lim joe→∞

Teaching, Mathematics and Teaching Math.

International Comparisons of Maths Teachers

Posted by forumjoe on May 19, 2010

I’ve been doing lots of thinking about things like blogging.  I read a few other people’s teaching blogs, and it always seems that they have so much TIME.  Maybe it’s because I’m new to the profession, but I don’t see many Australian teachers blogging about their work to the same extent as British and US.  It got me wondering about the sorts of hours they put in to different roles.  US teachers talk about office hours where they are there for their students to come and ask questions, and this gets used a lot more than my similar time here.  I’d really like someone to describe a typical day of a US Teacher to me to make the survey more appropriate.

So, I’m going to pose a questionairre that I’d like responses to.  I’ve got three weeks Winter Break coming up, so I’ll be able to collate the results if I get enough information.  First I’d like feedback on my questions though.  Don’t answer these questions, just tell me if you think I’ll get valid data, or if I need to clarify things before I publish.  I’ll post a Google.Docs survey when I nail down the questions.

A Survey for Full-Time maths teachers around the world


Ages Taught*:

How many different class groups do you teach?

Per week, how many hours are you in class, teaching students?

Per week, how many hours are you at school for?

Per week, how many hours do you spend on Pastoral Care?

Per week, how many hours do you spend in staff meetings?

Using keywords, what else do you do in your school time not covered above?

Per week, how many hours do you spend at home marking or preparing?

Per week, how many hours do you spend reading/writing/contributing on the Internet with other teachers?

Any parts of your job that you feel important that aren’t covered above?

Any other comments?

*The Primary/Secondary schooling divide is different for countries, and “7th grade” means different things in different countries, so I’d rather get the range of ages taught as a more comparable metric.


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Steven Strogatz's Opinionator – NY Times

Posted by forumjoe on May 18, 2010

I’ve just spent an evening reading and re-reading Steven Strogatz series of Opinionator editorials in the new york times:

I’m absolutely amazed at Strogatz’s ability to explain complex mathematical topics in a way that is understandable by most adults.  The links he provides in his notes sections go to incredible websites that provide hours of enjoyable and informative perusing.  The sort that makes me feel happy about reading about Maths at 10pm at night.

I really wish I could find a way to make my kids read these articles and understand them, but I’ve realised that’s impossible.  By definition, if I show my students an article, they will think it’s boring maths and switch off straight away.  Maybe if I print them out and get the students to paste them to the back of the cereal packet?

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Matt and Trace's Wedding

Posted by forumjoe on March 28, 2010

Yesterday my wife and I had the privilege of attending a most beautiful wedding of our friends Matt and Trace’s wedding. It was a wonderful day, and this morning I woke up with sore cheeks, because I think I was smiling so much yesterday. Not “photo pose” smiling either. It was such a genuinely joyous event that I couldn’t stop smiling when I looked around and could see love everywhere.

I also had the honour of being the MC for the reception, and it was indeed a great honour. Determined to make it memorable, I decided to do the entire thing in verse. After several months of working on the speech very sporadically, I had a poem written that I was quite proud of, so I’m going to post it here. Some things came up during the night, so some of the verses had to be written rather rushed, but I think the whole thing came out well. Tell me what you think!  I don’t think I did as good a job as Ange and DSL did at my own wedding.  Nothing can top the safety speech.

For Matt and Trace

Welcome, everyone, to this day of fun
Set-up in this delightful marquee
Today it’s my pleasure, to make this party a treasure
for the afternoon I’ll be your EMCEE

My name is Joe, I’m a teacher you know,
Is this job the same? We’ll see.
So don’t muck about, or I’ll give you a clout
And I’ll make you sit here! In front of me!

I’m already aware of you three over there
I’ve got my eye on you,
And I’m going to track you four at the back
Don’t make me separate you from Stew!

But the reason we’re here is to drink lots of beer!
No I’m kidding, it’s for Trace and for Matt
To help them celebrate the fact that fate
has thrown them together, along with a cat.

The wedding today was a grand display
of the love that these two share.
we’re all lucky to be acquainted to the
bride and groom, what a beautiful pair.

But the business is done now it’s time for the fun
as we party on into the night
There’ll be dinner and speeches. Lyons might lose his breeches
and I’ll try to do this right.

Enjoy the Red and the White, and the beer is alright,
And now lets talk about loos,
Gents go round the side, ladies your toilet’s inside.
The bar is here, if your table needs more booze.

There’s no seating plan, so just sit where you can,
Just chillout and chat for now.
Help yourself to finger food, but please don’t be rude,
There will be plenty to go all the way round.

Matt and Trace will come by, just to say Hi,
And to have their photo taken with you.
So if you move about, you’re going to miss out.
And then you’ll be in the poo.

But first it’s time to toast to those we love the most
And we’ll all say “To Tracy and Matt”
Just say that last line And please keep in time
Together now… “TO TRACY AND MATT”

(socialising and photos)

If your ears are keen, then you will have seen
that I couldn’t resist the temptation
to MC in verse, it could have been worse
I could have used zero punctuation.

If you’re hard of hearing,, or been too busy beering,
You might not hear me through the fog
This poem will be available to see
Tomorrow I’ll post it on my blog.

Now we know they’ve got preferences for pop-culture references,
and rather than sprinkling them through
I’ve decided to cram as much as I can
Into the next verse or two.

Matt loves Master Chief, and Altair the thief,
And Governor Elaine Marley
The cake is a lie, but I’m still alive
“We’re off to Candy Mountain, Charlie”

“Can I has cheeseburger”? Oh Em Gee ZergRush!
Raw Took, More Work and Zugzug
Matt and trace came, through the fire and flames
But they should have been washed in a jug (in a jug)

Their tastes are contrary and even get literary,
Crivens, the coo beastie went moo!
The Golden Arrow’s a man who does all he can
while he thinks “What would Batman do?”

We all love Matt and Trace, while they love comics and space,
And Trace is a Joss Whedon junkie
And now I’ve run out, so to distract you I’ll shout
“Look behind you, a three headed monkey”

If you didn’t get, anything I just said,
You’re not alone, don’t let it hurt your pride
Lets hope the first speaker shows me how to be meeker
Welcome Don, the Father of the Bride!

(Don’s Speech)

That speech was great, it was well worth the wait
And dinner will be ready soon.
Let’s move right along, to the next speaking gong
This time it’s Matt, The Groom!

(Matt’s Speech)

Give it up for Matthew Smith, he will go down in myth
He’s made everyone here a fan.
One more speech before dinner, and it’ll sure be a winner
Please welcome Brett, the best man.

(Brett’s speech)

Congratulations Brett, were you starting to sweat?
Have that beer that you’ve surely deserved.
It’s dinner time now, there’ll be plenty of chow
One table at a time will be served.

You’ll just have to wait, before you grab your plate
Please don’t be impatient or rude.
To each table I’ll come, send you up one by one.
Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of food.


What a great spread, do you all feel well fed?
The chef certainly makes the grade.
Dessert will be a treat, but first someone more sweet.
Please welcome Jules, the Bridesmaid!

(Jules’ Speech)

Well done Jules, that speech rules.
You had the attention of everyone in the room
Dessert will be soon, but hold on to your spoons
Because first it’s Tony, father of Groom.

(Tony’s Speech)

Well done Tony!  He’s the one and only.
You spoke with passion and zeal.
Dessert’s in a mo, and the system will go
Just the same as it did for the meal.

One table at a time, in an orderly line
But first there’s a presentation to make
For we all need to see, Matt and Tracy
Cut the beautiful cake.

(Cake cutting, then dessert)

Before we end the day, there are a few more words to say
From Tracey’s brother, Sam
He gives me his word he’ll keep it above board,
So please welcome him to the stand.

(Sam’s impromtu but short speech)

It has been a grand day, and a fine display
That the ways of LOVE are many
My job is done, though the night is but young
Let’s make this party LEGEN…wait for it… DARY!

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Back at school – Day 0

Posted by forumjoe on February 3, 2010

So, over the holidays I did lots of things, but not much of them to do with teaching or planning. I’m now at my new school, and this is day 0. The last two days have been staff only days with lots of seminars and meetings and stuff, and this afternoon, finally, I get some time to myself in my office to organise my workflow and my classroom. I’ve spent some time setting up my work laptop to be just the way I want it (including getting all my contacts up to date from all sources). My organisation method is for another post, but right now I’m setting up my classroom to be how I want.

Finding some good maths posters for the classroom is difficult. There are a few old tattered ones in the maths office, but they’re fairly bland and boring for the kids. I ask you, all you teachers out there, what do you decorate the walls of your classroom with?

Tomorrow the kids come back. I’m having fun drawing a massive maze on one of the poster-walls, and sprinkling the important school notices (like uniform policy, fire drill procedures, etc) as walls of the maze. Should get the kids looking at them a bit more, and might provide a talking point.

Oh, and I got my timetable. I’m teaching grades 7-10 (11-16 year olds) with some classes of each. It’s going to be a crazy year, I’ll keep you posted on my sanity at regular intervals

I haven’t even had a chance to read teaching blogs yet. That’s my job for this upcoming weekend.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Professional Links

Posted by forumjoe on January 7, 2010

A quick post to let you know that I’ve edited my main pages to link to all the blogs and websites that I’m currently subscribed to.

Teach“, for example, now shows all the Maths teaching blogs that I read regularly. You might find some interesting things there that you weren’t aware of, so have a look.

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Start here…

Posted by forumjoe on January 7, 2010

For the record, so I can look back and see where I was at professionally it’s this:

After one year in the profession, I don’t think I’m a very good teacher. Sure, lots of my kids got good marks last year, and I think I developed a good professional relationship with my peers and my students and their parents. I think even one or two of my lessons might have been engaging and interesting for my students. The most important thing for me at the moment is that I don’t mind this, because I’m trying my hardest. Teaching is easy, GOOD teaching is hard, and I’m confident that I’m improving constantly. But I also feel I could be improving faster, for which I’m going to be doing a shitload more reflection this year. I’m going to make a prediction now that if I look back on this paragraph in a year, or five years, or 20 years, I’ll say to myself “Huh, I still feel just like that now”. I don’t think it’s a bad place to be though. If I ever get complacent about my teaching, I’m not doing it right.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Disconnected Metablogging

Posted by forumjoe on January 7, 2010

I’m not big on New Years resolutions. I usually make some superficial ones that I know I’m going to achieve easily. Things like “I won’t drink any alcohol for all of January” or “I’ll do more gardening this year than I did last year”. Those two seem to be the main recurring ones, actually.This year, I’m doing it differently, and I’ve decided I’m going to improve myself in every way I can. I’m not calling it a New Year’s resolution, because that implies I’ll stick with it for a while until I decide I don’t want to any more. And the simple rule that I’m living by is that when I’m sick of it, that’s when I’ve got to start doing it differently. This happened with my running, it’s amazing how easy it is to do exercise when you’re not running up and down the same road, with the same thoughts in your head. Taking an iPod and a dog and going on different routes makes life so much more interesting (especially if it involves trespassing)!

So how will my teaching change? Hopefully, a lot, and hopefully, this blog will be a catalyst.

I’m about to start my second year of teaching. I read a lot of teaching blogs (both Maths specific and others) and I find them all amazing. Eye-opening, uplifting, crazy, intelligent, irrelevent, irreverent are all words that describe posts I’ve read over the last year. But even the ones with “early-career teachers” are still from teachers that have been in the profession for four years. I’ve been in it for one, and that one was so hectic, so crazy busy, that I hit the ground with both feet running and didn’t get time to pause. I read so many great things, so many things I want to do, but can’t even imagine having the time to implement in my life. And everyone says this is normal for a beginning teacher!

My three biggest excuses for not posting more are:
1) Dial-Up internet – Yeah, I know, it’s 2010 and no one is on Dial-Up anymore, right? Wrong. Well, as good as anyway. I have to turn the modem on whenever I want to read something on the internet (the first hassle) and I pay per megabyte. Apalling, I know, but what’s more apalling is that I let this be an excuse. Unless I stimulate my mind by reading things, it doesn’t get thinking and it doesn’t get writing. I feel my life is so severely crippled by a lack of always-on internet, and it depresses me that I rely on it so much. And yet, I need to accept that this is who I am. My mind needs stimulation, and the way I’m accustomed to getting that information is through blogs, political essays, theorems and white-papers. Even if I got the information from *ahem* BOOKS, it doesn’t have the immediacy to prompt me to jump on the computer and write about what I read.

2) I don’t have the time – This is stupid, I should stop playing computer games and spend the time writing. It’s amazing what a good “To-do” list does for your motivation to get things done. I’m one of many people who spend too much time saying “I should do something about x” when I could just get up and do x. This is the one area I’m focussing my improvement on this year. I will not make up excuses for putting something off (which is why I’m posting this blog at 1:05 am when I should be asleep)

3) I don’t have anything to write about – I know lots of people who cite this as a reason for not having a blog, and just as many more who carry on blogging regardless. How can I make my posts interesting and useful? Well, I’ve realised the first isn’t important. I don’t care that no one reads my blog, because this is now my journal. My personal journal that lets me document my life as a teacher. As long as this is useful to me, that’s all that matters. Throughout my teacher education at CSU, I was told the importance of Reflective Practice. That is, that everything you do as part of being a teacher gets reflected on and (hopefully) improved. This might be done with scientific method, but it doesn’t have to be. After every lesson, ask yourself what worked, what didn’t work. If you’re trying something new, ask why? What do you hope to achieve? A simpler term for this practice is “Looking at yourself with a critical eye” and there are plenty of resources, research papers, textbooks and tales on how to do this right, but no one can do it for you.

Already I feel crippled by my lack of internet. I’m doing this post as a rant, and haven’t yet referenced anything or anyone else, and I hate it. I could mention the blogposts that Maz and Taiters discussed (which I followed and read) because it really is mental stimulation and reading that creates a desire to write. And I probably should. But on the other hand, that would require going into the loungeroom, turning the modem on, finding the pages, making sure I reference them right etc. And having unrestricted net access just causes more distractions.

So this is the blogging I’ll do in January. Disconnected. Writing posts without looking at the internet, then just uploading them when I next check my email. It will be a challenge, but hopefully it will be useful. Maybe the following morning I’ll post a followup, finding the links, paying my dues. Maybe I won’t. But I am determined to keep this up. Even though I’m on summer holidays at the moment, I’ve got a lot of things to do with my teaching. All centre around the words of “Get organised”. So now I’ve begun to get my blog reading and writing organised, (in the manner of getting motivated and recognising the excuses I make), next step is around managing resources. I’ve got a pile of paper-resources and a drive of electronic ones, and they need to be sorted in a way that they can all be found quickly and easily when I need them. I might do a bit of reading, then a bit of planning, then put it into practice, then discuss my results online (including
self-reflection), and seek feedback from others. That seems like a good pattern, lets see if it works.

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Lockhart's Lament

Posted by forumjoe on September 18, 2009

This is a paper my Head-of-Maths slipped into my pigeon hole the other day, with a sticky note saying “Read this. It should change everything (that you think about Maths).”

He wasn’t wrong. Written in 2002 by Paul Lockhart, this has become a bible of sorts to several maths teachers, and doing a google search reveals LOTS of people with opinions on it. Anyway, in my effort to spread the knowledge, it’s something every maths teacher (or aspiring maths teacher) should read. It looks daunting, but I suggest that even the casual reader should read the first page, and see if it interests you. If so, print it out, take it home for some casual bed-time reading.

I guess my question for you, dear reader, is what do we do about this? Lockhart suggests lots of problems inherent within the educational culture (and the larger societal culture as well) about the way Mathematics is perceived. He goes on to demonstrate how it should be viewed, but… how do we initiate such large scale change? What’s the first step on the path of revolution?

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Minority Report interface

Posted by forumjoe on August 29, 2009

I don’t often post random links that I find elsewhere, but this one really tickles my fancy.
One film that consistently resonates with me years after viewing is Minority Report, for two reasons. The story was kind of ho-hum, but every time I’m stuck in traffic, I think of the traffic system from the film.

You can’t help but realise the system is so much more efficient (resource-wise and time-wise) than our current system, but there’s no doubt it would require a lot of infrastructure change. The biggest problem with this transport method is that there’s no middle-path between the current cars-and-busses situation to this future situation. The infrastructure would need to be built from scratch, and the costs would just be too much. Maybe I should be a transport engineer.

But anyway, this rambling post is actually about the OTHER thing from Minority Report that I constantly think about. Whenever I have to deal with a windows button-on-toolbar interface (which is every day, really) I wonder if Tom Cruise was onto a good thing.

It looks cool, it looks slick, it looks EASY and he manages to bring up and compare a lot of information in a short period of time. In short, it’s impressive. Especially to someone who once dabbled in interface design. But really, is it better?
This question could best be asked as “Wouldn’t the character be better served by a keyboard and mouse interface?”. You can probably tell from the way I phrased that question that I think the interface is a bit silly. And yet, unlike the transport problem posed earlier, this one actually has an obvious path from current-tech to future-tech. Already, Apple and Mozilla (and probably countless others) are introducing the idea of “Gestures” to control Browsers and other applications. It’s not new technology, but it hasn’t really taken off for a myriad of reasons. But if the beginning steps aren’t taking off, what makes anyone think that the final destination (if the Minority Report can be considered the ‘final destination’ in the continual evolution of cutting edge Interface Design) will be more efficient (resource-wise and time-wise) than a modern WIMP GUI?

Don’t let that stop anyone from trying though. Some guy has taken the next step towards a true gesture-based interface using Flash and FLARToolkit. Looks impressive, sure. Looks innovative, yes. But do we really want the way we interact with computers to be this muscularly intensive in the future? Maybe I should be an interface engineer, I’d quite like that.

PS. Maybe I’ll just pose this question to my ICT Class and see what interface-prototypes they can come up with.

PPS. Yes, this long and rambling post is just a glorified way to post a cool link I found, which I try not to do.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

So if a blog isn't a good CMS, what is?

Posted by forumjoe on August 27, 2009

I created this blog originally to collect useful teaching resources and links in one spot and I feel like I’m not doing a very good job.   The original plan was that when I find a good link I write a post about it, and include it in the static pages.  But then if I need to continually update the static pages, they don’t end up being very static.  This creates problems.   If the static pages don’t serve their purpose, they should be removed.  Or maintained more regularly.  I guess I’ll plan at the moment to make a blogpost whenever I find something useful for future reference, and then need to dedicate time at the end of the month to filter those into a static page, gradually building up the resource collection.  We’ll see.

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