About piforhungryminds

I am a young, enthusiastic, straight-out-of-uni Maths teacher in Australia. My teaching is built on the belief that all students have the ability to understand mathematics, and it is my job to kindle their interest to help this understanding happen. When asked what a 'teaching' really means, a principal I recently met replied that he would love to scrap the word 'teaching' altogether and replace it with 'learning' - because no good teacher ever stops learning and striving to do the very best for their students. This is what i'm aiming for.

Videos made by students, for students

The countdown to the HSC is on and Year 12 have been revising for weeks.

Every subject. Every class. For over a month. And they still have a few weeks of pretty intense study before their first exam. The challenge is to keep it interesting.

My students have been watching my videos all year as part of our flipped classroom, so why not get them to make their own?

Each student brought to class a past HSC question that they couldn’t figure out. We folded them up, put them in a tub and mixed them up. Then they each picked out someone else’s question, worked to figure it out and made a video explaining it.

Some students set their laptop up in front of a whiteboard and filmed with the webcam.

Others borrowed my document camera.

And some wheeled a whiteboard out into the garden and used their phones to film each other.

They had an absolute ball. They were completely engaged struggling with difficult questions and making sure they understood them well enough to explain them to their classmates.

Definitely on my list of revision activities for next year.

 

Anonymous student feedback: scary but powerful

I’ve always been a fan of asking students for anonymous feedback on my teaching. They have some really valuable insights and suggestions for improving our classroom. Last week I was reminded just how important it is to ask students for their opinion.

I’ve wanted to flip my year 9 class all year, but for a whole number of reasons I didn’t do it until a few weeks ago. Leading up to the topic of equations, I realised it was time to stop making excuses and flip this class. A few things led to this realisation:

  • Equations is a topic that really splits students. Some take a while to really grasp the basic concept of inverse operations, while for others the whole topic just ‘clicks’ and they fly through it.
  • I’d just taught equations to year 10, so some of the resources and videos could be reused.
  • I was going to be off school for a few days, meaning that on top of the one lesson a week where they’re taught by a science teacher (because of clashes in my timetable) they would also have a casual for a fair few lessons. By making videos, I was comfortable with the way that the concepts were being explained to them.
  • I hate waiting for students to copy down notes and examples, and I hate seeing students either rushed through the work before they understand it or being bored because we’re moving too slowly. I want everyone working at their own pace.

I made up a booklet and explained to my students how our class would run for the next few weeks.

  • The exercises in the booklet all needed to be completed by a set date. How they allocated their time was up to them. I suggested watching videos at home or during their independent learning time each morning so that time in class could be spent asking their classmates and I questions.
  • Everywhere they saw this symbol screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-4-05-00-pm it meant there was a video for them to watch explaining the concept and working through some examples.

Because I was away for so many of their lessons I wasn’t at all happy with their introduction to flipped learning. I felt like I’d given them all the resources for the topic and then abandoned them, rather then being there each lesson to answer questions, check that they were on track and generally support them.

The heart of flipped learning wasn’t there.

I also realised that I’d included too many questions for each concept, so students were getting bogged down. I honestly felt like I’d failed and I was prepared to revert to traditional teaching to give them a break before introducing flipped learning properly next term.

During the last lesson on equations a few students asked me whether we would be using the videos and booklets again for our next topic. I said I wasn’t sure, telling them that how we’d done things wasn’t what I’d had in mind, and asked them what they thought. Those few students were so unexpectedly positive! I decided to send out form to get anonymous feedback from the whole class – not just the extroverts. Even after those few positive comments, I was still sure that most of the class had hated it.

Because I haven’t introduced the term “flipped learning” to them, we referred to “booklets” but really we meant the whole new system of doing things. These are some of their responses:

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-3-22-33-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-18-at-3-25-36-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-18-at-3-27-52-pm

The moral of the story:

It’s so important to ask for feedback from the people who matter most: our students.

I thought I’d done a terrible job. Turns out that while we all agreed that there was definitely room for improvement, students overwhelmingly preferred the new way of doing things.

Unexpected High Points

This afternoon I had a double year 9 lesson after lunch. I was tired, hadn’t eaten enough and wasn’t looking forward to it.

They’re a beautiful bunch of kids, but they’re hard work. They’re easily distracted and if they get stuck on a question they have a tendency to give up and get off task. It’s always tiring to have to repeat “keep going”, “focus” or some similar phrase over and over for an 100 minutes.

Then three really lovely things happened.

  1. I was helping a student with a question when his friend piped up with “Miss, I like having you as a maths teacher. You explain things really well”
  2. One girl commented to her friend “I actually think I’m going to learn a lot of maths this year!”
  3. One boy, who at first glance seems to be a trouble maker, struggles with maths and would prefer to not try than look silly. I was sitting with him today working through some problems when he slowly started to get it. The smile on his face and the pride that was shining out of him when he started getting questions right was absolutely beautiful.

And with those three little moments a lesson I was really not looking forward to left me feeling all warm and fuzzy on the way back to the staffroom.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.42.28 pm

The In-Flip

At the start of this year I walked into a class full of students with low motivation, low ability, poor attendance and renowned behavioural issues. After teaching for three weeks I was frustrated, the students were frustrated and no one was having a good time.

I had to change something. I started flipping my classes last year, but I had only ever flipped top classes or seniors so I was really unsure how it would work with this class.

I knew that many of these students were unlikely to complete homework. Most have been in the “bottom” class for years and have a pretty poor mindset when it comes to learning. Instead of introducing the standard “videos at home, exercises in class” flipped model, I decided to in-flip.

Best. Decision. Ever.

The idea is that students can complete everything during class time – videos, exercises… whatever. Of course they have the option to take their work home and work on it there (and some have taken this up) but it isn’t an expectation. The main focus is to get students working at their own pace with more one-on-one time with me.

Three weeks in and I’m loving walking into that class each lesson. I’m not sure the students are quite at the point where they’d say they love maths, but the change in their attitude, effort and work ethic has been amazing.

One student (who during one of our first lessons was found standing on a table with a traffic cone on his head) was working hard one lesson and turned to me with complete sincerity and said “Miss, I like this better”. When asked why, he summed it up perfectly with “Because we don’t have to stop and move onto the next thing if we’re not ready”.

Each lesson I have 26 students working on different things – whatever they’re up to. Today some were completing exercises, some were watching their next video, a few were completing a revision exercise and one student was attempting a topic test. Each student is going to be pushed as far as they can to reach the highest level of maths that they are capable of.

This year is looking amazing.

FlipCon Australia

FlipCon

Last weekend I spent an amazing few days at the first ever FlipCon Australia – a conference all about flipped learning. I was there for two days and came home feeling inspired to improve may teaching after meeting so many great teachers including the pioneers of flipped learning, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams.

I’ve been flipping my year 10 class since the start of the year by recording videos explaining the content for students to watch at home, and spending our class time working through problems, working in groups and investigating concepts.

But the way I’ve making videos isn’t sustainable. I’m only flipping one class and there’s no way I could flip all 5 classes with this method without burning out.
The problem was that so far I’ve been doing this on my own. At FlipCon I met some brilliant people and found out what they’re doing in their classes and how they’re doing it.

I came home with so many ideas of how to improve what I’m doing so that I can flip all of my classes next year.

The first thing on my wish list is a lightboard. I’m in the process of talking to my school about the possibility of building a lightboard studio to film all of my videos. Fingers crossed.

I also want to plan everything for each topic before it starts so that in the first lesson I can give students an overview including learning goals (syllabus points), resources (videos, worksheets, etc), extension tasks, and assessments (topic tests, summary books). Students will then have an end date by which time they need to be able to show me that they have learnt the content. I think this more self-paced approach should help students to manage and take ownership of their own learning.

Looking forward to seeing everyone again at FlipCon AUS 2016!

Probability Introduction

I started the topic of Probability with my Year 10 students yesterday and I was so happy with how the lesson ran and how engaged the students were, so I thought I’d share.

These kids didn’t see probability at all last year, so even though they’re a really strong group of mathematicians, I wasn’t confident with how much they remembered.

We started of by drawing mind maps of everything they could think of to do with probability – individually at first and then as a class on the whiteboard. Most of them were pretty blank. We ended up with words like chance, predictability, certain, impossible, likely, unlikely, 50/50. A few students also wrote that probability can be written as fractions, decimals and percentages so we had a chat about the probability number line.

Rather than start off with relative frequency calculations, I really wanted to get these kids thinking about the broader concepts in probability. I read out the statements below and as a class we talked about whether or not we agreed with it and, more importantly, why.

  • There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. Therefore the chance that someone’s name starts with the letter X is 1 in 26.
  • There are only 2 possible outcomes in a game of tennis – winning or losing. Therefore I have an even chance of wining a game.
  • I have flipped a coin 4 times and each time it has landed on tails. Therefore it is almost certain the next toss will be a tail.

These started some really great conversations about whether the outcomes were equally likely, whether events were independent of previous outcomes, etc. Now that their minds were warmed up and thinking about probability, I handed out these sheets for students to complete in pairs. I didn’t work through the whole activity as it’s described – instead I printed “Are They Correct?” and “Card Set: True, False or Unsure?” back to back and had students write a sentence about each statement.

After a while we came back as a class and spoke about a few of the statements that had caused a bit of debate or that identified an important concept.

To finish off the lesson we had a look at this problem from nrich. I had students stand around the edge of the room with a piece of paper and a pen. I asked them to write down a number between 1 and 225 and not let anyone else see it. Then I asked them what they thought the probability was that at least two people had chosen the same number. The general consensus was that since they had 225 numbers to choose from it was pretty unlikely. Then I had them read out their numbers one by one. The first time we did this there was laughter and playful mocking of the students who had the same numbers and it was largely written off as a coincidence. We repeated this about 5 more times with new numbers and every time there was a minimum of 2 people with the same number. It was beautiful watching my student’s faces as they became really curious about what was happening.

Next lesson we’re going to dive into the maths that explains why they were so likely to pick the same numbers.

My Flipped Classroom

At the start of this year I decided to flip my year 10 classroom. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve and it’s taken a lot of time and effort but I’m so incredibly happy with the outcome. I feel like my time with this class is used so much more effectively and the feedback from my students has been overwhelmingly positive. I stand in my other classes waiting for students to copy down notes and can’t help feeling like we’re wasting each others time.

The flipped classroom is a broad concept that can look different in every classroom. So what does my flipped classroom look like?

  1. I make a video in Explain Everything (maximum 10 minutes) and upload it to a folder in Google Drive that all my students can view.
  2. My students watch the video at home before the lesson and take notes in their books.
  3. Students then answer three questions that check their basic understanding of the content. I set each quiz up as a Google form and email the link to my students. Students also have the option to ask any questions they might have through the video.
  4. Before the lesson I read through the responses and gauge how well the students have grasped the content.
  5. The class can start in one of three ways:
    • If everyone seems confident with the topic I’ll get them to start on the exercises or activity straight away.
    • If there were a few students with different questions raised in the quiz responses I can talk to them one-on-one while others get started.
    • If it seems like a number of students have the same question or if a common misunderstanding has been highlighted in the quiz results then we run through a few examples or have a class discussion about the concept before getting started.

We’ve been flipping for six months now so I decided to ask for feedback from the people who matter most. I’ve shared some of the questions and responses below:

What benefits have you noticed with the Flipped Classroom approach?

  • A benefit from the flipped classroom approach is that it can sometimes leave more time for people to complete questions in class. It also gives us stepped out videos on the skills we learnt which is valuable when we come to study.
  • When I get to the harder questions in class I have miss to help where as at home I don’t have that opportunity for the help, leaving questions till the next session.
  • There are several benefits in regards to the flipped classroom, these include: being able to catch up on any work if you’re away
; really easy for us to go back and check things that we may have forgotten
; more time in class to do the exercises
; less homework
; allows us to ask Miss more questions

How could the Flipped Classroom be improved?

  • If the teacher could go through 1 example when we get into class just to refresh what we’ve learnt in the video the night before.
  • I don’t believe it can be improved as I think it is highly effective and a much better way of learning as it is. 

What other comments do you have about the Flipped Classroom approach?

  • With the introduction of the flipped classroom also came summary books – this have contributed greatly to the learning experience and are extremely beneficial when study for exams.
  • Miss Davis’ videos are very clear and straight forward which makes it easy to understand at home
  • I hope it continues throughout the rest of the year because it has been beneficial for my learning.
  • We should keep having the flipped classroom. ◕‿◕

Revision Lessons

This year I have my first Year 12 General Maths class. They’re a beautiful group of kids and I’m exceptionally luck to have only 9 students which means I get heaps of time to work with each of them individually when they need it. My favourite thing about this class though is the dynamics of the students. They all get along and are comfortable asking for help both from me and each other.

Each time a formal assessment comes around I give the class at least one lesson to revise. I’ve found the most effective way to run these lessons is to rearrange the tables so they’re “conference style” and close to a whiteboard. Then we all sit around the table working on revision questions. Each time someone gets stuck they ask each other questions rather than me and if there’s more than one person having trouble someone gets up on the whiteboard to work through the question and explain the steps. In these lessons I very rarely have to step in to explain anything because as a group they can always work towards a solution (with the occasional guiding hints from me).

Yr 11

We’ve been doing this for a year and a half now and the students love it as much as I do. They get really excited when it comes time for revision and always leave the classroom commenting on how much they achieved.

Yesterday one of my students told me that she has been running mini revision sessions with her friends from other classes during their study periods. She was so excited to tell me that she set up a conference table and borrowed whiteboard markers from a nearby  teacher and they all took turns explaining questions when they got stuck. It made my day to hear her so excited about sharing a revision strategy that seems to work so well.

Excitement for the new year

This past week was a nice way to ease us all back into the teaching routine after the Christmas holidays. We started with the Australia Day public holiday followed by two staff development days with time allowed for planning, then on Thursday years 7, 11 and 12 started the school year and on Friday we were in full swing with years 8, 9 and 10 starting up too.

I’m pretty excided about a few things this year:

  1. Each year everyone in our staffroom moves desks. This year I’m seated next to my closest colleague and already we’ve had some amazing conversations that are made so much easier now that we can just spin in our chairs rather than walking the length of the staffroom. We’re helping to keep each other grounded – reminding each other to pick one thing in our classes to focus on and make amazing rather than trying to improve everything all at once.
  1. I’m working with Year 7 for the first time this year. I’m pretty excited to be teaching younger students and new content.
  1. I’m flipping my classroom! Last year I had a beautiful Year 9 class full of hardworking and enthusiastic students, and I asked (really nicely) to have them again this year. It was beautiful to have a student say “Miss I almost cried with happiness when I found out we have you again!”. Anyway, I feel like I know these kids and I think they trust me so I figure it’s a perfect time to try flipping my classroom. Last year all the teachers at my school were given iPads so in the holidays I played around and made some videos. I’m planning of flipping this first topic (rates) and then evaluating how the flipped classroom went and asking for feedback from my students. I’m using Google Drive to share all the videos with my class, and I’ve made a Google form where students need to answer 3 questions about the content and I get all the responses in a spreadsheet. That way I get a snapshot of their understanding and I can highlight any misconceptions I need to address with individuals at the start of the next lesson. I explained all this to the kids at the end of the first lesson and they seemed pretty impressed with the idea… “So we watch like a 5 minute video, take some notes and answer 3 questions – and that’s it for homework?!”. The only concern anyone raised was that they might not be able to watch videos if they had work or other commitments after school, but we talked about the fact that it should only take 15 minutes and that they would have the same problem if I gave then a page of questions to complete for homework. I really think this will be amazing if all goes to plan but I’m a little scared because really, how often do things go according to plan when teenagers are involved?

Nerves and Poetry

Not so long ago I wrote this post about how important I think it is be self-confident as a teacher.

Then yesterday I had a moment that had me almost as nervous as the first time I ever stood in front of a class.

I read an amazing poem by Ben Orlin a few weeks ago called Once There Weren’t Numbers and I loved it so much that I decided to read it to one of my classes.

At the end of a lesson I got them all to pack up a few minutes early and told them I was going to read them a poem – but get excited because it’s a maths poem! And then all of a sudden I got really nervous. Like the type of nerves I had when I stood in front of a class for the first time ever. I was thrown back to my high-school days of speech giving. I was actually shaking and I didn’t know why. I stand in front of these kids every day. I get along with all of them. I can joke with them and they engage really well with everything I give them. So why was I so nervous?

Reflecting on it now I think it might have been because I was revealing something of myself to them. Revealing my inner nerd and love for nerdy maths things to them (even more than I usually do) and maybe I was scared they would think it was stupid – that they’d reject it.

Turns out they loved it just as much as me – and I knew they would! That’s why I chose to read it to them in the first place so we could bask in its amazingness together.

If you haven’t already, you should read it so you can bask too.