I was browsing around my local supermarket the other day – shout out to New World Thorndon for it’s excellent craft beer selection – and realised that most of the math I’ve had to do outside of school has been in this place.

It’s a context ripe for real-world mathematical investigation – maths which will be helpful IRL (especially if you’re on tight budget).

I’ve jotted down a few rough ideas for a ‘Supermarket Maths’ unit for school. The prompts for these questions could be photos or videos you’ve taken.

How many “flosses” per pack? Price per floss? If you flossed the recommended amount, how soon would you run out?

There are a few here, but I’m sure there are more options… do you have any more ideas I can add? Leave a comment!

Supermarket Maths:

– servings per item (as per the serving size suggestions)

– calories per item and total calories per meal

– total price for a meal

– price per serving

– compare the price of items to other similar items

– price per ml or kg

– buying in bulk V buying single items

– buying little chippie packets V a big pack

– pre-cut items (ie, carrots, celery, apple slices) V normal

– working within a budget, making choices

– discounts and sales, coupons

– Fly Buys / loyalty programs – is it worth it?

– calculating GST

– cost of import items v local

– cost between different supermarket chains V cost of fuel (the cheapest, the most expensive)

– online shopping – is it cheaper?

– going to the local farmers market (+petrol) – is it cheaper?

– charting the cost of fruit / vegetables through the seasons

– Christmas Club, how much do you save?

– What % do farmers make / distributors etc.

– could you grow it for cheaper?

– the cost of plastic bags V buying reusable

– cheapest / healthiest meals you can make for a day / week

– fuel vouchers – how much can you save?

Supermarket Maths – Statistics:

– What’s the best checkout to choose?

– How much time do you save by going through the self-checkout?

– What is the busiest time for supermarkets?

– Price according to position on the shelf (more expensive at eye level?)

– Average distance to the bread / milk (why is the bread always at the back?)

– Time in supermarket V total purchase cost (ever noticed how there are very few windows and clocks in supermarkets?)

– Do you save money by using a shopping list?


Ummm…. 15 for $31.99, 12 for $35.99?

And a few more IRL math contexts to think about:

Sport Maths

Video Game Maths

  • Wikispaces Classroom as an online, collaborative “draft book”
  • Individual student blogs (Kidblogs or Blogger?)
  • A class Evernote account for “tagging the learning journey” / collecting evidence of learning
  • The “teacher adviser” aka mentor, aka whānau teacher, aka learning guide – what does this role look like? (hint: needs to be rigorous – a formal, but close, learning relationship)
  • Think about how primary-aged students can fast track their learning (and how to assess this – a “testing centre”? sidenote: using Infographics to show learning!)
  • Self-directed learning boot camps (if needed)
  • Digital Citizenship as a theme throughout the year – inc. community evenings
  • Developing events in Wellington to share awesome teaching (educafe evenings?)
  • Kids doing unconferences / ignite talks
  • Setup Apple Configurator or Meraki
  • Take part in some place hacking / guerilla geography later in the year

So lets get started! How do you motivate/inspire kids to take control of their learning?#edchatNZ

This was the opening question in last nights #edchatnz twitter chat – a topic which I’m quite interested in and keen to hear how other people are “doing it” and grappling with the challenges. I tried to chirp in a few comments here and there, but the twitter character limit was beating me into submission, so I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’d better hit the keyboard and record some of our journey. Thankfully it’s a PRT day, so I’ve got the wiggle room! Until next year, then I become a fully registered teacher with no time – maybe I can be like PRT Pan and never grow up! PRT days every week! Bangarang!

This is a bit of what we do – it’s probably not the most epic way, or the best way, but it’s one way. Please leave a comment or get in touch if you’re doing anything similar or even unsimilar, it’s all good!

Taking control of your learning is about knowing where you’re at, where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and then knowing when you’re there.

Knowing Where You’re At

Every kid at our school has three matrices shared in with them via Google Docs – a reading, writing, and maths one. These are updated as much as possible (once a term, sometimes once every term-and-a-bit) with recent progress.

Having these shared in with children to view through their school Google account is key. They can, at the drop of a 5 cent coin, bring up a detailed view of their progress and next steps. The parents can be shared in as well, or can access them through their child’s account.

Mathematics Standards Matrix – identifying next learning steps

Knowing Where You’re Going

Our matrices are great for a wide, detailed, current picture on where a child is at. In order though to distill this wealth of information into workable, manageable next steps, we have another document called a Personal Learning Treaty (or a PLT). Together with a teacher, the matrices are used to determine three main learning goals over reading, writing and maths. These are then put into the PLT along with a co-constructed learning behaviour goal.

Last year we held mini-meetings with each child in order to discuss the creation of these PLT goals. This year, with the seniors in particular, we are moving to children formulating their own next steps and translating them into their PLT. I can then sit there on the weekend and check out their PLT docs and make comments / suggestions if necessary. It’s a bit more practical in a time-constrained busy school environment.

Knowing How You’re Going to Get There

So the kids have these goals, they are current, manageable, and co-constructed – but do they know how to actually go out and work to achieve them? When do they do this?

When: we block in self-directed learning time (we called it iTime last year, but call a spade a spade this year) each week. I just peeked around the corner to our planning timetable on the whiteboard (see below) and we have just under three hours scheduled in total this week at various times, and in various chunks of time. We rarely have all 74 children in our hub on self-directed learning time at once, as it would be a strain on the devices and the equipment – it’s usually a part of a rotation.
Timetabling self-directed learning blocks

How: I’m going use maths goals as an example, as it was raised as some kind of no-can-do area in the aforementioned #edchatnz discussion:

We agree that choice motivates. How can we engage students in subjects where less choice is available? Eg. maths?#edchatNZ

We made a series of how-to videos called Snappers which we recorded, played around with a little bit in iMovie, then put up in an area of our blog. Admittedly, we haven’t made many, but more are on the cards! Current Snappers cover topics such as “Using Maths Equipment”, “Using Texts” as well as various times tables and fractions Snappers outlining strategies to independently learn and understand the concepts involved. Some upcoming Snappers include a handwriting one, a series of tutorials on various web-based applications, maybe even a ‘cleaning up at the end of the day’ Snapper! We’ve also started putting up Snappers from other educators around the world – there’s no point reinventing the wheel!

Having videos students can watch and re-watch (directing them to appropriate activities or tasks) helps focus their self-directed learning time by having them do the things that matter, rather than faffing around with activities that don’t really help. This year we have planned learning workshops where we run through what you can do if you like to learn in a competitive way, or an independent way, or a creative way, and a plan to produce a larger variety of Snappers as mentioned above. At the end of the day, it’s about giving the children the direction they need to work on something independently and meaningfully.

Simply even having the PLT accessible and understandable helps focus their time too. If kids can do a quick check-in at the start of the day to refresh themselves about their goals, they are more likely to be conscious of their next learning steps throughout the day.

Knowing When You’re There

When a child feels they are independently, consistently and accurately performing a skill, strategy or built knowledge, they record somehow – they capture – evidence of their learning.

We’ve had children create docs where they upload three or four different samples of their work, whether it be photos, scanned writing, videos, webcam reflections, screenshots or links to online goings-ons and then submit it to us.

As teachers, we use our professional wizardry to judge whether the compiled evidence of learning meets the indicators – the matrices are updated, and another learning goal is created.

Why do it?

  • Children are engaged and motivated via ownership, choice and independence – they design their own learning pathways
  • Self-directed learning time necessitates knowing your own learning goals
  • Providing evidence of learning means understanding what success looks like
  • Students can learn how they learn best – the style and the preference
  • It offers deep personalisation of learning

Learning how to take the reins of your own learning is a powerful competency to build. In an era where an absolutely ridiculous amount of knowledge is available at your fingertips, self-directed learning endows agency and creates lifelong, confident and flexible learners.

Warning, what follows is a self-indulgent reflective blog post. Reader beware!

2012: My first year of teaching.

2012: Amesbury School’s first year open.

Obligatory Amesbury School / community panorama
Having these two run concurrently has been a winding road of a journey; sudden swerves, long straights, gradual curves, ups and downs, speed bumps (wow I got more mileage out of that metaphor than I thought…).

These two “firsts” have also shared a symbiotic relationship. Each has strengthened the other.

  • As I was finding my feet as a teacher, Amesbury was finding it’s feet as a school.
  • I wasn’t slotting into a team, I was a founding member of the team.
  • I didn’t just have new kids, everyone had new kids.
  • I didn’t just not know the expectations and norms in the beginning, everyone didn’t.
  • I was learning how to teach and learn in an environment where experienced teachers were rethinking what teaching and learning means to them.
  • I didn’t just not know where the tea towels were kept, everyone didn’t.

It has been an incredibly full year. Here are some highlights!

Team Teaching
During my first few months (and throughout the year), Tara, Urs and Carolyn were my safety net. They were incredibly supportive, inclusive and actually listened to my hair-ball, mostly lame ideas. Team teaching for a BT is awesome – you are in a constant state of observing, while also being observed by others. You learn from osmosis. You are an edu-magpie and gather the best, shiny bits of teaching from all around you and bundle them up and mould them with your own way to create something even better. A+++++++ Highly Recommended for BTs.

PBL / Ignite Projects / Impact Projects
I wrote about these in a previous post, but they are indeed a highlight. We had our Year 6 leaver’s dinner last night and most of them spoke about how much they enjoyed them. Passion based, collaborative, exploratory, real-world, community-focused. Hard work for teachers, but amazing, wide, authentic learning.

Increasing Nerdyness
I was always a bit of a nerd-burglar, but this year has really given me the opportunity to embrace my nerdist tendencies. I discovered Twitter as a rich, endlessly informative tool for communication, collaboration and PD. RSS readers, movie making, blogging, Apple, PC, Android, tablets, embedding, sharing, Google, tech problem solving. I’ve grown a passion for using technology smartly in the classroom; to enhance real learning, not as a token gesture, mindless brand devotion, or as a slave to the next new thing. Being a nerd is not a negative thing these days – get amongst!

Finding out we need to talk less
It kind of clicked about halfway through the year. Kids can zone out pretty quickly. We absolutely need to keep things short and snappy. Mix things up, keep it diverse, keep it interesting, keep it fun. The last thing they need or want is for a teacher to warble on in front of them for anything longer than ten minutes. A highlight of this year was discovering my new mantra: “keep it snappy”.

Another discovery (which should have been obvious to me, but nope, I’m slow) was “getting” that kids need constant reminders there are expectations for their behaviour. How should they know what is expected of them if we don’t let them know? I’ve found a wee reminder here and there, especially before times we know will become looser, does wonders. At the start, these were longer, but as they have sunk in we need to have these little chats less and less.

Developing Relationships
With teachers, parents, kids. I’ve met some wonderful people, both young and old. I’ve laughed every single day with them, which to me, makes Amesbury School a pretty great place to spend my days. The Amesbury community is supportive, friendly, and forward-thinking. Good bunch of peeps.

These are a few of the many highlights of the year, and just quickly, here are a few more:
Friday morning tea, Ignition 2012, @taratj teaching me iMovie / twitter / tizmos / Google sites and blogger / minimally invasive education / Sugata Mitra / how to relax and not take things too seriously, sunny days on the staff-room balcony, our official opening, camps, Christmas cards, quiet kids finding their voice, PRT days spent on beanbags in the library (right now as I’m typing!)…

The 2012 Harakeke Hub crew


Lisa (my mentor teacher) wanted me to write a little on what I think my contributions to school life has been this year.

In no particular order:
IT skills and using cool new web-based thingys, contributing to positive and friendly relationships, the ability to deal with left-over food, putting smartphones in teacher’s hands, enthusiasm, sharing our learning with others – especially on blogs, organisation, contribution to an epic and innovative learning programme for our kids, laughs, supporting others, contribution to the growth of a strong guitar / music culture.


A PRT day only every two weeks? How will I ever cope! When can I write my long-winded reflections?

I’ve got a couple of possible goals and areas of focus for next year:

Do kids love writing? Do they see themselves as writers? How can we make writing cooler?

Set-up of individual student e-portfolios. Have students (and parents and teachers) collect evidence of their learning goals and more holistic learning (key competencies).

Set-up of individual student blogs. Quad-blogging. Networking. Worldwide focus.

I want to work on my ability to sort out arguments. I tend to be quite blunt and just tell kids to get over it. I need to learn more tact, and how to get to the core of the problem through effective questioning.

Our PBL. This won’t be happening all year, but when it does, I want to refine the system, keep moving it forward, and encourage greater positive impact on the community.

I want to keep working on my Te Reo, learn my mihi off by heart, and make Te Reo a more natural part of everyday school life.

Here’s to more messy, student-centered, creative learning in 2013


So there we have it.

It’s been a fun-filled, mind-blowing, weekend-chomping, thought-provoking year. I can barely remember what I was like last year, but am pretty sure the guy sifting around Palmy doing his Grad Dip Teaching degree would not recognise the fellow in front of him today.

Here’s to another year of pushing the boundaries, personal growth, new friendships, and new learning.
tl;dr Had an epic year. Ready for more of the same next year.

[Friday Takeaways is a new series in which I sit through (and summarise) P.D sessions – so you don’t have to! What a brave and noble sacrifice…]
A couple of us attended a P.D session on Wednesday evening run by Jill Eggleton, author of the Key Links series by Scholastic. The brief was: “implementing small, simple steps, towards creating lifetime writers, keeping in mind the keys to a child’s progress.” She wrapped up with this quote, which summed up her key point nicely –  a point which we as teachers need to always keep in mind, and one which we would do well to pass on to our students:

“Write drunk; edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

Woah, let me re-check my notes! Ahah! Here is the right one:

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” – Truman Capote

Writing shouldn’t be a mundane task, out-of-context, and painful to get through. It should be a passionate, thoughtful experience; a playful and rich process. This starts from you. Be wide-eyed and enthusiastic when reading children’s work. Model the joy in reading and writing.

How do you inspire a love of writing? (Also: see, look! We DO use pens and pencils …sometimes)

Here are a couple of takeaways from the course, tl:dr (“too long, didn’t read”) style:

  • The key to writing is oral language – if they can’t talk about something, they probably can’t write about it.
  • For teachers – be writers yourselves. Know what it means to get from the head to the page. Start a journal, record interesting personal experiences and characters. You don’t have to always read stories to children – tell stories too!
  • Provide opportunities to write daily. Practise is the best ‘instruction’ of all.
  • For youngins: write from personal, common experiences. Don’t introduce text-types too early. When you do though, make it purposeful: “I want to tell you a personal story, so we’re going to use personal narrative.”
  • Emphasise “putting a magnifying glass” over certain experiences (don’t waffle on about the whole holiday for example, stick to your most memorable moment).
  • Great writers don’t tell the whole story – encourage the children to “show don’t tell”.
  • Read poetry every day. It encourages children to be more playful and descriptive with their own writing.
  • When giving feedback / reading a child’s piece for the first time: make sure they know their message has been communicated (use a statement, not a question and do so using their own language). Then strengths, then next steps.
  • Don’t have them write too much! They can’t be bothered going back and re-crafting / editing. Quality over quantity. They can write long meandering rambles at home if they want to.
So these were the meaty chunks I was able to extract from the casserole of information at the session. Some of them may be common sense, but to a newb like me, I need to make a concious effort to keep these in mind.
Thanks Jill.
Maybe I’m spoilt by attending Ignition 2012 and a few Ignite evenings, but jeepers creepers, we really need to change traditional teacher P.D. Sitting for 3 hours passively listening to a tumult of information in a hot fidgety theatre can be draining and just plain hard work. Mix things up, get us talking, be creative… practise what you preach!