factors pattern polynomial tasks

Trinomial Factoring Match

Fractions, factors, and functions.

A large portion of my career to date has been spent musing over how to engineer classroom environments that infuse meaning into these three mathematical structures. When it comes to polynomial factoring, the area model has provided the most success. After connecting 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication, the area model becomes a beautiful visual to make sense of the “adds to ___; multiplies to ___” phrase that echoes around the room.

But we don’t keep the area model around forever. Once we’ve used the model to build meaning, we mobilize that understanding in more symbolic situations in a careful, deliberate march toward mathematical abstraction.

geometry reflection

Triangles and Trapezoids

Debating definitions has long been one of the favourite pastimes of math teacher Twitter. (see, for example, #sandwichchat or #vehiclechat). Recently, and in a move of pedagogical brilliance, the collegial tone of such debates was soured by an ongoing feud between Shelby Strong and Zak Champagne.

The object under debate: The trapezoid.

Both teams made their case and canvassed for support. Shelby argued for an inclusive definition, Zak argued for an exclusive one, and math teachers aligned themselves in one camp or the other: #TeamInclusive or #TeamExclusive. (You can pledge your allegiance in apparel form here or here.)

I was more than happy to take my place on the sidelines, just hoping both teams had fun, until …

reflection routine theory

Oops, I forgot…

**My good friend Joce Dagenais has translated portions of this post into French here.**

In 2018, I made the cross-country trip to attend and present at the OAME Annual conference in Toronto. The session was attended by a particularly boisterous group of math teachers–all of whom I adore. Emerging as the ringleader of this rag-tag group of pedagogical hooligans was Fawn Nguyen, who, in her notorious brilliance, later distilled the ideas into a classroom routine by the name “Oops, I forgot…“–OIF, for short. This post is in response to requests to elaborate a touch on the idea and provide more support for teachers thinking about implementing it in their practice.

functions graphing quadratics

Introducing Quadratics

Quadratics feel important. This impression is no doubt influenced by the boated importance placed on calculus in secondary school. They represent the giant leap from linearity and pave the way for more elaborate functions; therefore, I often find myself musing on ways to have students meaningfully interact with the topic. Once the structure of the function is established, I’ve played around with interesting ways to help students visualize quadratic growth, connect that growth to the Cartesian plane, and build these functions to specifications; however, my introduction to quadratics in vertex-graphing form has always been a series of “What happens to the graph when I change the ___ value?” questions. These aren’t bad questions (and a quick setup of Desmos sliders helps visualize the effects), but they don’t exactly build up understanding from experience. Such was my introductory quadratics lesson for years, lukewarm but lacking the epiphany to address it.

“If you want to kill flies, you don’t need bazookas”

– Ben Orlin, Math with Bad Drawings, p. 44
data analysis estimation fractions play reflection

COVID Math Fair

In 2015, my students and I founded an annual math fair in my school division. Inspired by mathematical play, the fair grew from humble beginnings into a staple of my mathematical calendar. Like nearly everything about this school year, the fair was jeopardized by the pandemic; however, with a touch of innovation and the ongoing support from my school administration, the teams of educators in our five feeder elementary schools, our trustee, and the school community council, I managed to pull together three math invitation carts that could be disassembled, transported, and reassembled in the elementary schools.

integers technology visual

The Bucket of Zero

Over the last year, Dr. Lisa Lunney Borden and I have been working on a model for integer operations that she introduced me to a while back. Our goal is to amplify her research for classroom mathematics teachers. Right now, the idea consists of three pieces, each at varying stages of development.

  • A paper
  • A platform
  • A set of plans
quadratics technology vine

Animating Quadratic Patterns

My first attempt at animating patterns was published on this blog in 2013. I suppose you can consider this post a long-overdue extension of the thinking there, however with a much-needed bump in production quality. In those old days, I hunched over a whiteboard with a collection of square tiles, creating six-second loops on the (now defunct) social media platform, Vine. Now, thanks largely to Berkeley Everett and his crash course on how to make animations in Keynote, the process has become much more streamlined.

classroom structure factors games play projects reflection technology

Report on a Math Tournament

**This post contains the materials and advice you’ll need to run a distanced math tournament with your district, division, school, province, state, classroom, family, coworkers, neighbours, etc., etc., etc.**

Honestly, the more math love, the better! (IMHO)

In mid-October, I designed a math provincial math tournament open to all middle school teachers in my home province of Saskatchewan, Canada. After writing up a blog post that served as a formal invitation, the tournament (which I affectionately called the Saskatchewan Mathematics Invitational Tournament–or #SMIT2020 for short) has been running for just over a month with over 80 classrooms from across the province playing Federico Chialvo’s delightful game MULTI. (see here for more information).

reflection whiteboards

Thoughts on Thinking Classrooms

“Mathematics is equipment for thinking”

Francis Su, Mathematics for Human Flourishing, p. 110.

The sun sets around 5:30PM this time of year in my little prairie slice of paradise. Yesterday, well after dark, there was a ring of the doorbell and a package delivery: My copy of Building Thinking Classrooms by Peter Liljedahl. Over the last couple weeks, I have watched as tweeps1 sent messages of exhilaration having received their own copies. The, now familiar, orange cover adorned with the beautiful illustrations of Laura Wheeler is a welcomed sight on my Twitter feed, each time accompanied with excited messages you’d expect to hear from children anticipating a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

Honestly, holding the book felt weird. I say that as a testament to Peter’s work: It draws you into participation to the point where it feels like it’s a part of your history. In my case, that’s because this book is a part of my history. Receiving the book sponsored a sort of nostalgia, as I’m sure it did for so many who have followed the ideas as they’ve developed over the years. This feeling surprised me, because, despite the real feeling of connection to the physical copy of the book and the brand of teaching it represents:

I don’t run a Thinking Classroom.

classroom structure factors games numerical flexibility play technology

A Math Tournament

**Update: Nov 23, 2020: Follow along on Twitter with some of the thinking at the hashtag #SMIT2020

COVID has created a global (and now chronic) pressure on all teachers in all classrooms, and the shifting, local realities have made teacher collaboration a precious commodity. It’s hard enough to find time to confer with colleagues under the best of situations, and now our major professional muster points are not currently viable–adding further value to any sense of connection that can be generated.

Bummer, right?