My #1 Go-To Tool In Math Class

Let’s start with this one question:

For me, I use a set of 4 criteria to evaluate all resources, tools, and lesson ideas. It helps me quickly narrow down whether a tool will help me achieve the desired results I look for in my classroom.

Here are the four criteria.

  1. I want ALL my students to show me their thinking and understanding in interesting ways. I want them to show me what they think first instead of just telling them what to think! I want to open up the questioning that goes on in my room. So I look and create lessons that allow for this.
  2. I want my students to discuss, collaborate, argue, defend, and justify with each other. I believe this helps clarify their learning and understanding so I must make sure that discussion and collaboration happen in my best lessons.
  3. I am always assessing! I’m constantly looking to see who gets what we are doing and who needs help. I need to be able to assess quickly the abilities in my room so I can use that on the fly to decide where to go next. Assessing easily must be apart of my lessons.
  4. Every lesson or activity must have a ratio between the cost of set up and the payoff where the payoff heavily out weighs the set up. Nothing is worse than spending a huge chunk of time, making, cutting, designing and then when you run it the learning outcome wasn’t worth it. The payoff must out weigh the set up.

My #1 Go-To tool/technique is WHITEBOARDS!! Having my students work in random pairs daily at vertical whiteboards is the tool that easily allows my students to get to work faster and hit all four of my criteria.

How do whiteboards stack up against my criteria?


On a whiteboard students can easily show off their learning. They are quicker to get to writing on a whiteboard than on paper. Especially when the boards on the wall. Students get to defend, argue, justify their thinking with each other. I can easily see if students are understanding and the set up ratio is a no brainer. Here’s a whiteboard, marker….Go!

I’ve had students use small personal whiteboards at their desks before, but I couldn’t believe the change in active engagement and cooperation once they were standing. The discussions they were having about the math was much more insightful and meaningful.

Our whiteboard work usually starts as soon as the bell rings. In random pairs students would put up a few homework questions from the previous day. I could see students looking around verifying their work with their peers. They were self assessing.

We continue to make use of the boards while we work through our new challenges. Students have no problem leaving their space to go and talk to another group to gain some insight on new strategies….This is how we create great classroom culture. I can easily circulate the room to engage students in conversations and challenge their reasoning.



Recently, Kyle Pearce and I took Wipebook Chart Packs on the road with us to some conferences and district presentations for our Making Math Moments That Matter workshop series and they worked great! In a breakout session we held at The OAME Leadership Conference in 2017, we had a room of over 100 teachers, consultants, and coaches up at the walls doing a math problem with us. It was fantastic!

We had so many participants asking for more details on how to get their own Wipebook Chart Packs that they are now offering an exclusive Educator Starter Pack you can only get through us!!!



The education starter pack includes:

  • A Wipebook Flipchart (pack of 10);
  • A Wipebook Notebook Plain;
  • A Wipebook Workbook Graph;
  • A single correctable marker; and
  • A single tri-plus marker.
Your exclusive Making Math Moments That Matter offer is 25% off the list price value!!! 

Full disclosure: Kyle and I love this product so much that we became affiliates for Wipebook. Which means if you purchase through our link here YOU get a discount and WE get a small percentage with no extra cost to you! Win/Win! 

***Any other country use the USA button above. 

Are you using whiteboards in your classroom? 

What is your #1 Go-To Tool?? 

Hurry Up/Kill Time Math Classes – How Desmos Can Help

Seth Godin brought up an interesting idea: If you think about it, everyone at the airport is in one of two modes. In a hurry, or killing time. You can imagine it right now! That impatient person in the TSA line just waiting to speed walk to the gate, or the group of people jockeying for position to board the plane first. On the other hand the only other people are just waiting around to speed up!

This is also happening in math classrooms. Both teachers and students.
Students want to hurray through lessons, get the homework done, move onto the next thing. Or they are just killing time. Teachers are hurrying up to start lessons, give examples, get the ideas out, give the homework. Some teachers are just waiting around until the day ends.

But this is not all students. Some are focused on learning to learn. And this is not all teachers. Many like you and me are actively making moments that matter in our students lives. Let’s help others slow down the “Hurry up to wait” classrooms.

One way I do this is to create and share those moments that matter through enhancing classroom discussions through a tech tool that creates discussions, not limits them like so many others do.



Let’s Slow down the hurryers and energize the waiters. Let’s enhance our classrooms together. Check out a list of over 25 of my custom Desmos activities plus check out the hundreds of activities on  like the Pentomino Puzzles activity.

Here is a transcript of the audio in the video:

Hey, I’m Jon Orr, a math teacher from Chatham Ontario, Canada.

I’ve been on a mission lately to make moments in my math class memorable. Like you remember specific moments in your life because they were meaningful. Something that sticks with you. When I think back to my experiences as a math student I remember grade 4. I thought I was a master multiplier. My teacher even gave me stickers for doing extra work….and these stickers weren’t just normal stickers they were the ones that stand off the page like puffy stickers. You know, the ones that make the book not close all the way.

That sticks with me because of the feelings that go with the moments. I want to create those for my students; not with stickers, but memorable math moments. Like moments that students will remember years later. Like I have students years after my course still remember the toy car lesson we did or the pentomino puzzle solving lesson! I want this for every student in my class.

One tool that I think does this amazingly well is Desmos. And I’m not talking about just the online calculator. I’m talking about the earth shattering online activities that they create for us to teach with for free!

What I love is that each activity they build helps me make those moments. And they do that by allowing my students to show their thinking in interesting ways, they allow me quickly assess on the fly the abilities in my room…and they allow my students to have discussions! The tech creates discussions!

Here is one task that is great. Pentomino puzzles.

The activity is super easy to get into, just move this tile around until you cover a sum of 65. You can see students can easily share their thinking and strategies. I have kids use 1 device for 2 people so they can talk about their strategies. It keeps that collaboration I’m looking for. But then each new task builds towards solving the problems using an algebraic approach! I get kids to learn how to solve equations through this puzzling type of game!

As a teacher I get to see what student is on what screen, allowing me to help kids that need help and allow kids to move forward that are ready for it.

I can pause the screen on everyone’s devices so we can discuss strategies. The software is built to enhance classroom culture and discussions, not limit them like other tech does.

So one recommendation for you to try to make math moments matter for all your students is to explore the activities on


Find out more on desmos over on my website where I share all my custom made desmos activities and many other resources and ideas for your math classroom.

Take care.



Making Math Moments That Matter – Live

What makes students remember the math they are learning? Is it because you’re using a real world problem that they can relate to? Is it because maybe you used a 3-Act task? Is it because they practiced the content over and over? Is it because you used spaced practice versus massed practice? My good friend Kyle Pearce and I believe it is much more than that.

While at Oame 2018 Kyle and I took a chance and hit record on Facebook Live during our 75 minute workshop title Going Deeper with Math Moments That Matter. If you missed it or want to learn more you can watch the whole thing right here!

Session Description:

What makes a memorable math moment? Is it a real world task? Is it relevant to your students? Is it media-rich or delivered in 3 acts? While many professional development sessions focus on a specific component of an effective math lesson, Jon Orr and Kyle Pearce will model what they believe to be the three key components of an effective mathematics lesson: sparking student curiosity, fuelling their sense making and igniting your next steps. Join them as they lead a task to break each component down and then build it all back up to create a memorable math moment.

[UPDATE] – Facebook has removed our video — maybe we were too awesome?? So I’ve included three short snippets from other live workshops here:

and another,

and another,

What were your moments that you remember from math class?

What do you want your students to remember 5 years from now? Leave comments below. Or jump over to my Facebook Group and you can comment there.

Grab the Making Math Moments Matter Curious Task Template and our file with support resources over at

Thanks for being here with us!

How Can We Anticipate to Fuel Sense Making? Stretching Trees

Are you looking to avoid “Lesson Flops” and bring on a “Lesson Successes?” I sure do. That’s why I plan with anticipation of student thinking in mind.

I want to share a lesson I co-created with Brian McBain and teachers at Wallaceburg Secondary School and how anticipating student thinking helped avoid those flops!

Let’s run through the lesson first, then I’ll give you a window into how we planned it.

In random groupings students went to their wall space and were presented this first task.

I have to admit when we planned it we anticipated everyone to draw Christmas trees but after showing the image they all drew a variation of the one above.

Drawing the trees was no biggie since our new amazing whiteboards from ( has grids on them. Students counted up 20 units and drew their very best tree! Onto the next part of the lesson.

Draw another tree that has a height that is less than 50% of the first tree’s height.

Here is a typical drawing from my students.

In small groupings and also as a whole class I asked and discussed “How do you know the height is less than 50% of the original tree?”

And then we moved onto this…

Draw a tree with a height that is more than 50% of the original tree’s height.

With this prompt we wanted to dive into the answers a bit more. “How do you know it’s more than 50%?” “How can we verify that 16 units high is more than 50%?” Also with this we had students drawing trees higher than 100%. We paused the class and verified and shared out the different tree heights around the room.

I prompted them to draw a tree that was exactly 30% of the original tree’s height.

This is where I was super interested to see how they would solve this. Their solutions were going to fuel the discussion going forward (Check below to see how we anticipated what they would do).

Most groups of students used the grid and found a unit rate. Can figure out this strategy?

This group knew that 10 units would be 50% so they took the 50% and divided it up into 10 units giving 5% per unit. Then they counted up by 5s until they reached 30% and got 6 units high. Other groups took the whole 100% and divided it by 20 to get 5%/unit. As a class we gathered around these solutions and explained the strategy. Any group that was stuck went back to their boards to use this newly presented strategy and the other groups pushed forward with this new prompt.

Groups progressed through this prompt at different times, but when they were ready I gave them this one: “Draw a tree with a height that is exactly 62% of the original tree.”

This is where the struggles happened. Again we were interested in HOW students solved this problem. Most new that 60 was going to be 12 units high….and then just estimated from there how high the tree would be. Some did guess and check to narrow down how high exactly 62% was. This was exactly what we had planned. We had wanted and led the students here to create this struggle so that we could step in and teach them a strategy!!

We used a double number line: One side showing percent from 0 to 100 and the other side showing the heights of the tree. But instead of a horizontal number line we tipped it up and made it vertical!

We had a discussion on proportions: “Is this a proportional relationship?” “How do we know?” Yes….so we can apply a proportional strategy to solve this. After that the students had a new and improved strategy to try the next few prompts:

Draw a new tree that has a height that is 17% of the original tree’s height.

and then,

And then we switched to a new “starting” tree.

And kids drew this.

After I felt that groups were comfortable, their next task was given out (which stretched into day 2). We changed the scenario from trees to colouring.

Want to get the PDF with all the image prompts and handouts? Click Here.

When reflecting back this lesson was not one of the “flops” it was a “success” and most of the credit has to go to planning with anticipation in mind.

Anticipating to Fuel Sense Making

When Brian, the team, and I set out to design this lesson we were looking for a way for students to feel like they weren’t learning something new. That they could take the idea of percent and just use it like they have already solved proportion problems. We also wanted students to follow the Hero’s Journey and feel that there was a definite need to use a proportion strategy.

Here is what the early stages of the planning process looked like. Yep, scribbles in a journal. We spent a lot time thinking about the right progression of prompts so that we could maximize student work and use their strategies to push learning forward.

We also spent a great deal of time planning out the different strategies we thought students would use to solve the original prompt “Draw a tree that is 30% of the original tree’s height”

We outlined the strategy of finding the unit rate of 5% per unit, we thought many students would already know the “rule”: Turn the % to a decimal and multiply (But no one did do that in my class). We thought it was possible for them to create a proportion. We thought some groups would try a guess and check strategy. Like: “I think the height is 7. Let’s see if 7 out of 20 is 30%.” Only a few groups did this.  We ranked each strategy in order of most likely to least likely.

Anticipating their solutions and strategies puts me in a better position to understand their thinking and help shape that thinking. For each possible attempt I need to be ready to provide feedback to help them achieve our goals.

We take for granted how much time is needed to prepare and anticipate adequately. It takes time to make this happen, but that time is worth every minute. Especially if it puts me in a better place to understand what my students are thinking.

This has been my assessment goal: Understand their thinking in order to push them further. That’s it! That’s the main idea.

Anticipating their thinking will always put me in a better position to fuel their sense making.

Read More: Fuel Sense Making & Black Box Defrost