How do you measure a day?

Breathing in and out, I sit to write as the day closes.

One babe just blinked his eyes closed, while another reads.
Today has brought both joy and frustration.
Compromises and love.

I find myself at the end of the day, happy, yet somehow unsatisfied.
I have writing projects that need attention.
I turn away from and avoid the ones that are difficult.
(Yet I know these are in some ways the most important.)
From this state I question my habitual patterning.

I wonder, how do you measure a day?
(*and yes, you should be quietly humming “Seasons of Love” from Rent while you ponder this question for yourself…)

If I measure the day from an assets-oriented framing of my experiences, it would go something like this:

I created and shared home cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to nourish and energize the entire family;

I engaged in and encouraged play and movement, yoga and biking, walking and greeting friendly neighbors, nourishment for mind, body, soul; and

I worked on my practices of writing and conceptualizing, letting go and giving in, reading and theorizing, conjecturing and wondering.

If I measure the day from a deficit-oriented framing of my experiences, it would go something like this:

I endured tantrums of a 2 year old screaming for his demands before every meal, before nap and bedtime, and the entire time we were in the car;

I sighed at the frustrations of a 6 year old who squints his face in unexpected ways, holding his breath and breathing rage like a dragon when someone (hint: he’s 2) pushes him or plays with his Legos ~in the wrong way~; and

I feel disappointment in not having (or taking?) enough time (or energy) to focus on more than one writing project, while enduring interruptions of my writing, reading, and conceptualizing.

From the first assets-oriented framing, I see and feel gratitude.

I smile, and reflect on a day well spent.
A balance of building family and scholarship.
Of friendship and well-being.

From the second deficit-oriented framing, I see and feel regret and disappointment.

I berate myself for not doing enough.
For not having answers to difficult questions.
Or somehow not living up to an expectation I’ve set.

I breathe in. I breathe out.

I recall an important assumption for life and living

You choose and create your own lens to make sense of your experiences.

From this assumption, I choose to measure the day in learning.
Today I have learned to love more deeply.
To express more openly.
To be gentler and kinder to myself, and to others.

And now I wonder, how do you measure a day?





Taking time.

When taking time to do something,
or be somewhere, or with someone
Time itself doesn’t matter;
it needn’t enter into consciousness.

My favorite ways of taking time
occur as bookends to the day.

A long breakfast, children shrieking and laughing,
only silent while eating.
Standing in the kitchen,
enjoying coffee while cooking.

Then again to close the day,
when all babes are asleep,
A long rest, writing, reading,
conversing quietly (or not at all).

By consciously noticing when
we take time to be,
To enjoy and fill up,
We gain insight into
what it takes to live

Through a habitual patterning
of taking time,
One can intentionally
Create a lifestyle.

A long writing session can occur at any time.
Mornings may bring some clarity,
but may also be slow to warm up.
By the evening, taking time to write and express
has become a craving.

While practiced at writing,
I am less practiced at
Patience and single-pointed focus.
Often I start a piece of writing and it somehow
Morphs into two pieces of writing.

I smile, acknowledging the complexity
and intertwined nature of
creative thought.
Of knowledge generation;
a non-linear process.

This is the practice.
Of taking time.
And of compassionate

Taking time to maintain an active lifestyle
also requires practice and habit forming.
One can start with an intention of
taking time for self-care,
but until it is acted upon with movement
through dedicated practice,
it remains a theory,
like a dream never realized.

And now as I move from bookend to bookend,
I smile and notice, and wonder, how the day will unfold.
How will I allow my habitual patterning to guide my focus
How will I push in new directions to create new habits
New directions that spur creativity, joy, and love.

Noticing and wondering.
I repeat the process.
Taking time to live.
Taking time to be.


Can you draw it? Sketchnotes 101

In my current projects on linking research and practice in mathematics education
I am called to create illustrations and visual manifestations of ideas.
I have also found this lens to be supportive in my teaching.
In reading student papers, where ideas are still forming, I ask:

Can you draw this idea? Create a sketch to illustrate the interconnection of these topics.

Sketching is a Moving Meditation

I treat drawing and sketching as a moving meditation.
Visual and creative playfulness.

How To_1
Sketchnotes are a form of visual play and creativity. Condense an idea into a single page or notecard. Aim for fun, not perfection.

As a meditation,
I work to flow and breathe,
with pen on the page in near constant motion.
This movement allows me to not overthink what I’m doing,
and instead to go with it.
To allow an unfolding.

Examples of Sketchnotes

Here are few examples to show what I mean by a Sketchnote.

I created this collection while observing another person give a professional talk (e.g., see Student Reasoning as a Source of Insight) or a classroom observation (e.g., Making Sense of Experience).

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I also create sketchnotes from articles I read, and write, as a way to visually condense an entire paper into 1 page, or a short video.

I elaborate a few of these in blog posts such as: Keys to Playing the Publishing game, Dr. Nicky the Scientist. I also have a YouTube Channel with videos on Representational Fluency and Learning Trajectories (flowers!), to name a few.

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I draw inspiration from several sources. Here are a few you might check out:

  • If you’re looking for a good starter for layouts and design ideas, check out Lindsay Braman’s website or Instagram feed. I got good at drawing banners and flags by working on her outline. She also uses different hand-lettering techniques that are good to play with.

  • I find graphic novels to be another source of inspiration for creative mixes of visuals and text. Check out the Zen Pencils website or Instagram feed. Another ideas is to read a really great book on making comics, such as the one by Scott McCloud.
  • Lynda Barry’s texts “What it is” and “Syllabus” got me inspired to think about where images come from. In some of my sketchnotes the images quite literally emerge without a clear sense of where they came from.
Seeking Connections
Seeking connection
  • An Innovator’s compass is another really fun tool to get ideas out on the page, and works well from initial conceptualization of ideas to more developed ways of thinking.
Center on people. Define principles. Dream. Design. Discover. Innovator’s Compass.

Lean In to Your Passions

Another key point to creating sketchnotes is that there is no perfect formula,
there are no “answers” in the sense of a sketch being “right or wrong.”
It is art. Creating a sketchnote is an artistic process.


Research and Practice
Lean in to your passions. Allow a creative process to unfold. Let go of attachment. Be true to you.

From this stance, you might find it helpful to think about

  • what inspires you?
  • where and when do you feel most alive?
  • what are you passionate about?
  • what do you have fun doing?

Tapping into what makes you YOU, your ISness, is key. For me, I’m inspired by nature, and specifically trees. I sketch trees all the time. And recently came across a great book from which I’m learning how to sketch trees with greater precision, and it’s fun!

Boy at tree.
Heart-centered. Lead with your heart.


Can you draw it? Get your pen.

Finally, sketchnotes are a versatile medium that can be used in many many contexts. Here are a few that I like. Give them a try!

  • Doodle. So you play with graphic organization in a mix of text and visuals. I always cary a pen and something to write on. I feel lost without the ability to write things down. Like an extension of my mind, these tools are essential for my practices of expressing, and of learning, and drawing meaning from experiences.

How To_2

  • Educate. As an educator I’m playing with how to incorporate sketchnotes into planning and design of mathematics teaching. For example, if you take a learning progressions stance (big ideas, core concepts, sequences of tasks, assessments, student learning), and use this to frame your “plan” fill in the details and voila – a quick research-informed guide for strengthening links between research and practice in mathematics.
How To_3
A Learning Progression as a Framework for Mathematics Education Lesson Design
  • Learn. My favorite thing to sketchnote is a live presentation of research findings. I find that it helps me learn. Often presentations are dynamic, and if you’re lucky, the speaker is well-prepared and has rehearsed the material ahead of time with dynamic visuals and cues. If you don’t have an opportunity to attend a talk (at a conference, or open meeting), watch a good speaker on YouTube. Try this one by Chris Emdin on reality pedagogy. What did you come up with? Here is what I made.



Lead with your heart.

In practicing yoga, the cue to “lead with your heart” often is interpreted to mean shoulders back and down, abdomen in to support a strong core, arms perhaps stretched out like wings or clasped behind your back and down, with heart-center the leading force of your physical movement. (Think of doing a forward fold swan diving with your heart leading the way, or a humble warrior bowing down in reverence and respect, heart forward.)

As a physical exercise it might feel vulnerable to lead with your heart, especially when energy levels aren’t grounded. On the other hand, if your heart energy is strong, it might be empowering and feel quite full and alive to lead with your heart.

I intend to lead with my heart both on and off my yoga mat.

As an educator leading with my heart brings a smile to my face. It means putting ego aside. It means embracing the unknown for whatever it is, not good or bad. It means working toward positive change, to bring greater joy from suffering. It means acknowledging the complexity of being human, of suffering, and of the possibility of transforming suffering into something beautiful.

Heart-centered in yoga and heart centered in mindfulness and heart centered in mathematics, need not be disparate ideas and practices. I find great beauty in working at the intersection of disciplines and practices.

For me, the way I see the world, yoga and mindfulness are everywhere. Art and mathematics are also everywhere. There is a subtly here that I wish to explain. It is my own lens that helps me “see” these practices in all that I do. And it is my intentionality to cultivate meaning through the practices of yoga and meditation, and through the practice of expressive mathematics, that help me to cultivate and strengthen my lenses.


Habit forming.

Habit forming.

March 2, 2018


I’m working on a new habit of opening my computer to continue my writing.
I’m working on a new habit of being OK
even when I’m in what I sense to be an uncomfortable situation.

With bells ringing, trucks beeping, people talking,
fans whirring, engines, motors, beings,
all conceivably in motion all at once all around me.

It is notable, however, that understanding of my experience is self-centered.
It is not too surprising, and I am not alone in this way of understanding my experience.

Of course I understand my experience from my own lens,
from my own person, from my own self.
It is in this sense that I am centered on self.
For being centered on self, I come to understand myself, my voice, my story.

However, one way to de-center from this lens is to notice what is, and to not take it in as my own.
The noises from the parking lot are not a part of me.
I can sense them.
I perceive of them.
I am aware of them.
But they are not me.

The story that I create about these sensations,
perceptions, and my awareness of them,
is something that I create myself.
Yet the story is not me.
It is a story.

With training, I can choose to separate myself from the experience of is-ness, of being right now, right here, breathing, typing, and my experience of sensations that are uncomfortable.

I do not believe that I am alone in being uncomfortable in noisy situations. I believe this discomfort has been created as a form of habitual patterning that has evolved from my experiences.

Being aware of this habitual patterning (loud noise, discomfort, distraction, frustration, discontent, ungrounded, anxiety, urge to flee from the situation… loud noise, discomfort, distraction, frustration, discontent, ungrounded, anxiety, urge to flee from the situation…) is a starting point.

It is from this awareness that I can work toward creating more productive patterns that spring from my intention to be at peace. To be at peace with myself in the world. With my decisions. With my being. With my work. With who I am.

I’m working on being ok in the stillness of my own typing.

Resting in the consciousness of my mind that I am sitting at my computer, I am typing.

To have clear train of thought I sometimes create an expectation that I need to be in silence, in isolation, or otherwise be uninterrupted.

The fact of the matter is that I do not live in a world of uninterrupted spaces, places, and experiences.

My experience of the world is largely interrupted all of the time.

The question then becomes – how do I form new habits that take me into the peaceful state of writing – of being – of meditation on thought – of getting the ideas down on the page – rather than existing outside of myself in a noisy and busy world?

This is the practice.

Habit forming
Heart-centered practices. Mindfulness. Boy resting on tree. Growth of flowers in supportive environment. By Nicole L. Fonger @nmlfonger

Being while doing.

I wear multiple “hats” if you will. Mom, wife, researcher, collaborator, teacher, mentor, sister, daughter, granddaughter, aunt, to name a few. In each of these roles, I am asked to communicate, to lead, to converse, and to do. Often all I want is to just be.

In drawing inward I find a great sense of calm. I prefer to sit quietly in a meditative state, to be independently writing at my desk, or drawing and sketching to re-create and generate new ideas.

Where is the balance? I find social activities to be exhausting. I get distracted easily when several others are asking of my time, my presence, and my energy. And often, in interaction with others, I give a lot of myself. I don’t see a real reason to “be” somewhere, called to “do” something if I’m not really going to “be” there.  Yet in giving myself fully to a social situation, I easily get depleted of energy. Over time, this repeated depletion leaves me vulnerable and susceptible to illness.

Again, where is the balance? I forced a yoga class to happen today, with crying toddler in tow, I barely made it there in time, squeezing my mat in the corner of the studio space. Yet in being in that space, I remembered the importance of taking time to fill up. In yoga class I am in a social space, I am fully present, yet I’m not asked to talk and teach and lead.

I’m asked to breathe and to link breath with movement. I’m guided on an inward journey to come in tune with the true version of myself. To transform stuck energy into something beautiful.

Is it possible to take this stance of introspection in social spheres? To perhaps give a little less of my full presence to others, and instead prioritize full presence to myself. Perhaps I push too hard. When my body aches, I often ignore it and keep working. When my hunger pains I often ignore it and keep working. Even now I can feel the pain of my belly, the tension in my jaw, the ache of my spine, the thirst in my throat.

—“Hey mom. We didn’t have dinner”
(I laugh. We had dinner before tee-ball practice tonight).

“Didn’t you say we could have smoothies and pancakes?”
(Yes! I did. Let’s do bath, and then have smoothies and pancakes.)

And here I go. The next test. To move through an introspective moving meditation of bath time, dinner, stories, bedtime. While attending to my own needs, being present with my children and spouse, and not pushing too hard. Doing while being.

“Do you have to finish all your work?”
(I’m just writing)
“Can’t you just not write, can’t you just help your boys?”
(Breaking away, from this quiet introspective space, a calm I create while creating. Now my work is to re-create a sense of calm in interaction and leadership with others. A state of being while doing.)
“Are you writing about me, mom?”
(Yes. I love you. Let’s go.)

Time and space.

Taking time.

Creating space.

To be.

To wonder.

In this space.

I am.

With nothing more.

Nothing less.

Noticing the incessant voice.

That calls otherwise.

Noticing and being OK with what is.

This is the practice.

Waking to a call from somewhere that feels outside of myself.

Yet deep inside I am called from within.

I am called home.

To do my work.

To work for those who cannot.

To give voice to those who are silenced.

To create and express that which cannot be heard.

To free myself, and others, from being trapped.

On dark days.

Gray skies linger.

I celebrate and salute the sun.

Especially when her rays are not able to kiss my skin.

Yet here I am.

Reminded again.

No mud, no lotus.


Knowing when to rest.

March 3, 2018.

I’m not good at knowing when to rest.

Usually I work through my day, pushing from one thing to the next, with little time spared in between.

When my stomach hurts, I know I have gone to far.

The ideas and work flows from my finger tips yet but body urges me to rest.

April 25, 2018.

Yet here I am again. Body aching. Longing for movement.

Yet I write.

My writing keeps me quite literally chained to my desk.

And not in a bad way.

I surround myself with sights, sounds, laughter, images, papers, pens…

Ways to express and reflect on expression.

And write.

Now, it is time to move.

Drink water.

Breathe deep into my body.

And relax.

For relaxing is part of writing.

Current Projects.

Across all of my research I seek to better understand students’ meaningful learning of mathematics and the nature of supports for that learning.

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Characterizing and Supporting Meaningful Learning of Mathematics @nmlfonger

Lately I’ve been playing with new framings of ideas, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.

Below is a list of my current projects (and the stage they are in, last updated May 2018). Sometimes I struggle with having so many projects. One thing I find to help alleviate the struggle is to continue to curate, refine, and clarify both the SCOPE of my projects and the FOCUS of the work. This way I can not only move the work forward, but I can also more easily share the work with others.


Reality Math Circle

Focus: How do students experience meaningful learning of mathematics? How do the components of reality pedagogy (vis-a-vis @chrisemdin #HipHopEd) play out in an after school enrichment opportunity? See video on reality pedagogy here.

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Phase: sprouting seed, design, management of initial phases, building relationships – showing up, asking questions, being open and curious


Learning Trajectories in Algebra

Focus:A learning trajectory integrates conceptual learning goals, mathematical instructional activity, and students’ conceptions vis-a-vis their discursive activity. How does students’ conceptual understanding grow in relation to instructional supports? What is unique about a learning trajectory approach in modeling learning and supports for learning?  See video on learning trajectories here.

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Phase: writing, visualization, refining journal target; this work extends work on learning progressions in early algebra


Heart-Centered Pedagogy

Focus: What does it mean to teach mathematics with kindness in mind? How are cognition, emotion, social relation, and sensation experienced in math learning? How do these dimensions of experience amplify meaningful math learning — especially at the intersection of mathematics and mindfulness?

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Phase: seed idea, writing and sketching and reading to develop idea, asking others for feedback through peer-review drafts and discussion.

Research and Practice

Focus: How are community, collaboration, and communication central to linking research and practice in mathematics education? What are productive images and metaphors for linking research and practice (that help us move beyond a deficiency or ‘gap’ focused storyline). Here is an example of a video I created on linking research to practice.

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Phase: developed idea, need to revise research manuscript for target journal, curate visuals of current work to incorporate, draw insight from #EDU700 course to inform writing and visualization.


Representational Fluency and Meaning Making

Focus: Representational fluency involves creating, interpreting, and connecting  multiple representations to draw meaning about mathematical ideas. Here is a video of this work.

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Phase: developed idea, manuscript under review, another in draft form, graduate student working on related project


Another thing I struggle with is when it is OK to share the work. Sometimes the formalism of journal publications makes it seems as though that is the best time to share the work – once formally accepted by the community. This masks so much of the nature of research – the forming of the ideas. It is truly a creative process.

As such, you will notice in these projects that some are seeds, while some are sprouting. Like these flowers, that represent a learning trajectory for children’s mathematics. With the right supports and conditions, they, too, will grow and flourish.

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Does this work interest you? Reach out. I’d love to hear from you.

@nmlfonger Nicole L. Fonger. (aka the notorious Dr. Nicky)

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Current research projects. April 2018. @nmlfonger Nicole L. Fonger

Dr. Nicky. The Scientist.

For a while now, perhaps ever sense I was introduced to a “lab” model of scientific and education research, I’ve wondered, what is a lab? How do I build my own “lab”?

In working on this, I came to the following conclusions:

I am the leader of my own lab. My lab is focused on understanding and supporting students’ meaningful learning of mathematics.

The people whom I share my work with are a part of my lab. My grad student, for example, is in my lab. The students, teachers, and other researcher collaborators I work with are a part of my lab. A lot of our time and effort and intellectual energy is represented in the various projects we’ve worked on together.

My lab is grounded in my practices of writing, reading, teaching, and systematically studying learning to better understand the human experience of meaningful learning of mathematics.

Lately I’ve been adopting a multi-dimensional lens on being. This involves awareness and study of: cognitive (thinking, e.g., mathematical equivalence, covariation and correspondence), emotional (feeling, e.g., anxiety), social (participating, e.g., representing, creating), and bodily (sensing, e.g., perception) dimensions of experience.

Largely I have come to this multi-faceted lens as a way to understand my own experiences, on and off my yoga mat.

I drew this sketch to represent some of the ongoing work in my lab. Much of the work is collaborative. All if it is focused on students’ meaningful learning of mathematics.

Again and again I find that by expressing ideas in writing, in pictures, or other visual imagery that I learn. Sketching to learn, learning to sketch.




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