Students who can solve real-world problems

February 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

I spent a team day with @cwoldhuis and we created memories. Our goal was to make progress on a Year 9 Mathematics Learning Project and it was a very enjoyable day of professional and personal development. We started by visiting some Year 1 and 2 students at our school who were participating  in  a Maths experience where each student was teamed to solve a problem. The students we spoke with were aiming to describe their classroom to a teacher in Austria who wanted to build a similar classroom. It highlighted a number of important elements within the process that we were about to use. The PBL elements that we used stem from the Buck Institute (link below)


We then noted the syllabus outcomes for our students. syllabus

Aside from syllabus outcomes, we wanted to address other outcomes such as learning skillsthinking routines and aspects of growth mindset research.


Next we considered the development of our big idea. It was an interesting process because the first few attempts that we wrote didn’t stick but all of the follow up suggestions  were debated to an eventual outcome. We also got some help from our critical friends at this stage. This is the protocol that we’ll continue to use.

big development

Within these learning experiences the students will get to make choices about how they present and communicate their work. We wanted to design a statement that gave direction but also allowed for student voice/choice. design

The entry event for these projects is a time to give students an inspirational experience that can help to direct their thoughts and ideas. We plan to enlist some other staff members and ensure that the students are impacted on many levels. The discussion around this event got everyone excited about the possibilities of this project.

entry event

The timeline is an important aspect to plan and we will continue to work on this in the next few days. You’ll see that feedback and critique is a vital part of the process. This example helped for some of the team members to see its power. The public audience is another vital ingredient so we will lock in our location and times soon.


We are in the learning phase of Project Based Learning for Mathematics at our school and it is an amazing journey. If you can see any gaps in our process or would like to offer some advice then we will be all ears. It’s helpful to note without the PBL process, real world problem solving can be both boring and unengaging as Dan Meyer points out. We are using PBL because we want to provide room for student curiosity and personalisation within an environment that normally treats every student the same.  


Buck Institute of Education – elements of PBL


How can I make Maths more engaging and relevant?

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Great question mentioned by @robmarchetto

Let’s look at some quotes from Professor Jo Boaler from Stanford University:

When real Mathematics is taught – problem solving, creating ideas, exploring puzzles and discussing methods then many students succeed.

Students have the potential to be more engaged when a teacher brings passion to the classroom. I’ve always been inspired by the learning culture of High Tech High. It turns out that teachers actually lead the way as learners. The organisational structure is such that teachers can collaborate, receive mentoring, participate in learning groups and are provided with feedback.

High Tech High places a high emphasis on public exhibition. Students will be more engaged if they complete work that matters.

The teachers model learning and then replicate that in the learning spaces.   Watch this video and catch a glimpse. Now teachers don’t have the ability to change the organisational structure of a school however they can create aspects of the HTH model by participating in teachmeets, on twitter and with blogs. This then leads to teachers being exposed to other ideas of what could engage learners. We are embarking on a problem based approach to the teaching and learning of Maths at NBCS. This means that students will begin with a scenario, problem or puzzle rather than a lecture. They will get stuck. They will get really stuck. What should I do when I can’t clearly see the next step? I like this summary. There are loads of people who are asking interesting problems and Geoff Krall has compiled some amazing problem based work. 

There are two versions of Maths in the lives of people; the strange and boring subject that they endured in the classroom and the interesting set of creative ideas that is Maths in the real world.

These are some interesting starting points to see Maths in the real world. Sometimes though, there won’t be easy connections to the real world and it doesn’t really help to make forced connections. I have seen more successful engagement when students are faced with a  ‘need-to-know’. They ask authentic questions and have a better chance of developing their personal interest.

Students need to solve ill-structured problems, ask many forms of questions and to use, adapt and apply methods.

There are very few schools that boast of offering a Maths class that is full of ‘ill-structured problems’. No teacher wants that. No parent wants that. Students needs a lecture, three examples and then they can answer questions from the text-book. That’s learning. What does a teacher need to let go of so that they feel good about providing students with open ended problems? Ron Ritchhart from Harvard provides some good food for thought.


How do educators define and design rich tasks for students?

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Great question.

Rich tasks tweet

The first thought that came to mind when I read the phrase ‘rich task’ was the Nrich team from Cambridge University. They offer some interesting points in describing characteristics and components of a rich task and the types of student behaviour associated with rich tasks.

Rich tasks encourage children to think creatively, work logically, communicate ideas, synthesise their results, analyse different viewpoints, look for commonalities and evaluate findings. However, what we really need are rich classrooms: communities of enquiry and collaboration, promoting communication and imagination.

– Jennifer Piggott

I like that definition and suggestion.

Geoff Krall has compiled an amazing array of ‘problem based tasks’ which I believe are synonymous with rich tasks. Whenever students have used these tasks in my classroom I have been encouraged by the level of critical thinking and engagement. I don’t believe that rich tasks require a specified time frame. I’ve found that in some situations students can experience elements of rich tasks. For example, with the 101 questions, ‘What’s the first question that comes to your mind?

High Tech High in San Diego talks about their teachers as ‘designers’ of projects/learning that will engage students. They have a strong culture of mentoring in building rich tasks (projects) that require Significant Content and 21st Century Learning Skills.

Because there is so much great content out there to access there hasn’t been much pressure for me to design rich tasks on a regular basis. I have begun work on designing a PBL unit for Year 7 and I believe the first step for a great project (rich task) is passion. If you’re not passionate about seeing students of all ability levels being engaged in learning then things become difficult. Mark Burgess suggests that, where possible, working in teams will help the process of design because you can be constantly providing review and feedback. This guide has been an amazing resource for guiding our project design.

How do you design rich tasks? What do you describe as the key elements?


Students who are architects of lives that transcend the ordinary

March 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

The mission statement for Avenues in New York City is extensive and inspirational. They have set some clear educational objectives and it was great to see the wheels in motion last week.


Our first stop was the Math classrooms. No front row, no back row, just one group and everyone is involved. Each student begins their session by writing down a question that they need help with on their whiteboard. They use the Singapore Math methodology and after chatting with students they mentioned the challenges in getting started but the high rigor they are now able to achieve as a result.


There is a strong sense that students are learning as global citizens. Each student is taking a second language from age three. The foyer screen, run by the media team, jumps from place to place around the world identifying locations, cultures and geographical highlights.


Avenues intends open up other global sites so that students can change from one school to another seamlessly. I came away with a sense that students will face great challenges in their learning at Avenues and this is precisely what they need in order to become effective global leaders.

Lumiar Institute in São Paulo

March 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

It was a warm morning in March and I crossed Paulista Avenue to find my way to Lumiar Institute.

As Célia showed me around the site and explained the teaching and learning philosophy I could see that this was a very special place. In order to best meet the needs of students there are both Tutors and Masters that work within the school. Tutors build strong relationships with the students and help them to develop learning skills while Masters are responsible to guide students with learning experiences for specific projects.

The aspects of Lumiar that really stood out to me were:

– student democracy –

Rather than just having students take a passive approach within their school Lumiar invites them to lead and be involved with decision making. They empower students so that there is a buy-in to the all aspects of their day.

– student choice –

The students are encouraged to suggest what their current interests and passions are. Their learning is then focused around these topics. They have found that students are more engaged when they take they ownership of directing their learning.

– multi grade grouping –

Peer-to-peer mentoring and group work plays an important part in learning. All of the learning spaces within Lumiar are set up for collaboration rather than in rows facing the front.

Take a look-see at this snap shot of Lumiar from a few years ago.

Teachers and learners take risks, deal with failure and learn about realistic goals

January 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

I had the great pleasure of visiting Matthew Moss High School in the UK as part of my research as a NSW Premier’s Scholar. I was investigating aspects of Project Based Learning in Mathematics and the integration of learning outcomes. On the day that we were visiting, the students were participating in an integrated studies day. Year 7 students were code breaking by using their Maths and English skills while Year 8 were volunteering in the community and Year 9 were creating music, art (see pic below) and videos for horror movies. Horror movie inspired injury

Let me tell you about the school by commenting on some of their quotes:

“It should be a non-standard day every day”  Andy Raymer, Head teacher

In order to engage learners there has to be a sense of new opportunities with flexibility and freedom to learn each day. If students feel monotonous and bored in their approach then they will be restricted in their learning.

“Every learner has there own way of doing things” Middle Years student

Learning is personalised and differentiated at Matthew Moss High School so that students make decisions about their progress. Rather than controlling the classroom experience the staff assist students in developing understanding and thinking skills. This means that students can direct their own learning. Take a look-see at this video which highlights the My World integrated project that students work on for the equivalent of 2 days per week for 2 years.

“Allow staff to make mistakes so that they can learn about new learning methods” Andy Raymer

Teachers are given permission to try new strategies and reflect on their experience so that they can improve learning. Sometimes the risk pays off, other times it doesn’t, but there are always lessons to be learned for the next iteration and attempt. Staff are also clearly identified as fellow learners. The school is a proponent of the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI) and teacher profiles are available for students to see and discuss.

ELLI profile

“Don’t tell people what to do, ask them what they need” Mark Moorhouse

When the vision has been cast by a unified leadership team, Mark stated that staff need to be encouraged and supported as opposed to being controlled and supervised. A lot of work has gone into developing a strong learning culture among the staff and their passion was evident. It was an inspirational school to visit and hopefully their influence will continue to grow so that more students may learn.

On the hallway wall

#PBL is the new black

December 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Could you please give me a quick run down on Project Based Learning (PBL)?

Can you tell what makes Project Based Learning a success? Yes. 

Can you please provide me with loads of research that backs this form of teaching and learning? Yes, yes I can.

Could PBL be used in Primary school? Read this.

Can you please provide some example projects? High Tech High nods.


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