Still Growing Exponentially

Hello, Readers!

It’s been over two years since my last post, and while I disappeared from the blogging world, I have tried to stay in touch with my online math family via Twitter. There have been many ups and downs in my life and teaching career over the past few years, but I wanted to break out of my blog hiatus to share some special news with you. Starting July 1st, I will be the new Supervisor of Mathematics 6-12 for Marlborough Public Schools in Massachusetts.

In this new role, I will dive into the world of curriculum, instruction, and professional development, and hopefully along the way make a positive impact on the lives of both our middle and high school students. While I will not be teaching in my own classroom on a day-to-day basis, I definitely still consider myself a teacher. The age of my audience has changed, but I know that I can have an impact on a greater number of students via their teachers who I will get to work with every day. I am lucky to have some amazing colleagues at MPS and I know that together we can make a difference in our schools.

Someone once told me, “To be a good administrator you must never stop thinking like a teacher.” This comment has and always will stick with me, because often what’s important to a teacher does not always align with administrative initiatives and goals. I know I have a lot to learn as I transition into this new role and will make mistakes along the way. But whenever I need to make decisions that will impact teaching and learning, I vow to ground myself in my roots. And my roots are as a teacher.

My hope is that this blog post will be the first of many about this new adventure. I will share my successes and failures, and most likely post some lesson throwbacks from these past few years. If you have any advice for a new administrator, I’d love to read it in the comments.


A Question and A Choice

On Friday, I was having an “off” day. I was absent on Thursday dealing with a stressful family situation, and didn’t feel like myself upon return to school. One of my students started to explain, and then argue, about reasons why he didn’t have the work from the day before. My mood was making me impatient and easily agitated, and I didn’t respond well to the student. I continued around the classroom checking the work of other students, and a conversation so short, but so powerful, occurred; and I’m still thinking about it two days later.

Student: “Ms. Kohn, how is your day going?” He knew something was wrong.

Me: “Okay.” I lied.

Student: “Have you been giving high fives today?” He knew I needed one.

Me: I paused. The student already knew the answer to this question. He knew I hadn’t been in the hallway giving high fives. It was High Five Friday. And he hadn’t gotten his high five yet. In that brief moment, I knew I had a choice to make. This student reminded of this choice in a moment that I needed it the most. I could choose to turn my day around. I could choose to shake myself out of the funk I was in. So I did.

I smiled. I raised my arm and high fived that student. Then, I high fived some of the students around him. During the next passing time, I resumed my usual post in the hallway and high fived everyone that walked by.

Those seven words, and a simple motion, completely turned my day around. Thanks, student.

Note: If you want to read more about the power of high fives, read this.

3D Printing in Math Class

At Twitter Math Camp, I did a five minute My Favorites presentation on the 3D Desmos Designs project that my students created this past spring. The reason it’s my favorite 3d project, is because right now it’s the only authentic way I have discovered to have my students 3D print in Algebra 1.


Afterward, many attendees approached me wanting to discuss 3D printing in math class in more detail. This led to a lunchtime conversation with 27 individuals! Many expressed an interest in 3D printing because their schools had purchased a printer, but no one knows how to use it. Or because they are trying to convince an administrator to purchase one, but don’t have enough evidence of its worth.

After a couple great ideas for 3D printing in math class were shared…

I decided it would be worthwhile to create a google form where math teachers can share their 3D printing ideas. Even if a teacher hasn’t had the opportunity to actually do the project yet, the idea will most definitely be useful to another teacher.

If you would like to contribute a 3D printing in Math Class idea, please fill out the form below, or go here:

If you would like to view the responses, please go here:

Let’s keep this conversation going!

Becoming a Better Teacher

MPS Mission to High Tech High

Watching other teachers teach is one of the best, if not THE best, form of professional development. Visiting countless classrooms at both High Tech High campuses reminded me of many great instructional practices that I need to use more in my classroom, and gave me many new strategies to begin to implement.

1) Several teachers had playing cards taped to the corners of the student’s tables. During class, the teacher pulls a random card from the deck and that student answers the question or shares an opinion. The goal is to increase student participation and include everyone. It works better than pulling Popsicle sticks because playing cards give a teacher more options. In addition to pulling one card for a particular question, the teacher can say, “Turn and talk with your neighbor about _________, red cards speak first.” During group work, “Can all diamonds please grab the materials for your…

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Global Math Department TweetUp Boston




When: Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 4 pm

: Cornwall’s Pub, 654 Beacon Street, Boston MA

What: Connect or reconnect with math tweeps, share practices/experiences/tips, play pool/board games, MATH!

RSVP here!

Questions? Post them here in the comments! Or contact @heather_kohn or @crstn85 on Twitter

Check out the Global Math Department – we sponsor weekly virtual professional development (hosted at Big Marker) and have a weekly newsletter with blog reviews.

#MathIs Tweets

For my final first day of school activity, I asked students to write a 140 character tweet telling me what math means to them using the hashtag, #MathIs. You can access the student handout at Sarah’s blog.

The responses were both heartwarming and heartbreaking…

Honors Algebra 1:

• #MathIs my school time passion. I love math #addicted #nervous #freshmen #inspiring #astudent
• #MathIs an essential skill for life and is associated with all parts of life
• I love math so much, but only when the teacher makes it easy to understand, and makes it interesting #iluvmath
• #MathIs for your life and your mind
• #MathIs important. I will probably use it a lot later in my life. I think math is full of patterns and surprises.
• #MathIs numbers, shapes, and solving equations.
• I enjoy math and I think it is hard but fun.
• Math has always been my favorite subject. Lately I’m starting to have more trouble.
• #MathIs my favorite subject. I am ready for this school year and I am going to try my best.
• #MathIs #Hard #Numbers #needaB
• In my opinion, math means the world. Every little thing can be replaced for a very interesting problem and one amazing solution.
• Very important and a good skill to have because it’s in your everyday life #mathislife
• #MathIs an important tool in this world. Even though it’s confusing, it can be fun too (sometimes)
• #MathIs a way that the world communicates with others
• #MathIs not my best subject
• #MathIs the most rule based subject
• #MathIs a door to the world, with math you can travel to the whole world
• #MathIs a skill that is necessary to achieve to become successful
• #MathIs what makes life work. Without math we wouldn’t have most things in life
• #MathIs fun because when you do good you feel good

College Prep Algebra 2:
• #MathIs very hard and I hate it
• #MathIs the best thing in the world
• #MathIs hard for me. I struggle in math and it is not my best subject
• #MathIs necessary
• #MathIs kinda hard
• #MathIs very difficult
• #MathIs pretty simple
• #MathIs a subject that can be hard complicated at times #stillfun

I did not include every single student’s response since many said pretty much the exact thing. And you’ll notice how many fewer responses there are from my CP Algebra 2 class, and how short the tweets are. It’s comprised of juniors and seniors, and I can’t help but wonder what happened in the past few years to make them have such a negative attitude toward math. It makes me so sad. I know I have my work cut out for me with these classes and I hope I’m ready for the challenge.

Reading the 9th grade responses inspires me to bring my best every day. They are so positive. And show so much love for this subject. They shared such great insight into knowing that math is everywhere. I hadn’t really decided on a goal for this year, but now I know that my goal is to do everything possible to make sure this passion still exists in June.

Emailing Parents

Every couple of weeks I send a brief email update to all the parents/guardians on my email list for the year. I include special school information in addition to class updates, which include units of study/quiz/project information. What started as a little extra thing I did to open lines of communication, morphed into one of my favorite must-dos each year.

The basics: My emails are very short and to the point. I spend about five minutes writing and sending each one. And even though I teach three classes, I send only one email using the general subject line “[School Initials] Math Update #1, etc”. I bcc the email addresses so that parents do not have access to each other’s emails.

The most frequently asked question I have heard in response to a teacher hearing that I do this is, “But how long do you spend answering all the emails sent in reply to your original email?” The answer: not long at all. In fact, most of the emails I receive just say a version of, “Thank you so much for sending these updates! They’re so helpful!” Occasionally parents write back and ask for a quick update on their child’s progress. However, I have never received more than two of these requests at any one time, so I am happy to oblige.

I have had students come into homeroom and say, “Ms. Kohn, I got home from school yesterday and my mom said ‘Hi, go study for your math quiz’… how did she know???”


Here’s a sample email I send at the beginning of the year:

“Hello! My name is Heather Kohn and I am your son’s or daughter’s math teacher this year. I will be sending math updates every couple of weeks to let you know what is going on in our classroom. The year is off to a great start and I believe that together we can help all our students succeed!

Open House is this Thursday night from 6:30-8:30pm. I hope to see many of you there!I will be discussing my grading policy, the curriculum, and how your child can succeed in math class.

Class Updates:

Algebra 1 – We are studying a unit titled “Solving Equations and Inequalities.” We have been using the distance formula to solve interesting problems (ask them about the football players!) and have been rearranging physics formulas. Students have received their first project (the Calendar project), which is due Friday, September 28th.

Geometry – We are studying the building blocks of geometry: points, lines, planes, and angles. We have been learning to use Geometer’s Sketchpad on the student laptops. Today, we investigated the geometry behind playing pool. Students will receive their first project in the upcoming week and their first quiz will be on Friday, September 15th.

I am available for extra help most Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I post all homework on my school fusion webpage (the link is below). Please encourage your child to come see if they have any questions. If you have any questions/concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Ms. Kohn”