lim joe→∞

Teaching, Mathematics and Teaching Math.

Posts Tagged ‘Resources’

The “unfailable” test

Posted by forumjoe on August 22, 2012

Disclaimer: Some kids still failed!*

Background: My Year 8 Modified Maths class is a class of 11 kids who really struggle in mainstream maths classes.  Numeracy issues, learning issues, concentration issues and motivational issues abound in these kids and god I love ’em.  They’re the best benchmark for whether activities are engaging or because they’ll definitely tell you what they think, and they’ve got very high standards for quality.

They don’t want to sit reassessments, they do bare minimum homework and class work so many reassessment opportunities are not taken advantage of.  The assessment for each unit has to be comprehensive and self-managable. I’m sick of being helpful and avuncular with these kids! I’m trying to get them away from asking “how do I do it” for every single question on the test.

The Test:

So here’s a test I created.  Within the assessment itself, it steps the students through the methods and techniques.  This is AFTER we’ve been studying this stuff for a couple of weeks, so they really just need a reminder.  Most of them really enjoyed the test and said it was “easy” (even though they found the unit “hard”).

It could be argued that this process takes too much independent thought away from the students.  Is it really an assessment if it tells them how to do it in the previous sentence?   We’re not assessing if they can remember how to do it, we’re really assessing how well they can follow instructions.

It could also be argued that the instructions are too complex and can not be followed by students with literacy issues. This is true, and I’m not really sure how to fix this. I want to make the instructions Hemingway-esque, but I also want to make sure they’re explicit. I think I failed at this, because I still got kids asking questions. So in short, I like the method of instructions on tests, but I dislike the implementation in this case.

My rationale for giving such detailed instructions is that they’re still demonstrating understanding, and that’s the important thing.  I still had students struggle to understand how to do the process, and I think that the marks they received are an accurate reflection of their understanding (which is the whole point).  None took me up on a further reassessment opportunity. 😦

So here’s the document.  I’d love to read your feedback in the comments. At the risk of being vainglorious, I will state that my disclaimer was just to reduce my boast. I really did have no kids fail this test!
Please note: The pagination stuffed up a bit in the import to scribd, so ignore it if the paging is weird.


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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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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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Bill The Lizard

Posted by forumjoe on August 27, 2009

My favourite new blog was shown to me by Jonathan a few weeks ago, and it’s the sort of thing I’m looking for. Bill the Lizard is a blog about “programming, math, computer security, learning, science, and technology.” But what interests me the most are the math problems he poses. Many interesting mathematical problems that can be solved by good old-fashioned logical thinking. Often the mathematical solutions require simple mathematics to solve, but can be programmed to analyse the problem further and deeper (The Broken Stick problem is a great example of this.) It’s the sort of thing I’m looking for, but despite the fact that the maths is simple, it’s still a bit beyond some of my grade 7s. What I really want is a website of maths problems like this, but which can be solved using some simpler maths. I like the “Find the fake coin” problem, but you can only go so far with things like that. The key to get kids interested in Mathematics is to make them realise how fun it is, and how beautiful it is, not how useful it is to solve problems. Kids don’t care about problems, they have enough problems in their lives without getting more in the Maths classroom. They need fun, how can we deliver that?

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Scratch resources in English

Posted by forumjoe on July 23, 2009

Annoyed at the lack of usable scratch resources I could find, I’ve made my own.  I’m uploading them here in the hope they’ll be useful to someone else.  You should be able to print these out and use in any classroom with scratch, I’ve tried to make them very non specific.

First is general worksheet that uses Pen commands to draw pictures.  This is very similar to LOGO style programming, but more versatile.  It also introduces variables, and draws some pictures that the kids quite get into.

Drawing Shapes with Scratch.pdf

Second is the challenge I referred to in the past about the Football scoreboard.  I’ve turned it into a worksheet challenge that the kids quite enjoyed.
Creating a Footy Scoreboard in scratch.pdf

Finally, the english translation of the best of the three Spanish pages previously uploaded.  This page is really for advanced students interested in “real” programming with scratch, and really gets them thinking computationally.  It’s pretty tricky, but if you explain it right, the kids really enjoy it.

Challenges involving variables.pdf

If you read this and want any of these documents in a different format, I’ll be happy to oblige.

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Awesome Scratch resources (But they're in spanish)

Posted by forumjoe on July 17, 2009

So I emailed Inés Friss de Kereki, author of the paper I talked about previously, and I asked for a copy of his resources. He was very obliging, and from what I can work out these are great resources. The problem is, they’re in spanish.

I’ll put these up here, because they’re hopefully useful to someone in this format.  I’m hoping to get them translated soon.




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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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ICT Teaching Blog

Posted by forumjoe on July 9, 2009

Found an ICT Teaching blog right here on WordPress, which has lots of useful links and discussion. As I read back through the posts, I find lots of links that sound interesting. Must read when things settle down at work. Maybe I don’t need a blog anymore, I’ll just read that one. 😉

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CS Unplugged

Posted by forumjoe on July 8, 2009

So I was sort of planning my first post to be a big collection of all the online resources I’ve gathered so far, but it was daunting and would take me forever to compile. I’d never get around to it, and the whole blog thing wouldn’t actually be used as such. So I created the Teaching page to act as a compilation of resources, and I’ll blog about them as I want/need/discover.

First one I’ll discuss is

CS Unplugged

thanks Jonno for the ref.

This website contains a collection of pre-made resources that you can walk into a classroom and teach, and doesn’t require computers. I used the first few of these the other day (specifically, teaching Binary and also the Image Compression one) and found the resources pretty good.

Good Bits

  • Well documented lesson plans, tells the teacher just what they need.
  • Enough freedom to expand on the lesson plans on topics as required.
  • Gets the students away from a computer, which is surprisingly refreshing in a computing class

Bad Bits

  • Aimed at younger students than I teach. 😦
  • Links to real-world situations are tentative.  For example, the image compression activity only really describes 2-bit BMP files.  Expanding the ‘theory’ out from 2-bit to 24-bit (which the girls already understand) is pretty much impossible.
  • It’s probably just my classes of 14-15 year-olds, but they found the activities to be kinda boring.  Then again, they find everything boring. 😦

Nevertheless, I intend to use these resources a lot in future.  I’ll tell you how the activities go with my Year 5s, they might get into it better.

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