Archive for October, 2009

Dear Readers:

In the post “Bringing Reluctant Math Teachers on Board” under the third paragraph there is a box that is supposed to launch a link to a mind map in It’s quite cool because you can actually move the map around in the blog and view all its parts.

Here’s the problem:

  • when I compose the blog and add the embed code in Firefox, the link works — if I view the blog in Firefox.
  • when I compose the blog and add the embed code in Internet Explorer, the link works — if I view the blog in Internet Explorer.
  • however if I compose and add the embedd code using Firefox as my browser, the link won’t launch when I switch to Internet Explorer, and
  •  if I compose and add the embedd code using Internet Explorer as my browser, the link won’t launch when I swtich to Firefox.

I’m using the same embed code and inserting it in the same place — but I can’t seem to solve this problem. I guess this is my final object lesson in flexibility reminding me to consider how it feels when a student following practices established in one math teacher’s class is told by a new and different math teacher the next year that these processes aren’t acceptible in the new class.

When do expectations that we initally put in place to be helpful and guide students become what can feel to the student as inflexible obstacles to doing good work? This certainly reinforces for me the need to keep challenging myself to see ALL interactions, expectations, comments, classroom experiences, and learning activities through the eyes of my students and takes me back to my original post for this course: Christine’s Legacy. It also is making me be darned sure if I’m going to be sticky instead of flexible about an expectation that my reasons will hold up in the long term and must be worth the frustration some students will feel when they don’t understand why a process that ‘works in Firefox’ doesn’t also ‘work in Internet Explorer’ (and vice versa).

For now all I can say is if you can’t see the Bubbl.Us mind map in your browser, please switch to Internet Explorer. And if you can tell me how to fix this, please leave a comment.

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[Image source: Journal 74 – The Novice Birder (2-07-2005 in Nanaimo, BC at]

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and the first weekend of the Diwali festival of lights. A colder wind is blowing, and the local farmer’s markets are packing it in for the season, but the air has been brilliantly clear and the ‘bird tree’ outside my north window has been full of cedar waxwings. This ‘diner’ of a tree — an English Hawthorne — has become a regular stop on the flypast of birds migrating south. After about a week of them gorging on the berries in the warmth of the afternoon sun the tree will be completely stripped. The cedar waxwings and all the other little birds that summer here will be gone, and the crows who’ve been kept out of the neighbourhood since spring will gleefully return for the winter.

I’m sitting at my computer watching the late afternoon light fade and beginning this weekend’s homework. I’ve been doing homework since I started school at six, which makes for a total of over 50 years! Wondering how much time that worked out to, and using a conservative estimate of an average of 4 hours a day x 200 school days a year x 50 years, I worked it out to be at least 40,000 hours. Dividing that by the number of hours in a year,showed me that I’ve invested at least 4.6 years of my life in doing homework. I don’t have children of my own and it seems that doing schoolwork after hours has become the habit of a life time.

I can probably add to that at least another 6 months spent convincing ,my students that doing their homework is a good and necessary thing, but recently I’ve started to ask myself if I shouldn’t have taught them instead how to use their out of school time to get fit and be healthier, to volunteer their help others, to enjoy nature, or to learn something new about the world and figure out a creative way to share that with the class the next day. Instead I suspect, they may have learned from me how to procrastinate, avoid, and feel guilty.

Oh, the power of unintended outcomes … may I even have contributed unknowingly to their living shorter lives by contributing to the notion that living in a perpetual state of cortisol-inducing stress is normal?

“Written into our bodies is a lifetime of conditions … that can determine who will be sicker and who will die sooner.” (Unnatural Causes, PBS, rebroadcast 10- 2009) In Episode One (previewed below) there is a connection made between stress >> cortisol levels >> and disease and early death. Short bursts of this chemical in response to life-threatening events can help keep us safe. Presumably, it enables the body to direct all its resources to surviving. However, living our lives in a constant state of high stress is accompanied by a perpetually elevated cortisol level which apparently wears our bodies out earlier by constantly suppressing the immune system. Presumably (again) constant stress is neither natural nor healthy. The body never feels safe.

There is a movement to question assumptions about homework — its value in engendering a positive work ethic, its place in the real world, its impact on family dynamics, its contribution to learning,and its effect on young people. What follows is an interesting San Fransisco Chronicle podcast that looks at the question of whether assigning more homework is the ‘good thing’ so many teachers assume it to be.

Do you have any thoughts on whether homework is good for children? Is it necessary for learning? Does it develop a love of learning in students? Is it contributing to a healthy way of living?

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Why are secondary math teachers so reluctant to try Web 2.0 tools?  First I think this results from the perception that Math is qualitatively different from other subjects. In some ways learning math has more in common with the skills development aspects of PE or some of the practical arts and trades-based classes than with other content area courses. Web 2.0 tools which enhance learning through creative self-expression, presenting to a real audience, or sharing ideas may seem to have no place in math class. To the skeptical teacher these can seem like add-ons that take valuable time away from instruction and guided practice rather than having the power to enhance math learning in a completely new way.

Also, good website can be hard to find (to paraphrase an old song). Online games that reinforce skills or websites that provide instruction often don’t match the content a teacher wants students to practise or the steps by which a skill has been taught in class. The questions may not be sufficiently varied or at the right level. Finally, because math teachers have not traditionally made a lot of use of computers with students in their classrooms, they may have limited access which is not particularly conducive to trying new initiatives.

Finding a starting Web 2.0 tool for secondary math teachers involves leading them to a comfortable starting point.

(To scroll down again, click anywhere on the right.)

Start too far along the continuum of tool or use or comfort level, and math teachers (or beginners from other departments) feel overwhelmed. It all seems just a little too wild and woolly.” It’s important to remember that no tool feels intuitive or user-friendly to the person who feels out of his/her depth. The potential for increasing student achievement or engaging in interesting professional growth must far exceed the barriers. There can seem to be just too many alligators lurking beneath the surface of the swamp to justify jumping in.

[Image adapted from: I.H.S. Consulting Group @]

I’m beginning a new collaboration with a young woman tackling the new Math 8 curriculum here in BC. She is conscientiously trying to incorporate new constructivist approaches as directed by the district helping teacher, to meet her school’s goal of increasing literacy, and to collaborate with her department by organising in school-wide math events. We had talked about the new program and some possible starting points, but when I appeared at her door and starting throwing ideas around, I could see her wilt under the weight of what seemed yet another add-on that was going to compound her needs rather than help her meet the ones she already had.

We started looking at what she felt to be a set of unique problems associated with math teaching, but it turned out that she didn’t need better ‘math tools’ as such. After about an hour of chatting back and forth we settled on three that are by now pretty familiar to people in this course: PowerPoint, ToonDoo, and Voicethread. She’ll be able to use them to deliver instruction as well as give them to students to use. These tools will also help her address the problem-solving and literacy building initiatives by involving students in using words to processes, giving each other feedback about solutions, incorporating some creative reinforcement of learning, and publishing their work for others to see. Students who learn these in math will also be able to use them in other courses and may for once be able to say that they learned something in math that helped them in their real lives.



Blog of Charischak, G. Found at He writes from experience of the lack of initiatives that reluctant math teachers can buy into.

Blog of Anderson, Maria. Found at AND She provides insight into math teachers’ being among the most reluctant to try using tech tools and resources AND lists tech skills students will need in the post secondary and work world.

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[Image Source: popeye the sailorman cartoon @]

Mp3 Free

Popeye was “strong to the finich” because he ate his spinach. Math is kind of like the spinach of school subjects — most students do it because it’s good for them, not because it’s inherently enjoyable or meaningful. Out of school long enough to understand the challenges that lie ahead, parents know how many doors close when students are not successful in academic math classes. They want their kids to tough it out. However, teens are often more familiar with — the frustration that results from poor understanding, disconnection from the content, and lack of skills mastery. Many just want to get out’.

Given many students’ difficulty learning math and its importance in securing their futures, math class should be a natural place for trying new strategies, tools, and ideas to enhance learning. But math teachers are often the last in schools to try 21st century tools and strategies. Although math should be about problem-solving and communication, it can devolve into repetition and memorization of skills or solving of story problems that seem to students to have little to do with the real world. For them, what’s learned in math class, stays in math class.

Math teachers all agree that more we get students doing math, the more math they’ll learn. However, what secondary math teachers often don’t realize is that many of these new technologies will give them ways to actually accomplish that — by getting students talking about and doing more math. The value of Web 2.0 tools lies in their ability to help math teachers:

• ensure old skills gaps are filled and new skills are well understood and well learned,
• build math reading comprehension skills so that students are not baffled by the way language is used in math questions,
• engage students in communication and collaborative problem-solving so they have to ‘speak’ math,
• encourage higher order thinking skills by making intriguing connections between math and the world outside the math classroom,
• provide students practice using tools they will need for study and work after high school, and
• connect with other math teachers who are also trying these new approaches.

If we secondary math teachers can turn the part of the day students spend in our classes into a part of the day students look forward to, the time, effort, and deep thought that will be required of us to find, learn, and create compelling uses of Web 2.0 tools and resources will reward us with gold.

Math Candy: I thought this was very cool!

Why do math teachers prefer to ‘paint by the numbers’? Any thoughts?

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