Monthly Archives: July 2018

7/30/18: Monday Motivation – Fawn Nguyen

Every Monday, I will highlight one person who has motivated me to become a better educator and this week’s Monday Motivation goes out to the lovely Fawn Nguyen. I first saw Fawn in CMC South in 2017, where one of the first things she did was post a picture of Jo Boaler and her talk time (it was the same time as Fawn’s second talk) and said “I’m going to repeat this session at 1:15. *looks at the picture* Shit.” From that sentence on, I knew I was going to like her. I was engaged the entire talk and I wanted to go up and talk to her afterwards, but she already had a mob of people going, so I decided not to.

I’m looking back at my CMC South notes and here are some of the quotes I took down:

  • I’m going to have a few drinks so the 1:15 session will be more fun anyway.
  • If they could think critically, it’ll be ideal. But on most days, I’ll take any kind of thinking.
  • Reflection + Practice = Less Suck
  • How do we do this? I already have all the answers, remember?
  • Fawn: I went to the rose bowl to see my Oregon ducks lose to UCLA
    •  *someone from the audience*: Woo!
    • Fawn: Shut up.

I love her website Math is the study of patterns, and I use this every semester to have students find structures in visual growth. I also loved her quote of “We are kidding ourselves when we give kids problems that only take a period.” When we think of mathematicians, problems that are worthwhile are going to take more than 50 minutes. People working on their master’s or PhD have to spend 1-5+ years on one problem, and even at the college level, there are students that would complain if it takes more than 5 minutes to solve a problem. She was also the first speaker that I witnessed talk about how hard teaching is, saying “Teaching is so hard, we don’t need people critical of us. You can have 99 parents tell you great job, but 1 parent…” This is something that I struggle with. I can have all the positive comments in the world, but would focus on that one negative comment for a very long time. I’m glad someone spoke about it, and it made me realize that someone as great as Fawn even gets bad comments. It’s unrealistic to please everyone.

It was just absolutely refreshing seeing Fawn. She is one of the only Asian math educators I know that is a prominent speaker (with one more being Francis Su). I know that some people will retort saying “I don’t see color” or “I only care about the message, not the speaker’s background” but I strongly believe it matters. When we claim that everyone is a mathematician, it is important to show that people of all backgrounds can do math and that their ideas are valued as a speaker. Apart from her background, she was the only one that regularly cussed, and I thought “Wow, she’s cool. Breaking norms of teachers not cussing.”

When I saw her blog post, it resonated with me and made me love her even more, because my family escaped from Vietnam too. My family and hers both came from Saigon, both left on a boat in the late 70s, and basically came to the United States with nothing. The fact that they survived escaping is a miracle. 

Fawn, I hope you never lose sight of how far you’ve come. From escaping Vietnam as a child, to learning English, and now being known around worldwide, you are extremely special and you deserve the world. You mean a lot to me and you motivate me to be kinder, to open myself up even more, and to always show love.

You are my hero. Thank you for being you.

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!

7/1/18: Eureka! I found it!

When I think of Jamie Garner and Chrissy Newell, I think of Number Talks. When I hear the name Andrew Stadel, I think of Estimation180. When I hear the name Fawn Nguyen, I think of Visual Patterns. When someone hears my name, what do I want them to think about? I’ve been struggling to figure out what that one thing is because I don’t feel like I’m a master at any of the tech tools out there, nor do I feel strongly about a specific activity, but I think I found what I want people to remember me by: humanizing the math classroom, especially in higher ed.


It is extremely easy to dehumanize the math classroom, especially at the college level. If we are not careful, students will think that they are treated like robots/calculators, performing procedures only caring about the correctness of their final answer (as seen from scantron tests and online homework). Not only this, but at least from my college experience, there’s a lack of teacher/student relationship. With these two ideas put together, there’s the potential of students feeling dehumanized on two fronts.

The impact didn’t really hit until last year when a student wrote on her final, “I thought it was really great you kept asking how my work was going or where I worked at. I think only 1 other teacher ever in my 4 ½ years at Fresno has ever asked me where I work or how is it. It really made me feel like I’m more than my ID #”. Especially at the college level, I think it is important that teachers build relationships with students because 1. They are humans and should be respected as such. 2. I believe that we all cross paths with one another for a reason and if we don’t talk, we miss that connection. 3. You never know when someone needs someone to talk to.

Humanizing the math classroom:

In this section, I will share just a few things that I do to humanize my higher ed math classes.

1. Student Autobiographies Before the semester begins, I give students the option to get a head start on creating their autobiographies. (It’s mostly for selfish reasons why I give them the option because I really can’t wait to meet my students). I also have them comment on two other autobiographies just to start community building.


Here’s a link to an example:

2. 20 Words/Phrases

On the first day of class, I ask my students to come up with 20 words/phrases associated with a typical K-12 math class with their table (as an ice breaker, once again for community building). Here is what one class said last semester:

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 1.37.08 PM

With only a few positive words/phrases, it seems like students would already hate my class before I even said a word, just based off their experiences in the math classroom. If I didn’t do this activity and just started with content, I would have already lost them.

What these words/phrases tell me are:

  1. They do not feel like they are valued as humans, but rather seen as calculators/robots. Teachers only care about the correctness of their answers.
  2. They do not have a voice.

After I write these words and phrases down on the board, I ask students to cross out the ones they don’t like and replace them with other words or phrases until they these 20+ words/phrases resemble their ideal math classroom.

With this activity, I can see how students feel about math and cater to their strengths and weaknesses and hopefully dispel their thoughts about what the math class looks like.

  1. Tips of the Day

When we talk about humanizing the classroom, we tend to emphasize the student end, but remember, you, the teacher, are not expendable and you have a lot of knowledge that students can benefit from. This is my way of personalizing the classroom. To this end, I give a tip of the day to start out each day.

Some examples:

Math is not about speed.

Math is the study of patterns.

Why does “a negative times a negative equal a positive?”

When you teach, pretend students can hear you but can’t see you.

Say “Ask me at least 2 questions” rather than “Do you have any questions?”

When I was student teaching in an 8th grade classroom, I would have tips of the week, like “Make eye contact when you talk to someone” and “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

  1. Show them women can be mathematicians too.

This section is inspired by a talk from Dr. Jenna Tague. I tell students to take a couple minutes and draw a mathematician in their notebooks. After a couple minutes, I ask them to describe what they drew, and then I polled the class on the gender of their mathematician. The majority of my class are women, but the majority of the mathematicians they draw are mostly men. This is a problem because this shows that they cannot view themselves as mathematicians.

Here’s a table from the research done by Picker and Berry (2000). They asked 12-13 year old students to draw a mathematician and here are the results. Some do not add to 100% because they were unable to justify whether the mathematician drawn was a male or a female.

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.21.18 PM
Here are some of the drawings that the students had:

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.22.01 PMScreen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.21.53 PMScreen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.21.44 PMScreen Shot 2018-06-28 at 10.22.11 PM

When we look at these pictures, we think, “Who would want to be like this? Who wants to be a mathematician?”

I then talk about the people who inspire me as an educator. The top 4 mathematicians that inspire me are: Diana Herrington, Jo Boaler, Alice Keeler, and Jenna Tague. If these women did not see themselves as mathematicians, I would not be the educator that I am.

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This goes along with the humanizing aspect of social justice. Women are just as good as men in math, but unfortunately, a lot of the mathematicians that we talk about in our classes are mostly men: Euler, Gauss, Euclid, Eratosthenes, Archimedes, Newton, Leibniz, the list goes on. What I want to focus on this summer, is to research more on the impact of women in mathematics and the contributions of non-European countries in the history of math. This way, more students can start to see themselves as mathematicians.

  1. Take selfies with the students!

With teaching 180-190 students a semester, I try my best to remember their names years after, but sometimes it fails me. But at least I can get a selfie with each group!

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  1. Writing thank you cards.

I’m an extremely sentimental person and I hate things ending so I write individualized thank you cards to all my students. I thank them for choosing my class, for being great students, and that I wish them well in the rest of their collegiate and teaching career.

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 11.14.01 AM

This is just my rough draft thinking, and I know there are a lot of things that need to be modified, but the purpose holds true: Higher ed classes and math classes are susceptible to being dehumanizing so I would like to share and do more research on how to humanize higher ed math classes. Some topics that I am looking further to researching are: culturally sustaining pedagogies, social justice, and universal design for learning.

In the end,  It’s all about showing that you value your students for who they are and that their voices matter. 

Thanks for reading.