Vaughn’s TMC18 Reflection

Math is emotional, or at least teaching and reflecting about math is emotional. I’m never sure if it is exhaustion, elation, the combination or some other tion of which I have not yet thought. By mid-June and I am emotionally spent. I rest and repair, and then comes Twitter Math Camp (TMC) and the emotions flood back. This year was no exception. TMC18 was my third Twitter Math Camp and each of them have been emotionally draining while at the same time inspiring and uplifting. Knowing that there are actually other math teachers that I can see, hear, and touch who work as hard and care as much as I do brings me to tears every time.

ugly cry

Part of what makes TMC exhausting is hearing and reacting to the stories of others. Elissa Miller gets me every time. She teaches love and caring and by sharing what she does each year in her favorites presentation she teaches us those acts too. Whether it’s “say two nice things” or wristbands of joy, she teaches us to be better teachers and better people.


I first came across Glenn Waddell  as I stalked TMC15 thanks to periscope, though I had borrowed from his website long before that. Glenn shared his high five experience as his favorite. That simple action, that five minute talk, changed the culture in hundreds of classrooms for thousands of learners millions of times. That makes me cry as campers publicly share their high five experiences.


Kent Haines talked of reading to his infant children and then learning that he was doing it all wrong.  I laughed and cried. That was Kent’s intro into his favorites presentation about a website compilation of games for young kids and families. I just loved the intro the best.


Lisa Henry’s husband, once again, shares his perspective as the spouse of a math educator. At the close of camp, he explains why he gives up his vacation time and travel budget to support a bunch of strangers from across the country at Twitter Math Camp. He does it for his kids because he wants every kid to have teachers as committed as the ones he sees at camp each summer. And I cry.


During her keynote, Julie Reulbach brought down the house as she talked about teacher leaders and feeling like impostors and trying so darn hard for our students and having to realize that we must stop feeling like we are falling short. We must stop under-appreciating ourselves. Is it any wonder the public disrespects teachers when teachers are self-deprecating? Julie made us tweet statements of what makes us great as individuals. And we did it. And then we saw people at TMC Jealously Camp doing it and I wept as I thought, my gosh, the power to influence greatness which exists in this room is astounding.


From Tuesday through Sunday I was surrounded by passionate educators doing whatever they can to better themselves for the ultimate purpose of meeting and exceeding student needs. I lived in a house with educators whom I am proud to have as both peers and friends. We don’t come from the same place. We don’t teach the same grade bands. We do, however, share a love for what we do. And that is to eat ice cream and play board games. Oh, and teach math.


So, as you can see, this post is all about feelings. This is my summary of #TMC18 compiled two weeks after it is over. This is what stuck with me without looking back over the swell archives that have been compiled (except for a couple of pics I harvested). I have great resources that I may access at any time about the content of sessions at camp. What I have without effort and technology are my memories and my memories are all about my emotional reactions to events at TMC18. It is similarly true for our students. They will learn with us and will know how to access information should they forget, but what won’t be forgotten is how our students feel about us, school, learning and math. We have a huge responsibility. Together, we are each better than we are alone. I look forward to spending the next year with you, my friends.



Beginning-of-Year Custom

Each summer I find myself signed up for professional development sessions. I am totally psyched about them in March, but come mid-June, I just want to sleep and sew and crawl into my personal quiet space where I can heal. Teaching is hard on the mind, body and soul. Luckily, having the attention span of a gnat, it doesn’t take long before I emerge and start reading and writing and reflecting and of course, attending professional development sessions. Through this cycle, I eventually come away with an area of focus for the next school year. For example, 2015’s focus was on student thinking. I worked on strengthening meaningful mathematical discourse among learners as my students built and rebuilt mathematics conceptually. The many algorithms installed by well-meaning parents and past teachers were eventually understood. In 2016, all of my professional development had the common thread of intentionality. Instinct and reaction were insufficient. Every assignment, activity, question and comment is to be crafted with intension. The theme heard loud and clear in 2017 was about  being vulnerable as teachers.  Just as I want my students to take risks as they explore and problem solve, I too must stretch outside my comfort zones and take risks in my teaching-practice. Also, both in and out of the classroom, be brave and talk openly about race, gender and inequities. None of my themes are ever perfected, but significant progress is made and now these themes are part of who I am.

I sensed early that this year’s theme is going to be about self-care. I got hints as I saw my friends on strike in West Virginia and Oklahoma as they advocated for themselves, their students and others. The Me Too movement is about self-care and advocacy. Students organize and march for stricter gun laws, advocating for themselves and safe schools. These were all early clues.

Then Julie Reulbachspokeat Twitter Math Camp 2018 (#TMC18) about being teacher-leaders, and, oh, so much more. The theme was sealed. Self-care it is. A big part of self-care is liking and respecting myself. I am good at some things and I work hard to improve what I am not yet good at. I am reliable, honest, caring and confident and it is not bragging to say so. I love my students and I love my job and it is time to love myself. I am enough. Everyday!



Realizing a theme for each year first came about by accident. I happened to notice ideas recurring over certain periods of time and I started making connections among what I was reading and hearing and noticing. Now, I actively look for the coming year’s theme without forcing it. Having a central focus helps me when I find myself flailing in the middle of October and when panic sets-in in March. These themes make me who I am: a work-in-process making progress. Discovering my new theme is how I prepare mentally for a new school year. I still have to set my room up, plan my first couple of weeks, rewrite my syllabi, and finish making my first-day-of-school outfit, but I have observed my custom.

Have a great school-year everybody!!

Teacher-Dress–Just this Gal’s Opinion

I listened to an old podcast (September 2017) the other day on the topic of appropriate teacher dress. (Hack Learning episode 101) I was happy to see this topic being addressed, as it is important for teachers to dress professionally.

This topic stirs up ire among some educators, but I’m not talking about suits, ties, stockings and pumps verses polos, jeans, bare legs and deck-shoes. I am talking about my self-imposed rules on teacher-dress. It includes items that never make it to any official policy. The majority of these rules evolved over time, though my daughter, Kari, imposes a couple rules. She was in the eighth grade when I began teaching so she had more experience than I observing teacher dress. I listen to her because she is observant and reasonable. Besides, as a princess, her rules are nonnegotiable.

My rules:

  • Shoes: polished and no flip-flops ever. Sandals are ok if you feel safe in them, but not recommended. It is far better to have only one quality (probably expensive) pair of shoes that you wear everyday than it is to have several pairs of cheep shoes that hurt your feet.
  • Pants, skirts, dresses and shirts: cleaned and ironed with no missing buttons and hemmed to the appropriate length. It is just as bad for something to be too long as it is for it to be too short. It is perfectly fine to wear black pants every single day. That way, you can wear the same pair two days in a row and nobody notices. That is a pro-tip from a former guidance counselor.
  • Avoid clothing with advertising or political statements or Santa or pumpkins or flags.
  • Choose clothing that fits you well, in which you feel confident. If you have a single doubt about an article of clothing as you get dressed, obey that doubt. Wear it and it will bother you all day.

Now for Kari’s rules:

  • Undergarments—ladies, wear padded-bras; gentlemen, wear undershirts. We all need a bit of smoothing from time to time. Also, visible panty lines (vpl) are to be avoided. And nobody wants to see your thong or panties peeking out over your waistband. Ever.
  • Absolutely NO sweater sets. I think this rule stems from a bad experience with a chronic sweater-set wearer, but I honor it.


That’s it. Hope this is helpful or at least made you laugh and think.

If you know me personally, you know I like to wear clothing made with printed fabrics with math designs. I know this is super-tacky, but it’s part of my signature. And, I don’t dress like that every day, unless I am at a math conference! I am certain my choice of attire is against somebody else’s list of rules. I’m ok with that.

Why All the Excitement?

I was shocked by the responses from the good people at Open Up Resources (OUR), Illustrative Mathematics and my comrades in twitterdom regarding my reflection blog which boldly sang the praises of OUR. I tried to understand what motivated this excitement and was told teachers just don’t normally cheerlead for curriculum resources. I explained to my husband why I was so zealous about OUR and I thought, perhaps, I should be explicit in my explanation to you as well. I am confident my experience is similar to many teachers’ experiences across the country.

I just finished my 12thyear of teaching 8thgraders mathematics in North Carolina. I had at least one standard math 8 class (in addition to algebras 1 & 2 and geometry) for each of the last 11 years. Each year, I was given a one-page summary of state standards to be covered, written in code on a calendar type matrix, directing me what to teach and when. I looked for textbooks at my school, but only found about twelve for 8th grade math and no teacher’s edition. The books were not very rigorous anyway, so I just used problems and worksheets offered up by colleagues as well as smelly, dusty binders left behind by former teachers. Even back then, I didn’t give homework in math 8 so I got along fine without textbooks and my students learned well as measured by those pesky end-of-year state assessments.sample matrix for blog

A few years into teaching math 8, along came Common Core. Halleluiah! I love Common Core. It makes so much sense and kids are able to make connections that never occurred to me which serves to confirm CCs awesomeness. The actual standards got more explicit with CC, but I still received only the one page summary of references to state standards. No curriculum resources were provided. The state provided no funding for curriculum even though all of the standards were updated and changed. Like teachers all over the country, I was left to find, recycle, invent, design, write, steal, borrow and beg for rigorous resources so I had something to use with my students. (Purely anecdotal, but the rest of the teachers in the country must have been in the same boat because, I think, MTBoS was born, in part, in response to the curriculum dessert in which we all found ourselves.) The quality of peer-shared and harvested resources was high, but they were exhausting to vet because there were so many!

Couple this quest for resources with the aspiration to provide quality instruction complete with high engagement, real-life application, improved mathematical discourse, deeper levels of learner understanding, all the while making daily learning experiential and sticky, left me defeated some days and tired every day. I tried to do my very best each day for ten years and failed on hundreds of occasions. Then a miracle happened. Open Up Resources was developed and available to teachers. Finally something an ever-shrinking budget could get behind. It checks nearly every box. It is high quality curriculum that is full of rich tasks. It is deeply rooted in conceptual understanding. Concepts are continuously reviewed, previewed and connected. Instructional routines designed to increase student participation and understanding, which I already use, such as, Which One Doesn’t Belong and Number Talks, are already part of the lessons.

It is finally possible to devote appropriate time to understanding and supporting student learning because I am not overwhelmed preparing my own curriculum each and every day. I can now focus on students because the curriculum piece is solved. This is why I am so excited and grateful.IMG_2778

For educators trying to convince colleagues, supervisors and the district-level decision makers that OUR is the solution to the curriculum problem they face, the following points may help.

  • One-to-one was a solution looking for a problem. OUR is a solution to a problem that already exists.
  • OUR makes instructional-consistency a reality across classrooms throughout the school and within the district.
  • Teacher expertise is required to lead, coach, interpret, monitor, sequence, direct, and challenge learners. Teachers are the professionals in the classrooms. This curriculum frees teachers to better support student learning.
  • OUR incorporates best-practices at each and every turn. Units as well as lessons are designed with low floors and high ceilings. Struggling learners as well as high-flyers deserve quality curriculum and instruction. OUR makes that possible for all learners, creating equity that has been lacking in our classrooms.
  • The professional expertise of educators in the classroom is essential for delivery of the OUR curriculum. The teacher’s role in the classroom is elevated, not diminished, through the use of OUR.
  • Making connections is essential to the learning process. With OUR, mathematics is connected daily to real life, addressing that question, “when are we going to use this?”
  • Learners are connected to one another through the use of instructional routines that promote collaborative problem solving and communication skills.
  • Learners are challenged through the rigorous tasks in OUR.
  • Conceptual understanding is essential for success in higher mathematics. OUR is rooted in conceptual understanding. Learners know why mathematical algorithms work before they are formalized and learners have the freedom to decide how to go about solving problems.
  • Creativity and varied approaches are expected and celebrated. Learning mathematics through OUR is fun for students and teachers alike.

These are just a few points that occurred to me. Pick and choose what suites your audience. If you have additional reasons you have used to persuade your colleagues to pursue OUR, please add them to the comments!

Reflecting on My First Year Experience with Open Up Resources

Please let me disclose up front that I am a user/fan/evangelist of Open Up Resources (OUR) and have absolutely no affiliation with them whatsoever. I do, however, have enormous respect and gratitude. Statements here are opinions and reflections on my experiences. Your mileage may vary.

2017/2018 was the best school year in a long time. I learned a lot; I was organized; I felt prepared; I tried several new things; and most importantly, I left school June 14thexcited to return eight weeks later to build on the year’s successes and improve any mediocrity and shortcomings.

My school dove into OUR headfirst and didn’t come up for air until at least Christmas. My district provided training all along, but given my course load, I was not able to attend the large majority of training as desired. I wrote about my initial experiences here. I finally got into a groove and became much more efficient in preparing for my Open Up classes. Rather than preparing daily as I had done September through January, in February I started batching my lesson preps. By April, I built my PowerPoint for an entire week in one file. At the close of each day, I deleted the slides covered and saved the rest of the file for the next day. Because I used Variable Random Grouping each day, I needed a new seating chart slide anyway. I finally began importing the pre-made slides provided by Open Up. I imported the slides I wanted and just edited my student sheets using textboxes for more efficient printing rather than duplicating them into my homemade ppt. Send me a message and I am happy to grant you access to my files. Samples may also Files may be accessed through the PowerPoint I am preparing prepared and edited for TMC18.

Here is a simple graphic of the way I think OUR looks. Move clockwise, beginning with the Warm-up.


The job of synthesis is to connect every aspect of the portion within the lesson as well as to connect new learning to prior learning. If there is ever any ambiguity about connections throughout the lesson, they are hammered home during the final synthesis. If the final synthesis is skipped, there is an obvious hole in the lesson. Each portion of the lesson is also synthesized as one lesson phase transitions to the next. The relative sizes of the circles in my graphic are indicative of the amount of time allocated to each portion of the lesson. Lessons follow this consistent pattern throughout the course.

I like how the Cool-down bleeds into the Warm-up in the graphic. Fairly early on through the year, I began reviewing the Cool-down at the beginning of the next class. This allowed learners to review my feedback on the Cool-downs as well as to access newly acquired knowledge for the prior day’s learning experiences. That is a example of how I made OUR my own.

Another example of making OUR our own at my school is a sixth grade math teacher came up with the idea to have learners place completed Cool-downs in green, yellow or red folders depending on their individual confidence levels. The information gleaned from the placements was telling in a couple ways. It was easy to spot false confidence. It was also helpful to see at a glance how students were evaluating their own learning. We still sorted and wrote meaningful feedback on the Cool-downs each day.

Here are errors that I made this year that I want to spare anyone else from making.

  • Notice the graphic. Without the synthesis, the lesson has a big hole in it. Don’t shortcut that, rush it or heaven forbid, skip it. Be explicit as you make connections. What we as teachers think is obvious, may not be to learners and frequently, they just need that small nudge forward to make the desired connections.
  • Give at least 5 minutes for the Cool-down. Some kids can demonstrate understanding with more time. If they don’t nail it, you need to figure out what you missed along the way. This is valuable information and not a step that you can afford to skip.
  • Keep the pace up from the very beginning. Trust the curriculum. Concepts will come around multiple times from multiple angles. It works well. The authors are geniuses. Respect and trust it.
  • Focus on student work and having students share their perspectives on your cue. Sequencing student responses is an art that I am far from mastering, but it is valuable to student learning.
  • Allow enough time for assessments. Learners are actually excited about showing what they have mastered.
  • Score assessments with an open mind and an open heart. Learning is a process and you are looking for progress toward mastery. This material is challenging in a whole new way. Don’t defeat learners before they get a fair chance. Fairly recognize progress.
  • Stay organized. The curriculum makes that easy. Follow the OUR sequence even if your district thinks they know better. They don’t.

I am most excited about the improvements I plan to make this coming school year.

  • My district is getting student workbooks, so I will not have nearly as much copying to do. I will still copy the Cool-downs, but I have those all set.
  • I am going to take my own advice and focus on sequencing student responses more deliberately and improve my process here.
  • I am also going to improve my syntheses. I really didn’t help my students make the connections and recap the concepts the way I should have last year.
  • I am going to keep my pace up in the beginning so I do not have to condense and shortchange my learners at the end.
  • I am going to use VNPS (Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces) every chance I get. Learners did far too much sitting last year.
  • I want to adapt some student tasks to Desmos so students have the opportunity to dialogue with other learners and critique their work. Desmos is well suited for this.
  • I have to work calculator use into the lessons. No calculators for learners at first for sure, but after my students have conceptual understanding, I need to teach them to use the tools at their disposal. I totally dropped the ball on that one and need to figure it out.

I could write for days about how jazzed I was each day as we learned math in an entirely different way this year. I could tell you how I learned something new each and everyday, not only about student learning, but also about math. You need to experience that for yourself though. Please be smart enough to do that the week or at least day before your students do. It will make you so much more efficient and effective than I was. I eventually got ahead of them, but not far. I am excited for next year for sure!

OUR made me love, adore, and treasure teaching Math 8 for the first time ever. It was fun. It was meaningful. It was amazing. I cannot thank OUR enough for bringing joy into my classes through quality curriculum. I would have never thought that possible, but I lived it.

After finishing the year, I am incredibly in love with OUR. I hate myself a bit, but that is true every year. No matter what I do, I feel like I could have, should have done more. However, OUR helped me give my learners more conceptual understanding than they have ever had. The stage is set for explosive learning in high school. This is both my prediction and prayer.

Best Review Day Ever

Today my intern planned a review for my OpenUp classes. (Gosh, that sounds so much better than my Math 8 classes.) I attended our vertical math PLC yesterday and @BethSize shared a review game they do in 6th grade where the kids play connect 4 with post-it-notes, earning them as they solve sets of problems as a group. When my intern had all these review sheets I thought, “what the heck? Let’s do this.” I checked with my next door 8th grade teacher neighbor to see how big the board was supposed to be. She didn’t recall, so we made up our own rules. Three teams of four. A 6×6 grid on a white board. Different post-it-notes for each team. No building from the bottom. Put your mark anywhere on the board. Teams solve a sheet of OpenUp problems harvested from problem sets and elsewhere in the OpenUp resources (goosing some up by adding solve or show or prove directions.) They are checked by me or my intern. If there is an error or two, we say something like, 3 of those are correct. Learners then return to find their own errors. Once all are correct for each member of the team and we ensure all members are on-board doing the learning, the team earns a sticky note. (High tech can be over rated.) A member of the team places the note on the board. We played three groups of 4 per board. We called it Connect 4, but once teams got four, they challenged themselves to get a whole column or simply the most stickies on the board. I teach middle school. We are very flexible.

The conversations and teaching, one learner to another learner, were out of this world!! Now, true confessions, we had two adults in the room so groups got quick attention and directions. That cannot be under emphasized. More adults is better. Period. Done. Who doesn’t get that? Oh, yes. The state of North Carolina.

The second OpenUp class was even better. We had time to reflect and resequence the problem sets for that delicate balance of success, challenge and learning. Intentional sequencing is so important and yields amazing results. Getting good at it is a work-in-progress.

This activity went so well with my OpenUp classes that I tried a variation on this with my Math 2 classes. They too have a Unit Test soon. I created MC problem sets off of SchoolNet and made a packet of questions for each of the 8 groups. Some packets were 12 questions, some were 4 and everything in between. It all depended on where the nice page breaks occurred in the printed versions rather than planned sequencing. This is designed for online, so the printout isn’t pretty. It’s easy to harvest–by–standard though, so vetting time is minimized. Because they got many more problems per packet than my OpenUp classes, I decided to do two groups per tic-tac-toe board rather than Connect 4. It worked. It wasn’t perfect, but for the seven out of the eight groups that worked, it was great. I told teams which if the questions were incorrect so they could go back since there were many more problems and they were all MC. (Easy to check, but still challenging/standard aligned questions.)

Unit 4 Practice Problems my intern compiled are here, though the ideal sequencing is not in the order the problems are presented here. This is Unit 4 of the Open Up 8 grade curriculum.

Everyone in room 209 has been working like crazy since we got back from winter break. Today we had fun showing off our learning.

Group Quiz–Maiden Voyage

I’ll start with the goods…student and collegue comments:

This is great.
I could have never done this alone. (from an uber high level student)
Can we finish with the same people on Monday?
I feel really good about this.
I want to see this with your OpenUp students. This a great. (my principal)
Did you hear what they are saying? They are really talking math! (curriculum facilitator)
Telling them they can kick a kid out of the group if they are not part of the process is gold. (math coach)
Did you come up with this yourself? (sixth grade teachers that came to watch)

So here’s how this came about.

I was in math club this morning and we had a group competition where each team of 4 had two problems and 6 minutes in there rounds. (Modified @mathcounts target round combined with team round) With math club you need the time con-straight because you are preparing for competition. I stole the two questions per sheet idea, the score only one sheet, and the group collaboration. I added…use 1 calculator for the group if you need it, graph paper and patty paper are permitted as are compasses and protractors, sadly, no desmos. Students choose the tools though. Tools are in the room, but students need to get them. They are figuring out what tools they need. That’s a mathematical practice, you know.

I bought a book at a used book store last weekend called something like The Humongous Book of Geometry Problems (I left it at school soI don’t have the exact title.) I was attracted to it because it had problems as well as solutions. Thank you. I modified some problems from there and used some pretty much as given. I also used problems from the quiz bank I was recently turned onto by David Wees. Thank you.

So, each group got a pack with two problems per sheet. Each student had their own sheet plus a colored sheet that had to have the final solution on. Group stapled all work papers to the colored sheet and turned it in as which time they got another pack with two questions. I had a total of three packs for 6 questions. There was notice limit. Here’s a copy of the instructions posted for the class.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 9.44.22 PM

Here’s a pic of the problem packs. I’ll attach the files if you want them. By the way, we are studying transformations.


The students were more engaged than I have seen them all year. I know part of it is that these students are motivated by grades. That got them going since it was a quiz grade, but the learning and the sharing and the teaching one another is the goal. I hate grades, but these students will work for them. This quiz was actually getting them ready for their unit test as they taught and reviewed with one another.


My last class ends at 3:50. This quiz had kids engaged at this level at 3:45 at the end of a week where they had county interim assessments for three days. IMG_2763

Her’s a montage of photos from the two classes.

At my principal’s request I am going to try this with my Math 8 students (they are using Open Up Resources). They are motivated in different ways than the groups I show here. I too am curious at the levels of learning and engagement I will get. I am hopeful.

Here’s the problems if you want them. group quiz transformations