My Favourite Surface Area Question

Surface area is intuitive. Intuition is a natural hook into curiosity. When you think something might (or should) be the case, it begs the question, why? It just seems as though textbooks haven’t gotten wind of that.Perusing the surface area chapter of the assigned textbook for my Grade 9 math class offers a steady diet of colourful geometric solids all mashed together (at convenient right angles) in various arrangements. Without fail, the questions ask the same thing:Find the surface area of…Best case, students are asked to “create” a mimicked amalgam of standard solids and then calculate the surface area of …

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Candies, Pennies, and Inequalities

I want students to solve systems out of necessity. I want them to feel the interconnectedness of the two (or three) equations. In the past, I’ve asked small groups to build a functional 4×4 magic square. Soon they realize that changing a single number has multiple effects; this is the nature of the system. Unfortunately, abstracting the connections results in more than two variables. This year, I wanted to create the same feeling with only two variables. (The familiar x & y). Enter: Alex Overwijk.We blitzed through a task of his for systems of equations when I participated in a …

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Fraction Talks

Discussion is one of the organic ways through which human interaction occurs, but not all discussion is created equal in the math classroom. The tone of discussion relies on the mode of listening (Davis, 1996). Most classroom talk focuses on an evaluative mode of listening. Students are expected to share, compare, and contrast solutions to problems.I do think that justification of their solutions gets at some important points regarding mathematical reasoning, but would like to move the discussion to center around that exact feature–the reasoning. Rather than piecing together the pieces of isolated reasoning (which I still think has value), I want to see a collective …

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The Scale of Coffee Cups

A colleague is a religious McDonalds’ coffee drinker. One day she showed up with a medium coffee and a cream on the side. It was in two separate cups: I asked her for her cups when she was done. (She is also a math teacher so understands that this is not a creepy request. It is no weirder than the time I bought 400 ping pong balls, or 1500 bendy straws). I then made her a request to buy a large and small coffee in the future and save me the cups. The result was a family of coffee cups …

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Math Challenge Activity

I built this activity for a group of 120 students from grades 7-10 at a provincial math contest. The problems themselves are a mixture of created, adapted, and stolen. I chose them because they fit fairly nicely into a multiple choice format while still eliciting deep thinking.The puzzle moves forward as follows:There are 10 stations, and 10 problems. Each problem is responsible for giving a unique letter for the final word scramble. Some of the letters are repeated more than once in the final answer (i.e. have a frequency more than one), but no problem leads to the same letter. Each …

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Garbage Can Task

The following task happened by accident:I was about to introduce a problem to my Math 9 Enriched class that we were going to complete with group whiteboards. Before I could introduce, life got in the way. Students wanted to know about their most recent examination. As I launched into a speech on their performance, a student got up to sharpen their pencil. She walked right in front of me. I made a comment, and she replied that the garbage can should be in the back corner where it would be more convenient. I told her that having it by my desk …

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Basketball Golf Task

The other day, a future teacher asked what one piece of advice I would give to a soon-to-be mathematics teacher. I immediately had several. I settled on one that I felt encapsulated my belief both in and out of class: Honour curiosity.  In class, this finds me wandering through student suggestions and constantly posing new problems that create relevant challenges. Curiosity (both student and teacher) keeps a vibrant ecology going, and I would argue that the intellectual tension so often provided through curiosity is necessary for a positive ecology to thrive.Outside of class, this has me interacting with my curios …

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Road Building Task

The Pythagorean Theorem is often taught in isolation. It has connections to solving equations, but often appears in curriculum long before other equations involving radicals. It also has unique ties to both radicals as well as geometry.Despite these connections, the theorem has developed the reputation of a surface skill. It involves the  repetition of the rule alongside numerous iterations. Something so fundamental to geometry is reduced to a droning chorus of: ” ‘a’ squared plus ‘b’ squared equals ‘c’ squared “ This task aims to find a middle ground between where critical problem solving and collaboration can meet the technical …

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Creating Communities of Discourse: Large Whiteboards

I have talked about individual whiteboards on this blog before. My school bought me supplies and I was loving the various classroom activities. While the grouping questions facilitated good mathematical talk between peers, I was still searching for a method to encourage more collegiality where my role could diminish to interested onlooker or curious participant.  So I had this brilliant idea.  Why don’t we get group-sized whiteboards created where students could work collaboratively on tasks? In my mind I had just stumbled upon something uniquely genius, but soon discovered that it had been done by Frank Noschese years previous.  I …

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What Makes a Task “Rich”?

In my short career, I have seen the death of the lesson. I remember creating ‘lesson plans’ to the exact standards of my college of education, and then never looking at them when I began to teach. I was never really in tune with the rigidity of the plan, but knew that there were certain learning goals I needed to get to by the end of an hour.  The scene has shifted away from the harshness of a ‘lesson’ toward more student-action-centred words like project, problem, prompt, or task. I like these words because they accurately describe what I am …

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