Pivot Points

She stood there smiling, holding two folders out to me.  Without hesitating for a moment, I said, “Okay” and took one.  And in that moment, my life changed completely.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and though it’s cliche, it is true.  People talk about life-changing moments all the time-weddings, funerals, childbirths, diagnoses.  I’ve had my fair share of these.  Ask me what my top “favorite” moments in life are and I’ll name my wedding and babies being born in a second.  Nothing changes life more.  But as I look back on this crazy road I’ve taken, I see that there are other, just as important points, that aren’t as obvious.

I think of them as pivot points, and I think we all have them, if we only think hard enough.  They are points in our lives where we made a decision, often seemingly completely inconsequential, but that decision had an absolutely enormous impact on our lives going forward.  Pivot points are the kind of moments that when you look back, you think to yourself-“If I would have done that differently, nothing would be the same.”

My own pivot point came when I was working as preschool teacher at a Catholic school.  My mentor came to me one day during my second year with an issue.  A local university had assigned her two student teachers by accident, and she wanted to know if I would take one on.  She held out the two folders that had been sent.  She was a fantastic teacher and a wonderful mentor, and I agreed to help without a second thought, plucking a folder from her hand.

And then, as if stacked by a cosmic hand, the dominoes began to fall.

The student teacher I had chosen at random (who was wonderful) had an adviser that had worked in education for years all over our county, including my Alma mater district, the district I had always wanted to return to as a teacher.

That same adviser happened to observe me teaching one day and pulled me aside afterwards, uttering a phrase that shocked me to the core: “You’re amazing and I feel you’re being wasted here-would you be interested at a job in Perry?”  I stuttered my surprise before answering, “Yes!” I could barely believe my luck.  She responded: “I’ll be making some phone calls for you.”

Within two months I had had an interview and had landed a job at the district that had always been my ultimate goal.  The district I had fruitlessly sent resumes and applications to year after year, with not even an iota of a response.

Fast forward two years and I had been moved into sharing a classroom with our elementary gifted teacher due to space issues.  All year long, I heard her lessons as she worked with these amazing kids.  I’d always wanted to teach gifted students “someday,” maybe “whenever” I decided to get my Master’s degree…something that had barely crossed my mind.

I was a reading tutor working part time, desperate for my “own” classroom and a full-time spot to help support my family and realize my dream.  I refused to leave Perry, but I needed something to change. And then my principal walked in and told me not one, but two rare gifted positions had opened in the district for the next year.  She couldn’t think of a better person to apply than me.  I was floored.

Now, I’m entering my sixth year of teaching gifted students.  I’ve received a meaningful Master’s degree in talent development education.  I have never, in my life, been happier about my work.  I wake up every single day excited to do my job.  To quote another cliche, I could win the lottery tomorrow and I’d still go to work.

And yet…it all comes down to that pivot point.  I didn’t know what I was doing that day.  I was helping my colleague and friend out.  I just grabbed a folder.  I didn’t even think.  And that tiny moment changed my entire life.  It boggles the mind.  Sometimes, it makes me sad to think that there may have been other such moments that passed by without my knowledge.

Do you have a pivot point?  More than one?  What seemingly inconsequential action changed your life monumentally, for better or worse?  I’d love to hear.




In Defense of the New Math (Everyone Seems to Hate)

I’ve seen the posts on my Facebook feed.

“Why can’t they teach math the same way they always have?”

“I can’t even help my second grader with her math homework!”

“Why is math homework so complicated these days?”

And my favorite…”I’m a summa cum laude engineering blahblahblah graduate and I can’t even do this first grade addition problem.” (Whatever.)

I’m going to try to set a few things straight.  Because I teach this apparently odious “new math” to multiple grade levels. And I’m here to say-there really isn’t that much new about it.  But there are a lot of really good things that come from it.

First, let me just get something straight before we go any further.  New math and the common core are two completely different things.  Common core is not making your kid’s math homework problems harder.  In fact, common core requires teachers to teach math the good old fashioned way everyone seems to be bemoaning the loss of.

Here is a third grade common core math goal:

Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction (Source: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/3/NBT/)

Note the use of the word algorithm.  That’s the plain traditional way of doing addition and subtraction, folks.  You know, where you stack two numbers on top of each other and you start in the ones place and sometimes you trade or borrow or regroup or whatever the term you choose to use for moving between place values.  So.  New math is not, truly, common core.  Today I am talking about new math, not common core.  So spare me that in the comments, huh?

Anyways.  Here’s the thing about new math.  We aren’t really teaching students new ways to do math as much as we are teaching them new ways to think about math.  Because the old school way was to simply teach the algorithms, rules, tips, and tricks for math and then expect students to blindly follow them.  And students blindly followed them and they all got good grades in math!  But…when more complex math came along, things like algebra and calculus that require the rules to bend a little or be applied in new ways, everything fell apart.  I know this was the case for me.  I was a straight A student in math, and then in about 8th grade, everything fell apart.  People laughed at the “smart girl” for suddenly needing math tutoring because I was getting an F.  Not good.

I don’t blame my teachers, because they were teaching the best they knew how, and this was the way they’d been told to teach, the material they’d been given to teach, and the way they learned themselves.  But still, I knew something was not right. Let me illustrate by example.

In first grade, we were learning simple subtraction.  My teacher told us that the largest number must always come first in subtraction.  She told us it was the rules of subtraction and that we were not ever allowed to break the rules.  Besides, it was simply impossible to take away more than you had in the first place, wasn’t it?  That’s how subtraction worked!  And I bought in 100%.

Until later when we learned about negative numbers.  I remember, very clearly, thinking, “Oh my God my teacher LIED to me about subtraction!”  And I started wondering what else I may have been taught that was not true.

My favorite example comes from fifth grade.  We were learning how to divide fractions.  You know how you divide fractions? You flip the second fraction over and you multiply those fractions, that’s how!  So I asked my teacher (I must have been the world’s most irritating student, seriously) WHY we flip the second fraction.  How does that work?  Why does it work?  You can’t just flip subtraction around and call it division or something, so why can you flip a fraction and change division to multiplication?  Do you know what she told me?  “Go sit down.”  Then she repeated it when I persisted, adding “Because those are the rules, Amy.  Go. Sit. Down.”

Do you know when I learned why you flip the second fraction?  When I was a junior in college and I took an education class on how to teach math.  From fifth grade until age 21, I was just blindly flipping fractions.  I’ll bet you did, too.  Maybe you still are.

This is exactly what the new way of teaching math is trying to avoid.  We can’t just keep teaching students to do things this way “because I said so” and expect them to apply the rules differently in the future.  If we do, we’re just continually creating a population of people that doesn’t really “get” math.  And that’s pretty scary.  Now before you go off all, “But I know math AND I understand it!” and quit reading, bear with me for a moment.  I’ll get to that.  Obviously, we don’t have a bunch of people wandering around who can’t add.  Just hang with me for a moment longer.

I want to draw a comparison to reading.  We do not teach children to read by only having them memorize lists of words blindly.  I don’t mean kindergarten sight words, I mean ONLY learning to read by memorizing words.  Of course we don’t! There are millions of words in our language!  What would happen if they were reading a book and came to a word they hadn’t memorized or had forgotten?

Instead, we teach them phonics skills and word attack skills they can use to figure out new words as they come across them.  We teach them some of the rules of language and word building, like the silent e at the end of some words or that blends like sh make a new and different sound.  And-most importantly-we teach them that virtually every one of these rules has exceptions.  To teach reading through 100% pure memorization would be ridiculous.  Yet that’s what we were doing with math.  Here are a bunch of rules, kids.  Memorize them!  They always work! Until they don’t.

Within the new math, we are trying to teach students that there is more than one correct way to think about numbers, operations, and math in general. That there is more than one way to solve a problem, and often many ways.  I, personally, don’t try to teach that one method is better than the others, but I want to give them as many options as I can to attack math in any form they may find it.  Math problems in real life don’t come in neat little isolated rows like they do on math homework sheets.  So the one thing I do make sure I teach is that math is everywhere and there’s no getting away from it, so it’s really valuable to learn.

I want to share some examples from my second grade classroom.

Example one:

“Someone has $2.00.  They spend $1.60.  How much do they have left over?”

Now, traditional math and the algorithm state that you need to whip out a piece of paper and write something like this:




And then there would be a lot of regrouping or borrowing or whatever.  And some of my students did it that way.  And that’s just fine-they’re learning.  But, as an adult, is that what you did?  Did you seriously go get a piece of paper and write that down?  I doubt it.

I’ll bet you answered it using one of the below methods that some of my students used:

“I counted up by tens four times, which gave me forty until I got to 200.”

“I already know that 6+4=10, so I knew that 60+40=100, so forty must add up to equal the whole dollar.”

Did you use one of those?  Or at least something like them?  Here’s my big question-Where did you learn how to do it that way?

Because that’s totally how I do math.  I wouldn’t use a piece of paper or even a calculator to do that problem.  I’d add up in my head.  Subtraction wouldn’t even come into it, really.  And definitely not borrowing and regrouping.  Yet no teacher taught me that.  I didn’t learn that method in school.  Did you?  If you’re at all like me, at some point you probably just stumbled across doing math this way without even realizing how or why.  Maybe you just noticed that you do math that way when I pointed it out.

But, as a teacher, I’m not happy with just hoping that my students figure it out someday.  That’s how successful, thinking people do math.  They don’t whip out a pen and a pencil for every problem.  I don’t want my students to have to, either.  I want to equip them with real, useful ways to do math.  So yes, I teach them the old fashioned way.  But I also teach them multiple, real, useful ways.  That’s new math.  Except, as you can now see, it isn’t really anything new, it’s just being taught now instead of stumbled upon later (too late, in my case, as I struggled with math all through high school and college until I finally started to teach it and began to realize how this number stuff really works.)

Here’s another example:

“Jenny wants to earn 100 stars in class this year.  So far, she has earned 27.  How many more does she need to earn to reach her goal?”

Yes, you can subtract 100-27, regroup, and get 73.  But I’ll bet you didn’t.

That’s why I ask this question all the time in my math class- “Who solved it another way?  Explain how, please.”

Student: I added.

Me:  Tell me how you did that. (This quote is a key difference.  I know when I was in school, the teacher most likely would have said, “Wrong.  This is a subtraction problem.”)

Student:  Well, I added three, and that took me to 30.  Then I kept the three in my head while I added 30 + 70 to get to 100, and then I added the three back onto the 70 and got 73!”

That’s new math.  It’s not always easy.  Sometimes it’s really, really hard.  It’s definitely not the way we learned it. Sometimes it’s too many steps or it almost seems silly because “I can do it the old way in less time.”  I know!  But we are no longer going for super speedy mathematicians who are driving blind.  We are going for young people who may take math slow, but really get it, and thus open worlds of possibilities and understandings we never even imagined.

Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.  I really wouldn’t want to have it any other way.


A decade ago, I was planning my wedding. I was finalizing flower orders, rehearsal dinners, dress fittings. I thought I was ready for, up to that point, the best day of my life.

And it was. It’s cliche, and that’s fine, but I married my best friend and my soul mate, the guy that I love. I still count the minutes until he’s home from work, kiss him goodnight, hold his hand all the time.

A decade. It’s been a…wild ride? …an amazing journey? I don’t even know how to describe it.

A decade ago…
There was a little one bedroom apartment. There was no house, no mortgage and yard to mow. There was no choosing paint colors and decorating and worrying about maybe that was a leak, do you think that was a leak? A decade ago, there was no home, and now, there is.

A decade ago…
There was a daycare worker. There was no degree, no teacher. There was no drive to exceed the expectations of parents, principals, students, and the toughest critic, myself. There was no classroom, no worrying about standardized tests, no early morning bell ringing. A decade ago, there was no career, and now, there is.

A decade ago…
There was no daughter. No blonde, blue-eyed, laughing girl who collects every rock she sees and blows people away with her drawings. There were no constant questions and paint on the table and begging to stay up to watch just one more show. A decade ago, there was no Corinne Nicole, and now, there is.

A decade ago…
There were no sisters. No smiling, red-headed, freckles on her nose, sings her own astonishing songs, loves to dance ballet little girl. There were no doll clothes on the couch and imaginary princess balls and asking for just one more story before bed. A decade ago, there was no Ashlynn Cari, and now, there is.

A decade ago…
There was no son. No tiny giggling, car vrooming, booty dancing little boy. There were no naps in a lap and sloppy wet kisses and splashes in the tub. A decade ago, there was no Kamden Brant, and now, there is.

A decade ago…
There was a couple. There was no parenting, no homeowners, no diapers to change and whines to worry. A decade ago, there was love. But now there is more. Where there was a couple, now there is a family, full of love.

I can’t exactly describe what it was that happened at that altar ten years ago, on August 14th. It was more than words exchanged, rings put on fingers, a name changed. It was the creation of something wholly new, and wonderful, as a pebble is introduced to a pond, and the ripples of love continue to spread, after all this time, after a decade. My only wish is this…that they continue to do so.

Happy 10th Anniversary to my husband Kirk. I love you and the life we have created far beyond any words I could type here.

A Fable for the Modern Age

This is the story of Patty.

Every weekend, Patty wakes up and does her yard work.  She loves doing it, and honestly, she’s a bit of a yard work expert.  She mows, weeds, rakes and trims in record time, and her yard always looks great.  No homeowner’s association could complain.

When Patty is done, she gets to enjoy the free time she earned by doing a great job on her yard.  Usually she just hangs out in her yard quietly, doing her own thing.  Sometimes, though, she gets bored and wanders the neighborhood.  Sometimes she’ll stop to visit her neighbors and they end up chatting, so her neighbor doesn’t always get their yard work done when they should.  And sometimes, when Patty got done so quickly and was enjoying her free time, her neighbors got a bit jealous watching her have some fun while they were still working.  It didn’t seem fair.

The home owner’s association decided that since Patty was so great at yard work, maybe her expertise could be put to use.  They asked her to help out some of her other neighbors with their yard work.  Most of the time, Patty didn’t mind.  She liked to be helpful. But sometimes, she thought a little wistfully of the time she used to have to herself when her yard work was done.  She didn’t always want to be helping others with their yards.

Finally, the homeowner’s association hit on the perfect solution!  There was an empty lot on the corner that didn’t belong to anyone. No one ever took care of it.  That yard needed taken care of!  None of the other neighbors had time, they were working on their own yards.  But Patty had lots of extra time.  She always finished her yard early and did a great job, so she’d be perfect for taking care of the empty lot.  As a bonus, Patty wouldn’t have time to wander the neighborhood and distract her friends from their own yards anymore, and no one could complain that she had too much free time.

At first, again, Patty didn’t mind.  She liked to be helpful, and she really did enjoy yard work.  She was good at it!  After a while, though, Patty found that doing her own yard was fun, but having to do an entire second yard became tedious and boring.  She never had the free time she had enjoyed anymore.  Eventually, she started to resent doing yard work until she lost all taste for it.  She was still good at yard work, but she no longer went about doing it happily.  It had, sadly, become a chore for Patty.


The moral of Patty’s story:

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you want to do more of it, or do it all the time.  Giving the gifted students in your classroom more work or extra work is never, ever a good solution.

A Plea for the Smart Kids

I teach gifted students.  It is amazing.  I have found my calling in life and I love it.

And yet, I teach gifted students in Ohio, and this is not as amazing.  The politicians in Ohio are insistent on denying these very special students the rights that they deserve and need.

I’m here to ask you for help.

A while ago, our State Assembly agreed that what little money schools get for gifted doesn’t really have to go to gifted.  So if, say, the school needs a new set of science textbooks instead, they can use their gifted money to purchase them.

I’m lucky.  I work for a wonderful school district that values gifted students and understands their potential.  My school district not only spends its gifted money on its program, it goes above and beyond and actually spends more.  Which is a darn good thing, since what Ohio designates as a gifted budget is a pittance.

But now, there is more trouble.  In order to teach gifted students, I had to take five graduate school classes that did their very best to teach me to teach gifted.  Don’t get me wrong, the classes were great.  But gifted students are so special and amazing and unpredictable that there are still days when I completely feel out of my depth.

That happens, sometimes.  When you are trying to teach a class of students that sometimes understand the material in ways you never will.  It happens, sometimes, when I plan lessons a grade level above my students and they prove to me in the lesson’s first seconds that they are really three grade levels above.

Gifted students are, in every sense of the word, special education students.  “Special ed” seems to carry the connotation that students who need it are doing poorly in school, but that is just not true.  Special education is just that.  It is for students who are special.  They need special ways to learn.

Yet our Ohio politicians think that teachers should not need any more graduate classes before they teach gifted students.  My endorsement will become a moot point.  I am in no way denigrating regular classroom teachers, but you need special training for these kids.

You need to know how to teach them how to reach their potential when the whole world is telling them “You can do anything!” and they don’t know where to begin.

You need to know how to help them deal with the social and emotional issues that occur when their friends are all worried about their texting limits but they can’t fall asleep at night because they are worried about global warming and its effect on the future.

You need to know how to teach them to turn their creativity into great avenues like writing and making new things instead of destruction from boredom.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not claiming I can always do all of that for every kid.  But my endorsement and classes sure help me out.

How can our state government expect someone with no additional training to truly be able to help these kids?  In a time when our government is demanding a special certificate to teach reading, a special licensure for special education, for teaching middle school math, and on and on…they are trying to demand less training for our gifted students.  The students that could change the world.  The students that, perhaps, need the special teachers with the special training the most.

If “fair” is defined as each learner getting what he or she needs to learn, how can our state call this fair?  How can they even propose such a thing?

If these revisions pass, I foresee a future in which gifted students stay in regular classrooms.  And in these regular classrooms, their teachers, who are so amazing but already stretched to the breaking point, will not have time to prepare differentiated instruction for the students that are already getting straight A’s.  They will not have time to deal with the emotional and social issues that come with a student that looks like an eight-year-old in almost every way, but thinks like a twenty-year-old.

And these students, these most special students, will wither on the vine.  They will grow bored and apathetic because their needs are not being met.

Please help me stop this from happening.  If you know a gifted student, or a gifted parent, or a gifted teacher, or even if you just care about these kids, or kids in general, please go to:


and click on the “Advocacy” tab.  Let our state politicians know that taking away from our gifted students is not ok now, and never will be.

Thanks for listening.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Friday Journals

Hello All,

I’ve started to get my classroom ready for next year, and since I will have much smaller class sizes this year, I have decided to institute Friday journals.  I only want to do them once weekly because I feel that daily journals become too mundane and I just don’t get great responses.  

Each Friday, the students will come in and begin to journal about, basically, anything they wish.  I will set a timer and during that time, they must write, illustrate, or re-read past journal entries only.  Since there was nothing I hated more than writer;s block as a kid, I will give them a prompt on the smartboard each Friday, as well, although they are not required to use it if there is something else they’d like to write on.  It’s there to inspire them and to give them something to write about if they simply can’t think of anything.

Below is my list of weekly prompts.  I have culled and adapted them from all over the internet so they can be thought-provoking while still being school and age appropriate.  Many of them I wrote myself.  Please feel free to use these ideas or add more in the comments!

If you could change any one thing about school, what would it be and why?

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?

If you had an opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

Is it possible to lie without saying a word?  Explain.

Do you think crying is a sign of weakness or strength?  Explain.

Would you break the law to save someone you love?

When was the last time you tried something new?

Which activities make you lose track of time?

If you HAD to teach something, what would you teach?

What makes you smile?

If you could make a 30 second speech to the entire world, what would you say?

What is something you could do to make someone’s day better?

What or who can always make you laugh?

If you could have you own TV show, what would it be about?  Who would be your co-stars?

If you could ask the president one question, what would it be and why?

If you could have ANY animal as a pet, what would it be?

Climbing trees is….

What are your favorite and least favorite holidays and why?

Tell me about your holiday break.

Write a thank you letter to someone who has been nice to you or helped you.

If you could talk to animals for a day, what questions would you like to ask them?

What would you do if you were in the middle of a lake and your boat sprung a leak? (I think this one is my favorite!)

If you could bring a character to life from a book or TV show, who would it be?

How do you know you love someone?  How do you show it?

How would our world be different if the dinosaurs still lived?

What would you do if you woke up in another country and nobody understood you?

If you could spend a week in any foreign country, where would you go?  Why?  What would you do?

What would you do if you were 100% lucky for one day?

If you were principal of the school, what would you do?

Tell me about your spring break.

If you could interview one historical figure, who would it be and what would you ask?

If you could travel back in time, what time period would you visit?

If you had $100, but couldn’t save it or spend it on yourself, what would you do with it?

Tell me about your happiest memory.

What did you think of this school year?

Tell me about your summer plans.

Hey I’m not Dead.

Just to let you know, I am not dead. About a week ago, lightning hit a car across the street from our house and effectively took out our phone, cable and Internet. And AT&T, being the gem that it is, hasn’t fixed anything yet.

So we’ve been having lots of conversations like this at my house:

Child: Can we watch TV?
Me: No, the cable’s out.
Child: Can we watch Netflix?
Me: No, the Internet is out.
Child: Can I play on abcmouse.com?
Me: No, the Internet is out.
Child: Well, can we watch TV?
Me: We’ve covered this already.

I have that conversations about 10 times a day. Heaven forbid my deprived children have to play with their room full of toys.

You know how you hear people say:

“We went a month without TV! Best thing ever! We realized we can live without TV in our lives!!”

Yeah, I’m totally not one of those people.

So anyways, since the Internet is down (except for the 3G on our iPhones), I have, of course, thought of like 50 blog posts I want to write. Don’t get excited, I’ll probably forget most of them as soon as the AT&T truck backs out of the driveway. In the meantime, this is about as much of a post as you’re gonna get since I have to type it on my tiny, tiny iPhone screen.

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