Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Art Collaboration with Layet Johnson

On Wednesday November 20th, I had the privilege to collaborate on an art project with Layet Johnson on an idea of his. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Here is his original email.

"----- Original Message -----

Dear Professor Overwijk,

I'm an artist from Little Rock, Arkansas, though I recently moved to New York to pursue my career as an artist. 

In November, I have a solo exhibition at Good Weather Gallery, a leading contemporary art space in the South, in North Little Rock, Arkansas. (http://goodweathergallery.com/)For my exhibition, I would love to collaborate with you on a series of drawings. 

I propose to travel to Ottawa with large chalkboards for us to draw on together. You draw a circle, and I fill the circle in, making each a new shape or symbol. The process will be performative in a sense. I will document the event with photographs and include them in the exhibition. Though I will foot the costs of production and shipping, I believe the collaborative act of each work will make us 50/50 authors. So if any works sell, you'll get half. 

I found your youtube video over a year ago and have thought about it since. Because in college, my painting professor told me about how Zen monks would meditate, then draw perfect circles using sumi brushes and ink. I took this story to my own students, when I taught drawing courses in graduate school. I used it as an example of how drawing is as much a mental as it is a physical act. Though I must say, I value your method more. The economy, the physics, and the gesture of your circles are exactly the type of energy I now prefer in my own work. If you look at my portfolio, you'll see that I enjoy a type of conceptualism and humor in my own art.(www.layetjohnson.com) Though I appreciate traditional drawing strategies, I often look to outsource other materials and methods beyond myself and my abilities. Collaborating is one of these methods. I love the idea of splitting the idea of a work of art between two people. It makes it more layered. For example, if you draw a circle and I add the lines to make it a peace sign, then we are in fact exhibiting "peace." That may sound corny, but I believe it's the sort of ironic touch, or paradox, or joke, that I like all my work to possess.

I'll quit rambling now. I hope this email finds you well. If you have any questions, please write me back, or call (sorry can't share) I'd love to chat. The last thing I"ll add is, I LOVE basketball. Maybe if I visit, we can hoop. Or maybe we could complete the drawings in the gymnasium. The half court circle is another circle I look at quite a bit...

Thanks for your time! Hope to hear from you soon! Sorry if this email's a doozie, but I'm in my super super hot studio in Brooklyn right now and the heat makes it kind of hard to think.


Layet Johnson"

Artists......of course I was interested.
My response email:

"Hello Layet,
How are you?
Please call me Big Al.
I would love to do this with you.
I have had amazing things happen to me because of this viral video - would love to share and collaborate with you.
I am currently on summer vacation with my family but would love to chat and set this up.
My summer number is (sorry can't share this with you). Home number (sorry).
I still play ball once a week with my friends on Thursday nights and would love to have you join us if this happens. Congrats on your move to NYC - I was actually there in September teaching the hosts of the Today Show how to circle draw. It was fun!
Looking forward to making a connection with you.
Big Al"


Meeting Layet in person was awesome. He is a talented artist who thinks very deeply.
He rolled into Ottawa On Tuesday November 19th, had dinner with my family and then played some basketball with me and my friends that night. And of course we hit the pub afterwards.
On Wednesday November 20th, Layet came to GCI and spoke to a couple of art classes and at 3 pm that day we started our art collaboration.

He brought these with him.
8 blue chalk boards.
I was drawing the circles and then Layet was doing the artwork.

Here is where it got interesting for me.
I was not used to drawing circles the size of these boards.
I struggled-for a long time. I kept looking at Layet after I drew a circle - looking for his approval. Not very confident in my ability even though I hold the claim as The World Freehand Circle Drawing Champion.We eventually took a break for dinner.

Then Layet said something to me, " Al, I am an artist, you draw circles. Let yourself go. I am going to leave for an hour and when I come back have 8 circles ready for me. See you in a while."

Alone, in the Glebe auditorium, I found the freedom and creativity to draw 8 circles in no time. It was like he gave me permission to be creative - to do my own thing.

Here are some photos from our art collaboration:

Layet unpacking his blue chalkboards.

Layet setting up our "makeshift studio."

Our Final 8 with Layet's caricatures of him and I.

Final 8.

Final photo at the airport.

My signature circle on the wall behind the auditorium. Wanted Layet to know that I actually could draw a perfect circle. He was cramping my style by the size of his boards. How did he put it "teacher meeting student"?

Boxed up and ready to go to GoodWeatherGallery.

On display at Good Weather Gallery.

Layet at the exhibit in Little Rock @goodweathergallery

Interesting name for Layet's exhibition "TRIP". I do hope that he had a great TRIP to Ottawa and a great experience collaborating with me. It was a great experience for me!

A little about my TRIP:

1) That moment when I finally was released to be creative. All of a sudden the pressure was off and I could find a technique that was going to work for the size circles that were required. I am not sure if I could have done this without being released and without being alone.

2) In hindsight I wonder how often my students look at me for approval as I looked at Layet for his.

3) I met a great person, and a great artist.

For more:

Here is the gallery's take on the exhibition :

To be a teacher is my greatest work of art. The rest is waste product, a demonstration.

                               Joseph Beuys (1969)

The difference between takin’ it easy and makin’ it look easy is essentially (im)materiality. The it in the first phrase refers to a state of mind, the immaterial path of one’s life, or approach to living. In the second phrase it refers to the well executed action or group of actions resulting in a thing (much more involved to make than one could ever perceive) that materially exists. Layet Johnson’s work walks a thin (chalk) line between these — it is this cycle between takin’ it easy and makin’ it look easy where Trip teeters on the transcendent. Eight circles on chalkboards (representing perfection) and eight doodles in and around these circles (smiley face (☺), peace sign (☮), yin yang (☯), basketball, Volkswagen, donut, Saturn, and eight ball) constitute a conceptual exercise, a pick-up game, a path involving two main characters: the doodler ↝ artist ↝ doodler and the high school math teacher ↝ world champion circle drawer ↝ high school math teacher. The results demonstrate ideas of mastery as both a physical (bodily) and mental (intellectual) act and doodling as a repetitive meditation that morphs into an extraordinary ability. What it teaches us is that transcendence is most palpable when one has a sense of oneself and the possibilities within them.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Day In My Crazy Life

5:30 am
Sluggish - at Glebe CI last night until 10 pm and then out for a couple beers with Layet Johnson as we were collaborating on an art project called "trip". One of the most amazing experiences of my life. True story.
Bathroom, Teeth, shower, get dressed.

6 am 
Make coffee, empty the dish washer, make lunches for my wife, me and my two boys aged 5 and 6, make morning shake for my wife and I ( pineapple, mango, almond milk, ice ), make second coffee.

6:40 am
Wake up my children (kisses and hugs), quick chat with my wife about last night and what is going on today.

6:50 am
Out the door, drive to work and drink shake on the way.

7 am - 8:30 am
Senior boys basketball practise
Work on down screening, shooting, ball movement and cutting .
Defensive rotations.

8:30 - 8:40
Entire boys physical education teachers are away and there are three supply teachers who are at Glebe for the first time. Spend 5 minutes helping them find what they need.

8:40 - 8:45
Quick meeting with my principal and her coach from the ministry for our SSSSI group. Small chat about my art collaboration last night.

8:45 - 8:55
Meet with my supply teacher, off to observe a lesson study.

8:55 - 10:05
Observe a lesson that our SSSSI group planned last Thursday to be taught first period. The focus of this lesson: "Student groups will examine item(s), every groups ideas will be evaluated to determine the criteria needed to select a 'good" experiment idea, to be later conducted." 

10:15 - 11:30
Debrief of lesson study. Interesting discussion about teacher direction and how our actions and comments influence what students do and learn. The idea that students do what the teacher wants. this is so difficult for us as teachers to let go of our classes. We need to let students explore and not feel like if we don't tell them they won't learn. This discussion is rich and will be spinning in my head for days. ( I need to blog about it)


11:30 - 12:25
Lunch continued discussion about our next lesson study - which will be in my class next. Chatted about lesson study with a math colleague and a science colleague while eating lunch in the staff room.

12:25 - 1:40
Prepare lesson for next class, photocopying, help 2 students with graphing rational functions, do deposits for the basketball teams ( yes teams - I just finished girls last week and am in full swing with the boys team now), while in the office chat with my principal about the lesson study today ( needed to clear the air as I brought up the elephant in the room during our discussion which provoked a passionate response from her - just wanted her to know I was playing devil's advocate - I think she knows my feelings on educational change)

1:45 - 3:00
Cup stacking with my grade 10 applied group. This is day three of this activity and students are finally figuring out different models for stacking the cups to get to my height. Most have stacked them top top bottom bottom ( y=mx), most have stacked inside each other ( y=mx+b), and most have stacked as a triangle ( y=ax^2+bx+c ) , a few of my stronger groups have stretched this to triangular pyramids and square based pyramids ( y=ax^3+bx^2+cx+d ). This is a great activity. Tomorrow will be fun as we will build some of the models like this:

3:00- 4:00
Prepare for tomorrow, help the junior boys basketball coach find their uniforms ( remember none of the physed staff were in today ), get the art project from last night to my class ( it is being shipped to Arkansas with Layet where it will be going in a gallery - I am such a lucky person ). Quick chat with my department head about the lesson study today ( he is part of the group - an awesome guy - totally my partner in teaching - we collaborate daily @BDMclaurin .

4:00 - 6:00
Layet Johnson meets me at Glebe.  (the great thing about meeting Layet was that he is also in love with basketball) We get the collaborative art work loaded into my van. Off to pick up my two boys from day care. Drive to the airport to drop of Layet. Go into airport to make sure he gets through customs. Take one last shot with this awesome artist.

Drive back to my temporary home ( we are not in our house right now - and won't be till March - we had a water leak while we were on summer vacation - it has displaced us for 9 months ) .

6:00 - 8:00
Make dinner pasta and ceasar salad, clean up, put the boys in the shower, read a few books to them , play fight, bed time for them.

8:00 -10:00
Chat with my wife about her day ( she too is a teacher who is the head of special education at another high school ). Her friend comes over to watch a TV show with her, I spend time reading the #MTBoS, catch up on some emails.

I am exhausted. It has been a crazy couple days with the art project and all. I head to bed and leave my wife and her friend chatting. I hope I sleep well........

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Intersection of Math and Art

Just in case you have not seen this - check this out
This week Layet Johnson is coming to Ottawa to do a collaborative art project with me. The medium will be slate and chalk. I draw the circles and then he creates the art work. It will then be sprayed to last.

This is going to be cool.

Talk about stretching your 15 minutes of fame.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How I Came to Blogging

This blog post is for Kate Nowak (@k8nowak) who has requested the online math community to tell me why you blog. "True story" - this is what I always say when I tell a story. Another favourite line of mine is "it is better to make stories than to tell them."

1. What hooked you on reading the blogs? Was it a particular post or person? Was it an initiative by the nice MTBoS folks? A colleague in your building got you into it? Desperation?

I can remember the moment about 5 years ago that I was teaching a lesson on Vectors via chalk and talk on a Friday afternoon (17th year of teaching) and the words/explanations and numbers/formulas were coming out of my mouth and were being written on the board and I was already at my cottage. WOW -  I was disengaged, imagine the engagement of my students - YIKES! SOMETHING NEEDED TO CHANGE!
I was fine in my academic classes. (They would of learned without me.) But my at risk classes were doing poorly. I needed to change it up. Thanks to Bruce McLaurin we went down the pathway of activity based teaching. I wrote about it here.
I eventually saw Dan Meyer's TedTalk. Followed his blog-it was a game changer.

2. What keeps you coming back? What's the biggest thing you get out of reading and/or commenting?

I get great ideas about a bunch of different aspects in teaching. Plain and simple. I get more PD then everyone else. That should make me better.

3. If you write, why do you write? What's the biggest thing you get out of it?

It took a while to get me writing but I am now getting into it. I am a poor writer. I was apprehensive because of it - but I have finally decided not to care about this. Hopefully I will get better at it.
The biggest thing I get out of it - competition. I am ultra competitive - I want to be the best.
Anyone who really knows me would not be surprised by this.

4. If you chose to enter a room where I was going to talk about blogging for an hour (or however long you could stand it), what would you hope to be hearing from me? MTBoS cheerleading and/or tourism? How-to's? Stories?

I could only hope to be in that room. After Dan's blog you were next. Of course I only lurked! and then implemented. I would want to hear your story. Trials and tribulations, successes and failures. A little advice.

GOOD LUCK with your presentation.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

OCDSB Board Wide Subject Specific Professional Development Day November 15, 2013

The board math PD yesterday was fantastic. Congratulations to 2013 Math Subject Council for organizing. Margie Kerr, Kim Evans, Merella Bareggi, Gabriela Papaz, Bruce McLaurin, Jimmy Pai, Trisha Clark, Gary Palmer, Karyn Hepburn, Esmeralda Fernandes, Jon Henley, Mylene Abi-Zeid and I am sure there were many others behind the scene. A huge thank you. It was a great day. A huge thank you to all presenters as well - the sessions I attended were top notch. Yeeha Desmos!!

Alex Overwijk (@AlexOverwijk)
@absvalteaching@MaryBourassa @eluberoff @Desmos I was at Mary's workshop today. Kudos to those who created this. 2cool. #fillingthetoolbox

would of loved to have seen more but.....that is what you get when you present and share. 

My attitude towards PD days has changed. I used to think of it as a break, a chance to relax, catch up with friends. I would celebrate the night before.

Something has changed. The rate of change was slow at first but now it is changing at a rapid rate. I can't imagine it changing faster-but it probably will change faster.

I used to teach. Prepared lessons that I knew. Stand and deliver. Tell some stories. Be entertaining. Chalk board after chalk board. Worked out example after worked out example. Year after year. I showed them so they learned. They liked me. They never questioned me.

It changed. I orchestrate lessons now that I am really not sure about. They collaborate and I orchestrate. They tell me stories. It is entertaining. Discussion after discussion. Activity after activity with some projects thrown in. Year after year. They talked so they learned. They like me. They question me.

Now leading up to PD days there is preparation. Working hard to have something to share with colleagues. Excitement - butterflies - wanting to be meaningful. So ......... We share best practises, best ideas, pedagogy. It changed me.

I thought I might graph it

Of course I worry that it is correct. There are many people in my board that I think very highly of.
I tell my story. I risk it.
Those that I respect offer me feedback via twitter. 
Jim Pai (@PaiMath)
@AlexOverwijk asks good questions about students posing good questions! An important lesson study with lots to take away from!

Mary Bourassa (@MaryBourassa)
Summary of Math PD Day...@AlexOverwijk and @BDMcLaurin get it and I need to do more of what they do. #alwayslearning

Ann Arden (@annarden)
+1 “@MaryBourassa: Summary of Math PD Day...@AlexOverwijk and@BDMcLaurin get it and I need to do more of what they do.#alwayslearning

Gregory Taylor (@mathtans)
@AlexOverwijk Cheers for the tweeting out this morning and your session and the talking with me and reading of my stuff! #rambling

It is instant feedback. I feel relieved. I celebrate after.
I try to figure out it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Solving Systems with Manipulatives

In the Grade 10 applied Math course in Ontario students are required to solve systems of two equations in two unknowns. The overall expectation in the curriculum guide reads " By the end of the course students will solve systems of two linear equations, and solve related problems that arise from realistic situations."

First and foremost let me address 'by the end of the course":

1) OK so by the end of the course- not at the end of the unit on solving systems - with that in mind I will emphasize that I cycle the curriculum by doing activities as I have written about here.

2) By slowly building the idea of solving a system throughout the course students gain control of their learning: solving systems by trial and error; using manipulatives to solve systems like Ax+By=C; solving y=mx+b systems with a table, a graph, a graphing calculator, and eventually with the equations; solving systems like Ax+By=C with equations.

3) Because it is spaced out (like me) the students build confidence and adapt the growth mindset that we want our students to have.

So how about the manipulatives????

Setting the Scene
Mr. "O" walks into a candy store and buys 3 JubJubs and 4 Smarties for 26 cents, you go into the same store and buy 2 JubJubs and 7 Smarties for 24 cents. How much does it cost for one JubJub and one Smartie at this candy store?

Bring in the Manipulatives
Students are given manipulatives to represent JubJubs and Smarties and lots of Pennies. Then they assign pennies to JubJubs and Smarties until it "works".

It looks like this.

Letting them Struggle / Explore /Play
We do a few so that all students can experience some success and I choreograph the learning.

Here are some other photos of other questions. I know you can figure out the questions!

Eventually we have done a few and this is what the board looks like.

The students tried #4 for a long time until someone screamed "I have tried everything! This one doesn't work!"

Ah Ha!
Then I gave them this one.
Mr. "O" walks into a candy store and buys 6 JubJubs and 2 Smarties for 22 cents, you go into the same store and buy 3 JubJubs and 1 Smartie for 11 cents. How much does it cost for one JubJub and one Smartie at this candy store?

It was great to listen to them share their answers. Here is what the board looked like on that one.

Create your Own

Next I asked students to create their own example. Here are a few samples.


1) Students loved this and found it easy once they got the hang of it.

2) It took a while for some students to realize that the prices could not be different for themselves and Mr. "O".

3) I loved that all students could do this activity. I can't imagine starting with the algebra and doing elimination now that I have tried this with manipulatives. We will get to the algebraic solution  "by the end of the course".

4) They enjoyed creating their own examples.

If you try this or have tried something like this I would love to here about it.

Stay the course!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Snowballing Good Questions

As part of our school's SSSSI (Student Success School Support Initiative) group we have focused on questioning and accountable talk. Through lesson study we have developed lessons in grade 9 and 10 math and grade 10 English. I recently delivered a lesson on questioning to my grade 10 applied math class.

In 3 Act Math task fashion I posted this photo (National Geographic magazine) on the board 

Of course you can't see them but there are four people in the picture. I then asked all the students to write down any and all questions they had about the photo. Many students filled a whole sheet with questions. Students also went to the board to have a look.
Students were then put in groups of 3 and given a colour associated with their group. Each group was required to discuss all their questions and were required to pick their "best 3" and the reason why each question was chosen. The question and the reason was put on a white board.  
At this point the classroom had 7 groups of 3 students (each group assigned a colour) and each group had 3 whiteboards with their best questions A, B, and C and the reason each was chosen.
Students then took their marker and we rotated (3 minutes per table) and each group was required to pick what they thought was each groups best question and why they thought it was a good question. They put this information on a piece of chart paper that was at each pod. (I call this SNOWBALLING - where each group goes and evaluates / judges all other groups stuff)
Eventually groups returned to their home location and received the feedback about their three questions.  Each group then took their best question out of the 3 and posted the question and the chart paper with all the feedback at the front of the room.
At this point the front of the room had 7 questions (one per group) and the class feedback.
Here are some samples. 



After examining all 7 best questions with the rationale groups then developed criteria for a good question.
Here is what they came up with:

At this point the students quickly snowballed all the criteria from each of the 7 groups. Then the class generated what they thought was the criteria for a good question and we generated a poster.

My thoughts:

1) Pleased with the amount and quality of questions students generated by themselves.

2) When pods of three were choosing their best three questions I was disappointed with the amount of accountable talk. I thought they settled on their best three questions too easily.

3) Groups struggled with the "why" it was a good question.  They had difficulties articulating this.

4) The groups did a great job deciding on the criteria for a good question and picking out the best ones as a class.

5) Having the students move around the room and evaluate other groups work was a positive.

6) Time well spent (two days) - I think the students developed a better idea of what I am looking for when I ask them " Any questions come to mind?", "Anything your wondering about?" Etc.

Of course on the third day the students answered these two questions:

 In three act math fashion:

Here is the work on these two questions by two groups:

If you made it the end of this post - you rock!

Go ahead - ask questions?????