My Math Program, Ten Years in the Making

After ten years of teaching, numerous PD courses, books and online documents, I have finally hammered down my math program. When introducing a new math concept, students can feel overwhelmed or confused. I like to break down each math expectation with a weekly focus on each one (giving extra time if needed). Ten years later, this is the structure that I have enjoyed the most and find my students enjoy the most:


Monday- introduce concept with key terms, videos and 1-2 examples on the board 

Tuesday- practice questions on whiteboards where students ask for help if needed

Wednesday- “Thinking Classroom” collaborative task where students work on 1-2 problems with a group of 3-4 students 

Thursday- math task with 3-4 questions, one bonus with an extension into further concepts 

Friday- math games to further the concept on gimkit, kahoot or knowledgehook


Their math mark is based on a combination of observations, conversations and a weekly product. My favourite day by far is Wednesdays where I randomly assign groups with numbered popsicle sticks. Students meet their group mates at their wipebook and get started on their question. I will post the most recent questions we solved and some of their solutions. Before each lesson, I ask students “What makes a great collaborator?” Student answers vary but often include:

  • A great listener 
  • Someone who includes students who are not involved 
  • Someone who listens without judgement 
  • Someone who does the work


Then, I walk around and look for evidence of the student-generated collaboration criteria. I also ask them questions about their math responses, never telling them they are on the wrong track but asking them about their process. After they have found some solutions, I pause the groups and ask them to walk around the room to view the other solutions. Sometimes I ask them to point to the wipebook that had their favourite process or the most organized process. We never take up the answers or I never correct their boards. Students often correct their own once the view the other boards. At the end of the class, I call students out into the hall and have them comment on the student who they thought collaborated the best in their group. 


That is my version of the “Thinking Classroom” in math with a focus on collaboration. 

Question and Student Responses:




This question was created using ideas from 

“I got the job!”

Lately I have been incorporating all of the real life learning experiences into my practice and it has been a game changer. Sleepy heads are lifting, my colleagues are commenting and the entire grade 7 & 8 population are chatting about all that has been going on.

It all started when I started to think about food sales prices for a soccer tournament. I would need to look at the cost of each item and think of how best to increase the price as a fundraising opportunity. With financial literacy a new part of our math curriculum, I knew it would be a great opportunity for my class to do some real life learning. I divided them into groups and have them find the cost of each item and have them come up with some ideas of potential sale prices. My students had a great time coming up with their prices and compare them to the prices in the neighbourhood. They then designed posters and competed for the best food sales poster. We talked about how this compares to marketing in business plans within the real world.

When I pick students to sell food at my soccer tournaments, I usually just pick students that I know would do a good job. I usually pick students within my own class and never really branch out to the other classes. However, the student success teacher at my school was beginning to introduce a program called Xello which allows students to take a career quiz as well as has a feature that allows you to create your own résumé. I explained to the students in my class that they would be creating their own resumes as it would be useful in the future. I also mentioned that there were a few volunteer opportunities coming up in our school year such as helping at grad or selling food at the soccer tournament and mentioned that students could interview for the position if they wanted. I came up with five interview questions that would be useful for both job opportunities. 

I set up interview times and instructed students to find at least two references within our school community. Most found three. Roughly 10 of my students interviewed to sell food at the tournament. The interviews were about five minutes long each. Before the interviews we watched helpful interview techniques, and also read some suggestions online. They practised answers to the questions with her peers and I noticed some students even wrote out their responses and practiced saying them. What once used to be a selection process done only by myself has now turned into a literacy assignment as well as something that students would really use in the near future. As most of my students are going into grade 9 in a few months, this skill will be more helpful for them than many other things taught this year. 

What started out with a project just for my class ended up involving at least 15 other students in grade 7 and 8. I explained that students could interview for the position but they would have to make a résumé first and have at least two references. They ended up joining our class for a résumé making clinic and then I set up their interview times. After checking in with all references, I selected 13 students for the job, as there are two soccer tournaments, I could take two groups. Their interest, dedication and professionalism proved to be very inspiring. It was so great to see so many students come out of their shell, shake hands and introduce themselves in a professional setting. It actually reminded me of a drama activity as well as we both took on different versions of ourself. I would definitely do this again for all future tournaments. My favourite part of the entire experience is when students would show up to support a friend after their interview, ask how it went and then celebrate with them. Seeing their smiles when they got the job was truly magical. I will never forget as one student yelled across the hall to a friend, “I got the job!”

Seeing as this went so well, I decided to branch this out and have students interview for the careers that they selected from the same Xello program. From there, I created a financial literacy budgeting assignment. Students would use their future favourite career and find out the starting salary. They would then use that number to figure out their monthly income and select somewhere to live. We have been talking about the benefits of renting versus buying and some students are opting to share housing with a classmate. They will then look at transportation options, Wi-Fi and telephone options, costs that go with housing, food costs, and other expenses they may have. Some students may find that they need a second job and some may find that that career is very rewarding and can cover all their needs. So far, we have only looked at salaries and housing and most of my students that I am interested in math have perked up for this. Financial literacy is by far my most exciting part of the math curriculum and I decided to test it to the limit this year as I have a very creative group. I have heard students wandering around the halls talking to other teachers about the property they are looking at on the east mountain. It is a hilarious prospect and I love that they are putting their real world skills to the test. I look forward to making this a yearly part of my curriculum. 

Learning in real life contexts isn’t always possible but when I can use it, the student interest is astronomical. I look forward to sharing some of my students’ final projects once they are finished. 

**Colleagues: Xello is a program offered by my board which can be found in our HUB courses. ** Every board has different guidelines and privacy policies. related to the use of third party software with students. 

New math curriculum experiences

For the past month, my grade sevens and I have been taking a deep dive into the new math curriculum, specifically, financial literacy. Topics we have covered have included the following:

  1. Exchange Rates: how they come into play when travelling outside of Canada, how to convert to and from foreign currencies and how exchange rates fluctuate over time
  2. How to plan and reach financial goals: so many students in my class have large goals for their futures such as university, buying a car, etc. which we discussed as our unit progressed
  3. Financial Institutions: we talked about what institutions exist in Hamilton, how customer friendly their websites are as well as if students in our class have started savings accounts, etc. for post high school education plans
  4. Budgeting: how to make a budget for immediate, short term and long term goals. We also discussed incomes vs. expenses and how you would save for school or another larger purchases
  5. Interest Rates: we just finished today discussing how an interest rate could affect investing money as well as borrowing money over time

Over the past month, I have not heard one student ask the question that every teacher fears, “Why do we have to learn this? How will this help me in my future? These questions often come from inquiring minds of students who are frustrated with the math topic at hand and cannot seem to find the relevance. Not only have these topics been engaging for my students but this has been my favourite math unit to teach since I started teaching seven years ago. I wish I had been fortunate enough at a young age to learn about these topics so my parents did not have to walk me through them when I was 20.

I do wonder during some conversations if my students are too young to learn about specific topics, but maybe one day, they will look back on these math conversations and see the connection. Even though interest rates, etc. may not affect them today, it will still be more clear to them in the future when the topic is brought up.

Interesting (and challenging) discussions did come up with my students,  related to interest rates being haram in their religion. I discussed it with my admin. and those students were still able to learn about why interest rates could affect them if they need to borrow money for school, etc. It was interesting to hear that due to their faith, earning interest or being charged interest was haram. I recognize and hear what my students shared and continued to talk about how borrowing money in the future may involve interest rates in their future.

The other day while teaching remotely (at school) about interest rates, a teacher was nearby and heard our discussions. She was very interested in our discussions as a class and mentioned that she wished she had been taught these concepts back when she was in elementary. She mentioned how she learned a lot from our discussions and I felt great about that. I shared it with my class that these discussions will really help plan for their future and when they may not see the importance about learning how to find an acute angle, they hopefully will remember these financial literacy conversations one day.

I look forward to exploring other new curriculum topics in the future such as coding. It is a great day to be a grade seven math teacher when your students, parents and other staff around you realize the importance of these discussions! Now, to get there with other concepts taught this year 🙂



Sadly, I can’t remember who introduced me to the KWC but it’s a strategy that I have used in Math with students for a number of years now and I should really find the person and thank them. If it was you, please reach out and let me know! Particularly when solving word problems, a KWC helps students to consider the question, what they know, what they want to know, and possible steps to take in getting started and solving the problem. 

Prior to the break, we were working towards demonstrating the knowledge and skills needed to make informed financial decisions. Using problems that we would encounter in the real world, students were tasked with trying to solve them and to justify their choices. In this post, I break down the KWC using one of the guided examples in our classroom.

K – What do you know?

After reading the problem, students are asked to list everything that they know about the problem. These are things that they know for sure based on the information given and sometimes, their prior knowledge. 

Here’s the question that we worked on as a class as we started learning about how to calculate the sales tax:

As a class, we learned a new term – subtotal – and understood that total now meant the cost, including tax. We also determined that the operations we would use would be addition, multiplication, and subtraction. We learned that there were different rates for tax based on the type of item. In this case, adult clothing and children’s clothing. 

W – What do you want to know?

This is the place where students can clearly state what they want to figure out, find out, or do. Restating the question in your own words helps to make sure that you really understand what is being asked in the question. In our case, this was a multi-step problem, so there were several things that we wanted to know:

  • What is the subtotal?
  • What is the total?
  • How much tax was paid?
  • Was it a good deal?

C – Conditions

This part is always one that is a little tricky for me. I often think of this section as the things that students need to watch out for but as in our case, I have used this section as the steps that we need to take in order to solve the problem. In other words, what are the things that we need to do to answer the question successfully? Through discussion, we broke down the problem and determined the steps involved in solving the problem so that when working in their groups, students could refer back to it. Even with the steps in place, there were groups of students who solved the problem differently. For example, for the third question, rather than taking the total and subtracting the subtotal to find the tax, some groups wanted to multiply the subtotal by the appropriate tax rate (0.13 or 0.05) and also state the amounts paid for the different rates. When it came to justifying their thinking for question 4, it was great to see that some groups asked questions about the discount for the sale. Many were eager to jump online to investigate the non-sale price and did calculations to determine how much of a deal it really was. Others thought about taking the total and dividing that by the number of items and thought about whether or not that was a deal based on the price per item. Different groups thought of different ways to use Math to justify their answer. 

This question took us a couple of Math periods to work through but it continued to help solidify the effectiveness of the use of this strategy. With gradual release – beginning with the teacher as a guide; moving into students using it in small groups, then partners, and then on their own – once students understand the problems they come across, they are better able to solve them with greater confidence. While students aren’t always going to stop and work through creating their own KWC, it’s one tool that they can use and when given problems to solve. I’ve seen students use it independently and confidently to answer all parts of multi-step problems.

Mov(i)e Time

It’s the last school week of June. Things are still happening at the speed of learning, of course. Final assessments are in the books and reports are printed. Students are buzzing, bristling, and bursting with energy like they’ve been equipped with new solar panels from TESLA to absorb the energy of sunny days.

By this month’s end my school will have hosted an evening fun fair, a talent show, track and field day(s), a graduation, a TED Ed event, a play day, and a year end celebration. Despite June being the month with the longest days, it still feels there is not enough daylight to get everything done.

In addition to the above, we have curated, collated, crafted, and corrected our report card comments. Many of us are moving classrooms within the building or to new schools. Boxes are packed and rooms are returning to their neutral states, void of anchor charts, memes, inspirational quotes, and student work. The memes are gone too.

What do you meanWith so much happening around a school, it might be easy to let things slide with free time or busy work. Popping in a movie in order buy a little packing time is tempting, but it is also a great time to engage in some real world learning.

So in between assemblies, graduations, and ancillary events, instruction is alive and well. My grade 6s are working, consolidating, collaborating, digging, questioning, sharing, encouraging, playing(baseball for gym), and reflecting. As I type, they’re calculating the cost of living in Markham in Math. #EyeOpener

These lessons are meant to inform students in the area of financial, social, and life literacy as well as teaching them to be reasonable, realistic, and responsible consumers in our society. The lessons spark curiosity, comments, and conversations that lead to deeper understandings about a world of responsibility out there.

I’ve discovered that whenever students engage with activities like these, they are the ones that are remembered most. Most of the lessons will fade into the recesses of the mind, but the skills, the discoveries, and the “A-ha” moments never go away. As this final week hits its stride, my grade 6s are too. Now that is a scene that I can watch over and over again.

In my post Tick…tick…ticked off I rail against media making claims that teachers are holding film festivals during the last weeks of school.

The last weeks in a classroom cannot be taught on auto-pilot because there is still a lot to teach, discover, and share. So contrary to a public broadcaster’s opinion, the kids and teachers have not “checked out”.

Sorry I’m not sorry to burst this bogus bubble folks, but the kids will have to sit on their own couches over the Summer if they want to watch a movie.

Admittedly, I was prepared for another battle as June approached. However, this year, the same broadcaster brought forward a more appreciative stance towards educators, and in doing so took time to honour the hard work and dedication of our profession. Listeners heard stories of impactful educators as well as memorable students. Hearing these simple affirmations have made these last weeks, much more enjoyable. Once again, an encouraging word makes all the difference.

With 450 minutes or less of instructional time left to count down on this year’s clock, I know most teachers are looking forward to every minute. I hope that you do too.




Financial Literacy

Money “Cents!” Introducing Financial Literacy in the Elementary Classroom

Financial literacy is defined as, “Having the knowledge and skills needed to make responsible economic and financial decisions with competence and confidence.”  In A Sound Investment, 2010, a document released by the Ministry of Education, this is the definition according to leading experts called upon to look into the need to integrate financial literacy in the elementary and secondary curriculum.

Four years ago I began to wake up to the fact that I didn’t fully understand my own personal financial reality and the consequences my decisions had on both a short-term and long-term level.  I realized that I needed to understand the impact my financial decisions made on both my personal life and that of the global economy in order to participate as a responsible citizen in today’s every-changing and complex society.

I took the first step by immersing myself in resources to support my own financial literacy and those that would help me integrate the concepts and skills into my own classroom.  To my amazement (and delight), students thoroughly enjoyed each and every opportunity to learn about topics that focused on money management, healthy living skills, decision-making and personal awareness, consumer awareness, and responsible citizenship.  In addition, families showed their appreciation in having their children begin preparing for their financial future at such a young age.

I know that if I had been introduced to financial literacy in the elementary grades and explored it in-depth in secondary school, many of the financial decisions I made throughout my adult life would have been different.  We always want what is best for our children and often times that means doing for them what we wish was done for us.  Integrating financial literacy just makes “cents!”


The following are a few resources to get teachers started with learning about and integrating financial literacy in their own classroom.

A Sound Investment, Ministry of Education, 2010

EduGAINS: Financial Literacy Resources- Ministry of Education

Investor Education Fund: Inspire Financial Learning