Dear Ontario College of Teachers,

Dear Ontario College of Teachers,

Hello. I hope this letter finds you well.

Quick question.

Will I face any kind of disciplinary action if a contact trace shows me to be patient zero in a school COVID outbreak that results in a student’s death?

I mean, you’ve publicly reprimanded teachers who’ve joked about amputating a boo boo, so it makes sense to me that spreading a potentially fatal disease to a child would at least warrant a letter in my file, maybe some mandatory hygiene classes?

I only ask because I was thinking about pandemics and epidemics (it’s all over the news lately), and I was reminded that people who know they have HIV but continue to have unprotected sex without informing their partners about the diagnosis, well, those people go to jail.

Actually, maybe I just answered my own question. Perhaps I can assume that if I go back to work in the fall with a negative COVID test, or at least no knowledge of being infected, and I wear a mask, then I’m not actually to blame if someone catches it from me and suffers permanent respiratory, cardiological, or neurological damage, or dies.

Never mind. I’m not worried any more.

Thank you for your time.

Free Extreme Dot to Dot Puzzles

I’ve put together two free packages for you to download.

For the general public, the first is a collection of five advanced dot to dot puzzles for you to enjoy while you are dealing with self-isolation and social distancing.

For educators, the second package includes free samples of hard and easy versions of some of my puzzles, plus a teacher guide explaining how and why to use these puzzles with your students. Use them as part of your class work or include them in your remote/homeschool program.

Please feel free to share these documents with everyone, young and old, who might like them.

Click here for the package of 5 download.

Click here for the Teacher Package

Both of these documents are PDFs and they open in new tabs.

*Read the directions carefully as these are not your ordinary dot to dots, and if you don’t follow the instructions the pictures won’t turn out.

Take care, everyone.


D’Oh: Confused about the Wholesale V. Retail Discounts with Ingram

I have spent the last three months sending emails to bookstores encouraging them to stock my book somewhere in their brick and mortar. I have very likely killed every one of those sales by getting my numbers wrong.

I made the mistake of telling them in the sell sheet that I’m distributed by Ingram. Right! There is a wholesale discount of 55%.


Wrong! Well, not wrong, just irrelevant. I got confused between Wholesale and Retail discounts.

I now understand that retailers pay 60% of the cover price. I was telling anyone who asked that they paid 45%, which, if they then followed up with Ingram and discovered I was wrong, probably put them off entirely.


So, here is how the discounts with Ingram actually work.

Ingram wants you to WHOLESALE the book to THEM for 45% of the cover price (a 55% discount).

Ingram will then sell your book to RETAILERS for 60% of the cover price (a 40% discount). Their price to the retailer includes shipping and all fees and covers the costs of returns.

You, the author/self-publisher make your profit in the narrow margin between the cost of printing the book and the 45% Ingram pays to cover the printing and royalties.

My book Dot to Dot to Dot: 88 Advanced Dot to Dot Puzzles with Extra Dots has a cover price of $15.99. I let Ingram have it for 45% of that, which is $7.19. It costs $5.19 to print the book (a chunk of which is profit for Ingram as the printer). So, I get $2.00 per book.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how much money I get per book if I turn everyone off with my misinformation!

More learning.

Hey, Look at Me! Getting My Book in Stores.

Since the release of Dot to Dot to Dot: 88 Advanced Dot to Dot Puzzles with Extra Dots, I’ve been doing almost nothing but selling it to stores. Selling. Not making sales.

It’s been a steep learning curve for me as an indie author, figuring out what to say and how to say it, especially with such a unique and new kind of book. But, I think I might finally be getting the approach right.

Here’s what I’m doing.

  1. Searching
    I’m looking for bookstores that might actually carry this kind of book. This means doing a search for bookstores on Google, then going to each webpage (or Facebook page) to look at their stock and get a contact email. No used-book stores, obviously. They need to have a children’s section, even though my book has adult-appeal. And, they have to have an email address. I have gotten next to zero replies from stores when I tried to ask for a buyer’s contact information through their email form.say something
  2. Soliciting
    I’m sending each store an email that introduces the book and gives them a sample of the puzzles to try. Silly me, when I first starting reaching out, I gave a very brief paragraph. ‘Hey, I wrote a book. Check out the attachments.”dumb

    It’s too easy to NOT click on the attachments and trash the email. So, now I include as much detail in the message as possible, including the description, the distributor and the wholesale terms. The first paragraph is the elevator pitch. The rest of the email is me pretending they said ‘keep talking.’

    buddy elevator

  3. Customizing
    With each bookstore, I’m looking for something that might help me make a connection between the store and the book. Does it stock unusual books or just the best sellers? Do they carry toys and other playthings? Do they focus on family fun, education, holidays? If any of these details are apparent, I mention them in the body of my email (which is otherwise a template—not ideal). This has already worked for me, finding a shop that carries very unique and unusual books and giftware. Fireworks Galleries in Seattle has taken a chance on 40 copies. I’m taking credit anyway.strategery-gif
  4. Sampling
    I started out sending only the sell sheet and a sample. But, when I buy a book, I want to look at it, flip the pages, read a bit. It’s too expensive to send out review copies. (Not at $20 a shot!) So instead, I’m sending a PDF mini-book. It has the full cover spread (go ahead, judge me, please), a contents page, the instructions, a sample puzzle, a solutions page, and the sell sheet. I want to convey as much about the book as possible.will-ferrell-Zjn870

Hopefully, I’ve done enough to convince a buyer to open the sample package, try the puzzle, and order copies. Let’s wait and see.




Judged by My Book Cover

I am on the third edition of my dot to dot book, and it is already more successful than both the previous versions combined. The only thing I’ve changed is the cover.

I am an art school grad. I’ve worked as a designer. I took the Ryerson Publishing programme’s book design course. Dripping with the skills I thought I possessed, boosted by an undeserved sense of marketing savvy, that describes me when I started on this project.

I mean, my first attempts at cover design weren’t Edsel or mullet-bad, but I’m no Chip Kidd.

The first covers I created were for the PDF versions of my puzzles, which I publish on Teachers Pay Teachers. I tried to be mindful of a number of factors.

Design 1

old christmas cover

Teachers Pay Teachers is like Amazon. You see the thumbnail in the search first. This cover was supposed to catch your attention and tell you what the book was about with a glance. I thought I did that, but I did not.

Design 2

old cat cover

Upon reflection, I decided it would be a good idea to actually show what picture you’d be drawing. I released these puzzles in a collection and as singles. Each individual cover featured a boring little outline of the finished image. Each one also had a giant graphic of a pumpkin outline, just to confuse matters.

Design 3

xmas thumbs5

I realized that the most unique feature of these dot to dots was missing. I got rid of the giant counting dots and focussed on the puzzle images and all the extra dots.

Design 4

book cover 1

When I decided it was time to release the paperback to the world, I wanted to showcase all the different holiday themes in the book. I hadn’t learned the lesson about the bad title and I ended up making the dots too small. You can’t read most of the text, but the drop shadow is nice.

Design 5

snowflake cover

I did get wise about the font size.

Design 6

deluxe cover

Eventually, I figured out that the title needed to go. I also mention the extra dots this time. I thought the specially shaped dots used in the book would be a nice touch. I thought wrong. They look like ink blotches or moles.

Giving myself credit where it’s actually due, I have sold many copies of the dot to dot puzzles on TPT, despite the graphic horrors. However, I have to admit that the competition on the site is not made up of award-winning artists and marketing experts. Clip-art reigns supreme over there, meaning I could potentially sell even more with the right cover.

Design 7

When I decided to release a third, expanded edition of the paperback book using Ingram instead of Create Space (Another blog topic), I took advantage of the opportunity to change the design almost completely.

This is what I came up with.

cover thumbnail large

Click to Enlarge



First, I simplified the title. Playing with the text orientation makes it stand out from all the other titles on the search page. Next, I further emphasized the puzzle image and the extra dots by using the image at a 1:1 scale. You don’t see the dots as numbers in the thumbnail, but the mass they create contrasts very well against the big, bold line drawing of the cat. You are curious to see what they might be. Finally, I kept the text simple, big, and informative. Even shrunken down, most of it’s legible.

Since the upload of the redesigned book, two weeks ago, I’ve sold 22 copies online without even trying. I had 13 pre-orders before the title was officially available because a few die-hard searchers noticed it among the thumbnails on page 17 of their Amazon search “extreme dot to dot.”

Needless to say, I will be revising the layouts of all 88 puzzles and collections on TPT.

The process of redesigning these covers over the past three years has taught me a lot. Even if I hire someone else to do my next cover, here is what I must remember.

  1. Don’t go with the first design. Too bad if you’re anxious to launch and you want it done right now. Instead, just do it right.
  2. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Leave the filters, tricks, and design-school cleverness to the experts who can afford to experiment because they’ve got a million-dollar ad campaign forcing the book on people, bad cover or not. I still have some drop shadows on the back cover (wink).
  3. Even if you’ve hired an expert (especially if), get feedback from people you don’t have to share a dinner table with. You need honest opinions. Ask artists what they hate about it. Ask philistines what they like.

Keep this in mind when designing your book because, in the world of online shopping and search page scrolling, you will absolutely be judged by your cover.


Teach Math with Art

This May, I presented at the OAME (Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators). My session was on combing visual arts and mathematics to create rich cross-curricular learning experiences.

Obvious Math

Albright-Knox Gallery

A lot of art has direct connections to math. You don’t have to look long to find examples of geometry and patterning and, in some ways, number. The art elements shape, form, line, and space are all found in the geometry curriculum.

Calder at the National Gallery of Art

The design principle of balance is connected to the concept of equality and every painting, symmetrical or asymmetrical, can be looked at in terms of equations. The design principle pattern/repetition is ubiquitous in graphic and product design, using colour, shape, orientation and texture to create harmony and movement.

Hidden Math

Behind the scenes, all strands of math abound, especially measurement. An artist cannot make art without knowing and applying math concepts and skills. From preparing a canvas stretcher (perimeter and area) to mixing plaster (capacity, proportion, time) to calculating the shrinkage rate of clay (ratio, percentage), there is math that the artists must do.

Teaching Math with Art

mandala small

When teaching math with art, the goal is to notice the obvious and hidden math, name it, and apply it. Watch this video to see my first project, Mandalas with Geometry and Pattern. The video gives a captioned explanation of each step while the math connections pop up as the video plays. You can pause at certain moments to think about and discuss the math as you watch. Download this PDF for a written lesson plan that goes with the video.

You can use such an art project at the beginning of your unit, letting the hands-on experience be the concrete modelling your students explore before they move to paper and pencil tasks.

Or, you can do these projects to apply the math they’ve already explored in other contexts, spiralling back to previous learning, turning the knowledge into understanding and application.

You can even use these projects to evaluate your students’ math knowledge by observing them and discussing the math as they work. Can they use a protractor properly to make a mandala with nine segments? Can they tell when their art isn’t symmetrical? Note: when doing culminating assessments, you can’t rely on the finished product alone because undeveloped artistic skill might get in the way of showing the math properly–if your student can tell you their folding wasn’t congruent or their rotations weren’t quite equal, then they are demonstrating they know the math, even if they aren’t that precise with the art-making.

Have a clear list of success criteria that covers knowledge, understanding, thinking and application. Pay attention to the students as they work, making note of successes and struggles, intervening when necessary. Use the math language. Apply the procedures. Push understanding and thinking by doing more and more challenging work.

Links to my Art Math videos and PDFs:

Mandalas with Geometry and Pattern – VideoPDF
Tessellations with Geometry and Pattern – Video – PDF (in the works)
Animal Collage with Geometry – Video – PDF (in the works)
Collage with Number Patterns – Video – PDF (in the works)

Please share with anyone you know who loves doing art and math.

Making a Clay Armature


I’ve been wanting to try my hand at clay portraiture for a while. I made a bust of myself in high school (the chin exploded in the kiln), but that was 30 years ago.

Here are the instructions for a homemade armature I designed and built. It cost me around $40 and uses materials you can get at most box-store hardware suppliers.

Make an Armature

Update, April 14, 2019

Here is the sculpture I made with the armature. What do you think?

Free Valentine Dot to Dot Puzzle

Please enjoy this Free Valentine Dot to Dot to Dot.

Click the image to download the PDF. Read the directions. Print off the “easy” or “hard” puzzle. Fill in the To: and From: Give it to a special someone for them to solve.

This freebie is a sample of one of my Dot to Dot to Dot skip counting number puzzles. These puzzles have a twist. If you don’t follow the pattern and skip over the extra dots, the picture doesn’t work. Learn or practise skip counting by 2s, starting at 1. Have fun and stay sharp.

A complete set of my Dot to Dot to Dot puzzles is available at
TeachersPayTeachers.Com, Etsy, and in paperback at !ndigo and Barnes and Noble.

Valentine Freebie


Free Count by 3 Thanksgiving Dot to Dot Math Puzzle

This single puzzle is a Free Dot to Dot to Dot Thanksgiving Activity. Count by 3s to find the hidden picture. Click the image to download a copy of the puzzle.

dottoo dot Thanksgiving FreebieThese are not your mother’s connect the dot puzzles. They skip count by 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s, and they have extra dots. Follow the pattern, skip the extra dots, and reveal the picture.

Each Holiday collection has over 13 different puzzles, with a “hard” and “easy” version of most of them. There is Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter, as well as a Spring & Summer and a Snowflake collection. Incorporate these puzzles into your number sense, operations, and patterning instruction and assessment. Use them in whole-class instruction, as part of your math centres, or for a fun but educational holiday activity to do with your class.

Get the Free Teacher Package that shows you how to manage the puzzles in the classroom, describes ways to include them in your math lessons, and how to analyze your students’ errors to know where they are on the Number Sense continuum.

Please leave your feedback to help me make these collections the best they can be.



Using Dot to Dots in the Classroom

teacher package Aug 2019 coverHave you been really focused on number sense in your classroom? Are you using number strings, doing number talks, counting around the circle? If so, then you are thinking about numbers and the relationships between numbers. You are thinking about the patterns made by numbers, and the effect of repeated operations on numbers.

Have you ever considered using dot to dots as another way to play with and explore number?

Maybe not. Typically, they are very simplistic, only a few numbers, rarely going beyond the twenties, and only counting by ones; they are a challenge for only the earliest of learners. However, in the last couple of years, I’ve seen a renaissance in dot to dots, going hand in hand with the colouring book trend. There are a couple of very talented designers/artists out there who have created some brilliant dot puzzles, but they still have their limits as to their use in the classroom.

This past year, I’ve been playing with the puzzle design myself, tweaking the structure and mechanics to make something that teachers can use. My puzzles have several essential differences.

owl easy

First, They skip count by more than just 1s. My puzzles run the gamut from 1s to 10s. This means they help to learn and practise skip counting and growing patterns, and, by extension, addition and multiplication for almost all the basic facts.

Second, they have different starting points. I have several puzzles that skip by 2s, but some of these start at 1 (1, 3, 5…). Some puzzles skip by 3s, but a few of them start at 1 or 2 (1, 4, 7, 10…; 2, 5, 8, 11…). Solving each number in the sequence in these unfamiliar patterns practices mental addition and number fluency.

Third, there are hard and easy owl hardversions of each puzzle, allowing teachers to differentiate for different children’s knowledge and skill levels. The “easy” version is useful for students who are struggling with the concept of skip counting and need some supports to get to each new number. The “hard” version throws distractions and red herrings onto the page in the form of extra numbers. Students doing a “hard” puzzle must really know how to apply the pattern, or risk connecting the wrong dots and creating an incomprehensible scribble.

If you want a more thorough explanation, I detail how these puzzles work and ways to use them in my Teacher Package, available for free here by clicking the link or the images, and on where you can see all the puzzles available. The package explains how to distribute or present the puzzles, tips for differentiating, suggestions for how to tie the puzzles to the number and patterning curriculum, and examples of errors that students might make with the puzzles and what these mistakes might be saying about a child’s skill and knowledge.

Have a look at the Teacher Package or download the free previews for the different Holiday themed collections, also available on this blog. Let me know if you try the puzzles with your students and give me feedback about how it went or suggestions you might have.

You can also get the complete collection of “hard” puzzles in paperback at Indigo, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Click these links to check it out.

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