Back to Basics with IB Math Studies

Yesterday, my schedule was changed to replace one of my Advanced Math/ Pre-Calculus classes with my 1st International Baccalaureate (IB) course, Mathematical Studies. I have absolutely no knowledge or experience in teaching IB courses, so this is going to be a challenge for me and my students. I have heard “IB” used interchangeably with “AP” (Advanced Placement) as a college-preparatory curriculum for “advanced” students. However, from what I have seen so far, these are two very different curricula based on differing pedagogy. Continue reading Back to Basics with IB Math Studies

A cool chat with the “Cool Cat”

Reader’s Note: this post is about my reactions and impressions from my interview with Vicki Davis, the “Cool Cat Teacher”. To watch the full interview, visit the Vimeo channel at

I recently interviewed Vicki Davis, global collaboration guru and bonafide social media superstar with nearly 22,000 Twitter followers, and over 23,000 blog subscribers to date. Best of all, she’s a teacher, just like me! Her followers know her as the “Cool Cat Teacher” and co-founder of the Flat Classroom™ project. To promote her upcoming book release, Vicki graciously agreed to an interview with me at ISTE 2011. A family emergency prevented us from meeting up at ISTE, but we were able to video-chat using Facetime soon after. Besides being totally starstuck, I truly enjoyed our conversation and found Vicki to be be more than anything, inspirational.

I met Vicki for the first time at our state technology conference in December 2010, where she was the keynote speaker. At the time, I was so impressed by her keynote, that I wanted to attend her session on the Flat Classroom™ Project. I was not the only one! I waited in line for 30 minutes just to get in to the session. Then I sat on the floor in what were literally “standing room only” conditions. I wanted a chance to talk to her then, but it just was not going to happen! At the time, I knew that the best I could do was snap a quick pic for my blog, and make it my mission to reconnect later…and, so, here we are!

About Vicki
I prepared a few questions for our interview, and of course, we chatted about unplanned topics as well. To start, I asked how her journey as the “Cool Cat Teacher” began. Interestingly enough, she went all the way back to when she was 8 and her dad bought a TRS-80 computer that she figured out how to use. I had to Google this, since I had no idea what a TRS-80 was, and found out that TRS = Tandy Radio Shack, which I totally remember! I think a Tandy was the first computer in my house, too! She also shared how her students came up with her name: “..we’re the Westwood Wildcats, and you’re pretty cool, so why don’t you be the Cool Cat Teacher?” …and the rest, as they say, is history. I love it!

“Flattening” Classrooms
As our conversation progressed, Vicki began to talk about the Flat Classroom™ Project and how her upcoming book became a reality. She defines a “flat classroom” as a classroom that can “work and co-create with anybody, anywhere, anytime” using synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication. Since our first encounter, I wondered how I could “flatten” my own secondary math classroom. Here’s what Vicki offered:

In this segment, Vicki suggests several ideas for flattening the math classroom, some I’ve thought of and tried, and many that I never even considered. I have had several professionals who use math visit my classes over the years, but never thought to compare and contrast problem solving-techniques across countries!!! I was recently offered a membership to the Math Forum Problems of the Week site in exchange for my tweeting and blogging about how I use it. I am now very excited about trying some of Vicki’s ideas with these problems!

The Book
Here is another part of the interview in which Vicki discusses her upcoming Flat Classroom™ book:

I particularly like this segment because you can really see how passionate Vicki is about the work she’s doing. Here she also talks about how the Flat Classroom™ project has helped “unleash excellence” and “break cycles” for students with mental and physical disabilities, and low socioeconomic status. At one point, she even tears up while talking about a particular student who cited the project as the catalyst for his attending college (on a full scholarship), as the first in his family to do so. In this video, Vicki also talks about how the book is written, full of QR codes the reader can scan to connect with online interactive content right away. I am intrigued and curious to see a book written like this, as it is definitely a break from the norm, to say the least! At a time when many book publishers are fearful of all things technological, I am impressed that Vicki and her co-author were able to get these cutting-edge techie tools included in their text.

Final Thoughts
I will not include the entire interview in this post, since I chopped it up into 7 videos which are about 5 minutes apiece. I think the vids speak for themselves. I did a lot of listening and absorbing throughout the interview and came away from it inspired and energized to do more in the coming school year. Here are a few more memorable things that Vicki said during our talk:

  • “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”
  • “Principle of Transference: If they (students) love chocolate cake, and everyday they go to math class, and you have a chocolate cake in the front of math class, what’s gonna happen when the bell rings and it’s time to go to math? They will be running, because they have transferred their love of chocolate cake to math! …now what do they enjoy? They enjoy social media…they love to connect with each other.”
  • “Blogging is first person-‘I’ is in there, blogg-ING…we’re hungry for a real person. It’s OK to say I think _______.”

When I think about how Vicki and I met at a time when she was literally untouchable, it really underlines the beauty of online communication and collaboration. Someone who was impossible for me to get to in person was in my living room just a few days ago! This is truly powerful, and I have to share this power with my students and peers! Vicki and I have decided to continue having these conversations, so stay tuned for the next time we get together. For more info about Vicki and her book, visit I’ll leave you with my favorite video from our chat, which I’m calling “1-minute inspiration”.

To Moodle or not to Moodle? Part 2

As promised, here is part two of my Moodle review. I am going pick right up where I left off:
Quizzes (“Calculated” questions)
As I mentioned last time, after reading “Using Moodle”, I was very intrigued by the “Calculated” question type for the quiz module. Since the last post, I have finally jumped in and given my first calculated quiz and I LOVE it!!! It was a trigonometry quiz for my advanced math class. I was able to create complex word problems with parameters representing different values within the problem. I then created an equation for the correct answer involving the parameters from the question.  I was even able to set a tolerance of +/- 2 units to allow for a little error from rounding.  I also wrote equations for expected miscalculations and granted partial credit for these answers.  Another nice feature is “Adaptive” mode for questions in which students get instant feedback for submitted answers and are able to correct their answers with a penalty for each try.  When kids get tangled up in arithmetic errors, this is a great way to allow them to find their own mistakes and fix them.

Math teachers!!! Check out this link to find out more about the “calculated” question type and how you can use this powerful math assessment tool in Moodle.

A practitioner of Project-Based Learning, I really like the Assignments module in Moodle. It allows students to upload files directly to the course website in response to a project prompt. For example, I had my students create a “Math Minute” Video using Animoto. I posted the instructions to the Moodle site as an assignment link in our weekly agenda. Students were able to upload their completed project directly to the site, and I could view and grade the submitted files, and even leave comments all on the Moodle. Here is a graphic I made using screenshots from this assignment and Picnik (to make it pretty).

Discussion Forum and Blog
The discussion forum module is a tool for collaboration and interaction between students in the online course. I have seen students ask for help and get assistance from their peers using the discussion forum. This is a great way for students who choose not to speak out in class to get the help they need from me and their peers.
Each Moodle participant also has his or her own blog to write in throughout the course. My students use it in a variety of ways–some jot reminders to themselves about what we do in class. Others use it as a place to store and share information they find on the internet about what they learned. Some just use it as a journal where they celebrate high test grades or bemoan the quiz for which they were not prepared. Although each student has an individual blog, all blog entries can be viewed for the entire course or sorted in myriad ways. I love going in and seeing what my students blog about; it’s always interesting! Click below to see snippets from our discussions and blogs.

a few final thoughts–
I require my students to “moodle” at least once a week for their participation grade in my class. This has produced a lively Moodle site that I have enjoyed watching grow from nothing to a rich online learning community in one grading period. So what’s the final verdict? I think you saw this already:

Please do not think this is my last post about Moodle; I am just getting started! I have also been using it for Professional Development and of course, I’ll be blogging about that soon! So, if your a Moodler, a wanna-be Moodler or just interested, stay tuned! Also be sure to check out part 1 of my Moodle review, in case you missed it. As a parting gift, here a short video created by my students about their use of Moodle. Enjoy!

Moodle Student Video from Tinashe Blanchet on Vimeo.

Extreme Powerpoint Makeover/ Guest Appearance

I thought the last post was getting lengthy, so I broke this update into two entries. (Check out the previous post to get caught up if you haven’t been here for a while.)

Now, where was I? OH! I have also been having fun with Powerpoint again. Throw a little Skype into the mix, and you have a lesson made in tech heaven. Here’s the scenario: Those of you who know me (or my blog) know that I had somewhat of a Powerpoint epiphany around this time last school year, and my ppts haven’t been the same since. I worked closely with the senior class of my school at the time to create awesome powerpoints for their senior project. I agreed to help them out again this year, although I was at a new school. Since my schedule eliminated the possibility of a visit, I used skype to present to them. I think the best thing about the experience (which wasn’t without its challenges) was my ability to share my screen with the students watching online. We met twice–the first time a student showed me her ppt over Skype’s shared screen, and the second meeting was my showing a revamped version using the principles I taught the students.
Here’s the before and after.


View more presentations or Upload your own.

View more presentations or Upload your own.

These are very abridged versions of the ppts, but hopefully you can see the changes in the few slides included. After she presents, I will post the student’s finished ppt in its entirety.

Last, but definitely not least, I have another guest entry for your viewing pleasure!

The pics in the gallery above are of a project completed by one of my former colleagues, Kay Butler, with her students. After seeing the pictures of my geometry project on parallel lines, Kay decided to use pictures to motivate her Math 3 students to learn how to write quadratic equations from the graph of a parabola. Mrs. Butler’s class collected photos of architecture and other real life visuals involving parabolas. These photos, if you look closely, are superimposed on a grid that students then used to identify points for quadratic regression. When I saw this, I knew I had to blog it! For more info, email Kay at Go Kay! Keep up the great work!

Whew! Do you feel caught up? I do! As you can see, the new year has come with new experiences and exponential growth in the happenings of my crazy classroom. I will continue to share as much as I can, and I hope that this is helpful to someone out there! Happy new year!!!

Inequality Mobiles

These photos are a couple of the Inequality Mobiles my students created.  We had a lot of fun.  Each student was assigned an inequality at random.  They had to work out the inequality, graph it, and use it to create a mobile.  The mobile is created using a hanger, string, paper and tape.  The purpose is to give the students time to focus on one problem.  This is a favorite project of mine because it’s fun, it allows students to be creative in a subject that doesn’t always support creativity, and it allows students time to think about why they are solving problems the way they are and ask important questions.

-T. Cosman, Algebra 1 teacher, Ehret HS