Thinking (a LOT) about Math

2016-12-15-plc-opening-discussionMy brain is full, full, full with math talk and math thinking (so don’t be expecting anything intelligent from me in next few hours! LOL!).  I’ve just spent two days in a virtual math-world.  The first, with secondary teachers in our school board and then today on many math websites and 1 great math webinar . And after days of high school math talk, I’m thinking a lot about a lot of things!  In fact, my “I Wonder…” question board is full of thoughts about math learning in Ontario, math learning in 2016 and about math learning in secondary classrooms.

Running through my mind, and most prevalent are the questions about the student experience in our classrooms and the mindset they bring to their math learning. I wonder how much they believe in themselves as math learners.  I wonder if they believe “I can do this…” and see their own strengths, their abilities?  Then I wonder if they know that we believe in them (because we do!), that we think about their strengths and needs (because we do!) and that we want the best for them – both today AND in their future!

These are big questions and the issue is huge – in fact, many KPDSB educators (and teachers around the world!) have read “Mathematical Mindsets” by Jo Boaler to learn more about this very issue.  Her observations and research-to-the-nth-degree show that mindset is key to math learning.  Throughout the book, she explores the connections between mathematical mindset and its connections with making mistakes in math.  She’s looked at mistakes in real-life (kids don’t mind making them) and how children view mistakes (no big deal earlier in life).  I’m thinking about the way I taught math and how I did/didn’t think about mathematical mindset and math mistakes.  I’m also thinking about my son’s experiences with math (he’s done his Grade 9 credit, will do his Grade 10 next semester)and what his mindset is toward math learning.  In these close-to-home-ponderings, I’m also wondering about Ontario’s Renewed Math Strategy and how a whole system (the whole province, in fact!) will be addressing mindset and mistakes in math learning.

So, like I said I’ve got lots on my mind after this day of math learning.  I’m glad my colleague shared this video by Dan Meyer (I’ve just subscribed to his blog – which is fabulous!), because it’s left me thinking about solutions and pathways rather than barriers and obstacles.  What endless opportunities we have to make math enjoyable and “learn-able” for our students!  I’m glad to be a part of the work and feel lucky to be joining educators across Ontario in doing it.  If you have a minute, check out the video; if you’re pressed for time, put it on in the background.  It’s worth a listen!

Have You “Hour of Code”-d Yet?

hour-of-code-logoOn Monday, my former colleague, Martene Herbert reminded me it was the annual Hour of Code this week.  Each year, in early December (during Computer Science Education Week in the US), millions of students from around the world participate in Hour of Code activities.  Being that I don’t have a classroom of students, I had totally forgotten about this event!

These activities introduce (or extend) students’ experiences with computer coding.  The resources (on the official website and all over the internet) ensure students of any age can participate.  Martene’s class is in Grade 1 at Valleyview Public School in Kenora, Ontario and they had a great experience with their Hour of Code. I’ve worked with Grade 6, 7 and 8s and have found the same – students enjoy learning to code!  In addition to that, they end up collaborating with their peers, problem solving and developing a sense of perseverance.  Here’s some photos of Martene’s class coding (and collaborating, problem solving & persevering!).

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At Dryden High School, teacher Spuro Sourtzis uses the program Scratch (developed by MIT) for his Grade 10 students’ coding work.  In Sourtzis’ class, students move from this program to other coding languages (Python, HTML, C) which prepares them for Grade 11 and 12 computer classes.  Students have experiences in these classes that prepare them for careers in computer sciences BUT ALSO for any career.  Coding is well-recognized as a valuable learning experience.  From the site The and reiterated on many other sites as well, this thinking:


Will every job in the future involve programming? No. But it is still crucial that every child learns to code.

This is not primarily about equipping the next generation to work as software engineers, it is about promoting computational thinking. Computational thinking is how software engineers solve problems. It combines mathematics, logic and algorithms, and teaches you a new way to think about the world.

Computational thinking teaches you how to tackle large problems by breaking them down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable problems. It allows you to tackle complex problems in efficient ways that operate at huge scale. It involves creating models of the real world with a suitable level of abstraction, and focus on the most pertinent aspects. It helps you go from specific solutions to general ones.

I just finished perusing the work of one of Dryden High’s students – take a look here.  It’s pretty impressive to think of what is actually behind what you see .

For teachers, the Hour of Code is set-up so that there is very little prep work.  In fact, once you navigate to the official website, you can filter by grade level, educator/student experience, classroom devices, topic, activity type (self-directed or tutorial), length of time and language.  There’s loads of options – really, something for every student and educator.  Also, if you want to have your class count in the total tally of world-wide participants, you can enroll at this link too.

But, BUT – what if you don’t know how to CODE?  Well, like any other tech-based program/programming, your students can teach you!  They catch on so quick, why not let them be the teachers and you be the student?  A few years ago, I abandoned the idea of learning programs before I used them in my classroom and I haven’t looked back!  My suggestion is “let them play, have them share their learning with each other (and you) and THEN later use the program/site in instruction and assessment“.  This hasn’t failed me yet!

Here’s some promotional videos for the 2016 Hour of Code.  Check them out, I’m pretty sure you’ll be inspired to get an hour of coding in this week. And if you do, please let me know (in the comments below or via email) as I’d love to share your work with others.

This one is a bit longer as it includes some instructions.

I’m off to do some coding, I hope you are as well!


Branding my Learning Space (and Unsubscribing)

Earlier this Fall I spent some time making my new location (an office!) a bit more “me”.  It’s still missing some things (like say….25 students!) but it’s starting to look and feel like it should, like a classroom!

I started with the essentials – organizing my book shelf, tidying my desk and organizing table and chairs. Once that was done (10 minutes!), I started thinking about what I needed for my thinking space.  Since I started my teaching career in 1996, I’ve always had the space that surrounds me represent my day to day work.  Adding a couple of plants and some paint certainly wasn’t going to do that here!

With some creativity and patience, I’ve laid the foundations of my new work-home.  The learning goal is show-cased (like it would be in my classroom), the priorities are highlighted (like they were in my classroom) and there’s space for representing my thinking (like there was in my classroom).  It’s a just-right start to getting my space organized.

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With my physical space taken care of, I’ve dug in to the vast amount of learning I’m needing to do to catch up with my 21C team and the dedicated educators across KPDSB.  There’s been a lot of Ministry-article and KP-document reading, some conferencing with my supervisor and many many emails (aurgh! the emails!).

So, here I am (November 21st already!) and thoughts of how to organize my thinking and share my learning have led me back to my blog!  I’m looking forward to making some time to think out loud and share both my learning and the work of my colleagues.  It’s always been one of my favorite spots to reflect on my work as an Ontario educator!  If you’re a follower of this blog through my classroom practices (as a student or parent), you may want to unsubscribe.  To do so, just “Unsubscribe” on the link below.  If you’re staying or new to the blog, “WELCOME! I’m glad you’re here!”

Signing off to read and clean emails…. (sigh!).