number Talks Structure for Secondary Mathematics Classrooms


Christine Newell

Building Mathematical Language and Precision Through Routines


Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta

Learn How to Develop Teacher Content Knowledge and Practice Through Instructional Routines


Graham Fletcher

Teaching Beyond the Task: Using Yesterday’s Lesson to Prepare for Today


Kyle Pearce, Phil Daro

Digging Deep into Ratios and Proportional Relationships in the Middle Grades


Kristopher Childs

Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice Develops Student Problem Solvers and Not Just Rule Followers


Shared Albums in Photos with iCloud

The Shared Albums feature within Photos in iCloud provides a simple, systematic way to archive and share images with others.  Any photos or videos on your iPad Camera Roll, or already saved within Photos can be added to a Shared Album.  Though the owner of the Shared Album must have an Apple ID to create the album, there is no Apple ID required to view the album if the owner publishes to a public website (an option within Photos).  Also, sharing is possible with those using a Windows computer, as the images may be housed on a public website that invitees can access via a unique web address.

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Albums can be used to curate photos and videos from invitees, based on certain set up features by the owner.   This minimizes the workflow and necessity to gather images on a single device for a large batch upload of content.  Invitees may also like and comment within the album, should the owner choose to utilize this feature as well.

We photograph things that matter to us.

How might you use Shared Albums to curate and share photos and videos without the barrier of a lengthy workflow process?

Workflow: Archiving and Sharing Paper by FiftyThree Sketchnotes with Shared Albums in Photos

I use the app Paper by FiftyThree to create sketchnotes of professional learning opportunities.   This includes summaries of books, articles, TED Talks, and sessions I attend at conferences.

In order to archive and share these sketchnotes, I use iCloud Photo Sharing.  This allows me to continue to add to the album while sharing a single web address.  I am also able to control the rights of those viewing the images (such as restricting the rights to add images or comments to the folder).

Workflow to Export Sketchnotes from Paper to Shared Albums:

  • While in the Paper by FiftyThree app, view either an entire journal or a single page in the butterfly view.
  • Tap the Export button and select Export Drawings…


  • Tap on iCloud Photo Sharing.
  • Either select an existing Shared Album or create a New Shared Album.

Workflow to Invite People to Shared Albums on iPad:

  • While in Photos, navigate to the Shared Album.
  • Tap on People and set restrictions (Subscribers Can Post, Public Website, Notifications).
  • I choose to turn off Subscribers can Post and Notifications and turn on Public Website.  This allows me to share the link to the album in iCloud where anyone can view.
  • Share link.

I have utilized other platforms to archive and share my sketchnotes and Shared Albums in Photos is my top choice.