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?



October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

IDEO writes that design thinking is a

creative process that helps you design meaningful solutions in the classroom, at your school, and in your community.

We took the crash course as a team and learned about the 5 stages of design thinking. Having been through different iterations of the process before, it was great to see the impact that empathy has when team members solve problems collaboratively.


Our team is currently working on project_z which is a transformation of 4 traditional classrooms into 2 flexible learning spaces. So far we have considered the look and feel of the physical space and next we will consider software, hardware, teamwork and pedagogical solutions using the design thinking process. Mark Burgess has been very helpful in providing advice on how to approach and plan the sessions.

making sense of what people post

July 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

On Thursday 1st August we’ll be using Storify to make sense of all of tweets, photos, clips and comments of Teachmeet AC Maths at the Powerhouse. Participants will be using the hashtag #tmacmaths and then we’ll storify the whole thing to grab highlights of our time together. The nice thing is that people can be streaming the event or just following via twitter and our summary will capture their online insights and involvement too. Take the guided tour to get started. You can find the links for my presentation right here.  @markliddell


If you had the chance to start over with High School Maths…

June 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

then how would it look?

What are the ingredients that need to remain? What needs to be thrown out? What needs to be introduced?

There were a number of responses to the question on twitter so let’s consider them.

Phillip Cooke

Whenever anyone talks about hooks (engaging students in Maths without them knowing) then it’s always helpful to look at Dan Meyer. He has organised an array of ‘three-act’ Math tasks that provide students with a need-to-know that is immediate. Whether concepts are abstract or applicable to real life, there’s still a need for students to be motivated and this methodology helps engagement no-end.

Penny Bentley

I find that Authentic Problem Solving occurs when questions are open-ended, ill-structured and require conversation. They can’t just be sorted out by google and they require a combination of critical thinking skills and creativity. I like the work of NRICH because they have designed numerous tasks that have a low floor and a high ceiling ie. the posed questions can be attempted by most students however there are multiple avenues and varying levels of achievement all with the same task. They break down the questions by stage and topic so get amongst it.

Liz Gregson

The partnership for 21st Century Skills  offers some great ideas for connecting Maths outcomes with real world problems. While not each connection is inquiry-based there is a broad range of activities and projects to consider.

Lou Deibe

Project Based Learning has shown that engagement and rigour is heightened when students can be involved with the creation of learning and opportunities. This guide from the Innovation Unit is full of ways to help students question, fail, create, reflect, collaborate, critique, plan, design and curate.


There are some teachers who set the bar for authentic learning experiences. Take a look at the work of David Cox and Geoff Krall.

Graham Gallasch

P21 also has some handy Maths literacy links that are worth checking out.

Mentoring – It needs to be authentic, engaging and trustworthy

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

For the past few years I’ve had the great experience of participating in professional learning networks. Some are online: edmodo, twitter, blogging and LinkedIn meanwhile others are face-to-face: teachmeet, local HoDs meetings, hosting visitors to our school and also mentoring partnerships. Each of the networks have provided learning experiences in a number of areas including leadership, edtech, learning science, design thinking, innovation, cognitive development, Maths teaching and learning, project based learning and government education policy. The mentoring partnerships have played a significant role in my professional learning and now I’m aiming to develop my mentoring skills so that I will be better equipped in leadership.

I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘The heart of mentoring’. The author writes that effective mentoring is authentic, engaging and trustworthy. He runs through ten principles that mentors should consider and identifies how best to operate as a reflective mentor. Some of the principles that I’ll be considering are:

Perseverance – Stoddard writes that the mentor is not the problem solver for the mentee. The mentor takes a ‘side-by-side’ approach and this means that progress will not be constant. Perseverance is required to deal with the natural ups and downs of life.

Wholistic approach – Even though mentoring partnerships normally begin in a professional capacity, there needs to be room to talk about issues of happiness, contentment, successful relationships, achievement, physical, mental and emotional well-being. These issues do have an impact on professional competency and sometimes they will require conversation and reflection.

Modeling character – Stoddard notes that effective mentors model character. The traits of honesty and integrity are not developed overnight nor are they highly valued by everyone. It’s in the stressful and demanding times that these issues of character are tested. By talking about these traits and having accountability it’s hoped that solid character can be modeled and lived out.

While I’m being mentored I think it’s helpful to have these things in mind so that I can be better equipped as I mentor others.

20130325-164008.jpg @markliddell

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.