Saturday, April 18, 2015

Redefining The Subject of Math Through Focus Classes

Picture this.  20 athletes walk into a math class, excited and bursting with enthusiasm asking the teacher, “Sir, what are we going to learn today?”  Discussions are going on in the background about last night’s homework that involved watching a professional sporting event.  You’re probably thinking this scenario belongs in a fairy tale, yet I pose the question, why does it have to be?  I’m sure many of you have heard the term “differentiated instruction” being tossed around the education world in the past decade.  This theme is becoming more and more important as our student’s needs are changing and we are realizing that the old model of teaching just isn’t cutting it.  We as educators are constantly trying to find new ways to engage our student’s interest and bring life to our lessons in a fun and interactive environment.  Web sites, blogs, and articles are filling up with research on the effects of differentiated instruction and how we should be implementing it into our classrooms on a regular basis.  This topic is especially turning heads in mathematics courses where there has been a huge push to linking abstract concepts to real world application.  It’s never been a secret that the students in math classes are consistently asking themselves, “when are we ever going to use this in the real world?”  Educators nowadays are realizing more and more that success in the math class relies heavily on the interest and motivation of the students.  If there is none, the students do not pay attention and important concepts are missed creating progressively larger gaps in their knowledge in the subject.  On the flip side, if students are genuinely interested or curious even, their attentiveness increases causing a ripple affect resulting in a positive and successful learning experience. 

I’m not sure about other schools, but in the one I am currently teaching at, over the past 5 years we have introduced focus classes in the physical education stream.  A focus class as it pertains to physed is an entire course tailored specifically to one sport discipline.  This was done in an effort to cater to our students who were passionate about the pursuit of excellence in their specific sporting interest as well as bolster the level of development in our athletic programs.  The concept of the focus class spread like wild fire and students loved it.  This form of differentiated instruction that tailored to the specific interest of the individual created a positive atmosphere for the student athletes to thrive in without the distraction of being disengaged in activities they had to participate in that they weren’t particularly thrilled about.  As a math/physed qualified teacher the notion of the focus class and its success had me thinking.  What would it be like to have this concept applied to a mathematics setting?  How awesome would it be to offer math courses that carried a theme over the entire semester and integrated it into various lessons to engage and bring life to those teachings?  Why can’t math have focus classes too?  Imagine signing up for classes in grade 9 and seeing in addition to the regular math class the option of, mathematics in sports, and mathematics in media.  This would definitely create a stir in the school.  Students would be asking one in other what stream they were going into, what they think they would learn, curious as to what this is all about.  You would have students taking that specific focus class because they were interested in the subject (ie, sports and media).  This would also make the life of the teacher easier in the sense that they would not have to worry about bridging multiple real world topics into the math that some pockets of students would disconnect with because they didn’t care about how many comic books Sammy bought at the store.  Now I realize that in theory this sounds like it could be a great idea, but in reality many hurdles would need to be overcame before it could reach the schools.  Hurdles that would include; how to adapt all the content of that topic to the curriculum in a logical progressive manner.  Which focus topics do you introduce?  What grades do you offer it in? 

With all this in mind idea of implementing math focus class’s sounds like it could offer something to the students that they haven’t had before.  Choice.  The choice to take control of their education and adapt it in a way that fits their lifestyle and personality.  If we can offer a differentiated approach to teaching a subject that has carried a stigma with it for generations, it might be a way for society to embrace it in a new light, and reconstructing its image starting with our children.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dispelling the notion that "I'm just not good at Math"

I think often we hear from students who struggle in Math that it is because they are "Just not good at Math". They say things like, "My parents, sisters, brothers are all bad at Math and so am I".  But is this true, is there a Math gene which makes a student good or bad at Math? I don't think so. Obviously, there are people who Math comes easy to, but I believe that every student can be successful at Math at the high school level.  Researchers have looked into this issue and have found, "For high-school math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence." (  I think self confidence especially plays a huge role in a students success in Math (and for all academics for that matter).  It is our job as teachers to instill that confidence in our students, dispel this notion that they are not good at Math, and create an environment for all of our students to be successful.  How do we do this? By doing all of those pedagogical strategies which make our learning environment fun, inclusive safe and memorable.  We do this by creating fun interactive lessons which provide our students with the opportunity to gain a passion for the Math we are teaching.  We use differentiated instruction to allow our students to be successful in their own way, have them gain in confidence in their Math abilities and  build upon their skills.  With some hard work and preparation, our students can be successful and we need to get away from the idea that to be successful in Math, you either have it genetically or you don't.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Financial Literacy...Why are we not teaching more about this in Ontario schools?

A theme that seems to keep arising in this course is the concept of making the Math tools we teach applicable and meaningful to real life.  After thinking about it, I was wondering why we do not teach more about personal finance management to our students?  Why do we not teach our students (or at least give them the option to take a course) about personal finance, learning about spending, saving, borrowing, budgeting, debt, interest, investing and things of this nature?  These are very important life skills that people should have or at least know a little bit about when getting started out in the world (whether that is in post secondary education or the workforce).  Especially in times where it our society has been on the brink of financial crises, and students are carrying more debt than ever before, these skills seem like highly necessary ones, to help prevent our youth from putting themselves in tough situations, or even financial ruin.
      In Ontario, there is no separate course which teaches about financial literacy. In 2011, a financial literacy program was introduced to integrate these types of financial skills into the curriculum from grade 4 onward (  But some teachers, such as Genevieve Tran (licensed teacher in Ontario, Masters of Education, and has taught financial literacy abroad) believe that the lack of knowledge, accountability and assessment component for this program means that students are not getting a good understanding of these issues (  I know from my own personal experience, I was not very well versed in areas when I was younger, such as getting a student loan from the bank, purchasing cars, the different types of financing there are, utilizing OSAP, interest rates on different debts and what should be paid off first etc.  If not for guidance from my parents and some knowledge I had learned in school I would have been lost.  A lot of students do not have the luxury to lean on their parents for this knowledge, because many of them may not know a lot about these topics.  Having more background information on these topics, and gaining a better understanding of them could have huge benefits for our students and their financial stability in their future.  Many of these skills, even ones as simple as planning a budget based on a fixed income, should be essential skills that our students learn and become familiar with to help them with real life practical applications.  What do you think, should we invest more time in teaching our students to be more financially literate?