A light switch.

Someone once said they are not aiming for happiness in life, but rather, engagement in life. It now makes me wonder if this is my quest as well. Recently it seems as though I’ve been reaching for happiness but falling short. Never quite getting it right. From this refreshed perspective, maybe I’m not falling short at all, but rather just aiming for a different star.

Who am I to this world? To make a difference in ways that negatively affect others is a failure. I am struck by my persistence to be stuck in a sense of self-doubt, lacking clarity and self-worth. The same motivation that used to drive me to finish, now impedes my abiliy to make good decisions. Or maybe it has always been that way.

Like a light switch, my world is hung upside down at the perception of an attack on my being. Yet again my head is cast into a blunder, a dither, just plain dizzy. Self doubt is my biggest barrier. Fear is a close second. My light switch is sensitive, and am not sure how to fix it.

Chin up.

From a diplomatic advisor, a fresh perspective on the tumultuous calamity that I call my life, is to keep your chin up. Practical advice, that may be hard to swallow, but true to “practical,” “achievable,” in many ways it is quite simple.

While I grit my teeth so hard to cause major tension headaches and jaw strain, I must remind myself of the hope and potential for greener pastures. To not live a life of fear, of dread, or disappointment. Instead, it is a choice to live a life of joy and happiness.

I tend to place fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment first in my work, then in my family. The painful unpacking of past events of history’s past, help me to see the clarity in this mantra. Academia had always been a retreat from the pain and suffering of life, and since those two realities have come into direct and forceful opposition, I am learning to seek solace in a more careful balance. A colleague recently reflected that in his 23 years of marriage, he has learned (and advised me to do the same): put your spouse first, your children second, and your career third. Why is it that sometimes our only real lessons for life come with time and experience (meaning in the process we are blinded from the emergent truth)?

As I revise a rejected manuscript (based on research conducted five years ago, that is now accepted for publication pending revisions), I relish in the opportunity to share my thinking on a (digitally) printed page. This is the work that I enjoy. This, and my son’s smile, are what help me keep my chin up.

I’m sticking around, and still smiling, despite a fear that everyone else is wondering why.

Working hard.

I aspire to being a leader in the field of mathematics education. To pursuing excellence and shaping the direction of our future generations of students, teachers, and other educational leaders. In some ways, I struggle in understanding how the greats got to be where they are. I’ve been collecting quotes from movies and songs that help me to better understand how to reach that goal. For example,

  • Harry Potter: [to the D.A. members] Working hard is important, but there’s something that matters even more. Believing in yourself. Think of it this way: Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than we are now. Students. If they can do it, why not us?

Harry inspires his peers to keep practicing magic in the face of resistance and acknowledges the state of being a novice as a temporary place, a starting place, a launching pad, that over time and practice and hard work can (and will) build into something greater.

  • Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis): The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great because they paint a lot.

From rapgenius.com, we learn that this mantra about greatness is based on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, in which the 10,000-hour rule is key to success in any field.

At one point I believed that by completing my dissertation that I had achieved the 10,000-hours rule, that I had developed some specialty and expertise in a particular area, and had some strengths to share with the field. That idea has been challenged and beaten down to the point that I am just starting to see and understand, that really that training meant something else. My colleagues, Dung Tran, helped me to understand that the dissertation and the graduate school training is more about developing a skill set to ask questions and to search out answers to unknown questions in a methodologically rigorous way.

For me, I’ve been reflecting on the mind-set required to complete the dissertation. It required persistence, determination, the will to aspire, to set my own deadlines. That practice could be viewed as an exercise of, “Does she have what it takes to perform similarly in new and more challenging situations in the future?” “What will she do when confronted with difficult situations? Will she shrink back and retreat? Will she stand up to the challenge and persevere? Will she work hard to find a creative answer?” It all comes back to working hard. If I use the building a house metaphor that Karen King mentioned to a small group at the 2014 NCTM Research Conference, my dissertation might be the outline of a foundation of research, of a career. I am just now laying down (and possibly breaking them along the way), bricks and mortar that can be used to strengthen and stand on in future endeavors.

“[T]he psycholo…

“[T]he psychological definition of a concept cannot be reduced to its scientific definition … [M]athematicians normally strive to be precise, complete and parsimonious when they write definitions, whereas psychologists try to understand how concepts are progressively shaped, by different kinds of situations and competences and by different kinds of linguistic representation and symbols.” (Vergnaud, 1997, p. 5)

~ the logic of the discipline and the logic of the learner ~


Ruthven (2002) reminds me of the complexity and insight gained in reading French research (cf. Artigue, 2002) on CAS and instrumented techniques.


Ruthven, K. (2002). Instrumenting mathematical activity: Reflections on key studies of the educational use of computer algebra systems. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, 7(3), 275-291.

Vergnaud, G. (1997). The nature of mathematical concepts. In T. Nunes and P. Bryant (Eds.), Learning and Teaching Mathematics: An International Perspective. Hove: Psychology Press.


Not a day goes by that I notice different things in life that inspire me. Today it was an article, and a conversation with a colleague around teachings of Buddhism. I will discuss the article now, and save Buddhism for a later post. Paola Sztajn and colleagues recently published an article on theory supporting mathematics professional development around learning trajectory based instruction.

Sztajn, P., Wilson, P. H., Edgington, C., Myers, M., & Teachers, P. (2014). Mathematics professional development as design for boundary encounters. ZDM, 46, 201-212.

The article was theoretical in nature, and inspired me to want to write theoretical pieces of research. It gave a solid example of principles that guided the professional development activity around linking research and practice (without explicitly using the words “linking research and practice”). From a communities of practice lens (Wenger, 1998), both teachers and researchers had shared boundary objects that provided a basis for shared activities and a mutual exchange of knowledge. This work inspired me to be explicit about the incorporation of design principles to guide the work of professional development. It also inspired a possibly new direction of research focused on professional development as a site for research in which both researchers and teachers are learning from each other. Sztajn and colleagues (2014) argue that research on mathematics professional development can be a productive avenue for teachers’ knowledge to inform research, and vice versa.

Encouraging words.

I am always learning. Today I have learned the power of encouraging words. Words the seek to inspire, to motivate, to push ahead, to make progress when faced with adversity and challenges. This also reminds me of a few quote from movies I’ve enjoyed with my family recently.

“A true warrior never quits” (Kung Fu Panda)

So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.” (Elizabethtown)

I’m working on my smile. Smiling when faced with challenges that make me want to cry and break down, fall on my knees. Smile, stand tall, stretch to the sun, then down to the Earth where my feet are planted firmly. Today writing feels like a blessing and a curse. Yet at the same time, I can’t measure only my failures. I need to take stock of where I am, realize that the myriad of writing drafts need to revised, sent out to colleagues, then submitted to the scrutiny of editorial staff of peer-reviewed journals.

A Blessing or a Curse?

I have recently seen others post comments or engage in conversations about loathing the writing process, calling for a good “creative flow” to inform their writing, or not looking forward to meeting the deadline. Is this a fear of writing? A dislike for sharing critical thinking on a written page?

This leads me to wonder if writing is a blessing or a curse? Maybe both.

My curse with writing is not taking the time, or giving myself the creative space to think, write, innovate, and do. Carving out time for writing is an important practice that I need to regularly incorporate into my daily routine. The blessing in writing is evident when a drafted piece of writing is read by others, eventually published, and used by others to inform their thinking.

The goal of much of my writing is to advance the field of mathematics education. A lot of times the pressure to contribute in a meaningful way stymies my productivity in writing. Maybe the goal of this writing needs to be scaled back to not feel like such a curse, but rather a blessing. I have stories to share, and need to give myself space and time to share them.


“May the goodness and light in you, honor that same goodness and light in me. We are one. Namaste.”

This message of peace is central to my pursuit of happiness. Peace within myself, and with others. When I find myself unsettled, I look into myself for clarity.

Mediation while sitting on ground of the warm earth,
under trees towering over me,
amidst sounds and smells of spring.

Pollen falls like snow,
not always visible to the eye,
yet covering all surfaces with golden dust.

Sharing my story can be painful,
uncovering severed trusts, vulnerabilities,
venturing into great unknowns.

It is human nature to be uncertain,
confidence is a fleeting facade,
yearning to find solace once again.

Possibly through writing,
a path will be found,
marking renewed progress.


Progress in press.

Learning to write is an important process. One of the important components of this process is the ebb and flow of manuscripts at various stages. For my own clarity, I need to better track this process. For now, I’ll keep track of this in a google spreadsheet with columns for:

(0) Author–maybe it is individual authorship, or maybe it’s a collaborative endeavor. This is important to specify up front, and decide on author order. Just be clear, make reasoned decisions that are agreeable for all involved. I believe in the power of co-authoring, as a synergy is made possible through interaction and sharing of ideas. I also have a perception that sole authorship is valued in the field of mathematics education. Correct me if I’m wrong.

(1) Title or idea–be succinct, clear, and possibly catchy (see 3–I’m thinking of teacher audiences here).

(2) The story to be told–to paraphrase Dr. Koeno Gravemeijer, who was referencing Dr. Paul Cobb, when writing, it is important to have a clear story to tell, this helps shape the manuscript into a publication. So decide and state your thesis clearly.

(3) To whom–like having clarity in what story is to be written, it is important to understand the intended audience of the writing, this helps shape the tone and focus of writing, word choice, and jargon.

(4) Status–there are several stages of writing. In the realm of “Progress in Press” these may be: (a) in progress, a draft or idea, maybe an outline or just a seed;
(b) in review, in the hands and responsibility of the editorial staff of the chosen venue after no, one, or several rounds of back and forth (*note that this stage could also send a writer ~back~ to step a, or could remain in step b yet with a change in responsibility in who is doing the reviewing — could be me–);
(c) in press, this is next to gold, you have confirmation that the editor has agreed to publish your work, sometime, but it’s not yet ~printed~;
(d) published, the gold star of accomplishments, worth writing home about, or not.
And in reflection, I think a next step would be (e) referenced by others. This would actually be the gold start of accomplishment. The intent is for work to change, to inspire, to have a leadership quality about it. So having others draw and build on one’s own work is better than publishing. It starts to take on more of a living character of being so that your words live on.

(5) Deadline–inspired by Dr. Tabitha Mingus, there is a distinction between an ~assignment~ that is for me to “DO” and that is “DUE.” Some deadlines are self-imposed, others depend on collaborators, journal editors, conferences, … As of late, it’s more often than note just the WILL, MOTIVATION, and ABILITY TO OVERCOME FEAR OF FAILURE. See my post inspired by the Lean In mantra of: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

(6) Notes–maybe I need to give myself a pep-talk, or set realistic parameters on impending deadlines. I am an avid note-taker, so more often than note, there is a need for a “notes” section.

Here’s to greater progress in press!

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

This question is a powerful one for me because it liberates me from holding myself back. I have always considered myself to be a leader, but lately, haven’t been taking on the challenge of actually doing something about it. I’ve allowed myself, my ideas, and my emotions to become suppressed to the point of… fear. Fear of something better. Fear of being the best. Fear of being number 1 at what I do. No one else can do what I do because I define my own profession. I am the only one who has my exact research agenda, my exact teaching philosophy, my exact stance on the world, and on issues in mathematics education.

This video is important for others to hear, too. Lean In.

In the Convening on Mathematics Education, held today and tomorrow (March 10-11) at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University, one message was to “Speak up” “Let your voice be heard” “You, your story, is important for legislators to hear.” While this call to arms isn’t new, there is a different ring to it for me today. The call of other leaders is to do something about it. 

Just do it.

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