PBL in Math

Working wiser is important to me as a teacher, therefore when it came to what to do for my course 5 project I had two choices. I really wanted to gamify one of my classes, whereby I use, for example, Classcraft. However, as I was looking at my math units, I knew I was missing the part where students could demonstrate the transfer of their learnt skills / knowledge to solve authentic problems. I believe in fate, and as I embarked on my second NESA chat on twitter, someone shared some math resources they found great. It was a eureka moment for me, right time, right place. One resource in particular was Robert Kapinsky’s website. I lost myself in reading his blogs, looking at his resources and for me the penny dropped. This was the last piece I needed to add to my unit – authentic problem based activities which would totally engage my students and show whether they truly understood the concepts learnt. So, I modified a unit by adding PBL as a form of formative assessment.

I have two worries about redesigning this unit. The first, and for me the major one, is that I have included too much PBL. Even though the activities will be formative, I wonder if you can get too much of a good thing? Therefore, like all teaching, modifications to the unit will be made along the way depending on the student’s needs and if the resources are achieving their intended purpose. Also at this stage, most of my PBL activities are coming from 2 or 3 major sources, which is fine, as they meet my objectives for the unit. However, for the future I want to continue to search out further sites that may have great resources for other math units I am developing, plus I would like to begin to create my own. – when time is on my side!!

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from me was a hard one to answer. I think it is ensuring I have a bank of good question stems that I can use to guide my students to deeper thinking about the problem, or to find alternative ways to solve a problem if they are stuck, so that the solutions always come from them through their discussions with their peers / research and use of resources. Also for me, this unit is making me aware to look critically at the depth of knowledge (DOK) I am actually asking for in the type of activities I am offering my students. I need to ensure the activities are graded from easy, through to the DOK third tier, which I hope they will achieve as they build mastery of their basic skills.

The problem based learning of this unit, will need the students to apply both their new skills and prior mathematical knowledge, to solve authentic problems. It is going to require my students to work collaboratively with their peers over an extended period of time. Currently they work with their peers, but the problems they work on can be solved within short amounts of time and aren’t necessarily multilayered. This is going to require them to actively listen to each other, and explain their thinking and understandings, both orally and in written mathematical form. Therefore the students will need to be flexible and have a growth mindset to be prepared to change or modify their initial thinking based off what they have heard from their peers. I also really want my students to be comfortable and have self confidence to realize their point of view is important. I want this to reinforce for them the idea that different perspectives brought to interpreting a problem often leads to more creative solutions.

For me I am excited to implement this unit, as I believe being a problem solver is a skill all students need now and in the future. As I re-read this post I haven’t really mentioned the use of technology, as for me it is just part of our class, it is a tool used by me for so many things, and it is a tool used by my students as a resource of information, games, and for sharing, to name a few. Technology is used effortlessly as part of our everyday class, which to me, is how it should be used.

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I’d Be Lost Without My Devices

Out of interest, this week I made the chart below which shows some ways I use my devices (iPad, MacBook & BenQ Interactive Screen) in my class. I know this isn’t it all, but as I was making this, I realize I do rely heavily on the use of a device and the internet, in my classroom.

Besides google docs & google drive which I use all the time, the Confer app and Hapara service are two items I couldn’t be without. Confer, because it is my form of record keeping. This link goes to a short Youtube video explaining how the note taking app works. Two highlights of this app for me, is the ability for me to make comments, then sort them by various categories and secondly it enables me to add photographs of my students work to support those particular comments. Hapara is also key to my management of digital work / information dissemination to my students. One feature I really like is it allows me to view the document my students are working on in real time, which enables me to record immediate feedback as I talk with my students. It is also a great way the students can collaborate together, for example on the same google doc or slide show.

‘Tech breaks’ caught my attention as I teach my students to work for 15-20 minutes maximum on their homework or study before they need a 5 min break so they can remain alert and productive. As part of this 5 minutes, I encourage them to schedule their ‘tech break’, so then while they are focusing on homework their mind hopefully isn’t wandering and their work is accomplished quicker. In an article by MIT about study habits, it states, “Turn off your phone while studying and on when you take a break.’ I couldn’t agree more. There is a time and place for everything.

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Me in the Future…

Will education as we know it change because of technology? What might my teaching look like for me as a teacher in 5 years time compared to how I teach now? Big questions to answer, and this week really gave me cause to pause and think, what is important to me as an educator to install in my students. I believe for me, my end goal is to provide skills and strategies for students in an engaging, meaningful way so they are enabled to continually learn and try new things throughout their lives. How I hope to achieve this, will probably alter often. If changing the physical classroom features to positively impact learning, then yes, I would love to teach in that new physical environment. If the latest theory in the best pedagogy at that time is different to my own, or a new way to incorporate technology into everyday teaching is going to advance the learning of my students, then again yes, I hope I may have that opportunity to try and implement these things in a meaningful way. If technology in education continues to develop the way it is currently, I am hoping that gamed based learning is a common feature in future classrooms. The high engagement factor, transdiscipline approach, possible real life scenarios, problem solving, motivation, customized learning… do I need to go on, that I believe may be provided through game based learning is something that I want to experience with my students, sooner rather than later. We already know how ‘addicted’ some students are to internet games, bringing that into the educational setting can only be a win, win situation in my eyes, if it meets the needs of that particular student, at that given time.

Not everything will be different. Some fundamental teaching principles will remain the same. That ‘teacher impact’ on students everyday life will remain as important as ever. One of my students said they didn’t think we would need schools in the future, but according to Hatties TED talk entitled, ‘Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful?’- I think my job may be safe!.

I think, Hattie summed it up perfectly when he highlighted the fact that it is the skills of a teacher that enables students to become life-long learners. 3 points were highlighted for me, which are fundamental to good teaching practice.
Know where your students are at
Identify their next step and what it looks like
Challenge them and through regular feedback enhance their growth and motivation to keep learning

I am excited to see what education in the future looks like, and how we as teachers are prepared for it, and how we as teachers prepare our students for it!

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Yes to Games & Play

Play is vital for normal cognitive, social and emotional development, as quoted in The Power of Play in Learning by Tina Barseghian. From when our children are young, all we as parents do is encourage our children, to be curious and to explore their environment and learn through play.

Yet somewhere along the way as our students move up through different education systems, play and in many ways, curiosity has been drummed out of them. I have been fortunate to work in schools across different continents and I realise that the mindset of students towards their learning differs depending on how their culture values education. As a result, the mindset of the students changes dramatically, from that of curiosity, wanting to explore and think for themselves, to one of, just spoon feed me, tell me what I have to do, and heaven forbid don’t make me think! Two sides to the learning spectrum, but they are definitely out there, and I have taught them both. Therefore as a teacher, however much I love the idea of having a game based classroom, I think my students would need a specific mindset for it to be successful and I would need a lot of time to learn and create one to make this a successful option. Before embarking on this, I would love an opportunity to actually see an educational game based classroom in practice.

A few years back I had looked at the flipped classroom and totally agree with the idea of school time spent talking and problem solving, however for me, I have a problem with the at home learning piece. I truly believe students work hard enough during the school day, they need to go home and give their brain a rest, therefore take their time to enjoy life, play, relax and interact with friends. Adding another ½ hour to an hour, or more of homework so they can learn a skill to be able to apply the next day at school wouldn’t work for my students. Saying that though, my students do have access to videos / songs etc that reinforce the concept we are learning, so it is a resource for them to go back to, but it is used during the school day, not out of it.

Therefore what can I do in my classroom? These readings just reinforced for me the need to continue to incorporate ‘play’ in the form of hands on games or digital ‘gamified’ skills. It can be as simple as using cards to make a game to recap place value – hands on, with high engagement. I used a couple of games from the NCTM Illuminations website with my class this week, where the students played in two teams to use decimals to reach a particular value. The engagement, competition, excitement, collaboration, reinforcement of a combination of math skills, was awesome. They all came in the next day asking to play again – now that is the type of learning I want to see continue in my classroom, and I do believe learning through play and games is one way to go and one that I can easily continue to implement.

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PBL & CBL Still Relevant Today.

Often when you hear ‘Past,’ in reference to education, it conjures up negative connotations, as in, it has been and gone and now there are new things to move onto to stay ‘current’. Yes, PBL or CBL have been around for years, however there are components of these two pedagogies that I feel are current today, and will be current also ‘tomorrow’, therefore should not to be thrown out with the bath water. The whole notion of students being at the core, constructing knowledge by exploring and answering an authentic question / challenge or problem, through the process of problem solving remains key. Initially that problem may have been personal, or within the school environment, but now because of technology, not only may the problem look different to include global problems, but also the members of the collaborative group to solve these may include people from around the world, versus initially it may have just included classmates. Also through the use of the internet, the ability to access knowledge from a variety of sources, is at the tip of anyone’s fingers . So I believe parts of the framework for both PBL or CBL remain relevant, but new dimensions can be added, as new technologies open up new opportunities.

I agreed with the article, Introduction to Project Based Learning (Buck Institute for Education), when it said students need explicit teaching of specific skills, and PBL or CBL provides the environment for the application of those specific skills. I believe part of those fundamental skills, irrelevant of the topic, include the ability of a student to ask questions, as part of becoming an active listener and team member. Hence, I found a couple of sites which give sentence starters students can use to guide their thinking through the problem solving process. They are, Bloom’s Taxonomy critical question stems and DOK questioning stems, both of which I will use to build up a bank of question guides with my students as we enter PBL.

As I was thinking of ways to scaffold standards based PBL or CBL for my students, I questioned my role, and how I would guide this learning. I found Tom Wujec, TED talk, Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast – highlighted for me the importance for students to use visual representation (ie. cards / sticky notes) when defining the components of problems and it also reiterated for me, the power of collaboration when solving one.

Ken Robinson’s TED talk, How to escape education’s death valley, made me think about ways in which to include diversity, ways to enhance curiosity and creativity in my students when planning for the implementation of PBL or CBL. All good things to consider during the planning stage.

So PBL & CBL may be classified ‘past’ but they still hold relevance today.

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“Resources’, is the key word that came to my mind this week as I was reading the various articles. These readings couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I have been looking for resources to support my current classroom practice to include project based learning into my blended learning environment. I continue to explore these resources to find those ‘aha’ ones!

Currently the on-line gamified resources the students can use are only A on the SAMR model. For example, below is a section of math options focusing on place value. If a student needs to build their skills in this area, they have a choice as to how to reinforce /learn it, e.g. paper, on-line, or hands on partner work.


When reading, Connecting Project-based and blended learning, it reinforced that my next step is to add the project-based learning piece to the above. This I think will take the technology usage to the next level on the SAMR model. The comments in this article regarding the Khan academy videos, made me stop and think. Yes, some are skill and drill, but as most of the students I engage with are LD learners, some students need that form of repetition and immediate feedback at an explicit teaching level before they can move on to the application of these skills in their learning. Gamified resources are awesome because they have that engaging factor, but I have been struggling to find interactive sites that take my students learning to a higher level of thinking and application to real life problems. Therefore if anyone has some great suggestions, please share!

My next decision to make is whether to use project-based learning prior to or after my students learning of the basic skills….

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Final Project Course 3 – Creating a Teaching Tool

To benefit my students, I decided to choose option 1, modifying/creating a presentation, for my end of unit assignment.  Using google slides I have developed a teaching resource, rather than a ‘presentation’, that will form the basis of a unit. This resource is going to be used one period, per cycle throughout the year to support my teaching. I chose to apply the ‘zen principles’ to each slide, bearing in mind however, that as it is a tool versus a presentation I had to consider a couple of main points.  Some of my audience have difficulty interpreting visuals, plus some need multimodal presentation; ie text as well as oral or visual, therefore to enable them to comprehend the message, I had to balance text and images to what I thought would meet their needs. Throughout unit 3, my big take away was to keep it simple, plus consistent, so with this in mind, I began to play!

I took part of an old ‘notebook’ resource, and using google slides, incorporated 4 different key ideas relating to ‘study skills’.  I did it this way for 2 main reasons.  Firstly – logistically, I had all my resources for teaching ‘study skills’, in one place.  Secondly, I could use any one slide at a time, depending on the lesson focus, as the slides can stand alone or can be used together throughout a lesson.  

Finding the exact photo to convey a specific meaning, that had copyright was harder than expected.  This resulted in me making some of my own images, by taking photos then labelling them in skitch.  It highlighted the fact for me that sometimes it is quicker to create, than spend a long time searching for the exact image you want.  I wanted each slide to portray the key focus, so I was often getting rid of text and changing images.  Also I found I changed the layout a couple of times.  I know from readings and peer suggestions that the image should take the whole slide where possible, and to use very few words.  In the beginning each slide had a title, so that there was the consistency, however, I questioned whether the headings were adding anything?  I played with it in a few different ways, then decided to take some of the headings out, and let the image hopefully speak for itself.  The slide was ‘clean’.  I went back on forth on this, so some slides do have some form of text.  The main reasons for this, as stated above, was to meet the needs of my audience. Some concepts, like the test taking section, only text would explain, so rather than having multiple ideas on one slide, each slide had one focus.

Below is my resource.  I have used various slides already as part of different lessons. I find my students are engaged and focused, plus for me as a teacher, I have my resources at my fingertips, which is great.


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An Alternative to Articles – Infographics

As I have been planning units for my various classes and grade levels, this third course has made me conscious about not only trying to use a variety of media to enhance the skill / concept being taught, but also about teaching them how to interpret the various forms of media. With my grade 8’s as part of their ‘Evidence Based Claims’ unit i decided to introduce infographics, so after interpreting articles for bias and evidence to support claims, I will turn my attention to them interpreting infographics and videos in much the same way. However, with the added ‘zoom in’ piece about how the producer has used images, size, layout etc to highlight his/her bias or point of view.

Below is one infographic I plan to use, which Melanie Pinola used in her article, Are Bananas Much Better Than Cookies? Foods That Keep You Full and Prevent an Energy Crash. Plus I will share other infographics like ‘Battle of the Brains, Teens vs Senior” as embedded in the article by Katharine Gammon and Brian Hurst,

bananas vs cookies

As a summary of what I expect students to include in their EBC, I made the below infographic they can refer to.

Plus I plan to share some infographics to model what students have produced, to demonstrate one way they could present their argument. I actually contacted Catlin Tucker through her blog, and she gave me permission to use her student’s work. At this point we aren’t there, but I do hope that someone chooses to go down this route, as for some of my students choosing a visual to express their ideas may be easier and more powerful than their written word.

My next step now is to look at how I can use motion graphics in my teaching …

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Storytelling – Interpreting and Creating.

Most of my students I would say are tech savvy and are familiar with all the remashes, remixes etc, however I do still wonder, how good they are at actually interpreting the visual media they are bombarded with everyday.  Plus, what is the transfer from what they see to what they actually produce.  The students I work with have the opportunity in their core classes to use storytelling, so for me, it is more a question about whether there is a way to incorporate storytelling into the nature of my class, or would it be better to focus in on the digital literacy skills they need to interpret media and how to apply this knowledge to create their core room projects. 

Therefore, with the above in mind, my idea is to incorporate digital storytelling into my current gr 8 unit, in two ways.  Presently they are reading articles, and forming a reaction to these based off the information and the perspective in which they were written.    So far, all the articles have been written and their reaction to them has been in a written format, ie. paragraph / blog post. Therefore, after watching Kristen’s Frawley’s presentation I plan to use the video highlighted, Real bugs to get my students to think about the layers used to get the message across, i.e. music, message and camera angles.  Then ask them to react to this digital advertisement in much the same way as they did with an article.  What impacted them?  Why? How?  Was there a bias? What was fact versus opinion?  Were these easy to distinguish between?  After a discussion and looking at other storytelling examples as models, I am going to get them to use storytelling as a way to express their opinion on a chosen topic.  I think this will enable me to see not only whether they are able to express their opinion supported with fact in a medium they view daily, but whether they are able to transfer the strategies identified in advertisements, to communicate their point of view in a powerful way that reaches the viewer’s emotions.  I am also wondering whether I will do the same by adding in a podcast and infographic.  The more students are exposed to a variety of digital media and how to interpret it, I believe the more tools we are giving them to communicate their voice through a variety of mediums.

On a totally different note, when reading the article, Pottermore, I was curious about whether my students preferred paper books to e-books, so I asked them, and what their reasons were for their choice. The one that resonates the most with me, was ‘feel like you are reading, as so much screen time, it is a change’.  This started me thinking about a whole new set of questions, like do we actually use too much technology at times?

Grade 8

Paper = 4 students

E-book = 2 students
  • it is easier to pick up book, don’t have to open an application
  • easier to concentrate, more natural
  • it is better for your eyes probably
  • it is easier because on an electronic book you need wifi, whereas paper book you can just pick it up
  • it is easier to follow through, and you can use your finger and point and follow through, whereas if you have an electronic book, it is on an angle and harder to follow through
  • you have to carry your laptop everywhere
  • hard to concentrate incase things flash, maybe get message from another app
Grade 7

Paper = 8 students

E-book = 4 students
  • physical feel
  • feel like you are reading, as so much screen time, it is a change
  • better as you get sore eyes from reading the screen
  • easier to get
  • instant
  • customizable, change font, color
  • red at night without a light
Grade 6

Paper = 8 students

E-book = 4 students

Two people stated they could read either, giving the below reasons for their choice

  • no reasons
  • both books, can read any of them, that is most important


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Presentation Can Only Get Better!

It is only very recently that I have started putting any of my work on google slides to present lessons to my students.  I generally use google docs, plus notebook for my smartboard. Therefore, the idea I am sharing today is a couple of slides I have transferred from my smartboard doc to a google slides, purely for this purpose.  Guy Kawasaki highlighted the importance of understanding the context of any presentation therefore, these slides were shared prior to my students taking their MAPS test, to highlight some strategic strategies to use when they didn’t know an answer versus picking a letter at random.

As the smartboard doc is able to screen each line at a time, it enabled me to show only the focus point at once, then we would discuss it and define examples together on the whiteboard. However…. even though I am using color and bolding, on transferring it to my google slides I will be changing it in two major ways.  Firstly, each point will be on a separate slide.  Each point will either be supported with an example or will only show a visual so students can see exactly what the strategy means, or they will be able to identify the suggestion for themselves versus being shown.  

Presentation Zen overview, highlighted a couple of key ideas I have taken away which I would like to apply to this presentation.  Firstly, the simplicity of it, so it is unforgettable and the students can identify the key idea.  Some may disagree, but when there becomes too much color, or too many images, my students become easily distracted by everything, and often miss what the main point is, so for me, simplicity is key.  Even though some articles suggested adding humor, or telling a story, some students get confused by all the ‘fluff’ that we teachers sometimes use.  Keep it simple is going to be my motto. The second big takeaway from this weeks readings was the point that the ‘slides don’t stand alone’.  Now prior to reading this, for me, I was thinking that the big idea must be on the slide, then extra information I add during the presentation are explanations / elaborations or examples.  Therefore for me, the slide could stand alone so long as the main point was conveyed.  So, I am sitting on the fence about this, however I will make a reference document to support the presentation that the students will have, highlighting all the information relating to each slide, including both the slide and orally added elaborations / explanations.

This new, and much needed ‘ renovated’ test-taking strategies presentation, along with other sections, will form part of my final project.  I am really looking forward to ‘playing’ and seeing how I can make this presentation effectively reach all of my students.

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