About mslwheeler

Math teacher at Ridgemont High School, OCDSB. Twitter: @wheeler_laura Class website: misswheeler.pbworks.com

What drives the Collective Knowing & Learning of the #MTBoS community?

#MTBoS: The Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere.

Do you participate? Contribute? Creep? Math teachers seem to have carved out a particular niche using Twitter & blogs to share & learn from each other in order to better our teaching. Teachers in other subject areas are often wondering, why doesn’t this exist for my subject? How exactly does one instigate & support a #MTBoS for a different subject area? Why are so many Math teachers so engaged in this professional learning community via social media?

Judy Larsen & Peter Liljedahl put together a research paper that looks into some of the ways that the #MTBoS promotes interactions & learning among those teachers participating in it. And I sketchnoted their article:


Stimulating sustainable mathematics teacher collaboration can be challenging in many commonly found professional development contexts. Despite this, an unprompted, unfunded, unmandated, and largely unstudied mathematics teacher community has emerged where mathematics teachers use social media to communicate about the teaching and learning of mathematics. This paper presents an analysis of one episode where teachers engage in a prolonged exchange about responding to a common mathematical error. Analytical tools drawn from complexity theory are used to explain moments of productivity. Results indicate that enough redundancy and diversity among members is necessary to make conversations productive. Identified sources of redundancy indicate the ‘taken-as-shared’ values of this group.

Full article available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316994276_Exploring_generative_moments_of_interaction_between_mathematics_teachers_on_social_media [accessed Jul 27, 2017].

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Push-Back to Student-Centred Learning. #sketchnote

I’ve often said that I would hate to be a learner in my own classroom. I was a very strong student in high school. I didn’t need to be in class; if I missed class I would read the section in the book & do the homework problems & learn it myself. I made beautiful pages of copied notes from the teacher’s board and was able to understand the content as I copied. I did not enjoy group work; hated relying on partners to do their bit. I am still the first person to roll my eyes at ice breakers in a staff meeting or workshop.

And yet, my classroom is the opposite of this. I ask my students to work in groups, beginning with a getting to know you question every day since we change groups daily. I don’t give many notes, rather I give students time to summarize their new learning in their course packs. We do problem-based learning with hands-on components whenever possible. This is a far cry from the teacher notes followed by homework problems routine from my day.

But many to most of my students are not able to learn that way (although a small number of them are & would prefer a more traditional teaching style). Most can’t understand the notes they’re copying down because they’re too busy copying. (Have you ever asked your students if they’re able to listen to the teacher while they copy notes? My students tell me straight up that they are not able).

So over the years I have searched for strategies & pedagogical methods that would transform my classroom to be a better learning environment for my students. But my students haven’t always been eager about my methods; group work, problem solving, critical thinking, feedback separated from marks, etc. The workings of our Math classroom are so different from their experience so far that they sometimes push back. And for many teachers, this push back stops them from continuing to pursue different teaching methods. For example, I’ve had students say “you don’t teach us!”. But upon drilling down further as to what they mean, it becomes clear what they really mean, is you don’t write long, detailed notes on the board to copy down. They think that is teaching and don’t view the careful orchestration of a student-centred classroom as teaching also.

My advice to teachers: keep trying! Don’t let that student (or parent) push-back stop you from pursuing new & innovative teaching methods. It’s normal – it happens to all of us! But eventually students (most anyway) get past it. Alice Keeler shared this great article entitled “NAVIGATING THE BUMPY ROAD TO STUDENT-CENTERED INSTRUCTION” by Felder & Brent that likens the student push-back during student-centred teaching to the 8 stages of grief. I love sharing the article with teachers that are frustrated by students that are reacting negatively when they try to transform their classroom to a student-centred learning environment. So to make the ideas even more shareable, I put together a sketchnote version:

Student centred instruction.jpeg

But I really do encourage you to read the whole article as the authors go on to explain some suggestions as to how to mitigate the push-back, such as sharing with students the reasoning behind the methods, and modelling & establishing criteria for the successful use of the critical thinking skills expected of students.

I’ll finish by including a few of the tweets from other teachers on the topic:

What push-back have you experienced in your classroom and how have you dealt with it?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Captive Audience: #LearningInTheLoo

Do you ever read a great article or blog post and think I HAVE to share this with my colleagues! So you email everybody the link & say you have to read this. And then maybe 1 or 2 people actually read it?

I find so many great things on Twitter & blogs (#MTBoS) that I want to share with my colleagues, but they often don’t have (or make) the time to check them out. So when I happened upon a tweet about Learning in the Loo I thought it was genius – a captive audience!

So I have made it a habit to create & post a new Learning in the Loo 11×17″ poster in each staff toilet in our school every 1 or 2 weeks this semester. I curate the amazing things I learn about online & turn them into quick read how-tos or ideas to read while you … “go”. And it just occured to me that I should have been posting them to my blog as I made them. But now you can get a whole whack of them at once and next year I’ll try to remember to post them as I make them.

The whole collection so far can be found here with printing instructions.
Feel free to make a copy (File –> make a copy). Also the sources of images & ideas are in the notes of the doc above too.

Here they are:

Learning in the Loo Assessment FeedbackLearning in the Loo Cell Phone Work Life BalanceLearning in the Loo EdPuzzleLearning in the Loo Adobe Spark VideoLearning in the Loo TwitterLearning in the Loo Google ClassroomLearning in the Loo Grouping StrategiesLearning in the Loo KahootLearning in the Loo Google Docs

What would you share in your school’s first Learning In The Loo poster?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Running VS Walking Headstart #MPM1D #MFM2P #3ActMath

A month ago or so I read a post by Mr. Hogg about his Fast Walker activity. I thought it would be a great way to introduce linear systems graphically to my combined grade 9 math class before the end of the semester. I also did this activity with my Grade 10 applied students – next semester I’ll use it as an introduction to systems graphically with them earlier in the course.

What turned out to be super awesome is that a student in my grade 9 class just won gold at OFSAA last week! So I tweaked Mr. Hogg’s activity to use Joe’s winning data in our problem. I also structured the activity to be a 3 act math task. Here’s what we did:

Act 1: Notice – Wonder – Estimate

Runner Speed (1)

What do you know / notice?Capture

What do you wonder?Capture

If you want to cross the finish line at the same time as Joe, what distance head start will you need?Capture.JPG

Act 2: Measure & Solve


Students were told they had to stay in class when taking measurements; my idea being to force them to time themselves walking over shorter distances (the length of our classroom) and then use that to model their speed for this problem given. Each student had to calculate their own head start:

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Act 3: Check & Reflect

We went out to our 400m track and students measured out their starting position. They staggered themselves according to their calculation (photo below – tried to take video but my phone battery died). Most students were around 100m before the finish line (~300m head start). We counted down & Joe started running & the class started walking. I so wish I’d gotten the video because it was awesome how close they all finished to each other!DB6mp2rXgAE8O55

I had my grade 9s graph their walk & Joe’s run on the same grid. Here are their graphs overlaid on top of each other:
Most students had the right idea, and I talked to a few with incorrect graphs individually but when I look at this overlay now I can see that I missed helping a few students correct their work 😦

We discussed which line was partial variation & which one was direct. I then introduced the language of “linear system” and “point of intersection”. My 2P class time to create an equation for each line also.

The next time I try this, I’d like to add an individual follow up question such as if you only had a 50m head start, at what distance would you & Joe meet? At what time would that be?

Here are my files for this activity (the unassociated one is the Pear Deck slideshow).

Tech Tip: Did you know you can add the same Google Doc/file to multiple folders without copying it? I didn’t until recently. It was useful for this lesson because I wanted to have it in the folder for each of the 2 classes I did the lesson with! Once you’ve clicked on the file just press Shift+Z :Capture.JPG

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Tree Height #3ActMath #MPM2D #MFM2P

Here is a tree height 3 act math activity I do for right angled trigonometry with both my 2D & 2P classes. The screenshots below were taken from my 2P class this semester.

Act 1: Setup


Some noticings:IMG_2298

Some wonderings:IMG_2299

We do some turn & talk guesses for “too low” & “too high” then we go back to Pear Deck for our best estimate:IMG_2300

Act 2: Measure & Solve

Students downloaded a clinometer app onto one of the phones in their group.

Here are photos of last year’s group out measuring:

Up to the “vertical non-permanent surfaces” to solve in their “visibly random groups”:

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Act 3: Consolidation

This is one activity I don’t have a true act 3 for – I don’t know the actual height of this tree 😦 I led a class discussion going over the solutions from various groups. We discussed the fact that trig would not find the whole tree height & that groups needed to add the height of the person up to eye level to their value found using trig. I sent groups back to their boards to adjust their solution for this (final photos above).

The whole activity, including the Pear Deck file, can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

#3ActMath – What is it?

I learned about a great tool this past weekend at the Ontario Summit; Adobe Spark video. A huge shoutout to Rushton Hurley for the introduction to this tool. It’s a super fast & easy way to combine photos, videos & text and narrate over top of it to create a seamless professional looking video.

I tried my hand and created one about 3ActMath lesson style. Give it a watch & let me know what you think:

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Building #ThinkingClassrooms

Almost 3 years ago now, some math teachers in our school board returned from a conference with two concepts from the research of Peter Liljedahl; vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS) & visibly random grouping (VRG). I was blown away by these 2 strategies & implemented them in my classroom immediately after learning about them.

Peter tells a great story about a Math teacher saying upon meeting him “Oh, you’re the vertical surfaces guy!”. While he’s happy that teachers are finding benefit from implementing VNPS in their classrooms, he hopes those teachers will be inspired to go even further and delve into the 11 conditions Peter says will help us build “Thinking Classrooms”. A thinking classroom is . . .

“a classroom that is not only conducive to thinking but also occasions thinking, a space that is inhabited by thinking individuals as well as individuals thinking collectively, learning together, and constructing knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion” (Liljedahl, 2016)

In his chapter titled “Building thinking classrooms: Conditions for problem solving” Peter outlines 11 practices teachers can adopt in order to build a Thinking Classroom. Actually, I think that chapter proposes 9 of them, and Peter has an upcoming chapter to be released that details all 11 practices that his most recent research has unveiled. Here is my sketchnote summary of those practices:

Thinking Classroom.PNG

Building a thinking classroom:

  1. Begin with problems/tasks
  2. Visibly random groups
  3. Vertical non-permanent surfaces
  4. Oral instructions
  5. Defront the room
  6. Answer “keep thinking” questions
  7. Build autonomy
  8. Hints & extensions to maintain flow
  9. Level to the bottom
  10. Student-created notes
  11. Assessment

That last one is the one I am the least clear about what it entails. I heard Peter say in a talk that it would take him another 3 hour session just to cover that piece alone. I’m hoping that the more I explore his publications, the more I’ll learn about what he proposes for assessment as I am keen to get away from tests & make my assessment match my classroom time.

For more of my posts on Peter’s Thinking Classrooms work, click here.

Peter’s Thinking Classroom research can be found here.
He provides some “good problems” so you can start with the 1st step, here.
You can watch a 1-hour archived webinar by Peter on the topic here.

Update: I wrote an article for Edutopia about the first 3 elements of the Thinking Classroom – good tasks, VRGs & VNPSs – that you can read here https://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-math-class-laura-wheeler

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Self-verbalization & Reciprocal Teaching

I’ve been selected to participate in a lesson study at my school this semester linked to Ontario’s “Renewed Math Strategy”. My homework after the first meeting was to read up on two of John Hattie’s high-yield strategies; self-verbalization & reciprocal teaching.

Our next meeting is tomorrow so I did some last minute reading & put together a couple of sketchnotes to summarize what I read:


Update 2017.05.15: I just got back from OAME 2017 where I attended a session on Reciprocal Teaching for the Math classroom. Lynne Vink, Chad Warren & Luke Kordupel shared the roles they’ve developed to help their students use this strategy in their classes:Reciprocal Teaching in Math

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Studenting & Visibly Random Groups: #Sketchnotes #ThinkingClassroom

A few years ago I started using visibly random groups & vertical non-permanent surfaces in my Math classroom. I got so excited about these strategies when some colleagues brought them back from a PD they had attended and immediately changed my classroom routines & setup. These strategies come out of a body of research by Peter Liljedahl on the Thinking Classroom.

Peter came to Ottawa last week for our Math PD day. He keynoted our event as well as offered workshops, both beginner & advanced, on how to apply his research findings in our classrooms. I tell everyone I can about how much Peter’s research has changed my classroom for the better, and so after his recent visit I decided to work on sketchnoting & sharing his research.

Here are my first two sketchnotes:

Visibly random groupings:


Studenting behaviours around homework & studenting behaviours in the “now you try one” teaching model:


Stay tuned for more sketchnotes about the Thinking Classroom!

Update: I wrote an article for Edutopia about the first 3 elements of the Thinking Classroom – good tasks, VRGs & VNPSs – that you can read here https://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-math-class-laura-wheeler

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Buying Calculators Problem #MFM1P/#MPM1D #PrBL

As an introduction to linear direct variation, I put together a quick problem-based learning task that was proportional for my combined academic & applied class:summary-2017-02-15-m9-1


Buying calculators.jpg

What do you notice?

Capture.JPGI had to use the Pear Deck dashboard to hide some responses that involved calculating the price per calculator as this was part of solving the later problem. I suppose I could have left them up, but I wanted to leave the calculating part until later when students were in their groups.

What do you wonder?Capture.JPG

How much would it cost to buy a class set of 25 calculators?
Best estimate: ________$


You can find the Pear Deck slideshow in this folder. Also in the folder is a follow up slideshow exploring the concept of Direct Variation.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)