now I am Ajarn Melissa – Teacher Melissa in Thailand

It’s been busy. My school year started with twelve hour days and barely a real weekend. I am not here to grumble, no no. I’m in a pedagogical wonderland this year.  I work in an MYP school that walks the talk with growth mindset and SELM (social emotional learning and mindfulness). My busy days came from within and the chance to make something entirely new. A chance born from starting from scratch, a year away from the classroom (a little rusty) and being inspired by the How to Learn Math course with Jo Boaler. Project and inquiry based, messy, student directed lessons take a lot of planning and a lot of patience. You don’t simply crunch through the procedural mathematics of old school classes. It’s much more rewarding. I’ve neglected this blog, twitter and personal reflection and I’m hoping for some change. Reflection has happened but while I am doing other things with deadlines approaching almost daily. I want more time to read great blogs of mathematical teaching legends that inspire me. You see, the good stuff is out there.  All I did was search for @ddmeyer tweets and now I have so many exciting educators to follow and learn from. I have been maintaining a class blog for the kids and hopefully their parents too. Perhaps some of my colleagues read it from time to time. It’s a dream, it’s a goal. My teaching load is nice, my classes are small. I think I started with too many ideas for all of my classes – grades 7, 8, 9 and 10. Hopefully I will have a few posts about what’s been happening in my classes over the next month or so. For now I have many units and classes to plan. Excited to join in with Estimation 180 from next week, with all of my classes. Now I must figure out how to get zombies and exponentials into three lessons. I’m thinking red pens, dots for zombies in graphic novel/comic like sequences. Then I will get the kids to count the zombie dots and graph them. Kids come up with the parameters before their deadly pens get dotting.

How many zombies can one zombie infect?

they move quite slowly and look kind of easy to avoid to me, if the numbers are small. Perhaps running in zig zags would be a working avoidance plan, like the advice for not getting chomped by a saltwater crocodile.

How many zombies do we start with?

How many people are nearby? Is this a school problem or Phuket or Thailand or…

Kids can come up with the questions, I’m just trying to get ready.


New Job – New Country – New Ideas

This is a very brief post because my to-do list before work starts tomorrow is breathing down my neck.  I now live in Phuket, Thailand and it feels like living in a holiday. A suitable transition from a year off methinks.

After an amazing year away from the ‘real world’ exploring the other worlds I will be returning to the classroom in one week. It’s exciting and daunting, as it should be. When I started looking at possible jobs back in March in Salta Argentina Thailand wasn’t in the list of countries to consider because we thought visas for both of us would be difficult. Not the case and I am so happy that my school contacted me about an interview. Their philosophy, along with being an IB school, is one of Mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). They take the whole child approach in what looks to be a powerful way.

My classes are small, the people I’ve met so far are impressive, the campus is beautiful, students will have laptops, I have my first ever Smart Board (but can’t get at my Onenote files – thanks Microsoft).

As well as reading about Mindfulness and SEL during my break I enrolled in the fantastic How To Learn Math course through the free Stanford MOOC run by Jo Boaler. Its focus is about putting the “colour” back into the Mathematics classroom and growth mindset. That these two areas have massive crossovers is a lucky coincidence for me as I start my new job. My good friend and colleague of my previous school Rob DeAbreu pointed me towards it.

exits stage left


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.