Numbers, Numbers Everywhere….Again

Math No Comments »

I had a few minutes to spare (hah!) and so I ventured over to Vi Hart’s blog to see if any new doodles had been added. I came across one of her older doodles, “Sick Number Games”:


While I was watching I couldn’t help thinking of the book, The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. I read this book a few years ago, and enjoyed it from the first page. It is about a young boy who is visited in his dreams by a number devil. This devil shares number tricks with the boy, night after night after night. There are many possible ways to incorporate it into your classroom. Some of the number tricks are easier than others, and so there are applications for various learners. I personally have used it when exploring Pascal’s Triangle with my students.

Here are a few resources I have found for incorporating The Number Devil in the classroom:

Reflections on The Number Devil from Math Horizons

The Number Devil from Mathlit12

Activities from NZMaths

The Number Devil (Active Instruction)

Have a great week.

Reflections from my first edcamp

General Education 1 Comment »

When I first heard about edcampTO, I was intrigued by the idea. I put it into my schedule, but knew that it was still many weeks away. Then the weeks turned into days, and finally it was the night before the event. I must admit, on Friday evening I had a lot of reservations about going. The thought of getting up early on a Saturday morning and leaving my family for the day did not thrill me. My family time is precious to me, and the thought of missing a day that we usually all spend together was enough to make me rethink my decision. I was also going alone, and I have never been good at that. However, despite my reservations, my alarm still went off early Saturday morning. I got up, got ready, and headed out to York University for edcamp.

I registered, walked into the room, and sat at a table alone. I immediately opened my laptop and begin to follow the twitter stream. Within a few moments I was approached by one of the organizers, asking if I would be willing to help out at the registration table. And so off I went. When I had done what they needed, I headed back to my table and waited for the events of the day to begin. Within a few moments I was joined by some others and we began to talk. (Many thanks to Stephen Lippa and Tim King for pulling me out of my lonely start.)

I chose not to enter my own topic (way too bold for me) and instead I jumped into the sessions led my others. At first I was very quiet and just listened. Eventually I entered into conversations and felt free to voice my opinions, even those that were different from the opinions of others. When I left I felt drained, but I also felt that there was so much that I got out of the day. It took me into the evening before I was able to piece together my thoughts and impressions.

So now it is one day later, and here is some of what I took out of edcampTO:

• We want students to take risks in the classroom. In fact, we tell them to. Yesterday it was hard for me to enter a room full of strangers.  I also recognize that in the first session it took me a while to find my courage and voice my opinions.  Once I had taken the first steps the ice was broken, and the fear was gone. When encouraging students to take risks, we need to find ways to help them take those first steps, and then we need to ensure that we follow up with them afterward. We also need to share our experiences so that they know that what they are feeling is quite natural.

• There are many people who are not teachers, but who value education enough to have spent their Saturday discussing topics with teachers. As introductions went on in sessions, I kept meeting people who were outside the direct field of education. Yet these participants were highly engaged in conversation and had strong opinions. It was nice to see.

• The day was definitely a validation that I and my fellow educators at my school are doing something right. I was so surprised to hear about how students are taught in many classrooms around the city and province. These were not the practises of the educators at edcampTO, and I believe that wholeheartedly. Any educator who is willing to spend their weekend discussing how to improve their students’ learning is not one who discounts the needs of those same students. Rather it was the stories they told of what they have seen from others that shocked me.

I heard about teachers who stand up in front of the classroom and deliver lectures – day after day after day. I kept asking “Does that really happen?”, and the answer was, unfortunately, yes.  Perhaps it is because that I do not work for a school run by the Ministry of Education, and so I am not mandated to ensure that I can check off every curriculum expectation as having been covered. I follow the Ontario curriculum, but I am not bound by Ministry guidelines, and so I have more freedom in my classroom. I guess this allows me more time. That time is spent letting students build and construct, letting them explore concepts and dive into real-world tasks. It is a rare week that they have not participated in a hands-on task. I never realized that this was not common practise in other classrooms.

I heard about teachers who only allow learning to be shown through essays. There are no other options. Other than formal lab reports, my students are allowed to present their learning in whatever format suits them best. They can write an essay if they choose, but they can also prepare blogs, twitter streams, documentaries, commercials, letters, books, or any other presentation mode which will best highlight their abilities. When I shared this with a group, one person asked if I have difficulties managing the students with so many different things going on. My answer was no, because the students are doing what interests them, and so they are engaged.

I left knowing that I am doing good things in the classroom. I may not be doing everything right, and I most certainly have my moments when I do things wrong, but I feel that those moments do not define me.

• I listened to many opinions about good practises in education. Some opinions I agreed with, and some I did not. (I so wish that I had been in the session on homework – they would have heard an earful!) Sometimes you are not sure how strongly you believe in something until you are forced to defend your thoughts. This day allowed me to question some of my beliefs while strengthening others, all done through good conversation.  

Thanks, edcampTO, for a great experience.
And thank you to all those who talked with me and shared ideas throughout the day. I look forward to our continued conversations on twitter.

Are smartphones smart for the classroom?

Using Tech No Comments »

I know that there are many who are in favour of using smartphones in the classroom, but I must admit, I just don’t get it. I am a middle school teacher who incorporates tech as often as possible, and I see no need for my middle school students to bring their phones to class.

In trying to understand the viewpoints of the other side, I have come across many valid reasons as to why people want to incorporate smartphones into classrooms. Smartphones can be used as cameras and they can also take video, and there are many apps that could be useful in the classroom. The various social media tools offer many possibilities for learning, and smartphones allow internet access when laptops or other computers may not be in the budget. (Have I missed any major points?)

You can also find many arguments against the use of smartphones in the classroom. Some say that they enable cheating and that they allow another form of bullying to go in schools.  Others say that they end up creating inequities in the classroom, as not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone’s smartphone has the same capabilities. People are worried about long term exposure to radio waves, and others are worried about using up data plans in the classroom.

Nothing that I have read, though, directly highlights my concern.

I cannot agree with those that say it is okay for students to quickly check text messages or various other communications in the classroom, as long as it does not monopolize their time. I don’t believe that is what we should be teaching our students.

We live in a society that is dependent on smartphones. I get that. If I were asked to give mine up, then you would certainly have a fight on your hands. But as soon as I walk into my classroom my smartphone gets put away, and it does not come out again until I am on my own time. I am not worried about people not being able to reach me, because they know that I am teaching. If a true emergency occurs, then they know the phone number to the school, and the office will find me wherever I am. When I am in the classroom I am focused on the people in my room, and not on the flashing red light on my smartphone. That also holds true when I am with friends and family.

I believe that we must teach students that same social etiquette. They need to learn that when they are with a group of people, that those are the people that matter. We need them to understand that not everything needs to be answered immediately. I don’t want my children living in a society where they are the least important people in the room, and their competition isn’t even in the same building. I think that we can do better than that.

The irony is that they the students of today are immersed in social networking, but they are losing their social skills in the process. Some may call me archaic and that I am not able to move with the times. Perhaps I just don’t believe that all trends of the future are in our best interest.

I welcome your thoughts.


Let the labs begin….

General Science, Grade 7 Science, Grade 8 Science 1 Comment »

After completing my first lab with my grade 7 and 8 classes, the following thoughts have filled my mind:

It is hard for students to have a triple beam balances in front of them, and not play with them. After the labs this week, we went from having 7 working triple beam balances to four. I am not quite sure what happened, and it is quite possible that they were on the brink of doom before the labs, but still…

To help students learn proper use, I will be posting the following websites on my school science page:
(This will, of course, be followed with more in-class practise. In my class, the more hands-on activities, the better. )

WISC Online – Reading a Triple Beam Balance

Triple Beam Balance use and tutorials from OHAUS

But there is also the thought that using triple beam balances may not be the only way to go. We have now begun to consider the use of digital scales. I was on a tour of the science labs at another IB school in Toronto, as we are looking at design considerations for a new science lab. The school that I visited had a slew of digital scales out on the counter. The cost is greater, and so we must consider whether or not cheaper digital scales will be as effective. But they have to be more effective than non-functional triple beam balances, don’t they? There is also the skill factor. Students should be learning to use various lab tools. I don’t think that we should abandon the balances, but perhaps find a way to incorporate both.

Then we come to graduated cylinders. With my grade 7 class, it came to the point where I was doing the measuring for them. Not the way I would normally go, but there were other considerations that were more important at the time. Over the next few weeks I need to make sure that I properly teach students how to read a graduated cylinder. I will be posting these sites to help them review the process, and then will follow up with an in-class activity:

WISC Online – Measuring Volume using a Graduated Cylinder

ChemPages Laboratory Resources – Reading the Volume from a Graduated Cylinder

This week my grade 7 and 8 classes will be handing in their first lab reports as a follow up to the in-class labs. In past years, the marking of lab reports has been all-consuming. I welcome any strategies that you can share so that I do not have to enter hibernation as I mark.

Have a great week.

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