Shiny New Things

Should I use Google Classroom?

How will I start spiralling?

How will that affect my grading routines?

iPads in my math class? —  let’s do that!

How will you implement that instructional strategy for your PLC/ or AEAC group?


“It’s tempting to seek” all of those shiny activities, lesson plans, assessment changes, apps and devices, new routines, all at once. You won’t be able to do everything all of the time and especially right away. Plus, that’s not how your students’ put your time together in their memory.

Joey remembers tossing Paper balls while striving for the best rate.

Mandeep loved playing 20 questions on Friday’s.

Sally remembers that small class size on the last snow day and getting that extra help.

Kaleb remembers, the way you say “… and Bob’s your uncle!”

Those are the memories that get linked with new math learning. Those are the ways we show our humanity.

Go on and pick one thing from those new shiny things to focus on and make meaningful this semester, But ALWAYS choose to be human. Those are the interactions that will make the difference in learning for each kid.

Using the problem based lessons found here are a great way to show students you are human while working on some math.

Formative Assessment & 3 Act Math Tasks

This post references the 3-act math task structure. If this is unfamiliar to you read about it here from Dan Meyer, and here from me.

A common question I get about using 3-act math tasks from teachers is “How do you assess that?” And I’ve found it’s both hard and easy to answer this question mostly because for the last few years I’ve felt like I’m ALWAYS assessing! 

Let me explain.

“3-act tasks are formative assessment machines.” They’re naturally structured to give you the teacher rich information about your students understanding and knowledge.

From Wikipedia,

Formative assessment is, “a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”

Keys words: “during the learning” and “modify teaching

When I first started teaching I asked about the difference between formative and summative assessment. I was told to think of it like: formative assessments were quizzes and summative assessments were unit tests. Both of which were marks that got recorded in a markbook. It was like the going mantra was, “Why are we marking it if I’m not going to count it?”. I’ve grown to believe that formative assessment isn’t just a packet/booklet/worksheet/homework/quiz that we count or don’t count for marks…..Formative assessment should inform us.  It should give us information to use to help craft our next instruction.

3-Acts and Formative Assessment

A teacher while observing one of my lessons commented: “Wow! Your students were so engaged during that task with the movie.” Most teachers I see are seeing 3 act tasks as a way to engage our students. In my opinion thinking that the power of 3 act tasks starts and ends with student engagement greatly undervalues the task structure. As a teacher you can learn so much from what your students show you during those first two acts. You just have to listen.
Those acts are all about assessing where you students are and designing, on the fly, where to go next!! And I totally I agree, That is definitely hard! It’s hard to plan to be flexible.

“plan with precision so we can proceed with great flexibility.” – Tom Schimmer

Act 1 is about  Being curious, Wondering, Estimating, and being informal. Listen to their estimates. Insist on having students share their reasoning. Don’t let them off the hook when they say “I just guessed”. You gain valuable feedback on their ability to use our Mathematical Processes. Listening to their reasoning will give you insight into possible strategies they will use when solving the problem. It will help you prepare on the fly possible scaffolding questions to push your students thinking.
Act 2 is for watching what your students do. This is your chance to carefully craft a plan. What strategies did you see? What strategies need to be shared and discussed? What strategies didn’t see and need to be introduced and modelled? For me, gone are the days where I develop a “lesson plan script” that I follow for the first 25 minutes of class. I need to know where they are before proceeding.

Let’s consider the proportion problem Turbo Texting (See the whole lesson here). See the act 2 video below.

Have a look at the student work after showing act 2.

What do you see? What information does this tell you? What would you ask this student?
Does the student know why they divided? Do they know what the 0.1125 means? Can they interpret to see who is faster? How can you use this to help craft your instruction when you bring the class back together?

Then when you see this answer, it’s clear that they knew how to interpret their calculation, but also informs you that you’ll need make sure both of these solutions are shared to the class. A great class discussion can occur here on how each solution shows who is faster and why we would want to find each rate.
Without allowing your students try their own strategy here in Act 2 it is most likely that both of these calculations would never have popped out. It’s allowing your students to show what they know that allowed for this discussion to happen.
Or take this example from the popcorn pandemonium task (read here first). View Act 2 here:

and a student’s thinking,

and another,

If the learning goal is to “Connect various representations of a linear relation” then seeing this strategy from our students allows us to take what they know and connect it to something new! We should build on their understanding not dismiss or overrule it. This can be powerful in their learning process. But without seeing their thinking first you wouldn’t know exactly what to build onto. To help our students the most we should be continually assessing where they are and where they need to be then design our instruction to make that happen. 3 Act tasks are amazing structures to assist you in this journey, they’re not just videos to engage your students……they’re so much more than that. Go ahead…… plan with precision.

Further Reading.


MEL3E Day 20

Since it’s October I picked a candy theme estimate from Estimation180. We chatted for the first 5 minutes about our favourite Halloween candy.

After some Too high, too low, and best guesses we revealed the answer:

If you teach MEL3E you may know that regular attendance from some students is an issue. There always seems to be a few students you only see once or maybe twice a week. Years ago I used to give these kids hassle when they came to class. I would give them a lecture about attending regularly….and if you think of all the adult interactions that kid had that day most likely none of them were positive. And I contributed to that. Even though they made the decision to come to class that day. And you know what….most likely that kid wouldn’t be back for some time.

Now….with this group,  all interactions are positive. I want that student who comes only on Thursday to have at least one positive interaction with an adult that day. I want them walking out after the class thinking that my room is “good” place. I feel they will be more likely to come back to school even if it’s just for math class. If they are there some good will happen.

So, with different kids being absent on different days it becomes tough to get every kid the practice and learning they need. The mastery days and spiralling works well to address this. If a kid is away all week they won’t necessarily miss the whole banking unit. We’ll hit this again next cycle. Mastery days will allow kids to work on what they need.

Today wasn’t technically a mastery day, but the day was broken into a few tasks.

  1. Some students finished (or started) the transaction activity from yesterday.
  2. Some students practiced more with updating their account balances from transactions.
  3. Some students worked on past work (timezones, best deals, tax problems).

Tomorrow we’re on to credit cards.

MEL3E – Day 3

I was so pumped for today’s lesson other than the fact that it was 30+ degrees in my classroom. We all sweated together!

Again we started with a Would You Rather  problem…this time with earnings.

Most students started with the hourly rate and calculated correctly on their whiteboard the weekly wage. They needed a bit of help going from weekly to annually. A few students took the opposite route of dividing the $30000 up into weeks then hours!

I took up both solutions on the board as they would become useful for the next activity.

We had a brief talk on gross pay, net pay, deductions, and payment frequency. I handed out the first page of the Pay schedule matching activity.


Click the picture to download the Word file

Students were to sort the pay frequencies based on most pays a year to least and paste onto the tracking sheet.

We took this up together and then I created a hard copy of the frequencies on chart paper to post on the wall.

They distributed the job titles among the schedules in any way they liked. There was one job title left blank so they could create their own title. Once this was pasted on the master tracking sheet they had to distribute the hourly rates of pay and annual earning among the jobs….now each student had unique problems to work with. Their task was to fill in the remaining spaces–the gross pay per period and either the annual earning or hourly rate.

What I found was most students could find their hourly rate when given the annual earning as long as the job title listed the hours worked in a week. There was lots of struggling all around with finding the hourly rate any where else. I could see some confusion with calculating gross pay in almost all cases. As a group they did not complete all of this activity and we’ll pick it up again tomorrow.

If I had to run this again I think I’d modify the slips so that first there was all hourly rates and no annual earnings….which would keep the calculation moving forward in time. Then I would give a second activity on another day with only annual earnings and ask for gross pay.

My goal was to dive right in and work through confusion and struggles as they come up. I think we’re there….now to work with the confusion and struggles!!

As for tomorrow I’ll start with some problems involving calculating gross pay from annual earnings and then come back to this task.

Day to day