A Sunday Morning Mystery

Magnifying Glass Magnifier - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

I love finding awesome new resources. You can say that I am a bit of an internet junkie, always searching for new content information and sources to use in my classroom. Why? I don’t know. I already have so many websites bookmarked and more sources than I could ever possibly use. Yet for some reason, I don’t stop searching.

And thus I do appreciate when I get sent good sources from others.  A few months ago I was sent an email from a mother who has a son that loves forensic science. After some searching of his own, he came across a good forensic information website, and the mom sent it over to me to include on my site. I will admit that this email sat in my inbox for longer than I wanted (planning and prepping this school year seems to have taken over my life), but today I was determined to finally explore that site on my own.

When I began to look through the Under the Magnifying Glass: Forensic Science website page, I had to agree that this was a good resource, so thank you Anna and Tyler for sending this my way. It includes resources to understand what happens at the site of the crime, back in the lab, and at the morgue. It covers digital forensics, and even has links to a few forensic games. (Note – one game link no longer works and two of the games use flash, which is now retired.)

When I looked at the header on this page, I saw that it is part of a larger website called, O.Berk, Leaders in Packaging Solutions. Now I was intrigued. What is a forensics page doing on a packaging company’s website? I began to wonder if this was legit, or if something odd was going on here. I began my inquiry by using the internal site search bar to see what came up. I entered the words “forensic science”…nothing. I tried searching “Under the Magnifying Glass”…nothing. I clicked on the company name in the header and saw a drop down menu, but again, there was nothing that I could see that would lead me to their forensic science page. I scrolled down to the bottom to the footer section, but didn’t see anything of note there, either. I finally decided to click on the site map in the footer section. Scrolling quickly through the site map I saw many things that specifically related to the packaging industry. I went through it again, this time slower, and came across a section called, “Additional Pages”.

Aha. Mystery solved.

This section on additional pages did include the Under the Magnifying Glass Forensic Science page, but I saw that it was not the only resource page on the O.Berk Packaging website. Do you want to learn about ancient Egyptian discoveries? Go here. Antique bottle hunting? Marine plastic pollution? The history of glass blowing? Metal detecting? Jar canning and preservation? Recycling and litter? The history of maple syrup? All can be found on this site. Apparently this is the site you need to visit to learn about these things, as well as other tidbits about glass containers and their history. A very unlikely source to house some of this information, but apparently secrets lie everywhere.

And so ends my exploration for this Sunday morning… a good exploration spent with a cup of coffee.

Now on to baking.

Posted by Ilana Cyna

All in One.

I have been collecting resource links for a very long time. I had some of them organized into various math, science, and technology categories, but those categories could have been a lot more specific. I also have a folder titled, “To Explore”. That folder contained many links from the last few years. There were also links that I had bookmarked on Chrome, as well as the various links that I had collected in a Google Document during remote teaching this past spring. Planning and marking and just life prevented me from properly sorting those links, and so the number of unorganized links was getting out of hand. Realizing that this school year will probably be demanding in new ways, I decided that at the very least, my computer should be well organized. And so I went about the task of re-organizing everything on my desktop, resource links and all. The files were easy to sort, but the resource links were harder. I couldn’t decide on the best method to house these links. Should I keep them within desktop files, or should I move them online?  I decided to move them online. The next question was which platform to use. Padlet? Google Document? Google Sheets? Google Slides? So many choices…..

I started to make a Google Sheets document, but quickly abandoned it. I am not sure why, it just didn’t feel right. I finally decided to use Google Slides. It took a while, but I have now finished transferring most of my saved resource links to this document. My “To Explore” folder looks better, but I have recognized that it will probably never be empty. I have made hyperlinks to move between parts of the document, and I have indicated where there are more than one page within a category. For now it works for me. You can grab a copy for yourself here.

Posted by Ilana Cyna


I should be planning lessons. I should be figuring out how to adapt my curriculum for the necessary changes in our new Covid world. But that feels a little overwhelming right now, and so instead I am going through all of my many (MANY) Twitter bookmarks. I came across one that I had saved from Ben Orlin titled “Six Strategic Pen-and-Paper Games (from a Strange and Bottomless Mind)“. In his post, he shares six different games from game and puzzle creator, Walter Joris. I especially liked the final one that he wrote about, called The Collector. Knowing that I need to limit the physical interactions amongst my students, and not being an expert with Desmos, I decided to see how I could adapt this for Google Slides. I first made the six-by-six grid, then I created the grey box for eliminating squares, then created the blue and green game pieces, and then finally made the title and instructions. For the grey, blue, and green pieces, I wanted to have multiple copies so that the students could drag them out without having to copy and paste within the document. I googled to see if there was a “cloning” capability in Google Slides similar to the one in Notebook software (I sort of knew there wasn’t, but a girl can dream….).  I came across this video which describes how to make multiple copies of an object and stack them as if there were only one copy. I then realized that there were too many “moving parts” that could be accidentally repositioned on the page, and so I made the grid and instructions part of the background.

The result is here. I am open to suggestions as to how to make it better.

Posted by Ilana Cyna

Learning with Shared Screens

This past spring, I spent time trying to find the best tools for teaching online. In many ways, I feel that I didn’t progress much in my search. To be clear, I have lists and lists of tools, some my own and some of others, but within those lists there aren’t many tools that I loved and that effectively solved the challenges of student engagement while learning over Zoom. Today I will highlight one of the tools that I found and used repeatedly.

While teaching on Zoom I often used the built in whiteboard. I used it for my own modelling and explaining and I used it often when working one-on-one with students, but I rarely used it in full class scenarios. Students knew how to annotate on it, but if all students tried to write at once, it just became a mess. Instead, when I wanted to see students responses to the same question all at once, I went to whiteboard.fi. This online whiteboard tool creates individual whiteboards for each student. The teacher sets up the virtual classroom and a class code is generated. Once shared, this code allows students to become part of the classroom where they can view both their own whiteboard, as well as the teacher board. The teacher can see the whiteboards of every student at once. There are limited settings (including waiting room, ability for students to upload images, locking the room, pdf’ing the whiteboards), but I found those settings to be enough to get what I needed for the lesson. The only downside is that there is no login and thus no saving of boards. If you want to go back to see what was on the boards (assuming students do not clear their boards) then you need to save the url for that session.

Using this tool allowed me to present a math question (either on the teacher whiteboard or on another source) and then have students answer it on their own. I could give feedback to students as they were completing the work, just like I would in the classroom. When a student finished one question I could have that student clear his or her board, then begin the next question. I saw student work in real time and was able to give feedback in real time, redirecting student thinking as needed.  I haven’t seen a better site that allows me to see all of my students’ work at once, but I certainly welcome your recommendations.

Posted by Ilana Cyna

A Little Help with Angles

When teaching online, I was on a constant search for interactive websites to use with my students. This became even more important as I was working with my grade 6 students on measuring angles with a protractor. In the classroom, it is easy to walk around and see how students are holding and lining up the protractor, but this is obviously more challenging over Zoom. First, many of many students did not bring home their geometry sets as they were collecting locker supplies before we went online. Second, even if they had, I would not have been able to see how they were holding and using those physical protractors, even with screen sharing options. I found a few good activities on Desmos (this one and this one), but I was looking for additional practice. I then came across this selection of activities from Transum. This first one is from their Starter of the Day selection and involves estimating and then checking. This second one offers more questions of varying types of angles. Using these activities allowed me to model by sharing my screen, and then have students share their screens so I could watch how they were manipulating the online protractor and lining it up with the angle. There are many interactive activities on Transum’s website. I haven’t even begun to explore all of their offerings, but I plan to do so this summer.

Posted by Ilana Cyna in Math

Searching for Authentic Assessment in an Online Environment

So here I am again.

I am always inspired by those who find time to write during the school year. I manage to write during the summer and always have the best of intentions for continuing throughout the school year. And then the school year actually begins, and I watch as my best intentions get replaced with mounds of planning and marking.

So here I am again.


What a year, or rather, what an ending to the year. I finished the last of my year-end meetings less than one week ago. Usually at this point I am brimming with ideas for planning and writing, but right now I find myself a little bare. Perhaps it is because I am mentally exhausted, but more likely it is because the fall brings uncertainty, and I am not quite sure how to effectively plan for the varied possible teaching environments in our Covid world.

So instead of looking to the future, I will share something from the past. As I think about teaching online these past few months, I know that there were many stages that I went through. It began with survival mode, and then slowly built to a system that was manageable. There were many challenges, and perhaps I will discuss more of those in time, but the one that I would like to focus on today is authentic assessment. Whether assigning numbers, letters, rubrics marks, or comments, at some point we all need to look at student work and give feedback of some sort. My challenge with online learning has been how to determine if the work that I am assessing is truly the work of that student. Our platform was Google Classroom, and I eventually had all students write their assessments while on Zoom, but the form of the assessments varied through trial and error. I had students write answers in Google Docs, I had students write answers in Google Forms, and I had students write answers with paper and pencil and then upload their work to Google Classroom. At some point I would love to talk with those in other schools about what worked for them, but for now I will describe what I think was my most successful assessment.

This past year I taught grade 6 and grade 8 mathematics, as well as grade 7 science. I taught one of the grade 6 mathematics classes and another teacher taught the other two. While teaching online, one of our grade 6 mathematics units covered fractions, decimals, percentages, and order of operations. For the final assessment, we recognized that we needed to come up with something a little different beyond just creating different versions of the questions that had slightly different numbers. We wanted to create a question where it would be a little more obvious if students gave each other the answers. After much thought (and editing), we came up with something similar to this:

Create and simplify an expression. The complexity of your expression and accuracy of your simplification will help to determine your understanding of the concepts. See criteria below to guide you. 

Evidence that you are able to select appropriate mathematics when solving simple problems in familiar situations, apply the selected mathematics successfully when solving these problems, and generally solve these problems correctly:

  • the expression includes both operations (addition/subtraction)
  • the expression includes 2 terms that are being added or subtracted, with at least one of the following: 1 mixed number, 1 proper fraction, 1 improper fraction, AS WELL as 1 decimal number
  • the expression must be correctly simplified at each step
  • where relevant, the final value must be simplified and shown as a mixed number

Evidence that you are able to select appropriate mathematics when solving more complex problems in familiar situations, apply the selected mathematics successfully when solving these problems, and generally solve these problems correctly:

  • the expression includes both operations (addition/subtraction)
  • the expression includes 3 terms that are being added or subtracted, with at least two of the following: 1 mixed number, 1 proper fraction, 1 improper fraction, AS WELL as 1 decimal number
  • there can be no common denominators in the expression
  • each denominator in the expression must be different
  • the expression must be correctly simplified at each step
  • where relevant, the final value must be simplified and shown as a mixed number

Evidence that you are able to select appropriate mathematics when solving challenging problems in familiar and unfamiliar situations, apply the selected mathematics successfully when solving these problems, and generally solve these problems correctly:

  • the expression includes both operations (addition/subtraction)
  • the expression includes 4 or 5 terms that are being added or subtracted, including at least one each of: 1 mixed number, 1 proper fraction, 1 improper fraction, and 1 decimal number
  • there can be no common denominators in the expression
  • each denominator in the expression must be different
  • the expression must be correctly simplified at each step
  • the final value must be able to be simplified
  • the final value must be simplified (and shown as a mixed number, where relevant)

We were fairly pleased with the results. Although we had a second question in the assessment that dealt with percentages, we had students who included percentages in the order of operations question (such as add or subtract 20% of 50). We thought that the student work showed us who understood the concepts from the unit and who was able to thoughtfully choose values that worked well together. I would definitely try to incorporate this “create your own question” strategy into assessments next year, whether in school or online.

Posted by Ilana Cyna in Math

New Puzzle – Foxes and Rabbits

I have been trying to organize my math puzzle folder (which is quite the job). I came across this Hunter and Rabbit puzzle sometime last year and made a (boring and unimpressive) Smartboard file so that my math students could do it together as a class. That didn’t work out as well as I had hoped and the students could have been more engaged. Last week I came across the link and Smartboard file in my puzzle folder and decided to work on this puzzle. I made it into a hand’s on puzzle so that my students could work on it together in small groups. The original puzzle uses hunters and rabbits, but I decided to remove the hunters and use foxes instead. I was searching for a head-on view of the rabbit but couldn’t find one that I liked that was royalty free and labelled for legal reuse. I laminated the puzzle board and pieces and used it last week. All (or almost all) of my students were engaged (in two different classes) and one student asked if we can do a puzzle every week. I have a lot more laminating to do!

Here is the link to download my Foxes and Rabbits puzzle.

Posted by Ilana Cyna, 0 comments

Inspiration from the Twitterverse #2

I have bookmarked many things since August 17th…. many, many, things. Here are a few of my favourites from the last few weeks of August:

First, a reminder from @mpershan about Erich Friedman’s wonderful puzzles.

Next, @rmbyrne teaches how you can make shortened url’s that people can actually spell.

@JessicaTilli1 is very excited about Ultimate Tic Tac Toe highlighted in @benorlin’s Math with Bad Drawings. I know the game and have blogged about it before, but I think I need to explore his book!

Dan Finkel talks about his new TED-Ed riddle called “The Superconductor Lab”. How can you not love TED-Ed puzzles?

@TedTalks wants you to go watch some of Hans Roslings Ted Talks. I have seen a few, but I should watch the rest.

@EfrenR creates lab instructions using @ChemixLab diagrams, Google Drive, and Screencastify….with a little help from @JakeMillerTech.


Pip – Mathematics shows the strength of Da Vinci bridges:

Apparently PhET sims works with Google Classroom. Is this new? How did I miss it?

And finally, if you liked music from the 80’s then read Toto’s lyrics for “Africa” as written in the style of Ernest Hemingway. I loved this. Thank you Simon Kuestenmacher.

Posted by Ilana Cyna, 0 comments

And so it begins.

The first week is done.

I am fairly certain that I know the names of all of my new students. I incorporated puzzles and thinking challenges, and we had fun. All in all, it was a good week.

This year I am teaching one grade 6 math class, two grade 7 science classes, and two grade 8 math classes. It was a short week because of labour day, and I don’t teach science every day. My focus for the first 2-3 lessons in each class was games, cooperative strategies, and relationship building with my students. As usual, I took a lot of inspiration from the wonderful #MTBoS crew. Here is an overview of my opening week activities.

In science we played Science Buzz, a form of the game Taboo. One student is challenged with getting his or her team members to guess the word on the card, however there are five “taboo” words that the player cannot use in the clues. I found a free version of this game a few years ago from The Learned Teacher, and I modified the template for my purposes. At that point I taught grades 6, 7, and 8 science, and so I made a version for each grade that focused on the topics from the Ontario Science Curriculum. You can find my versions here.

I also did a cup stacking challenge. Each group of 3 or 4 students was given six cups, an elastic band, and a piece of string for each person. The strings got tied on the elastic band and the students had to pull on the string so that they could manipulate the elastic to move the plastic cups. There were six different challenges for the groups, with each challenge requiring the students to place the six cups in a different configuration. In the first three challenges the students were allowed to talk with each other, but no verbal communication was allowed in the last three challenges. Last year I got this task from the Middle School Science Blog, and you can find the link here.

On Friday I played Science Scattergories with one of the classes. For those who have not played Scattergories, a letter die is rolled and the object is to write a word that begins with that letter for each of the twelve categories on the list. You can read a full set of the game play instructions here. I found this version on the TES site for free. However I wanted all of the categories to be more science-based, so I adapted it and used some of the categories from the original document and added some of my own. I created two science based lists. First I looked for a random letter generator online and thought I had made a good choice. However when we began to play in class the generator kept pulling q’s, x’s, j’s, and other such letters that would have been quite a challenge for my students. I gave up on the digital generator and just wrote a letter on the board for each round. We played each list twice, with different letters each time. The students loved it and I would definitely play again. Perhaps next time I will adapt it for math. You can find my adaptations here.

In my grade 6 math class we played Set. Some of the students already knew how to play and they helped to teach the others. We played the digital version which offers a Set puzzle per day, and you can find that link here. I do have two copies of the card game, but I think I will need to purchase a few more so that each group can play together. In grade 6 I also used Robert Kaplinksy’s Open Middle problem for multiplying a two digit number by a one digit number. You can access that problem here.

In grade 8 we began with Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers task. The students were so engaged! We also tackled @mathequalslove‘s 2019 Challenge. I couldn’t find a digital copy of Sarah Carter’s 2019 Challenge, and so I had to tweak it from her 2018 Challenge. You can read about and access Sarah’s Challenges here. I also made 6 sets of her Perfect Squares Puzzle and had each group work on it. Again, all hands were on deck as they tried to figure out how to place the numbers. I used another Open Middle problem with my grade 8 students, this time a fractions problem written by Denise White. I wanted to give them some time to work on the answer, and so I left it with them over the weekend and we will revisit it tomorrow. You can access that here.

Finally, in grade 8 we played a little Nim. This was inspired by chapter 10 of Tracy Johnston Zager’s book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had. In this chapter she talks about Nim and Nim Train. In the game of Nim each pair of students starts with ten counters. Students take turns removing 1 or 2 counters until the last counter is taken. The person who removes the last counter from the pile wins. I had my students play several rounds until they could begin to determine the strategy. We discussed the strategy and whether it was better to play first or second. I then had my students add one counter to the pile to see if the strategy changed or stayed the same. We tried with 10, 11, and 12 counters, and then discussed what we learned. After that we switched to Nim Train. In this version of Nim the students need to add counters to form a train of ten counters, either adding 1, 2, or 3 counters at each turn. The player to add the tenth counter to the train wins. The students quickly caught on to the strategy for this version of the game.

And that was only week 1.

It will be a great year.

Posted by Ilana Cyna, 0 comments

Inspiration from the Twitterverse

I was hoping to write more often in August, but a hand injury has put a crimp in my plans. Typing is slower than normal and a little painful, and so I have been weary of spending too much time on a keyboard. But it is now the middle of the month and my #MTBoSBlaugust posts have been few and far between, so here goes…

For today’s post I am going to share some of my favourite Twitter bookmarks from the last two weeks – the inspiring ideas that I have seen from the creative teachers in the Twitterverse. I won’t get through them all in one post and so I will revisit this another day. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to properly investigate and figure out how to use all of these ideas, but one can dream…..


There is so much to explore on the Transum website. I like the Starter of the Day, Maths on Display, and Fun Maths sections. However you may want to check out Transum’s Twitter post about their Back to School page:


Jake Miller shares so many tech tips, especially related to GoogleEdu. This was my favourite so far this month:


NASA Stem Engagement shares how to make a solar oven. I wanted to do this with my grade 7 students last year but ran out of time.


Gary Rubin shared the new EquatIO Activity Database. I can’t wait to find time to go through the activities!


Paul Andersen (Bozeman Science) shared the Teacher’s Guide to Scientific Inquiry. I really want to explore this site (oh, to find the time).


Everything Sarah Carter. Last week she shared the Mathonyms site, which I proceeded to then explore how different words would look in their math font.


And I think that my new favourite follow is Interesting Engineering. So much fun.


This doesn’t even begin to cover all of the amazing things I have read on Twitter over the last two weeks.

More to come.

Posted by Ilana Cyna, 0 comments