lim joe→∞

Teaching, Mathematics and Teaching Math.

Posts Tagged ‘Reflective’


Posted by forumjoe on January 10, 2011

To go along with the class discussion on why we study maths, the first lesson needs to discuss expectations. I believe this will help clarify in the students’ minds what they can expect from the course, what they can expect from their teacher, and what the teacher expects from them. If we make this explicit at the beginning of the course, I hope to reduce student misunderstandings about what is required of them.

Here’s the list I’m working on, but I’m sure it’ll grow over the next month.


What can you expect from this course?

  • This course will hopefully teach you what you need to know to pass the course, to survive subsequent years of mathematical study.
  • Does not teach you how to be a good mathematician!

What can you expect from your teacher?

  • I will always attempt to be prompt and reliable.
  • I will always be available to help; before school, after school, at lunch and recess.
  • I will always do my best to help you learn the content and to get the best results you can.

What do I expect from you?

  • I expect you to be polite.  You should show respect to your fellow students and your teacher.
  • I expect you to not waste my time. This sounds selfish, but if you waste my school time, you’re not taking it from me, you’re taking it from other students who need it.
  • I expect you to not disrupt the learning of others.  Everyone has the right to a hassle-free environment.
  • I expect you to use the feedback on tests and homeworks effectively.  This is what I do it for.
  • I expect you to take advantage of my availability.
  • I expect you to do work at home above and beyond what is called for by the homework*.

Homework is a bit of a separate issue, and I’ll be making my expectations of homework submission clear at another time.


Does this sound fair to the students?  Would you have liked it if a teacher made this clear when you were at school?  Should there be more expectations in any category?


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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.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

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.

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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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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.

Posted in General | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

What sort of gamer are you? (Research Paper)

Posted by forumjoe on August 13, 2009

From a Slashdot article I found a research paper that I find interesting enough to be my first Gaming post on this blog. (I’m more interested in gaming research that mainstream gaming news, so must of the stuff I post here will be research related)

Player Modeling using Self-Organization in Tomb Raider: Underworld (Anders Drachen, Alessandro Canossa and Georgios N. Yannakakis, 2009)

Using statistics about player deaths, game completion time, and the number of times (and places) a player asked for help, the researchers were able to categorise players into four different categories:

  • Veterans
  • Solvers
  • Pacifists
  • Runners

Obviously these four categories are specifically related to Tomb Raider: Underworld, and aren’t necessarily directly transferrable to different types of games.  But if you consider TR:U to be the tool for gathering statistics, rather than the entire focus of the study, you can still get a lot out of it.  There are plenty of other online quizzes and stuff (usually related to MMOs) that determine the sort of gamer that you are, but this paper is the first I’ve read that uses solid data analysis to create the categories, rather than just asking questions about what the player enjoys and aims for.

Myself?  It’s been a long time since I played a Tomb Raider game (though I have been intending to check out one of the newer ones recently).  I generally didn’t like the combat (though was still able to do it) because I came from a FPS background.  If I want combat, I’ll play quake, I played Tomb-Raider for the adventure and the puzzles.  It appealed to my Prince of Persia mindset.  I guess that puts me in the Solver category, but really I could be a veteran or a pacifist too.  Who knows?

It’s an interesting paper.  Check it out.

Addendum: I’ve been shown which talks about similar stuff, only was written 15 years ago and uses MUDs as its statistical tool.  Quite Interesting. (Richard Bartle, 1995)

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Football Scoreboard in Scratch

Posted by forumjoe on July 10, 2009

Thinking more about simple exercises for students to ‘think outside the box’ with Scratch, I came up with the idea of making a simple application that keeps track of scores in a footy game (AFL footy, but could be easily adapted to any other sport).   They needed to script actions for different buttons, such that when the home team scored a goal, their “goals” tally had +1, and their “total” tally had +6.   This really got the girls thinking about controlling variables with scripts, triggered from buttons.  Obviously something like this isn’t what Scratch is designed for, and VB or Java would be able to do it much better, but it worked in the end, in an environment that they were familiar with.

I intend to document this properly sometime, write out a complete lesson plan that can be sharable.  Must get into the habit of writing lesson plans BEFORE I teach them. 😉

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Scratch (programming language), call for activities

Posted by forumjoe on July 8, 2009

Not a review, I’ll do that after I’ve finished teaching the unit.


Scratch is great for a lot of reasons, it really lets kids get some of the concepts of loops, variables and general programming techniques, without needing to get caught up in syntax and compilation errors.

Today I created an exercise that used Scratch to do some basic Logo stuff. It worked really well. The class essentially created a script that involved a loop that took one variable (n) and drew an n sided shape. With a little bit of prompting and assistance, most students were able to use variables effectively. End goal is a script that looks like:

Pen Down
Repeat n times
Take 20 steps
Rotate (360/n)
End loop.

Extension activity: use a second variable to define the size of the shape

Second extension: What happens if you change any of the variables INSIDE the loop?  Can you create anything cool with it?

When posed as a problem that the needed to solve, it got most of them interested. What are some other similar ‘tasks’?

There are lots of teaching resources about Scratch around, and I found a really good study which referred to how good Scratch can be in a university environment (can’t find link atm, will update when I do). But that only referred to the specific exercises they tried, and didn’t include said exercises.

Most of the Scratch support materials seemed based around the “Just play around and see what you can do” theory, which is fine for some people, but my students just seem to get bored, and don’t like to play around with new things they don’t understand; well and truly like to stay within their comfort zone. What I find works best is to give them a challenge, and let them work out how to do it with the tools available. It’s a fairly well explored teaching theory, but yet there aren’t very many challenges out there for Scratch. I’d really like to get the exercises the guys in the article used (will have to email them) but there’s not much else out there, so this is a call for help. From either a programming background or a Flash/Animation background, what are some challenges I can get the students to solve that involve really basic control-loops and variables?

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