Back to Melbourne

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in my teacher’s blog. I was keeping a student blog with cool mathematics and some useful resources too, which is where my blogging energies went when I was living and working in Phuket, Thailand.

In 2016 am moving back to Melbourne to live, after many many years away. I was hoping to do a Masters of Numeracy in Education, but it doesn’t look like the course is running anymore. I have a job in a great school and I’m looking forward to the new adventure.

Hopefully I can find the time to reflect on teaching and learning as I go. There are so many amazing resources I’ve found in the two years I haven’t been writing here. I guess my three of my favourites during that time would be Diagnostic Questions by the incredible Mr. Barton and the Desmos Teacher resources. Ooh, also for wonderful graphs.

So perhaps I am just talking to myself here but even if no-one else reads this I want to reflect on what goes well and also not so well, valuing the mistakes as part of becoming a better teacher for our learners.

It Wasn’t on Purpose, but I like it…

This post relates to the previous one on the Casino Task and Gamefication.

Levels Posters - collecting badge(r)s

When students believe that everyone in their group is ready to show they have completed a level, I interview them to check.

I choose who will speak, so all of the group members must be ready. They can send me away, if they realise some more work needs to be done.

The part that I did not deliberately plan for, but it should have been an obvious side benefit of the levels and gamification, is that students are practising for the assessment interview with little question and answer sessions as they work towards designing a successful casino game.

I comment on their notation, their mathematical language, clarity of communication, interesting ideas and more.
Students make a note of the feedback so that they can use it for the final interview.

Supersonic Badge(r)

Extra Supersonic Badge(r)s are handed out when students impress me with the following:

    • eloquent mathematics
    • great team work and support of each other
    • thinking outside the box

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



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.


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.


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

Algebra on Demand is HERE – The Khan Academy

Many moons ago myself and Clint Hamada, @chamada, discussed how we could better prepare our middle school students for high school mathematics and other lucky disciplines that use it.  The Algebra unit was finished and we were moving on, as you do, to the next unit. However, you know deep inside as you move on that some had not mastered the skills or the understanding, that more time would have really helped. Pacing and the differentiation of mixed ability classrooms has many challenges. We wanted to reach all the kids and ensure that they felt they had the mathematical muscles for high school.

The key, I believe, is algebra, the language we use to solve problems. Not so much being able to do a ton of problems, but to understand how it works, why the notation is helpful and not actually awful. If kids can do some algebra and apply some correct notation, then problem solving becomes easier. The different strands of mathematics also become more approachable. Those wily letters confuse students and have for an eternity. The little letter x can cause early heart disease.

Salman Khan explains it best, in his TEDtalk, with his bicycle anedote. This is the problem we were trying to fix, the Swiss cheese gaps of maths:

Salman Khan talks about Algebra (and more) on Demand at TED

Salman: “… imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist. “So I put a big C stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.” But as ridiculous as that sounds, that’s exactly what’s happening in our classrooms right now. And the idea is you fast forward and good students start failing algebra all of a sudden and start failing calculus all of a sudden, despite being smart, despite having good teachers, and it’s usually because they have these Swiss cheese gaps that kept building throughout their foundation. So our model is learn math the way you’d learn anything, like the way you would learn a bicycle. Stay on that bicycle. Fall off that bicycle. Do it as long as necessary until you have mastery. The traditional model, it penalizes you for experimentation and failure, but it does not expect mastery. We encourage you to experiment. We encourage you to failure. But we do expect mastery.”

Watch the TEDtalk to see that The Khan Academy is  now so much more than video tutorials. It has interactive exercises including hints and teachers get detailed data on their students. It’s like the worksheets, tutorials and that was used to create the Algebra on Demand wiki, that my blog is named after, but slicker, prettier, better. It’s really exciting to see it come to life. Salman Khan says that games are coming too, which is all that Algebra on Demand tried to deliver. Clint has set up Google accounts for all of our Grade 8 students and I am using it with my IB Diploma Mathematical Studies students too.

The kids log in with a Google or Facebook account and then nominate a coach. My Diploma kids were first, before our Christmas break, so they have nominated myself and Clint so we can both follow them.  They can nominate their parents and tutors as coaches too.  When our kids move on to the next grade and teacher, they nominate them and the data follows them. Can it move from one Google account to another? I don’t know. This is a question for Salman and Bill Gates and Googlers. When international kids move on, they lose their old school email, so how they keep their data? These emails are the user names we use for Khan Academy Google accounts.

Homework for Grade 8 this week: watch the TEDtalk with their parents.

At first when my Grade 8 kids went on I wanted them to do the exercises on linear equations, but most started at addition, right at the beginning and then followed the concept map routes. Now I am very happy they did that. The Swiss cheese gaps are being filled. An all too common problem in international schools. I went to a lot of schools as a kid across hemispheres and continents. Having a birthday right in the middle of the year meant that changing schools was rarely linear with grade level progression. Grade four was a lot of fun, but there was no maths, grade five didn’t really happen and I missed half of grade six. I still HATE my eight times tables and don’t mind telling my students that. Perhaps I can utilise the Khan Academy too. My boyfriend does. I’ve told other mates about it studying post-graduate courses facing what they believe is the horror of mathematics again. I’ve been a fan of The Khan Academy for some time, but now it’s supersonic with more on the way. Free self paced education for those with access to a computer. Hooray for Salman Khan.  And he used to do evil maths – hedge funds.

Will it replace what we do in the classroom? Impossible. Investigations and projects need a different structure, but I don’t see why we can’t provide a regular time slot to help prepare middle schoolers for high school and beyond.  My work is done and I didn’t even do it. Nice!

Here is the wiki that came about from the early days of Algebra on Demand: 

Now I need a new name for my blog.

Patterns and Prediction

“This was really useful for our last lab in science”.

That was a win. In mathematics this year I wanted to address a problem I saw when proofing reports last year. In a nutshell I was proofing middle school reports and there was a glaring area requiring assistance. Processing data needed attention. I delved further as mathematical assistance would probably help.

IB DP Question: Obvious Pattern. Dubious Data. Getting kids to observe and analyse

Bivariate data analysis. Kids weren’t choosing scatter graphs and were asking technology to find trend lines without much work at how that happens.

I think teaching this is in a scientific context is the best way. Teaching in context just makes sense. In our curriculum the mathematics came at the end of the grade 8 year, so this year it is combined with algebra. We’ve called it Patterns and Prediction. Science likes it so much that we are planning to kick off next year with this unit.

One of my goals for my students is for them to be able to converse with anyone. I have a few things I do for this, but talking about the weather, it’s handy. To prepare students for their Interdisciplinary Unit (IDU – MYP term) we used data banks of Latitudes and Temperatures. Each class had to form a hypothesis and then we used Google docs to collaborate when collecting data.

Using the science departments guidelines we took grade 8 students on a journey that included:

  • Data collection – Google Docs
  • Data storage – Google Docs, Excel
  • Data Manipulation – Excel and Autograph
  • Scatter Graphs – Excel and Autograph
  • The Language of Analysis – using the wonderful 100 People website (see page 23 of PDF)
  • Trend Lines (Lines of best fit)
  • By eye using the shape of the data and the centroid. Find the y-intercept via extrapolation, then find the equation in slope intercept form
  • Using technology – Excel and Autograph.
  • Presentation of a report – fonts, layout, hard page, table headers, table formatting and labeling

They are now forming their own hypotheses and hunting for data (we have set up a Diigo group to get them started) so they run their own lab. Students will be using all of their mathematics and science classes this week and will be assessed in both classes.

Have a look at the graph above that I included for practice. Can you see the problem? It’s not with pattern spotting. It’s what the pattern predicts. Glad I am not  a bunny.

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.

Poetry and Mathematics – Who Knew?

Grades 8, 11 and 12 poetry lessons in maths

Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook, our visiting poets

Poetry week at UNIS had two visiting poets from America. Our wonderful librarian, Joyce, sent out an email to see if anyone would like a poet in their class. Perplexed at the possible relevance, but knowing it was probably enjoyable, I went to chat with Joyce. Would they come into a mathematics classroom? Sure. Grade 11, not just grade 8? Sure.

I decided against my grade 12s as we were finishing the course and getting ready for the IB Diploma May exams. That changed after the first class with my grade 11s. What an incredible review lesson and so much fun. My year 12s were booked in immediately.

At the beginning of each class the poet or poets worked with students to create a class poem about the topic we had just finished.

What it is and what it isn’t

After that they broke off into pairs and chose a key word to work with.
Students worked together to form their poems. Listening to them using mathematical language and argue about what it meant was amazing. I’d say that my grade 12 students are all comfortable with the characteristics of a horizontal inflection now.

There were poems on GDCs (graphic display calculators),

Helene and Wen Wen deliver a poem about Cleopatra’s struggle with bivariate statistics with her one variable:

Calculus including Jorgé, The Horizontal InfleXion by Robin:

and the poignant Minimum, by Lauren

Ruan’s Hypotenuse

Jonatan and Sagar – Pythagoras The Man

The poets were Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook.

Both have written books on using poetry in classrooms. They have activities for really small kids right up to the big kids. Sara told me that I was the first mathematics teacher to say yes to a class above grade 6.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Initially it was to be a bit of fun to break up the usual routine for my 8s and 11s, but as I said before as a review of content, concepts and key vocabulary, it was fabulous.

Will I use it again, without the poets there to run things? Definitely!
UNIS had a poetry slam on the Friday and a large crowd turned out. A really great week.