Category Archives: Tech for Teaching and Learning

technology appropriate for the classroom

WHY CAN’T THEY REMEMBER THIS FROM LAST YEAR??? Help students remember key information: Spaced Repetition Software (SRS).

This post is one of a series detailing my current mathematics lesson rhythm and routine. This one outlines how I use spaced repetition software (SRS) at the start of my lessons to help students to remember key information. There is a video of me teaching with SRS at the bottom of this post. 

Thinking back to my own time at school, I distinctly remember one challenge in particular. I remember feeling that studying  mathematics in discrete topics (or units), made it really hard for me to remember the relevant concepts when it was time to revisit that branch of mathematics again, sometimes over a year later.

Through my post-schooling forays into language learning in particular, I have come across some research backing up those schoolboy intuitions.

What I was feeling was the effects of a cognitive phenomena called the ‘forgetting curve’ (Ebbinghaus, 1913). The forgetting curve (pictured below) is a graph that approximates the rate at which an individual will forget a given unit of information.

the forgetting curve

(image source:

In the late 1800s, a German chap by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus constructed the first forgetting curve by trying to memorise nonsense syllables (such as “WID” and “ZOF”) and then testing himself at regular intervals, rating his level of accuracy, then plotting these points out on a graph.

Hermann Ebbinghaus

(Old mate Ebbinghaus:

As can be seen in the picture of the forgetting curve, if we want to remember something, we need to be reminded about it at regular intervals*. The good news is that the more times we’re reminded about it, the longer the interval until we need to be reminded about it again!

*(The necessity of reviewing a unit of information at regular intervals is obviously dependent on what the unit of info is, and how it relates to your prior knowledge/how emotionally charged that memory is. For example, It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever forget your first kiss! Ebbinghaus’ original forgetting curve is, however, a great approximation for units of info like; words in a foreign language, or even terms such as ‘perimeter’ or ‘circumference’.)

Such a curve has important implications for teaching and learning. If we want a student to remember the basics of trigonometry when we come around to the topic again a year later (e.g., basic terminology, sum of the angles in a triangle, etc), we had better ensure that several times between now (time of teaching) and next year, they get reminders at key intervals.

The basic idea underlying this reminding-at-intervals is the spacing of repetition. We all know that it isn’t a good idea to cram your study, but a recent meta-analysis of studies, Carpenter, Cepeda, Rohrer, Kang and Paschler (2012) brought together research on the actual effectiveness of spacing repetition. The following excerpt details the results from just one of the studies that they cited in their meta-analysis.

the benefit of spacing repetition

(Carpenter et al., 2012, p. 371)

This is all well and good as a concept, but how can we do it in practice? There are literally hundreds of new words and concepts that a student is expected to grasp in a year, is it realistic for a teacher to keep track of each of these terms and ideas, and remind students of all of them at periodic intervals?

I’m hoping that the answer is yes.

In 2014 I set myself the challenge to learn Mandarin Chinese in a year. As I delved deeper and deeper into effective learning methods,  I came across spaced repetition software (SRS). SRS is a program of digital flash cards (you can make them yourself, or download pre-made decks) that, based on self-ratings, uses an algorithm to calculate the optimum time to review each given unit of information. It is essentially plotting your forgetting curve and reminding you of that piece of information just before you forget!

This software has been notably used to great success by such polyglots as Scott Young (who learnt 4 languages to a very high standard in one year) and Benny Lewis (very famous polyglot). It definitely helped me, and with the help of the SRS program that I use, Anki, I was able to  reach my goal and achieve a conversational level of Mandarin within a year. These days I use it to remember a whole host of things; from people’s names, to new english words, to the countries of the world. I currently have a little over 3000 digital flash cards in my review ‘circulation’ and to keep on top of all this info it only takes between 10 to 15 minutes of my time per day. Here’s a snapshot of my study statistics from the last month.

Anki statistics

(my personal spaced repetition data from the past month)

I was really keen to bring this incredibly powerful tool into the classroom to try to help my students to overcome the memory challenges that I, myself, faced as a student. So I did!

Since I started teaching at the start of this year, I’ve been using an SRS program (Anki)  in all of my classes. We use it at the start of every lesson and I call students’ names with the use of coloured pop-sticks, a method that I’ve written about previously.

The result?

It’s hard to comment on the long term effects as it’s still early days, but student feedback has been good, for example: On the end of Term 1 feedback form that I handed out to students, many of them made comments such as the following:

But hey, I thought that the most helpful thing would be to give readers some eyes into my classroom to see exactly how it plays out. With my students’ permission, I’m sharing below a clip from my  VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) numeracy class. Just for a bit of context, VCAL is a program designed for students who are planning to explore post-secondary pathways into vocational training. I have students who want to be nurses, flight attendants, and many of them aspire to the a position in the military. What you see below is a classic beginning of lesson episode. One of the students (Sharnee) is in charge of the pop-sticks, pulling out student names, and the other students are sitting (with varying degrees of focus), considering what their answer would be, then answering if their name is called up. I’ve found that the students enjoy the routine and it adds a game show like feel to the start of the class. Hopefully this little clip gives you a bit of a glimpse into how Anki works, and how I feel it can help my students to overcome one of the challenges that I myself faced in school.


Carpenter, S. K., Cepeda, N. J., Rohrer, D., Kang, S. H. K., & Pashler, H. (2012). Using Spacing to Enhance Diverse Forms of Learning: Review of Recent Research and Implications for Instruction. Educational Psychology Review, 24(3), 369–378.

Ebbinghaus, H. (1913). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology, (3).



Teacher Blogger chat at MAV Conference 2015

At MAV Con the other day I sent out a tweet to catch up with other teacher bloggers:

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 8.23.14 am






It was a small meeting (only 2 of us), but I was happy to have the opportunity to meet with fellow teacher blogger Michaela Epstein. Aside from a great chat that touched on our backgrounds, motivations for teaching, and even spaced repetition software,  Michaela and I turned to a few questions that I’d drafted up to get into the why, how, and what of our blogging approaches. Enjoy : )

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 8.26.43 amMichaela Epstein


    • twitter handle: @mic_epstein
    • blog address?: 
    • Where are you based (as much detail as you’d like to give)?: Melbourne

Juicy Q’s

  • Why do you blog?: Initially was to give non-teachers an insight into what actually happens in schools and give an understanding of the social side and social justice side of the school context. Since starting teaching it’s taken on a maths/social justice focus.
    • What part/s of your blog/blogging are going well?: Get good feedback from people who read it. A useful way to express some complex ideas that I think about then communicate that with others. Good way to start interesting conversations.
    • Which blogging/social media apps or programs do you find core to the way you do what you do in the blogosphere?: Twitter is being used more and more, easy, quick, can share stuff, low barriers to entry and great way to connect with others.
    • What is a challenge that you’re contending with at the moment w.r.t your blogging/use of social media?: Not doing it /not doing it regularly.
    • What’s your favourite Ed blog?:   it’s a U.S dude now in the UK (also social commentary on maths education). His blogs are usually just cartoons with annotations on those cartoons.
    • Why?: This website gets to the crux of the philosophical issues that we deal with as maths teachers.

Ollie Lovell


    • Twitter handle: @ollie_lovell
    • Blog address?:
    • Where are you based (as much detail as you’d like to give)?: Melbourne, gonna be doing research with a Northern Metropolitan Region school in 2016.

Juicy Q’s

    • Why do you blog?: To sort through my own ideas, share what I do in my classroom, and as a way to force me to reflect on books, conference, etc.
    • How would you describe the focus of your blog?: It’s really about my learning journey. I’ve taken the title so that I can be really flexible just to be me and explore and blog about what’s relevant for me. Main foci are wot-I-got from various conferences/books, what I’m trying out in my own class, and my learning journey more broadly
    • What part/s of your blog/blogging are going well?: I’ve enjoyed particularly sharing some of my classroom approaches recently.
    • Which blogging/social media apps or programs do you find core to the way you do what you do in the blogosphere?: The Google Docs Add-on Docs to WordPress. Allows me to write posts in google docs then export to WordPress. Saves a bunch of time in uploading photos and makes it easier to collaborate on posts.
    • What is a challenge that you’re contending with at the moment w.r.t your blogging/use of social media?:
      • Keeping up with twitter and sorting the wheat from the chaff!
      • Ordering/sorting the content on my website to make it easier for punters to use
    • What’s your favourite Ed blog?: Dan Meyer’s blog and the less well known BetterExplained.
      • Why?: Dan’s creativity and the way that he does things in his class blows my mind. Kalid’s work on BetterExplained has helped me to understand maths better.


Backchannels, a feedback method for shy students

“Are there any questions?…” The words hang in the air as nervous students shuffle in their seats. The more students there are, the shyer the classroom seems to collectively be. This year at that Maths Association of Tasmania conference I heard from Matt Skoss about a potential solution to this challenge… backchannels.

Screen shot 2014-10-17 at 7.51.07 PMBackchannels are live feeds that are running whilst the class is in session. Like Twitter, they act as an online space for people to comment, ask questions, and interact at the same time as class and life is going on as per usual.

Upon hearing about backchannels I was keen to give them a go, but it wasn’t until a few months later that I had the opportunity to try them out in a large enough class. I’ve been working at the University of Tasmania as a tutor since the beginning of the year (2014) but this August an opportunity came up for me to cover a lecture on Index laws due to the usual lecturer being away. I jumped at this chance and thought it would be a good idea to test out this new fandangled backchannel idea.

I prepared for the lecture and used TodaysMeet to set up a digital ‘room’ (see video at bottom of page for how to do this, it’s super easy). And then at 11am it was all go.

The lecture started off pretty well. an+am=an+m kind of stuff. The backchannel was going all right, I was flicking to and from the backchannel between every 3 slides or so. Hmm… I was a bit worried that some of the banter was distracting students too much (you’ll see it in the vid below). Then, at about 13 and a half minutes in, the juice came. (all the action is in the first 35 seconds of this clip)

Wow, now that was worth it! My first lecture at University, of course I was going to be rushing a bit! And instead of me continuing to talk too fast through the whole lecture, and then going on the the next lecture and maybe even keeping up the pattern, this backchannel meant that I was furnished with immediate feedback on my teaching. I was immediately able to adjust my style and communicate more clearly for the remainder of the class.

The backchannel also facilitated other questions later on in the class. Another highlight was that one of the shyer students initially asked a question on the backchannel, then felt confident enough to elaborate and clarify after their question was read out by me.

I’m sure the opinions on backchannels will be divided. Are they too distracting? What ages are they suitable for? If we get students on their phones will we ever be able to get them off them? And there are definitely context in which they’ll fit better (larger classes, older students, more independent learners).

Suffice to say that for my first ‘official’ lecture at Uni, using TodaysMeet proved to be a great way to get student feedback, both on the content and on my teaching style. I’m happy to have it as one more tool in the teaching toolbox that I’ll be able to draw on in future.

 How to use TodaysMeet

1 minute and 34 seconds that you won’t regret.

Please note: TodaysMeet doesn’t save your discussion thread. So if you’d like to keep track of it you can just copy paste the discussion into a word doc or the like and you’re good to go.

Log your time with 5 time tracking apps to improve efficiency

Good routine is the enforcer of balance, and balance is the mainstay of sanity. Check out these time logging apps to help maintain balance in your life. All work on Apple and Android and are free unless specified.

Toggle: Toggle on and off tasks to tally how much time you spend on each.

Rescue Time: Auto-log how long you spend on different apps/pages. In premium you can block/suspend distracting pages.

My Minutes: Set goals to schedule and plan how long you want to spend on tasks and get reminders.

Timesheet: Track and bill work hours as well as free time. Control with voice commands. App therefore mobile based. (Android only)

Fanurio: Similar to Timesheet but desktop based (Mac, Linux, Windows). (Not free)

This is a selection from a list of 10 apps originally outlined in this article by Fast Company.