You Win Some, You Learn Some – My Cohort 21 Journey


CLICK HERE for a brief overview of my action plan, what I learned, my next steps, and my biggest take aways.

Part 1: How My Action Plan Came To Be

When I reflect on my Cohort 21 journey, I’m reminded of the famous line in The Godfather III.

In my head, the line goes something like, “Just when I thought I had a perfect action plan, Cohort 21 pulls me back in and makes me go deeper!”

At our November F2F, I crafted what I thought was a perfect action plan centered around student retention of math concepts, and went to work exploring how to improve this. Before I knew it, it was January and I was sitting among my new friends again, questioning how important retention actually is. Please don’t read this as “this math teacher doesn’t believe his students should retain anything he teaches them”, I’m simply wondering if retention should be the main focus of my practice moving forward and, to be honest, I don’t think it should be.

Recently, for the first time since January, I looked at my place mat booklet and I thought I’d share one of my responses:

If you can’t make out my chicken scratch (pun intended, if you were able to read it), it says:

Question: What is the urgency behind your action plan?

My Response: It’s not super urgent, instead it’s more of a slow philosophy change where we promote the gaining of foundational knowledge on a deep level in order to have success on ‘big problems’… but which comes first? (Chicken or Egg?)

What I realized in January is that students are only going to retain math knowledge if the concepts being taught mattered to them and/or they enjoyed what they were learning. I also think retention is helped if students enjoy math class as a whole.

So this is where I’ve landed:

How might we ensure that students have a positive outlook on their math class and are engaged by the concepts?


Part 2: What I Tried This Year

I struggled with what to say in this section because, although I have tried new things this year, I feel like listing them comes across as showboating and “braggy”. However, I often think back to our first Cohort 21 face-to-face session where @gnichols showed this video:

I’ve got almost all of my ideas this year from other educators who have been willing to put themselves out there and share details about their practice (through blogs, Twitter, etc). I can only hope that sharing my ideas (below) can help others have their light bulb moment. So, here I go sharing some of the things I’ve tried this year…


“Math is Fun Fridays” – I wrote a blog post about this earlier this year. HERE is the shared google doc with all the Fun Friday activity ideas. (Feedback – students love this! The only problem is that it’s April and I’m running out of fun/interesting activities!)


“Are you ready for calculus” diagnostic – I wrote a blog post about this earlier this year. (Feedback – This motivated some students at the beginning of the year, but as we moved into the winter term, they stopped wanting to continue to work on their core skills. I’m still wondering how to change this in the future.)


A full PBL unit on right triangle trigonometry – Students examined existing wheel chair ramps on our campus, researched the maximum legal steepness, and built a prototype of a ramp into our school’s main office. (Here is a link to the student presentation created for our Head of College). (Feedback – In the future I need to insert more quick assessments throughout the unit to ensure each student is meeting the key targets along the way.)

(More pictures here and here)


“The Story of a Limit” (idea from @hpalmer) – Calculus students created children’s stories explaining the concept of a limit. The video below has some of the highlights. (Feedback – Students were able to let their creative side shine and I was really impressed by some of the stories).


“The Smarties Project” –  Calculus students redesigned the existing Smarties box such that it had a golden rectangle face and held the maximum number of Smarties. Link to the full project is here. (Feedback – I had several students tell me they enjoyed the challenge of this project because the numbers “weren’t nice” which made it feel more authentic. The “I need help zone” (see below) helped struggling students a lot. In the future I might make everyone’s rectangle face a different ratio so everyone isn’t getting the same final result).


“I Need Help Zone” –  I wrote a blog about this earlier this year (link is here). (Feedback – I really like how this worked during an in-class activity. It forced students to talk about math instead of writing out all the steps for their friend).



“The Homework Tree” – I wrote a blog about this (link is here). (Feedback – I only tried this a few times this year so I don’t have a good feel as to the student point of view of the trees, but I do like how they are personalized and less time consuming than our current model).


Lastly, I used various online tools such as Quizlet (thanks @amcniven!), Quizizz, Kahoot, and Teacher Desmos on a more consistent basis. (Feedback – In my opinion, Quizizz is a better version of Kahoot because you can set it so speed doesn’t earn you more points, and you can download the results to Excel when it’s finished. Also, I LOVE Quizlet and so do my students. They work in groups to finish first but everyone has different answers on their screen so no single student can just take over and do all the work. Lastly, Teacher Desmos has awesome activities that allow students to discover concepts rather than be told. A lot of activities are not searchable on Google, however. I found that John Orr has good ones that he’s shared on his blog here.)


Part 3: What’s Next?

If I want students to have a positive outlook and be more engaged in their math class, these are the first things that pop in my head that I could do more of in the future:

  • More hands-on activities
  • More group work
  • Have homework be less time consuming for students
  • PBL (or at least, incorporating more elements of PBL in some units)
  • Start with ‘big problems’ and let the core skills develop out of necessity
  • Spiraling in grade 9 and 10 applied math

I think bringing more of these things into the grade 9/10 math programs will develop a strong core of knowledge and a positive outlook towards math which should pay off in the senior grades. (Obviously we can look at doing more in grades 11/12 as well, were applicable).

Lastly, this Cohort 21 experience helped me reflect on my personal practice, and doing so I learned that I am hesitant/resistant to change for fear of the unknown, specifically, fear that the new way will not be as good for my students because I can’t see the final result. However, this experience has helped me to push past this and trust myself

I can’t thank @gnichols, @jmedved, @ckirsh, @lmcbeth, @ddoucet, @gvogt, and @adamcaplan enough for all they do running this amazing experience for CIS teachers!


(Image courtesy of

About Michael Moore

I have taught senior mathematics at Hillfield Strathallan College for 10 years and I'm currently the Subject Coordinator for the Mathematics and Computer Science department.
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1 Response to You Win Some, You Learn Some – My Cohort 21 Journey

  1. You have been busy this year Michael! By having a set plan from the start, you were able to see how you could take a positive shift in your thinking, and still put that into action this school year. Well done!

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