Precise Language and “The Baby”

My Math 8 students have been exploring linear functions.  These kiddos learn about rate of change and initial value in contexts where slope-intercept form reigns, leaving other linear forms to be emphasized later in Algebra 1.  We’ve also landed planes and launched marbles, but I felt an emphasis on graphing by hand would be a good warm-up today… just to be sure, after all of our tech explorations, that students still knew how to graph if the skill being assessed was such.

As students grabbed rulers and worked alone while I took attendance, I walked around, and gave them several minutes of individual work time.  To transition, I grabbed a clean warm-up sheet, plopped at the document camera, and asked for volunteers to explain to me, step-by-step, how to graph each function.

Except, I told them I would be a 6-year-old and that I would be doing EXACTLY what they told me to do.  Literally.

Whelp, I can’t express through a post all of the silly things I did, and all of the laughs we had.  I took their instructions very literally, and they howled, eventually leading me to graph each line correctly.  When I transitioned back to “myself” they begged me to be “the baby” again as they explained various problems to me in extreme detail.

There was no lack of volunteers here.  As a matter of fact, they were BEGGING me to call on them.

Could “the baby” help develop precise language with a math concept you’re working on?  

Note: Sense of humor required! 😉

Reminded me of this “Exact Instructions Challenge” and all of this could be extended to this week’s Hour of Code. 🙂

Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

They Come Pre-Programmed… So What’s Your Next Move?

The title of this post is an idea that I think about several times a week while I’m teaching and planning.  Maybe you’ve been there.

~ You’re solving proportions and a kiddo with stars in her eyes exclaims, “The BUTTERFLY METHOD!”

~ You’re isolating a variable while solving equations, and when you ask what’s next, a student offers, “Well, those cancel out, so you have x = -3…”

~ You’re solving inequalities in one variable, and as you graph the solutions on a number line, an excited student exclaims, “I know a shortcut!  The way the symbol is pointing tells you which way to point the arrow when you graph it!”

Some of these “a-ha” moments might happen as we’re teaching (the inequality idea above, for example).  I have no data to back this up, but my guess is that more often than not, these ideas have been explicitly taught to students by well-intentioned teachers and tutors.  Yet, when students are asked to think differently… well… a recent tweet from Jonathan Osters comes to mind…

When these moments inevitably happen in your classroom, literally, what is your next move?  What’s the expression on your face looking like?  What are the words that you say?  What’s next?

I have handled these moments across the gamut – with grace, all the way down to (sporting my best pouty face), “I never use the word cancel… except when I tell students that I never use the word cancel.”

How do we respect those who are trying to help students by teaching them “tricks”, yet steer things toward learning mathematics for understanding (especially when students LOVE and ADORE a good trick)?  Simply asking and pursuing, “Why does that work?” can help – some students’ reactions are PRICELESS as I watch them UNDERSTAND the mathematics right before my eyes.  Other students look a bit like Osters’ aforementioned tweet, preferring the “trick” that “works” instead.

I’ve gotten lots of ideas for exploring alternatives that promote understanding from Nix the  Tricks.  If they’re already pre-programmed to “FOIL” I’ve found the conversation about why that acronym is so silly (because it only helps when multiplying two binomials) can bring clarity.

Another approach I’ve tried is to create “proactive problems” and ask strategic questions as we work them.  I see huge potential in creating some sort of problems-resource as a community that might help us be more proactive in the moments before a student is just about to utter the “trick”.

~ Instead of cross-products right out of the gate, ask students, “How can we isolate the variable in this equation?”  (What? Proportions are equations?!? I can multiply both sides of the equation by 40 first?  I can DO that?)

~ Instead of saying “cancel” during instruction, verbally describe what’s happening every time using visuals and concepts of identities.  Reinforce this language as students begin to use it when they explain their thinking.

What are your favorite ways of handling “tricky” instructional moments of opportunity?

And, I’d be naive to think there aren’t things that *I* am explicitly teaching my students, with the best of intentions, that might drive my students’ future math teachers nuts.

What topics and methods am *I* teaching right now that will make my students’ future math teachers roll their eyes?

What sort of “proactive problems” handed down from my students’ future math teachers could also help ME know why I might consider changing the way I present certain topics now?

How can we get better at this?

Follow-up: Check out Dan Meyer’s living document of ideas from folks all over to help create “Mathematical Headaches”

Might we create a similar resource along the lines of… “Rethinking Tricks with Proactive Problems” Directory?  or “Instructional Language to Overcome Tricks” Directory?














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Is It Parallel? Using Desmos Card Sorts to Extend Student Thinking

Several years ago, I attended an EdCamp ATX event here in Austin.  One of the sessions featured formative assessment strategies, and a particular task struck me.  I wish I remembered her name, and I wish I still had the resource in hand, but the concept goes like this… each of us was handed a sheet of paper with, say, 9 blocks that formed a larger square.  Each of these 9 blocks contained some information.

At the top of the sheet was the simple question… “Is It a Rock?”

At our seats (probably alone first, then in groups) we had to analyze the information provided in each of the 9 blocks and decide, did that piece of information describe a rock? Yes or No?  Take a stand.  I loved the simplicity of the question, and the depth of the information provided in each square on the handout.

Why not for math?

I started thinking of questions we could ask students… Is It Linear?  Is It Parallel?  Is It Perpendicular?  Is it a Direct Variation?

Maybe you’re thinking of some “Is It ________?” questions that are coming up in your own mathematics curriculum.  Though the question is simple, and the answer will be “Yes” or “No”, the beautiful part of this strategy is choosing what you’d like to put in those (9 is an arbitrary number of) blocks.

So, I made this.

I created a few different versions using a Pages template I whipped up, asking students various “Is It ________?” questions.

This week, I assigned one of these for homework.  At the start of class the following day, students discussed their stances on each of the 9 blocks.

I walked around and listened to their conversations and arguments.  In the past, my next move would have been to place my own sample key on display for students to check their work, and have a little Q & A as needed, and that would have been it.


But I’m glad it didn’t end there.

This time, rather than show “my” key, I asked students to show their final stances on each of the 9 blocks by completing a Desmos Card Sort that contained the same 9 equations as the handout.  In theory, students had plenty of time to do the work they needed to do for the 9 blocks independently as homework, and had a chance to talk it out with a friend and possibly make revisions, but no “answer key” had been provided this time.

As students started to sort their cards to match the thinking on their papers, we started to see some red stacks.  The polarizing feedback of a Desmos Card Sort can be harsh sometimes… a stack turns red if EVEN ONE card is out of place, so this was eye-opening.

When students were surprised by red stacks, there was a new level of engagement in the room.  They started talking more, asking more questions of one another, and darn it… they wanted GREEN STACKS!

They asked better questions too.  “Wait, can a line be parallel to ITSELF?”  Or, understanding NOW that (2x)/3 and (2/3)x are equivalent, and WHY 2/(3x) is not the same. Catching errors through showing more work than they initially had… and, to be fair, some didn’t show ANY work at all at the start, as my handout’s directions didn’t seem to require it… all that was “required” was a checkmark, no?

The question, “WHY IS MY STACK RED?” was a lot more intriguing than, in the past, “Why doesn’t my paper match Mrs. Yenca’s answer key?”

You see, I don’t think they ever really wanted MY answer key anyway.  Once Card Sort became part of the experience, they wanted to create their OWN key.

And that’s what they did.

Below is a PDF file of this “Is It Parallel?” task, as well as a link to a Desmos Activity.  The Desmos Activity can be used independently, or “chunked” as I’ve described here.

I’d love to hear about some “Is It ________?” questions you’re thinking about!

Is It Parallel?






What are some “Is It __________?” math questions you could ask your students, using this “blocks” format?

How could a Desmos Card Sort follow-up bring engagement and encourage more dialogue and deeper understanding to the task?












Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

TASM Mini-Conference and #NCTMregionals Orlando

It’s been quite the conference-y week!  I had the opportunity to share with math leaders from all over Texas at the TASM Fall Mini-Conference in Austin as well as present and hang out with math educators from all over at Orlando’s NCTM Regional Conference.

Here are a few big ideas I learned about, as well as some resources from my own session.

  1. Relevance

I finally had the privilege to meet Denis Sheeran and experience the themes of his book in person!  {Here are his slides if you weren’t able to make it.}

BIG IDEAS: Always be on the look-out for math, capture photos of math, encourage students to ask questions about the world around them and pursue these questions… even if they’re “unanswerable”… and all the while, don’t be afraid to tell a “little white lie” to make a story that leads to making math more personal.  An example: Check out slides 18 and 19 for photos of Denis’ driveway covered with snow… great volume example in the making!  “Did we shovel a ton of snow?”  Little white lie… when presenting the problem to your OWN students, perhaps say that the driveway in the photo is YOURS!  Disclaimer: This strategy MAY not work with this particular example in Texas… 😉


2.  Creativity & Play

Michael Fenton of Desmos provided an opportunity for playing with mathematics through the Point Collector: Lines activity.  With a 2-person-per-device ratio, we took turns using linear inequalities to “capture” points in the coordinate plane.  There’s a catch to collecting those points (go play to see what I mean) that made this activity a delightful challenge.

To add to the excitement, Michael revealed an up-and-coming in-development Desmos feature for our students… a “Challenge Gallery” where students create their OWN Desmos Point Collector task to end the activity experience, they conquer their OWN challenge, then have the opportunity to view and play challenges created by their PEERS.  WHAT!?!?  AWESOME!  I can’t wait to see where and how the folks at Desmos incorporate this idea of student-created tasks-within-activities!

To virtually participate in Michael’s NCTM session, check out the Facebook Live archive.


3. Accessibility & Equity

I had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand an instructional routine called “Contemplate then Calculate” in a session facilitated by Jennifer Lee Kim, Liz Ramirez, and David Wees.  You can check out a boatload of resources here as well!  Experiencing this routine as a learner AND THEN “unpacking” the rationale behind each component revealed the intentionality of each phase in terms of promoting equity and access for ALL students.

In gist, students are provided with a learning target to start, and the teacher initially “flashes” an image of a problem for literally a FRACTION of a second.  Students are encouraged to share noticings (the quick flash prevents ALL students from “solving” the problem, and empowers ALL students to notice elements of the problem instead).  Next, students explore the problem, looking for efficient ways to solve/simplify it (our task focused on simplifying an algebraic expression in several ways, each of which was more efficient than “going from left to right”).  Valuing multiple-approaches and encouraging student dialogue (providing sentence stems as supports) gave every student access to the task.  More details can be found here.


4. Student Voice

Though the title stays the same, every time I present this session, I tweak it.  Okay, so actually, I re-create the entire thing in an attempt to improve and keep current with ever-changing tools and tasks.

With only 60 minutes to share, I provided rationale for using digital tools strategically, modeled ways to use Socrative for strategic and on-the-fly questioning, and Nearpod for submitting and showcasing student work as the impetus for dialogue in class.  I hinted that Desmos Activity Builder is a pretty great way to implement rich tasks in combination with great strategies out there (Which One Doesn’t Belong? Open Middle!  Visual Patterns!  Dan Meyer’s 3-Act Tasks!)

Here’s a Google Site full of take-aways, including a link (ALLLL the way at the end of the site) to dabble in my ShadowCon follow-up online course, which NCTM and ShadowCon leadership have allowed to remain open so folks can explore ideas presented in my 60-minute session over the course of… days!  Weeks!  Months!  This entire school year! Whatever works for you.   Don’t feel a commitment pressure from words like “online course” or “module” – just get in there, check out the possibilities, and if something really cool happens in your classroom with your kiddos, come back and tell us about it.  I get an e-mail from Canvas daily about the activity that happens in the course, so if it’s just you and me having a follow-up convo, I’m totally cool with that.



Lastly, it’s ALWAYS a pleasure to hang out with fellow mathies “IRL” at conferences, to talk about math, teaching, life, and simply be humans together.  

Until next time… see you on the Twitters, and keep doing the good work!


Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Leave a comment

Desmos Learning Target Student Reflections (Inspired by a Tweet)

I’ve been MIA over here on this ol’ blog!  Besides the usual back-to-school business, I’ve been having so much fun interacting with folks in the #ShadowCon17 follow-up online course for my “Seeking Students Who Hide” talk back in April at #NCTMAnnual.  Shout-outs to Dan Meyer, Zak Champagne, and Michael Flynn for the opportunity to share and for their ongoing support!  P.S. If you’re late to the ShadowCon after-party, I think you can still join in and catch up!  Click the link above for info!

School is off and running… one of the smoothest starts to a school year that I can remember.  Kids are awesome. Our district is focusing on S.E.L. (Social Emotional Learning), as many likely are, so I feel like our staff is more relaxed overall, just knowing that our focus is to be well, and that we’re being encouraged to take time to teach things that fine folks like Jo Boaler are taking the time to teach.  Life is good.

I’ve let so many ideas come and go without blogging about them lately, but you’re holding me to this one! 🙂 Here goes – so I saw this tweet by Paul Jorgens, using Desmos Activity Builder in conjunction with learning targets, and I was immediately curious!

Quick history: In our district’s PLCs, when new math standards showed up in Texas several years back, we created lists of learning targets, used these as we designed assessments and lessons, and ideally used them with our students (hence the kid-friendly I CAN language).

Whelp, my learning targets have been living in PDF form in a Google Drive folder that students CAN access, but I hadn’t been really doing anything WITH them lately.  This kid-friendly language was sitting in Drive, and I was willing to wager that exactly 0% of my kids were reading that kid-friendliness.

Enter Paul’s tweet, and me… being me….  I pretty much immediately opened all of those learning target documents and converted each unit to a Desmos Activity Builder checklist screen.  With a test coming up this week, I decided I’d launch the target screen for the current unit for each of my Math 8 classes as the first task in our review.

I started class by asking students, “What are learning targets?” and having that discussion first.  Then, I told them I was going to give them a target checklist for our current unit.  I asked them to read each target silently and individually, only placing a checkmark in the box on their iPads if they felt like experts on each specific target.  If they were even slightly unsure, or feeling like they needed a bit more help before our unit test, I asked them to NOT check the box.  I assured them that their responses would remain anonymous, and that our goal would be to look at the class as a whole before we began our review, so that we’d know which concepts to give a little more emphasis.

I launched the Desmos Activity, “locked” students on only the current unit’s target screen, and anonymized them.  With the new handy-dandy Desmos Teacher Dashboard, I looked for student dots to all turn blue, indicating that every student had completed the task.  Once all dots were blue, I pressed PAUSE so student responses would be locked in.

I showed students the results (anonymized) so we could see which targets included every student, and which targets showed a reduced number of students.  “It looks like we all feel pretty confident about representing rational numbers as fractions as decimals, but we lost a few students for scientific notation, classifying real numbers, and estimating square roots.”

*Click the link below to see a quick screencast of the results*

Learning Targets Desmos

After this Desmos learning targets self-assessment, I gave students a jigsaw activity on paper: 8 topics, 8 groups, one unit topic per “expert group”.  For the groups that were tasked with scientific notation, classifying real numbers, and estimating square roots (topics identified as needing more work in our Desmos checklist) I let them know we’d need some extra support and help!  Each expert group worked through and presented their problems to the class while the other students checked their own work, made corrections, and asked questions of our student “teachers”.

I would have done this sort of review activity without the Learning Target emphasis in years past, but I felt like identifying areas of concern ahead of time helped with focus! Test day is tomorrow, and while I can’t be sure of a way to measure exactly how this learning target reflection may or may not impact student confidence and competence, I feel like the time asking students to consider every target was well spent.

I personally interviewed students about how they felt after using these learning targets as part of the review process.  Here are some direct quotes.

“It helped me kind of get reminded of how much things are expected to be on the test.  Everything on the learning targets you expect to be on the test, so you have to figure out for yourself if you actually know what you’re doing or not.”

“Sometimes you don’t know how much you know or how much less you know about math, and if you don’t know it, it will just help you focus on that.”

How do you use “learning targets” with students?

Want to grab my draft activity and tweak it for your own use?  Here you go!

P.S. It’s a draft!  Our PLC still has some editing to do, as you’ll see when you view the screens, but I thought I’d share anyway so you can give this a go and share back about your own classroom experiences!     SaveSave SaveSaveSaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave



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ShadowCon Follow-Up: Free Online Courses

I had the honor of sharing about two big ideas that impact teaching and learning in my classroom at the NCTM Annual Conference back in April – formative assessment and technology integration.  This pairing can give every student a voice, making “seeking” students who often “hide” right in front of us a priority.  Giving value to every student’s thinking, both correct and incorrect, can change classroom culture to a place where mistakes truly ARE part of learning.  Sharing this student thinking so that the students themselves can see it (anonymously most likely… at least at the start of the school year) helps involve students with instructional next-steps, eliminating that “deserted island in math class” feeling that I often experienced as a middle-school learner years ago.

For many of us, the first day of the 2017-18 school year has passed, or is upon us this week. Let’s continue the ShadowConversation (you see what I did there)!  Check out Dan Meyer’s blog post for details.




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First Day Plans: Mine *DO* Include Smiling

When Nancy tweeted her “first-day first-year big tweet“, I felt a tug at my heart for 2 reasons:

REASON 1: I remember being there!  During the summer of ’99, after graduating from college, getting married, moving to a new city, and landing my first full-time teaching gig, I had read Harry Wong’s “The First Days of School” cover-to-cover, with hopes and plans to replicate all that I had learned.


REASON 2: I remembered that the only resource I had to lean on during that time was... a book! Sometimes a profoundly simple “big tweet” can serve as a reminder of how far we, a tweeting and blogging global math-ed PLN, have grown.

In my early years, not smiling until Christmas was the vibe.  Establishing *my* authority was the priority.  Showing kids who owned the knowledge in the room (me, the teacher of course #TongueInCheek) was important.  I even remember wearing dress clothes I didn’t like and carrying a leather briefcase I didn’t need just to help me look not so new to teaching!

No lie – my first day teaching, I walked into the classroom as the late bell rang, and a kid blurted out, “How old *ARE* you?!?!

Stupid dress clothes.  Stupid briefcase.

Ah, the passing years have cured that incident from ever happening again.

Bringing it forward to 2017, I like the shift of making student-to-teacher and student-to-student relationships a priority on day 1.  It works for me, especially because I can’t make it through the first 14 seconds of class on the first day of school without smiling.  I’m happy to see a new group of learners, and I can’t wait to get the year started!

In light of the abundant online sharing through blogs and tweets, the toughest part every year is deciding on which tasks and activities to do during those first few days, since there are so many great ideas out there!  So… instead of putting all sorts of pressure on Day 1, I have a continuum of the first few days’ happenings, and whatever doesn’t get finished on the first day can certainly extend into the next few days… or next semester, right?  We do get to spend the next 9-10 months with these kiddos, so spread out some of the awesomeness for later in the year!

And, with the National Eclipse happening on our first day of school with students this year… it’s time to be flexible right outta the gate!

To keep myself organized, I’ve created a Tackk of activities to reference the first few days of school, and I edit it each year as I try new things.  Tackk is a great freebie – each Tackk is a “digital flyer” with its own unique URL, so it’s a sort of mini website folks can design with a specific purpose in mind.  I like Tackk because I can house print resources and digital media easily in one place.

Read along for a play-by-play of the first few things I have in mind this year, and check out the Tackk where I keep it all.  (I display this Tackk on my SmartBoard.)

Greet students at the door.  Invite them to sit anywhere and hand them each a two-sided handout (WHO I AM on one side, an -ING Word prompt on the other side… read on and check out the Tackk).  It’s a great time to see who they choose to sit with, and if anyone has just revealed who they actually shouldn’t sit with once assigned seats come later.  Give ’em the chance to tell on themselves…

Must take attendance at the start of class to make attendance software happy.  Students say a word ending in -ing to describe their summers instead of saying “here”, tell a few short summer stories (I also join in here) and begin “WHO I AM”.  I collect these sheets on Day 2 so they have more time to dedicate to them later.

Yes, on Day 1 I do communicate briefly about expectations and procedures, but I show a short animation video instead of droning on and on.  Everyone watches, trying to figure out how Mrs. Yenca has created this cartoon.  They tap their feet to the music, and try to anticipate what the mysterious hand is going to write next.

“Did you make this, Mrs. Yenca?”

“Is that YOUR hand?”

“How did you make this?”

I tell them I used VideoScribe and that I like to create lots of resources.  As a matter of fact, most of the time I look at the math concepts we’re going to learn this year, peek in the textbook, and try to find and create resources that help us learn what’s in “the book” in different ways.

I ask students to recall, in their groups, as many of the expectations they can remember from the cartoon.  The room bursts into conversation and I can already tell it’s going to be a great year of working in groups and talking about math.

Up next – “Talking Points” – I want to begin conversations about math self-beliefs and begin to establish our classroom culture. After three rounds (outlined in the Tackk, along with a handout I created) I show the YouCubed vid “Brains Grow and Change”. We talk about the brain video and the comments at the bottom of students’ tally sheets.

I think it’s right about now that the bell will be ringing, so I’ll take a quick opportunity to remind students that we use Google Calendar to post daily assignments.  Ideally I will have a reminder posted there that students should bring their completed “WHO I AM” sheets back on Day 2.  Yes, after all the hype about “the first day of school” there actually IS a second day, and a third day, and…

back to the lesson plan continuum… this year I’ve created several videos using Apple’s CLIPS app to reinforce the ideas that we VALUE MISTAKES, we VALUE STRUGGLE, and we need to practice HOW to have conversations with one another effectively when those valuable mistakes happen.  (You can find these brief videos in the Tackk too)

I envision Day 2 beginning with my “Mistakes are Valuable” CLIPS video (to reinforce the YouCubed video we might have ended class with the day before).  In groups (assigned seats today) students will complete the 100 Numbers task.  You need to read Sara Vanderwerf’s blog post and watch Thom Gibson’s video about this task.  

Yes, “NEED” is a strong word, but I am telling you, even though I haven’t used this task yet, I think it’s going to be fantastic in establishing a cooperative-working-math-class culture!  

Per Sara, students will need to work on a math task after the 100 Numbers Task.  I’ve chosen “Up 4 a Challenge?” for Math 8 (otherwise known as The Four Fours, but I don’t want to call it that because I don’t want them trying to Google it too quickly) and “Seal the Deal: Balance the Ark” for Algebra 1 (I changed this title too, so it’s not so easy to Google either… you… see what I did there with the “seal” pun, right?  I slay me.)  I’m going to try to do everything Sara says to do on her blog.  She’s so thorough that I’m almost forgetting I’ve never tried the 100 Numbers task intro to our first math task before.  It’s like, when I read her blog, I feel like I was there, already trying this myself!

Since we have iPads, I may have students use Nearpod to take photos of their work and submit them so we can anonymously showcase them up front and talk about them.  Some classes surprise me and don’t mind having their names attached to their work from the start, while other classes prefer to remain anonymous all year.  We’ll see!

Another resource I’ll have ready is this 1-2-3 activity that gets everyone up, moving, and celebrating failures!

That’s how I plan to begin the year!  How about you?

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ADE Academy #ADE2017 – Unforgettable!

This was my first opportunity to attend an Apple Distinguished Educator Academy that welcomed in a new class of ADEs.  I’ve been looking forward to returning as an alumna while having the chance to welcome a new crew, and I’m especially glad I was chosen to be in Houston this year!


Reuniting with other alumni!

It’s always great to connect with kindred spirits in person!  Many of us live all over the country, and bringing us together in one space ignites an energy that can’t be fully replicated virtually!


Being *wowed* at how the new 2017 class dove right in!

So many 2017-ers were quick to collaborate and share!  I had a blast getting to know my 2017-er roomie Kristen Brooks, and enjoyed her 3-minute showcase, as well as many other new classmates who were absolutely fearless on stage!  And while I’m at it…


Sharing my own 3-minute ADE Showcase (with 2 seconds to spare!)

I felt ready to take on that pesky red 3-minute timer this year, and had 2 seconds left to smile before leaving the stage, ha!  Check out the recording I made of my talk (shared below), inspired by a mini-keynote given by Adam Phyall at iPadpalooza ATX last year.

Creating with Clips!

Our project this year was to create resources using the new iOS Clips app and share them with the world.  Search #ADE2017 and #ClassroomClips and you’ll see a sampling of the work that’s already being shared!  I included my first three attempts at creating with Clips below (inspired in no small part by Jo Boaler and resources available at  I’m hoping to use these brief Clips during the first few days of school to help frame my classroom as one where mistakes are valued, struggle is real (but GOOD), and communication is respectful and constructive.  Feel free to use these as well!


Learning from Ben!

I’ll admit it – I adore using Keynote to create… well… EVERYTHING.  However, Ben Mountz raised the bar and had us all gaping in awe when he shared his Magic Move 3-Minute Showcase.  Check it out for yourself below!

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Well, after witnessing this talk live, we were all wanting to know… *how* did Ben create those Keynote portraits of so many ADE “heroes”?  And… Ben was kind enough to oblige:

I was so inspired and excited to give this a go, that I recorded my first attempt!

Alas, as in real life, sometimes a bad hair day is best handled by starting over… 🙂

AND NOW… Why the ADE 2017 Class has ultimate bragging rights

henceforth… summed up in one word…


Our guest speaker was THE Sady Paulson!  If you haven’t heard, she is one of the most inspiring women on the planet.  Check out this sampling of her work:

Sady was kind enough to share a heartfelt talk with all of us, telling of her own triumphs and how Apple technology has empowered her to fulfill her giftings and dreams. She was a joy to meet in person, and her super smile is about the most contagious thing there is!  After Sady shared her stories with all of us, she was surprised by a special announcement… the new ADE class of 125 was about to become 126!  Welcome, Sady!

It was truly OUR honor to hang out with you in person!  Keep up the fantastic work!

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Learn more about Apple Distinguished Educators here!

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#ISTE17 Reflections: Post 3 (of 3)

I hope your summer has been as equally rich and relaxing as mine has been thus far!  I’m still working on striking the balance between presenting and meeting folks at professional conferences, traveling for pleasure, spending time with family and friends, and frankly, unplugging from math-ed-tech and taking time to do other things… or… to do a little bit of nothing!  (It’s nearly impossible for this Type A+ gal to completely unplug!)

I’m still thinking about #ISTE17 and the common themes that seemed to emerge through my session choices.


  1. Letting go of classroom control!
  2. Giving students choices!
  3. Having students create, create, create!
  4. Using Apple iOS apps and Desmos to do all of the above!

Check out my reflections for items 1, 2, and 3 if you’d like.  Item 4 addresses some tools that can help items 1, 2 and 3 come to life in the classroom!

It was exciting to participate in both a Keynote session and an Apple Clips session, hosted by Apple, and facilitated by folks who directly impact the development of these tools!  Regarding the Keynote session, my biggest take-away was the idea of utilizing the physical space *outside* of Keynote slides to better use “Magic Move” for impressive animations.  If you haven’t heard, I’m kind of a Keynote junkie, and any new tips I learn are like, well, chocolate.  Deeply satisfying!

And the Clips app… wow!  Using Clips, I can’t wait to give students opportunities to share their thinking through video creation and editing on the go!  Click here to see how folks are already brainstorming about and creating with Clips!  I loved how all of the workshop participants were literally moaning in delight as we learned how to use this seemingly simple but fascinatingly well-designed, user-friendly, and complex tool!

Finally, attending a GarageBand session and learning about the new Tuniversity book gave me a taste of music creation and has my hopes high to see how math and music might be connected in future Tuniversity resources!  While my husband and I were having fun with GarageBand, photographers captured the moment, and Apple Education tweeted our photo and a quote from me! Of course, I was floored!

I thoroughly enjoyed attending a Desmos session facilitated by Julie Garcia and John Berray.  An added bonus was sitting beside Jed Butler, being invited to help attendees during their teacher work time, and being interviewed with Jed right after the session by some ISTE camera crew folks!  I’m not sure where or when our interview will turn up, but we sure had fun!

My husband Tim and I also had the opportunity to lead a Desmos session at ISTE.  It was great to see some familiar faces come to our session after taking part in Julie and John’s.  A highlight of our session was being the first to introduce teachers to who were previously only aware of  I watched them OMG and saw their lives literally change as we showcased Activity Builder! SO FUN.  Resources from our session can be found here and here.

I’ve been asked more than once how I “have time to do all of this technology” while also addressing all of the content that will be on the “test”… and I don’t often know how to answer, except to say, technology can help create rich experiences for students to explore, discover, and deeply understand the content, and to assess their learning.  Technology tools can help empower every student’s voice in ways not previously possible, promoting efficiency, error analysis, collaboration, and communication… about the math.

Technology tools like Keynote, Clips, and Desmos need not be viewed exclusively as “add-ons”.  Just as with pencil and paper, we don’t simply stop learning mathematics to have “pencil time” or “paper time”.  Purposefully chosen tech tools help facilitate the learning of the material.

How do I use technology and still address everything on the “test”?  I use technology to support the math, and believe it or not… there are times that I don’t use technology if it’s not the best tool!  However, I can’t think of better ways to get every student involved than using tools to showcase thinking and make it visible for me AND for my students, and many of these tools involve tech.

In my humble opinion, some of the best tech tools, ironically, are *not* math-specific (Desmos is an exception here) because these non-math tools capture student thinking in various formats – written, video, audio, – using variety to get students communicating about their learning paints an accurate picture of what they know.  It’s amazing how adding an audio or video component, and hearing students explain in their own voices, adds a whole new level of learning!  I hope to do a better job of giving my students more opportunities to record explanations of their mathematical thinking, especially with Clips!

Fellow ADE pal Jenny Grabiec’s quote here also deeply resonates with me:

 Additionally, if you haven’t already, check out Reshan Richard’s Qualitative Formative Assessment Toolkit with the best acronym ever. QFAT Toolkit. SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave





Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Leave a comment

#ISTE17 Reflections Post 2 (of 3)

My #ISTE17 Post 1  focused on ways to thoughtfully and purposefully let go of classroom control to foster a growth mindset, while also providing students with brain breaks.  Up next…

2. Giving students choices! 

3. Having students create, create, create!

We educators appreciate having options, don’t we?  When it comes to PD, we enjoy having the freedom to do meaningful work that is relevant to our students.  When we attend conferences like ISTE, we choose the sessions we’d like to attend.  Shoot, we even get up and leave when a session isn’t meeting our needs and try another session instead… or we choose to meet up with folks in hallways and lounges to talk about philosophy, what’s happening in our own districts, and share stories about our successes and challenges.  We educators-as-lifelong-learners prefer choice.  Having choices makes us feel like our time is being respected.  Having choices makes us feel trusted as professionals.  Having choices empowers us in our own learning.

How often are we giving our students choices?


How often are we empowering students to create?

Thinking back to #NCTMAnnual San Antonio, the session that celebrated this idea the most (to me, of the sessions I attended) was  Classroom Dessert: Putting Assessment into Students’ Hands with John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey A.K.A. Classroom Chef.  Here’s a photo I snapped from this NCTM session, showcasing a sampling of ways students can demonstrate their understanding.  When I saw this slide and various student examples, I understood more deeply and concretely the POWER of student choice.  Whether a student uses paper and pencil (an aside… this can still be a valid choice, even in this 21st century!) OR creates art OR a video OR a song… if understanding was demonstrated, the student LEARNED. Period.

Fast-forward to ISTE – I had the pleasure of attending The Power of Music for Learning: GarageBand and Tuniversity.  If you haven’t seen the press, Pharrell Williams, Brent Paschke, and Kiko Doran collaborated to create a GarageBand-meets-iBooks multi-touch book experience that teaches students how to create music through the reverse-engineering process!  The beautiful Tuniversity book presents all of the layers of the song “Happy” for students to tinker with and explore, empowering learners to understand deeply the process of creating music with GarageBand.  Those in attendance not only viewed a heartfelt video message straight from Pharrell himself, but also got to learn from Brent and Kiko in the flesh, while rewriting our own “Happy” lyrics and creating our own recordings!  (P.S. Here’s a sampling of mine!)

As we were having fun tinkering in GarageBand, I instantly remembered seeing the word “Song” on Classroom Chef’s slide back at NCTM.  I remembered that I used to have students write “Math Carols” every December, and perform them to the class before winter break, and how much fun (and sometimes painful, ha) they were to hear.  I want to bring more choice and more fun to the creation and assessment process.

Okay, so some of your are reading this and thinking, wow, that sounds fluffy.  That sounds like it takes/wastes too much time.

Hanging out with Brent Paschke, long-time guitarist of Pharrell Williams!

Whelp, you don’t know what your students can create until you let them.  I still value tremendously the creation process that my students have worked through in creating their own math eBooks using Book Creator the past few years.  Having students create their own media and housing these creations in a book has been a worthwhile project and process.  Add to our options using GarageBand to create a song!

And… a huge and affirming #eduwin of #ISTE17 was meeting Darren Best and hearing about how AP Calculus students in his district used Book Creator to author Calculus eBooks after seeing the work my students did in Math 8 and Algebra 1.  Woot!

One last thing!  I finally got to meet Dan Kemp of Book Creator!

Stay tuned for more #ISTE17 reflections…












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