Freedom of Speech

Recently, I wrote about things students say and do in the classroom when I’m supply teaching. There was one incident that I didn’t mention because I thought it deserved its own post.

I had a student who was using foul language and saying offensive things, and I ask them to stop repeatedly. Their response? “We have free speech in this country and I can say whatever I want when I want.”

This was frustrating at first because of their complete lack of respect for myself, the other students in the room, and the general classroom environment. Then it became frustrating at a different level: I remembered learning about how rights can be limited in school settings, but I couldn’t remember the exact details on this one.

So, I went home and told my husband about the incident, and he found The Charter in the Classroom website. Clicking on the Freedom of Expression link, I got the answers I was looking for.

First, the Freedom of Expression is stated as the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media communication”, and also “any non-violent expression is deserving of protection”.  So, the student’s language could be protected, as it was non-violent.

But, it goes on to explain the school context: “Schools may choose to limit students’ freedom of expression in order to ensure an orderly learning environment, to focus course material on particular topics, to protect other students, to limit criticism or to ensure age appropriate discussions for all students.”

So, this is why administration, teachers, and staff at public schools can limit the language acceptable in their classrooms and schools. A good tidbit of knowledge to have in your teacher’s toolbox!

This is an invaluable resource to have on hand – check in out and bookmark it!

Posted in Philosophy, supply teaching, classroom management | Leave a comment

Trick the Supply

Being a supply teacher presents its own special challenges. Generally students try to get away with worse behaviour than normal. It can be a struggle to get them to listen and to work diligently. This is actually understandable, as respect for authority doesn’t come automatically to them. They have to “test” newcomers to see if they’re worthy.

There are many frustrating things about being a supply teacher, and I’ve had many difficult classes. But, when reflecting back with an objective lens, these things can be almost endearing, or at least make for funny teaching stories.

Things students have said to me as a supply teacher:

  • We don’t have bells at this school.
  • Our teacher always lets us go early.
  • We always write our tests in pairs.
  • I’ll pee my pants if I don’t go to the bathroom right now.
  • If I die because I can’t get drink of water, my family will sue you.

Other “tricks”:

  • switching names
  • everyone tapping their feet all at once
  • not having the right materials ready/on hand
  • not knowing what anything means (words, instructions, etc.)
  • going to “the bathroom” and taking 30 minutes

All very “classic” things, really! I think these have all been done since public education started! Sometimes I tell the students to come up with something new 😉

Despite all of this, I’m quite enjoying this role!

What are some funny/interesting/off-the-wall things you’ve seen as a supply teacher?

Posted in students, supply teaching | 1 Comment

Kung Fu Math

My grade 6 teacher, Mr. Piot, did the awesome math game with us called Kung Fu Math.

I don’t remember the exact details, but we had to compete against each other to work our way up from yellow to black belt math masters.

The yellow belt questions were the easiest (example: 5 * 2 + 1), and the black belt questions were the most challenging (eg. 12 * 10 / 5 – 6 * 9). We would NOT have to use the rules of BEDMAS, but do the order of operations in the order given.

We would go head to head with another classmate. The teacher would read the question, and the first one to say the correct answer won. The winner would get points to go up to the next belt. I can’t remember exactly how this part worked, but I think you could go up levels two ways:

  1. By winning a certain number of challenges against students at your same level (and this would increase as you worked your way up the colours: say 3 for yellow, 4 for orange, 10 for black).
  2. By winning against someone with a higher belt that you.

I really like the idea of this game, but don’t think the direct competition between students would fly these days (or am I wrong?). I may think on how to modernize it…teams perhaps? Or anonymously online?

Have you heard of similar games, or have ideas how to update it for the 21st century classroom?

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Unexpected Questions

Last week I was invited into a parenting class to talk about my parenting journey to some grade 11 and 12 students at a school I supply at often.

It was a great experience, but – as per usual in high school classes – I got some questions and comments that I didn’t anticipate, and had to laugh about!

Is it true that you poop when you give birth?

How long did it take for you to lose the baby belly?

Student 1: I don’t have the patience to be a parent. I’d rather have a baby goat.
Student 2: I LOVE baby goats! They’re so cute!
Student 1: And they’re called “kids”, so that’s close enough.

Student 1: Is that a digital camera?
Student 2: Why did you ask that with such disdain?
Student 3: Ew! A digital camera?
Student 4: We have one of those in our house!

Can you just pretend you’re still presenting so we don’t have to do our presentations?

Ah, high school students will always make me smile (and shake my head too)!

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2017 Math Challenge

I’ve seen other bloggers write about the yearly math challenges and have always been intrigued!

For those who are not familiar with it, the challenge is to use each digit in the current year (2017) exactly once, along with any mathematical operation (+, -, x, /, x^n, sqrt, etc), to make all the integers from 0 to 100. You can check out The Year Game page for information, worksheets, solutions, and more.

A few examples would be:

0 | (2 + 1 + 7)*0

1 | 0*(2 + 7) + 1

10 | 2 + 0 + 1 + 7

I finally had the chance to try it out earlier this week when I was covering a  day of math classes. I didn’t go into the day thinking I was going to use it, but many students in the first period class (MPM1D) finished their assigned work quickly. Since there was still about 30 minutes left in the period,  I wanted to give them an engaging activity to keep them busy. It was the 2017 Challenge to the rescue!

After explaining the challenge and doing a couple of examples, a handful of students started immediately on finding solutions. Other students were uninterested at first, but as they saw their peers putting solutions on the board, they became more and more engaged. By the end of the period, they had found these solutions:


I had a grade 10 class next, but there was a buyout for a hockey game that period, so I didn’t get to see what they would have added.

Last period, I had a smaller-than-expected grade 11 class (MCR3U) because – let’s be honest – it’s tough to go back to school for the last period after watching a hockey game.

Again, I wasn’t intending on doing the challenge with this class, but once they saw what was on the board from the morning, they wanted to know what it was. After I explained the challenge and gave some examples again, some of them really went to town!

This year (2017) has been notorious for being very challenging, so I also introduced some new math operations for them to use (like the factorial (!) and double factorials (!!). It’s so challenging that the official rules (see link above) have been extended to include making double-digit numbers and using decimals.

I was impressed with the grade 11s though, because some of them wanted to find only the “pure” solutions! WIN! They worked pretty hard, and were interested in learning the new operations – another WIN! Here’s how much they filled up:



After I left, I realized that I gave them the incorrect definition for the !! operation, so I actually left a note for the regular teacher about it to make sure the students would use the right one if they wanted to keep going. Not sure what (!!)  is? Neither did I. Here’s a good resource. 

I got even more evidence that this is an awesome activity when I received an email from the teacher saying that the students really liked it and were telling him about it the next day! TRIPLE WIN!

I definitely recommend this challenge to anyone teaching math! Have you tried these types of challenges in your classes?

Posted in games, math, numeracy, supply teaching | 2 Comments


This semester I’m an occasional teacher, and I’m excited for all that I will learn from it! I think being able to experience so many different schools, classrooms, courses, teaching/admin methods, room set-ups, etc, and to interact with so many students will be a great learning experience.

I’ve gone in several times already, and somethings I’ve learned are:

  • choice for students is crucial, but needs to have limits
  • according to students, every teacher is the best one ever and the worst one ever (a good reminder to not take comments personally)
  • a whistle for gym classes is an absolute must (also: I love covering gym classes!)
  • always better to have extra work for students than not enough
  • the more teachers/staff/admin who are on board with policies makes them so much easier to implement
  • there is a huge variety of teaching strategies being used out there, and students roll with it for the most part (reminder: don’t be scared to try different things)
  • perhaps my favourite: high school students are hilarious (I need to write down some of the things I hear!)

I hope to add to this list that I can spell “occasional” correctly on the first try!

I’ll keep writing about my occasional teaching experiences as the semester goes on!

Posted in Learning, Reflection | Leave a comment

Failing Students

I read a post today over at Smarter Classroom Management about how failure can be good for students.

As a proponent of growth mindset, I’ve know that failure is where we do a lot of our learning. I am often heard saying this in my classrooms, but it wasn’t until I read this article that I realized that “failure” included actually failing assessments (less than 50%).

Since starting teacher’s college, I’ve be trained to think of failure as more like trying something (a math problem, creating a chemical solution, building a model space probe, etc.), not getting it at first, then figuring it out.

I still think the latter type of failure is an important part of the learning process, but I am also reminded that we should not be afraid of exposing our students to the first type, especially if earned.

After I read this article, I thought about my assessment practices in my first semester of teaching high school. I think I  could have challenged my students more, and I also think I gave too many opportunities to get high/additional marks. For example:

  • I began the year by offering bonus tickets if students completed certain extra tasks that they could apply to assignments or tests (I did this for the first 2 months as motivation, but I think it backfired because they began asking for them)
  • I found marking via a rubric made it very difficult to give students less than a 50%. I started adding a “level 0” as the lowest level so I could give lower than 50% if warranted
  • I feel that I sometimes was too lenient on tests. I always focus on marking process, not just getting the right answer. I still feel this is appropriate at the high school level, but I think I need to think more about my marking strategies.
  • I did find it very hard to mark consistently, and would have to go back and forth between different tests/assignments. I would be torn between adding marks to one student’s assessment or taking marks of another.

I think teachers face a lot of pressure to “make sure” students get high marks, and a lot of the responsibility is taken away from the student. There is the expected pressure from the students and parents, of course, but there is also indirect pressure because of previous guiding assessment documents (we now have Growing Success, which came out in 2010).

I’ve heard from more experienced teachers that in the years before Growing Success, there were guidelines that did NOT allow zeros, deductions for late assignments, etc.. I think this caused (and still causes) a lot of the fear around failing students. The students who are in high school now went through elementary when these guidelines were in place and continue to have the same expectations.

In fact, this was often addressed in teachers college, and it began to feel  like they were saying “you’ll need to provide mountains of evidence and proof dating back years and years to the student/parents/department head/principal/superintendent/ministry of education/etc. for giving a zero or failing mark, so don’t do it unless you’re prepared for the fight of your life”.

So add together all the sources of pressure, my being a new teacher, and (if I’m being honest) a fear of being seen as harsh or unfair, the results were probably higher grades than if the courses were taught by  a more experienced teacher.

The more I teacher, the more I realize this profession has a huge learning curve and I have a loooooooong climb ahead of me. But, I’m always trying to learn, re-assess, and then make changes as I go. It might feel like a two-step forward, one-step back process, but I’m still moving forward.

What are your thoughts on failure in the classroom? Is it acceptable to give zeros or failing marks? In what scenarios? What is your practice?

Posted in assessment, Learning | Leave a comment