Evolving Math past the Chalkboard

Today’s blog post focuses on Chapter 7 from Tony Bates’ textbook on Pedagogical Differences Between the Media.  My personal take on the topic will focus on how Math was taught to me as a student and how I can evolve my own Math teachings now and in the future.

Back in my Day…


Photo Credit: http://memeshappen.com/media/templates/math-chalkboard.jpg

When I was in high school (so long ago it seems), Math was taught the same way every time.  The teacher stood in front of a chalkboard, or a whiteboard (this counted as innovation in our time).  Here the teacher would do 4-5 examples and then assign further questions from the textbook.  This was a common teaching method and thankfully, it worked well for me.  My learning style matched up very well with this way of teaching and therefore I was successful.

Because I was taught math in this traditional method, I often tend to teach it this way myself.  I have not looked to evolve as much as I should.

As Bates states, this method of paper and textbooks gives a high suitability for independent analysis, however he also notes that it is far less useful for showing processes.  The textbook allows the student who already understands the content to push themselves further with more difficult and engaging questions.  But what about the students who still do not understand the content when the teacher’s lesson is finished?

A Vision for the Future…

I believe the biggest area for growth in my own math teaching is through the use of video.  As Bates states, a strength of videos is the ability to stop and start, allowing students to progress at their own speed.  While there is still definitely a need for traditional instruction, watching videos such as Khan Academy (example shown below), allows the students to hear the explanation from a different voice in perhaps a different method.

As a teacher, I do not care how the students come to acquire the knowledge, instead I just want them to be comfortable with the concepts and able to apply them on their own.

It is my pledge to begin to use more technology in my math classroom, in hopes of providing another medium for the students to acquire the necessary knowledge.

In the comments, I would love to hear from fellow math teachers, how do you integrate technology into your classes?




Two Modules Enter, One Module Leaves!


Photo Credit: http://images.memes.com/meme/601383

Following this week’s class, I felt much more comfortable in my understanding of what a online module is and how to best create my own.  The only remaining question was to decide which was the best type of module to emulate.  My personal favourite was the Video Blog (Vlog) method.  Vlog’s focus is a combination of video of the broadcaster and pictures/videos to help aid in understanding.

To further my understanding and comfort level with these Video Blogs, I decided to watch two different Vlog’s, focusing on the same content to decide which elements of each I preferred.  As well, I will ultimately decide which Video Blog is the “winner”.  I believe this exercise will help me create the best Video Blog that I can for my own module.

The Contestants:

Contestant number one is Hank Green, who is primarily in charge of the Crash Course videos on YouTube.  He currently has over 5 Million Subscribers and his videos cover a wide variety of subject areas.

Contestant number two is Wisecrack, a Youtube channel with over 1.5 Million Subscribers and videos covering numerous subjects.

The Course Content:

For today’s competition (comparison), I will examine the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Both Crash Course and Wisecrack have created a video explaining the key concepts of the novel.

Video #1: Crash Course


  • While Hank does tend to talk very quickly (allowing him to pass along a ton of knowledge in a short amount of time), he includes close captions at the bottom of the screen in case you would rather read instead of listen.
  • The video is more than just a camera shot of Hank’s face, it also includes a number of different visual aids to help guide your understanding
  • An underrated feature is the use of different camera angles.  While it is still just Hank talking to the camera, the different angles allows it to feel fresh.
  • When discussing the plot summary, Hank uses a creative cartoon to play while he is speaking, to allow for visual stimulation instead of just listening.


  • While Hank does attempt to integrate humor into his videos, the jokes tend to fall flat with high school students.
  • This can only be seen as a partial negative, but it does need to be addressed.  The Crash Course videos can get very in-depth, very quickly.  Depending on the grade level you are using the videos for, a lot of the information may go above their heads.

Video #2: Wisecrack


  • This particular video is hosted by Sparky Sweets, and the first thing I notice is the relaxed atmosphere and clothing worn by the host.  This allows the students to feel more relaxed when watching.
  • The best aspect of the Wisecrack videos is the humor they contain.  The summaries and explanations are quite funny, which in turn will lead to your students being more engaged.
  • Despite the language and the informal nature of the video, the content presented is still very deep and engrossing.  As well, the constant humor will lead to your students being more active listeners and viewers.


  • The language used (while certainly less informal and intimidating) could also be seen as inappropriate.  Therefore, it is best to think about the maturity level of your class before playing these videos.
  • Similarly to Crash Course, the Wisecrack videos also use animated videos during plot summaries, however these videos are much worse in quality compared to Crash Course.

And the Winner is:

This turned out to be a tougher decision than I imagined.  I had assumed that the Crash Course videos would win decisively, but after watching both of them several times I am having a difficult time making a decision.

In a shocking upset, I declare Wisecrack to be the winner of this contest.  Their emphasis on humor will lead to the students being more engaged and therefore learning more as well.  This is in no way a sleight to Crash Courses, as they certainly produce enlightening videos in a (somewhat) entertaining way.  If you would like to read a more in-depth review of Crash Courses, feel free to check out Kelsie’s Blog.

In the meantime, I would love to hear in the comments which video blogs you prefer to use with your students.




Searching for a LMS site? Let’s “Canvas” the area!

Welcome, this is without a doubt my best title yet, if I do say so myself.

Today’s discussion will focus on the choice of service for our major project this semester.  After some deliberation, Nicole Brown and I have decided to forge ahead with Canvas.  While I am certainly new to this website and to Learning Management Systems as a whole, I wanted to highlight three (3!)




Three Key Features:

Multiple Choice Questions allow for formative feedback.

Multiple Choice Questions allow for further feedbackI wanted to learn about how the quiz questions

worked so I created a couple questions from Act I of Macbeth and inserted them into program.  Early on, I realized that under each possible answer I could leave a comment.  Traditionally, Multiple Choice questions are seen as low level memorization questions.  However, the format that Canvas offers allows me to use each question as a learning/reinforcement opportunity.

Outcomes are clearly displayed

A current major focus with Regina Catholic Schools right now is the emphasis of clear outcomes and indicators from the Saskatchewan Curriculum. The Canvas website allows you to post your outcomes for all to see, as well as any extra explanation you want to give in order to enhance the understanding of your students.



Discussion Threads

discussionThe final Canvas aspect that I want to highlight in my (admittedly brief) time on the site is possibility of discussion threads.  In the picture, you can see that one of the great aspects is that students must reply to the prompt before they can see the replies of their classmates.  This ensures that everyone is coming to their own conclusion instead of simply copying.  Once the students have replied, they are free to comment on each other’s posts and create a collegial atmosphere on the website.


Important Question Yet to be Discovered:

The most important question so far is the one that I am still unable to answer, and that is, how effectively can this site be used by the students?

My main priority when choosing a major project topic was to pick something that I was not only passionate about, but also something that I could integrate into my classrooms to enhance the learning of the students.

As I proceed further in the project, I hope to test out the site with some of my students and get their feedback on what they do and do not like.  These decisions will help shape whether I continue to use Canvas for years to come or if I leave in search of a new Learning Management System

Final Verdict: To Be Determined…

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am only in the initial stages of planning our major project.  While I am happy with the opportunities that the Canvas Learning Management System provides, I cannot provide a decisive verdict until the project is complete and I am totally comfortable with the site’s capabilities.

Until then, I would love to hear what you, my colleagues, think of the site (if you chose to use it) and what are some of your favorite options, as well as your perceived drawbacks to the site.

Thanks again, and I’ll see you in the comments.


Why is Shakespeare so Difficult?

Understanding Shakespeare

Credit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/c8/ba/e5/c8bae556fa8e64db2c6152bf02b24b11.jpg

Welcome!  My thought-provoking title brought you to my article and for that I am thankful.  When deciding upon the subject of our course prototype, my partner Nicole Brown and I decided that we wanted to do our part to make Shakespeare (Macbeth in particular) more accessible for students.

With the rising numbers of EAL Students in Saskatchewan, we both strongly believe that this is an important project to undertake.

Our plan is to create a blended course that will aid student understanding of Macbeth.  The decision to go the blended route, rather than strictly online was an easy one; despite the modules we will create and the supports we will curate, there remains a need for a face to face discussion to help students learn from Shakespeare, instead of just surviving it.

Embracing Technology

'well, Fred, I see you're finally embracing technology.'

Credit: https://s3.amazonaws.com/lowres.cartoonstock.com/technology-technological_advancement-technological_advances-television-tvs-embraces-llan825_low.jpg

Fully embracing technology is something that I need to try when teaching Macbeth.  But simply adding technology does not solve the problem.  As Oblinger and Hawkins state, “adding technology without altering pedagogy is not a solution.”

I’ve taught Macbeth several times, with varying degrees of success.  This assignments forces me to think critically, what can I do differently? How can I improve my teaching to enhance student learning?

Blended Learning

Is this what Blended Learning looks like to you?
Is this what Blended Learning looks like to you?

Credit: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/428371/Blog_and_SM_images/blended-learning1.jpg

Another important reason for our choice of blended learning is explained by Tony Bates, “the main advantage [of blended learning] is for the 50% or more of students in North America, who are working more than 15 hours a week to help with the cost of their education.”  As mentioned earlier, the number of EAL students in my classes increase every year.

The unfortunate reality for many of these immigrant families is that they need their children to take jobs (in addition to school) in order to provide the necessary income for the family. 

Blended learning will allow these students to work at their own pace and work more manageable hours at their jobs.

Both Nicole and I are fully aware that this may be a difficult undertaking, but we look forward to the challenge and we believe that this is something that we can use in our classrooms.  Finally, if any of you have any thoughts or feedback on this particular idea, I would love to hear about it in the comments.






Guess who’s back? Back again?

Greetings and Salutations to all of my EC&I 834 colleagues and classmates.  I am back again, looking to complete my third Master’s class and second with Alec and Katia.

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Kyle Ottenbreit, and I am a teacher at Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School, where I teach English and Math, in addition to coaching basketball.  I have a lovely family at home (pictured below), with my wife Nadine, and my children Destiny, Nicolas, and Mason.

Family Portrait

For the first eight years of my career things seemed to be progressing in a normal, familiar way.  I worked at the same school (LeBoldus) for my entire career and coached basketball every year as well.  I was enjoying my job and didn’t see a reason to change anything.  However, at the beginning of last year I started to think about the future and decided that, while I didn’t know if I ever wanted to be an administrator, I wanted to give myself the opportunity, should the desire ever arise.  Therefore I enrolled in the Master’s Program for Curriculum and Instruction, and here I am, loving the challenge and looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish.

Similarly, to the rest of you I assume, I find myself to be a much better student than during my undergraduate time ten years ago, and I look forward to continuing the journey with all of you.

With the “transformational changes” that seem to be heading our way, I want to make sure that I possess a wide variety of skills in order to be most effective as a teacher in whatever our future holds.

My three goals to learn in this class are as follows,

  1. I want to develop my skills related to online learning, so that I am prepared to teach an online class for my school, if necessary.

  2. I want to learn about how to effectively create a blended classroom so that I can enhance the learning environment for my students.

  3. I want to improve my technological abilities in order to better help my school colleagues with any questions they may have.

I hope you have enjoyed my opening blog and I look forward to hear from you in the comments.  Another place to find me is on Twitter @MrOttenbreit


Kyle Ottenbreit

Technology adds Comfort, Should not be Unplugged

Introduction – Turning on your phone

This blog post is a unique one to write, as it is directly related to the debate that I just participated in.   While myself and my team argued for the benefits of Unplugging, Tayler, Nicole, and Angela presented a fantastic argument on the pointlessness of unplugging.  Now that I am free of the shackles of the debate, I plan to sort through the facts and present a unified, coherent (hopefully) argument on the value of unplugging technology in today’s society.


Source: https://i.imgflip.com/m77od.jpg

Given that I argued “for” unplugging in the debate, the majority of my research centered around that fact.  Margie Warrell states that “recent studies have found that despite being more connected than ever, more people feel more alone than ever.”  Furthermore, she discusses sites such as Facebook and how “social media allows us to control what we share.  It appeals to our vulnerability and vanity.” We used both of these points effectively in our debate and pushed a theme that a constant internet connection leads to decreased personal interactions and a falsified social media presence.  However, the more time that I spend thinking about this topic and even as I write these words on to the page, I am beginning to feel differently about the effectiveness of unplugging from technology.

Technology allows us to be connected more than ever before.  And that connection leads to a feeling of comfort and even safety.


Source: http://www.greatcleanjokes.com/wp-content/uploads/meme10-min.jpg

Body – Checking your phone calls

When I’m at work, if I need to go talk to a colleague in the staff room, I always bring my phone with me.  The purpose?  Not to check any new tweets or Facebook posts, but rather to feel secure in the knowledge that if anyone needs to get a hold of me, they will be able to do so.  Having young children has led to me feeling this way.  I start to feel physically ill at the thought of my son getting hurt or sick at daycare and if his caregivers could not reach me.  Having my iPhone in my pocket does not mean that I am on it, 24/7 but rather it is there as a safety measure should I be needed.

While I have admitted to carrying my phone with me everywhere as a measure of safety and comfort, I also acknowledge the fact that there are certain distractions that come from always being connected.  Ilya Pozin states that there is no such thing as multitasking, rather we are just switching back and forth between tasks very quickly. This is true even as I write this post.  While I attempt to form a coherent argument, I’m also talking with my cousin over Facebook messenger, making golf plans with my dad and texting my wife about plans after work.  Would I be done writing this article more quickly without the distractions?  Possibly, but I believe it allows my a brief and welcome distraction and also helps me coordinate my thoughts before continuing to write.

Conclusion – Closing your Social Media App?

The final point to discuss is the anxiety that can rise from being connected too often to Social Media.  Sophia Breene states that “checking in on friends’ frequent vacations… can create a constant state of Fear of Missing Out.”  This fear is certainly valid and needs to be discussed further.

Too often, people live their lives in comparison to others.  Are they prettier than me?  Are their clothes nicer?  Do they have more money?  Are they happier?  Social Media can enhance those doubts by making the lives of everyone else constantly accessible.


Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/3vLjGa1sI98/maxresdefault.jpg

These comparisons between peers are nothing new and did not start with the advent of Social Media.  However, they are certainly something to be mindful of.  If you find yourself feeling too upset, or wanting, after using Social Media, then it may be a good time to re-evaluate the people you follow.  Social Media’s design is to simplify and add enjoyment to our lives, not to make us feel bad because others have more than we do.

Social Media has evolved and grown into a vital part of our lives.  It has created a level of comfort and security that we are unlikely to be able to live without.  Even Pope Benedict XVI states “The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friends, and connections facilitate communication.”  Therefore, we should accept Social Media and rather than unplugging, we should use to benefit our lives not to draw comparisons to things we do not have.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your day!


Source: http://66.media.tumblr.com/3d3b6a5335fd74e559c9e4d4d9a08961/tumblr_n7xzkj9qHt1tp42tfo1_500.jpg

Corporate Sponsorships are Damaging Education, Is there a way out?

One of the aspects that I have enjoyed most about my first Graduate class is the ability to learn from experts about situations I may not have been aware of. Before this class, all I knew of Pearson was that they sold the textbooks that we used. Furthermore, all I knew about corporate sponsorships in schools was that here at LeBoldus, Pepsi helped pay for our scoreboard and therefore we only sell Pepsi products in the school. However, after listening to a very informative debate from Tyler, Justine, and Dean, as well as the accompanying readings and videos, I am shocked at the amount of influence corporations have in our schools. Especially in the United States, Pearson is so much more than just a textbook manufacturer and their influence could have damning results. My question is, is there any way to improve these business relationships and can schools survive in their current form without business involvement. Let’s investigate.

Wait a second, the person evaluating my teaching performance is someone I’ve never met???

What Pearson's Assessment Tests would have you believe
What Pearson’s Assessment Tests would have you believe

Source: http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NTAwWDUwMA==/z/dUMAAOSwstxVXAYX/$_35.JPG

I still cannot believe the story from Alan Singer, who discussed the Teaching Performance Assessment. In the United States, Pearson agents administer this assessment to new and prospective teachers, which are then used to hand out certification or determine teacher pay. Further evaluation of this assessment led to the discovery that four of the five states used for the assessment were notorious anti-union states, where “teachers have virtually no job security or union protection.” Clearly, Pearson was very clever (shrewd?) in its choice of locations. Singer also points out that there is no connection “between the evaluation system and improved student learning.” Thankfully, not everyone is accepting this new procedure. Teachers in Massachusetts launched a national campaign against the assessment, stating “that the field supervisors and cooperating teachers who guided their teaching practice and observed and evaluated them for six months in middle and high school classrooms were better equipped to judge their teaching skills and potential than people who had never seen nor spoken with them.” Thankfully, this practice has not yet made it to Canadian soil, but it is certainly something we need to be mindful of. When we empower companies and entrust them with evaluations of our teachers, they are not doing so with the student’s best interests in mind. Rather, they are thinking about their own bottom line and how to improve profit margins. Alex Molnar states in perfectly, “it is now time for policymakers to take a more critical look at the purpose and impact of many types of corporate-school relationships and to decide what form of oversight is necessary to ensure that public schools continue as an expression of democratic values rather than corporate interests.” Therefore, we need to ensure that if we are creating relationships with corporations in a school setting, that the schools maintain control so disasters such as this Teaching Performance Assessment can be avoided.

Colleague Perspectives

Given that I admittedly was not as educated on this subject as others, I sought out the blogs of some of my colleagues for their perspective on the subject. Tyler sums up the concerns about corporations in the school when he states, “sometimes it feels that we are pressured into using “their” resources in order for us to have success.  Many teachers also feel pressure to abide by these “new” ideas because the division has told them to.”  Kelsie concludes her blog post with some fears of the future when she states, “To end, I believe that public schools have not yet sold their souls to corporations. As long as teachers are around to discuss and demand transparency and alternative (maybe even transformational?) choices, I don’t believe public schools will sell their souls just yet. However, I can see a future where this has occurred and to me, it is a scary one.”  Finally, Danielle has a different perspective, as she discusses the free promotional items she has received from companies and how she has used them in the classroom when she states, “Would I say that having access to these items has enabled me to be a better teacher on the salary and funding that I have been granted? Most definitely. Have I sold out my students in what amounts to a Faustian bargain? I’m not convinced that I have.”  These are three different and informative views from three well-educated people and they have helped form my opinions on the subject matter.

Microsoft Investing the Right Way


Source: http://bcerac.ca/umbraco/umbraco.bcerac.ca/media/97581/microsoft_showcase_westview_500x208.jpg

Thankfully, not every company appears to be investing in the same cynical nature as others.  Judah Schiller discusses Microsoft’s recent plan in the United States, where the “company recently shifted all of its corporate citizenship efforts toward closing what it characterizes as the opportunity divide—a chasm that separates those who prosper in our society from those who don’t.”  Furthermore, “As a partner, Microsoft does a lot more than give us dollars,” Everlove says. “They really get into the community, roll up their sleeves and help address education problems that are easy for them to solve, but huge for schools to achieve.”  This type of company/school integration is heart-warming to see and provides hope that these types of relationships can be beneficial for both sides.

It is integral that schools can continue to foster these types of relationships with local businesses.  Because as school budgets and funding decrease from our provincial government, schools must adapt in order to survive.

Standardized Tests

The final aspect of corporate involvement in schools is reserved for any teacher’s least two favourite words standardized tests.  While these tests have been a constant for many years, teachers still loathe them, due to the fact that they are not deemed helpful in any way and often the tests do not match the outcomes being taught from the curriculum.  The pressure to write these tests often comes from superintendents or government ministers, who want numerical proof about the achievements of students and how they relate to the city/province/country.

The problem with standardized tests, however is that the students never feel any attachment to these tests and usually put forth a minimal effort. 


Source: http://www.indiewire.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/john-oliver-last-week-tonight.jpg

John Oliver explains perfectly (as he often does) the issues with these tests when he states “if standardized tests are bad for teachers, and they’re bad for kids, who exactly are they good for?”  Oliver goes on to state that the people benefitting from standardized tests, are our old friends at Pearson who control over 40% of the testing market and “have a shocking amount of influence over America’s schools.”  In order to free ourselves from Pearson’s grip and from standardized tests, we need the government minister’s who want to compare scores to instead look to gain insight from the classroom teacher, who can tell you precisely the strengths and weaknesses of our students without a Scantron test.

I hope you enjoyed reading the article as much as I enjoyed writing it and I look forward to hearing your comments.