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

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

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

(1) Remember that you have them…?

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

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

My colleagues and I have:

(1) Created Socrative Quizzes

(2) Created and revised ThatQuiz Quizzes

(3) Created Nearpod experiences

(4) Created ThingLinks full of relevant URLs

(5) Created and revised classroom Kahoots!

(6) Created and revised Desmos Activities

(7) Created and found instructional YouTube and Vimeo videos

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

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

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

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



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Guest Post – 3-Acts: Using Digital Tools to Give Every Student a Voice

Two things I’m passionate about when it comes to technology integration:

  1. Giving every student an opportunity (and frankly accountability) to weigh-in on mathematics we’re learning about and showcase their thinking… even if it’s incorrect at the start (we value those mistakes as learning opportunities)
  2. Including students in the examination and analysis of their thinking (through digital work samples or other graphical data displays produced by the tech-tool we’re using) to help facilitate rich dialogue, authentic error-analysis, and even determine next-steps in the lesson (versus keeping this information to myself, as the teacher – students benefit from seeing their collective thinking)

Here’s post 4 of 4 in a series at the #NCTM #MTMS Blogarithm Blog.  Don’t miss the chance to snag several ready-to-go lessons, featured in this post, to try with your own students.  While many digital tools can capture student thinking well, this post features ways to use Nearpod in conjunction with tasks inspired by Dan Meyer’s 3-Acts strategies.

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On another note, I was honored to attend the Inaugural Nearpod PioNear Summit here in Austin a month ago.  Highlights from our day are captured in the video here.

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Blogarithm Guest Post – Vertical Value: Part 2

CbWh5fDWEAEkTnXCheck out this @Desmos shout-out on the MTMS Blog, and how I transformed a “worksheet” into a Rectangles Polygraph activity… and when I used it with students, it didn’t go as planned.

If you use this pairs activity, I’m curious about the grade-level of your students, and your favorite student questions.  Does this activity possess “vertical value”?

Yenca Art 2(1)



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Experiencing Transformations Dynamically With Nearpod and Desmos

My Math 8 students started exploring patterns for various transformations in the coordinate plane this week.  Such a visual and potentially dynamic topic calls for visual and dynamic lesson presentation (ahem… not a static worksheet).  The winning combination this week was to guide students through a Nearpod lesson first, and let them loose on a Desmos self-paced activity to follow.

Nearpod first – why?  Since students had never seen these topics in the context of the coordinate plane, it was extremely beneficial that I could control the pacing initially.  Hear me – this “teacher-paced” format is NOT about the teacher being “in control”.  Rather, it’s about keeping kids from rushing ahead before they should (since, in general, they don’t know what they don’t know). We took our time to discuss student responses to open-ended questions and drawings of the transformations in the coordinate plane along the way.


I LOVE to run a “Nearpod Cartoon”, clicking quickly through student graphs, using my interactive white board, to show the variations in student work so we can talk about them, and discuss ways to correct them.  We even played the instrumental “chorus” of Bieber’s “Where Are You Now” as I clicked through (if you don’t see the connection, watch his video starting at 1:09 here – that cartoon thing is basically how student work looks, especially if they embellish it a little with color…)


I like to present the solutions to transformations dynamically as well.  Using Keynote, the “Magic Move” transition, and QuickTime to record a #SILENTSOLUTION screencast helps students see the solutions in motion.  They can watch the solution video (shared within Nearpod) repeatedly to see exactly where those vertices landed.  The silence of these quick videos allows students to provide the narrative for what they’re witnessing.  I wish you could hear students as they watch these silent videos, and how often they’re surprised, and finally say, “OH!  Now I get it!  I see what it did!”

IMG_3822After patterns were generalized and reteaching occurred as needed, I sent students a multi-question “quiz” to end the Nearpod portion of the day.  Individual results from thisNearpod quiz were sent to each student’s iPad screen in the form of a pie graph, where students could revisit the questions and their own responses. Note: when I send this pie graph to student screens, they literally scream, yell, jump out of their seats, and proudly display their completely green (100% correct) pie graphs like a badge of honor!  The room literally ERUPTS!  Except for those with a sliver… or perhaps huge sector… of red on their graphs…  Having this data gave me the chance to intervene with any students who were struggling during the transition from Nearpod to Desmos.

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Once students reviewed their quiz results, and met with me for help as needed, they went to to work through a related activity.  This time, rather than simply creating sketches in a coordinate plane drawing, students had to accurately complete and correct tables of values to “program” Desmos to graph the desired transformation.

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We’re working on it!

IMG_3804Projecting students’ graphs using the Desmos “Overlay” feature is a great way to check in with the class, often revealing an OOPS or two… or, more than two…  The best part about the Overlay is when students realize they need to correct their graphs, and we can all watch those corrections happening “live” and dynamically! I used my iPhone to capture this time-lapse during one of the Desmos translations tasks.  Check out the video here.

I was very thankful for Andrew Stadel’s impeccable timing in sharing his Chrome tech-tip.  I used it for the exact purpose he shared.  Early in the reflections Desmos activity, I highlighted the word “opposite” and made a big deal out of encouraging those who used academic vocabulary to describe their reflections.  It worked – later in the activity when I looked for the word “opposite” again, many more students had used the term.

I’d love to hear about your experiences using Nearpod or Desmos to teach students about transformations or other dynamic topics!

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Blogarithm Guest Post #2 of 4

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 3.38.34 PMIt’s my pleasure to have the opportunity to share on NCTM’S Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School “Blogarithm” blog!  Check out the second post of four using the link below.

Thanks to Dr. Clayton Edwards for the opportunity to share!

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#MTBoS Week 2: “My Favorite”


I had a “My Favorite” moment in Algebra class yesterday, and it may come as no surprise that @Desmos was involved.  My Algebra students are just getting started with exponential functions.  Wednesday, they explored this ThingLink, talked to their groups about the things they’d discovered, and then we spent time having each group report one thing they had learned/noticed/wondered about exponential functions.  (We also took the time to watch the Mythbusters video in the ThingLink – check it out!) Using some examples, we firmed up ideas like y-intercept, asymptote, domain and range, and they had a few homework problems to try.

Thursday, students had a typical “homework huddle” to compare and discuss their work as I circulated to check their work.  In the spirit of this post, I’d created a very short and sweet @Desmos #ActivityBuilder task to follow-up.  This is the first time I’ve taken advantage of the new “you-can-have-a-graph-and-open-ended-question-on-the-same-slide” feature that Desmos recently added… and I made sure the box that says “Show students their classmates’ responses” was checked.

This was nothing flashy – just a couple of exponential graphs, and open-ended questions asking students, “What is the y-intercept?”  “What is the domain?”  etc.  You can see the activity here.

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What you can’t see is how my students reacted to this activity.  The conversations that happened were awesome!  Mind you, we’d just “reviewed homework” and yet… many students still had questions.  Asking students if they “get it” is almost never effective… asking students to DO SOME MATH instead is almost always effective.  It forces the questions out of them, and in this case, really got them talking to one another within their cooperative groups.

The “MY Favorite” icing-on-the-cake was seeing their reactions when they first saw the “Show students their classmates’ responses” feature.  They loved it!  It was so neat that three random classmates’ answers showed up after each student submitted his/her own answer to each open-ended question, and often this prompted a revision in thinking (and in the submitted response).


After all students had just about finished this quick check (I had the teacher dashboard projected on my smart board so we could all see student progress) I clicked through student answers to each prompt and addressed any last-minute misconceptions before starting a new lesson.  Totally worth the 7-ish minute time investment. 

Looking forward to Desmos (hopefully) adding an option to remove students’ names so responses from teacher dashboard can be made anonymous when projected in front of the class (…on the list for future features says THE Dan Meyer!)

UPDATE: The future has arrived!

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

Blogarithm Guest Post #1 of 4

It’s my pleasure to have the opportunity to share on NCTM’S Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School “Blogarithm” blog!  Check out the first post of four using the link below.

A special thanks to Dr. Clayton Edwards for the opportunity!

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Free Your Mind… and the Tech May Follow

Yenca, The Dan, Nadine Herbst, The Fenton

Yenca, The Dan, Nadine Herbst, The Fenton

I’m still in that mushy state between being on break and being back to school.  An opportunity that helped firm up a few brain cells for me this week was a day with Team Desmos a la Dan Meyer and Michael Fenton.

My biggest take-away (and one that may help others free their minds) was this (paraphrased) proposition from Dan:

What can we (math teachers) do/present/provide for our students before *we* start talking/telling them something?

Simple, right?  Profound, right?  Now #WCYDWT?

To add a follow-up to this thought, I consider this question:

What can we (math teachers) do/present/provide for our students to monitor their progress right now?

Create the intellectual need somehow.  Guide and teach.  Then, do a check-in to be sure we’re okay… and if we’re not, know that, and act, involving the kids in the process at every step.  This is where I feel so passionately that technology can empower us.

In chatting with teachers, whether it be about Nearpod, Desmos, or (insert tech-tool-du-jour-here), folks sometimes shy away from using tools because creating something seems too overwhelming.  We don’t have time.  We open a blank Nearpod/Desmos Activity Builder/Socrative quiz, stare at the screen, and close it back up.  Maybe we start creating a “lesson” and get frustrated, or think it’s not “good enough” so we drop it.

The saddest part about when this happens is *not* that folks aren’t “integrating technology”.  Rather, it’s about a missed opportunity to examine student thinking.  To give them a voice during instruction.  To see their work and share it with them so *they* can have a mathematical metacognitive moment.

My suggestion – free your mind of expectations regarding how elaborate the activity has to be.  Does it *HAVE* to be an entire lesson?  Does it *HAVE* to be overly-aesthetically pleasing?  Does it *HAVE* to be comprehensive?  “Perfect”?  Kate Nowak’s nudge this week got me thinking too.

What if the things we create are small.  

What if a Desmos Activity has only one or two graphing slides with a little something for students to do?  

What if a Socrative “quiz” simply asks one or two open-ended questions using Teacher-Paced mode so discussions can ensue?  

What if a Nearpod lesson really isn’t a lesson at all, but asks students to work one problem?  Draw something?  Answer one or two poll or quiz questions?

You see, no one out there is saying, when you create content for your kids, that it has to fill the entire class period.  Tech activities don’t have to be stand-alone… that’s why kids need you… remember? 🙂


Here are two such “activities” I’ve designed this week.

Systems of Linear Inequalities Quick Check – Desmos Activity Builder (2 graphing slides)

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Today, my Algebra 1 students spent at most 3 minutes here.  Using the Overlay feature showed a nice sampling of student thinking.  It’s not fancy, profound, or comprehensive, but by watching the points dance around, I know some students learned something… especially those who misplaced the points at first, saw what the class was up to, and corrected a ‘whoops’.

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Nearpod Linear Systems by Graphing Learning Check (2 Draw-It graphs, 1 Desmos graph, 2 Open-Ended questions)

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IMG_3659Desmos is great for graphing things *for* us.  If you want to assess whether *students* can graph an equation by hand, you might need another tool (my suggestion: Nearpod Draw-It.  I’m sure you’re surprised.)  That’s why I love integrating Desmos and Nearpod to cover all bases.

My Math 8 students spent around 8 minutes on this Nearpod/Desmos mash-up this week.  This was my first attempt to embed into the Nearpod URL tool.  That way, I could keep a smooth work-flow between Nearpod Draw-Its AND Desmos Activity Builder (where I could take full-advantage of the Overlay feature without leaving Nearpod… it’s like magic folks.)

Grab this Nearpod lesson.  Launch it for students and share the Nearpod PIN with them.

When students get to the Desmos part, they’ll need you to generate a Desmos class code.  If you Start a New Session using this link, then share the Desmos class code with them, they’ll be able to do the Desmos activity right in Nearpod, and you’ll be able to project the Overlay feature from the Desmos teacher panel in so kids can see it.

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Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 12.22.56 PMOnce the Desmos part is done, advance the Nearpod to present the last two open-ended questions to students.  Or, you could throw a poll question here, or any other of Nearpod’s many tools. Magic.

Okay… so maybe that last example was a little more elaborate, but my point is… I tried something new, and I didn’t try to make it my *whole* lesson.

The results were worth it.  Student comments when Nearpod and Desmos show up together sound a little something like this.  Every time.

“I like this.”

“This should be our lesson every day.”

“Ah, I see what’s going on.”

“I get it now.”

And that’s what it’s all about *clap clap* ♫





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Exponential Growth, Similarity and a Partridge…

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 10.11.01 AMThe last class or two before Christmas break is a precious time.  Students have finished all of their dreaded exams, and they come to class asking,

“Are we going to *DO* anything today?!?”

My answer is usually along the lines of,

“I thought we’d do some math.”


As many geometry topics approach us in Math 8, and exponential growth is on the Algebra horizon, the topic of fractals is timely, novel, and welcomed by students, despite their desire to “not do anything”… 🙂

On Day 1, I present the concept of fractal through a “classic” Discovery Education 3-minute video featuring Clifford Pickover. (P.S. You should follow him on Twitter – he tweets the neatest, nerdiest stuff!)  Here is another video to introduce the concept of fractals.

Next, I show this video, which features my trip to MOMATH (The Museum of Mathematics) in New York City, and my obsession with the digital fractal exhibit.  Yes folks, there were young children in line behind me as I hogged the screen to capture these fun video clips for my students.  Totally worth it.

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To help students visualize the meaning of “self similarity”, I show about 30 seconds of this video.  Trust me, that’s plenty, or everyone gets dizzy!

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I think understanding how fractals are built happens best when students draw them by hand.  I show this ambitious video before students make their very own Sierpinskis.

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Finally, I distribute rulers and this template from the Fractal Foundation website.  Students connect midpoints of “right-side-up” triangles, and we explore the growth pattern, deciding the number of new “right-side-up” triangles at each iteration does NOT model a linear pattern.  Exponential it is!

As students begin to sketch their fractals, a sort of therapeutic hush falls on the room.  Even though they’re starting to understand that, the more midpoints they connect, the more work they’re creating for themselves for the next iteration, they seem to enjoy it anyway. I begin commissioning students for their fractals so I can build a “tree” on my wall.  27 fractals will do!

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Many students beg to take their 2D fractals home, and return the next day with some pretty impressive and intricate additions to our classroom wall-tree.

Day 2

Now that we understand the growth patterns and structures of creating a Sierpinski Triangle fractal, we move on to 3D pop-out cards, which double as a great gift for Grandma!  Directions can be found on the Fractal Foundation website.  This year, students asked me to create a video so they could practice over break, since the first 3D fractal often comes with a few whoops moments.  The more fractal cards you make, the nicer they turn out!

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Voila – we’ve created memories that will set the stage for similarity and exponential growth in 2016!


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How do you make student thinking visible?

Want to know what your students are thinking?  How do you get that thinking out of their heads in a format that you, as their teacher, can view, analyze, and use for instructional decision-making?  Do you keep this “visible thinking” to yourself?  Do you make decisions based on your own analysis of student thinking without letting students have the chance to view and analyze it too?

In one of my recent verbal-brain-dumps (this usually happens at dinnertime with my ever-listening husband) I spoke an analogy that shapes the way I design and execute lessons:

Direct Teaching.001 We’re supposed to look at student thinking so we can make instructional decisions, right?  Why should the teacher get to be the one-and-only bearer of that knowledge? My strong belief is that we, teachers, should not keep that knowledge to ourselves.

In this era where digital tools are more accessible than ever, we can see student thinking in so many ways, efficiently, and share that thinking with THEM as well.  In the same way that it doesn’t help our students if we do math problems *FOR* them, could it be that doing all of their error analysis *FOR* them could also be detrimental?  Or at the very least, promote a missed opportunity for learning?

How do I involve my students in viewing and analyzing their own thinking?  Thanks to 1:1 iPads, I have a repertoire of tools from which to choose.  Here’s some food for thought:

  • Use Nearpod “Draw It” to elicit real-time student work samples, then showcase them for students to see and talk about.  Instant and authentic error-analysis.  Work samples can even be shared anonymously en masse thanks to this handy new feature:

  • Use Socrative in “teacher-paced” mode to closely examine one question at a time, and student responses to the question, while including students in the process.  (Blog post at NCTM’S MTMS “Blogarithm” coming soon – will link back!)
  • Use Socrative in “student-paced” mode to look for trends in incorrect answers.  Why did so many students miss such-and-such question? What was the misconception?  How do we fix it?Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 8.17.53 PM
  • Use Desmos Polygraph activities to promote student questioning and use of academic vocabulary.  Showcase student questions, and possibly the progression of these questions that lead from a “loss” at first to a “win” with improved language.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 8.01.43 PM Haven’t used the tools on my shortlist?  

Pick one to try in 2016, give it a go, and share back.

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