Exploring, experimenting & and sharing all things edTech to improve teaching and learning

Month: October 2018

Perseverance – 9x9x25 Post #5

It’s hard to believe that this is post #5 for the 9x9x25 challenge.  We are past the halfway point!

Since writing (and hence blogging) isn’t my strength, I sometimes find it hard to figure out what to write about. This week I had to look around the other 9x9x25 posts for some inspiration.

If you have been reading my other posts, you will know I have been having trouble with one particular class.  In particular, they are very unfocussed.  They would rather sit and wait for me to take up a question, then attempt it on their own (even though I encourage them to work together). Most never do any homework outside of class.  They come unprepared for class (some have come to a test with no calculator!!) and then beg for more time or a second chance.  Some arrive late for class or leave early.

I am constantly searching for a new ideas I can try.  I find myself reading the other 9x9x25 posts (and other blogs) as often as I can for help.

When reading the posts from over the last week I found one that resonated with me.  Specifically, the post by Prof Melanie – “Are you teaching with your signature strengths?“.

Prof Mel talked about how she took the VIA Character Strengths Survey and how she is living out her #1 character strength (creativity).

It made me wonder what my #1 character strength was and if I was living mine out.  I decided to take the survey. (Try it yourself: VIA Character Survey)

After answering all the questions, I found out my top character strength: was Perseverance.

action adventure challenge climb

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According to the VIA, this is defined as “Finishing what one starts; persevering in a course of action in spite of obstacles; ‘getting it out the door’; taking pleasure in completing tasks.” (https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/Perseverance)

I would definitely say they hit the nail on the head on that one.  This is true for both my personal and professional life.

I could very easily just write my “problem” group off as being not willing to do what it takes to learn the material.

I choose to keep trying to reach them and help them to learn so they can be successful in my class.

I have 7 more weeks to keep trying to reach them.

achievement adult agreement arms

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

For some, it will be too late.

For others, I may get to them in time.

I hope that I get to as many of them as possible and am able to help them succeed.

I will keep persevering!

Dr. Evil and Mini-me

Movies and Math

I struggled to find a topic for this week.  Perhaps it was because I was ready for break week and didn’t want to think about school.

I was looking forward to going to our winter home in the Collingwood area and leaving school behind for a few days. It is our escape to the simpler life of small town.

It’s not winter yet, but it’s already snowed here which makes me look forward to ski season!

As I reflected on the past week at school, I found myself both frustrated and energized at the same time.

One class, continues to frustrate me.  Since I’ve already written about them, I will leave that for now.

In my other class, which is a level 1 foundational math class, we had some fun and laughs.  I love it when the class is positive and engaged!!

I was teaching a topic that most students learn in early high school, if not before. Many students have not seen these topics since then. For others, it’s been even longer if they have been away from high school for a while.   The topic was ratios, rates and proportions.

The nice part about this topic is that there are lots of examples all around us that help students to understand the material.

I told them stories about when I go grocery shopping and take pictures for math class.  They thought that it was pretty funny (and I am sure they thought it was geeky too).




If I can, I like bringing in clips from movies or television and use them as part of the teaching. It’s a fun way to learn math.

This week, I used a clip form Austin Powers.  I based my lesson on one created by Robert Kaplinsky. (http://robertkaplinsky.com/work/mini-me/)

Before I even started the clip, there was a lively debate on which movie the clip was from.  I guess you could say they were hooked!

I had the students first calculate Verne Troyer’s (mini-me) size compared to Mike Meyer’s (Dr. Evil) size.  At that point, the students were engaged, but they weren’t “sold’.

Then we watched the clip to see what the movie said the ratio was.


When the students heard that Mini-me was supposed to be 1/8 of Dr. Evil’s size, they were shocked.

The next task was to figure out, based on the movie and the real height of Dr. Evil, how big mini-me should be.  This got their curiosity going and they were all totally on this task!

They calculated that Mini-me should have been 8.5 inches.  Of course, they all realized how ridiculous that was and burst out laughing.

We talked about claims, such as the one that was made in the movie, and how knowing about math topics like ratios, rates and proportions can help us determine how true they are.

It was wonderful and exhilarating to watch the students get so into math!

I am always on the lookout for resources that I can use my class. I like to use movies or pictures from real life because it helps the students relate to the material.

Here’s some of the ones I found so far:



If you have more resources that I or others might be able to use, please share in the comments below!


9x9x25 Post #3 – Math is NOT a Spectator Sport!

For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about how to motivate my students. So many of them seem to walk out the door and leave math behind. I realize that students’ lives are busier than they ever have been. So many of them have families, full-time jobs, etc.. I try not to assign too much homework, but in math the best way to learn is to practice. To balance the homework, I try and have as much time as possible in class to work on problems. This way I’m there to help them if they need it. Either way, they need to allocate some time to learning and practicing math in order to succeed.

A majority of the students are International and I know that their backgrounds and experience with school vary and that add its own challenge.

I guess you could say I have two problems. In class and out of class.

Many of them don’t do the assigned homework questions and are constantly asking for extensions when I do assign work for marks.  I find this to be a problem for all types of students, both international and domestic.  The number of commitments that students have has increased and this makes is difficult to balance work/school.

During class, I try to assign seat work which can be an issue because a number of them don’t come prepared to write anything. No pencil/pen, calculator or paper. I’ve started printing out practice questions so they have something to work on.  Even with something to write with/on, many sit there and wait until I take up the problem before writing anything (and some still don’t write anything).  I walk around and I try and ask if they need help or prompt them to start the question by asking about it. That usually works (sometimes). Not all my students are like this.  I have some that work very hard for every mark they get.

The other issue I have in class is lateness.  I won’t spend much time on this as Denise Nielson has already dealt with this issue in her blog post: https://nielsenportfolio.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/knock-knock/.

What’s frustrating is some of these students who don’t do much work, come back at the end of the semester begging for second chances because they haven’t earned enough marks to pass the course.  Some just straight up ask me to pass them.

I’ve looked around on the web. Thankfully there are a lot of Teaching and Learning Centres who have great resources on their websites to help out. I’ve been thinking of starting a list.

I’ve tried some of the suggestions, such as adding in-class assessments at the beginning or end of class to encourage students to get to class on time and/or stay until the end of class.  I make a point of tying course material to real examples.  However, I think I will work to find better, more relevant examples to help students to make connections.

One particular class loves to talk. I am going to try cooperative learning to see if working in a group on problems might get everyone participating.

I also like to know what others have done. I would love it if you would share some of your wisdom and tips that worked for you.

Marking Madness!

I’ve been teaching a lot of math courses and one of the things I struggle with is marking. When you mark a math problem it’s not only about the final answer. The process is very important. Students could do everything right but make one small mistake and the final answer will be wrong. It’s important to recognize that a student understands the process as well as the final answer. I tell my students if they want full marks on a test, they need to show their work.  And for the most part, they are pretty good at it.

It can take a long time to mark math tests because I have to mark both the process and final answer.  I write lots of comments on my tests to help students understand where they went wrong. I know that most of them won’t read them, but for the ones that do, I want them to have the chance to learn from their mistakes. The problem is, students tend to make similar mistakes and as a result, I end up writing the same comments over and over again. When you are marking 40+ papers, that can take a long time.

A colleague of mine, Nancy Nelson told me about a program called Gradescope. She said she found it helped her be more efficient with her marking. I did some exploring and decided to give it a try. I have to say I’m sold. Rather than writing the same comments over and over again, I was able to set up a rubric with the comments I wanted to have (and associated points deductions) and apply them as I marked each question. Not only was it more efficient but it insured that I was marking consistently.

Screenshot 2018-10-07 09.33.10

Gradescope is very simple and intuitive to use.  First, scan or upload your test (or assignment) and identify the name and student number sections on the paper.  Then identify the areas on the test/assignment were each question will be answered and assign marks for each question. You can set up your rubric here, or do it when you are marking. Once you have set up the test/assignment, you can import your class list with student numbers.

When students write the test or submit their assignment,  you scan the tests into a PDF and import them into Gradescope. Gradescope matches each paper to the student number and you are ready to mark.

The one thing that Gradescope gives me that I can’t get by manual marking (without a lot of time spend doing the calculations) is data about the test; how students did on each question, the breakdown of the grades etc..

Screenshot 2018-10-07 09.34.22Screenshot 2018-10-07 09.34.02

Being able to take my laptop and mark anywhere, without having all the papers to flip through was an additional benefit. It easy to start and stop. Whenever I had some spare time and I had my laptop or tablet close by, I could open up Gradescope and mark a question.

Screenshot 2018-10-07 10.39.19

One other feature I really liked was the summary report that Gradescope produces.  It shows the details of each question and what errors were made (if any).  Students can see very quickly where they went wrong and what kinds of mistakes they made.  As their teacher, I can see if there is a pattern to their mistakes and use that to focus how I help them.

Between the ease of marking, the reports and the data, I am hooked. This was such a great experience, I plan on using Gradescope for all my marking!

Happy Marking Everyone!

For more information on Gradescope go to their website: https://www.gradescope.com/

I just found out that Gradescope was bought by Turnitin (Turnitin acquires Gradescope). Maybe like Turnitin, Gradescope will become a standard on every campus. 

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