It goes both ways

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of facilitating a session with IB Primary Years Program (PYP) teachers about inquiry in math class. Because we all work in British Columbia, we share the opportunities (and challenges) of delivering the new BC curriculum within the IB framework. As I prepared the session, the image of a double-headed arrow kept coming to mind.

Inquiry Math LP and Curricular competencies.jpg Continue reading


The Wisdom of the Crowd

Inspired by this segment of the BBC’s series, The Code, I recently tried replicating the jelly bean experiment during my school’s science fair.


I filled an old pickle jar with jelly beans and put it on display as students, teachers and parents explored the science fair. All science fair visitors were invited to estimate the number of jelly beans in the jar for a chance to win all the jelly beans. Meanwhile, I collected the estimates to determine whether the average estimate approached the actual number as more and more people participated.

In order to streamline the data collection, I had students enter their estimate in a google form. The estimates were automatically collected in a spreadsheet that I could analyze. It only took a few minutes to graph the results:

Jelly Bean Graph

The display was a popular exhibit at the science fair and appealed to both elementary and secondary students, as well as parent visitors. As it turned out, the three best estimates all came from elementary students. I just presented the results at the elementary school assembly and it was a big hit. It was great to be able to present scientific evidence that two heads (or many heads) are better than one!

Would you like to give this a try at your school? Here’s a sample Google Form that you can use to get started.

Progress vs. Performance

I am increasingly aware of the distinction between progress and performance when it comes to assessment. While assessment is about evaluating a students performance in relation to a specific set of standards, I think it is important that teachers, students and parents focus more on the progress that they demonstrate through assessment.


When we focus on performance, students can be afraid to show their work for fear that it won’t meet expectations but when we focus on progress, all student work is an opportunity to improve and demonstrate growth.

When we focus on performance, students are extrinsically motivated by grades but when we focus on progress, students develop intrinsic motivation.

When we focus on performance, we measure all students from the same starting point, but when we focus on progress, student growth is measured from each individual’s starting point.

When we focus on performance, we are tempted to lower standards so that all students can feel successful, but when we focus on progress, we are more likely to raise the standards, so that all students can continue to improve.

A New (school) Year, A New Perspective

This post is adapted from an article I wrote for my school’s newsletter.

As I write, I am enjoying the view from my new office, looking across to the PYP Building. After having spent last year housed in the PYP Building and working with PYP teachers as their Coordinator, I return to the MYP with a whole new perspective. The extent to which my sojourn in the PYP transformed my understanding of the MYP really hit home last week at the Grades 6 and 7 retreat. I spent most of the retreat with the Grade 6 students, the same group I got to guide through the PYP Exhibition last spring. In one workshop, we discussed some of the similarities and differences between the PYP and MYP. Our conclusion: The programmes are essentially the same, but just like the Grade 6 students are more sophisticated versions of their Grade 5 selves, the differences between the two programmes reflect the evolving abilities and needs of students as they mature.

My time in the PYP also taught me to think differently about collaboration amongst teachers. It was such a privilege to work with the PYP teachers in their Program of Inquiry review, a reflective process in which all the PYP teachers work together to refine each individual unit to ensure it is part of a cohesive whole. Because the MYP consists of eight distinct subject areas, rather than interdisciplinary units of inquiry, as in the PYP, the process is a bit more complex. Nevertheless, the MYP staff embarked on that journey during our back-to-school meetings. In a flurry of colour-coded paper, we mapped out the entire program to ensure that students at all grades will enjoy a balanced variety of units and that they will develop their conceptual understanding consistently throughout the five years they spend in the MYP. 

‘Student-centred learning’ is a major focus in education these days. While most teachers understand this within their own classroom, I see now that the structure of IB programmes promotes student-centred learning in multiple ways. By promoting collaboration amongst teachers, both the PYP and MYP ensure that a cohesive and comprehensive student experience is the focus of all curriculum planning. Moreover, the particularities of each program ensure that the curriculum is delivered in a way that is developmentally appropriate for students as they mature.


Connected Math

Last week, my colleagues and I – while taking a break from marking final exams – noticed that many students struggled to apply their skills during the multi-topic exams. We were surprised by this because students had previously demonstrated these skills in the unit tests throughout the year. As we discussed this, we realized that students had trouble moving from one topic to another. For example, students cross-multiplied fractions within an expression, not realizing that cross-multiplication only works in equations.

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Growth Mindset for Math Teachers

I’ll admit that I’m still a bit discouraged by last week’s Global News story blaming inquiry-based math instruction for low test scores. While the article won’t dissuade me from teaching math by inquiry, I do worry about the message that it (and others like it) send to teachers who are working hard to develop innovative strategies that will ensure the success of all their students.

Encouraged and inspired by this image by @sylviaduckworth, I now offer a pep talk to teachers:

Instead of “A traditional approach to math is good enough,” try, “I owe it to myself to show my students and colleagues the best I can do.” Continue reading


I’ve been trying to be less helpful to my math students so that they can develop strategies for coping with unfamiliar situations. Last week, I had my final Math 8 class of the year. My students had been preparing for a year-end exam and I wanted to show them some sample problems so that they could focus their studying time on the topics in which they need the most practice. Truth be told, I also wanted to scare them a little bit, so that they would would take their studying seriously. Continue reading