Using Bitstrips To Create Interactive Comic Math Problems

Recently, I have been working with staff on integrating Bitstrips For Schools into their classrooms. Most of the ideas that were discussed involved using Bitstrips for literacy, social studies, history, health, and even science. However, math never really entered the discussion. So I searched the shared math activities that were posted by other teachers on the Bitstrips For Schools website and only found a total of eight activities. All of these activities consisted of instructions for students to create their own comics. Here is an example of a shared activity that was posted:

Grades: 6-8, Subjects: Mathematics

Create a 3 panel strip to explain how to calculate the area of a triangle and/or parallelogram.

This particular application of Bitstrips is more of an assignment which focuses on students creating a product based on a set task. However, I thought that this program could also be used to create comics based on math word problems. In addition, these comics could be interactive as well due to a feature in Bitstrips that allows students to take an existing comic, ‘re-mix’ it, and save it as a separate comic.

The following is a primary algebra word problem:

Mr. Ro gave a handful of jelly beans to Jonah and to Sam. When they counted them Jonah had 3 red and 2 green and Sam had 5 red and 4 green. They realized one of them had more than the other. What could they do to make sure each had the same number of jelly beans? Justify your answer.

I took this word problem and turned it into the comic below:

In bitstripsforschools.com, I could share this comic as an activity and assign it to my class so that when they log in it would show up in their ‘Activities’ section. The students would then ‘re-mix’ the comic and rearrange the jelly beans, type their justifications in the caption boxes, and save it as their own comic. Teachers and students could also provide feedback on each others comics via the commenting feature. I could see students creating their own interactive math comic problems as well and sharing with the rest of the class to solve.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea. I have shared this activity in the Bitstrips For School shared activity section for teachers. Please try it out and let me know how it works out for you.

Know myself…

In the course that I’m currently taking, we discussed the importance of knowing and understanding our strengths as well as our weaknesses when moving into positions of leadership. Our discussion led to self-awareness and whether or not the perception we hold of ourselves is consistent with other people’s perception of us. This really made me think. I am often my biggest critic when it comes to self-assessment but I know that I really enjoy working with others and the concept of team work. My love of collaboration is rooted in years of playing team sports and growing up with two brothers very close in age. I truly believe in the power of many and that great things can be accomplished through collaboration. I would like to think of myself as a person that can adapt and work with anyone and any group. As an administrator, collaboration and shared leadership would be one of my core values that I would bring to a school.  Effective change could happen with one leader running the show but sustainable effective change can only happen through collaboration and shared leadership. Although I can identify collaboration as one of my strenghths, I also know that my dependence on it influences my area of focus for improvement.

My love for collaboration can often result in an over dependence on collaboration and therefore a lack of independence. There are situations where school administrators need to make some difficult decisions and at the end of the day, they are responsible for the entire school and its staff and students. As an individual, I find comfort in groups because  I can defer to the group when tough choices need to be made. I often find that when I do make decisions independently, I do so with some hesitation and doubt. I also tend to overthink decisions and then dwell on them after they are made. I realize that when it comes to independence, I need to have more confidence in myself, be more assertive and take a leadership role whenever I am working collaboratively in a group. In order to do accomplish this, I will look for and accept leadership opportunities that involve high levels of decision making.

#DIYedtech Challenge Update

Hey everyone, I just wanted to provide an update on the #DIYedtech Challenge. The first challenge was to create your own document camera out of your webcam and any other household items. If you want to learn more about the challenge, click here. There have been some submissions and I know of a few more that are currently in the works. A math facilitator mentioned the problem solving that took place as she tried to construct her doc cam. At first, the web cam was too heavy and kept toppling over so she had to grab a wider wooden board to give it a sturdier base and then she used duct tape to secure it. The best part was when her son saw her creation, he told her that he could totally make a better one and immediately asked his dad for a screw driver. When I heard this, I thought that this #DIYedtech challenge would be a great engaging project for students. Imagine the creativity and innovation that would flow from their minds. Teachers could tie it in to science for their structures and mechanisms strand or literacy by creating an advertisement for their doc cam. So I encourage educators to put this challenge to your students and see what they can come up with. I can’t wait for the entry by the math facilitator’s son.

I just wanted to showcase some of the doc cams to date. Enjoy!

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My Memories of Memorization in Math Class

When I reflect back on my experiences as a student in the math classroom, flashbacks of constant memorization fill my mind. As a primary ELL (English Language Learner), I struggled to retain math concepts from grade to grade and became very anxious during math class. I became a silent student that would rarely participate and quickly learned that if I stayed silent long enough, teachers would eventually give up and stop asking me math questions. However, whatever I lacked in comprehension, I made up for in effort and memorization.

I found a way to cope in the math classroom and realized that if I memorized hard enough and followed the steps demonstrated by my teacher, I would be able to do the math. Sure enough, as I approached the junior grades, I would show up to school in September and would still know my “multiplication facts”. I remembered to ‘carry’ the number when adding, ‘borrowing’ from number to the left when subtracting, and writing a zero when multiplying multi-digit numbers. I didn’t know why I had to carry or borrow or write a zero but it didn’t matter because I could do the math. That just drove me to memorize even more and found myself studying hours in preparation for math unit tests. I eventually  evolved into a master of memorization and memorized anything that I couldn’t understand (cross multiplication, dividing fractions, integer operations, area formulas etc). By the time I reached the intermediate grades, I was getting A’s in math and was considered a great math student by my teachers. I thought I was a pretty darn good math student too. However, my perception of math at the time may have been a bit skewed. I thought math was all about studying hard, memorizing the facts, procedures, and formulas. In grades nine and ten, I was on top of the math world and I equated success in math to achieving math marks in the 90’s. By that time, I had mastered the art of deciphering the high school math textbook. If there was a word problem that I was confused with, I would just find the similar sample problem in the textbook with the different numbers or I would look to the answer key at the back of the textbook, find the solution to the problem and try a variety of procedures or formulas hoping that one of them would eventually lead to the correct answer. I knew how to play the game and was I winning… until I reached senior math.

As I was introduced to the world of trigonometry, calculus, derivatives, vectors, logarithms, I could feel the old but familiar sense of anxiety that I experienced as a primary student slowly creeping back into my mind and eating away at my confidence. I became desperate when my A average fell to a C average and did the only thing I knew how, I memorized harder, pulled all nighters and took summer school. I was still able to graduate from secondary school with an A average with great effort and memorization but as I remember and reflect on my entire math education I realized that I wasn’t really “doing” math, I was “memorizing” math.

I’m not trying to imply that I never learned or understood the math that I was taught. I’m saying that the way I was taught math and learned math was very inefficient. My perception of math was repeating and applying standard algorithms and formulas that I never really understood. I was never asked to try and solve a problem using my own invented algorithms. I was never exposed to mental math strategies for the basic operations. I never used tools like the open number line or an array to add or multiply. Problem solving wasn’t embedded in the curriculum when I learned math but rather a unit that was also taught very procedurally. Math solutions were expected to look identical to the teacher examples and marks were deducted for missing a step or forgetting an equal sign. It took me a long time to realize and accept the fact that my perception of math was false and that I was a product of procedural teaching and it was a hard pill to swallow. Memorizing is not a mathematical process and not an ideal way to acquire an understanding of math concepts and skills. Math in the classroom is about problem solving, reasoning and proving, reflecting, selecting a variety of tools and strategies, making connections, representing , and communicating.

School Improvement Plans: What’s Good For Students is Good For Teachers

For my previous module of my course, we were asked to reflect on School Improvement Plans (SIP) and make connections to student learning. I began to reflect on my district school board’s strategic directions (Achievement Matters, Engagement Matters, Equity Matters). Student engagement, achievement, and equity should always be at the heart of of every SIP and it should be linked to the Ontario School Effectiveness Framework since its main purpose is to “function as a tool for schools to identify areas of strength and areas requiring improvement in order to reach all students and improve student achievement”.
However, as I continued to reflect on the implementation and continuation of school improvement planning I began to realize that in order for school administrators and staff to achieve the goals of any SIP, they must take a closer look at their classrooms’ best practices that increase student achievement, engagement, and equity and apply it at the professional level. In other words, I realized that what’s good for the students is also good for the teachers. For instance, we know that learning in the classroom must be authentic and that students are more likely to be engaged if they are active participants in their own learning. This same thinking can be applied to the development of a SIP which must also be authentic to staff and parents in order to be a living document. It cannot be perceived to be a top-down initiative or a model replicated from another school. Additionally, if we know from research and teaching experience that differentiated instruction which focuses on student readiness, interest, and learning profile allows more students to be successful, then staff (who are at different levels of professional learning) would also benefit from differentiated professional learning opportunities related to the SIP as well.
I strongly believe that the importance of student voice, collaboration and making student thinking visible is equally as important to teachers with respect to school improvement planning. Teachers can feel very isolated in their classroom (especially if they`re in a portable!) and they need to be provided with opportunities to network and collaborate with each other in both physical and virtual environments. Teaching practice needs to be deprivatized and teacher thinking needs to be visible and shared with their colleagues. Often, it is through teacher dialogue and discussion that great ideas come to fruition. SIPs are rarely set in stone and require tweaks along the way and in order for SIPs progress and evolve. Therefore, reflective practice must be a habitual behaviour with staff and administrators. I often see large percentages of release time devoted to planning which is definitely important for any positive change to occur. However, I think that an equal amount of attention should be focused on reflective practice where teacher reflection and moderation can occur as well. Every school improvement plan should find ways to create the conditions for teacher reflection and sharing of best practice that occurs in their classrooms, grade levels, or divisions.
The goal of every school improvement plan should be to reach every student. In order to accomplish this, school administrators and staff must focus on student learning and the best practices that they wish to see in their classrooms and implement these best practices at the professional level.

Transparent Teaching

All educators have great ideas, lessons, and success stories that occur in their classrooms everyday and I believe that these  ideas, lessons, and success stories need to be shared. As teachers, we constantly try to find ways to make student thinking visible but I think this applies to us as well. We need to find ways to de-privatize classroom teaching and make teacher thinking visible. By increasing the transparency of teaching practice between classrooms, schools, boards, even countries we could learn so much from each other. If you taught a great math lesson that really engaged your students, why not pass that lesson on to others to use? If you had a teachable moment or a break through with a particular student why not share that inspiring story so that other teachers can learn from it as well?

Conditions are being created in schools that promote transparent teaching such as PLCs, co-teaching, teacher moderation, release for team planning, demonstration classrooms, networking between schools. However, I find that none of these things can really allow teachers to truly share their ideas and narratives of their teaching experiences without being interrupted in someway. I also find that with many of the strategies mentioned above, reflective practice often gets overlooked. Reflective practice is essential for my own professional growth which is where blogging comes into the picture. Blogging provides an outlet for my thoughts on education and it allows me to tell my narrative without interruptions. However, the reason why I love blogging so much is that it makes my thinking visible to others. It makes my teaching practice transparent so that other educators can hopefully benefit or gain some insight from it. I learn so much from reading the reflections and narratives of other educators through their blogs and I know that the teachers and students that I work with can only benefit from this transparency of teaching practice.