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

Category: Personal Learning

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. 

The Ontario Extend 9X9X25 Writing Challenge

Over the next 9 weeks, I will “take the challenge“.  No, it’s not the ice bucket challenge.  It’s the Ontario Extend 9x9x25 Writing Challenge.  The goal is to write 9 blog posts over the next 9 weeks reflecting on my practice as an educator in post-secondary education.

I thought I would start this challenge with my motivation for doing this in the first place.

As a “mathie” at heart, I am comfortable with numbers and formulas. Writing has never been easy for me and although I have become better at it, it’s still not in my “comfort zone”.  I’ve tried journalling, but not successfully.  I always find myself sitting there, trying to think of something to write down. If only I could connect my brain to a computer to capture all those great thoughts I have when I am in the shower or driving.

This is one of the reasons why I chose to take the challenge. It’s going to take me outside my comfort zone and push me to write at least 25 sentences every week as I reflect upon my teaching practice.


A friend of mine posted the following quote on Instagram:

“Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.” Caroline Myss

THIS is something I truly believe in.

Some of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life have been the ones that were the scariest.  They forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to try something new. I can think of many examples throughout my life – but I will only share one as it relates to my career in education.

The first time I was asked to present my peers, I thought, who me? What have I got to share? There are so many other faculty with much better things to share. Of course, it didn’t help that I was terrified to be at the front of the room in front of all my peers.  Imagine that, a teacher who stands in front of students every day worried about teaching other teachers.  The thing I learned very quickly is that your peers understand what it’s like to be at the front of the room.  They are supportive and responsive. Having the courage to step in front of that first group and offer a workshop, has lead to more workshops and other opportunities.

Screenshot 2018-09-27 22.09.51

In 2016, I applied to be a facilitator with the Southwestern College Educator Development Program (CEDP). Being a facilitator is very different from teaching. It’s VERY different from being a MATH teacher.  In a math class, the content & activities are very structured.  At CEDP, we facilitate the group and much of the content is generated by the participants.  This is very different than what I am used to.  It was very scary when I facilitated my first group on my own, especially since I was taking over for another facilitator in the second phase.  My group was amazing and we learned so much from each other.  I really love being a facilitator, meeting faculty from the other colleges and learning from everyone.  I learn something new every phase.

I am excited about the next 9 weeks to see what happens. I am already having thoughts about next weeks topic.

I am looking forward to learning from each other over the coming weeks!

Happy writing everyone!


Misunderstood Math

This post is in response to the Extend Ontario Activity Misunderstood.  The challenge was to “Identify a concept that is often misunderstood in your discipline. Can you think of an analogy that can help make the concept make sense to students?”

Just today I was reviewing a test with a student. Throughout the test, it was obvious that he had issues with integers, especially when combining positive/negative numbers & the distributive property.


When teaching the distributive property, I often use the “Smarties Activity” (or in the US, it’s called the M&M Activity).  Instead of using x and y, the different coloured smarties allow students to visualize like terms.

It works well, and the students enjoy it, whether they use smarties or coloured markers.  The original M&M Activity I found did not have a reference on it, but I have searched and I believe the original activity came from this website: Modeling the Distributive Property  As fun and engaging as this activity is, it doesn’t address negative numbers.  Even though students understand multiplying positive/negative numbers, they seem to have troubles when applying the distributive property when there are negative numbers involved.

Now that I identified a concept students struggle with, the task was to come up with an analogy to help students understand it. I decided to first look around on the web.  Why re-invent the wheel if some bright person has already done it?

It didn’t take long to find one that would work for my students. This post by Josh Rappaport titled: Using Analogies when teaching math shared a scenario that worked well for explaining the concept.  Basically, the parenthesis ( ) represent a box that you are going to use to move your “items”.

Your items (the terms)are packed inside the box.  The sign in front of the bracket identifies the type of moving company. Specifically:

+ (    )     The + sign means you’ve hired a GOOD moving company

– (    )     This – sign means that you’ve hired a BAD moving company

A good moving company packs your items properly and they come out the way they went in.  A bad moving company does a poor job packing your items and they come out broken.  The items come out the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they should be.  In math, to represent “the opposite of” means we change the sign to the opposite of what it was. i.e. “+” becomes a “-” and similarly, a “-” becomes a “+”.

The site goes on to provide examples as well as practice questions.  For more details, check out Josh’s post Using Analogies when teaching math.

I would extend this concept by adding numbers in front of the brackets to represent the number of boxes there are and have students tell me how many items are unpacked at the end.  I would start with positive numbers (thus, reinforcing the distributive property) and then add in the negative numbers to extend on the analogy use above.

I am teaching this course in the Fall and look forward to trying this out with my students.

This post is in response to the Misunderstood Extend Activity in the Teacher for Learning Module of OntarioExtend.



“Syllabus Concept Map” Activity

One of the extend activities on the Ontario Extend website is called Syllabus Concept Map.  This activity asked us to create a concept map of our course.  Since I will be teaching a new course in the Fall (new to me at least), I thought this course would be a good  one to use for the activity.  It also gives me an opportunity to get the big picture of what I will be teaching the students.

I chose to use MindMeister to create a map of the course.  The free version allows you to make up to 3 maps.  You can download them into a MindMeister file, but the free version does not allow you to save as a PDF or JPG.  So I used a tool I just learned about today on Steven Secord’s response to another Ontario Extend Activity called “A Tiny Tech Tale”.  The tool is called Gyazo and it allowed me to take a screenshot of my MindMap so I could share it here.  It also allows you to make short animated gif screenshots.

Here’s the map that I came up with based on the course outcomes and the topics for each unit.

mindmap of 1020


This was a great exercise that allowed me to review the entire course and get a good understanding of what the students will be learning in this course.  I can see how concept maps would be great tools for helping students organize their learning and review for tests

This activity was completed for the Ontario Extend Activity in the Teaching for Learning Module.

Ontario Extend

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018. I am very excited to be starting with the West Cohort of the Ontario Extend Initiative!

I haven’t really done much in the way of blogging so I am looking forward to seeing if working through the activities & daily tasks will change that.

For more information, check out the following link: Ontario Extend West Cohort

21st Century Educators

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