Ringing in the New Year – Growth and Grit

For the past week-and-a-half, our district has been preparing for the arrival of a new crew of students, and we’re excited!  In-service trainings have focused on themes of innovation, grit, growth mindset and having a “GVC” (Guaranteed Viable Curriculum).  You can see some of the wonderful experiences we’ve had over on the Twitters at #eanesplc. Speaking of Twitter, I’ve found some inspiration regarding these in-service themes from fine educators who, from afar, have been shaping what will happen in my classroom to help set a tone of growth AND grit. IMG_5816

First, who hasn’t been inspired by the work Sarah Carter is doing to prepare her classroom for kids?  Because of her blog posts, I created a new art piece for my own classroom.  Credit is also due to Jo Boaler. 🙂

Additionally, Sarah has been interpreting a gold mine of Japanese puzzles that will enhance our curriculum to not only be sure students understand “Order of Operations”, but that they are challenged to understand equivalence with a fun twist.  Read more here and feel free to use this Desmos Activity version with students (featuring a somewhat recent Desmos feature addition, Sketch!) Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 4.45.12 PM





I also *finally* read 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions and thoroughly enjoyed Denis Sheeran’s Instant Relevance: Using Today’s Experiences to Teach Tomorrow’s Lessons.  I love Denis’ easy-reading style, and I look forward to the #MakeItReal book study!  

I also created this Tackk as a home-base for my Day 1 activities.  (Inspiration from Kevin Honeycutt, Dan Meyer, and Kristin Gray!)  I also plan to share the URL for this Tackk with NEW students who will inevitably join us throughout the school year due to various circumstances.  Creating a “Welcome!” greeting card of sorts with a QR code to this Day 1 Tackk will be a friendly way to greet someone new and catch them up to our class culture.

August 22 is Day 1 for me – may your school year be awesome, full of GROWTH AND GRIT for your students… and for you!

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Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Desmos Activity “Labs” – Create Your Own Card Sort

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 1.08.21 PMRecently, I lived virtually and vicariously through all of the wonderful #MTBoS #TMC16 and #descon16 attendees.  I have so. much. stuff. to sort through, between blog posts, Tweets, Periscopes, Google Docs, and more!  One feature that prompted immediate action for me was the official release of the Desmos Card Sort lab creation tool, which is part of the larger Desmos Activity Builder many of us have grown to love over the past year.

If you’re just realizing that Card Sort exists (I know… breathe… I was excited too), and you want to get started, check out Julie Reulbach’s wonderful post here where she also mentions that… yes… teachers can now create Desmos Marbleslides activities as well!

Here are my first three Card Sorts.  These may come in handy in the early weeks of the new school year, as they address some fundamentally mathy concepts.  Grab these links and save them somewhere handy so you’ll remember you have these in your back pocket this fall, as well as this collection that’s sure to continue to grow!



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Number Properties Sort

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Expressions Mash-Up

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While Desmos enables users to create math/text cards, image cards, and graph cards right in the Desmos platform, you may have noticed that I like to add a level of color-coding to my card sorts.

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Creating some, or even all, of the cards in Keynote, exporting the Keynote slides as images, and adding each of these images to an “image card” in Desmos gives a little more control and customization if you’re a color-coding enthusiast like me.  

Card images a little small to read?  

HINT: Select/click a card to see a larger preview.

Tag, you’re it!  What will you create using the Card Sort feature?

Don’t forget to share back.

P.S. I’m sharing back!  “Here’s a Function or Not?” Desmos Card Sort with a bonus Nearpod inspired by Open Middle linked in the activity description.

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iPadpalooza Reflections #iplza16

iPadpalooza: the annual, local conference learning festival that feels like a destination conference learning festival!

Though iPadpalooza Austin takes place in Eanes ISD where I teach, having so many out-of-town guests partake and present made #iplza16 feel out of this world… or perhaps the Star Wars theme did that? 🙂  I was so proud to see many of my local colleagues presenting and sharing as well.  Additionally, I was pumped to be able to share a taste of what my students and the #MTBoS are up to!

minikeynoteathoniplza16Being invited to participate in the Mini-Keynote-a-Thon was an honor!  Being sandwiched between talks delivered by Tracy Clark and George Couros was a thrill!  I shared an abridged version of my NCTM Nashville Regional talk about the “snowball effect” the #MTBoS can have if folks are willing to Tweet/blog/share about what’s happening in their own “educational spaces”.  My talk can be viewed here.  The entire Mini-Keynote-A-Thon can be viewed here.

Sessions I attended:

The iPadpalooza 2016 Mini-Keynotathon

The Key(note) to Creativity with April Requard

Leveraging the Power of Digital Assistants with Felix Jacomino

Mobile Device Management and Apple Classroom with Chris Miller

Six Word Stories, Six Unique Shots with Don Goble

Designing Mobile Learning Experiences for Professional Development with Kurt Klynen and Christine DiPaulo

Keynote – Cathy Hunt

Explain Everything Jedi Master Class: Create, Collaborate, Share, and Discover with Reshan Richards

I presented a session entitled Creation, Assessment and Voice! Digital Content Creation Tools For Teachers… and Students! (Emphasis on Book Creator, Explain Everything, and ThingLink)

SWAT: Students Working to Advance Technology swift talk with April Requard

How Can We Improve Memory? with Lisa Johnson and Natalie Cannon

Keynote – Austin Kleon

UnConference Session 1: Apple Classroom with Tim Yenca and Shannon Soger

iPad – Bonus Features and Behind the Scenes with Tim Yenca and Shannon Soger

Ending Keynote & Film Festival Wrap-up featuring iPad Magician Simon Pierro

Themes I walked away with this year:

  1. Share about what you are doing – think social media so many folks can benefit and be inspired!
  2. Share what students are doing.
  3. Make sure students are creating, not simply consuming.  Give them a voice and opportunities to showcase their work.

After hearing Austin Kleon’s keynote, I’ve read both of his books and found them to be both inspiring and affirming.  You should check them out!

Folks have done a fine job collecting Tweets of the entire iPadpalooza #iplza16 experience.

Hope to see you in 2017!

Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Student-Created Visual Patterns and Book Creator

thephotoAfter introducing Visual Patterns to my Math 8 students, I began to see their creative side through various “Draw” work samples from our Nearpod patterns lessons. They did an excellent job generalizing linear patterns!  Though their experiences with nonlinear functions have been slim to none yet, helping students see connections to area and quadratic functions informally helped.  All of this to say, it was time for *ME* to stop being the chief-pattern-creator, and it was time to charge them with the task.

Enter… Book Creator!

I designed a project checklist and permitted students to choose their own groups of ideally 2-3 people.  Each group designed one linear pattern and one nonlinear pattern (I encouraged quadratic patterns at this level, so as to relate to areas of figures), created visuals to show how they saw each pattern growing, and included a table, graph, and equation using Desmos.  All of this student-created media was then organized into a Book Creator mini eBook.

Music Note & Flower.001

The due date is near, and many students have already submitted some fine work!  Want to see students’ completed eBooks? Included in this ThingLink are students’ ePub files (best experienced in iBooks), my sample eBook, and the project checklist.  Want to experience a snapshot of students’ work? Check out a few student pages in the images I’ve included below the ThingLink. Enjoy!

Book Creator YencaVisual Patterns Yenca

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Critter Patterns

Visual Patterns Yenca.002Texas Math 8 standards provide students with a firm foundation of linear concepts and slope-intercept form.  Additionally, my Math 8 kiddos just wrapped up a polynomials enrichment unit.  With this in mind, I felt like they had a solid background to ensure success with generalizing patterns algebraically.  What better way to do this than with “Visual Patterns”!

I’m pretty new to using “Visual Patterns” with students, and in the past, I didn’t feel like I introduced these very well.  Students could draw and describe the pattern, but when it was time to complete a table beyond the first few figures, they had a tough time expressing themselves algebraically.  I think the most popular equation was… y = IDK.

Before I began a few days with “Visual Patterns” this week, I sought expert advice from the #MTBoS and found this video of Jo Boaler sharing various student strategies to be quite helpful in shaping my questioning.  Additionally, Jo’s animations and unconventional (fun) pattern descriptions made me realize that I wanted to truly capture student thinking, ALL students’ thinking, possibly in words AND through visuals.  Could I also provide students with an animated view of pattern growth the way Jo did? (Note: Keynote “Magic Move” and a #SilentSolutions video helped make that happen!)

IMG_4514First, my son and I sat on our patio with graph paper, designing our own “Critter Patterns” to represent some of our favorite animals.  I translated our sketches to Keynote slides that represented Figure 1, Figure 2, and Figure 3 of each pattern.  I purposely created two patterns that were linear, and two that were not.

Next question – pattern delivery to students… Desmos Activity Builder?  Or Nearpod?

I couldn’t choose, so I tried both, in my own little experiment.

I made this Desmos Activity Builder and used it to introduce Critter Patterns to the first of my three Math 8 classes.  I used this Nearpod to introduce the patterns to the second class.

For my third class, I decided I would use either Desmos or Nearpod, depending on which delivery format seemed to go better.

NPPdrawThere was incredible value in giving students the chance to examine the pattern closely, and “Draw” the way they saw it growing using Nearpod.  Asking students to describe the pattern in words right off the bat in the Desmos lesson version proved to be more challenging.  I heard a few grumbles of what-are-we-even-doing-right-now, which told me that the “Draw” had a bit of a lower floor for these Visual Patterns newbies.  Since any URL can be added to a Nearpod lesson, I was able to integrate a prepared Desmos calculator slide at just the right time in the Nearpod lesson (this Desmos-Shows-Up-In-A-Nearpod gig amazes students every. single. time.)

Overall, the Nearpod lesson slowed students down to examine and draw the patterns out, and sharing student drawings at the front of the class was effective and immediately enjoyable.  So many different ways to see the same thing!  That’s not to say that Desmos wasn’t effective – it was just a bit of a bumpier start.  You’d never know it, looking at the activity’s history in my teacher dashboard – having the ability to self-navigate and revise in Desmos Activity Builder clearly had its perks too.

ABSsAfter my Desmos/Nearpod experiment to introduce patterns, I opted to use Nearpod to introduce the rest.  I used Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns as homework each day.  To begin each class following our introduction lesson day, I used blank Nearpod Draw slides to gather student thinking for whole-class discussions of the homework patterns.  Note: Linear patterns went VERY well, and nonlinear patterns varied from students absolutely NAILING IT to the infamous y = IDK.  These students lack experience with quadratics, and some of them sought help from older siblings and parents.  I loved how families got involved in generalizing more challenging patterns!  I was *hoping* students would see some of these in ways that I hadn’t.  I can’t unsee my own way.

Reluctantly, I showed “my way” for each of the quadratic patterns.  They followed along as I got them started, paused short of spilling ALL the beans so that they could take my strategy to the finish line, and as a result, many “got it” when it was time to generalize.  How do you handle it when kids can’t generalize?  Do you show them the way, or just leave it for them to potentially play with?  I dunno.  “You can always add.  You can’t subtract.”  What’s been seen has been seen, this time.

Highlight: Students taking on my here’s-how-I-started-now-run-with-it, ending up with a table, function, and graph in Desmos, and seeing them cheer when a parabola appeared, passing through all of their points.  They don’t even know what a parabola is, but they DO know it’s a good thing when a nonlinear graph passes through their table’s points.  Super fun to watch this!

Critter Patterns Yenca

After several days of this cycle, and exploring both linear and nonlinear patterns, I saw students’ confidence grow mathematically.  Through various Nearpod “Draw” experiences, I saw student creativity as well!

Next up – I’m asking students to create their own “Visual Patterns”.  Student groups will each create one linear and one nonlinear pattern, as well as other components, and showcase their work in a Book Creator eBook.  Stay tuned to see our student-created Visual Patterns mini-eBooks!

For your viewing pleasure, here are more student work samples from this week.  My Nearpod “Reports” are a treasure-trove of student thinking.



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Using Desmos on iPads… for the Algebra 1 EOC STAAR Test… Take 1

Screen-Shot-2015-04-24-at-9.34.33-AM-300x298For the first time in history… (too strong?)… my Algebra 1 students excitedly embraced the opportunity to use Desmos Test Mode *AND* TI graphing calculators during their End-of-Course STAAR test this past week.

In years prior, TI handheld graphing calculators were permitted, but for Algebra 1 students, having access to BOTH Desmos and a TI calculator was not an option.  Last year, during a Desmos pilot with our Math 8 STAAR test-takers, my Algebra students became very jealous, as we had used both tools equitably during instruction, but only TI was allowed on Algebra STAAR test day.  Since then, the Texas Education Agency has updated their STAAR calculator policy to include secure tablet graphing tools too.

For a time this year, we weren’t exactly clear on TEA’s language in this updated policy – would our Algebra 1 students have to *CHOOSE* between a TI calculator and Desmos?  Or would they be permitted to use both tools?

Had you been in my classroom the day I announced TEA’s clarification that using BOTH tools was INDEED permissible, you may have thought we were watching football.  Yelling, clapping, yahoo-ing, and cheesy grinning filled room 510… because of a graphing calculator, people.  Can you imagine?

Well, if you’re a math educator who uses Desmos in your teaching, then you probably don’t *HAVE* to imagine its educational impact.  You probably see it quite often in your own teaching corner of the world.  Besides being a fluid (and free) graphing calculator, teachers create mathematical experiences for students using tools like Polygraph and Activity Builder.  If I’m not mistaken, Desmos Activity Builder isn’t even a year old, and yet the sheer volume of teacher-created resources here and here is inspiring… and immediately usable!  Shout out to the #MTBoS!

While my Math 8 students have embraced Desmos, my theory in their seemingly not-as-enthusiastic feedback about the graphing tool is rooted in their lack of experience with functions.  y = mx + b is as far as these kiddos go with graphing (though this Activity Builder open-task gave them a taste of graphing ideas beyond our TEKS/standards) and they seem to desire the TI-button-pushing experience over using Desmos to number-crunch in their multi-math sampler-type curriculum.  Algebra 1 includes various forms of linear and quadratic functions, as well as exponential functions, so Desmos has been extremely valuable for Algebra students who favor seeing multiple representations all on one screen.

I’ll let my Algebra students (49 of them who took the survey) speak for themselves here. Check out their anonymous responses to a brief 3-question survey using the link below – one that I’ve also given to Math 8 students the past two years with VERY DIFFERENT results.

I asked three questions:

  • In general, which tool do you prefer?
  • Name a few math lesson topics for which you like using the TI Graphing Calculator more than Desmos.
  • Name a few math lesson topics for which you like using Desmos more than the TI Graphing Calculator.

Algebra Calculator Survey Yenca 2015-16

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Note:  These Algebra students WERE the Math 8 students last year who were able to use Desmos on their Math 8 STAAR too, so we’re talking about a generation of kids who have been using Desmos for two years.  I wonder if that also has an impact on their enthusiasm?

*Update* Desmos Test Mode is also available on Chrome here.

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Teamwork and Communication Using Quizlet Live

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 8.29.52 AMMy colleague Gary Raygor happened to post a photo online, showing his students having a blast in his classroom, working in teams, arms flailing with… joy or regret…I couldn’t quite tell.  But what anyone could clearly see is that his students were INVESTED in whatever it was that they were doing, so I asked Gary to share more!  I stumbled on Gary’s mention of “Quizlet Live” Thursday evening, then subsequently used it with all of my classes the next day.  Quizlet Live provides a whole new way for students to interact with Quizlet sets in the classroom.  I’m so glad I jumped right in!

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After I logged in to Quizlet as a teacher using my school Google account, I searched for “Algebra 1 EOC” and found existing sets including relevant academic vocabulary, formulas, terms matched to graphs… you name it!  What’s great is once you find a set you like, you can copy it and edit it to make it your own, and it shows up under “Your Study Sets”.  Once you have a set you’d like to use with your class, select the “Live” purple button and project the screen so students can see it.  They simply go online to quizlet.live and enter the 6-digit code to join the game.

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Once all students have signed in, select “Create Game” and Quizlet Live randomly groups students into teams by animal name.  Make no mistake, students LOVE this.  There’s something about naming teams that creates an instant bond!  Students take their devices to sit with their newly-formed teams, and the “game” begins.

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A definition, graph, etc. appears on all teammates’ screens, along with a list of potential matches.  The difference between Quizlet Live and other matching or multiple-choice tools is that each teammate’s screen shows only a subset of possible answers from the Quizlet set.  Only ONE teammate has the correct term on his/her screen, so students have to work together to talk it out.  In every class, I heard great conversations/arguments and comments like “I got it!” or “Oh, I don’t have it!” as students compared their answer choices to the definition etc. at hand.


Team progress is shown from the teacher dashboard at the front of the class, while all the information students need shows up on their own devices.

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If a mistake is made, the team must go BACK to the beginning and work through the entire  set again.  This was more motivating than it was destructive.  They got right back into the game, and often made an impressive comeback after a fall!

The element of speed is not a timer per se.  The time it takes to complete a round is established by the winning team.  The first team to work together to correctly get through the set “wins” and the game stops at that moment, paying respects to the victors.

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And in EVERY SINGLE CLASS, after the winning team yelled and celebrated, the class begged, “Can we play that AGAIN?”

And so, we did.  Every time we played again, I took advantage of Quizlet Live’s “Shuffle Teams” feature so everyone had to move around.  My favorite thing about this is the instant team bond that seemed to happen with the animal names, and that every student (especially the shy or quiet types) was instantly a valuable part of the group.

I like that Quizlet Live collects stats during each round.  I can display class data for “What We Know” and “What We Learned” that shows common class errors as well as class strengths.  Each team also receives this type of feedback, customized specifically to their own team.


After doing Algebra EOC reviews with my Algebra students, my Math 8 Pre-AP students practiced multiplying monomials by other polynomials using Quizlet Live.  The practice with properties of exponents and the distributive property was collaborative, and much better than a worksheet would have been!

How will you use Quizlet Live?


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The Weeks Keep Flying By…

This time of year, I feel like the days just slip through my fingers.  So many good things are happening, and yet I haven’t stopped to reflect and post about them.  At all!  Forgive my drive-by approach at summarizing a few recent edu-wins that may benefit you and your students too.

(1) After participating in a Global Math Department online meeting with a Desmos theme, I fell in love with an activity featured by Shelley Carranza, inspired by the work of Bob Lochel, entitled “Parabolas and the Number d”.  I edited it ever-so-slightly, and used it with my Algebra students with some skepticism that they’d see the things I wanted them to see regarding the mysterious “d” (discriminant).  To my pleasure, they nailed it.  It’s really effective to feature student work using the “Overlay” feature!  Thanks so much for sharing, Shelley and Bob Lochel! Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.40.32 PM

(2) My PLC-mates and I have been using Socrative on nearly a daily basis.  There really isn’t a simpler tool to create a quick-check on the fly.  The other day, students were practicing simplifying expressions and I had them enter their answers using Socrative so we could examine trends quickly.  I display this matrix for the class to see once all students have entered their responses.  Great questions like, “How are people getting zero for number 6?” become common practice.  Often, the kids find more value in wrong answers than in correct ones.  We try to pick apart the problems students miss (all the while their names aren’t attached to their work) to correct misconceptions. Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.08.37 PM

With Socrative automatically-generated codes, “quizzes” are really easy to share.  Try this one on solutions to inequalities in one variable.  The “quiz” (which I used as a teacher-paced warm-up/discussion starter in class) takes advantage of the feature that allows more than one answer in a multiple-choice prompt to be correct. Go to Socrative.com and import this quiz for ideas, and if you make something awesome, share your quiz code here, and/or on Twitter using the #MTBoS hashtag. Share Quiz: SOC-21965015   Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.56.18 PM


(3) When I saw that the original Des-Man activity, inspired by Fawn Nguyen, was down for the count, I whipped up my own.  Then David Petro gave it a linear-only makeover, and I used his version with my Math 8 students.  It’s super fun to see what they came up with.

I’m partial to the turtle. Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.15.27 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.15.04 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 6.24.55 PM     IMG_4278


(4) Today was polynomial vocabulary day. Kind of a yawn, unless you get students involved in creating various polynomials using Nearpod “Draw”.  Amazingly, they get SO EXCITED to have some say-so in the lesson examples.  They were in hysterics at their own creations, and frankly, so was I.


(5) In case you missed it, this was a recent opportunity to share with the folks at MindShift about @Desmos love:

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Using Desmos on iPads… for the Math 8 STAAR Test… Take 2

Screen-Shot-2015-04-24-at-9.34.33-AM-300x298Last year, our district pioneered using the Desmos Test Mode iOS app on STAAR (state) tests.  You can read about that here.

For the 2015-16 school year, we knew that the Texas Education Agency updated its calculator policy to extend the possibility of using a tablet-based calculator not only for the Grade 8 mathematics STAAR test, but also for Algebra I, Algebra II and Biology.

While my Algebra students won’t get to use Desmos Test Mode for their STAAR EOC (end-of-course) exam until May, my Math 8 students completed their math testing yesterday.  Students had the option of using Desmos Test Mode, a TI-graphing calculator… or BOTH tools if they preferred.  Today, I gave my Math 8 students the same survey I gave to my Math 8 students last year.

I asked three questions:

  • In general, which tool do you prefer?
  • Name a few math lesson topics for which you like using the TI Graphing Calculator more than Desmos.
  • Name a few math lesson topics for which you like using Desmos more than the TI Graphing Calculator.

Here are the results – while my sample size included more students this year (77 to be exact) the percentages are basically IDENTICAL to last year’s results.

Anonymous student responses can also be seen here —> Math 8 STAAR Calculator Survey 2016 Yenca if you’re curious about the topics they listed (I’m sure they’d appreciate it if I asked you to excuse some of their spelling errors…!)

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I’ll be very curious to ask these questions of my Algebra 1 students post-EOC.  As far as graphing topics in Grade 8 curriculum, we deeply explore concepts of slope/rate of change/unit rate and proportional versus non-proportional linear relationships.  We only utilize slope-intercept form of linear functions, and we only solve linear systems by graphing.  Grade 8 math is still somewhat of a sampler course – we do some number stuff, some geometry stuff, some algebra stuff, some data stuff, and some financial stuff.  There are a LOT more topics in Algebra 1 for which Desmos is an IDEAL tool.  I really think this graph will be quite different for Algebra 1 students… we’ll see!

Check back in May once we’ve conquered the entire Algebra 1 curriculum.

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Curating and Organizing (So You’ll Remember What You Have When You Need It)

Thanks to the #MTBoS and a plethora of digital tools, we have access to a lot of resources. A LOT.  And they’re coming at us at lightning speed thanks to Twitter and blogs… often *not* when we’re teaching the concepts featured in the resources.

How do you keep track of all of the resources you find or create, so you:

(1) Remember that you have them…?

(2) Use them when you’re teaching the concepts they address…?

I have stuff all over the place.  Over the past 4 years in a 1:1 iPad learning environment, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no one “silver bullet” tool that addresses all classroom needs.  (As a matter of fact, I’m not even looking for ONE tool that can do everything well… because I don’t know that ONE tool can.)  Thus, the content, as well as the information you seek to gain from students, helps determine the appropriate tool(s) along the way.  That’s why it’s inevitable that you may also have stuff all over the place.

My colleagues and I have:

(1) Created Socrative Quizzes

(2) Created and revised ThatQuiz Quizzes

(3) Created Nearpod experiences

(4) Created ThingLinks full of relevant URLs

(5) Created and revised classroom Kahoots!

(6) Created and revised Desmos Activities

(7) Created and found instructional YouTube and Vimeo videos

If you don’t park all of this good stuff somewhere, you literally forget about the work you’ve done and the fine work others have shared with you to use.  That’s why I created an in-detail Google Doc for each course I teach.  With new math TEKS K – 8 last year, and new high school math TEKS this year, I can’t imagine any other way of keeping my sanity and organizing all of the resources and planning we’ve done from scratch the past 2 years.

What’s great about using Google is that it’s with you on every device, wherever you go.  So when that unexpected and awesome resource comes your way, you can simply copy and paste the link in the doc so you’ll remember you have it as an instructional option when it’s time to teach that topic.

Here are several screenshots from my Google Doc – having this ever-present parking-space for good stuff has kept me sane, organized, and has even helped me to reflect upon my lessons, giving me a space to make daily notes about how class went, so I can revise my plans to make them better next time.

How do you keep track of all the good stuff that comes your way?



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