Monday, 30 January 2017

One word 2017

A new year is synonymous with New Years resolutions that are never followed through. This year I came across the #onewordtrend2017. Rather than a a new years resolution i would find a New Years word.

One of my words for 2017 will be resilience. 

Resilience because I believe it is one of the most important things we need to teach our students 
Resilience as the new PLD environment means navigating uncharted waters.

Jo Boaler's setting up positive norms in the maths classroom offers a kete of ideas for building belief and developing resilience in students. 

In the document these 7 key ideas are shared with supporting strategies to help set students up for a year of successful learning

1. Everyone Can Learn Math to the Highest Levels. Encourage students to believe in themselves. There is no such thing as a “math” person. Everyone can reach the highest levels they want to, with hard work. 

2. Mistakes are Valuable Mistakes grow your brain! It is good to struggle and make mistakes. 

3. Questions are Really Important Always ask questions, always answer questions. Ask yourself: why does that make sense? 

4. Math is about Creativity and Making Sense Math is a very creative subject that is, at its core, about visualising patterns and creating solution paths that others can see, discuss and critique. 

5. Math is about Connections and Communicating Math is a connected subject, and a form of communication. Represent math in different forms eg words, a picture, a graph, an equation, and link them. Colour code! 

6. Depth is much more important than Speed Top mathematicians, such as Laurent Schwartz, think slowly and deeply. 

7. Math Class is about Learning not Performing Math is a growth subject, it takes time to learn and it is all about effort.

I particularly liked one of the ideas from #2, Mistakes are OK

To illustrate that mistakes are valuable  get students to
  1. screw up a piece of paper and throw it at the board with the feeling they have when they make a mistake.  
  2. retrieve the paper and colour in all the lines. 

Tell them how these lines represent synapses firing and brain growth from making a mistake. 
Have them keep the piece of paper in their maths books or put them on the wall as a reminder  

What will your one word be ?

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Teaching Financial Capability in NZ schools

The personal financial management unit standards have been reviewed and are now found under Financial Capability.
Read the review here

What's happening in NZ Schools around Financial Capability ?

To find out I attended Sarah's workshop at the BOPMA conference day: 

At Sarah's school they have trades & services academies however there was still a group of students who were not well catered for.  

Maths for Life, a Level 2 course is based on the Financial Capability standards.

Maths for Life students completed the following standards from the framework to credential their learning

US 28094 – produce a balanced budget
US 28092 – analyse states of personal financial income
US 24695 – taxation
US 28093 - describe financial responsibilities of utilising tertiary study funding option
US 28097 Banking ( didn’t get to this)
US 24699 – smart goals
US 28095 - investment
US 28096 – insurance

there were 17 students in the class and they worked pretty much at their own pace throughout the year.

The Services Academy used Instant resources which are "amazing but way too wordy for my students"

Sarah turned to the Young Enterprise Scheme resources for her Maths for Life students.
The Workbooks and Hot Topics became the core resources

  1. Students were  engaged for longer learning important life skills– budgeting, tax, funding tertiary study
  2. All the standards open book so students could work at their own pace - this was particularly important as many of her students were out of school on a regular basis completing trades and gateway course
  3. Students gained 12 credits towards their Level 2 qualification. 

What did the students say?
Topics were relevant
Skills will be useful- they are life skills
100% recommend course to others 

Going forward:
Level 3 is in the in the planning
28098 – evaluate options to increase personal income
28100 – develop a plan to achieve a long term personal financial goala
28104 – analyse impacts of external factors on personal finances
28102 – demonstrate understanding of risk and return for a personal investment portfolio
28101 – create a long term investment portfolio 

What is out there to help ?

Westpac – offer a financial programme which they run in schools, contact Julia Jackson to organise something in your school

BNZ – Tauranga Girls College students visited a BNZ branch organised through an education officer based in Auckland. 

Bamzonia – pre-prepared resources - have a cost associated

 Instant Education: prepared resources - have a cost associated

NXZ Virtual share trading 

 NZ Teachers have started a closed group on Facebook to ask questions share ideas and resources for teaching these standards

Search Teaching personal financial management in NZ on Facebook and ask to join. If you are not a registered NZ teacher message admin and request access. Alternatively share your thoughts via the comments below.

STAR funding may be available for this course as Financial Capability falls under Core Generic standards.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Exam Ready

"Giving students the information they need to pass exams is the beginning of the process"
Christine Ward

In preparing our students for exam we  tend to focus a lot of attention on preparing students with the content  but often pay little heed to how they feel and how we can help alleviate the stress.

Where will they be sitting the exam?
Will they be in a familiar classroom, the hall, gymnasium at another school?
How do our students practice for the feeling of sitting in the space they will be sitting the exam in?
How do we prepare them for the unfamiliar?

Reading time
Once upon a time exams began with 10 minutes of reading time where pens had to be left on the desk.
My observations of students beginning exams these days is that almost all pick up their pens and begin answering question one as soon as the supervisor says they can start.

Taking time to read the entire paper before starting to write can give students the time they need to become calm and clear their heads. It gives them time to think about the questions.

And remember to check the Formula Sheet for clues

I know we all tell our students to read the paper before they start but how often do we actually practice this with them.
The most common response from students is "i don't have time", after practicing they might be surprised.

Where to start?
Question 1 is not always the best place for everyone.
Students should find the question they feel most confident with and begin here.
This could be decided during a second reading time - again students need to practice doing this
How many times have your students practiced making a plan for an exam paper then followed through on their plan? and then made a plan and followed through in the allocated time?

Should I show all my working?  YES
While reading they should also check for any specific instructions, e.g. 1.6 is likely to have instructions like “All working for calculations must be shown”,"give reasons".

What about short answer questions?
Chance and Data (1.12)  could have short answer questions. Sometimes a structure is a useful guide to keep the thinking going and avoid going blank".

They  could try SSA to help structure their answers
Statement, answer the question
Support your statement with evidence.  this is because..... 
Apply, provide an example. For example ....

or WWW
What do I see (statement)
Where do i see it (give specific evidence)
What does it mean or why might it be the case ( apply)

What if I go blank? 
Distract yourself  (only for a moment), drink some water 
Relax, take 3 deep breaths 
Doodle - make notes in margins or a blank piece of paper
Use a structure 
if none of these work move on to your next question & come back to this one later
The worst thing you can do is start to panic, because as they say ‘stress makes you stupid’. You won’t be able to think clearly.

What if I get writer’s cramp?
Practice writing before the exam
Try gripping your pen loosely
Put your pen down & have a rest for a few minutes (there is time to do this) Flex your hand in between questions.
Sometimes a fatter pen can help

Share your best tips in the comments

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Three quarters of 2016 ...

... Gone. It seems hard to believe that three quarters of 2016 is behind us. As I look back over the year there are so many things I planned to do and didn't quite get to.

Planning for the last quarter includes completing some new learning. Here I have highlighted some of the more popular online courses that are relevant to us as maths & stats teachers in NZ.

For Students
As senior students head into exams its worth having them think about how they learn best.
The most popular MOOC on Coursera is Learning How to learn. 
The course started this week  (September 12) registrations are still open.

5 options for teachers 
1. FutureLearn: Data to Insight

This course is presented by Chris Wild from The University of Auckland. It is full of really powerful ideas for teachers both in terms of our own learning and ideas for using with students.

2. Foundations of Teaching for Learning 5:  Planning for Teaching and Learning

Goto coursera 

This course will help you consider how to develop appropriate learning goals for individual and groups of students.  Week 4 is all about the spiral of inquiry lead by Judy Halbert & Linda Kaser
This is part of a series  put together by the Commonwealth Education  Trust, Canada

3. Friday Institute:
Use technology to enhance math teaching & learning, analyse student thinking, and engage students in productive. discourse.

4. How to Learn Maths for teachers & How to Learn Maths 
The is a newly recorded course from  Jo Boaler with updated materials. The course has been hugely popular among teachers across the globe with over 50 000 registrations. The teacher course cost $125  however the shorter version, How to Learn Maths is free.

5. & Face to face...
  1. U-Learn: Rotorua October 3rd-5th 
  2. Bay of Plenty Maths Conference : 18th November, Wairaki Polytechnic, Rotorua
  3. AMA Mathematics Day: 24th November
  4. AMA Statistics Day: 25th November; University of Auckland, Faculty of Education & Social Work

Thursday, 18 August 2016

What's New ?

With the release of the learning progression framework we now have a growing kete of tools to select from to build numeracy skills with our students.

From the beehive this week....

New resources to boost numeracy and literacy

Education Minister Hekia Parata today officially launched a new resource, including an app, to strengthen teaching and learning in reading, writing and maths.
“Being able to effectively evaluate a child’s rate of progress is essential for teachers, so they can identify where more support is required,” says Ms Parata.
“There has been a gap in our understanding of progress and achievement in years 9 and 10. The Learning Progression Frameworks (LPF) that I’m launching today fills that gap, supporting teachers’ understanding of how their students are progressing in those two years.”

The LPF acts as a guide, providing examples of student work to illustrate the significant steps that students need to take as they develop their skills in reading, writing and mathematics. Interactive modules are also provided to take teachers through how to use the LPF to support teaching and learning. ..
. more

The learning progression framework is available at
Registration is required for access

The Learning Progressions app can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play:

Google Play:

(Note the App only goes to Level 4 of the curriculum)

More resources for New Zealand Teachers and students

The modules in Pathways Awarua have been developed to support learners to strengthen their numeracy, reading, writing and listening competencies.

The numeracy pathway has been linked to levels of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Pathways Awarua has also gone Mobile - goto the App store or Google Play and search Pathways Awarua to download the Numeracy module


e-ako maths is a resource created to support students' development of a sound knowledge and understanding of important maths ideas from levels 1-5 of the New Zealand Curriculum.
e-ako maths is designed to complement and support a classroom teaching programme and is not intended to be a stand alone tool for teaching these important concepts.

e-ako now includes a suite of PLD modules for teachers.

For more information about e-ako maths click here

Friday, 22 July 2016

How a rich context can make a difference.

There is nothing like a bit of mystery to get Year 10 boys interested. 
Ricky Pedersen, HoF De La Salle College and his Year 10 class looked at a fake crime scene and attempted to solve a murder mystery.
This was their second lesson on solving for unknown angles in a right angle triangle. How the lesson unfolded:-

1. Ricky created a hook:
Before the students got into the classroom they noticed that something was different. Ricky had cordoned off an area of his classroom and set up a crime scene.

Students could see something worthwhile was going to take place in this lesson.
Ricky was bombarded with question
  • What happened?
  • What are we doing? 
  • Why is the room different? 
Their task: to collectively find out where each blood drop originated from and how the murder took place.

2. They made connections:  

Together they looked at a diagram of a blood drop hitting the floor and recapped their trigonometric ratio’s.

They discussed what would happen to a drop of blood as it hit the floor and what might happen if the angle changed.

This was helped through viewing a clip from the TV show, Dexter, about a consultant who analyses blood spatter

They unpacked a small concept covered in class and applied it to a foreign but interesting context.
Students had no prior knowledge of forensics in terms of experience but they were able to form meaningful connections between the scenario and the mathematics.

3. Practical learning took place through teamwork:

In groups students measured the length and width of a “blood splatter” and calculated angles. Once they were satisfied that they had the correct angle, they used a protractor and piece of string to track the trajectory of the blood drop just as they had seen in the video clip. Once each group had completed this task, they had 8 pieces of string tracking to 4 points of origin.

These students now have a shared experience from which to draw on.

4. They made sense of their findings:
In Ricky’s opinion this was probably the best part. Students discussed how many stab wounds there were, what the height of the person would have been and where they would have been stabbed. As a class they reasoned how the crime would have taken place and why they couldn’t determine where one blood drop came from.
Once they had a version of the events that the class was satisfied with, the students felt it was important that they acted it out!

This task was open ended. There was no predetermined solution. Students could be as imaginative as they wanted. Students had the opportunity to predict, discuss and justify their own ideas about the solution.  They also had to reach consensus. What Ricky deemed important was that when providing their solution, the students linked to the context. It was no surprise that this this came easily to them after having been immersed in the situation.

Ricky pondered, should we be aiming to engage our students with rich meaningful contextual questions or do they just need to have rigour and practice?
He wondered what his students will remember 3 weeks later, will it be how to nicely set out their working to solve for an angle or will it be how they measured the width and length of a blood drop and found the angle of trajectory from a stab wound?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

RISKing Success

Happy hump day - of course hump day means that there is not long until our students are leaving to write their exams. With that comes plenty of practice tests.

I wonder what effect the results of these tests have on students mindset and motivation especially those that continually get Not Achieved ?

Stiggins (2007) suggests we should look at the effect of assessment from the students point of view. from his research he notes that:

For students who are succeeding
For students who are Not Achieving
Assessment Results
Reinforce success
Reinforce failure
Which makes them feel
Hopeful & optimistic
They think
I am in control
I can’t do this
Feedback helps me
Feedback is more criticism
They become more likely to
Take initiative
Avoid doing anything
Keep going when the going gets hard
Simply give up
Which leads to
Curiosity & confidence
Frustration & Fear
Failing to take action
Adapted from's-Eyes.aspx

By classifying their errors  the students can better understand how to improve and hence shift their thinking.
Several years ago I was introduced to the RISK strategy for students to self analyse their errors. This may have originated from the work of Stiggins. I thought the RISK strategy would be particularly relevant at this time for our students who will be preparing for the MCAT in September.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at
How do I RISK my work?

1. Take the paper to be RISKed  and a coloured pen

2. Write a big and bold R, I,  S or K next to any mistakes

3. Ask myself?
  • How many silly mistakes did I make?
  • What causes me to mis-read questions?
  • What would my grade be if I eliminated all my silly mistakes and reading errors ?
  • Who am I going to get to help me with the K's ?
4.  Fix the silly mistakes and regrade the paper

Reducing silly mistakes is something students can easily do for themselves  once they are aware of how often & where they make silly mistakes. 
The class could jointly come up with strategies to reduce silly mistakes.
Questions they grade with a K they will need help with.

Another way to use the RISK strategy could be to create a table of the skills within a test, a column for right/wrong and a column for RIS or K. This will let them quickly see a pattern.

 ✔ ✗
R I S or K


Simplify with indices

last years post around the MCAT  has other revision ideas

What strategies do you use to help students improve ?

Stiggins, R. & Fullan, Michael. (2014). Revolutionize assessment : Empower students, inspire learning.