Tech vs Paper

I’m very fortunate to teach at a school that has a one-to-one laptop program.  Each student I teach has their own laptop that has scribing capabilities, students can use a stylus to “write” on their screens.  With my students having instant, immediate access to the internet, it has opened up learning opportunities that probably wouldn’t have presented themselves otherwise.

In my math classes, I create OneNote files for my students to use instead of worksheets on paper.  It’s an attempt to cut down paper use and it allows them (and me) to stay much more organized.  All of my students do all of their work on their tablets and it seems to work pretty well.  However, when it comes time to gives quizzes or tests, it’s always on paper.

Is this right?  It seems like an odd question, but am I preparing students to take these assessments on paper?  Does it even matter?  Is it ridiculous to make my quizzes in the same OneNote format as their assignments?

The other issue I have with using our tablets all the time is time.  In the chemistry course I taught last trimester, we used POGILs (process oriented guided inquiry learning).  In POGILs, students work in groups with specific roles and they are guided to discover whatever concepts are covered in that  topic.  I spent a considerable amount of time converting all the paper packets to work Google Docs so the students could collaborate within their groups.  For me, it was really valuable to be able to peek into any of the documents, add a few comments here and there, and then move onto the next groups.  I thought the students would find it a refreshing change compared to the paper they are used to seeing.

I was wrong. They didn’t like it.  They found it tedious and, I think in a couple of cases, one person just took charge and ended up doing most of it by themselves.

At one point in the trimester, I realized that my class had fallen behind and we were going to have a tough time catching up to the other sections that were going on.  I decided to try to go back to paper for these POGIL activities and reduce the group sizes from four per group to two per group.

I don’t have any data, but I would guess that my students completed these packets almost twice as fast as previously.  Maybe it was the reduction of group size, but I think it had more to do with the switch to paper.  I don’t know why this was, but I was really surprised since I thought the use of the tech was something they enjoyed.  I thought maybe it may have something to do with my students being proficient in using the tech tools we have, but I mostly dismissed that idea because most of them have been using it since they started at the school and many of them are using the tools in other courses.

I’m going to investigate this idea a bit further this upcoming trimester.  Have you seen results similar to this in your class or school?

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World’s Largest Rubik’s Cube Mosaic

Today,  I came across an article on today about the world’s largest rubik’s cube mosaic that was recently built (is built the right word for art?).  Spoiler alert: the article tells you how many cubes were used.

I think this could be a great lead in to a WCYDWT or a 3Acts type problem.  I hope I can develop it into one, but it would be a great start to hear your thoughts.  I’ve also posted this one 101qs.com

What questions come to mind for you?  Please share in the comments below!

A special shoutout to @paul_aniceto for suggesting turning this into a math problem.

Photo Credit: – macau-mural-perspective1.jpg


Further Experimenting with Flipping Math

Since beginning to teach math, even in my student teaching, I’ve employed the flip class.  Just for the record, I still don’t think the flipped class is the answer to education’s problems, but its better than me just lecturing and is giving me some extra time to figure out other methods to try.

However, it’s still felt very traditional to me. I’ve always felt that it could be better.

So far, I’ve had kids get their content at home the night before, then in class we work through problems and exercises.  It’s worked alright, but I still have some students finished in 5 minutes in class and then some that need to go home and do another hour of homework to be able to get things done to be ready for the next day.  I don’t like that.  I want to keep all of my students engaged throughout the time I have them during the day.

So I’m changing it a little.  I don’t know if it’s better. Or if it’s worse.  But I’m trying something out to see if I can improve.

Our current unit is on Quadratics.  Which, with all the factoring, seems to lend itself well to flipped instruction. (It also lends itself well to real applications, which I hope to explore when we get through it!)

My students will be watching a mix of Khan Academy and PatrickJMT videos for their content delivery.  Ideally, these would be made by me, but for the time being, we’ll go with these and if it works, I’ll start making more of my own.  They after that, they’ll do some basic skill practice, either through worksheets I’ve created/found or through Khan Academy practice activities.  I like the Khan Academy practice activities because of the instant feedback it gives my students on each question, something I can’t reasonably do in real time for every single question for every single student.  However, they don’t push the deeper understanding I hope to give my students.  After they go through this process, they’ll complete what I’ve called an “Exit”.  It’s kind of like an exit slip you might give students at the end of a class to see if they’ve learned anything, but it’s at the end of a topic.

All of this, I’ve put together in a document and printed off copies for each student.  They go through it in order, and get me to sign off (or sticker off) after they complete each section.  To be able to move onto the next section, they have to score at least a 7/10 and have the option to retake any Exit they’d like.

A PDF of the checklist is here and embedded below:

So far the students have liked it and have been engaged and working through everything.

I don’t know how it’s going to go.  But I’ll be sharing my progress through it here.  Please comment and challenge me.

A New Vision for Math in High Schools #educon

At Educon 2.5, Mike Thayer (@gfrblxt on Twitter, blogs at ran a conversation called “A New Vision for Mathematics in High Schools“.  Being a high school math teacher, it seemed like a no brainer to join in this session.

Mike’s idea for the session was simple enough:

If you could build a one year math course from scratch, that would cover all the necessary skills and knowledge needed to go on and be successful in other math, what would it look like?

Not surprisingly  this simple question did not bring about a simple solution.  In my own group we discussed that picking a few select topics and diving really, really deep into them would hopefully teach students how to learn and immerse themselves in a topic.  We didn’t have specific topics in mind, but the idea was if students could experience what it takes to dive completely into an idea and fully understand it, they could learn from that experience and apply it to new learning experiences.

Other groups suggested cutting out geometry completely, which received some mixed reactions from the group.  Others suggested stressing functions, proportional reasoning, graphing, etc.  What I gathered was that there was very little consensus on the idea.  If this were to happen, it wouldn’t be an easy process.

What Mike suggested though, which I liked, was that if we could come up with something like this, we could leave certain topics to be taught in other courses where they have applications.  You could teach logs in chemistry, exponential growth in biology or finance, the list goes on and on.  The importance of what we teach in math needing context is important and this could be a way to work towards giving our math topics context.  A course based in context, not content, would be ideal.  My biggest fear would be a course like this being developed and then measured by standardized tests, undoubtedly leading to completely undesirable results.

Another idea that came up in the session was the idea of running a math course with only positive numbers.  At first, I thought it was a bizarre and silly idea.  However, many mistakes my students make when I assess them in math come down to adding or subtracting incorrectly, mixing up a positive for a negative number, and other basic computational errors.  We would be sacrificing some number sense, but if we could do everything with positive numbers, maybe we could allow our students to gain that deeper understanding without dealing with issues of positives and negatives.  The idea has really had me thinking since the conversation.  Could a similar course be done without fractions?  Would they work?

It was also mentioned in the conversation that just because the system sucks now, doesn’t mean we can wait until the system sucks less to improve math education.  I think too often math teachers blame the curriculum and standardized assessments, myself included, for being unable to be innovative and push our teaching in math.  If we wait around for the system to be fixed, we might be waiting a long time or it may never be fixed.  We need to stop finding excuses for not progressing and start finding reasons to push forward.

If you could build math education from scratch, what would you include? Cut out?  How would you feel about a math course with only positive values?

The recording from the conversation is embedded below:

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“What’s 6 x 8?” and Calculator Dependency

Since getting back into the classroom, I’ve been reminded how much students struggle with simple mental math.    I cannot even begin to account the number of times I hear “What’s 4 x 7?” or “What’s 4+19” blurted out in math class.  When I follow up these questions with “You know this, take a second and think about it”, I sometimes am told that they just can’t and they grab their calculator and punch it in before I can get anywhere.

I have been thinking a lot about how I can combat this daily struggle.  As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can afford to take a few days away from my plans to reinforce a deeper understanding of arithmetic.  In a perfect world, I could take a week and use manipulatives and applets and anything else of value to really develop a deeper understanding in my students.  I’m not sure it would be acceptable if my students fell behind the other sections to review “elementary” skills.  Then again, as I write this, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if my students got something out of it.

As I start to think more and more about this, I even start to wonder if it’s really a big deal.  Almost every one of my students has a phone with a calculator on it that they can whip out and use at any point in their daily life.  Those that don’t, probably can find access to something that does the same trick very quickly.  If they’re going to use calculators outside of class when they try to use math in the real world, should I be wasting my class time trying to reinforce skills they won’t need or use.

I do have an idea.  I don’t think it’s perfect, but I hope to refine and develop it in the conversations that follow this post.

I am considering bringing “Mad Minutes” into my high school math classes.  I’m not sure if that’s what they are commonly called, but that’s what they were called when I was a student.  Basically, students get a sheet with 40-50 simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or whatever you’d like.  Then you start the timer and they try answer as many of them correctly in a minute.  We would always get a score, which was the number of consecutive correct answers.   I remember being successful with them as a young student.  But I don’t know if they work for everyone or really work at all.

If I were to bring mad minutes into my classroom, I don’t think I could justify grading them.  I would, however, want to keep a record of how everyone did and see if there is any progress made.  But, most importantly, I would want to see if there was a reduced use of calculators or those “What’s 5 x 9” questions.

Is there something better out there being used to combat this in math classrooms?

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Students That Just Don’t Care

This was a message shared with me by a classmate of mine who is currently doing her internship.  I know she is not the only one to encounter this, as I have myself.  I’d like this post to serve as a place for you to share any advice/widsom with us if you have any.


I am part way through marking a grade 10 assignment (began with measuring a pop can, ended with finding the cost of producing a certain amount of aluminum) that my class had to do that incorporated everything from the last unit they learned, and the lack of effort put into this is blowing my mind.

Almost every student in my class should have been able to complete this assignment 85-100% correctly, had they even used the class time I had given them. The language was simple, it was divided into small steps, and was EXTREMELY straightforward (almost ridiculously so, for a grade 10 class).

I am finding that one of the things I am most frustrated with is many of my students just DON’T CARE.

Are any of you facing this challenge? If yes, how are you dealing with this? (I’m not looking for a discussion on grading and grades as a non-motivator, because frankly, the fact that this assignment was one of the few graded this unit still wasn’t motivation for my students.) So, how are you motivating your students? Please share.

How do you deal with students who seem to just not care?  Any words of wisdom?

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