Sunday, June 3, 2018

Using Math Talks to Improve Metacognition and Communication in the Math Classroom

This will be an anecdotal post about how using regular math talks in the classroom boosted the confidence and achievement of even the most math averse students in my grade 7 homeroom.

The year was 2015, I was hired for my first contract position in a Grade 7 homeroom. I was ready to make my mark on the education community and get involved in every aspect of the school community I could and become the BEST TEACHER EVER. Well, I succeeded in being the best teacher ever - I have the award covered in minion stickers that I received from a student for the end of the year - but I also enrolled in an intense course of Math PD.

The math PD that was all the rage that year was focused on Math Talks. Normally, I am a little hesitant to go to PD because sometimes I have found it sounds really nice but is a logistical nightmare to try and incorporate into the classroom. Not this time...

This time we were lucky to receive a book called Making Number Talks Matter - Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker. This book quickly became my "go-to" book when planning math lessons (along with my Van De Walle). In this book you will find instructions on how to do math talks and what they are all about.

I will summarize here:

A math talk is a 10 to 15 minute talk that only requires posting a pre-selected question (you can use examples from the book and then adapt your own) on the board and asking students to solve it.
The catch - they can't use a calculator or pencil or paper. The math has to be done entirely using mental math strategies.

Here is a problem - try and solve it in your head and don't scroll down. Think of what strategies you used. (*hint* All questions are written horizontally to avoid rote algorithms like "Stack and solve")


9 x 16

But who cares about mental math? (We all carry calculators in our pockets now anyway.) Mental math in this case is not about knowing your times tables or being able to solve problems quickly. Here it is about selecting the appropriate strategy and breaking down a question into parts. 
When students are ready to answer they give you hand signals (shown below). The teacher then asks the student to provide their answer, and asks the class if anyone had a different answer. Once everyone has agreed on the same answer, the teacher scribes what the students suggest for their strategies. As a teacher you would ask for several strategies and I like to name it with the student's name.

Which strategy did you use?

So my anecdote goes like this. I used this everyday for about 3 months, and I gradually saw the students become more and more confident solving problems. One day, near the 2 month mark, one of my weakest math students (who NEVER participated in math talks) shyly raised his hand. He had an answer that was already on the board and now he was confident his technique worked. He shared his thinking and we wrote out his strategy on chart paper - we named it "James's Strategy" and kept it posted for the rest of the class and next... The next day as we were doing a math talk, one of my students answered a similar question to the day before . When asked what strategy they used, they replied "James's Strategy" - my shy James beamed :) It was such a proud moment for him to be able to contribute to the classroom. 

From that moment, this student began participating regularly and raised his mark from the low 50s into the high 60s. For me it was a very proud teaching moment and I can never say enough good things about number talks. 

Go and get yourself a copy now! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ABQ Math Blog: Bundled Courses: The Art of Math

ABQ Math Blog: Bundled Courses: The Art of Math: This year, the coolest combination of subjects fell into my lap. I had a short term LTO in this bundle course called the Art of Math. Yes,...

Great article, I also really agree with what you have shown.  Art can play a huge role in learning math.  This also comes at a great time seeing that art is being brought into the STEM courses for its applicability and researched benefits.  It only makes sense as it provides a visual learning style and therefore will help visual learners and give non-visual learners another way to think of the concepts.  Lastly, it is shown to create deeper understanding of math (TSF ,2018).

I wonder if incorporating math with phys. ed, would provide great benefits?


Teacher Support Force.  (2018).  Teaching Math With Art.  Retrieved from

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bundled Courses: The Art of Math

This year, the coolest combination of subjects fell into my lap. I had a short term LTO in this bundle course called the Art of Math.

Yes, I couldn't believe it either -- two of my favourite subjects in one perfectly bundled course!

If you were thinking, how does that work? Let me introduce you to my amazing colleagues:

@briscoeclass & @mrsvankesteren on Twitter.

These ladies have been incredible innovators changing the way math and art are delivered. I encourage you to watch this video as they discuss their journey to bundling these two distinct concepts into a whole-brain focused course filled with engagement and understanding.

My experience in this classroom is what sparked my interest in getting my Math Qualifications for grades 9 and 10. In this class the students worked on math concepts with the math expert and art concepts with the art expert... but then would apply them into projects designed to highlight both concepts at once.

During my short time in this classroom, the students were looking at parallel lines and traversals, and how certain rules would help you discover the measurements of other angles... They would then connect these concepts to solve for interior angles within an image:

This is just one small example of how the two subjects could be blended together. The course was based on experiential learning and application of math and art principles.

If you watched the video you know there was a positive effect on student learning. Students were so engaged and learned so effortlessly they felt as if they had not actually had to learn it... they just knew it.

What other blended subjects do you think could work well together in a course bundle?

Oral Exams in the Math Classroom

During my last semester of teachers college, I had a professor mention that he always tries to incorporate an oral section into his written tests in the math classroom. He would bring students up one by one, and have them complete one section of the test verbally. At first I thought this idea was crazy, but the more I thought about it I realized that a lot of students would actually really benefit from this in the math classroom. I cannot remember a time in any of my high school or university math classes where we had to orally present our findings or understandings. However, I was not complaining because I tend to do better when I write my answers down rather than vocalizing them. Nonetheless, this is not the case for all learners and some students would do much better explaining their answer and thought process out loud rather than writing it down. This puts these types of learners at a huge disadvantage in the math classroom and may even discourage them from continuing to take Mathematics in the future since other classes such as English or French may better appeal to their learning style. Throughout my tutoring experiences I have seen this first hand. When I first started tutoring one of my clients, I was not quite sure what to do because at the end of the tutoring session she seemed very prepared for the test, however she never ended up doing as well as I thought she could do. During the session I would quiz her on the content and ask her to verbally describe the steps she would take and she would be able to communicate this perfectly. However, she would then tell me that she was not quite sure how to put this down into words on the test. Maybe there are other students out there that would benefit from taking an oral rather than written test? How will we know if we don’t try! Plus, you’ll be helping your students develop their communication skills, which will be setting them up for success in their post-secondary lives.

What do you think, would you incorporate an oral exam into the math classroom? What are some pros and cons of using an assessment such as this?

What is so hard about word problems??

Have any of you ever thought about why some students struggle so much with word problems? Although I have not had any experiences teaching in the math classroom, every time I started tutoring a new student one of the first thing they said was "I can't do word problems". They can know the math inside and out, but the second they see math in the form of a word problem or real-life application, they suddenly don't know what to do. Have you ever thought about why this might be the case? 

As I was thinking about this on my way home one day I realized that maybe part of this is because we as teachers assume that students already know how to solve problems, even though this might not always be the case! From that moment on, decided that once I become a math teacher, one of the first lessons that I will incorporate into my math classroom is taking the time to teach students how to approach word problems and how to develop their problem solving skills.  Developing good problem solving skills in our students will benefit them in all aspects of their lives, not only mathematics. By giving students an outline of the steps they can take to solve a problem, as well as giving them time to practice this process, you are truly setting them up for success in their future. Unfortunately, some teachers may assume that students already have a good understanding of this process (even if they do not) and may not teach students this important life skill. For example, when I first started tutoring a client in grade 9 math one of the first things she told me was that she was extremely uncomfortable with word problems. Anytime a word problem came up, she would be very overwhelmed because she could not figure out how to approach the problem. The first time this happened I was not really sure what I could do to explain the problem to her. I quickly realized that this problem had nothing to do with her mathematical ability, but instead with how she tried to approach the problem. Therefore, I had to take the time to walk her through each step of the problem solving process. The first step was what she really struggled with so we spent a lot of time practicing how to analyze word problems to decide what information is important, and what information is not important. Then I would have her write out this important information, draw a picture if possible, and write out any mathematical formulas she thought she might need. At first she needed a lot of assistance throughout this process, however as time went on she needed less and less help. Over time, she became much more comfortable with word problems and can now apply these problem-solving steps without even being told. All she needed was someone to take the time to explain to her how to approach a problem. 

What do you think? Is this something that you think you might incorporate into your classroom?

So I am Nervous About Teaching Math, Please Help!

So if you know math these days, you almost certainly know Khan Academy (

Image result for Khan academy

I am sure the usual reason people end up there is because you are a student and you have a math test tomorrow.

"How do you know!?" you may ask, "Your not a scientist!" you say.

"You're right." I say while crossing my arms, a smile growing on my face.

Image result for pleased

Well that situation was me in high school/university though I was more of an early bird when it came to studying for my test.  So although my test was not "tomorrow", I still needed a new way of learning a math concept that my teacher was not providing me.  His was of explaining it while showing it through the video and my option to replay it many times was a life saver.  It helped me do well on many tests.

More recently, for my intermediate math ABQ I was tasked with doing a bunch of practice sessions for 15 different lessons where I had to solve 5 questions in a row with no mistakes, for each lesson!  So, I have been finishing up teachers college and away from my math books for a little and man have I forgotten a lot of things that students go through in math, it was such a throwback seeing all of these questions I used to do.  Some of them I forgot how to solve and I was worried I wouldn't be able to get a perfect score on these questions.

Enter Khan.  After each mistake a video suggestion would pop up asking if I wanted to watch it to help solve the question.  So I did and the videos were always spot on.  They reminded and taught my exactly what I needed to know.  They made math fun.

I think this is such a great resource for teachers, learners, parents or anyone interested in math!

What're your experiences with Khan Academy?

Thank Khan,

Maksym Cord

Friday, May 11, 2018

Teaching Math should shift toward new methods

Teaching Math should shift toward new methods!

    We've been all taught math through classical ways. First, the rule will be provided to you and then questions bearing in mind that practice makes perfect. It is necessary to have a deep understanding on how to use those rules and formulas in real life and how to make use of them. Here are two ways in order to improve the math taught at the present time.
Math of the present time!
  One way is by having specialty teachers assigned to teach the subject.Teaching Math for younger students from a homeroom teacher (with no Math background) could have a negative impact about how interesting or boring the subject can be. A specialty teacher can relate a lot to real life example while teaching Mathematics. That makes the lesson more interesting and appealing to the students. Moreover, a specialty teacher have multiple ways to explain the concepts when the students find the book confusing or the way taught is difficult to understand. A specialty teacher can manipulate any formula and makes it easier to grasp. In addition, a math specialty teacher can always relate to old concepts being used so that way students can have deeper understanding.

   Another way is to get students engaged into application of mathematics. For instance, the use of iPad/Tablets and more technological tools that can enhance to a great deal student’s learning. It is important to have knowledge about the basic rules but sometimes it gets overwhelming that students' focus will be more toward scoring higher in the exams and therefore their creativity is killed. For instance, provide all the rules and formulas to students and make them synthesize a solution instead of memorizing. Doing so can enhance students learning by engineering creative ways to get to the solutions. Having done with the task, then provide an application where the solution synthesized can be used. Therefore students will never forget about the concept and math would be fun to understand.

Math of the near future?

   Finally the big question to ask is when such a shift take place? And if it happened, would it be beneficial to the students?