Tuesday, 4 July 2017

End of the year

End of the Year 

Well, the end of the school year arrived. Reports were done.  End of year trips were done.  Graduation came and went.  The classroom is packed up for the summer.  I, and the students, learned a lot this year.  I had a very good group this past school year.  They were enthusiastic learners, and were willing to try all of my new ideas including a variety of new technology ones.  I will miss them a great deal.  See my previous post as to how they were my muses.

The day 5 math challenge was born out of a triple math period.  Both grade 8's had them.  I read a lot from Jo Boaler the last two summers, and, wanted to implement her principles.  I think that most important for my students was that mistakes are okay, and even important, and struggle is good.  It is okay to be a little slower as sometimes deep thinking takes time. I wanted them to also feel successful in math.  I wanted them to be active.  At graduation, the day 5 challenge came up many times as the best memory of grade 8.  I will be doing it again next year.  

We did many challenges and then I discovered Digital Breakouts (see another previous post).  The kids loved them.  They asked for them.  I delivered.  They take time to make but I got to be faster.  We learned together.  It was great!

The other thing I did this year was spend more time getting to know my students as people.  I spent breaks with them just listening and hanging out without any of the academic pressures.  I started this as an endeavor to be an external conscience but discovered that I liked listening to their stories.  It did help them think about what they did and said when I was in the room, but also when not in the room as they never knew when I would appear.  They claimed I had "psick ninja skills".  I just call it good timing, listening and awareness.  I also think that students respond better to you when they know you care about them as people.  It is true.   I also teach better as I get a better understanding of their interests, their needs and their strengths.   

As summer really kicks off, the problem is now disconnecting.  I actually do miss them.  I would often spend more time with them than my own family at home. So it is a bit hard trying to adjust.   Life will go on.  There are summer projects, reading and vacation time as well as planning for next year to do.  Indy, is already pretty happy as he gets to spend more time with me.  
Happy to be sprawled on the Deck
I wish them a fun summer.  I wish them good luck next year.  And I hope they remember some of the key lessons we learned no matter who teaches them in the future.   My students this year have been my inspiration, my raison d'etre and because of them I am a better teacher.   Future students will benefit.  

Enjoy your summer.  Recharge your batteries.  And, make math fun.  It really is worth it. 

Friday, 23 June 2017



Well, the grade 8's graduated last night.  They looked awesome, and I will miss them.  It was a special group this year who inspired a poem.  For all those who didn't get to hear it, it is a spoken word piece, so the printed word doesn't quite do it justice, but if you are interested here it is.  

Ode to the Graduates

This started as a song full of 12 bars in the blues
You see I’m sad to see you go, so the blues seemed the right mood
But then I thought oh my, then I'd have to sing..  
No no not good, that has a disastrous ring
So a poem it is, ode to the graduates of 2017

Where you will go and what you will be
It is yet to be seen
But hopefully you drop us a note periodically
To tell us how it is really all going, we are interested you see

Some will be teachers, or lawyers or doctors.
Some might just get their way paid through university or college.
Some will be chefs, CEO’s or artists in residence.
You will all definitely though be going places

It has been a most interesting year
We’ve moved classrooms and changed teachers
Walked through rain storms and had picnics
Climbed into toys which were really tight spaces
There have been some who have moved on to other places
But also a number of smiling new faces

There have been ups and there have been downs,
We have had some tears, some laughing and groans
The classes got juggled and mixed all around
But we persisted and kept going and came out the other side
Better and stronger and all together with pride

There have been sports, and a Math night, and an Arts night too
A few medals and records (Man did you see them, what a crew!)
The teachers in basketball, well, what can I say, oh yeah, we won
And no boys, that wasn’t cheating, that was me with no run
Challenges and breakouts made Math a lot more fun
We even explained them to others at the Digital Symposium

We had cake as a cell, and cars for our mice
Weren’t those projects really quite nice
You Ruled the three, and circled the lit
Ranted in English and Danced in Math class
You learned some history along the way.
Along with some French, Parlez vous Francais?
You made artistic renditions from wire and clay.
And banged on a bucket in a musical key.
And both you and I discovered the spinner, yippee.

You are a wonderful bunch with many skills, talents
and a few really funny jokes
I am still laughing at nobel prize - I might giggle forever it’s no surprise
You make me smile and think fondly of the year that we had.  
I really will miss you. Seriously, even with the bad.
And I hope for only good things in your futures to be
Just come back one day and tell us your stories

I now think of all that has been posted as I learned Instagramming
Did I just make up a word, it seems to be something I do, quite alarming
So here is the sum of the quotes I have posted, which I hope you can see were for your growth and advancement
As you move on from these Husky halls into the great world beyond

Be bold, be fierce, be kind and be fearless
Let no little voices say things can’t be accomplished
Don’t burn the bridges that you might one day need to be crossing
Your reputation should precede you with good and caring thoughts
not caution

To thine own self be true, and be the best self you can be  
The only person to be better than is the one you were yesterday.
Think before you speak, we can’t kill a word
You might be forgiven but forget is really hard

Things don’t get easier over time no they don’t
You just get stronger, and that is the truth be told
Life is not easy, but fight for what you want
If it is worth having it is worth the sweat, time and effort you put out

Time is a thing that is not the same for all
Be patient, be gentle and help others along

Take the time to find what might be your passion
Try new things, Be different. Be unique.  Wear socks with your sandals though it’s not my fashion
Don’t work too hard, cause play makes us better persons
Be the protector, and defender not the bully. Not the fraud.

And whenever you might have that small moment of doubt
Remember this my young friends, think back to this spot
Hear my voice, put it here
You can do it, you can. Let no one tell you not.
Remember, remember, for always and forever,
I doubt you not.  

We believe in you.  Your skills, your talent, your ability to do
What you set out to do
I believe in you

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Visual Math

Making Math Visual

I recently went to a lecture by George Hart and Elisabeth Heathfield (They have instructions and information on their website for many classroom activities).  I was inspired to see how George takes math and makes beautiful sculptures.  We got to try to make a Polylink triangle.  I have to say, I was not successful at that point. It takes me a while to get my mind around 3D objects and in the time we had, I couldn't quite visualize it yet. I did eventually figure it out (perseverance is something I do have) and have made several more.  

I was also fascinated by the hyperboloid.  Curves from straight lines - how cool  is that? So I made one at home too.
Looking down into hyperboloid

I brought these into my classroom to challenge and inspire my grade 8's.  We tried to make the Polylink with card stock but it is not stiff enough.  You really do need to use the craft sticks.  Some of my students really liked the hyperboloids though, so we started with small skewers which turned out okay.  I then got a group the large marshmallow roasting skewers, and that turned out great.  

Math can be about the beauty in the visual, and, is not just calculations and procedure.  

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Tools in Class Part One

Tools I Use in Math Class - Part One

Well, I fell off the blogger wagon.  Time just seemed to disappear this week so I won't make my goals.  But, back at it.   
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill.
There are many tools - digital and some old school - that get used on a regular basis in my class.  I am lucky to have access to iPads and Chromebooks so the digital tools are an option for me.  This post is part one of two where I give my "old school" aka non-digital options. 

Tools include:

  • Exercise book - this is the warmup book where students do practice questions or some number talk thinking. It is "old school" but sometimes you just need to use pencil and paper.
  • Coil notebook - this is what we use for our Interactive Notebook (INB).  We do foldables and various other notes.  Students use the left page to practice and do upgrade questions, or add extra information.  I also take a photo of my master notebook to put into a shared folder so students who are absent, need help with notes or don't have their notebook at home can access the pages. 
    Example of page from INB

  • Vertical Whiteboards (VWB) - these are 2 feet by 4 feet and are a great tool.  Studies have shown that students will write on a non-permanent surface on average in less than 30 seconds while it typically takes more than 2 minutes to start on paper.  It is also more environmental than using chart paper all the time.  I have found that there is more work done, and less "decorating".  The students can use them to present their work to other groups or to the whole class.  If I want to keep the evidence I just take a picture with the iPad.
  • Personal Whiteboards - these are great for quick check ins and can be used to hold up answers so you can see who knows the answer.  Students are much more willing to answer the question when using whiteboards. I can also choose one for "the favourite form" or "the favourite no" to display on the document camera to use as a lesson too.  The downside to either whiteboard is the number of whiteboard markers I seem to go through.  I am currently collecting the dead ones to determine how many I actually go through in a year.  Eraser tip:  I buy the microfibre cloths from the dollar store, and cut them in half.  The work great, are easy to store, and in the summer I just wash them up.  
  • Chart paper - Sometimes you need to use a large grid, or you want group work to be displayed for a longer period of time on the wall.  This is when I find the chart paper useful.  (It is also good for creating anchor charts - good activity for the students is to develop the anchor chart for a topic then have the class choose which one to display on the main bulletin board) 
What are your favourite tools to use in class? Drop a comment! 

Saturday, 14 January 2017

First Week Back

Back for 2017

It is the first week back after the break for the holidays. I was refreshed after the break but already I can say I am exhausted after only one week.  So my blogging challenge has suffered a bit.  I have not been writing every day this week to the amount I had hoped for when I started (unless thinking counts ;-) ). 

This blog is titled Math Mayhem, but a Math teacher is more than Math.  I loved John Spencer's post a little while ago that included what he hopes would stop in 2017.  One of those things he hoped would stop was about treating teachers like villains.   It got me thinking about all the things teachers need to do besides teach which is really what teachers love to do (although I myself really do love to plan).  

My list of things to do this week included; Boys basketball practice (two of which were at 7 am), computer contact activities, staff meeting (where I was presenting a Number Talk), 7/8 teacher meeting, planning, and marking.  That is just the school stuff.  I also have a life outside of school. 

I still have to do breakfasts, lunches, walk/feed/play with the dog, exercise, clean, sleep (ah the elusive sleep), shop and do a little TV/reading.  

So it has been a busy week.  

January/February are two of my busiest months of the year.  I coach Boys basketball so practices and games take up about 6 hours a week. It is also end of term 1 so those final assessments, and marking need to be done as well as some chasing to get work not yet submitted.  And then report cards need to be written which take about 30+ hours of time to do. IEP's need to be done for term 2 (thankfully my school has great administration and a terrific SERT who help us out a lot with this task). 

I don't have kids of my own other than my 4 legged one :-).  I don't know how teachers with kids manage it sometimes.  

It is no wonder that we get sick.  I, knock on wood and the bottle of Oregano oil, have been lucky not to get sick this year.  

Next week I start conferencing with my grade 8 students.  Several were worried about it.  I mentioned that to Debbie, my friend and LST, and she suggested that we do a fishbowl role play of both a prepared and unprepared conference.  It was great, and Debbie did awesome in preparing herself as one of my students. 
Debbie,  this is for you!

Many students told me afterwards that they felt a lot better about having their conference after seeing it.  We created anchor charts during our debriefing time.  
Conference Anchor Charts
As I have mentioned in my post on Standards Based Grading, I want my students to be aware of their learning, and take ownership of it.  My goal is that by doing the conferences (which are new for me too), that they will look at their assessments as more than a mark, but a way to learn what they need to improve.  

Do you conference with your students?  If so, do you have any tips or suggestions?  Post in the comments as I'd love to learn from your experiences. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Standards Based Grading

To SBG or not to SBG, that is the Question

I have been doing an exploration into Standards Based Grading.  Many things I have read have shown that feedback without a grade has a bigger impact on student learning than just grades.  Students typically look at the grade, and only the grade, and then put the assessment away.  The goal is to get them to read the feedback, understand it and then improve their understanding.  

It has been an interesting transition, and the students are still trying to get their mind around the the fact that I don't assign grades explicitly as a percentage but rather I give them a proficiency level.  
I have been marking with the focus on feedback and growth.  Students have the opportunity to fix mistakes and improve their level of proficiency along the way. This requires a little more time from me as I need to give feedback for everything assessed.  It also requires students to take on more ownership for their learning, and for some of them, that is a new experience.  

The other piece to this, and we'll be trying this out this month, is the student conference.  Grades are needed on report cards.  The students need to conference with me to discuss what marks they think they should get and most importantly why.  They must also come with a next step, or, how can they do better next term. 

It is a trial.  I think it has been going well.  I was using a spreadsheet that I modified from John Orr, but double entry of marks (one in the spreadsheet and one in my paper mark book) got to be overwhelming so it has fallen by the wayside for the moment.  

I will be continuing this through term two, but I may not give them the proficiency level as they have begun to only look for it instead of the feedback now.  They will get the proficiency level when they ask and can explain their feedback. 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Number Talks

Talking about Numbers

One of the ways to encourage students to think about Math is to encourage number talks regularly.  These discussions encourage students to process their knowledge, expand their conceptual understanding and communicate their thinking so that others can understand.  They can also be useful diagnostics to see what misconceptions or concepts are known before a topic is explored in class.  These talks can be individual, or group activities but I find it best, especially for those introverted students, to start them off with at least a few minutes of individual think time.  They can be done as a purely mental math task such as a dot card talk, but some questios may take some drawing or calculating to come to a solution. Typically a number talk is less than 15 minutes.  I have found that they can take an entire 30 minute period if the discussion really gets going.  You can choose to let the Math take you along the journey or you can set a timer and limit the time spent. There are many resources for this available to use.  

I learned a great deal from reading Jo Boaler (Mathematical Mindsets and What's Math Got to Do with It) and using her website youcubed.org.  I have also read other books such as 
Making Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys.

Here are some of my favourite resources online:

Which One Doesn't Belong

This is a visual of four things.  The students are asked which one doesn't belong to the group or find a reason for each one not to belong.  Choose whichever version works with your students and the time you want to use.  If you create your own, you can submit it as well.  Many also show up via Twitter (https://twitter.com/WODBMath) so it is good one to follow.  I project it onto the whiteboard and as the students give their answers, I write it beside the option. 

Example of a WODB
Estimation180 - Lots of great stuff here.  Some of my newest ones to use though are the clothesline activities.  If you haven't tried one, I would suggest doing so. 

FractionTalks - new one for me, but I like the options.  There are various categories such as square.  The How-To section explains how to use them very well. 
Example of a Square Fraction Talk

Open Middle - These are lots of ways to search for problems.  It is US based so you need to be aware of how the Standard Core compares to your curriculum if you are in Canada or another country (check here Canadian Correlations)

visualpatterns.org - this is just what it says, visual patterns, and there are over 200 of them to choose from right now.  Recognizing patterns can be done with any grade though some of them are more exponential in nature.  It can extend into Algebra by asking for a particular term number or for the equation.  
Example of Visual Pattern

Would You Rather - Give two options and students need to justify their choice.  Really encouraged Math language and discussion.  
Example of a Would You Rather

Tap Into Teen Minds - Kyle Pearce has been doing some amazing things with this site and many of the animations make great number talks.  The students get a visual and the Math which activates that cross brain activity that really helps them to understand the process and not just an algorithm. 

There are also a lot of great tools that can be used to aid in either doing the number talks or to gather data before, during or after the discussion.  The conversations and observations are useful data to record.  How to effectively and efficiently gather that data, especially in rotary classes, is where I am currently trying to grow.  Any ideas you would like to share on how you do it? (Please leave a comment below - would love to hear about it. )

These include (but are not limited to):
  • Personal whiteboards
  • Vertical Whiteboards
  • Google Forms (Using their quiz feature or using Flubaroo add-on)
  • Google Slides
  • GoFormative
  • Peardeck
I will discuss the tools I use in a subsequent post.  

What are your favourite Number Talk resources?