A Balanced Math Program

With the endless humdrum of the math wars happening, it is easy to forget that what teachers really need is simple help to understand practical ways to improve or acknowledge their math program.  We have heard both sides for decades. One side is about the context and deeper conceptual understanding while the other side worries about the basics. To be fair there really shouldn’t be any sides. Mathematics is a combination of both concepts and procedures. Even more realistic you will never find a teacher that doesn’t do both.

I love this picture from one of the presentations that Matthew Oldridge and I do on this topic:

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 12.07.09 PM.pngWhat it shows is a continuum of teaching. At times, we may be closer to the fully guided while at times we do some unstructured unguided lessons. However, most of the time we are some where near the middle. For myself I lean more towards the 3/4 mark of the line.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about a balanced math class but since then I’ve had some small tweaks that I thought would be useful to highlight.

When I first thought of this subject I thought of six things that should be in the program (you can read about each section in my post):

  1. Guided Mathematics
  2. Shared Mathematics: Students work together to “Mathematize”
  3. Conferencing/ Monitoring
  4. Congress
  5. Reflection
  6. Math Games and Math Facts

Now my opinion about these things haven’t changed I still think you need to have all of these components but I want to simplify a bit and think more about the practical side.  For this reason I want to steal a little line from the Leaf’s Head Coach Mike Babcock, think of a five day block of time.

Now, before I go into detail I want to preface that this is just my opinion and in no way is this the only way. I think as teachers we need to have professional judgement to choose what is best. I also don’t expect to have these ideas prescribed like a five day must follow. I just want you to reflect on these components.

I broke it into five days because I really felt that it was easy to look a five day segment in time. Some times these components may take more time or less but on average I try hard to stick to this.

Day 1: Problem Solving

I am a firm believer that our math program should be predominately a place where students are problem solving and exploring math concepts. During this time, the teachers role is to explore the concepts with the students. It is a fine balance between a guided approach for some to a more let kids explore. As a teacher I am also conferencing, questioning and monitoring students work. I am checking it to landscapes of learning and thinking about how I will debrief the learning. What misconceptions are students having? How are they tackling the problem? What collective conclusions are they making? are all questions that go through my head.

Day 2: Congress

This to me is one of the most important things we can do in a math class and where that shared, guided and explicit instruction is happening. During this time, I am questioning and explicitly linking the math concepts to their problem solving. Where I may allow students to wander a bit in exploration I am tightly keeping the reigns around the big ideas and misconceptions I observed in the problem.

Day 3: Number Talks

These have been one of the best decisions that I have made as a teacher. Number talks allow me to discuss strategies, talk through misconceptions and help students visually see the mathematics that is happening around them. Number talks is also a 15 to 20 minute exercise so they happen frequently and often in the classroom. Another great aspect is that it allows students to communicate and talk about math in a meaningful way.

Day 4: Reflection

The more I read about this topic the more I believe that this needs to be integrated more in the classroom. We need to explicitly show students how to reflect about their learning and how to set goals in order to improve. This year in my class I have purposefully set time aside for students to regularly talk about their math learning.

Day 5: Purposeful Practise (Math games, Centers and regular practise)

Yes I said it Purposeful practise. This may be in a worksheet but if it is I hope it is geared toward each child’s needs. For me purposeful practise is about seeing where a child is developmentally and finding things that may work for them. This year it has been center work, using board games or math games and digital games like knowledgehook and Mpower.  The important part is understanding that it is purposeful and meaningful.

Overall, I think we need to think less of this war between concept and procedure and meet in the middle. How can we help our students learn and build bridges mathematically.

I would also love to hear your thoughts. If you have any opinions or questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Here is my slide deck on a balanced math approach.


Tedx Kitchener


So on September 28th, I did one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life, I did a Ted Talk.

Before I get into my experience I want to share this one with you. This talk was shared with me a week before my own. The message spoke to me about doing things that make you happy. More importantly it spoke to me about keeping what is important infront of you and being in that moment. It is so easy as a teacher to get caught up in the busy-ness of school that we forget what matters. I also loved it because if you are afraid of doing something I would encourage you to embrace and go for it. Have a listen:

I started off the post by saying that this has been the craziest thing I think I have ever done and it is true. Sharing my story not only in front of a live audience of 1500 people but also having it for the world to see is quite frightening. But this has been a really great experience.

The process started in April, almost 5 months before I actually went on stage. I have always wanted to do a Ted talk but never felt worthy enough or felt like I had something to say.  However, my journey with Izzy has changed a lot of that. If you have been reading my posts you know that lately have been centered around her and the struggles we have been through.

She has been one of the greatest influences on me as an educator

And so my journey to do a Ted talk began. As soon as I was chosen the TedxKitchener team got to work on mentoring and helping. There was deadlines that at first didn’t seem close but it is amazing how fast they come up. Our first deadline was getting a script ready so we could have a mentor critic and offer advice. I really valued this process as it allowed an unobjective person to see my thought process. Was it clear? Did it accomplish my goals? What biases did I have? My mentors were amazing and helped so much with the process.

Once this was cleared it was time to practise. I think this was the most daunting task for me. We were told that our speech should be rehearsed enough so it was like singing happy birthday.  We were told numerous strategies:

  1. Listen to it in the car
  2. Practise while doing exercise
  3. Read it over
  4. Practise in front of people

But to be honest, none of these really worked. In fact, I found this part to be the most daunting. I didn’t know how I was going to do this. I read it over, I would listen to it, I even ran and listened but nothing seemed to help me. I didn’t want to share with people as I didn’t feel comfortable with what I was saying. All I could do was just keep reading. Well two weeks before the event I still didn’t have it memorized but decided to do my best and bite the bullet. I printed off a list of the important points that I wanted to talk about next to the full script (almost like my coles notes). I then just went at it every day for about an hour. Every morning I would run I would still listen to it. At e-breaks I went for walks and would talk to myself (I am sure many people thought I was nuts). On my planning I would talk to a screen (which I am sure my teaching partner thought I was nuts). But by the end I had it memorized (nothing like last minute to make you learn).

This though did not stop the nerves. Just before I went on stage I was pacing back and forth20170928_185328.jpg

I could see the crowd filling in. 500 educators and 1000 students from all over Canada where coming to see people do amazing talks.

and then this happened…… (click to hear)


It felt like a rock concert or the intros to WWE. The energy was amazing. I felt myself getting pumped up.  I was jumping up and down behind stage and then the MC introduces me and out I went. The rest is History.

Tedx was one of the coolest experiences that I have ever done. To be able to share my story about Izzy and that all children want to matter was remarkable. I wish I had the video to share but it will be up soon.

In the end, Tedx might not be for you but we all have something we want to achieve but are too afraid to do it. Don’t hold back, run towards it and enjoy the experience.

I want to thank the Tedx committee for letting me experience that.  Stay tuned for the video when it is edited.

Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iK1EmMg95tI

#5 best Ed decisions (#5bestEd)

So about two weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the 5 best decisions that I have made as an Educator or more importantly the 5 most defining moments that have changed me for the better.

You can read it here.

I tagged a bunch of people and low and behold it took off. As people started to comment and share their 5 best I promised I would collect them for all to read. I have been a little behind in this but here is my best attempt at collecting stories. Please keep tagging me and sharing. It has been amazing to read what has changed and influenced you as an educator. Many also have really enjoyed learning new concepts and also seeing the common threads. If you want use the hashtag #5bestEd and we can also follow that.

So here is the list that I have so far (sorry if I missed anyone but please let me know I didn’t do it on purpose):

Jim Cash:  5 realizations that defined me as a teacher

Aviva Dunsiger: https://adunsiger.com/2017/08/27/my-five-ish-defining-moments/

Matthew Oldridge: https://medium.com/@MatthewOldridge/defining-teaching-moments-d0a5e47ef2ca 

Heather Theijsmeijer: http://modelthelearning.blogspot.ca/2017/08/top-five-defining-teaching-moments.html

Mr. Hogg:  My Top 5 Defining Moments

Joe Archer: http://sites.granderie.ca/jarcher/2017/08/24/top-5-defining-moments-what-has-defined-my-career/

Joe Caruso: https://jcaru19.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/my-top-5-teaching-defining-moments/

Chris Cluff:

Peter Cameron:

Mary Wade: http://honorsgradu.com/my-top-5-defining-teaching-moments/

Diana Maliszewski: http://mondaymollymusings.blogspot.ca/2017/09/dianas-defining-teacher-moments.html

You can also hear a podcast from Derek Rhodenizer, Peter Cameron and myself talk about these moments. https://voiced.ca/beyond-the-staffroom/

Doug Peterson: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/218230/posts/1582147551

Mel Mulcaster: http://pedagogicalmaker.weebly.com/home/my-teaching-dominoes

Josh Da Silva: https://medium.com/@joshua.dasilva/my-5-defining-realizations-a5b602724f8e

Ramona Meharg: https://mycircus-mymonkeys-mo.blogspot.ca/2017/08/my-top-5-defining-moments-in-teaching.html 

Lisa Nobles: https://nobleknits2.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/my-5bested-decisions/ 

Tina Zita:  https://misszita.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/defining-moments/

Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments


I want to preface this post by saying that I have only been teaching for 11 years now but in those 11 years, I have, in my opinion, seen some life changing moments as a teacher. The moments that redefine your direction and make you really reflect on why you teach and how. This post came about when I was tweeting away, like I usually do, about Self-Reg and I mentioned in passing that this was one of my Top 5 defining moments as a teacher. Well, I got a reply back asking my what my other four were. I did respond but thought that this would make a great post.

For those that missed the tweet, I stated that my top five moments where:

Let me elaborate a little more.

Constructivist teaching:

I was actually volunteering when I started exploring the pedagogy around constructivist teaching. To be honest this was life changing. When I first thought I wanted to be a teacher I was very traditionalist. I grew up having to memorize, practice and then replicate. School for me was easy because I could replicate.  I will preface that I don’t think I ever liked school but I went and did well. The principal at the time was a truly remarkable woman and well ahead of her time. She allowed me to sit in on many of the school PD sessions, where I heard Alex Lawson, Cathy Fosnot and other teachers talk about teaching and more importantly constructivist teaching. She also allowed me to question and ponder. It was here that I saw the power of allowing students to be at a disequilibrium and how it created deeper and more concrete understanding of the concepts being taught. I am so thankful for this experience has it has molded me into the teacher I am today.

My Daughter (Izzy) going to school:

This by far has been the greatest impact on me as a teacher. I know I have spoken about this a lot but being a parent has been so reflective and eye opening. That first moment that Izzy went to Kindergarten was life changing. For the first time, I understood what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. I saw why parents always asked me, “How are they doing?” and I understood what it felt like not knowing how to help or even what to help with. Izzy being in school also led me down a path to many other very interesting life changes: Self-Reg, Collaborative Problem Solving, Going Gradeless, thinking about DOERS instead of DOING and what school really is all about. It is funny, I thought that I was doing a great job as a teacher, and to be honest I probably was, but seeing her struggle made me see that I could do more as a teacher. So from the moment that she went in the door I strived to be the teacher that I wanted for her.

Going Gradeless:

This has been a very recent turning point in my career. If you want to read about the journey feel free to search my posts or click here.  In a nutshell, I felt that my students were not meeting their potential. Furthermore, I felt like I was jumping through hoops to get them to reflect and make it part of their lives. I questioned, what do marks really tell us? Could I define the difference between an A- and an A+, or even better a B+ and an A-? What was the difference? I had no clue. When I read Star Sackstein’s books my eyes were opened. I saw the power of feedback and how grades hindered my students from reflecting and seeing their own learning process. Now I am trying to hone this skill and have students reflect more about their learning.

Completing my Masters

We have all been in PD or even AQs that meant absolutely nothing. They were a waste of money and time but my experiences in my Masters has forever shaped my teaching. My thesis work was on Fractions but it was also on how effective my questions were as a teacher. I was able to video tape and really see how I taught. More importantly how those questions impacted my students learning. It was here I saw the importance of wait time and asking certain types of questions at the right time.


I’ll end with this but learning about self-reg has been truly transformational. I see behaviour, students, and life in a different light. I use to firmly believe that a strong strict line was all you needed to keep a class under control but I was wrong. Seeing what could impact students and even more important than some students (if not all) had stressors that caused their behaviours was eye opening. Now I see the world in a new light. I am able to often see problems before they arise and therefore stopping them before they even happen. It has also been remarkable to see the changes in kids when you show them you care and that you want to help them.

Well, these are my five changing moments and I am wondering what yours are. Please let me know what yours are.

First Day of School!

We are quickly approaching the first day of school for Canada, well most of us (if you have been like me in a balanced calendar it’s now week four :)) But for many of us, the hustle and bustle of getting back into the swing of things is upon us. As I see the business unfold I cannot help but think about my daughter amongst other things that I hope I can articulate here.

I know lately a lot of my writing has been about my daughter but that is because she has been one of the biggest shifts in my career. You can read about her in other blog posts but in a nut shell, my daughter struggles with school. She has a communication delay and a social skill delay that makes being and doing “school” very hard.  So as everyone is getting ready for school, my daughter is building up her anxiety levels and has a hard time communicating this to us. All we get is aggression, behaviour and the occasional comment about her feelings. It isn’t that she hates school, or her teachers but that she knows she has a difficult time or seems to always get into trouble.

Recently some good friends of mine have been posting some interesting thoughts that have also made me think more about the first day or welcoming our new students. Aviva Dunsinger latest post on “rethinking the principal’s office” got me thinking about Self-Reg again and just this very moment Rolland Chidiac just posted this tweet:

In her post, (and I hope I do this justice), Aviva reflects on her new role this summer having to be an admin of a summer school program. She asks a hard question about the room and what it does to our kids but more importantly it was this quote that got me thinking.

Over the summer, every time that somebody’s approached me with a problem, I’ve tried to think of Stuart Shanker‘s words: “Why this child? Why now?” I’ve attempted to see the problem through a Self-Reg lens, and respond accordingly. I’m not going to say that this is always easy, or that I haven’t made mistakes, but something interesting happens in the “library office.” As children come in, sit down, and play, they slowly start to calm down. As they start to feel calm, they talk. It’s through this discussion that I begin to see the problem from their perspective. We work out solutions together and find a way to make it back to the classroom.

I have been on a long journey with my daughter and self-reg, and it has been the best journey of my life. Like Aviva, I now see a lot more through this lens. I am not always perfect at it but when I see a behaviour I automatically question why the child may feel that way and try to understand them. It isn’t anymore about the action they did but more about why they would be doing this. I am often reminded that students act out for four reasons: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired (H.A.L.T). When I try and see problems through this lens I can often circumvent the issue. In addition, the more I stay alerted for these problems the more I can be proactive and avoid the problems completely.

Rolland’a post fit so nicely into this thought too.  It reminded me about the opposite of Izzy (my daughter). Whereas she has anxiety towards school, there are some students wanting to be at school. Furthermore, our classroom maybe the safest place they will ever have. It is a powerful thing to think about.

We as educators have such a powerful place in society. I have always known this but the more I think about my daughter, Self-reg and the baggage/ journeys our students have the more I know this to be true. Our students each have a unique story. They all have their problems but the one thing they all have in common is they all want to be loved. At times this is harder to do but as Shanker reminds us:

There is no bad child

So as we start our new journey this year I would encourage you to think about your students. I know we all do but really think about their stories. When a problem occurs instead of thinking “oh here’s another problem” try and see why students are acting the way they are. Even the ones that really want to be at school may have different behaviours than the ones who don’t. Some may annoy, some may fight. Bottom line is all want to be loved and be with you. You are special to them. You make a difference and just like they matter, so do you. Good luck my friends as you enter this new journey. You are amazing!

What is Leadership?

This post has been brewing in my brain for quite some time. I have struggled to find the words or even figure out what I want to say.  The reason for this is that this year has been a personal struggle for me. There has been a lot of struggle both professionally and personally.  I have struggled with how to put into words my feelings and thoughts about these struggles. I didn’t want to come across as blaming or pointing fingers and I didn’t want to have a pity party either. But these struggles have really made me question the role of leadership and more importantly my role in education.

I have struggled to find a balance between innovating and doing what I think is best for my students while balancing what others view as important. At times, I have felt very alone this year.

However, today I was reading the Lost Art of Listening and came across this quote:

Please ignore the single letters for words, Twitter does only allow 140 characters. The book is by Micheal Nicholas. I haven’t finished it all but so far have been struck by many of the thoughts.

This particular quote struck me because it summarized my feelings and struggles. As someone who likes to consider himself an innovator, I have been struggling with the question, “who supports the innovators? Who helps them when they fall or struggle?” Personally, I think that falls in the realm of leadership but from experiences and stories, this is not often the case. Too often I hear struggling stories like mine that innovative voices can be squashed or told to hold back. Now there are so many great leaders out there and many have reached out to me throughout these struggles to help and offer advice. I also know there are many reasons for leaders to say no and I understand most of them but there needs to be a balance as well.

In hopes of not pushing the blame to anyone, I want to relate this back to some of my learning as a leader. I have had the privilege of being part of two Teaching, Leadership, Learning Programs or the TLLP (this is an Ontario Grant for experienced Teachers). These projects are to help experienced teachers have their own PD, run by teachers, for teachers. As the lead learner, it has taught me so much on how to help my fellow colleagues feel the same passion as me and to also buy into the projects I proposed.  When I first started with the project I often felt, people should be doing this because it is good for kids and is the best pedagogy. I often took the bull in a china shop and tried to firmly persuade colleagues to follow me. I quickly learned this is not how you handle people. As the quote suggests it is not you trying to change people but you changing yourself to help others grow. This has been my biggest learning as a leader: where is everyone else and how do I as a leader help them grow?

Being part of the project has reshaped my philosophy on being a leader. I try to build better relationships, I try to connect more with various people and yes I try to listen more. This last one I am not as successful as I would like but I am working on it.

So how does this all come back to struggles? As leaders, we need to be there for our colleagues, staff, and school. It isn’t hey do as I say and not what I do. It isn’t here is my buzz words but in reality, this is what I mean. And it isn’t I want your input but only if it agrees with mine.

For me, leadership is defined by the relationships you build. It is about allowing others to grow their own way, while you offer the security blanket for them to try new things out. It is about being there when they fall, listening (truly listening) to struggles and only offering advice when they ask. I can relate it almost to raising a child. You can only do so much teaching eventually you have to let go and be there to support. You want your fellow colleagues and staff to know you are there without being there. The quiet sage or guide. A leader also knows when to pipe up with words of advice or a question but without coming across as judgmental or demanding. It is a hard balance and I know I don’t always do this but I was reminded about this today while reading the book.

My hope with this post is just to make us reflect on our leadership. I firmly believe that we are all leaders in our own right. We have the potential to help and change the profession. The question is how will you do this?

The question is how will you do this? If you’re a leader how will you or how do you support all your staff and learners?

I’d also love hear your thoughts on this. If you have any please leave a comment below.

It just clicks some times

My daughter has been trying to ride a bike for the last three years. For the longest time she just couldn’t get it. We tried everything but she just couldn’t do it or would get frustrated and move to her scooter. 

Two days ago I decided to just take her training wheels off and tell her she wouldn’t fall. Well she did it! Something just clicked and bam she was riding her bike. Today she decided to ride with one hand. 

It got me thinking about learning in general. How often do we push our students or say they are behind because they aren’t meeting a so called standard. Now I know sometimes those standards are warranted but I just wonder what if we left them for a bit and see if it clicks. 

How can we as teacher support natural development of students? 

Just some more pondering during the summer. Hope everyone is enjoy their well deserved break. Love to here your thoughts.