My motivating images

This morning I read Sara Van Der Werf‘s post, ‘The Story of 2 Words & One Simple Tweak to Get All Students Talking‘. Her post is great, and you should definitely check it out, but what prompted me to write this post was the photo I’ve included below. Sara has it pinned up near her desk. If I walked in and saw it, I might think it is there to prompt any number of curriculum-related objectives. So I was surprised and delighted to find that it’s an artefact of an interaction with a student. Sara keeps it “to remind me to dig deeper than my first gut reaction to a student’s words or actions.”


That got me thinking about what hangs above my desk. So, of interest to possibly no-one but me, here is the annotated version of my current office pinboard. (An unmarked image is here.) Yes, there are lots of penguins!

Pinboard Annotated

  1. I’m a fervent follower of David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ principles. This flowchart is a reminder of how to deal with the never-ending stream of stuff that comes ‘in’.
  2. A visual reminder (artist now unknown) of the SUCCESs Model from the Chip and Dan Heath’s ‘Made to Stick’ — if we want an idea to be ‘sticky’, there are six principles worth trying to incorporate: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotion, Story. These are front-of-mind when I prepare any talk (from keynote talks to weekly classes). When I think about the inspiring ShadowCon and Ignite talks from NCTM, they have most or all of these elements.
  3. Most (all?) work starts at the left of this diagram — messy and uncertain — and ends at the right with clarify and focus. A reminder that it’s natural to start in the messy phase.
  4. A ‘parchment’ delivered by three of my students a few years ago, advising me (as requested) of their group members for a project. It was originally sealed with wax and a ribbon. The fact that they went to the effort to follow through on an in-joke we had reminds me about forming strong, close relationships with each student.
  5. 3D bridge designs by high-school students from workshops that we run. Students use coordinate geometry to plan their bridge and prepare the data file. We turn it into G-code and print the bridges. They then compete as to which bridge can hold the most weight. Reminds me about how creative students can be if we give them a chance.
  6. Writing advice from Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner from Thinkwell. Includes ‘nail your feet to the floor’.
  7. A regal invitation to dinner last year with The Duke of Kent, the Governor of South Australia, and fourteen other ‘young emerging scientists’. Probably the only time I will need to research how to greet a member of the Royal Family.
  8. LaTeX commands for making citations. I can never remember these.
  9. This PhD Comic about writing. It’s exactly my approach to book writing. Don’t tell my editor.
  10. Emergency coffee.
  11. A BART ticket reminding me of NCTM 2016 in fabulous San Francisco.
  12. A thoughtful gift from a student thanking me for supporting her through a challenging semester.
  13. An enlarged copy of the geocaching stickers I made for our Japan Jaunt in 2014.
  14. Apparently this is how my partner imagines me lecturing, or otherwise addressing a crowd. Huh.
  15. The beautiful Prime Climb Hundreds Chart to remind me of the wondrous things that we can Notice and Wonder about in mathematics. (It doesn’t have to be ‘real world’ to be interesting!)
  16. The Knoster Model for managing complex change. When I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, anxious or otherwise unhappy with how a project is going, I review this chart. I don’t use it to be prescriptive, but it helps me reflect on what dimension might be missing from a successful project.
  17. More advice from Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner, this time for overcoming the inertia of starting a task. It is so faded that you can’t read it, but it says two things. The first is ‘Park on a hill’, which means to leave off at an easy point to pick back up from. The second is ‘Action -> Motivation -> Action (-> Reward)’. It is common to think that you should wait for motivation before starting, but oftentimes it is action that leads to motivation. Spend 5-15 minutes on a task you don’t want to do; if you aren’t motivated, you are free to stop. If you are motivated, keep going!
  18. Fractal stamps from when I visited Macau in 2006.
  19. Nametags from most (but not all!) of the conferences I’ve been to since January 2015. Can you spot NCTM 2016?
  20. A beautiful Hiroshige woodblock calendar. I’ve been to Japan four times in two years. I find woodblock museums to be incredibly peaceful places.
  21. Right above my monitor is where I put the little pieces of paper with big advice (and with room codes, phone numbers, grammar reminders and the like). I have a problem with saying yes and with being helpful. I don’t follow my own advice nearly enough.


Finally, just to round it out, here is the pinboard outside of my office. It is a rotating collection of funny and pointed cartoons. The intention is to encourage students and colleagues to stop and chat — but only if my door is open.


What does your pinboard look like? What are your motivating images? I’d love to know!

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