Engaging My Students With 3-Act Math Problems

I really want my students to become engaged in the process of Math and I have been looking on blogs, asking other teachers, looking around Twitter, doing anything I can think of to find out what other teachers are doing.  I ran across Dan Meyer’s blog last week sometime and over the weekend decided to develop what Meyer calls ‘Three Act Math Problems’.  Basically these problems use technology to video tape, photograph, and annotate something from everyday life.  Students are shown this video and then ask questions.  Once we decide on a question we are going to answer students break off and work out the math.  At the end we get back together, discuss what we did and imagine how we could take this further.

This whole past week I have been doing Three Act Math problems for the first 10 – 15 minutes and have seen engagement increase consistently.  I think the students really appreciate the idea that:

1.) We are answering their questions.

2.) The things we have looked at are things that are relevant to them.

An Example: Yesterday we looked at a National Post article that stated we are going to melt down 85 million kg of pennies in the next year.  One student knew copper was worth a bit and so wanted to know how much money we’d make off the copper.  The students then determined they needed to know how much one penny weighed (although at the end we realized this was irrelevant), the percentage of copper in one penny and the price of copper.  Once we found these numbers (there was a helpful info graphic with the article) the students were able to work out mathematically how much money we would make off the copper in 85 million kg of pennies.

We have only been doing Three Act Math problems for almost a week however the class is already beginning to ask great questions as well as come up to me with their own ‘Acts’ to base questions around.  Students are becoming less afraid to ask questions and more focused when we cover particular aspects of the curriculum.  My hope is to continue this at the beginning of every class as a way of engaging my students and helping them understand how Math can help answer their questions about the world around them.


Our Meeting With An Archaeologist

In my Social Studies 9 class I have really been trying to focus on engaging my students (sometimes it works, sometimes I learn from it and try again).  We are just beginning a new unit on societies of the past and we thought it would be cool if we could talk to someone who actual studies these societies as a living.  Que the drum roll…….. Enter Doctor Chris Foley from the University of Saskatchewan.

Photo by: Jessica Finson

Okay, well I don’t think he looks the same as Indiana Jones however his job sounded just as exciting as in the movies.  Dr. Foley shared with us what it is that he does, where in the world he has been, and some of the spectacular discoveries his teams have made.  It was an unique experience being able to hear from someone who not only does the stuff we are studying for a living but is immensely passionate about it as well.  Dr.Foley was an amazing storyteller and had so many interesting anecdotes along the way.  I asked some students afterwards what they thought and they all agreed that this was a great experience for us. Meeting with Dr.Foley allowed us to put a face and voice to the content we were studying as well as offering us an unique perspective from someone that we would not normally meet.  I would definitely do this again in the future!

In order to make this meeting possible we used Adobe Connect.   Adobe Connect is the web-conferencing software that our division uses however I think it is very similar to Elluminate, a  (possibly less expensive) program we used to meet in my ECMP 355 class. The program allowed us to set up an online meeting place where both Dr.Foley and I met using a URL we were given when @jeffwalters27 created the space

Our Adobe Connect session with Dr.Chris Foley

Our Adobe Connect session with Dr.Chris Foley

for us. There were some issues that I think extended from our unfamiliarity with the Adobe platform however the overall experience with Adobe was good.  A tool like Adobe or Elluminate give presenters more versatility however I think you do give up some of the intuitiveness you would have with Skype or Hangouts.  I think in the future I would look for a platform that would be more comfortable for our expert to use or I would make sure I knew the capabilities of the networks and hardware that either of us were working with.

This was a great learning experience, not only for my students who got to meet an actual archaeologist, but for me as well.  I think connecting with an expert is such an important step whenever it is possible (something I took away from my visit at the Calgary Science School).  With the technology available to us all it takes is an email to set meetings like this into motion.  Looking back on our meeting with Dr.Foley there is no way that I could compare with both the knowledge and passion that he has for his field.  Meeting Dr.Foley and being able to ask him questions has helped my students and I become more engaged and excited for our new unit.  Yay internet!

My Favorite Unit So Far

So I’ve completed my internship at Estevan Comprehensive High School and man was that a blast!  Internship was such a challenging, rewarding, revealing process and I was able to grow so much in such a short time.  This semester I’m sticking around Estevan and subbing while finishing up my final class for my Education degree.

It was thinking about project ideas for my final class that I started thinking back to the different units I taught in Physics and Chemistry this last semester.  I was trying to think hard about what types of learning opportunities worked the best…did some work better than others?…is there one type of approach that works best?  I came to the conclusion that there is more than one way to teach something however what I found for myself is that when I really focused on student engagement at the beginning of the concept they seemed to have a better handle on it in the end.

The engaging activities I used usually took the form of something that at first looked like it had nothing to do with science (I think that was part of the reason my students seemed so engaged). There was no better example of this seemingly unrelated engagement than our unit on chemical kinetics

The Lesson

We were beginning Chemical Kinetics and I had recently seen a new Ted Ed video, “How to speed up chemical reactions (and get a date).”

I began by showing the first couple minutes of this video:

We didn’t watch this video all the way through.  We stopped when the narrator pulled out his construction hat and was about to redesign the school.  I wanted my students to understand their purpose (getting students to collide) and how they could accomplish this thinking for themselves.

We branched out into groups, students were contractors for an hour, and they designed floor plans for schools where there would be a high likelihood to get a date to a dance.  It gave me goosebumps seeing the different ideas that groups had…and the things they were coming up with were synonymous with the different ways we could speed chemical reactions.

When we watched the rest of the video at the end, and tied what we did to chemistry, students were already confident with the idea and we had a good place to start for our study of chemical kinetics.  The rest of the unit was never boring as we were constantly making reference, in some form or another, to relationships both in the real world and in chemistry.  We came out of chemical kinetics with a good understanding of the important concepts…and I don’t think anyone in the class ended up going to the next dance without a date.

More Apps for Science Class

Over the last little while I have been exploring more and more apps for the Ipad that I could use with my students.  I have found a couple recently that I think could be quite useful heading into my internship and teaching career.  Here they are sorted by subject:


NASA HD –  This app contains information about the planets and other space related topis.  There is an in-depth discussion each month on a particular subject that is worth a read.

NASA VIZ – This app is similar to NASA HD except with a more visual focus.  Some of the images are truly amazing and there are some great videos too.  One of their videos showing the shifting currents overtime would be great in a weather unit.

GoSkyWatchP – This app is free and gives you a great map of the night sky with location recognition capabilities.

Earthlapse – With space travel becoming more privatized it may be possible to swing a trip into space within this generation. Until then you can enjoy some of the same views you would see if you were on the International Space Station with this app.

coloruncovered – This is a great app and provides an opportunity for students to learn about colours and light while interacting with different illusions, properties, etc.  Exploratorium has done it right with this app doing an excellent job of putting activity and engagement before content.

Airplanes – The different paper airplane designs this app contains could give your students a great chance to inquire more into what type of engineering designs are more or less useful for flight.

Minds of Math – My previous coop said that she found one of the best ways to teach math is to teach it from the perspective of what a certain formula, mathematical method, etc. was originally designed for.  This app does a great job of organizing the people and discoveries that have been influential within mathematics.


Creatures of Light – This app looks great, is free, and does a good job of presenting the diverse range of bio-luminescent organisms.  This app even goes more in-depth in terms of what exactly is going on chemically and the different chemical processes that are involved.

Speaking of Luminescence…  Here is a simple demo that can be done with a class.  The materials are relatively easy to track down and it really produces a bright, blue light when done in a dark room. CHEMOLUMINESCENCE REACTION

Cardiograph – This app turns your Ipad or mobile devise into a cardiograph by using the camera it contains. Pretty neat, and it allows you to keep track of your heart rate over long periods of time.


Labtimer – This app allows you to get rid of all the stopwatches that could clutter up your lab space.  You can have multiple ( 10+) timers going at once with this app.

NOVA Elements – This app contains a series of videos that cannot be viewed outside of the US however has a periodic table and an interactive game type portion that are alright.

K12 Periodic Table – This app is probably one of the more useful periodic table apps available.  It contains all the information a student would need and is very easy to navigate.


Wolfram Alpha – This app costs money however is very useful for students as well as teachers seeking answers to questions they may not know.

e-Science magazine – My Science methods instructor directed me to this one and I really enjoyed it.  Its free and the articles are extremely relevant.  Some of the apps I explored came out of there.  The University of Adelaide did a great job with this one, I’m looking forward to future issues.

Electric Pickle Continued…

The last three days we were doing workshops on the road in Pincher Creek and Magrath.  The Pickl-e-lectric Chair was such a hit that I had to make a couple more.

This demo was very good for engaging the students into topics like circuits, electricity, what makes up an atom, electrolytes, and even safety. The students in our workshops ‘relished’ the chance to see something get electrocuted in a relatively safe way.

Here is one of the new Pickl-e-lectric Chair’s in action:


My Summer Job

This summer has been loads of fun so far.  I got hired on by Minds in Motion, a science camp put on by the University of Calgary.  Minds in Motion has basically been my dream job.  We get to go around to different schools and put on science workshops and once school is out we start with our weekly science camps.

It’s been awesome getting to plan for the summer camps…this basically consists of us playing around with different science projects.  I’ve personally been doing a lot with sciencetoymaker.org ‘s projects; some of the things I’ve really enjoyed have been the big mouth gliders and pop pop boats (Thanks to Mr.Macdonald for hooking me up with that site).  This summer is giving me a chance to try out different activities and I think this is really going to help me get ready for my internship in the fall.

Ipad Apps for the Classroom

When I was doing my three week education pre-internship I found that there was an Ipad within every classroom.  Every teacher was given an Ipad however there was not much guidance as to how to use them within their class.  I think Ipads can be excellent tools if used properly and am hoping that this post could offer some help.  Ever since I got my own Ipad last Christmas (thanks again Mom & Dad) I’ve been looking for ways that I could use it effectively in the classroom.

These are what I have found are probably some of the best apps currently available for teachers and students in the classroom (this is kind of like an Ipad apps essential toolkit for science teachers):

For Students:

Presenting/Creating: NFB Pixstop (Free stop motion movie creator), Comic Life ($2.99)

Student Support/ Help: Khan Academy

Showing/Telling their Understanding: ShowMe, Skitch, VoiceThread

For Teachers: Ted Talks, Science 360, Google, Twitter

Subject Specific Apps


Vernier Video Physics ($2.99) – Take video and instantly turn it into velocity and acceleration graphs.

SPARKvue – Turns Ipad or mobile device into an accelerometer.


The Elements: A Visual Exploration ($13.99) – A beautiful app exploring the different elements in the periodic table.

Periodic Table of the Elements – Shows you the electron configuration, different groups, state at any temperature, etc.


Molecules – Instantly pull up a 3D representation of a molecule from ChemPub or the International Protein Database.

TimeTree – Quickly show how long ago a common ancestor was shared between two taxa.

Those are the best of what I have found so far. I would love to hear what Ipad Apps you have found to be useful in your classroom…

Using POEs to Teach Scientific Concepts

This past weekend a group of my classmates and I attended WestCAST 2012 in Calgary.  The conference was great and Friday afternoon our group lead a breakout session on “Using POEs with K-12 Students to Develop Scientific Content “.

What are POEs?  POEs stand for Predict, Observe and Explain; an important process for developing understanding.  POEs are typically focused around a brief science demo involving a series of questions. Students first develop a prediction of what they think will happen and why then proceed to observe the demonstration of a particular concept.  After making observations students refine and develop their prediction further to incorporate the concept they have just observed.

Why are POEs so great? POEs are extremely versatile and grounded in constructivist theory.  Teachers can develop POEs to be done individually or in groups. POEs can be altered by the questions the teacher asks and the assessment desired to:

  • assess prior knowledge
  • introduce and engage student’s to new content
  • assess what students have learned about a concept/ show a teacher what a student is thinking
  • generate discussion

How can I begin to use POEs? Our group (more particularly @webbkyle ) put together a wiki with all the POEs that we used at WestCAST here:


This is a great place to start if you are looking for ideas and activities to try.

A glimpse into the workshop for anyone not able to make it…

Science Demos

My time in high school and education afterwards has taught me two things.  The first thing is I already knew from my own experience that demos are a great way to engage students.  The second thing I have learned afterwards is that demos need to be for a reason.  I’ve seen both types of demos as a student, some are all cool but looking back didn’t really direct or teach me anything.  Demos should be engaging and for a reason.  They don’t need to teach an entire concept but they should at least get your students thinking in terms of the concept you wish to teach.  In ESCI class we began to explore science demos that are engaging and also help to teach our students.  How cool are some of these?!? As a class we have been compiling all our resources on a wiki so if specific directions are needed that is a great place to start.

Singing Pipe – Daniel uses heat and resonance to make a pipe that seems to have some interesting properties.

Ammonium Fountain – Jaqueline produces a glowing fountain using Luminol, ammonium gas, and hydrogen peroxide.

Mirror Plated Flask – Kandace makes a glass flask appear to change into a silver one.  The first part is how to do it (quite important) however the last two minutes are when the exciting change happens.

Rainbow Indicator Rod – Wes uses universal indicator, a glass rod, an acid, and a base to show the range of pH’s that universal indicator can show.

Genie in a Bottle and Artificial Snow – Jesse shows us an exothermic reaction producing a lot of steam and produces some fake snow afterwards.