Fun and Fresh Friday Math

After attending the OAME  Math conference in 2020, I was able to hear many perspectives about the math classroom and how it should look. One of the speakers was Gerry Lewis (@GLewisOCT) who spoke to us about spiralling as well as what the thinking classroom looks like. He spoke about many incredible concepts, my favourite was definitely an example of his daily math activities. There were many websites Gerry talked about and he described this as a “mini spiral” where you start to introduce spiralling with your students. You could do this by introducing these activities at the beginning of each class (10-15 minutes). Here are some of the websites Gerry introduced me to:


We have been spiralling since September and my students have enjoyed the programs listed above. It also is important to review the concepts of the week and I have done that in a few creatives ways. Our favourite thing to do is to review the concepts from the week in a “fun and fresh way” on Fridays. I teach online so all of these programs work well, particularity when students have a second device available.Here are our top three quiz apps. and a review from myself as well as my students:


My review:
Knowledgehook is available as an app or on any web browser. It is a live, gameshow style quiz game where the questions are directly linked to our Ontario math curriculum. You can actually find the strand you are working on and lead students through a three question quiz. Students never know who got what answers correct, which I think shocked them at first. Some students ended up sharing how many they got correct in the chat. I enjoy this because you can review the answer afterwards and there is no rush to enter an answer. It is a quick summary of student knowledge at the end of the week and works well. You can view the results after to see where students need help.

Student review:
My students enjoyed this app but they much prefer Kahoot (and other competition based apps).  I think they find this one a little bit boring since it acts as a type of exit card. They do not complain while playing but they request other apps. Again, I think at the end they are just eager to tell each other about their results, so this is what I think they are missing with this app.


My review:
This is obviously a great tool to use when reviewing concepts from the week. I like it because students are so excited when they hear it is time for a kahoot! I also like using this as a quiz option at the end of a concept but I always remind students to email me if there were any game glitches that affected their final store. I do not enjoy that I have to make my own kahoots to get exactly the content that I want. For a quick exit card, I much prefer knowledgehook. My students have not reacted when they receive a low score this year and I am thankful for that. That is another reason we continue to use kahoot to review, play fun games and sometimes, we just enjoy a random kahoot.

Student review:
My class has some competitive students in it so they do enjoy kahoot for that reason. I think they like to show that they were paying attention during the week and they get super excited when they win. Kahoot was the most requested activity when I read my students review of term one with regards to things that they want to continue. I know kahoot will always be a favourite activity and pairing it with math (which is often not a favourite subject) makes a good combo. I know students have mentioned it is hard to toggle between tabs, so two devices work best for this.


Teacher review:
Best for last! So today was our first day using this quiz tool. This is a customizable quiz program where you can use a combination of your own questions as well as questions created by other people. You can select between multiple choice, checkbox, fill in the blank, poll and a few other options. The game format is very fun and I can see exactly how my students did during and after the games. It also shows an anonymous question review at the end to go over with your students to see how many people got each question right and wrong. All names are left out of this page. This program also allows students go through at their own pace so nobody is waiting for the entire class to answer each question. They also do not have to toggle between screens.

Student review:
I am still in shock after hearing this an hour ago but this is the favourite over kahoot. I did not think any quiz app could take its place! I just finished speaking to my students about why they prefer this over kahoot and the specifics are:

  • self paced so students can all finish at different times
  • the opportunity to 50/50 some of the questions like the millionaire show format
  • you can power up and earn some cool features you have an answer streak which may include pausing the timer, etc.
  • you can pick your own background and music during the game
  • you can also retry a question if you get it incorrect (these results will be displayed to me if a student was incorrect during their first attempt)

At first, I expected my students to be frustrated because I was throwing yet another app their way. They were actually so excited to play and ended up enjoying it more than any other app. I will be exploring another program this weekend that one my students shared with me. He explained that I would like it “even more”. I encourage you to try it as well.

I hope everyone can try out these three (or just one) fun Friday math apps! I know my students are so excited when Friday comes along because they can review the skills from the way in a fun way. I appreciate their excitement as we all know, sometimes we only get moans and groans when our students hear the word “math”.

I look forward to keeping you updated on future math quiz apps. Please share any of your experiences with me or any new apps that you have tried. Enjoy!

Back to the Classroom

It’s hard to believe that it’s only February and yet again, I’m sometimes amazed that it is still February! Last week, we headed back into the classroom, and with that, came mixed emotions. With a new principal in the midst of a pandemic, I was hesitant heading back because change is always hard for me. Fear of the unknown, particularly during these uncertain times, is always something that I struggle with. That being said, I was also very excited to have the chance to see my students in person again. The night before we headed back, I didn’t sleep very well but just walking into the space and envisioning my students coming in, gave me a sense of comfort and familiarity. When the bell rang and students entered the building, the familiar buzz and sense of excitement made me feel right at home. 

While we were learning virtually, I learned so much with and about my students. In this post, I’ll share a little about what I hope to continue as we learn again, in-person.

Time to Just Be

We all know the importance and benefits of social interactions in school. Opportunities to play and learn together – no matter the age – have great benefits for all students. I knew this but didn’t realize the magnitude until we went into virtual learning. While students were excited to see each other online and learn together through lessons, I noticed that they wanted more time to just be, together. Every day, I opened up our Meet at 8:45 am and school would officially start at 9 am. To my surprise, many weren’t interested in having the extra 15 minutes to ready themselves for the day but rather, many would just pop in early to talk or share something about themselves and to listen to others. It was an informal space to just be. Some mornings, students came up with games or Art activities to try with each other. We also did passion projects where we showcased something that we were passionate about in breakout rooms in Zoom. The smiles and how much they looked forward to having some “downtime” together made me realize that although learning together in the classroom has its social benefits, these moments where students were just themselves and having fun, held much value also. Since heading back to the classroom, I know that we have recess but I’m trying to figure out how we might incorporate these times – even if they are short – throughout the day. Less structured, while remaining safe and valuing more of what students choose to bring into the space.  


During virtual learning, I really tried to balance things so that all voices could be heard and not just the ones who were quickly able to hit the “raise hand” button. I was conscious of those who often spoke up and shared. I also tried to encourage those who were more quiet to understand that we so wanted to hear their voices. I was intentional in saying that while online, we need to ensure that all voices are heard and even if it took us an extra few minutes to pause to hear from a variety of students, we would. Coming back into the classroom, this is something that I want to be just as intentional about. We’re pausing and inviting more to share, being conscious of how much space we take up in discussions. 

Technology as a Tool

Since being back, it has taken us some time to get our tech back in the classroom. We’re there now and last week was a great reminder that technology is a powerful tool that is good for all and essential for some. During our time virtually, I continued to try and have students demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. At the end of our Financial Literacy unit, we listed all that we learned during the unit, and students were tasked with creating their own resource to teach the unit to another Grade 5 class. It was amazing to see what students created. From posters and brochures to Slides presentations and videos, it was neat to see the ways in which students took an idea and ran with it, using technology. I have always been a firm believer in open tasks. Seeing what they did independently with this task was a great reminder for me. Technology is a great tool and when given the opportunity, students will use it to create and demonstrate their understanding, if we let them. 

While this learning isn’t necessarily new to me, I’ve appreciated taking the time to reflect on what was successful during virtual learning, and considering how I may bring some parts back into our in-person space. 

If you are returning to in-person learning, really hope that your return to school has been successful so far. If you are continuing to teach virtually, I give you so much credit for your work. It’s challenging to do and I’m in awe. During these challenging times, I know that we are all filled with a mix of emotions. Please remember to take some time to reflect on what is going well and also to take care of yourself!

Literacy, Science & So Much More!

During Distance Learning, I saw first-hand how engaged my students were in listening to the Six Minutes podcast. From learning to write summaries to engaging discussions prompting students to justify their thinking, the podcasts offered a new and exciting way to interact with media.

This year, I have some of my former students again so I knew that we couldn’t do a repeat on Six Minutes so I picked The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, based on the recommendation of a friend. I have to say that it has definitely been a thrilling journey! Before listening, we started off the year by examining the elements of narratives. Once we understood the elements, we started to think about how authors use creative ways to develop their stories. In listening to previous podcasts, students realized that there were often many twists and turns and that each episode often ended up being its own short story with more parts unfolding as new characters are added.  After listening to season 1, students made predictions for season 2 and also wrote their own scripts for the first episode. Along the way, we had mini-lessons on quotations, punctuation and making revisions. After starting to listen to the season, many realized that they were so far off in their predictions, which made for great conversations as students explained the reasons for their predictions. During this time, it’s been incredible to see how attentively students have been in listening so as to not miss anything in each episode. To keep track of everything going on, students have been also writing short summaries. They’ve had quite a bit of practice so far and they’re learning how to succinctly write what has happened and how to apply this to other texts. 

Not only has this been great for Literacy but as we have listened, we’ve also participated in a couple of STEM challenges. These challenges have been great for building collaboration and problem solving skills.  After listening to season 1, episode 3, students were tasked with building their own boats to try to travel over to Gale Island. With minimal materials and limited time, they had to use what they knew about structures in order to create a boat that floated; withstood giant waves; and carried a load. They had 5 minutes to take a look at their materials and come up with a plan. After 20 minutes to build, we put the boats through a rigorous test – walking each boat a few meters in a giant bucket while shaking it to simulate the waves.  While many failed, it was incredible to see students cheering each other on as the tests progressed and how students were reflecting on what they would have done differently, given the opportunity to try it again. 

After listening to season 1, episode 9, their second challenge was to build catapults. This time, students seemed better prepared for the and less disappointed when things didn’t quite work out according to plan. This time, we visited each group to see their design and they tested the success of their catapult at hitting their target – Oliver Pruitt.  As we went from group to group, it was amazing to hear how students were giving each other ideas for improvements. Some were talking about changing the angle of their spoons while others were talking about the amount of force used to launch the marshmallows. I stood back and watched as they supported each other in the learning. It was pretty amazing to watch.

What was our work for Literacy has become so much more. It led us into our first Science unit on forces acting on structures and has led to building a space where students can discuss divergent ideas, all while supporting each other through their failures. Who would have thought that listening to a podcast would be so powerful? Certainly not me and I’m looking forward to where season 3 takes us!

Teachers Are Still Rocking It-

In March we were “Emergency Learning”.  Now we are either teaching “virtually” or “socially distanced” in classrooms.  We never thought we’d be teaching from behind a screen, learning all kinds of new technology tools, wearing masks and shields in front of students or removing all of the manipulatives from classrooms. We don’t know how long this will last.  We don’t know if COVID will worsen.  Educators aren’t used to not knowing things.  Most teachers I know like schedules, routines, knowledge and thrive on consistency.

However, in the midst of the new rules, changes and all of the things that we “can’t” do-teachers are still rocking it.  Throughout the summer I worked with a team of teachers providing virtual professional learning for KPRETFO.  Hundreds of teachers used their summer holidays to learn about technology tools before they even knew whether they were going to be teaching virtually or not. They logged in at 10 am some days in order to learn and some teachers even came to all twenty sessions that were provided. Educators were dedicated to their professional learning all summer long.

At the end of August, I had the privilege of working with another fabulous team of educators who dedicated their time to providing a three day virtual conference for over 500 Ontario Educators with ECOO.  These educators gave up their time to organize all kinds of schedules, sponsorship, presenters, keynotes and much more.  In addition, over a hundred educators created and presented webinars for their colleagues.  It truly FELT like a face-to-face educational technology conference took place in my living room!
There was a feeling of sharing, helping and collegiality.  It was exhausting but my bucket was over flowing.

As our school year is now well under way teachers are reaching out to me for assistance at all times of the day and night through email because they are dedicated to their students and want to do their best.  They are attending our evening “PD in your PJs” webinar sessions through our local union office to learn new tech tools at 7 pm on the week nights. The educators that I work with continually astound me with their dedication to professional learning.

I recently binge watched a Netflix series called “Away”.  It is a futuristic fictional narrative about the first manned mission to Mars.  The astronauts were in uncharted territory.  They encountered problems along the way for which they had not trained.  They endured mental and physical fatigue beyond anything they had ever felt before.  They were innovative and creative in order to solve problems and reach their goal.  While watching, I couldn’t help thinking about the parallels between this movie and the present state of education. We’ve heard that as we design these new learning structures and environments it is like we are building an airplane while flying. If I am going to stay true to the analogy here it is really more of a rocket ship! Educators are facing situations that they hadn’t even thought about in Faculty of Education Programs.  They are encountering issues of teaching without many of the tools they normally use such as manipulatives, group work or technology. They are suffering mentally and physically. They are being innovative  problem solvers around tools, equipment and technology.  They are building the rocket ship while they are flying it and it is full of students.

Are educators stressed?  For sure.  Are their nerves frayed?  You bet.  Are they innovative, creative, dedicated and passionate about learning and teaching? Absolutely, without a doubt.  Every educator is a front line worker,  doing their best, making a difference, being brave beyond imagination and truly an inspiration.



“Techie People”

As someone who is passionate and truly geeky about the power of technology in education, I often hear from my fellow teachers, “I’m not really a techie person.”  Now, I get where they are coming from because technology can be intimidating.  Many times I’ve said, “I’m not really a math person.”  I can “do” math and I can “learn” math but it doesn’t get me fired up quite like tech does.  However, over the last few months educators who weren’t really “techie people” didn’t have much of a choice other than to use tech in order to do their job.  I cannot imagine what that must have felt like for some educators.  For some educators, it must have been terrifying.  For me, it would have been like my Principal saying that I was now the new math consultant for the intermediate grades.  It would have caused me serious panic and anxiety. I probably would have considered resigning but I would have dug in and done the best I could with the tools available to me and I would have reached out to fellow colleagues and leaned on their expertise. THAT is what teachers all over the province of Ontario were doing after the March Break, teaching and learning by the seat of their pants.

As an innovations consultant what I witnessed during the weeks of distance learning was fellow educators doing what they do best; rolling up their sleeves, getting in there and figuring the tech stuff out.  As I (along with some fantastic  and enthusiastic educators in my board) provided webinar workshops on technological tools for teachers, I saw teachers who were self proclaimed Luddites attending and showing appreciation for what we were doing.  The resiliency of educators during this time has been absolutely amazing. The necessity of teaching through technology broke through an invisible barrier that has existed for those teachers who thought that you had to be a “techie person” in order to use tech in education.  Teachers were no longer afraid to try a new technological tool, to make mistakes and ask questions. Teachers are discovering the power educational technology and they’ve been bit by the tech bug.  Educators will always continue to seek out new and innovative ways to deliver curriculum to students and learn as they go-no matter how steep the learning curve.  Some teachers who would have quickly proclaimed, “I’m not a techie person” before March Break are now excited about the possibilities of using technology even in their face-to-face classrooms.  The Educational Technology Geek Community is over-the-moon excited about increasing it’s membership!  We are a friendly bunch, inclusive, sharing and passionate and we’re happy to help.

Looking on the bright-side during this dark time.

During this time at home, we are all probably having positive and negative learning moments. From seeing students thrive for the first time to having zero assignments turned in, the highs and lows have been a rollercoaster over the past few months. However, during this time for my sanity, I need to focus on the positive ones. I would love to share a few from my experience teaching grade eight online.

  1. Removing student anxiety: Many of my students have had a hard time in the classroom this year due to certain factors that make them extremely anxious. Attendance issues have made it hard for some of them to learn this year and that has always been something I have struggled with, how to reach the students who do not attend. Even the students who do attend have anxiety issues related to noise in the room, other students bothering them or starting the day in a terrible mood. My class is super respectful so I always had a hard time understanding what the exact factors were, but I came to realize it was just a feeling they carried with them and could not be easily fixed. With online learning, these students have submitted work daily and have been involved on our online teams meetings. They have been thriving in this environment and for the first time, I am learning so much about how intelligent they are and how much they have to share. The online platform has given them a voice and a chance to accomplish things.
  2. Reaching all learners: Now that the school day exists at all times, I can answer all questions at once without there being a physical line up or a limit on the amount of students I can help. When someone online needs help, I can help them right away as the odds that another student needs help at that exact moment is slim. Although my students are working at all hours of the day, I had informed them that I would be available (virtually) from 9-3 everyday. They keep their questions for the most part within these hours and I love that I can respond to them right away. Also, I am able to help students via platforms that work for them and I am so thankful that my students have downloaded all of the new apps that have been made available to us.
  3. Continued differentiation in a new and unique way: With the help of google classroom, I can assign specific work to every student at the click of a button. I can modify every assignment and make special ones for my students that go directly to their google drive. When creating an assignment or learning material, I can tailor the assignment to how they want to learn, what they want to learn and give it directly to them. I was already doing this in the classroom but I am happy I can continue to do it online. I was nervous about assigning work online and how I could make it specific to students so with google classroom I was happy to see it was an easy process. Then, once my students finish an assignment, I can assign them more work at their own pace. Right now I have students completing work at 25 different rates and I need to be able to keep track of what they have/have not done. Google classroom allows me to look at what they have handed in and then direct them to the next assignment.
  4. Small groups style learning: My favourite thing about teaching online is creating small groups live meetings. We have been using the apps “Teams” by Microsoft and it was has been an amazing way to teach in small and medium sized groups. Every Tuesday, I have a live math/literacy class with my students. I invite all of them but usually I only get half the class. From there, I create smaller groups to teach them the topics that they still need help with or to move them ahead in the unit. I also have a meeting on Wednesdays with my ESL students where we read a book and answer questions together. We also work on math topics and play simple word games. On Thursdays, all of the other grade eights meet together to play games and reminisce about the year. This Thursday, they will be sharing their favourite writing piece from the year and will be sharing to their classmates their strengths as a writer. Small groups is something I had done in the classroom but online now more than ever I have implemented small groups in a way that really reaches all learners. I really hope to bring that into the classroom at a new level more successful than ever before. That is my favourite success from the online learning environment.

Although there are days when I feel like I may be posting to no one, I know that there must be students who are benefiting from it. The online meetings have been such a blessing during this time as hearing their voices always remind me of how special this profession is and how lucky we are to have technology to help us through this time. I am desperately looking forward to the day where we can teach in the classroom again but for now, I am happy to have these successes to think on and to reflect about how they will make me a better educator. I hope everyone else has some moments that they can look at and reflect positively on.

Jamboard – a Tool for Learning Together at a Distance

One thing that I love about working in the classroom with students is collaborative learning. When a student has an “ah-ha” moment and blurts it out and another connects what is said to something else, that’s when the learning gets even more exciting. These are the moments that can’t quite be captured when we are learning, somewhat in isolation. 

What I call, “Distance Learning”, is something new for all of us. Early on, I realized just how much we rely on each other in the classroom. From being able to scan faces for the need to clarify; to asking questions to check for understanding and pushing forward to extend learning, when working together in the classroom, we’re able to gauge so much more and tailor the learning to meet diverse needs. Tasks that we used to work on collaboratively can’t be done in the same way and I’ve been on the hunt for ways to bring back the spirit of collaboration to the learning we are now doing at a distance. One tool that I have found myself using more and more with students, is Jamboard

In essence, Jamboard is a collaborative whiteboard that has sharing permissions that are the same as other Google Suite for Education tools. You don’t need an actual Jamboard to use the online or app version which is fantastic because there is no additional hardware required! In Jamboard, groups can collaborate in real-time to add pictures, text, or sticky notes to a canvas. 

In my last post, I mentioned that in small groups, I have been connecting with students using Google Meet, 3 times a week. While we don’t use the video feature, it’s nice to be able to hear each other as we work through a problem or on a lesson. During these Meets, our “classroom”  has used Jamboard in the following ways:

  • Check-ins: On one of our Meets, when first learning to use Jamboard, we decided that it could be a cool way to check-in with each other. Students were asked to add an image that represented how they were feeling and to use a sticky note to describe how the image related to them and their feeling. Once finished, students were allowed to share what they selected – if they wanted – and we had a discussion that was clearly enhanced by the visuals that students added to the canvas. In one of the groups, there was a student who was feeling down and it was so kind of another student to add a message of encouragement near their work, which prompted a few others to follow suit. The student was so pleased to know that they had this support system even though we were far away. They thanked their peers for their kind words.  I loved that the students who added positive messages didn’t add their names but truly just wanted to send their support. 
  • Math Problems: Many of the problems that we solve in the classroom have been group tasks. Students are often asked to think about a problem and think about what they can bring to the group to solve it. From there, they collaborate – putting their ideas together – to come up with a solution. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve tried to see how best we can share our strategies for problem solving, particularly in Math. A couple of weeks ago, students were given a problem to solve, and then during our Meet, it was their chance to walk their peers through their solution. It was really helpful for students to see that our problem could be solved in a variety of ways. We were looking at elapsed time and our problem was: A spider took _____ minutes to spin a web. The spider finished at ___:___. What time did they start? Below you will find 3 different ways that students solved the problem. 

  • Once again, having the visual as students walked through the different ways that they solved the problem was so helpful. Some even added more frames to the jam to walk peers through their solutions more clearly.  It was nice hearing, “That’s an easier way to solve it” or “Oh, you can use a number line for time?”. Once again, it allowed us to learn collaboratively from and with each other. 
  • This week, we did a KWL chart to start our unit on fractions. Students added to the first two columns – What do you KNOW? and What do you WANT to know?. As they were sharing their ideas, aloud and on sticky notes, it gave others in the group ideas of what else they might add. As a group we realized just how much we already knew and look forward to the learning for this unit.  As it progresses, students will add their learning in the 3rd column.
  • Language: We have been working on persuasive writing and students have been trying to convince people about whether or not students should get paid for going to school. We used a jam to capture our opinions in groups as we worked to fill in a graphic organizer. They started off by thinking about and filling in their opinion in yellow on the graphic organizer. After our Meet, they were able to get the other side’s opinion and they added those ideas to the pink side of the graphic organizer. We had plenty of arguments – and a few heated debates – on both sides which was great because it’s important to think of both sides of the argument when trying to persuade someone effectively.  Students always have access to the jam so they can refer back to it as needed. 

I know that this type of learning will never compare to the learning that happens in classrooms but as we try to learn at a distance, tools like Jamboard that help to keep the collaboration going, are so important. I know that there are so many other tools that educators are using, please feel free to share them in the comments below. I’m always happy to incorporate a new tool when it enhances student learning.

Content and Copyright Considerations in Distance Learning

The move to distance learning has certainly had some pitfalls. On top of all of the programming changes and logistical considerations, we’re hearing horror stories of the inappropriate use of digital tools and teachers unintentionally violating copyright laws.  It is crucial for teachers to make themselves aware of the privacy and security guidelines for their school board while also being aware of Fair Dealing and Copyright laws for online content.  Here is some food for thought, and a few tools and resources that may be helpful for teachers while creating and linking to online content.

Posting YouTube Videos

YouTube videos may be used for educational purposes in Canada so long as the creator and the source of the video is credited.  However, you might want to consider not posting a direct link to the YouTube video on your learning platform.  This link will take the students to the YouTube channel and the student may then freely search other content.  Maybe it is just me, but I’ve experienced the liquor advertisement pop up while watching a video in my classroom or the next video automatically plays and the content is not suitable for students. Teachers may want to try using online tools such as ViewPure or Safesharetv before copying the link into a learning platform.  These tools filter out advertisement and connects only the the video itself.

Reading Books Online to Students

A number of Canadian Publishers have opened up access to Educators to read published works online.  There are guidelines that an Educator must follow in order to do post an online story time.  For a list of participating publishers and more information on how to respect copyright for Canadian authors visit access copyright.  Scholastic Canada has also extended access to Educators to read published works online. The instructions on how to use Scholastic works is a little different.  Visit the Scholastic Read Aloud portion on the Scholastic Canada website in order to follow their rules and regulations.

FairDealing and Copyright

There are copyright laws specific to Education.  If you want to make sure that you can use something without violating copyright laws you can use the Fair Dealing Decision Tool.  Teachers can also refer to the Copyright Matters Document.

Privacy Policies and Statement

At the bottom of every home page for an educational digital tools you will find a link to their privacy policy or statement. I highly recommend reading what you are signing up for as a teacher when you click on a new Educational digital tool. Be aware of what data is being collected, where it is being stored and which third parties are attached to the company and make an informed decision for yourself.  Be proactive and check with someone in the Instructional Technology department at your school board to ensure that you are following recommendations before asking students and parents to sign up for a digital tool.  It is a lot for teachers to think about while at the same time just trying to get a handle on teaching in the midst of a pandemic. There is a big learning curve for everyone. Try to continue to go slowly. The move to distance learning is helping Educators truly understand the importance of digital citizenship.

Math In Real Life – The Yard Problem

As a child, I loved Math.  Inherently, there was always something exciting about using what I knew to solve a problem. Whether through the use of a formula or by being able to apply a mathematical concept, for me the world of Mathematics was about finding answers. Now, sometimes it was a means to an end – OAC calculus for getting into my program in university, (aging myself there) – but often times I remember the feeling of accomplishment after solving a problem with one of my parents at the dinner table in the evenings. When I didn’t understand something, my parents always tried to make sense of it in a real-world way. Talking me through the problem or explaining it in a diagram. The more I think of it, I believe that those times have been a foundational part of who I have become as a teacher, as it relates to Mathematics. While there are so many different concepts to teach within the curriculum, I find myself more drawn to and excited about concepts that allow students to see their use in real life and I’m always on the hunt to try and find a real example for everything.

Last month, I wrote about our Chocolongo Challenge. This month, we were hard at work trying to solve the challenge of fencing at our school. As we continued our unit on Measurement, a real problem was identified and students began to use what they know and the tools we have at our disposal to design real solutions. 

Sloane Public School opens onto a large field with baseball diamonds and leads further to a trail and public park. On any given day, you can find people walking their dogs through the yard or just going for a stroll. Occasionally, kindergarten students get so excited about the wide-open space that they make a run for it, only to find a teacher running after them to bring them back. With this in mind, students were asked to consider which would be more cost-effective: fencing off the back of the school property or fencing a safer kindergarten area? 

To start this problem, we worked together to create a KWC Chart. Together, we determined what we knew; what we wanted to know; and the conditions in order to solve the problem. 

From there, using Google’s My Maps, students quickly got to work trying to figure out the length of fencing that they would need. Once they got an idea of the length, they were on a mission to find the pricing of different fencing options. It was pretty amazing to see the different solutions that started coming to life. Some thought of creating a whole new area for the kindergarten students while others thought we could use some of the equipment in our shed and build an enclosed space that would allow them the freedom to explore. Some students were really creative with the fencing and thought of using wood fencing with one side coated in chalkboard paint so that kindergarten students could colour and design.

Ultimately, many students thought it was more economical to fence off the back of the school property and allowed for less disruption of the other activities for older students – like soccer and football which take up a significant amount of space on the field. This week, we wrapped up our unit with presentations and it was fantastic to see that students had created their own slide presentations to use as proposals to support their solutions. Using some of the feedback from their presentations, students are eager to present their findings to the principal to see if their ideas can be brought to life for a safer school environment for all. 

Whenever I’ve introduced these real-world problems to students, they get really excited to solve the problem and consider ways in which they can have an impact on the whole school community. While this one question, that ultimately became a project took several weeks, I’m amazed at all of the learning that was involved. Students learned to:

  • use an online tool to accurately measure large distances;
  • compare numbers;
  • convert measurements;
  • multiply;
  • think empathetically as they worked to solve a problem for someone else;
  • explain their mathematical thinking;
  • prepare a proposal to present to their audience;
  • and so much more!

I’m always excited about real-world math ideas. Please feel free to share some of yours in the comments!

Hour of Code is Coming…Part 2

Last month I blogged about the Hour of Code which occurs during Computer Science Education Week. Little did I know that it would prompt further conversations geared around wondering whether or not an hour makes a difference. My post by no means was the be all and end all of coding or computational thinking but was meant to spark conversations, perhaps an interest and possibly support educators for whom coding or computational thinking might be new. To be clear, I know that coding for an hour during that week might not have a significant impact in the grand scheme of things, but the opportunities that it provided for my students certainly had a significant impact. While these opportunities should exist on a daily basis, let’s face it, weeks like this often allow for conversations amongst educators to be had and provide spaces for collaboration. This was the case for me and my students. 

I think that we sometimes forget that there is a continuum of learning – even for educators – and while everyone has strengths and areas of need, those strengths and areas of need vary from person to person. Unless we’re willing to start somewhere and be vulnerable with colleagues, we can miss out on the chance to learn with incredible colleagues. This year, my students had the chance to participate in coding activities with 3 other classes and for them, it was an exercise in developing greater empathy; growing in clear communication; and problem solving. At the end of the week, coding was the tool that facilitated this learning for my students and they were able to help younger students develop their own set of problem solving and computational skills. 

That being said, this post, (part 2) is really to go a little deeper into what I believe computational thinking is about. I’ve always seen coding as being one, creative way to helping students develop computational thinking skills. I’ve learned that computational thinking is about solving problems, using similar methods as would a computer. There are four kills that make up computational thinking:

  1. Algorithmic Thinking – using algorithms to show the different steps in a solution or process. This can be applied across subject areas and can help to outline the process by which something is accomplished. When students are using some of the coding activities mentioned in my previous post, they are thinking about the steps needed to move through a maze or a specific sequence to achieve a goal. In language, students are often taught procedural writing. These procedures are used in recipes and in instruction manuals. In Science, we can think of this as the execution of an experiment. While students have the opportunity to hypothesize based on what they know, they may be required to follow procedures as they gain new skills for their experiment. Again, it’s that specific sequence of events that needs to take place to accomplish a task. 
  2. Decomposition – the breaking down of big problems into smaller ones. When broken down into smaller parts, tasks become less daunting. With large projects, when students can solve one task at a time, they’re better able to achieve success with the overall project. Knowing how to break down big challenges into smaller, more manageable parts is really a skill. When we help students in this, they are better able to become more autonomous, knowing specifically the next step that they need to take in order to succeed. During our coding activities,’s Dance Party was a hit! As students navigated through the challenges, they realized that they were gaining the skills required to ultimately create their own dance sequence. When they got to the end, they understood the functions of all of the blocks and were really excited to create and I must say that a few even replicated their dances in small groups.  
  3. Abstraction – the idea of using a simple model to explain more complicated systems. By taking away minute details, we are more easily able to understand the overall concept by making sense of the important parts in the model before us. I often think of this as making things more concrete before moving into the abstract. We can do this for ourselves when planning a unit. It might be daunting to understand all of what has to be taught but if we think first about the big ideas, we can then understand what is most important for students to understand and work backwards from there.  When we were working on coding activities with the kindergarten students, it was amazing to see how my students were helping students to physically move around the space in order to understand direction. When you first gain a grasp of direction and understand it clearly, perhaps moving around the physical space is no longer needed as much and you can move onto other skills, as you learn.
  4. Pattern Recognition – helps determine probability by interpreting data & identifying patterns. Scientists are recognizing patterns and are able to more effectively predict outcomes for things like diseases and weather. Why not get students identifying patterns in everyday life and see what they might be able to make sense of in the world. In my teaching practice, I have found Math so much more meaningful to students when they are able to see and identify the concepts being taught in real life. By looking at patterns, they understand and can identify why some structures might be more stable than others and can make more accurate predictions based on data they have collected. Lightbot was one of the activities we tried with younger students and it was a great way for my students to help the younger students to see that by creating a program once, they could repeat it and it was similar to the core in a repeating pattern. It took us a minute but it was amazing when the “ah ha” moments came.  

As with all things, I am growing in my understanding of computational thinking and coding. My first post was merely a conversation – and perhaps an activity – starter as we think about helping students to develop these skills. Doing or looking to do amazing things in your classroom in this area? Please share it in the comments! I would love to know more and grow with you.