Emotional Blackmail Backfires

I tried a new strategy to try to motivate my Year 9 Maths class. It went like this:

1. Friday morning. I meet my year 9’s at the door. As usual there are stragglers.

2. I tell the class that I am going to show them a video. “It is not directly about Mathematics. We will discuss it after the video finishes.”

3. Video: Anna Clendening sings Hallelujah on America’s got talent. (Latecomers are told to wait outside until the video finishes)

Anna Clendening

4. I wipe a tear from my eye. “Please give me a chance to recover – this video always makes me cry!”

5. Class discussion initiated: “This video always makes me very emotional – who knows why?”

6. Trent says “Because you are soft Mister!” (backfire)


7. Class erupts in laughter and I am lost for words but manage a smile.

8. Finally, I get myself under control. I pause and look each student in the eyes. I say (in a quiet, serious voice) ” I get emotional because Anna gave her best performance ever, after fighting depression and anxiety. As a teacher, I want you, my students, to give your best performance in our classes. I want you to be the best you can be.”

9. The students are quiet as I hand out the days work (basic numeracy skills) and ask them for their best work.

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Spaced Practice and Mathematics

There is plenty of support for the notion that spaced practice will help consolidate information into long term memory. For example John Hattie’s work where it rspam5anks 12th in his table of effect sizes with a value of 0.71.


So perhaps unlike the food product shown, Spaced Practice and Mathematics is good for students!


So based on this belief, I have begun to make up some S.P.A.M. sheets aligned with the Australian Curriculum.

You can download 10.01 here.

Please leave a comment about the usefulness or otherwise of this type of assessment.

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SWPB and Yu-Gi-Oh Cards

Schools are generally much more positive environments than they used to be. Our school community (including students, teachers, parents, principal class, cleaners and visitors) has many opportunities for positive, constructive interaction.


will-press-lever-for-food1Our aim is a ratio of six positives to every one negative. Of course the verbal comment giving recognition to effort, work process and product, and good work habits are still our mainstay. But we now add to this postcards sent home and raffle tickets.

This token economy system uses operant conditioning to reward positive behaviour on the spot with a special stamped raffle ticket. Students may redeem these at the end of the week at a shop stocked with various goods.


I wondered whether students would see “Dungeons and Dragons” type trading cards as positive rewards. Z became very excited telling about a card game called Yu-Gi-Oh. He said he would bring his cards in next lesson. I talked to a younger Maths teacher who knew all about the game and told me you could make your own Yu-Gi-Oh cards online. Here are some of the cards I made:

01 Accuracy Des Koala

Student T. had just finished five scale drawings and had measured lengths and angles accurately. I announced to the whole class that T. had been awarded the “Accuracy Des Koala” Yu-Gi-Oh card. T. put Des Koala proudly on her work desk with a big smile.

07 Goblin Worker

Student S. always works hard in class, asks questions, uses good manners and has excellent work habits. I announced to the class that S. had earned “Goblin Worker” I again got a positive reaction from the class and the Year 10 student concerned.

04 Hippopotenuse

Student J. had finally mastered identifying the sides of a right triangle. He was pleased to get the “Hippopotenuse” card.

Some brainstorming in the Maths staffroom resulted in the following card which we hope a lot of students will want because of its design, power, and the difficult? challenge to get it!

02 Mathematician

It is early days in trialling this reward system, but feedback from students has been great so far. Some of the students want to design their own cards. Other students have stories they want to tell about trades, games, best cards, etc.

I enjoy creating the cards. I hope they encourage students to improve their Maths skills and work habits. The cards I have designed so far are:

01  Accuracy Des Koala                   08 Homework Hedgehog

02  Mathematician                           09  LOL Cat

03  SohCahToa                                   10  OnDemand Test Magician

04  Hippopotenuse                          11  OnDemand Penguin Soldier

05  Fraction Learner                        12  Correction Des Kangaroo

06  Power Spell Maker                   13  Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World

07  Goblin Worker                            14  Punctual Possum

What do you think of this idea? What methods of positive reinforcement do you use?


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A Short History of Mathematics Teaching and Learning Part 1

As I progress through my 36th year of teaching, I can’t help but reflect on the many changes that have taken place. As a secondary student I did not have a calculator until Year 12. And so I depended on:

Kaye and Laby, 1968. Four-Figure Mathematical Tables. Longman, Aust.

Columns and columns of logarithms, anti-logarithms, sines, cosines, tangents, reciprocals, squares, cubes and the standard normal distribution.

old math tools

My first calculator was a Novus Scientific (Mathematician) with LED numerals, a 9V battery and Reverse Polish Notation. After 40 years it is still in good working order!

Until Year 12 though I did pages and pages of calculations using logarithms and antilogs. My Year 10 Maths folder (1971) as shown above was meticulously set out.

I show my students these items in the hope that they will also do their best and make the most of their learning opportunities.

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Teachers should take risks


The following journal article:

Risk Taking: A Distinguishing Factor of Good versus Great Teachers
by Gayle A. Brazeau, PhD, finishes with the statement:

“Perhaps risk taking is what in the end distinguishes a good teacher from a great teacher”.

With this encouragement, I decided to take a risk at the end of the 2013 schoolReed Gillespie year. I ran my idea past our assistant principal who, like Mr. Gillespie, put his trust in me.

What was the risk you might ask?

A radical new lesson plan?

Outdoor maths?

An excursion to the local racetrack to investigate probability and gambling?

No, No, No. Bringing my 5 year old, chocolate brown Labradoodle (Gary) into my Friday afternoon Year 8 Mathematics class!

Hey, give me a break, I hadn’t gone completely insane? After all, there is some good examples of dogs used in the classroom. Dogs in the classroom can be used to calm fears, relieve anxiety and teach skills. For example, Morgan:

“A high school student sat at a work table, feeling extremely upset. Sensing the students anxiety, Morgan, a 3-1/2-year-old certified therapy dog, wandered over to her and put his head on her lap. After a little while, she felt better and was able to focus on learning again.

Morgan is a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle — a Goldendoodle. His silvery-black coat is more hypo-allergenic than the coats of most other dogs, which makes him a good choice to work with students at Palmyra-Macedon High School in Palmyra, New York. He is one of seven therapy dogs in this district of about 2,200 students.

Golden Doodles for Sale

When students show signs of stress or anger, Morgan joins them and helps them calm down.

Morgan gravitates toward kids who are loaners, and he really brightens their day.

He’s quite a dog, he really is, said Jim Blankenberg, Morgans owner. Morgan has the ability to sense stress, and he goes to the stressed-out student. He’s like a Teddy Bear students can hug”.


usain-bolt-200-p1Introducing and getting to know Gary. Incorporate Gary into a lesson on measuring and converting speed. Essential question:

“Can Gary beat Usain Bolt in a 100m sprint”.



GaryAll except one of the year 8 kids loved Gary. He got lots of pats and wagged his tail furiously. We took him out to the oval and marked out 100m with a trundle wheel. One student assigned to hold Gary at the start line. Another student ready to time Gary using their smart phone. I told Gary to stay and walked to the finish line. Gary sat patiently waiting for the “COME” command. Good dog! I yelled “COME GARY” with the usual hand actions.

Gary spent the first 3 to 5 seconds frolicking with his handlers before racing to me. Time: 15 seconds. Failure. Perhaps I should have used some bait?

Any comments? Have you ever seen or heard of dogs used in a classroom or school?

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Game On!

I thought I had read about or played most games during the 20942 days I have lived (online age calculator). And then today I discovered ULTIMATE TIC-TAC-TOE at “Math With Bad Drawings“. Here is a picture of a completed game:

ultimate tictactoe

The rules are:

1. The first player may place an “X” in any cell within any mini-square on the board.
2. The selected cell position within this mini-square corresponds to the mini-square position within the greater-square where the second player must then place an “O”.
3. Thereafter, the two players take turns placing their mark in any unfilled cell within the mini-square dictated by the cell position marked by the previous player. For the first player, this mini-square will be outlined in red.
4. The first tic-tac-toe winner in a mini-square remains the winner in that mini-square for the remainder of the game.
5. If a player is sent to a mini-square that has already been won, or in which all the cells are already filled, then the player may next place his mark in any unfilled cell in any other mini-board.

It got me thinking about whether their is a high correlation between good chess playing and being a good Mathematician.

The evidence and support for this idea is easily found on the web. If you are interested check out Edutech Chess: Why Chess?

Many countries now include chess in their school curriculum. These include Brazil, China, Venezuela, Italy, Israel, Russia, Greece and Armenia.

Not convinced? Then I suggest you visit Grand Master Susan Polgar’s “Get Smart Through Chess” website.


Make sure that you also watch the National Geographic video about her titled “My Brilliant Brain”. The video claims that Susan is the living proof that any child can be turned into a genius. It explains some of the differences between the male and female brain. The roles of visualisation and memory are also explained.

Susan also has free for download on her site:

chess training guide


So what is my opinion on playing chess in the Mathematics classroom? A definite yes – the research indicates yes, my intuition says yes, my students say yes, many of my teaching colleagues (eg. Adrian Camm) say yes too. But I would add, do not just limit games to chess!

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Garden Design

Create smallI love watching students get absorbed in a creative design task. As a Maths teacher this is satisfying for a number of reasons:

1. A rich task naturally differentiates; their are multiple entry and exit points

2. Creating is on the top of Bloom’s taxonomy; higher level thinking is taking place.

3. Their is plenty of discussion and questioning, much of it student initiated.

4. Applied Maths tasks reinforce that Mathematics is a very useful subject.

My year 8’s are currently completing their “Garden Designs”. It wasn’t too long ago that I was doing the same thing in my own garden. I decided to create an octagonal flower bed. Here it is shown in the photo below. Do you like it?


A copy of my “Garden Design” assignment can be downloaded here.

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You can have your Maths Cake and eat it too!

My year 8’s are just finishing a unit on ratio. Their assignment included working out ingredients needed to make a “Harriet Hedgehog” and a “Calculator” cake. You can check out the assignment at hermathness.

I added an extra ingredient (excuse the pun), that if they baked a hedgehog or calculator cake they would be rewarded with 2 extra grades. Three students took up the challenge. Shown below are their cakes which they shared with their class!


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Resonance: Richness or significance, especially in evoking an association or strong emotion.

Occasionally I come across blog posts that strongly resonate with my beliefs about education. Here are 3 examples that have evoked strong emotion in me lately:

Alice Leung

1. Why all teachers should be hero teachers by Alice Leung

Quote 1: “For me, teaching is not “work”. Like many other teachers I have a great passion for teaching and live and breathe it.”

This resonates strongly with me because I have always loved teaching kids. I will be sad if I have to retire due to ill health. It is a great gift to be able to help young people learn.

Quote 2: “We need the teaching profession to be made up of  teachers who collect data on how effective they are teaching and how effective their students learning; teachers who constantly seek ways to improve their practice; and teachers who reach out to the global profession of teachers to share best practice and support others.

I believe that reflecting on our teaching practice is of paramount importance in becoming a better teacher, and it naturally follows that looking for ways to improve is necessary.

Kerry_cropped2. Maths needs better PR at school by Kerry Cue

Quote: “Maths is not visible in schools. Other subjects have their selling points.

Languages other than English have FOOD.

Geography has VOLCANOES and TRAVEL.

English has PLAYS and FILMS.


Drama has a school MUSICAL or PLAY.

Art has, D’uh, rooms full of amazing ART.


How can we make maths more visible and more fun in high school?

Be AUDACIOUS, my little mathspiggies.

Think BIG and then even BIGGER again.

Here are 12 ways of making Maths more visible in your school.”

I can’t agree more Kerry. Maths needs a good PR job. Our enthusiasm for the subject as well as making it more visual and hands on will help more students come to love and appreciate the beauty of Mathematics!

Adrian_Camm3. The Coming Apocolypse by Adrian Camm

Quote: “Whilst politicians and journalists would have you believe that our education system is a “disaster” because of the latest comparative results in international tests where Australia children were beaten by students from 26 countries, this ignores contextual and cultural considerations and is really a misuse of student performance data. It neglects the humanistic side of education and does nothing more than turn children into a number – what the data doesn’t tell you is that high scores can often signify relatively superficial thinking and the ‘hidden’ reality of the fact that the measure affects that which is measured.”

Spot on Adrian – it’s almost like if you can’t measure it, then don’t do it. Some of the great learning moments in a class are not planned for, not found in VELS or on a Naplan test.

What blog posts have resonated with you lately? 


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Risk your Quadratic skills

My last post about this great revision game was “Risk your Algebra skills“.

completing-the-squareIn Year 11 Maths Methods, we have been learning about Quadratic equations. Like most classes there is a wide range of abilities. Some kids get quadratics and others struggle. “Completing the Square” is like learning Chinese to some. Finding the meaning of the discriminant is harder than trying to store your luggage at a Russian railway station!


But I will help these kids experience success.

In Bob Sullo’s excellent book “The Motivated Student“, he states that: “All behaviour, from birth until death, is purposeful, engaged in so that we can meet five human drives:

• To survive and be safe and secure
• To connect and belong
• To achieve power and competence
• To be free and autonomous
• To play, enjoy, and have fun” (page 38)

“Rather than cultivating an environment of fear, build a culture of success. Adopt the following three key messages, articulated by Saphier and Gower:

  • This is important.
  • You can do it.
  • I won’t give up on you“. (page 13)

I have articulated these last 3 statements to my students and I’m pretty sure they believe me.


So tomorrow we start revising Quadratics and the students are looking forward to Risking their Quadratic skills (I have planted some seeds!) This time round I have changed one important thing:

Instead of me allocating their FACTOR based on past assessment, they have chosen their own factor on a scale from 1 to 6. However this number is open to peer approval. Luke had no hesitation in nominating a factor of 1 and of course no one objected. When it was Megan’s turn she nominated a factor of 4.1. Her peers were very certain that this was way too high and reversed it to 1.4. Megan came back with 3.9 and finally settled with 2.9.

I think that this method empowers the students to realistically assess their progress on a particular topic.

Their nominated factors are:  1.0, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 1.9, 2.0, 2.9, 3.1, 3.4, 3.5, 4.0, 5.9

Here is my game sheet.

Stay tuned to see how the students risk their…..

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