Desmos Breakout “Escape Room” Activities = Amazing Review

At several teacher workshops over the past few years, I’ve experienced “Escape Room” tasks that married the novelty of “breaking out” with academic content.  SUPER FUN!  This idea was on my never-ending “TO DO” list of things I’ve learned and would like to try with students.  And there the idea sat, on my list…

…until RECENTLY when I learned about Jay Chow (@mrchowmath) and the way he connects the idea of “breakouts” with math content using the Desmos platform.  Already made.  Ready to go.  Boom.

First, I worked through his linear and quadratic escape tasks, filling pages of notebook paper with work I’d anticipate my students might do.  I love how Jay addresses paths in his activities for those who might make a mistake along the way, as well as the variety in the tasks themselves.  SO FUN.  I decided to use the quadratic activity with my Algebra 1 students, and the linear activity with my Math 8 students.

I created student groups, and generated several Desmos activity codes so each group in each course had a different code.  I didn’t want student groups to know that they were all doing the same task… at least initially… I also didn’t TELL them what the code was for.  To add a bit to the “drama” of introducing these “Escape Room” tasks, I stuffed envelopes with old, one-sided worksheets (to be used for scrap paper, not to do the worksheets… would students actually just start working on random worksheets that didn’t even align with any math we’d been learning?).  Also in each envelope was an index card with student group members’ names, and that mysterious “code”.  I wrote the name of one group member on the outside of each envelope as well as #BREAKOUT.

On launch day, I started class by standing at the front of the room, announcing that some students “got mail”.  I called the students to the front to receive the stuffed envelopes, and the buzz was immediate.  What is Mrs. Yenca up to?  What is this “mail” she’s giving to us?  Is she going to call my name?  They know me, and started grinning and hypothesizing.

Students with envelopes were instructed to wait until I gave the word, and they were to open them simultaneously.  They found the index card with student names on them, and realized that #BREAKOUT was a huge clue about what we were about to do… 🙂

Then, just like that, student groups got together, started typing the mysterious code into various apps, eventually trying it in with success.   And… some groups just started doing the math worksheets!  I didn’t let this linger long… I stopped by their groups and said, “Some groups found a code in their envelopes… did you get one too?”  “NO WONDER! I WAS WONDERING WHY YOU’D PUT WORKSHEETS IN HERE THAT HAVE MATH ON THEM FROM YEARS AGO!!!”  I let them know to use the back of the worksheets to do any figuring and they chuckled and got right to work!

Can I capture the energy in the room and convey it accurately to you here?  Nope.  I wish I could.  It was REALLY SOMETHING!  All I can do is encourage you to work through these awesome tasks yourself, launch them with your kiddos, and get ready for high energy, determination, and JOY!!!


How does Mr. Jay Chow create this Desmos magic?  I think it may have something to do with this… and boy, do I have a LOT to learn!

SaveSave SaveSave







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

Play Kahoot! and Downplay the Time Factor

Lisa Bejarano and her apprentice teacher Eric recently shared insight on work-arounds while students play Kahoot! for math.  I loved reading these ideas, as those of us who have used Kahoot! in math class may have experienced the following:

  • Students making a fast choice without reading the choices at all
  • Students getting caught up in the leaderboard MORE than the MATH
  • Students feeling unnecessary pressure because the clock is ticking

However… I’d be willing to bet you may have ALSO experienced the following:

  • Students communicating mathematics, arguing and justifying their choices
  • Students realizing and fixing math misconceptions in real time
  • Students engaged and having a whole lot of fun

For me, the positives outweigh the negatives here if we’re intentional and strategic… as we should be for every tool, high-tech or no-tech, eh?  Lisa and Eric’s clever work-arounds make Kahoot! an effective platform in math class, and I’d love to piggy-back on their ideas with a few more, including Kahoots! that you can use or tweak for your own students.

Build in reflection time

I like to pose more in-depth math questions by using TWO questions in the Kahoot! platform.

QUESTION 1: Consider giving students the maximum time allotted (120 seconds) and creating answer choices that aren’t ANSWERS, but are reflection statements about confidence in one’s solution, or method choices for solving the problem.  Make this initial question worth zero points.

Then, in QUESTION 2, provide a shorter timeframe for students to choose an answer for the VERY SAME QUESTION.  Since the teacher ultimately controls the pacing, even when students need more than 120 seconds, delay advancing to the next question as long as needed.  Consider having discussions before providing students with the opportunity to see the answer choices.

Example: Algebra: Write a Linear Function

Example: Algebra: Solve Linear Equations in One Variable


Keep the math visual

Visual math ideas work BEAUTIFULLY within the Kahoot! platform.

Asking students to identify and interpret attributes of graphs can serve as a great pre-assessment, mid-lesson check-for-understanding, exit-ticket… you name it!  Students feel confident that they can complete visual tasks in a shorter timeframe, so they work well within the platform.

Example: Algebra: Graphing Linear Systems

Example: Algebra: Attributes of Quadratic Functions


Use Socratic Questioning to TEACH concepts

Rather than use Kahoot! as a “quiz” or “assessment”, consider using it as a platform for posing questions that guide students to understand concepts incrementally.

Here’s an example that helps students visualize the difference of two squares by asking strategic questions, combining the questions with meaningful visuals, and scaffolding concepts along the way.  Teach by asking questions that include EVERY student, and have discussions before advancing to the next question.

Example – Algebra: Difference of Two Squares 


Use multiple questions to “chunk” multi-step concepts

Rather than ask students to cut-to-the chase and solve a problem within the Kahoot! platform, ask about one concept at a time, making each question a building-block toward a greater goal.

Example – Algebra: Systems of Linear Inequalities

Example – Algebra: Solve Quadratic Equations


Do you use Kahoot! in math class?

What are some additional tips you have to use Kahoot! more effectively?

Please share in the comments!

Check out other creative strategies for effectively using Kahoot in math class shared by Laura Wheeler here.

AND… Scroll up to check out TEKS-aligned math Kahoots in the sidebar for both Algebra 1 and Math 8! —>

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

Using Socrative for… You Guessed it… Socratic Questioning

My Math 8 students have discovered and applied the Pythagorean Theorem.  Our next move this week was to address the following standard:

8.7(D) Determine the distance between two points on a coordinate plane using the Pythagorean theorem.

“The book”, being a static resource, included diagrams where a diagonal line segment already had perpendicular reference segments… and the step-by-step work… which, of course, had the Pythagorean Theorem as the first step.  Static resources can inevitably provide static lesson spoilers too.

I wanted to create a journey for students, providing information incrementally, asking questions along the way, while giving EVERY student a chance to weigh in at each step.

Socrative was my tool of choice here.  The super-clean interface for asking questions and eliciting responses is often my go-to.  I love their Teacher-Paced option, so that I can pose and display one question at a time from the front of the class, and I can hide responses until everyone has weighed in.  If I want to know the specifics about who-answered-what, I have a detailed report for that later.  In the moment, I’m often less interested in knowing who said what, and more interested in seeing the variety of responses, and overall progress AKA class percentages.  Sometimes too much detail in the moment makes the lesson experience feel clunky.

So, students entered class, joined our Socrative “classroom” and began by answering two “low floor” questions (graphs created using  Piece of cake… except some students DID count incorrectly, and commented on how, next time, they’ll consider coordinates and/or look at a nearby axis to confirm their counting abilities.  THEY came up with these little tips.  Sweet!

I could hardly wait to send out the next question.  I anticipated the looks on their faces ahead of time… but their reactions are generally even better than I anticipate.  Furrowed eyebrows, various thinking sounds like, “Huh…”  “Wait… what?”  and a handful of students who transitioned to… “I think I know what to do here…” and “OH! I totally know what’s going on!”  Scanning the classroom and just watching and listening… I mean… SO FUN.

Some students simply estimated, others guessed correctly, others tried relating this experience to finding the slope of a line, and others knew EXACTLY why the distance was 5.  We’d also experienced Pythagorean Triples in class (as well as THIS particularly emotional YouTube video) and I strategically chose the most familiar triple so that the students who made the connection could do so mentally.  The big idea here wasn’t necessarily about showing WORK or needing to grab a CALCULATOR, but seeing RELATIONSHIPS.  Simple dimensions were important for that.

Students who had made the connection celebrated quietly – they knew a secret that others didn’t yet.  Rather than encourage a class discussion at this point, I quickly moved to the next question.

At this point, some students were about to burst with excitement, and others were super curious… what did these confident students know that they didn’t know yet?

Next question…

My typical “curse of knowledge” surprised me a bit here.  In every class, the correct answer choice percentage ranged from 79% to 85%.  I thought I’d nearly spoiled the lesson at this point, but in every class, some students were still working through why I’d provided this additional visual information…

During this mushy spot in the lesson/warm-up/whatever you want to call this 15-minute Socrative experience, I heard a lot of what I call “The Sound of Learning.”  Lots of grunts and a-ha’s… all happening at DIFFERENT MOMENTS.  I get the privilege of actually seeing and hearing each student go from not knowing to making connections.  Such a JOY!

To be sure I didn’t miss anybody, I provided another experience just like this one, using 5-12-13.  Question 1: What’s the distance? Question 2: How confident are you about your answer?  Question 3: Right triangle time.  SWEET.  Check out THAT percentage.

And just for good measure, I asked once more.  No Pythagorean Triple this time.  No guiding questions.  Just find the distance.

Much more meaningful than a lesson spoiler!  If you would like to use this Socrative resource, here’s the link:

What other math concepts do you think lend themselves to Socratic Questioning rather than spoiling-by-telling?

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

Kahoot! Studio and Retrieval Practice

In my experience, many students LOVE Kahoot!  The game… the competition… the music… the leaderboard… all of it.

And by now, it’s almost cliche to say “it’s NOT about the tool, it’s how you USE the tool that matters”.  As with all tools, using Kahoot when appropriate can be very effective, and kids might not realize they’re learning!  In math class, use Kahoot carefully.  We don’t want to make kids feel unnecessary anxiety or reinforce that fast math = you’re good at math.   So, before we poo poo the fact that much of Kahoot! relies on timed-tasks and a little friendly competition… please… don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s not dismiss a tool that KIDS LOVE that can be used strategically and effectively.

I had the pleasure of attending a session at an Apple Institute this summer that presented brain research regarding the concept of “retrieval practice” or the “testing effect” – namely… instead of being a teacher who’s always trying to put information INTO students’ brains… provide plenty of opportunities for them to pull information back OUT of their brains as a means of LEARNING and RETAINING concepts.  The “testing effect” is not about “tests” or “grades” in the traditional sense; rather, students are “testing” their own ability to understand, apply, and retain concepts.

Tools like Socrative and Kahoot! serve students well in this purpose.  Teach by asking questions, one at a time, and display the class results for each question so we can talk about them, correcting misconceptions in a low-stakes no-grades-here retrieval practice environment that’s also fun!

Note: It’s easy to get swept up in the Kahoot “leader board” and classroom energy without pausing to consider and discuss student responses between questions.  Don’t miss the opportunity for some valuable classroom dialogue here.  Putting on the breaks before advancing to the next question is a great way to reteach and have conversations with students about the content at hand!  

I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with Kahoot! Studio the past few months – “a new offering of original, ready-to-play games from Kahoot! content creators and our partners within education, publishing, entertainment and other industries”.  These standards-aligned and curated Kahoot! experiences might serve your students well in retrieval & distributed practice.

My favorite part about this creation opportunity has been using the Kahoots! with my OWN students, and seeing their excitement and success.  GHOST MODE is a favorite feature, as well as using the Kahoot! app to share CHALLENGES that can be done asynchronously.

A comprehensive collection of Kahoot! Studio math resources can be found here.

I’ve also created this Google Sheet to organize the Kahoots! I’ve been working on, aligned to Texas Algebra 1 TEKS.  This document will change as new Kahoots! are created and released!

Distributed practice?

Retrieval practice?


“BLIND” Kahooting?



There are so many ways a Kahoot! can be used with students!

How are YOU using Kahoot! in math class?

Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | 2 Comments

Mathy New Year! Oh Yeah… I Teach Math.

Enjoying Pandora – it was 46º outside!

So I’ve been away from the classroom for two-and-a-half weeks.  I’ve celebrated the holidays with a house full of guests and friends, and braved Disney World at this most wonderful time of the year (in unseasonably cold temps) so forgive me if I’ve forgotten just a little that… oh yeah, I teach math. 🙂  A rest is necessary for those of us who eat, sleep, and breathe what we do, so I’m thankful to have had this time to refresh and pursue other hobbies and interests.

Anyone who knows me can speak to my second passion – interior design and home improvement projects!  We bought a fixer-upper several years ago, and the to-do list never ends… and I’m okay with that!  Just as with teaching, there’s always room for improvement, implementing fresh ideas, and learning from mistakes!

Most recently, I couldn’t resist a smokin’ Black Friday deal to buy a box of peel-and-stick reclaimed wood to give my 1980s kitchen peninsula a facelift.  I didn’t anticipate that all of the pieces of wood would vary in size so much, so this little project quickly became mathy.  I was NOT about to run out of wood OR have to make unnecessary cuts, so I took inventory of the wood that was shipped and turned to Apple’s Keynote to make a plan.

First, I created a custom slide size that would represent the area of the two cabinet faces I wanted to cover with wood.  Using points as my units, I created color-coded rectangular shapes to represent the piles of wood, moving the shapes like puzzle pieces to fill the faces.  I was short two small lengths and became immediately thankful that I’d requested free wood samples a year ago – those two pieces saved the project!

A dry run on the floor before peeling-and-sticking…

…and VOILA!  Mission accomplished!  I seriously don’t know how anyone could complete such a project successfully without a color-coded Keynote plan! 🙂

I also made the impulsive decision to sell my former counter-height dining room table and chairs on Craigslist (we NEVER sat in those tall chairs…) several short weeks before Christmas, knowing the aforementioned house full of family and friends would be coming over… what was I thinking?

I needed a new dining set pronto, and had to make a plan.  Again, scale models on a Keynote slide and some research regarding recommended clearances between dining chairs, walls, table sizes, etc. helped me plan what to buy.

VOILA!  After a bad shipment of broken chairs, tracking our table down and retrieving it from a local warehouse that was too booked up to deliver it before Christmas… we DIDN’T have Christmas dinner on my dining room floor after all!

And, I got to share a little ed-tech fun with family by designing a Kahoot for us all to play together after dinner!

Speaking of Christmas, I received an unexpected gift in the mail from one of my kind students in NCTM’s “Seeking Students Who Hide” online course this past fall.  A beautiful card and set of magnets from Taiwan greeted me in my teacher mailbox before break.  This kind blog post is a gift I will forever cherish.

I am so thankful for my students – the adolescents and the grown-ups alike.  Thank you for helping me grow, and for your kindness!

Best wishes as we embark on 2018 together!


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

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?














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

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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