Monday, 3 February 2014

Moving Forward through Collaboration

At a recent gathering of techie-minded math and science teachers I had the opportunity to work with Jill Gough (@jgough) which really helped push my thinking about PLNs forward.  Jill is very knowledgeable - part of what she does day-to-day involves teaching her entire school community about being part of a PLC.  She exemplifies what it means to share positive experiences and how to develop a great social presence in your school.

This working weekend also reminded me how much we can learn from each other. How you can take an activity that you have done *forever* and think about it in a whole new way.  Todd Morstein did just that and so I must remember to look at activities and lessons from multiple angles and see what I have not yet seen in them.

So my learning continues.  Today was the first day of 2nd semester. Today was the first day of me spiraling through the curriculum with my grade 10 applied class. I have taught this course many times and have been working more activities into it each time, but I knew that I could still do better for these kids.  Not to generalize, but many grade 10 applied students don't love math or school, for that matter.  There is a higher percentage of kids with IEPs in applied classes and there tend to be more behaviour issues.  These are great kids though, so when I saw what Alex Overwijk (@AlexOverwijk) and Bruce McLauren (@BDMcLaurin) have been doing over the past few years, I wanted to try it out too.  They spiral through the curriculum - there are no units, instead there are activities that each hit some of the 9 overall curriculum expectations for the course. The result is that students see something from each of the expectations within the first 6 weeks of the course and then see them again in more depth as they move through the course.  To me this is the perfect course for this approach.  A lot of group work.  A lot of talking. A lot of "doing" math.  Not a lot of sit down and take notes.

I am very fortunate to be working with Alex on this project.  We have met for a day to work through the first 4 weeks or so, and will continue to collaborate throughout the semester.  It is a little scary to not really know what I'm doing day-to-day, but I feel very positive about the experience and I am going to try to blog about it in a consistent way.

We are starting with 26 squares, which Alex blogged about here. Today, after dealing with paperwork and kids who hadn't returned books at the end of first semester, students started cutting out their squares. The instructions were to cut out each of the squares (1x1 to 26x26), write the side length, perimeter and area on each, then place them into the envelope provided.  We had a little chat about how to find perimeter: 
S: "Add up the four sides."
me: "Great! Is there another way?"
S: "Since all sides are the same length we can multiply the side length by 4."
They were quick to get the area for our example. 

They set to work cutting away and did a good job of their task.  Some did not finish so we will start there tomorrow.  Others got it all done and chose a folder and wrote their name on it and on the composition book (graphed) that I bought them.  I also had them cut out the printed 9 overall curriculum expectations and glue them to the second page of the comp book.  I am mindful that I will have to have extension activities for those who work faster.

Tomorrow they will fill in tables relating side length and perimeter and side length and area and look for patterns (1st differences) and patterns within patterns (2nd differences).  They will graph these relations and start working with graphing calculators (I spent a chunk of my day today updating the OS on my TI-Nspires and changing batteries).  And I will post more about that once I am on the other side of it!


  1. Mary - this sounds like you are off to a great start, and it's wonderful that you have a collaborator. We had our staff development day (term starts tomorrow), and it was kind of the antithesis of this. Our principal is an uninspiring man who has the lowest expectations of our struggling students (which he hides behind platitudes such as "Why are we torturing them? They will never need Geometry.") Our department is split between complying with his wishes and calling him on it, but our assistant principal has only had her job for a year and a half, and while she will stand up for her department, she is still 'in training'. Sorry to dump on your blog - I look forward to reading your posts about this. I am curious, though - why won't you know what you are doing from day-to-day? - Wendy

    1. Wendy -
      I have a good idea of what I'm doing but it's different from what I have done before so I am not sure how things will go. I am also trying to follow Alex's order of activities some of which I have not used before so I don't really know how long they will take or where they will take us as a class. Anyway, jumping right in!

  2. I always enjoy reading your blog, Mary. Thank you for being honest about the risks that you are taking for and with your students. Your post also connected me to Alex's blog, which I had not seen before … an extra plus! - Jennifer