Category Archives: Uncategorized

9/3/18: Monday Motivation – Sarah Carter

Every Monday, I’m going to highlight someone who has motivated me to become a better educator and this week goes to Sarah Carter.

I have my students create an educational Twitter and though they are future elementary school teachers, I still have them follow Sarah because she is the epitome of what I like about EduTwitter. She shares SO MUCH and all her materials are FREE. Every semester, I use her Zukei puzzles and let me tell you, students are so engaged when they do them. I am not alone too, when I posted an appreciation tweet, there were so many so related:

I also love that she highlights what happens on Twitter in her Monday Must Reads. My heart fell out of my chest when I got mentioned one time. To be honest, because she follows so many people (she follows all of her followers back!!), I’m always shocked when Sarah likes one of my tweets, like “oh my goodness she noticed me.”

Sarah, you deserve everything you want. You are positively affecting math education around the WORLD and that is something that I hope to achieve one day. Thank you for being my motivation.

8/27/18: Monday Motivation – Kent Haines

Every Monday, I am going to highlight an educator who has motivated me to become a better teacher and this week goes to Kent Haines.

I absolutely love how he emphasizes math games for children. This semester, I’m focusing more on making math playful, so not necessarily games, but at least to make students curious and have fun while doing math. Check out his YouTube Video here: and sign up for his weekly newsletters (they are great!) here:

We also correspond every Friday just to check up on each other. He needed someone to hold him accountable for making positive phone calls home and I needed someone to hold me accountable for making at least 2 blog posts every week. I love that he is making positive phone calls home.

Lastly, I love that he is interested in equity. I respect anyone working to make the math class more equitable.

I don’t know why he went from being a comedian to being a teacher, but I am glad he did. He has so many creative ideas and his mind and heart are in the right place. I’m jealous of his students. “You get to see Mr. Haines 5 times a week?? Jealous.”

Thanks for being my motivation Kent, and I hope we get to see each other at TMC19!

8/25/18: The First Day of School

I always get extremely nervous for the first day of school. First impressions are important and you only get one shot. With all things considered, I think it went pretty well! Here’s what I did in each 50 minute period:

Student Autobiographies

Before school even starts, I send my students an email with a link to a Google Slides where they can start their student autobiography if they want to. I do this before school starts because I know that some students have some free time on their hands (and this only takes 5-10 minutes) and I know that students are often curious to see who else is in the class.

Happy New Year!

I get to class a little early so I can shake everyone’s hand and introduce myself while trying to learn names. I saw a tweet about someone saying “Happy New Year” on the first day of school so I decided to take it and exaggerate it. I went to Target to buy party hats and party horns so we can count down to the start of the period. At least from my end, it seemed like the students enjoyed it, so it wasn’t that much of a fail! Video can be found here:

After that, I did the cups challenge that was inspired by Martin Joyce (look here for what he did: I didn’t have as many cups as he did so I created my own formations that students had to make. I think the students liked it too. Rather than looking at the cups, I really liked looking at the students’ faces. Pure concentration and/or fear that the cups would fall over. The reason I chose this activity is because students collaborate a lot in this class and I thought this would be a good activity that promotes team-building.

20 Words/Phrases

Lastly, I ask my students to think of 20 words/phrases associated with a typical K-12 math class. Not content like Pythagorean Theorem or Number Line, but words/phrases associated with their homework, tests, class structure, their math teachers, etc. This is what one class came up with:

After that, I ask them if this is what they want their math class to look like. After their response, I tell them to think of what you would eliminate and what you would exchange it for until we got this:

I chose to do these activities on the first day because I believe that we need to talk about mindset and understand the importance of collaboration before doing any math. In addition to these activities, I tell my students that we are all on the same team. I think that that is important to state explicitly. I tell them that I want to make them the best math teacher they can be, so please be transparent with me if you are struggling, or if you want me to slow down, etc.

Overall, I think the first couple days went well for me and I am really excited to see my group of 180+ students grow in their mathematical ability.

Thanks for reading.

8/18/18: Where else should we look for Conceptual Understanding?

I like to connect what I do in my math teaching to my job, and since my job is all about building students’ conceptual understanding in math, I like to think about where else we look for conceptual understanding.

There’s this movement in the math field where we push conceptual understanding (for great reason) because we know memorization can only get students so far and that we need to build critical thinking skills. When we see a math test, say, a scantron or even just a SAT score, we might have the question of “Yeah, they did score well, but do they *really* understand math or are they just good memorizers or they just know how to ‘plug and chug’”?

Then I think about conceptual understanding in my hobbies: piano and gymnastics. When I play a song on the piano, sometimes I’m on autopilot, sometimes I’m sight-reading and paying really close attention, but I don’t think I’m really doing a lot of conceptual understanding when I’m actually playing. When I think of conceptual understanding for the piano, I would imagine it being about music theory: Oh, I’m playing a G major chord, this is a D major chord in 1st inversion, a major 5th sounds good because…, etc. I honestly do not do any of that when I’m playing. Am I a bad pianist because I don’t? I know that in math, the process is just as important as the final answer, but could this be applied to music too? When you hear a pianist play, does the question come to your mind saying “Yeah, she plays beautifully, but does she have music theory down too? Does she understand why the music she plays is beautiful?” Berkeley Everett mentioned that jazz musicians use their conceptual understanding all the time and I agree. Most of the time they are just given chords and they need to improvise with only those chords. But what about other musicians? High school marching bands? Do audience members or judges in competitions wonder about the performers conceptual understanding?

In gymnastics, most if not all gymnasts know basic physics concepts, such as being in a tucked position gives you a faster rotation than being in a laid out position, and to always jump first before twisting, but we can definitely get more conceptual. But when we see them perform, I’m not sure if we really say “Yeah, they stuck that landing, but did they *really* know the physics behind how they stuck that landing?” It seems like gymnastics isn’t the place that we ask for conceptual understanding and that even if they do it on muscle memory, it’s still great.

Some ideas that might seem a little “out there” to ask of these people for conceptual understanding include: people tying ties (or shoelaces) and if they know why what they did created a knot, or asking bakers if they really know the chemical reactions in baking cookies, or asking a clarinetist why playing with the register key takes their notes up an octave. All of these examples are ideas of conceptual understanding of what they are doing. Yes, it would be cool if people know the reason behind the things I previously mentioned, but we don’t really find ourselves pushing everyone to understand the whys behind it.

For math, conceptual understanding is the forefront of what we teach students. This isn’t a blog post bashing that. This blog post is centered around the question of “Where else should we ask for conceptual understanding?” A lot of athletes and musicians practice and practice until their difficult routines are muscle memory so they do not have to think about it when they perform. For me, when I play piano, I often mess up when I think about what I’m playing a little too much. I just tell myself to just rely on muscle memory.

This might even be the most ridiculous blog post I’ve written (so far), but it’s something that has been in my mind. So I ask you, what subjects (not just school subjects, but ANYTHING) should we ask for conceptual understanding and what subjects do we allow people being okay to just not think about it and just do it? I can imagine asking doctors, lawyers, historians, and scientists for their conceptual understanding (and I am positive they have great conceptual understanding in their field) but I’m having trouble finding where else to ask for conceptual understanding.

Thanks for reading.

8/6/18: Monday Motivation – My Parents

This Monday Motivation goes to my parents. Since my mom’s birthday is July 25 and my dad’s is August 15, I figured it’s right to dedicate a blog post to them in between their birthdays.

My Dad – My dad was born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam. He is the oldest of 7 brothers and sisters. He said he was an average student, but he had to stop education in 8th grade because his parents couldn’t afford education for all the siblings. He would recount when his teacher would call out the names of students who didn’t pay tuition to the entire class Embarrassed, my dad dropped out at around 12 years old and worked for my mom’s dad, who owned a rice factory until he got drafted to the Vietnam War at the age of 17.

My Mom – My mom loved school. In Vietnam, they ranked each student and in a class of about 100, she was always #1 and would be sad if she dropped anything lower than that. However, she had to quit school in 4th grade because she kept getting sick and the teacher basically kicked her out. After she was kicked out of school, she was studying to be a monk.

When the south lost the Vietnam War, my parents escaped on a cramped boat in the late 1970s and went 10 days with hardly anything to sustain them. Pirates would come on their boat to take jewelry. After 10 days, they landed in Thailand where they were in refugee camp for one year, where even then, only had one bowl of rice a day.

After they were accepted to come to the United States and they have chosen their English names, they made money washing dishes at a restaurant until my mom’s dad opened up his own restaurant, where my dad would become a cook and my mom would become a waitress. My mom told me that she cried so much because she didn’t know English, and one of the first english phrases she learned was “HOT MUSTARD” because a customer would shout it at her, hoping that she would understand what it meant.

A couple years pass, and it was time to send my sister and I to public school. We lived in a poor neighborhood in Hanford, where the elementary school closest to us wasn’t that great, so even though 1. We were poor and 2. We aren’t Catholic, my parents sent us to a Catholic school because they wanted to provide us a good education and they didn’t think we’d get beat up there.

Now here we are in the present, where my sister is a microbiologist for Tulare County and I am a math instructor at Fresno State. I’d say that my parents were extremely successful in raising their kids. They literally came here not knowing the language, with no money, yet somehow made it work.

How they inspire me to become a better educator

They showed me that “being educated” has different meanings. No, they did not have any high school education, but they know 4 languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and English)! That is something I wish we appreciated a little more. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d give up my math degree to be fluent in multiple languages. I now try to look for multiple intelligences in my students because of this. There’s not just one way to be “smart.”

My mom taught me to be patient and kind, my dad taught me that love comes in different forms. It’s not always the explicit “I love you” but things like, “Hey, let me wash your car for you” or making sure that bills were being paid while I was growing up, and I wish I appreciated that a little more while growing up. Their lives are an example of what it means to be selfless and I try to model that selflessness to my students.

Lastly, they showed me perseverance. If we try hard enough, we can get out of our situation. My dad fighting in the Vietnam War, both parents being on a boat for 10 days, 1 year of being refugees, coming to a new country with no money and needing to learn a new language, they still pushed through. They showed me that I can do anything that I put my mind to.

Thanks for being my motivation mom and dad.

Thanks for reading.

7/23/18: Monday Motivation – Julie Reulbach

Every Monday, I am going to highlight an educator who inspires me to be a better educator and this week goes to Julie Reulbach!

After seeing all the tweets from TMC18, I have to give Julie Reulbach my Monday Motivation for the week. To be completely honest, before TMC, I had no idea how impactful she would be to me, but now I think so highly of her and I am so glad that she is in my PLN.

Here are just some reasons why she is my Monday Motivation:

Reason 1: I absolutely LOVE her positive attitude, and I cannot get over her entrance running through a #MTBoS sign with pompoms.

(Screenshot from Jodi Bailey’s video)

Reason 2. I struggled with the Desmos Challenge and she tweeted this:

(I want to print and frame this)

And when I finally finished the challenge, she and Sean Sweeney took a selfie for me.

Reason 3: Though I wasn’t at TMC, seeing that she gave everyone these stickers meant a lot. In this society, it is so easy to tear each other down. We need to build each other up, and she did just exactly that.

(Pic taken from Stephanie Minor)

Reason 4: It was completely unexpected that I would be brought up during her keynote, and as self-conscious as I am, something as small as screenshotting a couple tweets made me feel like my words matter, and that means a lot to me.

(Pics taken from Chris Luzniak)

So Julie, you motivated me by wanting to become a cheerleader for my students and for the math ed community. You showed me that little nudges go a long way and now I in turn, will try to be more positive and be aware that the little things matter. 

Thank you Julie.  You absolutely deserve the world. I really hope I get to see you next year at TMC19. Keep doing what you’re doing.

7/16/18: Monday Motivation: Berkeley Everett

Every Monday, I’m going to highlight one educator that has motivated me to become a better educator and my second Monday Motivation goes to…Berkeley Everett!

(This pic is a placeholder until we meet!)

For anyone who follows Berkeley, you know of his contributions to the math world. He does amazing math visuals particularly for K-2 that one can’t help but admire. What I love about him is that he is completely open to feedback on his visuals as well. He, to me though, is much more than someone who creates math visuals.

Several months ago when I tweeted about my mental health, Berkeley was the only one who messaged me asking if I was okay and really opened up, showing me that not only can we get good ideas from each other on Twitter, but that we really are a community and that we care for one another. We had a long chat and at the end, he reiterated that he will always be open ears whenever I need help. He was the first person on Twitter that I didn’t know in person to exhibit this act of reaching out and it wasn’t until this act that I realized how special the educational Twitter community is. He absolutely went above and beyond what he needed to do, and something as simple as just starting a DM went a long way. For some, it may seem small, but I will remember it always. It’s in these small acts of kindness that builds our community.

I strongly believe that the way we live our lives is a vote for what we want the world to look like, and if we had more Berkeley Everetts in the world, we’d live in a nicer place.

Thanks for being a friend Berkeley and I can’t wait to see you in October.

7/11/18: Calculating Self vs. Central Self

I care way too much about what people think about me. It hurts when I try my best to make my math class a positive experience and find out that a student or two hates me or the class. But I read a book that really changed my view.

But before I go into that, here’s a story:

I was in my second semester of student teaching. Just like most student teaching experiences, I observed for a couple weeks, then I taught. The very first day I taught this class (Algebra 2) I did a review, and then the next day they took a test. This student did poorly on the test and talked to both myself and the master teacher. This student said “I did poorly because he’s a bad teacher.” Like, literally 2 feet away from me looking at me. That absolutely KILLED me and right then, I knew that this was going to be a long semester. In my head, I was saying “Uhh…I only taught one day and it was a review session so…if you’re going to blame it on anyone, it’s not me.” Later, the master teacher and I found out that this is her 3rd time taking Algebra 2 and she needs to pass this class to graduate (she’s a senior) so then I realized that she’s just trying to find a scapegoat. But still, trying to get into a profession and a student looking me in the eye saying that I’m a bad teacher isn’t easy.

The book that changed my view

I’m reading “The Art of Possibility” by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander and it talks about how we have two selves: our calculating self and our central self.

Our calculating self is basically us in survival mode. It holds our ego and it is selfish. It thinks about everything as an attack on us. 

For example, if we dislike a class or a subject, our calculating self might take over because we’re just in survival mode. All we want is to pass the class. Our calculating self would often say “I need a ___ to pass the class” or “I need to know ____ to pass the class.” I definitely showed my calculating self in one math class during my undergrad. It was considered the hardest math class to pass in undergrad, and only 6 of the 20 students passed. I had the 5th highest score with a whopping 69.6%. It was the worst. I literally cried tears of joy when I saw that I got a C.

Our central self is considered our “true” self, the self that the best people in our lives bring out of us. Think about how you are with your best friend, your spouse, maybe your family. That would be considered your central self. Our central self comes out when we are with our loved ones or when we don’t have high stakes. Our central self would say “I want to learn ___ because I really want to/it interests me.” 

The problem is that we don’t really see our students’ central selves if we make our classes high stakes. All we are doing is bringing out their calculating selves. Just like my story of my student teaching experience, that student showed her calculating self the entire time because she wasn’t in an environment where she felt safe. She was in survival mode because this was her 3rd time taking the class and she felt like she was bad at math. Also as a student, I was showing my calculating self in that hard math class because I knew it was a hard one to pass and the professor would make it known that it is hard to pass.

What I changed in my classroom:

We all show a different version of ourselves depending on our environment. We just need to provide the right environment for them to thrive in to show their central selves. To that end, I emphasized two things in my classroom:

  1. This class is a safe space. I will not find any questions dumb. I am aware that there are inequities in education and sometimes, it’s not your fault that you do not know something and I am here to help you.
  2. I am completely open to feedback. If something is not working out, if I’m going too quickly, or if you learn better another way, please let me know.

What I changed in my mindset:

I read somewhere online that said something along the lines of “You can lie on the ground for people to walk on you and they’ll still complain that you’re not flat enough.” Teaching 190 students a semester, it’s ridiculous to think ALL students will like me. I generally have the majority that like me, but there’s 1-2 each semester that I know I’m not reaching. Come to think of it…I don’t even know if students liking me should be a goal. The main goal should be that I’m providing a learning environment for students to thrive in.

I also read somewhere that people’s opinions of you are not your business. It’s hard to accept, but we can’t live our lives the way we want to if we’re always worried about what people think about us. I often think about who I think are the best people on Earth and I see that even they get criticized. You can’t please everyone.

If you had the type of student that I had, remember that there are dozens of OTHER students that are there, and to not focus on that one. Don’t let one student bring you down!

I am nowhere near perfect in bringing students’ central selves to the classroom but I’m getting better at it. I’m changing my thoughts “I hope they like me” to “How can I bring their central selves, not their calculating selves, into the classroom?” and I believe that they’ll have a positive experience as a result. 

Thanks for reading.

7/9/18: Monday Motivation: Jamie Garner

Every Monday, I’m going to highlight one educator that has motivated me to become a better educator and my first Monday Motivation goes to…Jamie Garner! I’ve met Jamie twice, once at CMC Central 2017 in Arroyo Grande and again just yesterday when we met up in Turlock. Just because we met twice doesn’t mean that her impact was small; here are just some ways she helped me become a better educator:

Getting a Twitter

Jamie Garner, along with Chrissy Newell, were the first presenters I ever saw in a breakout session. I met them Spring of 2017 at CMC Central in Arroyo Grande. At the end of Jamie’s portion, she stated to get on Twitter, because it’s a world that we are missing out on if we don’t have one. I made a Twitter but didn’t really do anything with it until then, so who knows if I’d be on Twitter if I didn’t go to her talk.


When we were walking around CSU Stanislaus yesterday, I noticed that she naturally said “I notice…” and “I wonder…” constantly, and it really showed me that people have a different lense of how they view the world, and hers is definitely a mathematician’s view of the world. Ever since I’ve seen #noticewonder on Twitter, I’ve been doing it way more often, and I strongly believe that it makes me more curious and it makes me think more like a mathematician.


I have self-consciousness/impostor syndrome issues: I don’t think I have new or awesome ideas to share and most of the time, it feels like I’m preaching to the choir. Jamie does a great job of battling that, showing that yeah, my ideas are valuable and could contribute to the math ed community. A month or two ago, I tweeted out asking when teachers felt that they were “ready” to present at conferences and I remember she tweeted saying that I do “presentations” to pre-service teachers all the time, it’s not that much of a stretch to present in front of current teachers, and that shift of mindset definitely made me feel more confident in willing to speak at conferences.

Jamie is a great person to talk to. Super knowledgeable, down to Earth, and just simply understands people’s viewpoints really well. She didn’t directly say it, but throughout the time we spent together, it had the theme of “You are enough“:  making me have the confidence to present, reiterating that my ideas are valuable, and showing that no one is perfect and that is okay. That moral alone goes an extremely long way.

Jamie necessarily didn’t “push” me, but rather, “unveiled” possibilities for me, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. Unveiling Twitter as a resource, unveiling the idea that I can contribute to the community, unveiling that fog that is my lack of self-confidence.

Thanks for being my Monday Motivation Jamie!

6/24/18: CSU Chancellor’s Executive Order

As you may know, Chancellor Timothy White created an executive order that prevents all CSUs from having remedial classes with the reason being that students should not have to pay tuition for courses that do not count towards their degree. Instead, for students who do need remediation based off a holistic measure, they will need to take the general ed math course appropriate for their major along with a support class. Read more about it here:

Here is a little roadmap example for what Fresno State used to do:

Fall 2018 Spring 2019 Fall 2019
Students who do not need remediation GE Math
Students who need remediation but scored close to passing in their Entry-level Math Exam Math 4R (Intermediate Algebra) GE Math
Students who need remediation and scored low in their Entry-level Math Exam Math 1RA (Intermediate Algebra Part 1) Math 1RB (Intermediate Algebra Part 2) GE Math

Now, all students have the opportunity to take GE Math in their first semester, but for students who do not meet the holistic measure, they will need to take their GE Math with a support class but can still finish their GE math course in one semester.

My opinion:

Though this sounds good in theory, keeping in mind the students’ time and tuition, it is incredibly scary that colleges cannot teach remedial courses because of the Chancellor’s thought that “Rigorous high school preparatory experiences in general education written communication and mathematics/quantitative reasoning prepare prospective CSU students for academic success.” From experience, some students need the foundational background necessary to be successful in higher courses and we would be doing a disservice if we think it can all be done in one semester. Rather than splitting up 3 hours a week in the Fall and 3 hours in the Spring, we are putting 5-6 hours a week of math in one semester.

I do admit that everyone does NOT need intermediate algebra skills. The general population will not care if students don’t know how to divide polynomial expressions. What the general population needs is number sense, and unfortunately there isn’t a course for that here, so if I were to change something, I would still have students take a number sense class as their remedial class.

Additionally, graduate students who used to be able to teach their own classes will not have that experience anymore because all graduate students will need to teach these support classes, which is more of a recitation/workshop class than anything. When I was a graduate student, I was grateful for having the opportunity to teach my own classes and that definitely prepared me for job interviews and my current job.

I’m optimistic that this provides a more equitable education by giving students support classes (if they need it) on classes that they are required to take (and at least for my case, important for their major), but we will see what happens. Either way, it is out of our hands so let’s do the best we can with it.