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  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 ( 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) - 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?  

Monday, 2 January 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!  

As we begin a new year and everyone thinks of resolutions, the prevailing idea in education is to set goals instead.  What are your goals this year?

I have decided to try to blog more often as my goal so here I am, on January 2nd, beginning that process.  I believe I read that "writing improves reading and reading improves writing".  I read a lot - prodigious is a word that comes to mind - so I have the reading part covered, but I don't write much even though I do like to do it.  I have accepted A.J. Juliani's 30-day Blogging challenge in which I intend to write everyday and publish at least twice a week. Will you join me? 

There is also a trend to choose your one word for the year using #oneword2017.  Overall, I chose innovation as my word for the year.  I think it encompasses everything.  It means to create change by creating something, improving something, designing something in new ways.  For me, innovation is about practical things like how to use technology in new ways, but also about how to change my teaching practices to better meet the students where they are at right now.   I will try new things.  Some of them may work and some will not, but failure is part of growth.   
I heard a quote recently "Failure is an option, but failure to deliver is not."  I really like it as I feel it has a great deal of meaning for students today (or it should). I wish I knew who said it originally.  

What is your one word for 2017?  

Friday, 23 December 2016

Official Formative Educator!



I know it is not a real word, but it is appropriate I think!  Thanks to GoFormative for acknowledging me as a Formative Educator.  I love the tool, and the students are comfortable using it.  It makes gathering data and sharing student work with the class anonymously simple and straightforward.  

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Games Alive

21 C Learning

I am lucky and pleased to be part of a group of innovative and interesting teachers and consultants who like to explore Math from a 21st Century perspective. 

I am also a technology geek.  I like to use technology and explore new ways to incorporate it.  It adds engagement for our students who, even at 12, are often glued to their cell phones.  They are comfortable accessing technology and find it easier to communicate and use it to solve problems.

But, sometimes, we need to put the computers and tablets away.  Today I learned, thanks to a long time teaching colleague, that a deck of cards and a game of war can instill some very basic and important number skills while having fun and forgetting that we are doing some Math!  You can do arithmetic such as multiplication, you can do Integer concepts (basic gain and loss) as well as working with positive and negative values and you can work with place value and powers of ten.  It was a fun session.  

If you Google Math games, you will get a plethora of ideas.  There are books, videos and whole websites dedicated to the concept.  Some are good, some not so much, but the basic idea of having fun with numbers and concepts is worth the exploration.  Parents should be encouraged to play Math games at home with their kids.  You can use dice, cards, or just pen and paper not to mention the technology based games such as Dreambox or Prodigy.  

Family Math nights are becoming very popular as well as full STEM or STEAM nights to encourage families to learn together.  Literacy studies have long shown that kids who read with and to their family have higher grades and a better grasp of reading and writing.  The same is true for Math.  And, family members might just discover that Math is not so scary after all.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Digital Breakout Journey

First Digital Breakout: The Journey

I have been interested in the idea since I first saw it at the KW Google Summit last April.  I couldn't get into the session but found the idea intriguing.  I investigated getting an actual box but I have so much stuff already and the price caused a bit of a pause so I put it on the back burner.

Last weekend I was asked if I'd heard of a Breakout activity that was digital.  I had, but decided to investigate further.  Once I learned a little bit by reading I decided to try and make one for my grade 8 Math classes about Integers.  I think I had as much fun making it as they did trying to solve it!

The tools, videos and resources listed at were helpful.  I used the Ransomizer, FakeTextMessage and the FakeReceiptMaker.  I already use Blogger so decided to use that to display those last two items as they are better seen in colour and the students can zoom in if necessary to see better.  I also used several forms to create digital locks by utilizing the Data Validation function. The old fashioned paper and pencil were also used.  I finally had them go to GoFormative so that I could watch and respond live with clues one question at a time that they need to find "the gang".

Here is how it lays out:
  1. A Google Form with some quesitons to get them warmed up. When they have answered them correctly and submitted form, then they will get the link to a web page with the next clues.
  2. On the Web Page: they will find the receipt and a web page taking them to the next form with the digital locks that they can solve with the information from the web page.
  3. Once this one is submitted correctly, they need to go elsewhere in the school based on the clues given and find the paper with the next piece.
  4. The questions on the page will allow them to solve the lock on another Google form listed on their page (in shortened form).
  5. iphoneInteger2.jpg
    One of the Text Messages
    That form will direct them to a Google doc with the text messages that have the clues to solve the questions available in GoFormative assignment. There are four questions and each one gives them one part of a location. In this case they have to go in sequence as I won't give them the clues out of order.
  6. Because mine was a "crime" involving them having to find these "people" I hid people cutouts in their final location.
  7. Once they found them, they had to bring them to me, and give the location in the final GoFormative question then put them back for the next group. That released the prize which happened to be small Gingerbread men (same shape as my people cutouts).

I realized as I was making it that I needed to actually create a document to keep track of the steps, clues and answers so that I knew where they were going and what prompts they might need when they got stuck. I also needed to ensure I wasn't sending them in circles and that one clue actually led to the next.

It is not perfect but it was a great experience for all of them - even the ones that didn't find the gang. I need to change some things in the clues for the next time, but we all learned something and had fun. The engagement and perseverance seen was awesome.

You know a task is going well when you hear "Can we do this again?" and can't get them to leave your room for lunch! Math is such an anxious subject for many and they totally love my crime solving and challenge days as they forget they are actually learning and practicing their Math skills.

The Digital Breakout is just another one of my tools, and it was a good one and I will definitely try it again. We will be doing a family Math night this year, and I might just have the kids create our class game as a Digital Breakout. Hmmm, .....