Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lego, Math and Real-Life Problem Solving

Twitter has been abuzz  (atweet?) lately with some amazing math lessons, using real costs for Lego.

Mr. Orr is a  wrote an incredible blog post about whether or not Lego-pricing is gender-biased.  Check it out!

Anyhow, I digress, and so on to my story...

The other morning, while drinking my coffee at home, I received a sale notice in my inbox from a toy store that I frequent often: Mastermind Toys.  Since shopping, and my kids, are two things that I love dearly (ok, my children come out WAY ahead of shopping), I went in for a little look.

They are ages 6 and 8, and they are into the "Lego-years" now, so one of my plans is to build them a Lego wall at our camp, for those rainy, summer days.  I have been stalking Lego baseplates, and noting they are very expensive, so I always take a look whenever I am online.

Sand Baseplate

Grey Baseplate

The conversation that ensued was likely the most lively mental math discussion we ever had in class. Students were determined to give me advice on the better deal.

No, it wasn't a typical "number strings" mental math lesson. Did it get the students thinking? Were they using mental math skills? Yes to both.

Do you know which is the better deal?
(And, incidentally, do you know of a better price for Lego Baseplates within Canada???? I really am looking for some.)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why teachers and principals need to "fail"

In his book, Digital Leadership , Eric Sheninger  makes it clear that leaders need to model the use of digital tools if they want educators to embrace them.

The problem is this: many principals and leaders do not feel comfortable with technology themselves, so are reluctant to use it in case they "fail" in front of others.

However, when we encourage students to make mistakes, so that they can have a growth mindset and create synapses within their brains, we need to create an environment that supports that.

Studies prove that brain plasticity is real. This blog post by Maria Miller identifies Growth Mindset and the value of mistakes in math learning.

We ALL need to model our failures.

As a classroom teacher, I fail every day.  It is not intentional. It is not always comfortable. It is, however, essential.

Recent failures include:

  • forgetting to attach the document to the email. THREE TIMES IN A ROW!
  • not being able to wirelessly connect to a projector
  • not being able to connect to a WIRED projector
  • using the incorrect password multiple times and getting locked out of a site in front of students
and my most recent
  • not being able to figure out how to remove the lens cover from the projector in front of a room of current and future principals
I guess it boils down to this: technology modelling = a sense of humour and adventure.
I have noticed that when I make mistakes, others are much more willing to give it a shot. 

 In my classroom, there has been a dramatic shift over the course of this year.  In the beginning, I had a lot of push-back from students who were intimidated by using technology for creation. 

They didn't want to try. They didn't want to share. They didn't want to fail.

So I failed in front of them. And I asked them for help. And I googled the answers in front of them.

And, slowly, it began to change. 

We are now sharing freely. We laugh together at the funny errors they make when recording themselves telling about their math strategies on the iPads. Then they broadcast it on the Apple TV so the whole class can see it.  We also laugh at the fact that I manage to sound bomb everyone's presentation recordings because I am loudly chatting in the background with other groups about THEIR recordings.

One key thing that I have learned is that, when it comes to technology, NEVER assume that everyone knows how.

Level the playing field and everyone's comfort level by taking the time to explain. 

Model it.

Today I gave a presentation as part of my PQP (Principal's Qualification) Part II course. Yup, the lens cover incident.

When I used various technology tools, I took a few minutes to explain...
  • how to get to it (URLs or the names of apps)
  • ways it can be used
  • and the cost - (usually free)
Then I let them try it out.  We installed QR Reader apps on phones. We used our laptops to scan QR Codes too.We clicked on links in the Piktochart I had created.  We answered survey questions via Kahoot.

Did I get through my whole presentation? No. Showing the technology ate up some of the time. 

Did it matter? Probably not. It WAS all information that they could google or find through the links and resources I gave them. Hopefully people weren't too disappointed that I didn't talk at them about Equity book for the entire time frame ;-)

But, I modelled that leaders need to model digital tools so that others can embrace them.

If you use it, they will too.

And if you fail while you are using it, then that may be even better.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fractions, baking and lowest terms: real-world math

I think that the hardest thing I have encountered in math this year is trying to instil in students the importance of understanding math, not just memorizing rules.  So many times I hear..."I remember doing this last year, but I can't remember the rule".

My message is that if you understand the "why", then there are many different ways of "how" to do it. No rules needed.

Except maybe one.  Lowest terms. ;-)

I decided we would bake.  Cooking is something I try to do several times a year with my classes.  It's engaging, it's a life skill, and it's FUN. Besides, it was the day before Easter Break so baking Bunny Bread was the perfect activity.

I gave students a Bread-in-a-bag recipe. I changed the measurements so that they had to calculate the actual amounts.

Bread in a Bag Recipe
In a one-gallon (heavy-duty) Ziploc bag, mix:

½ X 6/6  cup all purpose flour

9/4  teaspoons yeast

¼ + 2/8  cup warm water

⅓ X 6 tablespoons sugar

Close the bag and knead it with fingers until the ingredients are completely blended. Leave the bag closed, with the contents in the corner, and let rest 10 minutes. You can eliminate this wait by using instant yeast.

Then add:

⅓ x 12/2 cups whole wheat flour

¼ x 2 5/5  cup warm water

5/5  tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/10 + 18/20 teaspoons salt

Mix well. Add enough all-purpose flour to make a stiff dough, about 1 or 1-1/2 cups. Close the bag and knead it (you may need to remove some air in the bag.) Add more flour until dough no longer sticks to the bag. Spray the hands or food handlers gloves with oil so there will be no sticking. Open the bag and allow the dough to fall out onto clean or gloved hands. Form the dough into a loaf, and place in a loaf pan or onto a cafeteria cookie sheet. Remember the dough will grow 1-1/2 times larger, so leave space between loaves if baking on a cookie sheet. Cover the loaves with oil sprayed plastic wrap and allow to rise 30 (quick rise yeast) to 45 minutes. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Now that’s real world science!  

When they completed the calculations, they began to make the recipe.

EXCEPT, as some discovered, measuring cups don't come in 12th's, nor do measuring spoons have 20th's marked on them.

They noticed that they had to make their answers mixed numbers and lowest terms.

They had a real-world reason to use fractions and to make their answers in lowest terms.

An unexpected spin-off was the mini-inquiry about yeast that the students engaged in. "What is yeast? What does it do? Is it really alive?"

They discovered, by researching while waiting for their yeast to proof, that it is a living organism, and that it requires sugars and heat to grow.  All on their own.

Best of all? They got to eat the results. Bunny bread success!
Ready for the oven.
Baked and ready to eat.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Getting started with iPads in the intermediate classroom

My grade 7/8 classroom is fortunate enough to participate in the Rainbow District School Board's CODE program for iPads in the mathematics classroom. Hurray.  This means that I now have 15 iPads for use in my classroom.

Exciting news, for sure.

This means that we no longer have to scurry around the school to try and find the iPad that has someone's saved iMovie, or worry that someone has accidentally deleted files or photos that were part of a work-in-progress.

We began by creating an anchor chart of classroom norms for iPad use.  Since we have been using them in our school for the past 4 years, this was just a quick review of the expectations while using this technology.

My students are very used to using iPads in many subject areas, including Language, Science, History, and Geography. Using them in math will be a new area of exploration, other than the simple math game apps that they used in previous years.

Explain Everything, Show Me and Educreations are currently being explored by the students to explain and show their mathematical thinking. In the simplest form, it replaces paper and pencil. Some of the students have gone beyond already and are importing images, taking photos and recording their explanations.

For more reading, here is a guide to iPad apps for Intermediate and Senior grade students.

Ipad apps for high school students

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Getting started with Google in my classroom

The time has come, and our Board is jumping on the Google train. I am excited about the ability to collaborate and to have easy access to documents and all the apps,  but I had some hesitations about getting it going with the students.  The steps below are how I chose to start, on a day when I only had about a 20 minute time-frame.

This resource will tell you everything you need to get going.

Google Apps for Education Support Resources

Ready, set, go....

Step 1: I began by simply having the students go to Google and sign in with their rscloud account, which has been set up by the Board. Student logins are the first 4 letters of their last name, followed by the last 4 digits of their student number.

Since students share the laptops, they needed to make sure that "Stay signed in " was NOT checked.

Example:     Sam Jones would be

The password was set by the administrator, which in our case, is the principal.

So far, so good. After a few false starts, most students were in.

Step 2: The next thing that I had students do was click on the apps button.
 It is the 3X3 array.

This will bring up the Google apps for them to use.
Since we had limited time in the laptop lab, I just let students explore for a few minutes. Their final task for the day was to click on the Calendar app, and to go in and create a calendar for themselves called "School". This will be used by them to keep track of agenda items relating to school, such as forms that are due, due dates, tests, etc.

Step 3: Students went to My calendars and then clicked the drop down arrow. Click "Create new calendar" and then they put in the name "School". They then explored the calendar and some added the date of an upcoming deadline for permission forms.

Glitches?  Just a couple.

The first glitch was that several students tried to write - nope, it is

Then, I did have two students who attempted to sign into Google+ without realizing what they were doing. Since they were not yet 13 years of age, when they signed in with their DOB, their accounts were immediately frozen. I was perplexed as to what happened, but after "googling" it, I discovered that this is a security feature of Google.

An administrator will now need to unblock them. 

Since my students already know how to use email, I didn't bother with using the Mail feature yet. I have a small group already collaborating on writing a script in Google docs, so they are up and running with that.  Now that the students are "in", I am anticipating that they will be able to manage without difficulty. IF I keep them from being overwhelmed.

I think that the biggest takeaway that I have from my use of technology in the classroom this year is to take baby steps.  Whenever the students start to feel overwhelmed, I get major pushback.  When I dole it out in small amounts, they seem to manage it and then many go beyond the small, simple tasks on their own.

Lesson learned.

Don't forget, for an amazing resource on using Google Apps for Education, follow this link for the
WCDSB Chromebook & Google Apps for Education Support Resources 

Google Apps for Education Support Resources