amidon planet is under construction

This website has been around for more than 5 years and it is about time to consider the purpose of the site and how to organize it to meet that purpose.  Be on the lookout for some changes and if you have suggestions don’t be afraid to share in the comments.  Also know that changes are usually accompanied by a few glitches.  Please be patient and know that a better site is on its way!

How to turn a ‘Test’ into a ‘Celebration of Learning’

Sometimes I am called an optimist, an idealist, or just disconnected with reality.  Usually a comment like that emerges after I “confess” I have never given a test or quiz, yet I have been a teacher/teacher educator for 15 years. Instead I like to give “learning celebrations” (a term I was given by an all-time great teacher, Joe Dye, from Janesville Parker High School).  It is then that  I usually hear a groan accompanied by a roll of the eyes.  But then I make the point that tests are about finding out what a person doesn’t know but a learning celebration is about celebrating whatever has been learned.  One is seeking the deficit while the other is celebrating the asset.

Obviously there is more to it then just replacing the word at the top of a piece of paper, and that is exactly what I was able to share at the Spring Summit of Teach for America-Mississippi.  We discussed how to design learning experiences that achieve their visions for their classrooms and the students within.  It was a fast and furious session with a lot of resources mentioned (which I will list below as well as a link to my slides from the talk).  The main point was to consider why we step into the classroom, why we are doing what we do (Know the ‘Why?’) and let that drive the development of the techniques and strategies that we employ within the classroom (Now the ‘How?’).  In other words we are turning the optimistic vision into real, tested, and refined strategies for loving our students through education.

Resources mentioned:

Amidon, J. (2013). Teaching mathematics as agape : Responding to oppression with unconditional love. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 6(1), 19–27. Retrieved from

Amidon, J., & Trevathan, M. (2015). Supporting progressive mathematics instruction through community. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 21(5), 288-294.

Cohen, E. G. (1994). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom. Teachers College Press.

Emdin, C. (2013). The rap cypher, the battle, and reality pedagogy: Developing communication and argumentation in urban science education. In M. L. Hill & E. Petchauer (Eds.), Schooling hip hop: Expanding hip-hop based education across the curriculum (pp. 11–27). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lampert, M. (2001). Teaching problems and the problems of teaching. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reinhart, S. (2000). Never say anything a kid can say. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 5(8), 54-57.

Below is a link to the slides from my talk:

Amidon, J. (March, 2017) Not a Test but a Celebration of Learning! Designing Learning Experiences to Build Relationships with the Content. Session at Spring Summit of Teach for America – Mississippi. Cleveland, MS.

AP in Haiti 2017: Make a Joyful Noise

Why go to Haiti?  That is the question I heard both leading into and following our service trip to Haiti? Why did The Orchard Oxford send a team of ten people to Camp Mary, back to the same community we visited last year.  Why?  It is a good question.  Let me tell a little story from our last day in the community and hopefully shine a light on the answer.

We pulled up to the church and it was quiet. Really quiet. A glance inside the one room building in Camp Mary revealed one man preaching to one man. As we piled out of the van there was a woman coming up to the church who greeted us on her way in. She just doubled the attendance.  We filed in and took up the first two rows.  The man preaching to the other man and woman was preaching hard.  He was putting emphasis on his words and through Kednaud, our 410 Bridge team leader/interpreter, it was revealed that he was talking about how we are given discernment to know the difference between good and evil. Eventually he addressed the fact that our group had come into the space.  He welcomed us and said that we were going to all worship together.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, “But where is everybody else? Should we wait?”  The man then walked over to the amplifier, calmly turned it on, and positioned himself behind the alter, and he began to sing.

It started with just his voice. It was an old voice. A voice with melodious pops and cracks.  A voice with experience and feeling behind every word he was singing. Above all it was a joyful voice, a voice with an unshakeable happiness that emerges from within.  He began slow and reserved.  After a verse or two he gestured for us to stand. Upon standing I could see other people from the community walking through the open doors of the church. About this time a keyboard player and a drummer started to accompany the man singing.  Pretty soon another man sitting to the side in front of us joined in by starting to clap, which made me and some of my teammates start to clap as well.  All around us were people clapping and moving rhythmically to the beat. (Where did these people come from?) The rhythm from the drum and the melody of the keyboard seemed to energize the man’s singing. His voice, in all its character, was getting louder, faster, and he was moving with it. I asked my co-leader, Amber, if the song was getting faster because I seemed to be clapping faster.  She nodded with a huge smile on her face.  The man clapping in front of us walked over to the drums and picked up what looked like a stove pipe and a stick and rubbed the stick across the ridges of the pipe to the beat, with a double-time flourish every so often. Soon a boy from the community walked in to the room directly up to the drummer and joined in the fray by playing the cymbals. Another woman grabbed two wooden blocks and banged them together as the final accompaniement to this joyful chorus. The music was officially rocking. All around us the room was filling up with people, voices, movement. I looked around and the movement from within the crowd was infectious, my teammates and I could not help but clap, move our feet, and sway to the joyful noise. And with the signal of a single finger in the air, the man repeated the chorus one more time and brought the song to an abrupt end. What started as one man on a scratchy microphone ended with a room full of people adding what we could to make a beautiful noise to God.

As I reconsider the question that started this post that is what we are doing.  We are doing what we can to add to the beautiful noise started not by us but by what has done for us through Christ.  Yes we did things this week. We weeded a garden, we taught English, we sang with kids, we shared a bible story, we played games, we prayed in homes, and we even taught math (Yes!).  Over the next several weeks I plan to add to this series of posts in an effort to process this trip for myself and to share the experience with those that care to learn more.

So, again, why go to Haiti?

Simply put, we went to Haiti to add to the joyful noise that is building relationships with the people of Camp Mary. Who are not strangers, not even friends, but family. It may be simply put, but not simply understood.  If you want to understand ask me, look for future blog posts, ask a team member from either this year or last, or sign up for next year’s trip.  Add to the joyful noise…

See like a Coach: Considering the lenses we use in Formative Assessment

Formative assessment

a process of gathering evidence within the stream of instruction in order to inform teaching and learning (Black, Harrison et al., 2004). To be considered formative, the evidence must be “elicited, interpreted, and used by both teachers and learners” (Wiliam, 2011, p. 43)

From the Joint Position Paper on Formative Assessment of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics & Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (2014)

We hear all about the benefits of formative assessment but what is it and how do you do it…well.  The Formative Assessment Conference put on by the Center for Mathematics and Science Education attempted to answer that question for mathematics educators from across the state (and beyond) the past two days.  My contribution to the conference was a talk called “Considering the Source: The Lenses we use when we Assess” where I used an interesting situation from my own teaching to illustrate the idea of seeing like coach versus a critic. (As I was figuring out how to talk about this idea of different lenses to use in formative assessment I heard this podcast by Perry Noble on “Coach v. Critic”, so you will hear some parallels in this talk. Just want to give credit where credit is due.)

Here is a link to the slides that I used in my talk, which has links in it to the resources that I mention.

Love, Allies, and the Cost of Course…discuss.

The Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators met in Orlando this week which provides the opportunity for fellow teachers of teachers of mathematics to discuss how to improve the field of mathematics teacher preparation.  Sounds like a niche field but the importance of preparing teachers to teach mathematics, a subject which is directly connected to the academic and economic opportunities available to students, has a potential to ripple throughout schools and the country at large.  My contribution to the conversation were presentations from two projects that I am engaged in.  Both projects have helped me consider what does it look like to lead teachers in loving others though mathematics education.  One in helping future teachers consider the world in which they will be teaching and one in positioning ourselves as colleagues with in-service teachers to influence the mathematical system in which we all are a part of.

The first project, which we call the Cost of Course, was inspired by the article Access to Mathematics: “A Possessive Investment in Whiteness” written by Dan Battey from Rutgers University. The data and analysis within the article was striking (please go read it) and we as a project team wanted to figure out how to share it within a mathematical task, designed for preservice teachers, to open up awareness and to instill a sense of agency around issues of equity and diversity in mathematics education for our preservice teachers.

The other project, Access, Agency, and Allies in Mathematical Systems (A3IMS), inspired a presentation around how to position yourself as an ally in a professional development program where the circumstances of the project created a lack of interaction between teachers and the members of the project until day one of the professional development.  Not ideal, but what do you do given that reality.  We discussed how we adjusted the logistics, how we created opportunities to build relationships in order to build a foundation to have difficult conversations and consider the teaching of a mathematics as a political act.

Below are the citations to the presentations and links to the slides (if available):

Marshall, A.M., Amidon, J., & Nance, R. (February, 2017). Moving Prospective Mathematics Teachers from Instruments of Inequity Towards Agents of Change. Session at annual conference of the Association for Mathematics Teacher Educators. Orlando, FL.

Koestler, C., Amidon, J., Wager, A. A., & Foote, M. Q. (February, 2017). Facilitating a Mathematics Professional Development Collaboration as Allies with Teacher-Colleagues. Session at annual conference of the Association for Mathematics Teacher Educators. Orlando, FL.

Sharing Learning from the Desert: PMENA 2016


The theme of this years meeting of the Psychology of Mathematics Education- North America Chapter is Sin Fronteras: Questioning Borders in Mathematics Education. The purpose of a conference is to grow as a professional and one thing I can do through the magic of the internet is share what I learn through the notes I take at the conference and sharing the presentations I am a part of as well.

Link to PMENA 2016 Program

Link to PMENA 2016 Proceedings

Link to PMENA 2016 Notes

Amidon, J., Koestler, C., Harper, F., Herbel-Eisenmann, Wager, A. A., & Scroggins, A. D. (November, 2016). Negotiating an Equitable Mathematical System Through Professional Development. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona.

Marshall, A.M., Amidon, J., Nance, R.. (November, 2016). Crossing Borders: Moving Prospective Mathematics Teachers from Instruments of Inequity to Agents of Change. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona.

Wager, A. A., Larnell, G. V., Langer-Osuna, J. M., Bullock, E. C., Bartell, T. G., & Amidon, J. (November, 2016). Addressing Equity and Diversity Issues in Mathematics Education. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona.

Larnell, G. V., LopezLeiva, C. A., Scroggins, A. D., Amidon, J., Foote, M. Q., Hand, V. M., Herbel-Eisenmann, B., Koestler, C., & Wager, A. A. (November, 2016). Theory and research methods: challenging and reenvisioning frameworks for equity in mathematics education. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona.


The Orchard Oxford: Growing Deep and Branching Out in Haiti

5471207_640x640The Orchard Oxford is headed back to Camp Marie, Haiti!

Again we are partnering with 410 Bridge to connect with our neighbors in Camp Marie.  Last spring a team of 15 was able to live, learn, and pray with the people of Camp Marie and we are excited to return with another 15 member team during Spring Break, 2017.  Here are the details:

When: March 13th – 19th, 2017
Cost: $1945 with a $150 deposit due by 11/6/2016

Team members will be given support to help with fundraising and to help prepare for living, learning, and serving in Haiti.  And also to figure out how to use the gifts we have been given to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). To get a peek at what we did during the last trip and an idea about what we may do during this upcoming trip, check out these blog posts from

AP in Haiti – Day One: Questions for Haiti

AP in Haiti – Day Two: More Questions

AP in Haiti – Day Three: Movement in Math and a Community

AP in Haiti – Day Four: Hoops and Math

AP in Haiti – Day Five: Kenbe Fem (Stay Strong)

AP in Haiti – Day Six: The Answer is Relationships

There are more ways to get connected with our neighbors in Camp Marie besides participating in the trip.  Most urgently are needed funds to help with relief efforts from Hurricane Matthew.  Other ways to connect are through child sponsorship, community sponsorship and just praying for the people of Haiti and Camp Marie.

Deposits (made out to “The Orchard” with “Haiti Trip” followed by the trip member’s name in the Memo line) can be turned into The Orchard Oxford on Sundays (in the basket) or mailed to The Orchard (295 HWY 7 North, Oxford, MS, 38655). In addition you (or one of your supporters) can use a debit/credit card to submit deposits/payments for the service trip to Camp Marie, Haiti by doing the following:

  1. Go to
  2. Set up an account
  3. When submitting funds enter in the amount then be sure to select “Oxford” from the drop down.
  4. After submitting, send an email (jcamidon at with the following information:
    • The amount submitted
    • The date submitted
    • The first and last name on the card used

Any questions about the trip feel free to check out this 410 Bridge page dedicated to Frequently Asked Questions or to  contact Joel Amidon (one of the trip leaders) via email (jcamidon at

math tutoring without a tutor

Do you tutor?  

It is a common question someone who has a career centered on math may hear from time to time.  When I hear the question I don’t want to turn someone away without giving them some way of obtaining what they need…help with developing their relationship with mathematics.  Something I always suggest is using Khan Academy.  Videos have been created by Sal Kahn and his team around many areas of mathematics and other STEM subject areas as well.  Students can then create a login (or use their Google account) to keep track of their progress in learning mathematics and computer science (with more being added daily).  Teachers, Parents, and even tutors can use the “Coaching” tool.  Teachers or Tutors can keep track of their students progress, or parents can use it to set goals for their children (Coaching Resources are available via the website).  I have written about Khan Academy earlier to reiterate what I like about Khan Academy is that a user is always learning through the hints, videos, and exercises that are connected to the multitude of content on the site.

Khan Academy is available as an app for the iPad (my preference because of the touch interface) and an app for the iPhone as well, though the iPhone app can only play the videos…as of yet.

Also worth a look is Smarthistory presented by Khan Academy which is a website that merges art and history.

Another site that I do not know as much about but is also free and keeps track of your progress through some math content is  I look forward to checking it out in the future.  Until then feel free to submit a comment below.

Here is a link to a little tutorial sheet I created for teachers wanting to use Khan Academy.

teaching problems and the problems of teaching

Teaching Problems and the Problems of Teaching by Magdalene Lampert is the best book I have read about teaching math well.  Dr. Lampert was a professor at Michigan State but kept teaching in a elementary classroom.  The book contains thick descriptions of how she set up her classroom, how she encouraged kids to engage in the doing of mathematics, and even discussions that were facilitated in her classroom.  A great book for teachers looking to move away from the traditional math classroom.

complex instruction: group worthy tasks that show we are ‘smarter together’

Complex instruction.  Great stuff with an intimidating name…at least when I first heard it.  Complex instruction is a highly structured form of group work that is especially useful in mathematics classes.  The purpose of complex instruction is to balance participation within groups.  I can think about those times when I was put into groups and someone didn’t participate (or I didn’t participate), someone dominated the conversation (or I dominated the action), someone took over all of the materials (or I took over all the materials, and I know that everyone did not receive the same opportunity to learn within that task.  Again, complex instruction is a means to interrupt the disproportionality in participation and increase everyone’s opportunity to learn.

I was able to learn about complex instruction through a conference in Atlanta, GA, where we learned more about how to structure a classroom to accomplish the goals of complex instruction, and to write tasks that are ‘group worthy’ and ripe for complex instruction.  Below are some key resources regarding complex instruction.

Smarter Together! Collaboration and Equity in the Elementary Math Classroom Book that describes the principles of complex instruction and contains sample tasks for use in the elementary classroom.

Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics Book that describes principles of complex instruction and contains sample tasks for use in the secondary classroom.

CIMath: We are smarter together! Complex Instruction Mathematics Website for teathat contains Group Worthy Tasks (e.g. the Ordering Numbers Task) and some more information about complex instruction.  This site was put together by the authors of the Smarter Together book.

Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom The original book that describes complex instruction, complex instruction tasks, and contains strategies to interrupt imbalances in participation.

Group-Worthy Tasks Article that succinctly describes the essential elements of a group worthy task (essential for enacting complex instruction).