Becoming an “Expert”

I have one of those wax warmers in my classroom, and a drawer full of scented wax cubes. We have a new scent every week, and my room “smelling so good” is one of the quirky things my students like and remember about my class.  I should be earning some sort of commission on all the wax warmer sales that are a direct result of my classroom atmosphere… but I digress.  The reason I’m bringing this up is because the names of the wax cube scents are always so… fancy.

Sure, the cube smells like a “dryer sheet”, but it’s called “Faded Denim“.

It’s a stretch to say a cube of wax smells like “pumpkin”.  Even so, it’s called “Enchanted Pumpkin Valley“.

Sometimes, it’s all how you name it.  It’s all how you frame it.  And… it’s about whether that naming and framing gets student buy-in… beyond buying wax warmers… I’m talking about buying into the math now.

Today, for example, we explored patterns between squaring stuff and taking square roots, and attempted to describe and define what a “perfect square” is, and what a “square root” is.  After messing around with numbers, drawing squares, writing ideas in our own words, and even using calculators a bit, I gave students a Desmos Card Sort to try.


How I Do Desmos Card Sorts Lately:

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-14-04-pm(1) Students join the activity using the code, and I set a timer for a specific number of minutes (depending on the task).  During this time, the teacher dashboard is projected on my smart board, but there is no feedback.  Students have to silently and individually comprehend and begin the task.



(2) After the minutes have passed, I reveal the feedback screen from the teacher dashboard, so students can see lots of “red” and “green”.  The catch is, all students must remain anonymous at first (thank you Desmos for making this so novel and fun with your famous list of mathy names).


(3) I scroll through this feedback screen and circulate as students are working, talking in teams, and making changes to their card sorts.  All the while, they’re looking back and forth from their screens to the smart board, to figure out which card sort is theirs, and whether or not the changes they’re making in real time result in more “green” or “red”.

(4) At this point they are beyond desperate for feedback.  They are begging me to reveal their actual names.  I promise to do this only after I’ve received my first “expert”.  I’m looking for the first student whose stacks are entirely green.  This increases the energy and the collaboration in the room, because everyone. wants. to. know. which. stack. is. their. own.

expert0(5) When the first “expert” emerges, it’s a celebration!  We find out who that expert is, and everyone else’s names are revealed next to their stacks too.  The “expert” is immediately “up for hire”.  That means students who just found out they have a boatload of red cards can request that the “expert” come to help them.


(6) From here, it becomes a beautiful blur.  Students continue to earn “expert” status and become “up for hire”, popping out of their seats to help a bud.  At one point today, every struggling student had a proud one-on-one expert tutor, and I just stood there, scrolling through the teacher dashboard, with a silly grin on my face.

expert1 expert2

It’s all how you name it.  It’s all how you frame it.

P.S. Images captured thanks to my iPhone’s time-lapse feature.

Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Righteous Anger and Activity Builder: Before-and-After

These days, it’s only natural for teachers to do a web search for an upcoming teaching topic to see if someone out there has already invented that wheel. Many times, that web search results in a wonderful or almost-there resource or lesson idea that aligns to curriculum standards while engaging and challenging our students.

And sometimes, the results might make you mad.

Earlier this week, I searched for “zero and negative exponents” and found this video. 

In the defense of the video-makers here, there are additional videos, but I didn’t take the time to find them in that moment.  Instead, I only saw the “magic trick” video at 6:16pm and was immediately fueled to create something that would help students explore mathematics, not “magic”.  (Made me wonder… how many students or teachers out there ONLY saw THIS video as well?)

Within hours, I created this.  Because I had to.  I couldn’t let this go.  I wouldn’t have been able to sleep!  I had to create something to counter that video! 

I always start in Keynote, creating slides that hone in on what I want my students to be doing and exploring.  Next, I choose the platform for the activity – where these Keynote creations will live.  That usually lands me in Nearpod or Desmos Activity Builder, since both enable teachers to ask students questions as well as provide students with an opportunity to “Draw” or “Sketch” throughout their journey.  I opted for Activity Builder this time, because I wanted student sketches to “duplicate” from slide to slide, so that they could see their work as they answered the next question.  I learned that Desmos Sketches don’t yet duplicate in this way, but they’re working on it!

I’ll admit it… I used this Activity in class the very next day!  I had patterning questions prepared in Socrative from years past, but the Activity Builder platform gives students so many more opportunities.  (P.S. It’s nice to have taught courses with new TEKS so that this year isn’t a survival year, but an improve-what-we-made-during-survival years instead.  WHEW!  And all the Texas math teachers said… AMEN!)

How’d it go?  Really well!  Check out a few screenshots from our non-magic explorations together! screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-30-09-am screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-29-24-am screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-26-51-am screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-26-03-am screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-28-30-am screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-7-28-10-am


Knowing students might need a reminder later, I created a #mathygram and sent it as a Google Classroom Announcement.  I’ve been using the “Animator” app to create short, silent “flip-books” as a means of reinforcing topics or addressing misconceptions I saw DURING class, AFTER class.  Students receive an alert in Google Classroom that they’ve just received a #mathygram.

Maybe it’s time for #Mathygram180? 🙂

One more thing!

As I logged into to view student work for this post, I noticed a few “gifts” from Team Desmos!!!  WHAAAA??????  🙂 🙂 🙂  YESSSSSSSSS!


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

Classroom & Twitter Hodge-Podge

What’s happening?

Here are some things I’ve been working on and learning from the #MTBoS and other Twitter Tweeps.  Maybe you can use some of these resources, or perhaps they’ll spark a new idea.

1. Concept of “Playlists” for Differentiation

I saw this idea on Twitter from Jennifer Gonzalez and Tracy Enos, and created my first “playlist”.  Particularly at the start of a new school year, some students benefit from a thorough review, while others may already know what’s being reviewed and would benefit from options to show mastery and pursue enrichment or extension tasks.  I used ThingLink to house resources this time around.  I think this strategy has a lot of potential, even though my example here wasn’t a super-engaging first attempt.

2. Explain Everything Mini-Project

I got this idea from my son’s math teacher, and I think it’s an awesome way to get students talking and thinking about math!  As I plan for my next Algebra unit on solving equations, and note that many of my students last year struggled on this particular unit, I think it’s a great time to try a screen casting project.  Asking each student to thoroughly explain one problem from start to finish will hopefully help each of them better understand applying properties of equality, while also creating quality videos for peers to use as additional tutorials!  Fingers crossed – I’m assigning the project this week.  Here’s the rubric I tweaked:

3.  More Desmos

I keep turning to Desmos Card Sorts to create brief-yet-beefy formative assessment activities.  The content at the start of the school year is especially fitting for giving students the opportunity to sort and classify things… or even simply move them around (think – virtual manipulatives rather than true “sorting” activities).

While I still do sorting activities with paper, many have been remixed as Desmos Card Sorts… and many have been “born” BECAUSE of what Desmos Card Sort now enables teachers to create.  When you can create more, you create more.  Tech can convert paper activities to digital/perhaps better/more efficient resources to use… but even more, having tech capabilities that did not exist before can both inspire and enable teachers to create better resources.  When you can do more, you do more!

Here was a fun moment from my week:


Since Desmos doesn’t yet have a search-by-author capability, at the urging of Andrew Stadel, I placed many of my recent creations and collaborations in one spot via this list.  Feel free to use or revise, and don’t forget to share back… either here, or on the Twitters!

P.S. I was pumped to see one of these activities featured in this week’s Des-Blog Friday Five!

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

“5 Practices” in a 1:1 Classroom

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.56.10 AMWhile I’ve never fully implemented the “flipped classroom” idea with students, maybe I have done a few short-term “mini flips”.  Many digital tools permit students to explore content at their own pace, and asynchronously, which can make “homework” an experience beyond handouts.  Using tools like ThatQuiz, Desmos Activity Builder, or Nearpod to present content and pre-assess student knowledge informs my instructional planning from day to day (always helpful, but especially so at the start of a new school year).  On the teacher side of the digital workflow, I’m able to gain insight to student mis/understandings as they’re working independently outside of class, so I know what I’m in for before our next class together.

In other words, I can see and analyze student work/thinking outside of class, either the evening I assigned the digital homework, or early the next morning as I review the report and sip my coffee!  I get to “Anticipate” (Practice 1) before class, and even “Select” (Practice 3) and “Sequence” (Practice 4) authentic student work samples to focus on in class.

This may be a game-changer for some of you out there, as “Anticipating” can be quite challenging, can’t it?  This is year 15 of teaching full-time for me, and just when I think I’ve seen every student error or misconception out there, someone comes up with something so awesomely and uniquely incorrect, I never *could* have anticipated it!  With the digital tools we have today, when these unanticipated errors happen *outside* of class time and you get to see them before your next class meeting, you don’t have to feel (insert emotion here – however you feel when a kid does something uniquely wrong – are you excited about this mistake? Frustrated? Feeling like you need some time to analyze it more closely to see exactly what the kiddo is thinking?)

An example from my week was a Nearpod student-paced “homework” that was designed to start preparing Algebra students for TEKS A.5(A): Solve linear equations in one variable, including those for which the application of the distributive property is necessary and for which variables are included on both sides.

Students have an entire unit on equations coming up next, so in our first unit, we’ve been working on translating expressions, understanding the concept of equivalence, identifying and applying number properties, reviewing Order of Operations, and applying these ideas in problem-solving contexts. One day this past week, I assigned a self-paced Nearpod homework that asked students to use “Draw It” to solve and submit the solutions to various equations.  As I viewed the Nearpod report, literally as I sipped my coffee the next morning, I took screenshots of/”selected” student work straight from the report, and dumped/”sequenced” these images into a new Nearpod.  I added the anonymous student work samples as “backgrounds” to new “Draw It” slides so students would not only view the problems in class in a few short hours, but “Draw” on them to analyze them, “grade” them, and provide comments or feedback regarding errors.  I figured I’d use this new Nearpod as our warm-up and homework follow-up.

It’s one thing to feature anonymous errors on the screen at the front of the class and talk about them, and how to fix them, together.

Through this experience, I learned it’s another thing entirely to ask *each* student to analyze the work and take a stand on its correctness or incorrectness.

I didn’t tell students whether each work sample was “correct” or “incorrect” and it blew. my. mind. how quickly students looked at a problem and “drew” a star, or wrote a comment saying, “good job” when a problem was completely wrong!  Wow!  When every student is held accountable to take a stand on each problem, and literally document it…AND I’m able to showcase (anonymously) student comments on the work… well, it upped the ante and created a student-centered “Monitoring” experience (Practice 2) that made for a very interesting class!

Students who hastily marked an incorrect problem as “correct” quickly realized that they hadn’t truly analyzed the work of their peer.  It was a healthy wake-up call, which helped students be more careful on the next problem.

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Students realized that it’s very hard to provide feedback to an incorrect student who hasn’t shown much work.  How can we help you if we really don’t understand your thought process because we can’t see it?

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Sloppy work was not even considered.  Students didn’t want to even *try* to analyze a peer’s thinking when it was difficult to follow.  This created a kind of teacher empathy I could never have anticipated!

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Students whose work samples were included in the Nearpod owned their work.  They said, “This one is mine!  I see now that I (insert self-analysis/explanation of error).  How cool that we’re feeling safe enough in week 2 of school to own mistakes and correct them in front of the whole class?

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All-in-all, I’ll be doing this digital-homework-goes-digital-for-discussion strategy again!  In time, I hope to develop students who better analyze their own work as well as the work of others!

How do the “5 Practices” look in your classroom?

Bonus Resource: Here’s a Desmos Card Sort version of a popular Mathematics Assessment Project paper card sort.  We used this as an extension activity in class.  Enjoy!

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

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.



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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 10.44.01 AM

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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