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Teaching Resources

Grade 8 Welcome Letter

Grade 8 Welcome Letter

barr-homeroom.jpg

Dear Grade 8 Parents and Guardians, Welcome back! We hope you had a safe and enjoyable summer, and we look forward to getting to know you and your children this year. We will be the grade 8 homeroom teachers for this year. Below, you will find answers to many of the questions you may have about your child’s grade 8 year.

Want to print this letter (PDF)? 2016-06-29-grade-8-welcome-letter

Want to modify it for your own students (Word)? 2016-06-29-grade-8-welcome-letter

List of Teachers

Here is the list of your child’s teachers for this school year. The easiest way to contact us is by e-mail. The format for a teacher’s e-mail address is first.last@ddsb.ca.

  • Homeroom: Mrs. Kelley or Mr. Barr
  • English Language: Mrs. Kelley
  • French: Mr. Barr
  • Mathematics: Mr. Barr
  • Science and Technology: Mr. Marsh
  • History: Mlle Samaha
  • Geography: Mlle Samaha
  • Health: Mr. Barr
  • Physical Education: Ms. Dean
  • Dance: Ms. Dean
  • Drama: Ms. Dean
  • Music: Ms. Tremblay-Beaton
  • Visual Arts: Ms. Dean

Clear communication between parents and teachers is key to a successful year. As such, we would like to bring your attention to some of the ways that we can communicate about your child’s progress this school year.

School Supplies

In order to ensure your child’s success, the following supplies are recommended.

  • Pens, pencils, erasers
  • Binders (either one large binder with dividers, or several small binders)
  • Looseleaf paper or exercise book
  • Graph paper or exercise book
  • Calculator with visible operations, geometry set (ruler, protractor, compass)

Newsletters and Websites

  • Kelley and Mr. Barr begin each unit with a newsletter that outlines all of our learning goals in each strand. We also provide a list of activities that you can do with your child to help him/her better understand the concepts taught throughout the unit. The first one of these will come home as a paper copy; all subsequent newsletters will be posted on the class website.
  • The main Walter E. Harris website is ca/school/waltereharris. From here, the “Teacher Pages” link leads to the pages of each teacher
  • All of our leaning goals, success criteria, exemplars, mentor texts, rubrics, and major assignments will be organized by strand and posted on our websites. If you are curious about what we’re working on in class or have any questions about assignments, please check the websites out regularly.

Assignments and Evaluations

  • All marked assignments will be sent home with a rubric and percentage grade so you are aware of your child’s progress. We kindly ask that you sign and return the rubric the next day so that we know you saw the mark. Each child will keep his/her marked assignments in a portfolio at school. It is crucial to his/her success that you return the evaluations promptly. If you would like more time to look over the assignment, please write a note in the agenda.
  • Assignment due dates are not flexible unless there are extenuating circumstances. We will also send home a pink slip anytime work is not submitted on time, to ensure you are aware. The pink slip will be filled in by your child indicating which assignment was not submitted, the date, and the reason why. We ask that you kindly sign that return the pink slip the next day.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Kelley and Mr. Barr

 

We also occasionally send home reminders and updates by e-mail. Please provide email addresses for any parents and guardians who would like to be contacted by e-mail.

Student’s Name:

Parent or Guardian’s Name Email Address
   
   
   
   

 

WEHPS Grade 8 Class Schedules 2016 - 2017

WEHPS Grade 8 Class Schedules 2016 - 2017

weekly-schedules.jpg

Here are the (tentative) schedules for the grade 8 classes this year. These are subject to change over the next few weeks, since there are probably still kinks to iron out.

Grade 8 Barr Homeroom

This is the schedule for the grade 8 Barr homeroom class.

Download for Excel (modifiable): 2016-09-01 Élèves Barr - horaire hebdomadaire

Download as PDF (printable): 2016-09-01 Élèves Barr - horaire hebdomadaire

2016-09-01 Élèves Barr - horaire hebdomadaire

Grade 8 Kelley Homeroom

This is the schedule for the grade 8 Kelley homeroom class.

Download for Excel (modifiable): 2016-09-01 Élèves Kelley - horaire hebdomadaire

Download as PDF (printable): 2016-09-01 Élèves Kelley - horaire hebdomadaire

2016-09-01 Élèves Kelley - horaire hebdomadaire

 

Mr. Barr's Schedule

This is Mr. Barr's personal timetable.

Download for Excel (modifiable): 2016-09-01 M Barr - horaire hebdomadaire

Download as PDF (printable): 2016-09-01 M Barr - horaire hebdomadaire

2016-09-01 M Barr - horaire hebdomadaire

Mrs. Kelley's Schedule

This is Mrs. Kelley's personal timetable.

Download for Excel (modifiable): 2016-09-01 Mrs Kelley - Weekly Schedule

Download as PDF (printable): 2016-09-01 Mrs Kelley - Weekly Schedule

2016-09-01 Mrs Kelley - Weekly Schedule

Four Teaching Strategies to Improve this Year

Four Teaching Strategies to Improve this Year

I just finished “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (by Susan Cain), and the book has gotten me thinking back to what did and didn’t work last school year. Last year, I taught French Immersion and mathematics to two classes of grade 8 students. One of the big advantages to this was that I was essentially working with the same 50 students for two to three hours each day. This allowed me to thoroughly test several teaching strategies and evaluate their effectiveness. I was really happy with some of the strategies I tried out, and unimpressed by others. Here are some of my conclusions regarding these strategies, through the lens of the introvert-extrovert continuum. Artists

 

Introversion and Extroversion

There is a lot in “Quiet” that is worth reflecting on within the context of the classroom. For example, there is a huge push in education right now toward group work. While there are good intentions behind this (I believe that kids should be provided with opportunities to learn from each other), it was interesting to see that this might not be the best way for every child to learn.

Yet, as Quiet will explore, many of the most important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation. As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert. (“Quiet”, p. 6)

On one level, this is not surprising: there is no single teaching strategy out there that will cater to every student every time. However, it is true that we tend to put an emphasis on group work over individual work, and on talking over thinking.

The book doesn’t overly concern itself with the precise definitions of “introvert” and “extrovert”, but rather with the fruits of the research. That being said, it is useful to start with definitions.

When I started writing this book, the first thing I wanted to find out was precisely how researchers define introversion and extroversion. I knew that in 1921 the influential psychologist Carl Jung had published a bombshell of a book, psychological Types, popularizing the terms introvert and extrovert as the central building blocks of personality. Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

But what do contemporary researchers have to say? I soon discovered that there is no all-purpose definition of introversion or extroversion […] There are almost as many definitions of introvert and extrovert as there are personality psychologists, who spend a great deal of time arguing over which meaning is most accurate. Some think that Jung’s ideas are outdated; others swear that he’s the only one who got it right.

Still, today’s researchers tend to agree on several important points: for example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo. “Other people are very arousing,” says the personality psychologies David Winter, explaining why your typical introvert would rather spend her vacation reading on the beach than partying on a cruise ship. “They arouse threat, fear, flight, and love. A hundred people are very stimulating compared to a hundred books or a hundred grains of sand.” (“Quiet”, p. 10 - 11)

I still have no perfect solution for creating a classroom atmosphere that is stimulating enough for the most extroverted students while being calm enough for the most introverted. But I came away with some food-for-thought on the main teaching strategies I use in my classroom: (1) Number Talks (or Études grammatiques in French class), (2) Taking Notes and Using Strategy Walls, (3) Three-Act Math Problems, and (4) Group Work.

Serious Study Alone

 

1. Number Talks

(1A) Last Year’s Working Hypothesis

Number Talks might be interesting. I should try them out over the course of a month and see if they are useful.

(1B) Reflection / Analysis

The principle behind Number Talks is to provide students with one or two good problems each day to work on mentally, before sharing a solution verbally with the class and discussing strategies on how to reach that conclusion. Over the course of a unit, this allows students to confront a range of problems, and to see common mistakes. Number Talks also allow students to mentally test the validity of other students’ answers.

Many psychologists would also agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. They enjoy “the thrill of the chase” for rewards like money and status.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Our personalities also shape our social styles. Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.

Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep conversations. (p. 11)

I feel like the Number Talk format works well for introverted and extroverted students. Giving students time to reflect on the problem individually, takes some of the pressure off of having to speak in front of their peers. At the same time, I found that the more extroverted students ended up sharing their answers most of the time. It strikes a certain balance.

(1C) Teaching practices that worked well

  • Do each Number Talk on a sheet of chart paper, or find some way of recording students’ thoughts, so that they can be referred to in the future.
  • Use Number Talks to build a theme. Each day, look at what students already know (what they are good at as well as what they are struggling with), look at what your final objective for the unit is, and make today’s Number Talk be a problem that will (hopefully) enable students to build their next step to reaching that objective.
  • Don’t worry if a Number Talk doesn’t go well on a given day, but plan the next day’s Number Talk to help students reach the goal you envisioned.
  • Staple past Number Talks together in a visible area of the classroom, so that students can refer to them, and so that you can look back and make sure you’re on the right path to teaching students what they need to learn.
  • Prepare a “Part I” and “Part II” for each Number Talk. If Part I is too easy, then move straight on to part II. If Part I takes up all of the allotted time, then Part II becomes the next day’s Part I.

(1D) Teaching practices that didn’t work so well

  • I tried taking pictures of Number Talks and posting them in a class OneNote. My hope was that this would allow students to access the full history of Number Talks at home and at school, whenever they needed. What ended up happening was that, since it takes too long to boot up a computer and go look at the OneNote, students stopped referring to past Number Talks entirely. Solution: go back to writing Number Talks on chart paper and stapling them together on a wall.
  • Picking specific strategies for students to learn: I usually have a way that I envision solving a problem. And I usually try to pick problems that will encourage students to use specific strategies. But it can often take a class a while to develop effective and efficient strategies. When I’ve tried to show students what my favourite strategies are, it usually goes better when they have had a good amount of experience with that type of problem. If I try to explain my own strategies too soon, (1) often, many of the students don’t understand what I’m trying to do, and (2) it takes the fun away from the students’ developing their own strategies. Solution: toward the end of a section of Number Talks, it helps to have a conversation around what the students think their best strategies are. It helps to encourage them to develop two strategies that they like, since one strategy can help you find the answer and the other can help you check your work.
  • Waiting until the students are “ready”. I was trained to teach first, then ask questions after. With Number Talks, I might warn students that they are going to see something new, and that a problem might be a bit more difficult than usual, but I have found it inefficient to try to backfill all of students’ possible missing knowledge before starting a unit. Now, I just give problems, and the skills come. Starting the Pythagorean Theorem? Put the question on the board, see what students come up with. Will the Number Talk sometimes be too difficult? Yes. Will it ever be a failure? No, because if students get stuck on (for example) what a square root is, they will ask you to explain it, and will hopefully be more inclined to listen to the answer.

(1E) Next Steps

  • This year, I hope to extend the idea of Number Talks in math to “Études grammatiques / Études linguistiques” in French. My hope is that I can apply the same strategy to language (I know that I love the problem-solving aspect of grammar and conjugation).

Freedom from Interruption

 

2. Taking Notes and Using Strategy Walls

(2A) Last Year’s Working Hypothesis (Initial Question)

I hate writing notes, students hate copying notes, why don’t we just skip taking notes and do awesome math problems during the time we save?

(2B) Analysis

Well, we avoided wasting time writing down notes that many students didn’t want to copy down. But this was a fine example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is a lot of value in taking notes, specifically notes that students create and structure themselves. We were able to compensate by sort of having “group notes” (if you will) on our strategy walls, but this isn’t as effective.

(2C) Conclusion

Having students copy down notes exactly as I’ve written them is inefficient. Compiling what students have learned into a strategy wall is useful. But not taking any notes at all is somewhat ineffective. There has to be an optimal solution somewhere in between.

(2D) New Hypothesis

I’m going to keep creating strategy walls. For note taking, I would like to try a type of “math journal”, where students can take their own notes, including summaries of Number Talks, definitions, and work they’ve done on inquiry problems and three-act math problems. I’m hoping that this will allow students to construct their own overall understanding of mathematics. The bottom line is that students have to do some form of written reflection at the end of the unit, where they can figure out what the most important concepts in the unit were, and write down some of the implications.

The Value of Silence and Solitude

 

3. Three-Act Math Problems

(3A) Last Year’s Working Hypothesis (Initial Question)

What would happen if, instead of starting a new unit with a series of definitions, theorems and examples, I instead start with an awesome problem? I think it will destabilize the students (which is probably a bad thing), but also make them ask better questions and be more engaged (which is a good thing). Is the trade-off worth it?

(3B) Analysis

I started doing a lot of three-act math problems this year, using many from Dan Meyers’ website, as well as creating some myself. It turns out that they are hands-down awesome, and that this is how I want to teach math from now on. That being said, there are certain disadvantages to teaching math this way which need to be minimized.

Three-Act math problems are most easily managed from a teaching perspective by having students work in small groups of 2-3 people per group. I am currently unsure of whether this is best for the students (I will discuss this in the next section), but it definitely is easier for me. By having, say, 8 groups that I need to circulate between in a given class, I can give feedback to each group two or three times in an hour, and help them flesh out their ideas.

(3C) Things that worked well

  • Letting students work in groups of 2 – 3. Students seemed to learn well from each other, and I was able to circulate effectively between groups.
  • Using the “Continuum and Connections” framework. I needed a way to structure my year that would allow me to be flexible, and this resource did the job.
  • Writing students “next steps” directly on their paper. I found that by adding questions directly to students’ papers, I was able to track their progress better and was better able to evaluate their final product. I would literally write things like, “This is inaccurate. What do you think went wrong? Fix it,” right on their paper. We would discuss possibilities, and then I would tell them to go write down (and hopefully prove) what they thought.
  • Having some groups present their work to the class, and having all groups give their conclusion before watching the third act of the 3-act math lesson. That way, students had something at stake when they saw the actual solution.
  • Reviewing as a class some of the things we learned, and some of the things that went wrong.

(3D) Things that didn’t work so well

  • Letting student work in groups of 4 or more. There was always at least one student not working in these groups.
  • Trying to give grades based on group work. I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about this, and nothing I’ve come up with makes sense. Group activities like this can be good to help develop strategies, skills and knowledge, but they offer little value for giving a grade. If anyone comes up with a good solution, please let me know.
  • Sometimes students who could talk with more authority were taken more seriously than students who had difficulty expressing themselves.

(3E) Conclusion

Three-Act Math problems are absolutely fantastic, and I can see these being one of the pillars of my math classroom for years to come. However, room needs to be left for students to work on problems individually, whether that be through an exit ticket, a math journal, assignments or tests.

The Winner's Curse 

4. Group Work

(4A) Last Year’s Working Hypothesis

If I provide students with opportunities to work on cool problems in small groups of 3 or 4 people per group, and I structure the learning environment, then students will invest more into their work and will learn more from what they do.

(4B) Analysis

I’ve been struggling this past year, trying to find the best way to implement group work. I believe that kids should construct their own mathematical structure as much as possible. But that takes a mixture of individual work, large group work and small group work. And every student has their own way of learning, and their own preferences for how much individual work, small group work and large group work they want to participate in. The question in, how can we accommodate everyone as best we can?

What does this mean about group work? Some students learn better on their own (but you already knew that). Other students learn better in groups. And no matter our own temperament, we need to learn to work with people who are all across that spectrum. The danger is that there could be misunderstandings between people on opposite ends of the spectrum: introverted students might let extroverted students run the conversation; extroverted students might feel like they are doing all the work because introverted students aren’t expressing themselves.

If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day. This would mean that an awful lot of bad ideas prevail while good ones get squashed. Yet studies in group dynamics suggest that this is exactly what happens. We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types—even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence test scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate. In one experiment in which two strangers met over the phone, those who spoke more were considered more intelligent, better looking, and more likable. We also see talkers as leaders. The more a person talks, the more other group members direct their attention to him, which means that he becomes increasingly powerful as a meeting goes on. It also helps to speak fast; we rate quick talkers as more capable and appealing than slow talkers.

All of this would be fine if more talking were correlated with greater insight, but research suggests that there’s no such link. In one study, groups of college students were asked to solve math problems together and then to rate one another’s intelligence and judgment. The students who spoke first and most often were consistently given the highest ratings, even though their suggestions (and math SAT scores) were no better than those of the less talkative students. These same students were given similarly high ratings for their creativity and analytical powers during a separate exercise to develop a business strategy for a start-up company.

A well-known study out of UC Berkeley by organizational behaviour professor Philip Tetlock found that television pundits—that is, people who earn their livings by holding forth confidently on the basis of limited information—make worse predictions about political and economic trends than they would by random chance. And the very worst prognosticators tend to be the most famous and the most confident—the very ones who would be considered natural leaders in an HBS classroom. (p. 51 - 52)

This next anecdote provides some insight into how we could train students to avoid the trap of thinking the most talkative students are necessarily right.

Bus to Abilene

(4C) Things that worked well

  • Randomly generating student groups: This way, students knew that they would always be working with different people, so if they didn’t get along with someone, at least they knew it would be temporary
  • Structuring the introduction to the group project: Things worked better when everyone started more-or-less on the same page
  • Not formally evaluating student work: When students knew that the objective of group projects was to learn and to get prepared for a future evaluation, they found it motivating and it allowed them to take more risks

(4D) Things that didn’t work so well

  • Creating groups larger than 3 people: There was always someone without a job
  • Not giving enough time to think before asking for questions: Next year, it might be good to start a math journal entry and allow students to generate their own questions before starting the group discussion

(4E) Conclusion

Keep group work, but try to make the work more efficient. Set up student desks in the classroom in groups of 3 (maximum), to facilitate transitions.

(4F) New Hypothesis

If I have students start all three-act math problems in their own math journals first, before randomly assigning them to groups of 2 – 3 students, then students will be able to bring their own initial impressions to their group, and make better problem-solving decisions.

DDSB Elementary and Holiday Calendar 2016-2017

DDSB Elementary and Holiday Calendar 2016-2017

For ease of reference, here are the regular DDSB Elementary Calendar, the Holiday and PA Day Calendar and the DEAA Calendar for the 2016-2017 school year.

2016-2017 DDSB Summary Calendars

This is a summarized list of the important dates this school year for our school. The PDF also contains the calendars for the modified school year (page 2) and for high schools (page 3).

Download as PDF: 2016-2017 DDSB Summary Calendars

Regular_Elem_Sec.cdr

2016-2017 DDSB Elementary Regular Calendar

Wondering what school day it is today? This is a year-at-a-glace breakdown of all school days, professional activity days and holidays.

Download as PDF: 2016-2017 Elementary Regular Calendar

Report to Committee of the Whole

2016-2017 DEAA Calendar

This is a month-by-month breakdown of all important events for the Durham Elementary Athletic Association, from September to June.

Download as PDF: 2016-2017 DEAA Calendar

Grade 8 French as a Second Language (FSL) Long-Range Plans

Grade 8 French as a Second Language (FSL) Long-Range Plans

This is my latest attempt at organizing the grade 8 Ontario FSL curriculum's expectations into units that make sense. I try to develop my long-range plans into a one-page, "year-at-a-glance" type of document. I more or less succeeded in this case, since the resulting documents are ledger-sized. I'm a big fan of the following quote when it comes to long-range plans.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. - Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

That sort of summarizes how I expect these long-range plans to work this year. These documents are both very much works-in-progress, and have likely changed repeatedly by the time you read this. Feel free to modify them to your needs, and let me know if you have any suggestions or if you see any glaring omissions.

Grouping the Ontario Grade 8 French as a Second Language Expectations

The first thing I did was to try to find the expectations that looked similar between the four strands (reading, writing, speaking and listening). Most of the expectations aligned nicely, but some didn't match up.

Next, I tried to find a theme that bound the whole set of expectations together. In this case, I called the units "Fiction: Analyzing Narrative Text Patterns", "Media Texts: Evaluating Texts", "Non-Fiction: Summarizing Important Ideas While Reading", and "Poetry and Song: Making Connections".

Finally, as I go through the process of teaching these units, I will have a chance to readjust the titles, and to see if any of the expectations should be moved around.

Download for Excel (modifiable): 2016-06-30 Grade 8 FSL Curriculum Expectations Grouping Download as PDF (ready for print): 2016-06-30 Grade 8 FSL Curriculum Expectations Grouping

Or just click on the following image to enlarge (though the quality is vastly better in the above two files).2016-06-30 Grade 8 FSL Curriculum Expectations Grouping

Ontario Grade 8 FSL Year-at-a-Glance

Here is my formalized version of the grouped expectations. I've broken them down into the following periods and units.

  • September - November: "Fiction : Analyzing Narrative Text Pattern"
  • December - January: "Evaluating Texts"
  • February - March: "Summarizing Important Ideas While Reading"
  • April – June: "Making Connections"
  • Full Year: "Synthesizing and Making Inferences"

Each unit hits on group expectations for each of the four strands, in the order I'll be doing them: (C) Reading, (D), Writing, (B) Speaking, and (A) Listening. On top of that, I've added « Les études grammatiques » ("Grammar Talks"), which are analogous to Number Talks in the sense that I'm planning on putting problems on the board and have students analyze possible solutions.

Download for Word (modifiable): 2016-06-30 Grade 8 FSL Year at a Glance Download as PDF (ready for print): 2016-06-30 Grade 8 FSL Year at a Glance

Or just click on the following image to enlarge (though the quality is vastly better in the above two files).

2016-06-30 Grade 8 FSL Year at a Glance

Planning a Flexible Framework for Intermediate Mathematics

Planning a Flexible Framework for Intermediate Mathematics

This is an overview of what we will be discussing during our curriculum framework professional development session on August 25th. We will be at the DDSB Education Centre, room 2015 from 8:30 AM to about 2:00 PM. I hope you will all be finished your initial planning before 2:00 PM, but I put some extra time as padding, to avoid cutting short any great discussions.

Why I Enjoy Math

This is one of the recent math problems that I've enjoyed solving. Fill in 4 cells to give products shown in each row/column, sum of 4 cells must be 80.

There are two main experiences that I can point to that really drove me to want to teach mathematics. The first was my grade 12 calculus course. What I enjoyed the most about that class was when we were given time to work on tough problems. I was lucky enough to be in a class where most (if not all) of the students really wanted to be there, and really wanted to learn. The teacher didn't pull any punches, and gave us really tough problems to work on. I remember working on those problems both individually and with other students for hours. The sheer difficulty of the problems made them intensely satisfying to solve.

The second really positive experience I had was one of my university math courses about the process of problem-solving. The course was entirely based on the book, "Thinking Mathematically", by Mason, Burton and Stacey. In that book, I found that the authors had summed up the essence of what is satisfying about mathematics: solving intricate and difficult puzzles by finding the simple logic that underlies them. The book showed where the art and the science of mathematics meet. (It sometimes feels like many of the new ideas of how to engage students in math are pulled from this book. The problems are simple enough that they can be understood and attempted by grade 7 students, but are complex enough that they can lead to university-level solutions.)

So, I do math because I enjoy solving intricate puzzles, and I find it extremely satisfying when seemingly impossible problems can be solved simply by looking at them in the right way. And the reason why I teach math is that I enjoy seeing students get the same satisfaction out of these puzzles.

The Perfect Lesson Plan: a Hypothesis

Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the way I enjoy learning mathematics and the way that I felt I was expected to teach mathematics. I get excited about learning math when I'm faced with a challenging problem that I can generate good hypotheses for, but that takes a while to figure out the underlying structure. I enjoy teaching math when I see my students going through the same process: they have a tough problem that is easy to understand, but which is tough to solve. Take, for example, the first problem in "Thinking Mathematically".

Warehouse

This problem is simple enough that students can understand the question easily, but complex enough that it takes some time to figure out. That's precisely what makes it so enjoyable to work on. But when you go in to the Ontario Math Curriculum (Grade 8 Number Sense is on page 111), it's not immediately clear whether this question really teaches kids to "solve problems involving percents expressed to one decimal place (e.g., 12.5%) and whole-number percents greater than 100 (e.g., 115%)". It becomes easy to start asking myself if I've really taught that students what I was supposed to teach. Did I go over the concept too superficially? Should I have gone into more detail? What about the kids who struggle with the concept of decimals, fractions or percents--how do I help them succeed? And if I try to focus on the students who are struggling and fill the gaps in their understanding, what should the kids who find this easy be doing?

(You may have already heard an easy answer to this, such as, "You just work with the struggling students in small groups while the independent workers work independently"; unfortunately, the reality of working with students in the classroom often precludes easy answers. I have a couple elements of solutions and hypotheses to propose. I also have a couple good questions. But I can confess right now that I don't have any easy answers or solutions that will 100% work in your class for 100% of your students 100% of the time.)

The problem-solving rubric proposed in the book, "Thinking Mathematically"

Where I Got Stuck

Last September, I taught Chapter 5: Measurement of Circles in September. And I did Chapter 1: Number Relationships in October. And after that, I realized that I had no interest in continuing. I couldn't figure out why. It didn't make any sense to me--I love doing math. I love teaching math. I love the rigour involved in preparing lessons that are pedagogically sound, and that explore the nuance of the mathematics curriculum. Why wasn't I looking forward to the next unit?

So I did what I usually do: I started hypothesizing. Maybe I didn't change the program enough from last year (I don't like teaching the same thing the same way twice). Maybe I wasn't precise enough in my examples or definitions (perhaps students weren't fully understanding). Maybe I didn't want to write notes on the board (in retrospect, that was certainly part of the answer). Maybe I should ditch the textbook entirely and plan my year based only on the curriculum. No matter how much I personalize the program and add in my own activities, by starting with a textbook, I'm automatically following someone else's plan, and that limits my creativity. (I looked at my long-range plans, and they looked dreadfully boring.) Maybe I'm experienced enough now that I don't need to curriculum as a guide (I have a pretty good feel for what a grade 8-level problem should be). Maybe if I taught using just the curriculum, I could cover the entire thing in one year. Well, anyway, as much of the curriculum as anyone can cover, since there are so many curriculum expectations, how can anyone cover them all anyway?

When I prepare my units, I try to start with the end in mind. I look around for any great resources (after all, why create something from scratch when I can take something good and make it great with the same amount of effort?), and I try to match them up against the curriculum and organize them in a way that should make sense to students. You can sort of see my process when I compiled the resources, "Nelson Math Grade 8 Long-Range Plans", "Jump Math Grade 8 Long-Range Plans", and "Ontario Curriculum Long-Range Plans". I tried to take the best parts of all three of those documents, and structure them in a way that would make everything as clear as possible to the students. As far as I was concerned at the time, a perfect lesson should cover all the curriculum expectations in an organized and structured manner, and should define all terms, hypotheses and theorems along the way. A perfect lesson should be rigorous, precise, and provide excellent examples for students to follow. You can see the result of that hypothesis in "Chapter 1: Number Relationships".

A Possible Solution

So here is the working hypothesis I tested last year: if I can find a way to teach mathematics so that the kids learn the same way that I like to learn, then they will have more fun and I will have more fun. (Oh, and also, we will all learn more and other stuff too.)

With that in mind, I started to re-design my curriculum so that, instead of teaching a bunch of theory, taking notes, and then trying out some problems, we tackled the big problems first.

The advantage to doing it this way is that the students started asking better questions, generating better hypotheses, and becoming more independent. The short-term downside was that many of the students felt destabilized. The structure I was using to teach had changed, and they justifiably felt unsure of what to expect. To be fair, I felt a bit destabilized myself. I like having structure.

And that brings us to the reason why we are all here today. How can we teach the way we want to teach while still retaining structure? How can we avoid the extremes of "too much flexibility" (which makes it difficult to plan, and to make sure that we are going to teach what needs to be taught) and "not enough flexibility" (where we can't adapt what we are teaching to the needs of the students)?

Well, there's a resource that helps tremendously with that problem.

The "Curriculum and Connections" Resource

Continuum and Connections

This collection of documents, created by the Ontario Ministry of Education, is a fantastic way to organize a flexible framework for mathematics. The documents cover grade 7 through grade 10, and distinguish between applied and academic at the high school level. The best part is that each of the documents is broken up into the strands for each grade.

For example, grade 7 and grade 8 mathematics have a section devoted to each of the following: (1) Fractions; (2) Integers; (3) Patterning and Algebraic Modelling; (4) Perimeter, Area and Volume; (5) Proportional Reasoning; and (6) Solving Equations. Furthermore, each of those sections are broken down into the 5 strands we are supposed to evaluate in those grades: Number Sense and Numeration; Measurement; Geometry and Spatial Sense; Patterning and Algebra; and Data Management and Probability.

The way the "Curriculum and Connections" resource is put together on the EduGAINS website, is unfortunately difficult to work with on a daily basis. I needed something that I could just put on the wall, and check off as I went, something that I could refer to quickly and easily. So, last year, I took some time to compile all the units (by grade level) into a series of 1-page documents containing all of the important information. Click here for the full "Curriculum and Connections" resource.

Covering All the Curriculum Expectations

One of the big advantages to teaching this way is that I no longer worry about "covering the curriculum". There are only six units in the entire year, and I can break them up however I want. In addition, I know I'm going to cover each strand once in every unit, so I'm never going to be in a position where, "Oh, no! I have to teach fractions sometime in the next three weeks so that I can get a grade for the report card!"

Using the Curriculum and Connections framework, I'm going to cover every strand multiple times each semester, so I really just need to make a judicious choice of what I'm evaluating.

Here are two examples of units that I've taught this past year, using the "Curriculum and Connections" framework.

1. Understanding the Relationship Between Percents, Fractions and Decimal Numbers

This is an overview of our strategy wall, after doing one project together.

This unit was based on the Curriculum and Connections grade 8 "Fractions" section. I co-constructed the learning goal and success criteria with the students, but I already had a good idea going in what I wanted to do. The big idea was to understand that "fractions, decimals and percents are just different ways of representing numbers" (you can see that on the top-right, in yellow), and that the same number can always be represented (at least) three different ways.

The student work you see on the board is for two problems, "Nana's Lemonade" and "Dueling Discounts", created by Dan Meyer. For an overview of how I structured this unit, see the post in its original context. At

2. From Patterning to Algebra

Finished Strategy Wall (1). This is what our strategy wall looked like at the end of this problem.

This unit was based on the grade 8 Curriculum and Connections section, "Patterning and Algebraic Modelling". For the students, I named it "From Patterning to Algebra" because that was more meaningful to them. The big idea was to "Understand that pattern rules, tables of values and graphs are simply different ways of representing patterns" (in yellow at the top left). We created our success criteria together, and we added definitions as the unit progressed, to help students learn the terminology that goes with the ideas they were expressing. You can see how I structured that unit in this post. I also included the following evaluation in that unit.

2016-03-04 From Patterning to Algebra - Pattern Rule

Distinguishing Between Skills (Computing) and Reason (Problem-Solving)

Now that we have a framework upon which to base our teaching, the next problem is, "What do we put in that framework?". This is where we get more into the art of teaching, rather than the science. I'll do my best to show you what I do, and hopefully some of that will be useful for you, but most probably, at least some of this won't work with your style of teaching, so please look at this with a grain of salt.

The Ontario mathematics curriculum identifies 7 important mathematical processes: (1) problem solving; (2) reasoning and proving; (3) reflecting; (4) selecting tools and computational strategies; (5) connecting; (6) representing; and (7) communicating. I find it difficult to address all of these processes using just one teaching strategy. I suspect that it would be difficult to reach every student in the classroom using just one teaching strategy as well.

There are two main types of activities that I use to structure student learning. The first is called "Number Talks", and is based on the book "Making Number Talks Matter" by Humphreys and Parker. The book is available on Amazon, but if you bug your school's numeracy coach enough, they might be able to find a copy for you. The second type of activity I like to use are "Three-Act Math" problems, which is (sort of) Dan Meyer's take on three-part math lessons.

Number Talks are 20-minute lessons that cover the skills or computing aspect of solving relatively straightforward problems. Essentially, I chose a problem that I hope will get students to come up with good strategies. Each successive Number Talk builds on the one before it, until students have developed a variety of effective and efficient ways to solve "skill" problems. I will do one or two examples with you during our workshop, but in the meantime, this is how I introduced Number Talks to my class this past year.

Number Talks have replaced the "exercises" portion of my math class. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about the exact best way to structure exercises so that students develop a variety of strategies, and are challenged but not overwhelmed (here is an example of a series exercises for exploring square roots and squares). Now, with Number Talks, I instead use what students have learned so far, and where I want them to go, to choose a problem that I think will help them develop the type of strategies that will help them with a particular skill.

Three-act math lessons are where students get to work in groups to solve complicated problems and develop reasoning, proving and reflecting skills. With good three-act math problems, students form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, maybe solve the problem, and then reflect on their solution. Often, at the end, they will realize that their solution was inaccurate, partially accurate or reasonably precise, at which point they can reflect on the usefulness of their mathematical models. Over time, they often realize for themselves the statistics aphorism:

All mathematical models are wrong. Some are useful.

I'm going to do an example of a three-act math problem with you as well, and we'll talk about how to make them as effective as possible for your students.

Trials and Errors

In no particular order, here are a couple of the questions that I am struggling with right now. I have elements of answers, but I don't have a coherent global theory that answers all of the problems.

  • How to emphasize group work vs. individual work? (Should one count more than the other? How much time should students spend working individually or in teams?)
  • How do you make sure that every student has learned from their work? (What kinds of activities help you determine what a student has, in fact, learned?)
  • How do you evaluate students when you are constantly giving them feedback? (If you give them questions or next steps, how does that affect your grading of their work?)

Overview and Comments

Here is what I hope to cover during this in-service:

  • Introduction to "Curriculum and Connections" (large group)
  • Choose an order in which to do the 6 units proposed in Curriculum and Connections (randomly generated groups of 2-3)
  • Go through the planning process for one of those units:
    • Do a Number Talk to teach the skills section of the problem (large group)
    • Do a 3-act math problem to teach the problem-solving side of it (randomly generated groups of 2-3)
    • Do an evaluation (exit ticket or math journal entry) to evaluate summatively (plan in groups of 2-3, do the problem individually)

I hope to add pictures of the work we did together to this post, so that we can refer back to it later. If you have questions or comments, please add them below.

UPDATE: Pictures from the Workshop

Thanks for coming out, everyone! This was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot.

Ontario Math Continuum and Connections

Introduction

I've been trying to find a more flexible way to approach teaching mathematics to students, one that shows students that everything they learn over the course of a year is interconnected. The Continuum and Connections resource does a really good job of breaking the grade 7, grade 8, grade 9 and grade 10 math curriculums into units containing all five strands. However, the documents are a bit too large to work with on a daily basis. This is my attempt at making this resource into something that is immediately useful in the classroom.

It is still important to refer to the curriculum to make sure that all expectations are covered, but on a day-to-day basis, I really find this document easier to work with.

Overview

There are six units for each of the grades. In each of those units, I have placed the plans for grades 7, 8, 9 and 10. This makes it a bit easier to compare across grades, but unfortunately takes a couple extra moments if you are looking for all the plans for just one grade.

  1. Fractions;
  2. Integers;
  3. Patterning and Algebraic Modelling;
  4. Perimeter, Area and Volume;
  5. Proportional Reasoning; and
  6. Solving Equations.

Here are the download links for the full document:

Curriculum and Connections

The "Continuum and Connections" (link to page) documents are definitely worth consulting in their original context. In case that ever goes offline, I have also mirrored the documents here:

 

Fractions

 

Integers

 

Patterning and Algebraic Modelling

 

Perimeter, Area and Volume

 

Proportional Reasoning

 

Solving Equations

 

Grade 8 Mathematics: Multi-Strand Long-Range Plans

Grade 8 Mathematics: Multi-Strand Long-Range Plans

The Problem

I was trained to do math in a very classical fashion. Start by what you are certain that you know, and build from there. Pedagogically, this makes a certain amount of sense: once you can figure out where students are, you can build on it.

Using traditional textbooks to teach a math course, implies that you should start with a chapter that students understand well, and from there, go to a chapter that would (a) use what they've already learned, to (b) extend their understanding. In theory, this sounds like a good idea. In practice, there are nuances. With each new group of students (and with each new chapter), you need to figure out which students know what, and how to best get them where they need to be. And using a traditional textbook, it can be hard to figure this out.

I like planning long-term. I've used Nelson Math to create grade 8 long-range plans, and to create grade 7 long-range plans. I've used Jump Math for grade 8 long-range plans as well. And I've compared Nelson Math and Jump Math for grade 8 and for grade 7. There is something comforting about having a plan and knowing where you want to go next.

But every year, as the realities of teaching the students in my class have set it, I've either heavily modified or completely abandoned those plans. (Helmuth von Moltke might have something to say about that!)

Download for Word: 2016-01-25 Grade 8 Math Multi-Strand Long-Range Plans

Download as PDF: 2016-01-25 Grade 8 Math Multi-Strand Long-Range Plans

A Possible Solution

So, here's my next idea. I am certain it is at best an imperfect solution, but it's better than the other solutions I've tried so far. These plans are based on the EduGains' "Continuum & Connections" resources, which date from 2010. I've mirrored them here, in case that website goes down at any point.

The original documents are:

While I have only been working with this system for a few months, I have found a number of benefits:

  • It implicitly covers all of the grade 8 Ontario math curriculum (though I find I still need to refer to the curriculum regularly to make sure).
  • It allows for flexibility in what I teach next. For example, while focusing on fractions, I could cover algebraic expressions and experimental and theoretical probability as two different facets of the same idea, rather than as two different "chapters".
  • It allows me to evaluate all of my strands simultaneously. Hopefully, I'll never be stuck again trying to do just one more chapter so that I can have a mark for report cards.
  • It allows for more fluidity in my strategy walls. I don't have to throw out everything from the last chapter in order to make room for the new chapter.

The downside I have seen with this method is that some students perceive this approach as less structured. They miss the reassurance of knowing they are going to do chapter 10, starting with section 10.1 and going through section 10.8, and knowing that there will be a quiz at the halfway mark and a test at the end. And I have to say that I do miss that structure as well to a certain extent. But so far, I feel like the tradeoff is worth it.

 

Course Selection for Grade 9 at R.S. McLaughlin C.V.I. 2016

Course Selection for Grade 9 at R.S. McLaughlin C.V.I. 2016

Our two grade 8 classes had a meeting this morning with one of the guidance counsellors from R.S. McLaughlin C.V.I., to talk about options for course selections for grade 9. Students were given the information below on things to look for while selecting courses. Students who felt they were comfortable selecting courses did so, but no binding decisions have been made. Students can submit their final selections starting Monday, February 1st, and can submit them as late as Friday, February 26th. There is no bonus for submitting course selections earlier, nor any penalty for submitting them later (so long as they are submitted during the above timeframe). Students printed off their current course selections to take home. We asked them to have their course selections signed or initialled by a parent to show that the parents agree with the selection and the student can proceed to submit their final selection on the Career Cruising website. Again, nothing is final so far, this is just to get students and parents talking about their choices.

All of the slides below were explained verbally, and it is likely that some of the information below is not clear. Please contact me if you have general questions about course selection, or specific questions about your child.

For more information, please visit the R.S. McLaughlin C.V.I. Guidance Department page

Download the slides below as a PDF: 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016

2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 1 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 2 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 3 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 4 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 5 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 6 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 7 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 8 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 9 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 10 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 11 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 12 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 13 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 14 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 15 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 16 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 17 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 18 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 19 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 20 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 21 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 22 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 23 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 24 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 25 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 26 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 27 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 28 2016-01-27 Grade 8 Course Selection 2016 29

Career Cruising 2015 - 2016

Career Cruising 2015 - 2016

It's that time of the year again for our grade 8 students: time to start looking at course selections for grade 9. We will be going over all of this in class, but I'm putting it here for easy reference.

MCVI Course Selection Process

MCVI Course Selection Process 1 MCVI Course Selection Process 2

Survey of Courses

Survey of Courses

Individual Pathways Plan

Individual Pathways Plan

Mathematics Department Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Mathematics Department Grade 8 Orientation 1 Mathematics Department Grade 8 Orientation 2

French and International Languages Grade 8 Orientation Guide

French and International Languages 1 French and International Languages 2 French and International Languages 3

Dramatic Arts Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Dramatic Arts 1 Dramatic Arts 2

Business Studies Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Business Studies

Dramatic Arts Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Dramatic Arts 3

Physical Education Department Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Physical Education Department

Science Department Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Science Example 1 Science Example 2 Science Example 3

Social Science and Humanities Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Social Science and Humanities

Technological Studies Grade 8 Orientation Guide

Technological Studies