A New School Year, New Ideas and a Promise

At our information night when parents get to put a face to a name of their children’s teachers many of the grade 8 parents were assembled, so I asked them to make me a promise. As Dan Meyer says we have one of the toughest sales jobs in the world. We sell mathematics. The negative responses to the word math/maths/mathematics is a daily grind. I told the parents that they add to the battle, and asked them to promise me to stop making it more difficult:

Can you help me with my maths homework?

Oh I hated maths.

I can’t do maths.

Ask your mother/father.

I pleaded with them to at least look interested, even excited when their child spoke about their mathematics or asked them questions. Their children could explain it and they would be able to follow and might learn too. We shall see…

When Sea Levels Attack!

When Sea Levels Attack! by David McCandless licensed under CC by A NC

Infographics is an area that tickles me and it’s how more and more people are deciding to share information. Data Visualisation, or Visualization depending on where you are from, is the other buzz phrase.

Part of the problem with how mathematics has been traditionally taught is that it has little reflection on what real mathematicians do. They certainly don’t grind out twenty problems, check them and call it a day. Skill building is important, but kids need to see why. The only application of mathematics that I ever saw in class, before university, was buying a car (as if that was going to happen when I was in school, two years younger than the legal age to drive). Now I love mathematics.

Distracted Driving by  Christensen & Hymas licensed under CC by NC

Distracted Driving by Christensen & Hymas licensed under CC by NC

When you come from that kind of mathematical education, it can be hard to change. I’ve been at this teaching game for a long time and I shudder at some of my early attempts, though they felt quite good at the time.

Back to infographics. My grade 8s, all three classes, are going to create an infographic about themselves. My colleague, from the Design Technology department, lent me a limited edition copy of Feltron’s 2010 Annual Report to show the kids a personal infographic. Very nice of him. Very trusting. I think we’ll borrow some gloves from the science department or the nurse before 80+ kids touch it.

The goals are simple:

Include data about themselves clearly and in an eye catching way. Eye catching as in wow that’s cool, not dear god what is that?

Show a range of number and operation skills. How do you show an operation or order of operations? That’s pretty open ended, isn’t it? How do you show different types of numbers? Think of percentages, fractions, negatives, scientific numbers.

This year got off to a crazily busy start, which doesn’t look like slowing in pace any time soon, so this blog post sat in draft for a week. When the kids saw all the infographics online and some in print to hold in their hands and discuss with other they were buzzed. Some students need to work on multiplying fractions and some other number skills so the 85 minute lessons will be broken up with targeted workshops instead of making all of them sit through it again. I created a Google survey to see where the needs are and will use http://thatquiz.org so kids can self assess when they feel they have mastered a problem.

We are also hoping to use www.mangahigh.com to help kids improve their mathematics. Lots and lots of ideas. Linear equations, the coordinate plane and statistics will hopefully use data collected in their science classes. MYP science has an entire criterion on these skills. Perhaps together in context, we can teach this a little better – context and reason. A new year, new ideas and a promise.

Here are some wonderful sites with infographics. Be careful they’re addictive:





Data Visualisation, zation for some




fter the earthquake and tsunami in Japan it was apparent that general knowledge about nuclear energy isn’t so general. Quite a number of people confessed to not understanding it. There is also the fear of the unknown expecting the worst and believing all that they hear.

At my school teachers in grade 8 decided to change the IDU planned and put one together on nuclear energy. Students would take on roles and enter into an open debate at the end of the day. The topic under discussion was to do with Vietnam’s plan to build a nuclear power plant. Should we go ahead.

Science, languages, humanities and mathematics teamed up.

Which country has the most power plants? Which countries use nuclear energy? Does your country?

In mathematics I asked them what they knew and what they wanted to know. Then we set about getting the data to help create a clearer picture. Before the day set aside for group work and then the forum my class had three lessons to discuss, research and throw together a data visualisation about nuclear energy or what happened in Japan.

Students looked at energy consumption and production. They have cited their sources and have produced some pretty good visualisations, especially considering the time.


This is the link to the IDU wiki, on wikispaces, where you can see how it was all put together. I can’t take credit for it as I was in India at a wedding. Upon returing to Hanoi I checked my emails, saw the plan and said my class would be up for joining in.

We spoke about data visualisation and I showed them some of my favourite sites and we set up a diigo group, where students could bookmark sites they found and used to help them with their research or visualisation ideas.  It was also their first time using Diigo or any type of social bookmarking.


They may not be without error, but they are close enough and are confronting. There are even a few standard Excel type charts with one incorrect format, but the idea was to let them choose how to best make an impact.  More time to teach and scaffold would have been great, but I wanted to work in conjuction with the IDU and it was current.  I am very pleased with the final products, as were the students.

At no point were they directed to any specific software. I just them go.

This wasn’t a stats unit, more a three day intermission into our usual course. If you do teach stats and don’t read The Guardian Data Blog, you’re making your life more difficult. Encourage your students to have a look too.

Too Much Too Much Too Much

What a month it has been, in every way. From a wedding in Goa (not mine), checking out endangered primates on a school field trip, building evictions (strange family owns apartment building) and a move to new house in an exhausting five day turn around, reports going out for the third time this year (5.5 weeks until the next batch – hmmm) to bundling up my students’ internal assessment projects for the IBO to moderate.  To say I was tired, it’s just not expressive enough. “Met qua” is how we say it in Viet Nam, and it feels right. You can hang on that qua to emphasise the level, but not as a crescendo, dampening the sound at the end. Me, “met quaaaaaaaaaaaa”. It’s like a verbal graph. Nice.

Naturally there were still classes going on so I also have a month of pretty interesting things to talk about. With so much to report this might get swirly or I might write a few posts and then link.  By the time you read this, the structure will be obvious.

Links it is…

Poetry week and the mathematics classroom.

Final (maybe) Pythagoras comments from and MYP angle.

Joining in with science, humanities, languages and more for an IDU on nuclear energy. My class joined in to create some data visualisations.