Sharing is Caring

I’m more than a little late with this one… but here’s my contribution to mission #8 for Explore the MTBoS: Sharing is Caring.

All year I’ve been talking to my maths colleagues with about this wonderful world called the MathtwitterBlogosphere… maybe babbling is a more accurate description of what I’ve been doing:

“Did you make this activity up?”
“Nope, I found it on the MathtwitterBlogosphere!”

“Thats a really cool website”
“I know! Someone from the MathtwitterBlogosphere tweeted about it!”

It was only the other day that I realised I’ve only given a proper explanation of the MTBoS to two of my colleagues, but a lot more of them have (unknowingly) seen the benefits of this community.

A few weeks ago we were teaching the topic “Graphs of Physical Phenomena” – starting with basic travel graphs, then moving on to more complex graphs that involved variable rates. After finding this website, I decided to have students make their own videos. Working with another teacher, we formed a plan. We started with a quick lesson looking at graphs that depicted cars accelerating, or a runner who was slowing down as he got tired – gradually introducing language like “increasing at a decreasing rate”. Then we watched 4 Graphing Stories and students became more confident working with these complex graphs.
Then came the fun part. I borrowed a pile of different shaped glass flasks from the science department, and had students film themselves slowly filling them up with water (holding a ruler next to the flask so we could see the height of the water). As a class we then sat down and graphed the height of the water as a variable of time – drawing a quick sketch of what we thought the graph might look like, then a more accurate graph as we watched the videos. The activity worked amazingly well, and full credit was paid to the MTBoS for the wonderful idea. I’m hoping that my continual mentioning of the MTBoS will help some of my colleagues become more open to the idea of an online professional learning community.

In the case of one particular teacher, my mentor, I’m making a more direct effort to get her involved in the MTBoS – we sat down for about half an hour on one of the last days of school this year, and I showed her around a bit. I showed her some of my favourite blogs, some others that I think she might find really useful, a whole pile of virtual filing cabinets, websites like Estimation 180, as well as emailing her a copy of Nix the Tricks. Maybe a little overwhelming for a half-hour session! She’s told me that she’s going to spend some more time exploring in our 5 week holiday. After all that she’s done for me as my mentor this year, I really hope that I can show her the wonders of the MTBoS as a small way of giving something back to her.

Maybe next year I’ll introduce them to Twitter.

A Day in My Life

Mission #7 for Explore the MTBoS: record the details of one day this week. So here we go… a sneak peek into my Monday.

6:10 – My alarm goes off, but I decide to lie in bed listening to the pouring rain and dreading going outside in it. Get up, check twitter while eating breakfast, shower, pack lunch and head out the door at 7:40.

8:00 – Arrive at school and check my emails – no extra classes today, phew! Print off worksheets for the days lessons, and an assessment notification for my seniors. Print off some work for a casual covering a colleague’s class and check in with a teacher who’s class I have once a fortnight (today!).

8:25 – Weekly staff briefing. A run-down of what’s happening this week. The highlights of this week include a chair and desk audit on Tuesday, evacuation and lock-down drills on Wednesday, and lots of room changes due to special events.

8:45 – Head off to our first session of the day. This is where my school is a little different (read: amazing!). Every teacher has a group of about 15 students that they are responsible for looking out for – academically, socially, emotionally… everything. We see these students for 40mins every morning and usually have time to help them with homework and assessments, talk about any behavioural issues, and generally check in with them. This morning though, we’re running numeracy sessions, so after marking the roll students disperse to their numeracy groups. This morning we looked at some probability statements and addressed common probability misconceptions.

9:25 – My seniors! My year 12 Mathematics class has a grand total of 6 students. One student from the other Mathematics class has a free period occasionally when my lesson runs, so he joins us today. I hand out the notification for the test they have in 2 weeks, and we have a quick discussion about it. They work through a sheet that encourages them to think about the geometry of the derivative, and what the concepts we’ve learnt actually mean (how do we know the curve y=4x^2 is always concave up?) and then complete some review questions.

10:12 – Off to the year 7 class that I have once a fortnight – but when I show up their usual teacher is there! Turns out he was asked to cover another lesson, so since he wasn’t getting the session off class to plan, he may as well teach his own class. I shuffle off to teach another year 7 class a lesson that I haven’t looked at yet. Luckily I can wing year 7 probability.

11 – Recess! Back to the staffroom to check my emails again, eat a muesli bar and chat to the teacher I share a year 8 class with about where they’re up to.

11:25 – The staffroom empties out as everyone heads off to class, but I have the session off to be super productive! I work through the pile of exams that I marked the other day (5 hours of marking) and collate the marks. I’ll enter them all into our markbook tomorrow. I have a discussion with another teacher about one of my students who hasn’t handed in an assessment for her class, and make a note to chase it up tomorrow morning when I see him.

12:12 – Year 8 lesson on finding the volume of cylinders. We work out the formula together, then they have exercises and HotMaths work to do. A fairly uneventful lesson.

1 – Lunch. A toasted sandwich and a banana. Tomorrow I have sport and I’m taking some girls down to the pool, so I spend 10mins grilling a nearby PE teacher for ideas on what activities to do with them. Talk to my head teacher about moving students up or down classes next year, and about whether we’re going to change the brand of calculators students buy from the school (a very dramatic decision with some teachers adamant that their brand is better). Duck downstairs to visit the lovely ladies in the finance office to ask about buying train tickets for an excursion next week.

1:35 – Year 9. We’re starting the new topic of graphs – straight lines and parabolas mainly. We start off today with the basics of completing a table of values and graphing straight lines on a number plane to jog their memories (it’s all in there somewhere from last year right??). In the last 10mins I hand back their tests. We went over the tests last lesson, but I had to recollect them to record marks.

2:22 – I spend the last session of the day planning for tomorrow – finalising lessons and printing worksheets.

3:20 – Staff meeting – nothing exciting to report this week.

5 – Head home via the shops to grab some stuff for dinner. Usually I’d spend another hour or two working on lessons for tomorrow or later in the week, but I was actually productive last weekend so I’m a little ahead of myself, which means I have time to sit down and write about my day!

Now its time to make dinner… gnocchi I think.

Write your own test

When we came to the end of two weeks learning all about index laws, I was struggling to come up with an activity that would get my students to really think about all the misconceptions and common mistakes related to the topic. Eventually, I decided to have them each write an end of topic test.

The test had to include 10 multiple choice questions and 5 questions that required working. The catch was that the four solutions provided for each multiple choice question must be solutions that arise from misconceptions or mistakes that are commonly made (and of course students must indicate the correct answer). This meant that students had to think about all the things that they (and their friends) didn’t understand straight away, and those silly mistakes that they just keep making.

For the last 5 questions, students were required to provide solutions, explicitly showing all steps, each with a brief explanation of what had been done, and why. I found the best way to describe this to students was to tell them to imagine teaching their little brother or sister about indices, and write down everything that they would have said.

Students had some time to start working on their test in class, which meant that (after showing some examples of what I was expecting on the board) I could walk around and clarify exactly what they needed to do for those students who were still unsure.

There were grumbles. There were complaints. There were comments that “this is stupid”.

But did they learn from it? Yes. Absolutely.
I’m not saying that every student recognised every mistake they’d ever made, and because they have identified them, will never make those mistakes again, but I definitely heard a lot of aha! moments as students discussed which answer was correct, and why.
And that’s what this was all about.

As with most tasks, the crucial component is feedback. Sitting down with students after looking through their tests and discussing any errors ensures that there are no lingering misunderstandings.

When it came time for this topic to be formally tested, students were given questions that their classmates had written, and maybe even one of their own!