Expecting Questions

I have mixed feelings about student questions. We (as teachers) act like we want students to ask questions; however, there are plenty of implicit messages about teaching that tell us that good teachers don’t need students to ask questions. One of the oldest pillars of teaching tells us to provide adequate wait time for students to formulate and ask questions, but there is a sense of relief when time passes without the need for clarification. This feeling essentially equates clarity with quality. Wait time becomes an emergency procedure to be used when we feel an awkward imbalance in the room. These messages are also felt by …

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Estimating with InO-Bot

You can count me among the folk that believe that there is a real possibility to teach mathematics (among many other things) through coding. I do not claim to have any expertise in the area aside from a handful of undergraduate credits and the odd project that has grabbed my attention over the years; however, the intuitive nature of Scratch provides a novice entry point for anyone interested in giving it a shot. This post describes my initial foray into using coding technology in the classroom. Like all things, the structure of school provided certain constraints, but in the end, it …

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Using Visible Random Groups in Assessments

Since the onset of my career, I have been keenly interested in how students work together in the contexts of school. We know that students (and humans in general… actually animals in general) form collectives to accomplish elaborate tasks. These traffic jams of human interaction transcend individuality to the point where the level of activity is so dense that groups begin to synchronize into a sort of group mind. However, we have a school system built on individuality and (unfortunately) competition, and triggering these collective structures is extremely difficult in part because students know that, when push comes to shove, …

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Math Storytime App: Talking Math with Your Kids

When I started this blog, I had no children of my own but spent lots of time talking math with the children of my friends. This talk began to pop up more frequently on my twitter feed as well in posts. Now that I have children of my own, I am wholly invested in the project of talking mathematics with them (whether they notice it or not). This has resulted in many moments of surprise and delight, and continues to fuel my interest in the roots of mathematical learning (far before I get to see them in secondary school).  About …

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Problem(s) with Triangles

My provincial curriculum scatters trigonometry throughout several high school courses. Right-angled trig appears first as an isolated experience at the Grade 10 level. From there, the two pathways in Grade 11 cover the Sine and Cosine laws, but only one stream (Pre-calculus) continues into the idea of the unit circle and eventually the connections between the side ratios of right-angled triangles, the unit circle, the wave functions, and trigonometric identities. Since trig is doled out in piecemeal portions each semester, I often find that the hidden beauty of trig is masked by things like SOH CAH TOA. (Or, if you dare …

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On Brilliance, Relevance, and Impotence: A Classroom Example

Everyone knows that you can’t wish for more wishes, but no one says you can’t wish for more genies. According to the binding rules of genies (as published by Disney in the 1992 film, Aladdin), there are a few restrictions on what can and cannot be wished for. Probably the most famous restriction is that there is unequivocally no circumstance in which one is permitted to wish for more wishes. This is grouped with three other limitations stating that genies will not kill people, make people fall in love, or revive people from the dead. Other than that, the wishes …

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Second-hand Student-ing

Billy: “Banting, I have a question for you.” It was 5-minute break between classes and I was trying to reset the random seating plan, open up the electronic attendance system, and load the image that would serve as a starter for the day’s lesson. During this small window of time, questions are usually about missing binders, requests for future work due to mid-semester holiday plans, or updates on my ever-present pile of grading. In short, I usually do not want to deal with them. Begrudgingly, I obliged. Billy: “I need a piece of paper and a pen” This student (affectionately …

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Assessment in a High-Density Classroom

“How do you assess this?” This is the question I eventually field during every opportunity I get to share pieces of my classroom with other stakeholders in education–be it teachers, administrators, or pre-service teachers. I don’t mind fielding it; it is a good question, one teeming with complexities and littered with implicit values.  I was not the one presenting during my most recent encounter with the familiar script. Instead, I was eagerly awaiting its appearance as I thoroughly enjoyed a talk from an educator I hold in the highest regard. When it came, I tried to cling to his words …

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Shoe Sale Remake

I transferred schools at the end of last year, so for the first time in seven years, every one of my students I meet on the first day of school will be a stranger. This means that the first hour I have with each of the four classes is not only their introduction to the course, but also their introduction to me. It won’t take long for them to make an impression of me, of mathematics, of their classmates, and how I expect us all to co-exist for the next five months or so.  I have written on first day …

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Prime Climb Puzzles

Let it be known that I am not a huge fan of math board games. That being established, I have tried on multiple occasions to create one that I like because the undeniable engagement factor is there. One of two things always seems to happen to my attempts: The game does nothing to change how students interact with the mathematics. Rather, it divulges into an attempt to get students to complete drills in order to win points of some type. Here, the math and the game exist as ostensibly separate entities.  The game mechanism does not support flexible mathematics without …

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