This one’s about dance (and burn-out)

The story of teacher burn-out isn’t new; the first few years of any career are often the hardest. Legend has it, half of teachers quit within their first five years on the job. I haven’t dug into the data to confirm or deny this claim… but last semester, I suspected that I would shortly become a statistic. Continue reading “This one’s about dance (and burn-out)”


Radical Cheat and Playful Mathematics

One of my favourite professors in university taught a second-year course on solving differential equations. He would bounce into class, silver hair flying, making us feel like it was our lucky day to be studying math on a beautiful day in that stuffy old classroom. I still remember how he would preface the problems we would solve with: “Alright, so that’s the game! Let’s play the game.” And off we would go. After all these years, this phrase stuck with me – admittedly, more than the mathematics I learned during the course. Maybe he was referring to the fact that we were working with “toy problems,” as other professors would say, suggesting that they had little resemblance to the problems mathematicians actually work on day to day; I like to think, though, that he was talking about how mathematics itself can be a form of play. Continue reading “Radical Cheat and Playful Mathematics”

“Ask, and it will be given to you”

It’s February break, which means that I can finally start making a dent in the reading piling up on my bedside table. I kicked things off with Embarrassment by Thomas Newkirk (2017, Heinemann), a book exploring how embarrassment and its associated emotions can get in the way of or even sabotage our students’ and our own learning. (Naturally, there is an entire chapter devoted to “math shame,” with the subheading “Why are we all on the outside looking in?”) It’s an engaging, provocative, and powerful read, with take-aways for teachers and learners of all levels and at all stages in their career. So far (I am halfway through), the most illuminating section for me has been the one entitled “Asking and Receiving.”

Continue reading ““Ask, and it will be given to you””

End-of-semester reflections

I have my students in all of my classes complete reflections about their experience in my class at the end of the semester, which help me reflect on how I can improve my practice as I transition into the next semester. Here are the prompts:

  1. In this class, I felt like I, my ideas, and my questions mattered. (scale of 1-5, from Never to Always)
  2. In this class, I felt challenged. (scale of 1-5, from Never to Always)
  3. In this class, I often felt stressed out. (scale of 1-5, from Never to Always)
  4. The best aspect of this course was…
  5. The worst aspect of this course was…
  6. One surprising or interesting thing that I learned was…
  7. One thing I’d like to tell Mlle V, in all honesty, is…

And here are some highlights from my Grade 9 class. Continue reading “End-of-semester reflections”

The time #MTBoS went bananas

The other day, I tweeted out the following photo and link:

As advertised, the survey (click here if you’d like to respond) consisted of one question: “In your opinion, what’s the perfect banana ripeness? (For eating, NOT for making banana bread.)” The options were “More green than 1,” “1,” “2,” “3,” … and so on until “15,” and “More brown than 15.”

Here’s what I learned: Continue reading “The time #MTBoS went bananas”

The Price is Right (& other tasks to foster reasoning about fractions)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the start of the school year in my Grade 9 class is dedicated to reviewing some basic concepts from elementary school – in particular, integer operations, fractions, and fraction operations. I try to embed these skills as components of tasks that ask students to make decisions, generalize, problem solve, and/or engage with novel or less-familiar mathematical ideas – or, as Nat Banting (who does this so well) describes it, “embedding atomic skills into tasks so that the basic skills are developed and used as tools of mathematics, rather than the ultimate goal of mathematics.” At the beginning of the year, these kinds of activities allow me to simultaneously identify and assess the needs of students who are still struggling with basic concepts and to challenge students who are ready to learn something new. Continue reading “The Price is Right (& other tasks to foster reasoning about fractions)”

Integer Bingo

During the first week or so of the school year, I take time to review some basic concepts from previous years with my Grade 9 students – in particular, integer operations, fractions, and fraction operations. The challenge is designing tasks that embed review and practice within problems or activities that also call for generalization, problem solving, or engagement with novel or less-familiar mathematical ideas. I deem this necessary because, of course, not all students come to high school with the same understandings and strengths, and while some do need the opportunity to review basic concepts, others are ready to move on. For the latter group, review activities are at a high risk of being perceived as baby-ish and not worth the time, which means that I need to design these tasks very carefully – that is, in such a way that I can simultaneously assess the needs of students who are still struggling with basic concepts and challenge students who are ready to learn something new.

I’d like to share one task that, I think, had something to offer to all of my students: Integer Bingo, which is based on a task developed by and discussed in Serradó (2016). I chose this task for several reasons: Continue reading “Integer Bingo”

Love the questions

There are a lot of quotes (maybe as many as there are teachers) that begin something like this: “The goal of education is…” For example,

“The one real goal of education is to leave a person asking questions.” Max Beerhohm

Undoubtedly, many of these are spoken in a hyperbolic manner, and should be interpreted as such. (Myself, I would be wary of anyone who believed that there are precisely N goals of education, true for all places and at all times.) Nevertheless, this sentiment came to my mind last week, the first week of school. Continue reading “Love the questions”

Pop Box Project: Part 3 – Trade Show and Reflections

This post is the last in a series of posts detailing my take on the Pop Box Design Project. Previously: Part 1, Part 2. Click here for the inspiration.

At last, students’ prototypes were coming to life. The penultimate lesson was a (productive) mess of paper, tape, and running to other classrooms to borrow meter sticks.

I wanted to give students an opportunity to share their hard work with other teachers and students, so earlier in the week, I began organizing a trade show. In terms of physical set-up, preparation was minimal; the biggest hurdle was finding volunteers for students to interact with. I sent out an email inviting other staff members to join, and ended up with about 6 staff participants; another math teacher also very kindly volunteered his Grade 11 class to join in. Continue reading “Pop Box Project: Part 3 – Trade Show and Reflections”

Pop Box Design: Part 2 – Brainstorming, Design, Construction

This post is the second in a series of posts detailing my take on the Pop Box Design Project. Click here for Part 1, and click here for the inspiration.

Last day, after a few lessons of stirring up ideas related to packaging design and strengthening understanding of the concepts of surface area and volume,  students were introduced to the unit project: Design a more effective pop box. Although we had previously focused on comparing the efficiency of different packages in terms of amount of material used and percentage of wasted space, for their design projects students could choose to focus instead on creating a more unique and interesting package if they felt it would increase sales. Students left the classroom buzzing as ideas already started to emerge. Continue reading “Pop Box Design: Part 2 – Brainstorming, Design, Construction”