Henri Picciotto's

Math Education Newsletter

April 2022


From 2007 to 2021, I offered summer workshops for math teachers. The most frequent were "Visual Algebra", "Hands-On Geometry", and "No Limits!" (selected Algebra 2 / Precalculus topics.) The location varied: San Francisco, mostly, but also Oakland, Seattle, Saint Louis, Boston, and New York. Attendance ranged from 8 to 28, and end-of-workshop evaluations were almost unanimously excellent, which made me feel I was useful beyond the walls of my own school.

This 15-year streak has now ended. I didn't mind planning the sessions, and I loved teaching the workshops. However I didn't like dealing with the logistics. Organizing these events was a lot of work for the host school, and to some extent for me. I hope I'll be able to continue offering professional development opportunities to math teachers, but it will have to wait for a school, district, or other institution to set something up, or to hire me as part of an existing program.

Until then, I continue to contribute to math education in other ways, for example, this newsletter! Read on.


Blog Posts

Here are links to posts on my Math Education Blog that you might find interesting.
If you are so moved, you may comment on the posts, and/or subscribe to the blog.

Novice Teachers

During my 30 years as department chair, I hired and trained several very young teachers. This mostly went quite well, and I'm still in touch with many of them, as they continue their careers as math educators in various locations. I was also part of the faculty of a Retreat for Beginning Teachers for 15 years. I reflect on what I learned in this work, and I share that in two blog posts: Dear Young Teacher, and Mentoring Young Teachers.

Lab Gear, the Great Connector

Many years ago, I mentored Liz Caffrey in her first years of teaching. She is no longer a novice! In a guest blog post, she shares how she uses the Lab Gear in grades 7 and 8. (The Lab Gear is a set of manipulatives I designed for the learning of algebra.) Her article confirms that the curricular materials I created work well at that level — but it also reminds me that well-designed curriculum tools can be used in creative ways, including ways that were not anticipated by the designer!

Student-created Lab Gear surface area challenges

(Note: Liz will be hosting a workshop for math instructors, titled “Building a Culture of Collaboration” at the Atrium School in Watertown, MA, July 19-21. For more information, email

No Best Way

A couple of discussions on NCTM's email list led me to write a response on my blog.

The post also includes links to three previous essays on the more general topic of "there is no one way".

New and newish on my website.


I recorded a slide show about A Graphical Path to the Quadratic Formula. The idea is that instead of an approach based strictly on symbol manipulation and completing the square, we can get to the quadratic formula by thinking about the graph of a parabola.


I also added the outline of a unit on Completing the Square (including a link to this applet and these images).

This led me to reorganize and update my Parabolas and Quadratics home page.


When my son (now in his late forties) was in third grade, he and I worked out the now-famous McNuggets problem on McDonald napkins. I think that I was among the first to bring this problem into K-12 schools back in the 1980's. I just added a complete lesson plan for this, including an extension / generalization to my website. This was adapted (with Amanda Cangelosi’s help) from my 1994 book Algebra: Themes, Tools, Concepts (co-authored with Anita Wah, free download here). See also a condensed proof of a generalization in a letter to the editor of Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching.

Tweaks and Updates

Small changes to the site:

TED-Ed Animations

I was asked to help script animated math riddles for TED-Ed. Two of the three resulting pieces have been published, and I embedded them on my website:

My hunch is that in those videos, things happen too fast for classroom use. My recommendation is to show them after students have had a chance to work on the problems.

To subscribe to this newsletter, or to read past issues, click here.

P icon

Visit my Math Education Page

Read my blog

Follow me on Twitter: @hpicciotto