Guided by a sense of purpose.


Guided by a sense of purpose.
To push the boundaries of what is possible.
To invent and re-discover new ways of teaching.
To engender richer, more meaningful ways of learning.


My goal is to support rich learning of mathematics.
And to share the theory, tenants, and design principles guiding my practices.
Tied to empirical evidence of students’ learning.
Grounded in systematic practices.
Of uncovering patterns.
Of noticing new truths.
And now to tell a story.


You cannot put your head down yet.
You need to tell your story.
My story is one of love.
Love that came from the depths of my soul.
That was born in me.
And at one point, so well-hidden
I had forgotten the way
To the center of the flame.
Now I write to find my way back home.
I create. I express. I meditate. I am.
To harness the creativity.
And propel it forward and out.
To give life to ideas.
Grounded in love.


Draw to the page.
To the pen.
To the keyboard.
Each word is built upon.
Expounded until
I spin a web of
Colorful prose
That guides



Into the space deep inside me
Where the entire universe lies
Living and practicing with
Dedicated devotion
Devotion to a higher
A purpose
Of living authentically
Aligned and alive
Without Reservation
Without Hesitation


With love.
Being love.
I teach love.
Love for self.
Love for others.
Love for knowledge.
A quest for knowing and being.
Now drawn toward the purpose of sharing.
Sharing designs with others to teach.
To learn.


Always to learn.
By engaging in self-study I come to know myself.
This is what I offer.



Poem Written Feb. 4, 2018, Sketch drawn Feb. 16, 2018.


Writing and mindfulness.

Writing and mindfulness.


Writing is a practice that must be cultivated through dedicated practice.

Much like yoga, in which the more time you spend on your mat, the more everything becomes your mat. In this sense, you find yourself living your life both on and off a yoga mat as one in the same space.

The analog to writing, then, is to be “writing” a story, whether your hands are typing or not. The trick, is to not get caught up in story to the point of blocking creative energy, and being consumed by a “movie” of an alternate reality that stymies your ability to be present for your experience.


I wonder, What is the balance between the practices of mindfulness and writing?


The balance between mindfulness – non-judgmental present moment awareness – and crafting story (aka writing) is a tricky one.

For me, there is a subtle separation between writing and mindfulness.

In a writing state, there is a sense of the thinking mind, the sensations, and perhaps the breath. But for me, even in free writing, there is in some ways an allowance of the thinking mind to dominate the stage.


This is the thread that I see, the main point to be made. Link these sentences together. Build this sentence upon the other one. Get it on the page, then rework it to have a clearer flow.


On the other hand, in a state of mindfulness, there is a sense of subtle energies, and the focus is on the breath. If you find your consciousness wandering to the thinking mind, there is detachment from that state of being.


I am thinking. That’s Ok. It doesn’t matter that I’m thinking. It doesn’t matter what I’m thinking about. I’m breathing. I’m sitting. My neck is sore. Breathing in. Breathing out. My sinuses are congested. Gentle breath in. Gentle breath out. Stretch, move. Breath.


Lately, given my personal circumstances of living in our new home without furniture or many belongings (perfection amidst imperfection), it makes it quite interesting to engage in writing, and in mindfulness.


For one, finding a good place to write has taken me a week. I now have a bed to sit on and am able to lean against the wall with my computer on my lap. I hear my children play outside in the yard, and while distracted by the screams, yells, and instructions on how to “play the game,” I smile at the possibility to have a dedicated place to write (and a separate dedicated space to play).


Second, I’ve been uprooted from my regular practice of yoga and meditation at my former home studio in our former state. This of course is a source of instability. For what was a regular dedicated practice of daily flow, Om, chanting, and mindfulness training, is now a scattered, irregular, sporadic minute or two here and there, between events and projects.


Do you ever have someone tell you something about yourself that when you hear it you stop and realize, “Huh, you’re right, I didn’t realize that.”

I’m telling myself,

Self: “Nicky, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, are essential crafts that not only keep you grounded, but also guide your practices of writing.”

Self: “Huh, you’re right! When my body is not aching, and my mind is clear, it creates an essential space for coming into a practice of writing.”

Self: “Yes.”


With that said, I’m learning to live amidst the imperfection of not yet having a home yoga studio. And instead, doing that I can to cultivate a home practice. I have several floors that are perfect for practicing yoga. Then the trick is carving out space, and giving myself permission to come into a flow of consciousness that allows for creative, inspired work. Of writing, and of mindfulness. This is the practice.

Written August 9, 2017


Keys to playing the publishing game.

Today I sat down to write and found myself sketching out ideas for how the ground the revision of a paper. I found myself then re-reading an article on publishing by 3 amazing women in #mathed that further inspired my learning

Here is what I am learning about playing the publishing game…

  1. Contribution. You have something unique to contribute. State it clearly.  Allow this contribution to guide the coherence of the article. This will support the reader in making sense of your ideas.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.58.55 AM
  2. Ask and answer questions. Each section of your manuscript is designed to point back to and support the question(s) you asked and the results you found. Allow the questions and results to be “blinders” to guide your paper, keeping it focused and on point.
  3. Introduction. Set the stage for your article. Answer the “Why?” up front. Make people care. And tell them the importance of this work.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.57.43 AM
  4. Literature. Craft a logical argument. Identify and state the problem of interest (linking back to why we care – the “So What” motivation of the study).  Synthesize the major results of existing research that addresses some responses to the problem. Clarify how this study augments existing work in the field.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.57.59 AM
  5. Theory. What is the conceptual model that guides your orientation toward this piece of scholarship? What are the assumptions this study is rooted in? What are the relationships among the key constructs this study is investigating?
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.58.13 AM
  6. Methods. What did you do to answer your research question. Stay focused on the specific aspect(s) of the study you are presenting in this piece. SO often, one study is multi-dimensional, and it is highly unlikely that an ENTIRE study can be captured in ONE article. Keep it focused on the rigorous, systematic processes you employed to get to the specific results reported in this study. Convey enough detail so that someone else could replicate what you did.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.58.30 AM
  7. Results. Tell a story. Animate the ideas through visuals, dialogue, examples, narrative. Keep it well-organized and to the point. Following a logical structure will support the reader in making sense of the data.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 11.04.00 AM
  8. Conclusion and Discussion. “Talk back” to the literature you synthesized earlier in the article. Do your findings support previous findings? Does this study contradict or call into question prior work? What alternative interpretations are possible?
    Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.59.20 AM
  9. Let go. Writing is an expression of ideas at a particular time, in a particular place. Allow the experience to be what it is. And let go of the rest. Be ready to practice resilience to criticism. As the review and revision process is another aspect of publishing that I explore in another post.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 11.06.09 AM

Learning to sketch. Sketching to learn. A symbiotic relationship.
#play #sketch #publish #progressinpress#read #sketchnote #learn #flourish

These ideas were inspired by years of writing. And by multiple reads of the following article.

Thanheiser, Eva., Ellis, Amy., & Herbel-Eisenmann, Beth. (2012). From dissertation to publication in JRME. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 43(2), 144-158. 

Note: If you don’t have open access to this piece, just email the authors. They are nice people.

Remember: You must write. For a paper not written will not get published.

Where do teachers find good math resources?

I asked google this query “math websites for teachers to use in the classroom?” and  this is what they told me:

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 10.25.26 PM

In doing some reasearch, I learned that some of what they show is “programmed” into the way Google runs it’s queries.

Their goal is to find the sites that help answer the question that is asked. And there is seemingly no way to get your site on the short list.

Of course in looking at the list of sites I wondered why none of the sites I typically go to, or would think to go to, or know of for that matter, are on the shortlist.

I wondered where NCTM was. I wondered where AMTE was. I wondered where AMTNYS (or any other state-level resource).

To tell you the truth, I thought at the top of the list would be Pinterest.

(I saw one of my students have a Pinterest site up in class the other day with pictures of statistics and probability titles. The activities weren’t directly posted, just a catchy sketch or title or image. It was pleasing to look at the site. I’ll have to ask her about it next class.)

Here are a few sites I’ve happened upon recently that inspire me… What are your favorite sites?

  • I really enjoy exploring this site. Megan and Yana have a very active blog, and easy to access resources that directly link practices for students and research in the learning sciences
  • Lindsay has a very nice artistic site. I’m inspired by her sketchnotes, and easy to follow tips for tapping into a more creative flow.
  • Heather does a nice job of sharing research, theory-based designs to inform teaching, – and she blogs on writing! 

Interested in helping me crowdsource? I’d love to hear from you in the comment below, or take this brief, anonymous survey.

Caught in the middle.

Caught in the middle.

March 2, 2018


I often find myself caught in the middle.

Torn between extremes.

Of this, or of that.


Do something fun.

Do something practical.

Do it because I love it.


Recalling a quote I have posted to my computer:


“What I know is if you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.” Oprah Winfrey


I am aware of external pressures.

I am aware of the responsibilities I have to myself, to my family, to my students, and colleagues.

I am also aware that if I don’t fill my cup, no one else will.


And so,

I rest in the awareness that leaning into my work.

At this moment.

Means sharing my designs.

Trying something.

And being playful about it.


P.S. Do you see that? Do you see how I was stuck, and how I turned to writing as a release and way to make sense of my experience?


Advocating for what matters. 

I wrote this post January 20, 2017. I am grateful for the experiences I have had in serving as a postdoctoral research fellow on an Institute of Education Sciences training grant hosted by scholars at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison. I am grateful to share what I learned with you.

This is not a time for silencing your voice. This is a time to advocate for what matters. In my professional career, the teaching and learning of mathematics matters. As I think about the current state and future of our nation, and the national leaders with political power to enact change, I feel compelled to share my story on why public education matters. I’ll focus on mathematics education in K-12 schools.

As a student, I was inspired to study mathematics because I found it challenging, interesting, and enjoyable. I had a 7th grade math teacher who – as a woman – served as important role model for my career aspirations. Girls weren’t always supported in the same ways that boys were in math class – often boys were much more vocal about their accomplishments, and I took it on as a personal charge to stand up to the plate, work hard, and excel in this subject.

Now as a mathematics educator and education researcher, I am devoted to understanding how students learn, with particular attention to how curriculum and instruction support student learning. I care deeply that all students have rich opportunities to learn mathematics in ways that sparks interest, curiosity, and problem solving in challenging ways. I believe that given a supportive (caring and non-judgemental) environment individuals can learn to engage in mathematics in powerful and personally enjoyable ways.
From years of graduate level study, teaching, and postdoctoral research training, this is what I advocate for in (mathematics) education.

  1. Curriculum matters. Math textbooks determine what and in what order ideas are taught. They have a great effect on students’ opportunities to learn. We must continue to invest in the development and refinement of research-based materials informed by classroom practice and research on student learning.
  2. Teaching is an artful craft.
  3. Learning is a long process. We cannot expect learners to become masters in a day, week, semester, or year. True mastery takes a lifetime. We must support students to see themselves as lifelong learners with some important milestones along the way.
  4. Mathematical mindsets matter. The all too common “I’m not a math person” or “I’m not good at math” are rooted in a fixed mindsets. Such closed mindedness about who can do mathematics and what mathematics is severely limit opportunities. Said simply, disbelief and doubt impede learning.
  5. Teachers are professionals. Teacher training, ongoing professional development, access to up to date information and materials for teaching, informative evaluation that supports improvement in ones professional craft, and resources (time) to network in community — these are basic needs for teachers as professionals.
  6. Teaching matters. From science, and experience, and intuition about the nature of human relationships – teaching can have a profound effect on learning.

It is time to take a stance. To let your voice be heard. What matters to you? Be aware of it. Share your ideas with others. And do something about it.



Nicole L. Fonger, Lindsay Reiten, Susanne Strachota, & Zekiye Ozgur. (2017). Engaging in Research: Why? How? Now! The Mathematics Teacher, 110(6), 462-465. doi:10.5951/mathteacher.110.6.0462 Stable URL NCTM JSTOR Research Gate
In this article, teachers’ roles as participant, collaborator, and researcher are examined and encouraged.

As a teacher.

May 23, 2016


I find myself in the role of a teacher.

I have learned to find beauty in all that I see.

Yet when others are faced with dissatisfaction, with fear or with anxiety, they are clouded, unable to see. Pulled from the presence.

How then, do you teach others to embrace love.

To trust in self?


As a teacher I seek to inspire wisdom and knowledge in others.

In a canonical curriculum, the specification of learning goals and tasks guides the learner and is guided by their progress. The teacher prompts, probes, questions, and tells. Students’ learning is assessed and measured, linking increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking to the curricular and instructional supports for their learning.


In learning to live from the heart, from a higher place or sense of oneness with a higher power, I find myself in uncharted territory as a teacher.


I can coach – Be here now. Find peace in the present moment. Let go. Do not worry for that does not serve us. Do your best.


However, these utterances can fall upon deft ears so long as the listener chooses. This is key –

as a learner, you have a choice to give, receive, and let go

Thus the core of the teaching is choice.

Choice of being happy.

Choice of practicing your best.

Choice of seeing beauty in every form.

Student thinking as a source of insight.

One powerful lens that I find fascinating and incredibly rich is to take the stance of a student. Based on interacting with a student–listening to what they say, watching intently as the do, draw, or create something–and ultimately wondering, based on what I know about this student (history), the context we are in (situation), what might this student be thinking?

In a recent research report by Amy Ellis and Rob Ely, they shared findings of their sense-making of student’ thinking. Early in the talk they gave at RUME 2018, Amy said:

I believe student thinking can give us insight into our own mathematical ideas.

– Amy Ellis

From this lens, they continued by sharing a context for learning they designed with their research team (a dynamic paint roller), and the design principles and mathematical goals that formed a foundation for asking questions and designing new tasks.

This sketchnote captures my take of their research reported at the RUME 2018 conference:

IMG_4283Sketchnote Art by Nicole L. Fonger @nmlfonger

For me, the big take aways for practice (and for research!) are:

  • Adopting a theoretical perspective, like quantitative reasoning, or covariation, can form a strong basis for designing tasks. In a practical sense, this might mean moving from an instructional goal of “teaching topic/standard X, Y, or Z” to an instructional goal of “supporting students to reason about continuous covariation in linked quantities of area of a painted region and length of a painted region.” This shift puts students’ thinking front and center in instructional design.
  • As researchers, and as teachers, we operate in our world with different understandings than students. Celebrate this difference by becoming curious about the ways students understand the world through close listening, records of practice, and conversations with others. When Amy heard a student say “I think a curve is a lot of lines” she reflected later that it is “poetry that moves my heart.” We learn more by listening to students.

Read more about this research project here:

Scaling-Continuous Variation: A Productive Foundation for Calculus Reasoning View free PDF of Paper here!


See Amy’s research site here


Tell me — What are you noticing? What are you wondering?

Developing writing as a priority.

Feb. 1, 2018


Developing writing as a priority.


Writing is a priority for me.
Yet this is not the only priority in my life.
In each of the roles that I play, I have priorities, responsibilities, and other things that I love.
I love being on my yoga mat.
I love cooking.
I love reading the New Yorker.


I love reading books with my children.
I love laughing and sharing presence with my husband.
I love sending and receiving mail (Given that all of our family beyond our nuclear 4 live out of state, mail remains one of the best ways to keep in touch – plus it’s so fun to personalize and work with paper, color, and stamps).


I love coming to better understand and grow more connected in various communities.
I love teaching.
I love learning from students.
I love learning from other teachers.


I really love research.

Right now I’m collecting and analyzing data related to
how mindfulness might help mitigate math anxiety.
(Project: #MathMindfulness)


I’m also writing up findings on
how students’ conceptions of quadratic function can shift
in response to tailored instructional design and support.
(Project: #SPARQ #QuadStudy)


I’m also mentoring and co-collecting data with a graduate student on
how preservice teachers use and connect representations,
and how those representational practices might trace into their planning practices.
(Project: #representations #trace)


I’m also studying the question
What is algebra? Through dissemination of analyses of high school algebra textbooks
Content and cognitive demand
(Project: #whatisalgebra #textbooks)


I’m also teaching and writing about
how to link research and practice in mathematics education
through communication, collaboration, and connections.
(Project: #researchandpractice)


I also have two projects that I don’t like to talk about because I fear rejection…
One is from my dissertation research focused on
a learning progression for representational fluency,
The manuscript was rejected from a journal.
And there it sits.
(Project: #supports #representationalfluency)


Another is from research I did with colleagues on
students’ representational fluency in solving fractions tasks.
It is in the form of a manuscript that has yet to be submitted.
And there it sits.
(Project: #representationalfluency #fractions)


And things bring me back to writing.
My love for writing.


Writing helps me understand.
It helps me process ideas.
It helps me form connections.
It also is a meditation.


In writing this I am working through several tenets of mindfulness.


I am curious.
I am non-judgmental.
I am letting go.


To develop writing as a priority
I have found these techniques and tools helpful.
Maybe you will too.


I set myself up for success.
At the start of each week, I plan which days to focus on which project.
At the start of each semester, I plan which months to reach particular deadlines.
In looking ahead to a particular conference, I use that meeting to make progress and talk to others about open questions and ideas.


I sit down and write.
This is perhaps the best way to make writing a priority.
To quote Nike,
Just do it.


I notice when my thoughts and emotions distract me.
When writing, I notice.
Am I being pulled away from my focus?
Are my thoughts distracting me?
Do I feel uncomfortable and uncertain about this work?
Lean in.  Uncertainty is fuel for an amazing life. #zenhabits


I take breaks when my body calls my attention.
When I notice I am sore, I am thirsty, or I need to stretch.
I do my best to stop and take care of that need.
<Yes, just writing that prompted me to get up and get a drink of water #drinkwater>
<and to reposition myself in a more relaxing position #ergonomics>


I focus on moving a particular project forward.
When I have so many projects going at the same time,
I crave a sense of balance.
So I’ve found that by spending 1-2 consecutive days on a project gives me some traction, and feels like I am making progress. It also gives me a chance to step away from the work and come back to it. Refreshed with new ideas.


I return to this strategy on purpose:
I sit down and write.
Just do it.


To do this successfully, I have strategies in place for making it happen.
I give myself focus through daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, goals.
This helps create a sense of progress and balance.


I set up my work space – digital and physical – to support a sense of priority.
Do you ever walk into a room and become distracted by what you see?
Do you ever open your computer and become drawn on the window that open?
Do you ever open an app and click on the red buttons and flags and notifications first?


What if you open your computer and your current writing project is the only open window? Would you write on this project?

What if you sit down at your desk and your writing goals are clearly outlined – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Would this inspire you?

Coming into being.

January 23, 2018


Coming into being.

In coming into being
I get glimpses of selflessness
Of illumination of purpose
Of intentions and dreams.


In coming into being
I Become more awakened
To broader and higher purpose
Not of my to-do list
But instead of an
Energetic flow that
Connects us all.


I stop myself from coming into being
By ruminating on perceived failures
By remaining stuck in stagnant energy
By falling back to previously created patterns
Of self-destruction and anxiety
Of lack of self-worth and fear


I learn and relearn the importance of
Trusting myself
Of trusting the direction and course
I am leading myself and my students on.


On believing that I am enough.
And trusting in where this journey takes me.
Acknowledging but not judging
The here and now
For what it is.
For being.


Underneath the rumination
Is an inner wisdom that
Guides my compass
Especially when
My vision is clouded
My inner voice drowns out
The possibility of connecting


I return to trust, to belief.
To here and now.
The omnipresent
Breath that enlivens
My being.
Bring me back.
Again and again.
Here and now.

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