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.

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 makemathmoments.com

Thanks for being here with us!

Building Resilient & Determined Math Students

Are you frustrated with how easily some of your students just give up while doing a math problem? You know that if they just stick with it that they will learn but they just want to be hand-held through math class every day. In the book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the hidden power of character  Paul Tough argues that students succeed not because of intelligence but because of how much stick-to-it-ness, grit, and Determination they have.

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. – Albert Einstein.

Tough says that you can build perseverance in children by playing chess. From the book, “Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking,” Spiegel explained to me one morning when I visited her classroom. “Like how to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought processes.” Playing chess over and over builds up a chess player’s level of determination. They have to take risks and learn from those risks in order to succeed. If we want our math students to build up resilience and determination then we also have to push them take risks and learn from the outcome of those risks.

In math class we can build up resilience, grit and stick-to-it-ness if we put students in experiences where they have to persevere through a tough situation. But think of their whole math class experience up to this point. It’s likely that a student would  never have had the opportunity to try to solve a problem before we math teachers show them the examples and how to solve it the math teacher way. Our students need experience persevering through tough situations like the chess player.

Imagine the first time you play chess and your opponent takes your bishop early in the game. You might think the game is pretty much over. Why go on? Or think of the young basketball player who has the right footing for a layup. They definitely weren’t a pro at that the first few times. But over time in each situation players overcome that resistance and persevere. They learn to be successful.

But in math class we assume math students should be good problem solvers and have grit in our math classes immediately. We say “our students give up too quickly” but when did we ever give them time to build those perseverance skills up? When did we teach them how to persevere? We are the ones that have to give them experiences to build that skill up.

3 Tips to Prevent the “Give Up Moments” and Create resilient Problem Solvers

1. Routinely have students solve unfamiliar problems through a supportive productive struggle process.

Use the Hero’s Journey to structure your math class and create productive struggle moments daily for your students. As an example, if I didn’t push my students to solve these problems routinely on their own to start our lesson then they would not only miss gaining the experience to persevere 

but I the teacher would also miss gaining valuable information about what my students know or don’t know. Problem solving must be a regular part of learning not just a once a unit or end of unit thing.

2. Create an environment where risk taking is low stakes.

In order for students to take risks and learn how to persevere the stakes for failure have to be low. It has to be painless to make mistakes. How are we doing this in our math classes? One easy-to-implement technique to make risk-taking low stakes is to bring dry-erase boards into your classroom. The no-permanence of the boards makes risk taking easy and it’s one of my favourite things. Students can attempt strategies quickly and wipe away quickly if needed. You can read more about the research behind non-permanent surfaces from Peter Liljedahl.

3. Show students that you value perseverance:

Create an assessment routine that promotes growth instead grades. Students quickly learn what you value. If we’re saying to them daily that we value the process of their learning over the final answer then how to we prove it to them? Your actions speak loudly. Give your students room to show that they have persevered while solving problems. Learn how you can implement an assessment routine that promotes growth and resilience by watching Conall’s Assessment story:

Read more about promoting growth in your assessment here.

Disclaimer: This transformation won’t happen over night. You yourself have to be resilient and determined. It’s possible that you might not see that change even this semester. But by allowing students to productively struggle through problems, giving them a low stakes risk taking environment and proving to them you value persistence WILL build their resilience and determination in the long term. We also must have a stick-to-it-ness to build great thinkers!

Fuel Sense Making & Black Box Defrost

Sparking Curiosity:

I put this video on infinite loop while the students filed into the class. I let it play and said “here is your warm up today”

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I said nothing else. I was letting the curiosity build. After it looped and looped students started to work. Without saying a word about it students were trying to find how long it will take to defrost an item that weighed 3.5 pounds.

Igniting MY Moves:

Since I routinely let students struggle to solve problems instead of showing them immediately a “how to”, I have to be ready to give feedback on what they try on the fly. I want to help push them in not only a direction that solves the problem but prepares them to see solutions that are not their own and solutions that attempt to address our learning goal for that day. That takes careful planning which is not an easy thing. 
Plan with Precision so you can proceed with great flexibility” – Tom Schimmer.
When I first started teaching so much of my planning was solely focused on answering questions like, What topic? What examples?, and How long do I spend on it? Now my planning time is mostly spent trying to answer: How will the students solve this problem? How can I use what they will do to shape the lesson? What do their attempted solutions tell me about what they have learned so far? So my planning process has gone from examples like this where I was so concerned with WHAT….
to spending most of my time thinking about HOW. HOW will the students respond to the task? What does that look like? That takes a ton of anticipation. 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.
For the Defrost Black Box problem from above the learning goal I am hoping to pull out is “Relations can be represented in various ways” and “Problems can be solved in a variety of ways” I anticipated that some of my students would attempt to solve it with a unit rate.
Possibly some of my students may solve it with a table of values and linear relation.
Some may set up a proportion.

The book 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions has been an invaluable guide to help me re-design my planning time.

Fuel Sense Making

Since my goal is for students to see “Relations can be represented in various ways” and “Problems can be solved in a variety of ways”
I need to be ready to fuel their sense making by linking the different student strategies together.
Here are some of what the students tried.

I did not anticipate students using seconds.

I also did not anticipate students using additive thinking with the unit rate.

We learn so much from our students by allowing them to show their thinking. Imagine all the missed conversations with my students from 2005 – 2013. Imagine how many of my students felt like they were failures because their brains didn’t tell them to solve those problems the same way the I did. When in reality they had so many good insights that just needed to be tailored.
Selected students presented their strategies to the class. Now it was time to show how their strategies connect together.
We showed how the unit rates that many of them found and used showed up the table solution.
We moved from there to show how this would be represented on our number lines. 
Yes the planning that comes from Igniting My Moves and Fuel Sense Making takes time and it is not easy. But I can tell you that it is worth it.
On a side note: Help me settle a problem. A teacher said, “Students might find a real microwave more engaging than the fake one you have shown.”
Is version 2 of the Black Box Defrost more engaging or worth doing more because it is real? What are your thoughts?
Version 2: The More Real version

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Thanks for reading!

Slope & Clothesline

I’ve loved the idea of using a clothesline in math class. I first read about the strategy from Chris Shore and Andrew Stadel and have been looking for ways to work it into my classroom. Calculating the slope of a line from a graph was coming up in my grade ten 2P course and I thought a clothesline will be a great fit.

We had just finished Fawn’s lesson on steepness with staircases that I found linked from Mary Bourassa’s site. From that lesson my students understood the idea of calculating slope by finding the vertical change and dividing it by the horizontal change, but hadn’t done anything abstract on the coordinate grid.

I wanted my students to:

  • Practice calculating slope of a line using two points on a graph.
  • Practice calculating slope of a line given two points (no graph shown).
  • Compare steepness of lines to other lines using the slope.
  • Connect lines that go downward with negative slopes and lines that go upwards with positive slopes.

To start our lesson I asked students if they could calculate the slope of this line:

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we agreed No. We needed to some measurements! I asked what we could do….a student said “you could give us the grid” Bam! I threw it on there.

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Enough Now? Still no! We needed the x and y axes.

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As soon as I dropped the axes on…..I could see them all counting and calculating.

We went through calculating the slope of a line like this…

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and then finally finding the slope a line passing through…

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It was time to start comparing using a clothesline.

I was originally unsure of how to setup the clothesline for best results as I had never done one. I also wanted to create lines that would give us great results for seeing connections among slope, steepness, and sign value. I enlisted some help from Twitter and recieved some great suggestions


I hung two clotheslines across the room. I placed benchmarks of zero and one on the line. I held up the benchmark of -1 and asked students “where would I place this -1 on the line so it’s right?” They yelled out “more right, more left, LEFT!” until we agreed where it should be.
I had whipped up a set of graphs with lines for students to place on the top clothesline and a set of corresponding ordered pairs for students to place on the bottom clothesline.

Cards looked like:

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I scattered the cards across a table and asked students to choose any card, calculate the slope of the line and then place the card in the right spot on the clothesline.

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The majority of students calculated the slopes fine but were not confident with their answers…and therefore very hesitant on placing the cards on the clothesline. They wanted me to verify their answers before they placed them. They, however did very well determining where to place the cards.

After all cards were placed I noticed a few errors in placement and asked students to go back to the line and check to see if any seemed out of place. We had some great talks on why we knew some were wrong and I heard “All the negative slopes should be on this side” and “that one seems steeper than that one, so it should be here” Once we had placed all the cards we did a gallery walk. I wanted them to see how the steepness changed as we move from negative to positive.

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This animation shows the gradual change in slope the students would have seen.

We used the patterns to discuss what a line would look like if it had a slope of 0.

There were two lines with a slope of one….I picked them up and we could see talked about parallel lines.

Class finished with us doing two more problems of finding the slope of a line between two points.

I don’t think this lesson was perfect. Could you help me out and provide some suggestions/feedback for me?

Grab the cards:

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