Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How My Students Impressed Me In The First Week

I started the year by prompting my students with this.

The idea was lifted from Justin Lanier, and this post is dedicated to him.

I was impressed by their video creations. When given the chance (and the freedom to produce what they want) the results can be inspiring, touching, creative, and some were just funny. They had a blast making them and in the end the students and teacher learned some things along the way. This is a great way to start the year.

Thank you Justin


Video 9

In other news, my blog was being attacked by someone who thought spamming in the comments will help his/her business.
I contacted the company based in India and I managed to get a response.
They apologized and removed me from their marketing strategy.
Sorry for the distraction.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is this going to be on the test?


I feel like I have done something wrong when a student asks, "Is this going to be on the test?"

The word THIS is the problem for me. To a student asking this question, THIS, means a piece of information that will be copied and reused very soon (and then likely never again).

To me, THIS, might mean the act of thinking (or another complex variation on that same activity, but generally cognitive in nature.)

I would like to answer the student like this:
student: "Is this going to be on the test?"
me: "Yes, thinking will be on the test."

But more often then not, I answer, "This is the test!"

The question, which is often a sincere plea, is the difference between a student that is aware that challenges happen (and you need persistence and some kind of search of prior knowledge to solve these challenges), and a student that is taking polaroids of moments in math class space and time.

Some initial questions that I need to consider:
How do I change this polaroid mentality?
How do I create a classroom where I am always encouraging persistence?
How can I avoid a student saying, "I never learned this," followed by pencil down and blank stare?
And it just occurred to me that these may also be related to the mother of all math class questions asked by students, "When are we ever going to need this?"

But we've all been there and have our repertoire of answers for that one.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Some Equal Signs Are More Equal Than Others

Here's a challenge.

I'm introducing concepts of Algebra to my students. That is to say, if a student asked, "Mr.Rowinsky, what are we doing today in class?" I would likely answer, "Algebra."

We're playing with the idea of equations. Balance. Left Side. Right Side. Equal sign in the middle. Some great discussion about this new mathematical animal takes place in the classroom. It's a challenge. It sometimes involves working backwards. It sometimes involves taking tiles and trying to match it with an algebraic abstraction. But mostly it's just abstract. There are moments of "I don't get it" and moments of "Oh ya, that makes sense!" It's frustrating in so many ways to some students. Likely more ways than I can imagine, and definitely more ways than I can teach. But this is the challenge.

A certain student has no difficulty solving x - 7 = 18. They will even momentarily suspend the trivial nature of the equation1 and indulge in my suggestion that adding 7 to both sides might be helpful. x - 7 + 7 = 18 + 7 and yes, as you already knew x = 25.
However, when the question is flipped, 18 = x - 7, some interesting things happen.

"Do I have to subtract 7 because it's reversed.
"How do I do this, it's all backwards?"
"I subtracted 18 from both sides but it didn't work."

These are not the loudest voices in the class. Just a certain few. The few that I'm trying to highlight here because I believe I know why they are having difficulty with this equation. (Outside of the fact that

Students have been convinced to believe the this symbol "=" actually means, "Put answer here".
That is math to them. Find the answer! And if they don't know the answer, they are not good at math. Or, they can grab a calculator and that solves everything.

I am now collecting some like terms. Again, sometimes tiles are used. Some seemingly concrete ideas to explain the abstract. And, they are following and having fun with it.

If I ask, what is 3x + 2x, they say 5x.
How about 7a - 3a, they say 4a.
And b + 8b - b...tough one, but yes, 8b works.

But again, a certain student might step back a bit and then ask me, "But what's the answer?"
They are frustrated that there is no equal sign, and that they still don't know the value of x, or, a, or b?
"How is this helping me?" they'll ask.

They want an equal sign. And they want a blank space for an answer.
They don't want to simplify.
They don't want to evaluate.
They don't want to factor.
They don't want to represent this equation with tiles.

They want an equal sign and they want the answer!

And by they, I mean certain students. And that is my challenge.
Oh, I'm up for it, but it's challenging nonetheless.

I'd love to hear what works for you. Please share what you've seen, and what you've heard in your classes when you first introduce Algebra.

1. [This alone is a point to consider. A triumph in my eyes.]

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Math Survey Says...

Following up on my What Makes A Great Math Teacher post, here are the results of the survey in wordle form. And as Michael Pershan puts it, Wordles result in much rejoicing.

What Makes a Great Math Teacher:

What Makes a Great Math Student:

What Makes a Great Math Classroom:

I thought it would be a good idea to see what students and teachers think about what makes Math Ed work. Does this solve anything? No. We haven't solved teaching. But I was glad to see that Mr. Pershan attempted something similar with his classes earlier in the school year.

Thanks to Fawn Nguyen for tweeting and getting the word out about the survey. Supportive as ever.
I'm going to post these in my classroom. Maybe even splurge and use the colour printer.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Grade 7 Math Class...the novel

I am absolutely thrilled (and terrified to be honest) to announce that this weekend will be the launch of my first novel.

Sally Strange: And How She Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Grade 7 Math

The novel has been a project of mine for a couple of years and has been featured twice in the OAME Gazette.

It will be published here, where you can read ABOUT THE BOOK and see an AUTHOR BIO, along with some other goodies.

I'm very excited to share this news and I wanted to give you a chance to share in my excitement.

For your consideration, here is the foreword by Marian Small, followed by the opening lines of the novel.


Here’s the reality of it. Most students know when the math teacher is trying to trick them.

Nico sent me a version of the manuscript for Sally Strange a couple of years ago, in hopes of some early feedback. He did this because I have published in math and have a long experience in the field. He wondered what I thought of how he had integrated the math into his fictional work. He didn’t want it to feel like a trick.

Well, he succeeded.

I was impressed at how easy and enjoyable it was to read, even without thinking about the math. What is so engaging about the book is how Nico has Sally down cold; you can just see her and hear her as you read the words. But what is so particularly creative is how the math is woven in through the story, the math that both he and I enjoy so much.

He clearly knows what young students think and feel about school and life. For students, math does not lie behind a secret door, or on the 3rd and a half floor. For students, math happens in school, along with all the other drama we call life.

A student who reads this will love the story, but will also be introduced to interesting math problems that are provided along the way. It is an opportunity for students to see the pleasure some of us see in math. Parents who read it will get a better understanding of their children, and will also probably get hooked into solving the problems inside.

The first time I met Nico was in a teacher session I conducted years ago. He stood out in the crowd as a teacher with a unique and creative way of thinking. As I met Nico on subsequent occasions, I could see how right that was.

Hearing Sally Strange’s words make it obvious how much fun it would be to be in such a classroom- another great message for young students; a math teacher can make a math class a great place to be!

Marian Small

Dean and Professor Emerita, University of New Brunswick

I've Got Problems

tuesday september 15th

If I was given the choice between going to math class or going to the orthodontist for a tightening, I’d probably choose the orthodontist. But I’m only 11 and I don’t get to make those choices.

Yesterday, I had the painful tightening. Today, I’m here. Math class.

A free sample of the book will be available here as well.
The purchase of the novel will include 3 formats: e-readers, iPads and Tablets and also PDF for computer use.

All readers of this blog can use the code ynaughtmathblog for a 33.3% discount.
A sincere thank you for sharing in the news, and I hope you enjoy the math adventure.

Nico Rowinsky

UPDATE: The novel is now available on Amazon.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Makes A Great Math Teacher?

This is an invitation to have your students fill out this survey.

Fawn Nguyen recently tweeted this from a conference in Las Vegas:

I proposed that I would ask my students on Tuesday (my next scheduled class) the question 'What makes a great Math teacher?' With 130+ students I should be able to get a good wordle out of it. But 130+ seems a bit small considering the resources we have and the online math community. So I'm going to UP my proposal and offer all your classes this survey for this week.

The survey has 3 questions and looks like this:

A Great Math Class

Trying to define what makes a great math class

What makes a great math teacher?
Think about what you'd like in a math teacher, or think about a math teacher in the past and what made them great.

What makes a great math student?
Think about a quality you have that makes you a good student, or a quality you would like to have.

What makes a great math classroom?
Think about things you want to see in the classroom. More than one answer is okay on this one.

Try it out with your math classes this week and I'll post the responses next weekend.

If the link for the survey above doesn't quite work try:

Thank you

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What Do Students Say About Math To Other Teachers: A Humble Brag

A fellow teacher came up to me this week and gave me a beautiful compliment. She retold a story of what a student had said about my math class. The student had mentioned that I challenged her into going beyond just the math question. "Taking it to the next level," and "Not just the same old questions." The student in question was one that I consider to have difficulties in my class, but I felt good that I've been able to give her the right challenge. I thanked my colleague for the great story. I walked a little taller that day, chest out, ego that much more inflated.

Another fellow teacher came up to me later that same week and presented the following anecdote. She retold a story of what another student had said about my math class. The student had mentioned that I didn't really challenge them and that I taught her nothing. "We just have to answer questions," and "He doesn't really help us." The student in question was one that I consider to have difficulties in my class, but I felt bad that I have not been able to engage her. I thanked my colleague for the feedback. I walked around a bit slower that day, slouched, ego that much more deflated.

But it's the second story that is going to drive me to make changes. Make the lesson better. Make the class better.