Mathtrain, Foxes and Fireworks

I was so pleased with the lesson on how to use tutorials for learning. It feels like the message got through. I adapted my original lesson plan a little bit too. This blog post isn’t about mathematics. It’s about Learning to Learn, working independently and also getting students to work together and  of course introducing the blended learning environment.

My concern was that students would watch a tutorial and think “Oh, that looks easy”, do a problem and think they had mastered the skill. Not because they are lazy, but because it would feel like they had.

Solution a three part lesson involving video tutorials. These became longer and more complicated.  Instead of doing this as one lesson, I split it over three.

Lesson One:

In the last fifteen minutes of my lesson  I told students to close their tablets (laptops) and to get ready to watch a video on a nifty way to do long multiplication. Some students recognised it as Napier’s Bones. The video comes from the crew at When it was done I put a long multiplication problem on the board and said “Do it, and you must use the method you just watched”. 

A variety of things happened. Some got right down to it. Some had a minor panic and then asked others for help. Some asked to see the video again. They all achieved. The video didn’t discuss how to carry when the sum of the diagonal is greater than nine, so they worked that out and some remembered from years before.

Then I showed the how to make an origami fox using a video from Youtube,

and said “Oh dear, we’ve run out of time. We’ll do this tomorrow”. I didnt’ say, we wouldn’t watch the video again.
Lesson Two:

Students come in and sit down. I have bright fluoro paper at the front. Students take some time choosing a colour. They are excited by paper. I haven’t cut them into squares, which are meant to be 15cm by 15cm. Then, once they are seated with paper, rulers and scissors, I announce “Okay, make the foxes”.

Brilliant variety of responses.


But I don’t remember.


Ooh I can do it, I practiced last night.

Show us the video again…. please….

That’s not fair.

Show me show me (to other students)

I calmed them down, and we discussed how they could have been better prepared, how they could have mastered making the fox puppet making. Then I showed the video again:

Wait! Wait! It’s too fast.

 All my students have tutorials on a stick, so I pointed out that they all had the tutorial. So they waved me away. It was lovely walking around the class. They were helping each other and everyone was making a fox at a pace they were comfortable with.

Once we had our pack of foxes, we broke into small groups of four or five to make our origami fireworks. I did the same thing by telling them to close their tablets and just watch. Each student would need to make two to three of the same thing, then piece them together working as a group.  I came up with this task. because I really want my students to support each other and help each other learn. Blended learning has the risk of being quite isolated.

The tutorial for the fireworks is quite fast in parts and it’s not as easy as the fox. Once the video was done I said “Go to it”. General panic again. After calming them down I asked what they needed. Of course, they all had it in their tutorials on a stick. It was a challenging task and they worked together brilliantly. Some of our origami masters became the walking talking real life tutorials and were therefore modelling helping and teaching each other.

We discussed everything that happened and how it will relate to the new way we are learning algebra this year. It was one of those lessons that went better than planned. Of course, some will forget but I have something concrete I can remind them of when they slip or begin lazy viewing.  And it was just plain fun in the mathematics classroom and all of my students know there is some very cool mathematics in origami.
Their homework was to prepare to make a fox in class next time – only notes could be used. 

Lesson Three:

Fox making time. Those who didn’t practice or make notes, couldn’t do it again, even though they could the lesson before. “Too many steps”. Students with notes or who had practiced or both had great success and helped those around them. Some could do it from memory, but very few. A great way to show different learners.  I told them that randomly next week, they will have to make a fox in five minutes. I’ll cut squares for them.

So today they all begin their self paced learning. My wiki isn’t as pretty as I’d like it, but I am not a web developer person. We all have to start somewhere. It’s very exciting. I’m expecting a little chaos.

Now it’s time to ready the major pieces of assessment so that they can use their skills.