exits stage left

wow

It’s the end of my nine years at my school in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. It’s also only a few months until I leave this city that I love so much to explore other continents.

When I arrived in Viet Nam the plan was to come for one month, ten years later the backpacking pause button is released with Central and South America on the horizon.

Last week was my final one at my school, it was emotional. On Thursday I said goodbye to the kids and on Friday my school and my colleagues. Even though I am incredibly excited about the adventures ahead I will miss this place and teaching Mathematics.

When I applied for a job at my school, I wanted the EAL (ESL) position and was employed as a teacher of Mathematics, Technology and Humanities instead. The Humanities class had all the EAL kids in it. Challenge accepted! I hadn’t taught much Mathematics prior to teaching in Ha Noi because everyone wanted technology teachers when I popped out of university. My degree was a double major in Mathematics and Technology in Education.  I didn’t love Mathematics, I was just good at it. I liked being good at it. I had some good teachers at school but they never inspired a love of the actual discipline and they liked me because I got the answers correct. Now I can look back and see that I was an accurate Mathematician, but I rarely knew the why and what for.  I was simply a computer. That’s how it was done.

At the end of my days at my school I love teaching Mathematics. I developed my craft at my school, where they were always ready to let me try new things.  This is important to model in front of kids too, not everything works and when it doesn’t you just look for better ways.

I suppose I should wrap up how gamefication and Casino night panned out, but I’ll keep it short. It was so cool. Everyone in the room was impressed – the kids with themselves and each other, the parents, the Maths department and people from across the school community. My friend’s son tried to pay for their taxi home with his fake Casino Buck$. Students were astonished by the intensity of the crowd.

Is Gambling a Social Evil? It was our unit question and it is legally defined as a Social Evil in Viet Nam. Kids felt that they won’t be taken for a ride by a Casino because they now know how the Mathematics works behind the scenes. At the end of a previous investigative task on a two dice game a student reflected “I am now a better poker player, when my family plays”. Perhaps this wasn’t my goal, to make better card players, but this kid understood the Mathematical risks she held in every hand she played and that is a success. This particular kid really struggled at the beginning and has left Grade 8 Mathematics truly fascinated and ready to learn more.

We have lots of goal setting, or should I say had, at my school. All very valid, but so many. My goal was simple, to always to make Mathematics an inviting place to be in a school day and for some the best part of the day. I tried many things over the years so I needed to learn some technology or find out about gamefication or collaborate with other subjects, but all the things I tried, they were just small parts for my main goal.

In my “About Me” tab I speak about the awful Ms. Dendle I had for PE in HK when I was a kid.  Boy oh boy could she make me feel like a  loser. I know some of my friends felt that way in Mathematics. I didn’t try for Ms. Dendle, I hid from her.  So, even though she was one of the worst teachers I have ever encountered as a student and a teacher I learnt from her, I learnt what not to do. I guess I should thank the mean-hearted lady or my kids should.

Will I return to teaching after my gap year? I can’t imagine a better job. When the kids work  through breaks because they are so interested and excited by what they are doing, it doesn’t get much better.  Am I too old to call a year off (if the money lasts) a gap year? Possibly, I am not a teenager, but sabbatical sounds far too serious for the fun ahead.

Will I still blog? I love blogging and the pause to reflect. Perhaps it won’t be so much about teaching. If you are one of the small reading circle, stay tuned for a travel and musings blog. If I stop to earn some bucks to cover food and shelter, it will probably be in a school, somewhere in South America.

Will I return to Ha Noi? I can’t imagine leaving it for good. It’s been my home for over a decade. I felt quite with it and worldy when I arrived as a 31 year old. Looking back, I didn’t know much, not really. I feel like I grew up here.

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Casino Night and Gamification

Spending about 30 hours marking assignments to learn not very much at all was a Spring break holiday activity that I did not enjoy. Working with the kids during classes meant there weren’t too many surprises for me in the reports.

Something wasn’t right and I tried to think how to make the marking process just as valuable for the kids without the bonus  hours and hours for me after the task is done. I like to return work quickly to students, so 30 hours (outside of teaching,planning and meetings × 100) makes that a terribly difficult goal, unless you do have holidays to complete it all. Before you begin to think, or maybe it’s too late, that I am a very slow marker, I have over 60 students, in Grade 8, and they produce large reports, not just problems that are right or wrong. No tick, cross, tick, tick, cross… My kids are mathematicians, exploring, investigating and applying.

Another issue is electronic marking. It takes longer than old fashioned paper copies. I’ve been thinking about that too, but that’s another blog post.

For the final task of the year, for Grade 8, the final large task, I had to do a rethink or seriously consider running away. It’s the Casino Task and if Casino Night doesn’t happen, lots of people are disappointed. It’s a big school event and kids ask about it when they commence Grade 8.

A lot of time goes into Casino Night. Kids design their games before they build them, using the MYP Design Cycle. The idea in my head was if I know the work so well before I sit down to assess it, then I should be able to assess as they progress. Another challenge is to assess students individually even though it’s a group task. Individual reports only do so much for this.

Instead of taking you through all the ups, downs and swirls of my thoughts I will take you to the solution. If you want to see how students chose their groups, you can check out this Google Doc*.

*NBF = new best friend

THE SOLUTION: GAMIFICATION and INTERVIEWS

DESIGN STAGE:

Students will work through levels earning badges (the images at the top of this post) as they proceed (gamification) with extra points available.

Each level has a minimum number of points required.

When students accumulate enough points, they can then, and only then, begin to create  their game.

When creation begins, they will have:

    • design of the equipment: the parts of the games (spinners, dice, lucky dip…), betting board, sign and rules
    • plan of who needs to do what in the groups with expected times
    • the Mathematics behind the probabilities and the house odds

It is expected that they work as a group ensuring that everyone is comfortable with the Mathematics.

CREATE STAGE:

While they are being busy like the elves in Santa’s workshop, I will call them over one by one to interview them about their game.

The Task Question: HOW CAN WE MAKE OUR CASINO GAME SUCCESSFUL?

Each student will describe their game and why they believe it will be successful on Casino Night. I will assess them there and then applying two MYP criteria: Knowledge and Understanding and Communication.  The Reflection  criterion must wait until after the big night.

    • The Mathematics behind the events of their game will need to be explained.
    • How they made their games attractive to customers to keep them at their table – Mathematics and Design.

Students, as always, have the assessment criteria at the beginning of the project.

I decided it would be easier to show you, so I took what I made as a Onenote Notebook for the kids and put it into wikispaces, so I could share it with other Mathematics and MYP teachers.

Here is the G08WikiSpaces

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Clint Hamada, @chamada, (our school tech faciliTATOR and all round great guy for bouncing ideas off) and EARCOS. I did not go to EARCOS, but Clint went and saw John Rinker‘s, @johnrinker, presentation on Gamification. Very timely!

Thanks to @zomoco for the ideas of internet memes for award badges – the kids LOVE them