lim joe→∞

Teaching, Mathematics and Teaching Math.

Archive for June, 2010

Do things to post about

Posted by forumjoe on June 24, 2010

I promised myself that during Term 2 (which I’ve just started) I’d post one thing a week on my blog about my teaching. If I wasn’t doing at least one thing a week that was interesting, exciting and different then I’m doing something wrong. Right?

Enough excuses about teaching a curriculum I haven’t taught before, or being only new to the profession. If I’m not innovating then I’m doing something wrong. Right?

*sigh* If only. Last week I posted about my survey, and hopefully I’ll get some more responses there. That will sit and gather data for a while. This week? Reports.


How do you find reports? I’m new to this game, I’m not good at writing them. Combine that with being a bit of a perfectionist who agonises over the right choice of words at the best of times, and this week I’m feeling like a zombie. Every spare minute I get, write a report. 8 hours at school a day, and then four hours at night writing reports.

I’ve just finished my 50th one (out of 95 I’ve got to write). Word tells me that I’ve written 4,682 words so far. That’s 93 words per report. 93 words to sum up each precious cherub I teach, what they do right, what they do wrong and what they can improve, plus a few little motivational ones in there too. I know it’s an important part of the job, and parents value this information like diamonds. But by crikey, I’m tired.

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Finding Motivation – The Mathematics RPG

Posted by forumjoe on June 14, 2010

{I’m getting a few visitors from Riley Lark’s Virtual Conference on Soft Skills which is great to see. Hi, everyone.
If you’re a teacher and you’ve got a few spare minutes, I’d really appreciate it if you could fill out a survey for me. I’m gathering data about teachers around the world, and I really need more responses from everywhere. There’s only a few questions about how many hours you work, so if you want to help out go to this post of my blog. Cheers!}

Five students, Huh?

I have one Year 8 class that is specifically modified to give attention to those students who need it most.  Five students in the class, with modified content that is supposed to be “within their grasp”.  These are students with identified difficulties in learning mathematics for various reasons.

Although there’s only five students in this class, there’s still a larger range of learning styles, abilities and personalities in this class than in a normal-sized class of 24.  I have to diversify teaching methods and content just as much, if not more, compared to my other classes.  But the biggest problem of all is motivation.


Yeah, motivation.  It’s hard to describe how these students look at the mathematical world, although I’m sure anyone who’s taught a similar class will understand. There’s nothing you can possibly do to make it interesting (not even the WCYDWT suggestions I’ve tried) because a probable response will be a shrugging of the shoulders and a “who cares?”. They’re all awesome kids, and I love them all, but I know I’m not reaching them. Just going through the motions and teaching them what I can. Anything they do pick up is a bonus. It’s a sad state of affairs.

A lack of motivation leads to other problems.  Organisation was an issue, with many students not even bringing anything to class most days.  Absenteeism was high from this class at the beginning of the year.  General refusal to attempt anything asked of them

But over the last four weeks, I have at least got them to look forward to coming to Maths class, which is something that 4 months ago I would have thought impossible.

The Mathematics RPG – Making the entire course into a game

I started awarding XP to students for things that would benefit their learning (re: Behaviour I wanted to see).  These range from “Turning up to class on time” to “submitting homework” and losing points for things that interrupt the flow of conversation.    I started out by giving each student a list of these instructions, with a list of things they can earn and lose points for. Get the sheet here: 8 Modified Maths – The RPG (if you want an editable doc, just ask).

As additional motivation (since points just aren’t enough) I needed a levelling mechanic and a way to specialise their character.  I designed these fairly simplisticly initially, as I just needed something simple I could run with.

The Effect

I had no idea if this was going to work, but anything was worth a try.  Here’s what happened.

The kids didn’t care.  It just seemed like a boring idea, and they thought they’d have to add up their own points or do some maths or something, and it looked too much like Maths.   But I had an excel spreadsheet ready to go to keep track of their score, and had it on the screen during the first lesson I implemented.  Kids started earning some points anyway (just by paying attention) but no one seemed to care.   At the beginning of the next lesson, everyone who was there on time automatically got 10 points, and something surprising happened.  The two who showed up late were UPSET that they didn’t get the points.  Thought they were disadvantaged by not being early, so they worked harder during the lesson to catch up! I’ve never seen these two kids contribute so much in class all year, but all of a sudden they cared about the game.

And from there it’s built and built and built.  Kids have suggested things that should be worth points (and even some things you should lose points for).  If I really want to get attention I can say that participating in this discussion will earn you 20 XP.  They are really excited at the idea of getting to level to choose a specialisation (none of them have it it yet).  They are eager to come to maths to earn more points to get ahead, or to catch up, it’s really exciting to see.  As a side note, they’re getting better results too, but that’s academic.  They’re enjoying coming to class, that’s the important thing.

What would I do differently?

Nothing really.  Starting simple and building on it makes it easy to get to grips with early.  I plan on adding extra mechanics as we go along, when the novelty wears off (it shows no signs of that yet) The only downside is that it’s manageable precisely because there are five students in the class.  I track scores for everyone, I put the leaderboard up on the screen I can see easily who’s got all their gear, etc.  In a class of 24, this could get pretty damn tricky.  I haven’t decided if I’ll attempt to bring a stripped down version to my larger classes or not, but for the moment it’s working.

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Teaching Around the World survey, now released

Posted by forumjoe on June 10, 2010

I’ve finally finished planning my survey, so it’s time to release it on the world.

If you’re a fulltime teacher, it would be great if you could fill out my survey here:

It should only take 5-10 minutes of your time.

It would be even better if you could tell other teachers you know to fill it in too.  If they’re from another country, awesome, but even if they aren’t then hopefully it will help the word to spread.  My goal is to get at least one response from each continent.

I should point out that this research isn’t for any greater purpose.  I will not be writing a paper on it, or using the results for my own nefarious needs.  This is something I’m interested in after discussing the issue with a few international teachers over the last few months.  I do promise to make all the results public, and to discuss any observations on the results.


Remember, pass the link on to as many colleagues as possible!

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