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Mapping Gratitude

Posted on by Chris Yeager

I love magazines during the holiday season. I start collecting them about the middle of October and pour over them nightly. I don’t want to read them on my iPad; I want to tear out recipes, cut out sayings, and put them on my refrigerator, turn down the corners of pages I want to show someone, and put tabs on pages with possible gift ideas. I try to recreate clever decorating ideas that generally look pretty sad but still I love the engagement.
So when I was flipping through the November Good Housekeeping and saw the title “A Husband Who Does the Dishes,” I couldn’t resist reading. The Multi-Flow Map below summarizes the key points of the article. I printed out this map and have it posted on my refrigerator as a reminder.

While I have a million things to be grateful for in my personal life, I am also very thankful for a professional life as an educational consultant that I love. So here are a few things I am truly grateful for:


  1. Having the privilege to work with teachers who have devoted their lives to helping young people.
  2. Sharing, creating, and thinking with all of the fantastic educators in our company who are truly focused on contributing to the profession we all love.
  3. A job that allows me to stay connected to teaching and to share the critical and creative power of Thinking Maps.
  4. Any day that I can spend with children, hearing about their maps, and seeing them think.


Have you started your list? Create your Circle Map brainstorming these things, or if you are really motivated, create a Tree Map classifying all your blessings into categories. Can’t wait to see your thinking.

The “AHA” moments from the Kagan & Thinking Maps PLC scavenger hunt

Posted on by Thought Leaders


Bringing new programs to enhance learning to a school is sometimes a difficult undertaking. This year my school decided to take on the integration of not one but two new programs; Kagan strategies and Thinking Maps. Teachers crave meaningful trainings that they can feel are easy enough to implement immediately and not anything additional they feel like they have to do. Let’s face it, teachers are very busy people.

I have worked with the Kagan trainer at our school and we created a variety of ways that we can easily incorporate the two programs while involving the teachers. By doing this they are practicing both programs and seeing how the two can be easily integrated into one lesson.

This past week we had a faculty PLC Thinking Map scavenger hunt. I asked each grade level for a list of maps we could find if we “searched” their rooms. I then created a list for each grade level that required them to visit the grade level below them and the grade level above them. They had to take pictures of the maps they found and write down the teacher’s room number they found it in. Although we all work in the same place, how often do teachers actually have the time to visit anyone else’s room? Never!

By doing this we accomplished many things. First, teachers were able to see vertical movement between grade levels. Second, teachers were able to gain multiple ideas that they could incorporate into their own classroom without meeting with individual teachers. Third, teachers that were initially hesitant saw value in what was happening in other classrooms and realized if they didn’t jump on board their students would soon be left behind. Finally, as a trainer it helped me to see where we still had come confusion, and what my next follow-up training should be.

Once all the teachers returned to the media center we incorporated our Kagan strategy. We used mix, pair, share and rotated three times. Teachers had out their phones, were sharing pictures, and “aha” moments they had during their hunt. It was such an easy way for them to share what they had seen and the entire process was completed in the time it takes to hold a regular PLC meeting.

Using the Kagan strategy to share gave teachers an additional idea for their classroom. How easy would it be to have students work on maps individually and then share what they discovered in a five minute mix, pair, share!

In the upcoming weeks we are incorporating Kagan into every Thinking Maps training we have including a timed, pair, share, a picking stickies (all write round robin), and line ups. Teachers left the training saying things like “this was a great idea”, or “I never thought I could use a Thinking Map and Kagan together”. Every time we leave feeling accomplished and that our time was not wasted. It’s an amazing experience to provide beneficial trainings to teachers that love to learn!

The attached photos are an example of a circle map exercise that was found in a first grade classroom, and a working picture of the teachers doing the mix, pair, share Kagan strategy to share what they found.

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My name is Christian Luciano and I teach second grade at Three Oaks Elementary in Fort Myers, Florida. I am passionate about sharing my love of learning with others. I love Thinking Maps! I honestly dream ideas on how to extend thinking in my classroom through the use of Thinking Maps.

Metacognition: Adding weights to an exercise

Posted on by Thought Leaders
By Florence McEachern


As is the case with many of us, I have struggled with maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle. In pursuing this goal, I embraced every new weight loss strategy that has come along. I realized that I needed a functional workout plan.  My routine lacked consistency and I didn’t have the knowledge or ability to contribute to my own success.  Out of sheer desperation, I hired a trainer.

Fortunately for me, she had an educator’s mentality.  She not only taught me the “how,” but she also taught me the “why.”  She focused on making me independent so I wouldn’t always have to rely on her to tell me what to do.  Here’s a little secret that she shared with me: adding weights to a workout increases rigor and improves results by burning calories throughout the day.

Being a Thinking Maps trainer for more than a decade, I immediately saw the correlation between this and educating students.  Students not only need consistency but they need a workable strategy that allows them to contribute to their own success.  What my fitness trainer taught me is what we need to teach all our students.  I learned to focus on how I knew the things that I knew about exercise and to identify and examine my sources of information.  That metacognitive ability built my independence toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  I started asking myself meaningful questions such as, was the information that I relied on from my own perspective and needs or was it someone else’s opinion or point of view? Was the information biased? More importantly, what did I learn overall and why was it important to know?

The Frame of Reference is like adding weights in exercise. Reflecting on your thinking adds rigor in the classroom.  It is perhaps one of the most impactful components of Thinking Maps because it allows students to reflect on their thinking.  We know from Dewey that “We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”  When students are able to visualize and reflect on their thinking, it makes it possible for them to use metacognition to increase their individual chances for success. By actually taking a step back and thinking about their thinking, students also become more critical and independent learners.

As teachers, our greatest gauge for success should be observing our students thinking and facilitating their learning as if we’re not even there. If they can do that, they will continue to reap the benefits even when they’ve left the classroom. This is the true definition of “lifelong learners.” Ultimately, our goal as educators is to produce students capable of functioning independently and effectively in today’s global society.  After all, is there really any better reason to teach?

Why knowing what bad professional development is matters

Posted on by Hortencia Piña


Who is in the driver’s seat when it comes to student learning success?

Teachers? Students? Parents? Administrators?

If you guessed student, pat yourself on the back because you’re right. As teachers, we can hope that students listen, engage, and learn. We can create exciting lesson plans that encourage curiosity and ignite passionate learning but at the end of the day, the students themselves are in control of what they do learn. All we can do, is become more effective teachers, making professional development one of our top priorities for schools and educators.

So how do you prepare yourself and your colleagues to be as effective as possible when inspiring student learning?

A big question deserves a big answer but we can’t always arrive at the big answer with the first step. So knowing what not to do is a great place to start. After years of providing professional development trainings as a Consultant, I can attest that these “10 good ways to ensure bad professional development” are accurate. And you’ve probably experienced these as well.

10 good ways to ensure bad professional development” via Learning Forward

Beyond these 10, having an implementation plan with SMART goals will reassure teachers that this training is not just a “drive-by training” and will provide the necessary scaffolding and support for implementing a new system.

What would you add to this list? How has quality professional development impacted your teaching?


Distinguishing Between Factors & Multiples

Posted on by James Dean


While reading through the new state standards, I was reminded of another frequent question I am asked by math educators: How to teach the difference between factors and multiples? The fourth grade standard indicates “gain familiarity with factors and multiples.” For years this puzzled me as well, but the real key is to understand that factors are a Whole-Part relationship, and multiples are about Sequencing. Hmm. . . .do you hear Thinking Maps on their way? I certainly do!

A Brace Map shows students to clearly SEE what Factors are. Products are comprised of Factors.

The product of 24 has several factors.

After building several Brace Maps to show the products of a number, we then add a Frame of Reference and ask students to write a clarifying statement to demonstrate their understanding.

Brace Map Math Factors and Products

When I teach multiples to students they need to see this as a sequence. It is almost like skip counting, if you will. What are the multiples of 4? What are the multiples of 24?

What are the Multiples of 4?

Once students have a firm understanding of factors and multiples, it is easy to see how a Compare/Contrast Map is in order to help solidify the concepts in their mind. A wise Thinking Maps consultant once told me that the real key to comparing/contrasting concepts and ideas is to determine ahead of time if the concepts are considered more alike or different in the students’ minds. Based upon that decision, determine where to focus their attention on the Map. Most math educators tell me that this concept is confusing for students (and sometimes educators) because they think they are the same. Let’s focus on the differences to help clarify concepts.

Through careful thought, planning, and mapping we can help ALL students to SEE and understand Factors and Multiples.

Share some feedback. What has worked for you?

How does writing help you make connections?

Posted on by Thinking Maps


At the heart of Connected Educator Month is a strong desire to empower educators by bringing all of us a little closer together. Through collaboration we can grow as a community and learn the best practices that will increase student achievement and inspire student learning!

Today is the National Day on Writing. To celebrate, educators are answering the question, “How does writing help you make connections?”

Share your thoughts here and then share the Google Doc with others so that we can connect with as many people as possible!

Do you speak educationese?

Posted on by Chris Yeager


If you have been a teacher for more than a month, then you have learned that education has a language of its own.  And you have probably learned how important it is to sprinkle these special terms throughout any conversation about quality teaching and learning.  Any of the following words should be a mainstay in your vocabulary:

21st Century Skills, College and Career Ready, Differentiation, Formative Assessment, Authentic Assessment, Real Life Problem Solving, Data-Driven Decision Making, Scaffolding, Collaboration, Critical and Creative Thinking, Rigor…

I’m sure you could add a few more to this list.  The concepts behind these terms are essential to student success, but do educators really understand the concepts, the definitions, what each should look like and sound like in a classroom designed to meet the needs of all learners?

Let’s focus on just one term:  Rigor.  In his blog, “Using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to Increase Rigor,” Gerald Aungst says that the reason we struggle with rigor is that “we have adopted the jargon without a clear understanding of what we really mean.”

He provides the definition of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels.  Instead of rushing to focus on the list of verbs, we should begin our discussions by thinking about the title of each level.  We should analyze our student tasks to see if they are asking students to:

  • Recall and Reproduce what they have been taught?
  • Apply Skills and Concepts?
  • Think Strategically?
  • Extend Their Thinking?


The author suggests that teachers collect student tasks they have designed, classify them according to levels (Tree Map) and look for patterns (Frame of Reference reflection statements).


During the discussion that will take place during this classification (often seen as Level 2 thinking), teachers will ultimately be engaged in both strategic and extended thinking (Levels 3 and 4).  Aungst makes 4 great points that should be a part of this discussion:

  1. Don’t let a list of verbs lock you into a specific level of thinking.   Defining can be done at all levels of thinking; Comparing can require strategic and extended thinking; etc.
  2. Remember that time alone does not make a task more rigorous.  I’ve seen students spend way too much time on low level thinking and have witnessed strategic and extended thinking taking place in relatively short, focused tasks.
  3. Understand that these DoK levels are not sequential.  Thinking strategically (Level 4) about a word problem in math helps students strengthen their understanding of mathematical skills and concepts (Level 2).
  4. DoK Levels are NOT developmental.  “All students, including the youngest preschoolers, are capable of strategic and extended learning tasks.”


While Aungst advocates for using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as a framework, he emphasizes that “Regardless of how you define ‘rigor,’ the important thing is that (all) students are thinking deeply on a daily basis.”


I agree.  Focusing on thinking and cognitive depth is what Thinking Maps is all about.


Clouds and Hearts are Not Bubbles

Posted on by Thought Leaders

Connie Hamilton

At a risk of stepping on the toes of some of my favorite lower elementary teachers, I wanted to address the shapes used in Thinking Maps, more specifically, the Bubble Map.  Do you ever walk away from a conversation where a question stumped you and days later you think, “Oh, I should have said ____.”?  This describes what prompted this blog, only it’s about two years overdue.

When I first recieve Thinking Maps training, I learned to stay true to the shapes of the Maps. I’m a rule follower, so when I came back as a trainer and shared the Maps with the staff at Saranac Elementary School, I reiterated that Bubble Maps are circles, Flow Maps are boxes, etc.  Mrs. Cooper, a thoughtful and highly creative first grade teacher asked if, fitting the theme in her room, the Bubble Map could be drawn as hearts, clouds, snowflakes, etc.  My unsupported, but clear reply was “No! They have to be circles.”  However, the reason behind it wasn’t really solid until recently.

Of course we all know that Maps provide consistent patterns for students.  Our brain recognizes (actually seeks) patterns to help new learning occur.  Consider how a student fluent in Thinking Maps might process the Bubble Map below.

Lincoln Bubble Map

It might look something like this:

Thought Process 1

The automaticity the student has learned through knowing the pattern in the Maps tells the student immediately it is a familiar Map, it is a Bubble, and it’s used to describe something.

But if the teacher used the classroom theme for February to make the Bubble Map:

Abraham Hearts

The thought process might be a little more like this:

 Thought Process 2

If our goal is to create a pattern in thinking, so students have automaticity based on the visual, what is the purpose of changing the visual?  Is there additional learning that occurs for the student or are we doing it because we are following the theme we picked from Pinterest?

Stop Sign

Let’s look at it a little differently.  Even if you’re not fluent in Korean, can you read this sign?  Of course you can.  It’s a STOP sign.  You know this because it’s a red octagon.  If Koreans decided they love it when you stop at an intersection because it keeps everyone safe, so they decided to make all the stop signs shaped like hearts, would you be able to interpret the sign as easily?

Therefore, my theme based friends, decorate your room to the hilt, but stay true to the Maps.  Bubble Maps need to be created with circles, not the shape of the month.  It provides a consistent tool for thinking, not a just a cute poster.


Connie Hamilton is a K-12 curriculum director and elementary principal at Saranac Elementary School in West Michigan.  As a consultant for both Thinking Maps and classroom questioning, Connie shares her experiences with teachers and districts to help students think more deeply on curriculum.

Seeing discipline as an opportunity to teach desired behaviors

Posted on by Kevin Dougherty

Behavior Management

Of all the slides we have shared with educators during our trainings over the past decade and a half, the Behavior Reflections slide has been by far the most popular!  Every time this slide has been displayed on the screen during training sessions, most participants have excitedly voiced their appreciation of this Multi-Flow Map example and nearly everyone has asked for a copy.

As I have visited schools throughout the country, I have seen stacks of copies of this slide on teachers’ desks and in administrative offices.  More numerous stories than I can remember have been reported to me about how educators have enjoyed the benefits of using this Map.  I often wondered what it was about this particular Map example that resonated so deeply with training attendees.  Perhaps this Map example triggered an epiphany in these thousands of educators because it provided for them such a clear example of how Thinking Maps can effectively enhance students’ social development as well as their intellectual development.

As an assistant principal for several years (before I knew about Thinking Maps), I addressed hundreds of instances of student misbehavior. When students are sent to the administrative office they may be inclined to focus on rationalizing their poor choice or seek to blame other individuals or situations. I often found students beginning the conversation by explaining WHY they did WHAT they did. Instead, I had to redirect them and ask them to begin by telling me WHAT THEY did.  Once students accepted responsibility for their actions, I would then give them the opportunity to offer explanation. After listening, I generally responded by telling them their reasoning served as an EXPLANATION, not as an EXCUSE for their behavior.

After acknowledging their inappropriate choice, we discussed more appropriate responses to the types of experiences that tended to trigger their poor choices.  In essence, I was working with them to teach and build new behavioral habits and patterns of response. Of course, had I known then about the Behavior Reflections piece, I would have used it to make their thinking more concrete.  Additionally, I would have encouraged students to keep the visual reminder of the Multi-Flow Map and any other Maps they created to plan for more appropriate responses in the future.

When students visited the office due to misbehavior, I often felt as if there was an expectation of taking punitive measures designed to extinguish the misbehavior that caused them to be sent to me in the first place.  Of course I always followed the Student Code of Conduct and administered the identified consequence for the misbehavior in which the student engaged.  Still, I intuitively realized that while such consequences may influence future choices, in order to really change behavior, students needed to be taught more appropriate behavioral responses.   Interestingly, the form that accompanied students to the office was called a Discipline Record. One day, after receiving a Discipline Record for the same student several times that week, I decided to look up the word discipline in the dictionary.  I discovered that the root word for discipline is disciple and to disciple means to instruct or teach.  From that moment forward I worked with my teachers to develop systems and strategies for modeling and teaching desired behaviors.

I guess then, it is no wonder that the Behavior Reflections slide has resounded so deeply with so many educators.  Dedicated educators recognize the importance of addressing the needs of the whole child. Thinking Maps provide the patterns and strategies needed to effectively do so!  Please take some time to share how you are using Thinking Maps for behavior management and to address the social/emotional development of the students you serve.

Thinking Like A Mathematician

Posted on by Chris Yeager



Before I even begin this blog I need to make sure you understand that I am NOT a math teacher.  I taught high school English for 20 years.  As a student, I took all of the high level math courses and did just fine in them, but I think that had more to do with knowing how to be a student than truly understanding math.

It has only been in the last 4 or 5 years that I have even dared to think of trying to understand what it means to Think Like a Mathematician, and I really took this on so that I could do a better job of making the connection between math standards and specific Thinking Maps.  Carol Lloyd, consultant and writer for Thinking Maps and consultant for Art Costa’s Habits of Mind, is the person who challenged me to believe that even I could, and indeed should, focus on learning how to think mathematically.

She issued this challenge by calling me on the carpet to stand in front of teachers and say, “I don’t really understand math, but here is an example.”  Teachers would almost always laugh with me as we all acknowledged our lack of math skills. Carol later asked me,  “What if you had said I can’t really read… Would teachers laugh with you and acknowledge their lack of reading skills?” Should it be acceptable to empathize and support our inability to think mathematically while it’s unacceptable for reading? She is often the voice in my head and one of my go-to resources as I work to apply Thinking Maps to specific math standards and math practices.

With the rise of rigorous college and career readiness standards, there is a renewed emphasis on teaching students to not just to follow a set of steps to solve a problem but to focus on thinking about the problem before rushing to solve it. Sounds like a life lesson, doesn’t it?

Regardless of the standards that these eight math practices come from, at their foundation they are all about meta-cognition; with the exception of “modeling with mathematics,” they are math practices that can be applied to all content areas, making them critical thinking practices.

I’ve taken those math practices and I have started to align them with the Guiding Questions in the Frame of Reference for problem solving.  Here is my thinking so far and I would love to get some input from you about these new ideas and applications:

Guiding Question #1:  How do you know what you know?

In reading applications, students identify their sources and evidence from a text to justify or support the information in their maps.  For math, students should explain what math skills, vocabulary and concepts they brought to this problem.  In other words, students would say “I need to know or use my understanding of ——- in order to solve this problem.” This guiding question (what we call a Green question) addresses almost all of the eight math standards.


Guiding Question #2:  What is influencing your thinking?

Again, in reading applications this question asks students to analyze perspective or point of view.  In math, students should reflect on what strategies they used to solve a problem.  They might say, “To solve this problem, I _______.”  This reflection helps students understand that there are lots of ways to approach a problem and their way is valuable.  Giving all students the same problem and then having them share all of the different ways they approached the problem is what will truly help them Think Like Mathematicians, not just follow a set number of steps.  This guiding question (what we call a Blue question) addresses the third math practice.


Guiding Question #3:  So what do you now understand? And so why is this concept or practice important?

Students construct “so what” statements in reading to summarize a main idea.  They then write “so why” statements to help them connect this new knowledge to their own world.  In math, students should develop two “so what” statements:  So what do I understand about this math standard and so what do I understand about the math practice I used.  ”So why” statements (heard when students so often ask ‘so why do I need to know this?’) really should ask students to connect the math standard and math practice to real life situations.


I’m going to present these ideas in my upcoming training and will let you know what teachers think.  I would love to hear from you as I continue my journey to Think Like a Mathematician.