Leveraging Digital: creativity and innovation 

I have to admit that I love buzzwords. And leveraging digital is one of the buzzwords that I enjoy the most. In my mind, when I hear the words leveraging digital, I have a very powerful visual. I see a lever being used effectively to move a very large object. To me, digital allows us to do really great things. And often it makes work easier.


My goal over the next few posts is to share how I am using digital to promote those 21st-century skills. Now before I go any further, I do realize that we are 18 years into the 21st-century. But the skills are still important. They are also called Global Competencies, and they include: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity & innovation (from Edugains) and citizenship and character.
Today I want to talk about how I’m using digital to get my students to create and innovate in my class.


I admit that I have a pretty heavy bias towards students that can create and innovate. I tend to favour their thinking more and value their contributions. I have had some students who aren’t traditionally very successful in school but become wildly successful because I value what they can create. I do have to keep in my mind certain ideas. I have to remind myself that just because I didn’t think of it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s brilliant. I always try to look into the thinking behind what is created.

In my language and specifically my writing I actively promote creation and innovation. I ask the students create products that demonstrate their writing skills. I don’t limit them by forcing everyone to produce the same form. This is tricky at first because students traditionally travel through a form of the month approach. This is where the whole class focusses on a certain writing form. I value choice. I believe that students will be more successful if they choose how they show their learning.

So I have students actively create a wide range of products. I specially enjoy it when a new idea is introduced that spreads around the room with other students willing to try. Right now I have a student who is wants to create a spam email as a writing piece. He wants to publish it so it looks like a Jetta meant email. This idea has taken hold in my room. I have two other students wildly interested in that and wish to create their own. Of course they aren’t copying the student but are taking that idea and changing and/or improving it. This is innovation.

But I need to be careful about defining innovation. Innovation isn’t necessarily creating a never-before seen product. It could also include taking an existing product and changing it for the better. This ties in nicely with the design thinking that’s happening in my science class.

So how am I using technology to foster creativity and innovation?


Students are better able to create different writing products using technology. They can publish them with better and more dramatic ways than traditional paper and pen. They also have access to a wider range of products to inspire them. Technology also allows for better revision and creative thinking: Iteration. Students can change remix and revise the work much more easily using technology. It could be as simple as  cut and paste. It could be much more complex than that. It is these processes that are important when working towards strengthening innovation skills.

I do believe that creativity can be taught. It is a mindset that some students have leaned into more than others. I applied this concept from the growth mindset work that I have  done in math. I believe every student can be creative. They need experiences and time and practice to develop this skill. Unfortunately a lot of students believe that they lack creativity and innovation. I believe they have lacked the experiences that have allowed them to strengthen these skills. It is my job to provide more experiences and practice so they can further develop it.

Creativity and innovation is important. Using technology allows us to foster the skills. It is important.

How are you fostering creativity and innovation in your classroom?




1:1 = Immediate #Shift

We just got our Chrome books – every student in my class – and just like that, I pivot on a dime.

I’ve been waiting, wishing and praying for this moment for so long. I’ve gone through all sorts of hacks to get technology in the hands of my students – begging, borrowing, hogging the carts, getting old laptops donated (before guest WiFi access – that was a nightmare!) – and now I’m fully loaded and ready to innovate!

One of my guiding goals this year has been to go practically paperless. Some days I do better than others, but this has shifted my thinking into the digital space. Others I know I’m not quite ready to give up – I’m not ready for a digital science test – and I’m enjoying the struggle and reflection that comes with that.

I’m also enjoying the shift in teaching and pedagogy. These devices are more than just digital notebooks. They are more than fancy flash cards. They are more than future type writers. These devices literally transform the way we teach and learn. We are connecting to knowledge outside of our room. We are creating products more exciting than just paper/pencil. We are sharing with each other, inspiring each other, challenging each other in ways that I had never dreamed.

I’m looking forward to working through the new challenges. I’ve just completed a writing pathway – I have 50 writing portfolios that I’m carrying back and forth to school, scribbling feedback, conferencing with each – and a part of me is mourning the loss of the physical-ness of holding all that writing in my hand. But I’m also conversely excited to see how this changes my work-flow. How can I manage the digital creations of my students? How will I assess and give feedback? How will I track what they are currently working on? So many problems to solve!

I think this is when I am at my best: when I am stumbling, problem-solving and on fire with all this innovation: teaching and learning at it’s best! I love it!!


Math Moves: Shifts that have transformed my math teaching

I’m fascinated with school improvement thinking. I love the conversations that come from this thinking, especially from the teachers that are directly involved in this work. It was at a session a few weeks ago, mired in the debate about our dwindling math scores (like much of Ontario), that a colleague from the board asked me about what needed to be done next. I blurted out a grocery-store list of things that have improved my own math practice, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I wanted to use this space to stretch out these ideas, possibly in a chronological order of instruction.

1. Class Profile

One of the first things I do every year is create a class profile of the mathematicians in front of me. I like to use PRIME number diagnostic tool to see the thinking of my new group of students. This helps inform the language I will be using, as well as potential areas to bring into my math instruction.


My Grade 7 students should be heading into Phase 5. So I’ve got some challenges ahead of me, but I know with some hard work, it can be done.

2. Growth Mindset

This has been the greatest shift in teaching, to me personally, in my career. To embrace and fully commit to the idea that EVERY kid can be successful is a game-changer. This is a radical departure from my bell-curve days, where I had to defend accusations from my admin that I too many successful kids. Growth Mindset, backed by scientific research, tells us that we can grow our brain. Through hard work we can learn and be successful. This has changed how I have embraced challenges, given feedback and encouraged hard work from my students. In getting my students to embrace and seek out challenges in math, we’ve all become more successful.


3. Building Content Knowledge

I am an expert in math. Now, this has been a hard-fought claim for me, but I’m sticking by it. The last math class/course I took was in high school (though does my Statistics course in university count?). My wife can share with you the gong-show that was my last time being the banker in Life. However, I’m claiming to be an expert because I fiercely build my knowledge of the content before I being instruction. I pull out my math resources, starting with my favourite: Making Math Meaningful by Marian Small. I do this before every unit of study. My experience has started off in Grade 1 and then progressed up to my current Grade 7. I know some Grade 8 material!

In building up my content knowledge, I am better prepared for all the thinking that my students may show, as well as where I can push my students to go next. I make sure I have a deep and exquisite understanding of the math we are learning. This is where the magic starts. When I understand the math, I can better teach the math.


Case in point: the formula for determining the area of a trapezoid. Isn’t this amazing? Look at how this formula gives us the area of the average between the top and bottom (b1 and b2), which really is the area of a rectangle! Wow! Magic!

4. Gap Closing

Before I start the grade-level material, I need to make sure my students are ready for it. I need to close any gaps in the learning that needed to happen before this. My go-to resource right now is Leaps and Bounds (again, by Marian Small). I give myself a few days to focus on this, giving me time to strengthen the math skills, before I start my grade-level material.

Not only does this resource help bring the students up to grade level, it offers amazing thinking opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of the math. One critique I’ve heard is that there is a lot of paper involved with this resource – true – but it is also relatively easy out-of-the-box resource to jump into.

5. Learning Goals and Success Criteria

This has been beneficial for me because it has gotten me to look deeply and critically at the curriculum. I can’t remember when it happened, though it was early in my career, and still heavily reliant on the textbook, when I realized that not all the curriculum was in the textbook. In creating LG&SC I can ensure that I am teaching the curriculum but also seeing connections among and between topics.

This has been beneficial for my students because in co-constructing these together, they have a say in how they will learn the math. They also know how they are going to be successful.


6. Process Expectations

This goes together with my Learning Goals and Success Criteria. When I started integrating the process expectations INTO my Success Criteria, it became a much richer instructional opportunity. Instead of just Demonstrate, Demonstrate, Demonstrate, I was able to go much deeper: reason and prove, connect, effectively communicate, etc. How awesome is it to bust out a sophisticated conjecture in the middle of a math talk?! Amazing!

7. Number Talks

I love number talks – and I’ve posted about them before. I use number talks at the beginning of each of my success criteria topics. I use this strategy to access the thinking, strengths and misconceptions from my students.


When looking to begin fractions, for example, I’ve used the above image and the question: “Which shape is more purple?”. This led to a fantastic conversation, with me uncovering their understanding of proportional reasoning, representations and comparisons of fractions.

One thing I’ve struggled with is not lecturing and fixing misconceptions in the conversations. However, what I find is that students will either fix the misconceptions from others or students will begin to fix their own.

8. Teaching THROUGH Problem Solving

This is by no means a new and innovative strategy for me. However, once I fully understood what teaching THROUGH problem solving meant, it really transformed my practice.

When I was first introduced into this strategy, I (mis)interpreted it as teaching problem solving. I was fully into teaching the templates, sending home weekly problems and having focused lessons on the 4-step problem solving method. However, what I was really doing is spending time focusing on the tool: What a great hammer! Let’s learn how to use the hammer! Let’s get assessed on how well we use the hammer! Instead, I needed to spend time learning what the tool what supposed to do.

Once I engaged the students in solving, stumbling and failing through rich problems my lessons became much more engaging. When I start with a relevant problem, then the struggle to solve it, my consolidation lessons have much richer schema to hold on to. The math now makes sense because the students have engaged in the math.

I love engaging in the process of working through problems. Since I have built up my content knowledge, I am prepared for where the kids are going and where they need to go. I can prompt on the fly and I’m primed to look for misconceptions. I can leverage the method to show the thinking to best move the class along: bansho, math congress, or gallery walk.

9. Consolidation

Pulling all the thinking together, after the number talk, after the problem solving, after the strategic lesson, after the independent practice, comes the important consolidation time. This has been a relatively new focus in that I am realizing how important it is. This may take a variety of forms, but my favourite is the anchor chart. I love co-constructing this with the students, though my fancy writing needs work! This is my final chance to fix misconceptions, bringing us back to the success criteria for that skill.

10. Exit Tickets

Are we ready to leave this skill? Have we fixed any misconceptions? What is the thinking for this skill?

Creating a good exit ticket has saved me so much time and energy. Responding to this thinking allows me to pull small groups for those who need it, or move on if appropriate.


I love teaching math. I love solving the problems related to math. I love how the province is focusing on math instruction. I look forward to seeing where this journey goes next.



Number Talks have transformed my math class!

I’ve been teaching for a while. And I like to think that I’ve been teaching math well for a lot of those years. But I can’t remember being this excited about a teaching strategy for a while! I LOVE number talks!

Number Talks is a strategy developed by Sherry Parish, and the gist of it is this: getting students to talk about math. The key to setting up a number talk is getting students to think deeply and discuss math. This could mean sharing strategies on how they solved a problem. This could be them working through a rather difficult concept. Any quick search gives a multitude of ideas that could spark an excellent number talk.

Today we talked about these numbers:

Numbers Talk.JPG

In groups, I wanted the students to “put these numbers in order”. I was vague on purpose, because my intent was for them to work in groups, struggle to make sense, and make decisions that would lead to a solution. After this activity, we had an amazing lesson on the power of group work.

But what I wasn’t expecting was how well we jumped into our first Number Talk. Consider the numbers above. If you put them in order from least to greatest, what would be the greatest number? 10? 100?

What came out from this talk today was the value of 100%. Some discussed how they believed that 100% is the whole amount. From their previous experience with numbers, they believed that the whole would be 1. Therefore 200% would be the value of 2. But then someone shared the example of test and quizzes. What if you got 12/12? You would get 100%! So how much is 100%?

I think, traditionally, number talks may be strictly number/operation based. How did you solve 34 x 44, for example. However, I’ve transformed these talks into open-ended discussions on different concepts in math. I’m careful with my language. I’m no giving solutions, feedback or confirmation. I’m re-voicing and repeating what has been said, and pulling out ideas from the students, whether they are right or wrong.


You can download this document for free here.

From these number talks I can make decisions about what to teach next, what misconceptions I need to fix, and so on.

Last year I had an amazing class in math. In reflecting upon that experience when looking at my students this year, I don’t see any really difference. I have the same spread in terms of mathematical skills and abilities. But what made last year amazing was because of our number talks. We talked and learned from each other. Already I see the potential this year, just one number talk in!

Best math strategy! Ever!