Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Small steps into the interactive notebook world

Okay, I like to use Pinterest for foldable ideas, but I was thinking about a foldable for ordering integers and this idea came to me:

What I like about this foldable is the six different ways to write one inequality --- I want my students to understand how we can think about every inequality as both less than and greater than, I want them to understand the inequality spatially, and I want a strong connection between the symbol and the words.

If you want a copy, this is a Google drawing available here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Desmos card sort and ordering rational numbers

So, I am continuing to be fascinated with the Desmos activity builder, and I am playing around more and more with the card sort feature. (See my initial blog entry on the card sort for an introduction to the feature.) I realized last night that I could do some simple rational number ordering with the card sort and throw in a different way for the students to think about the numbers.

Here's a screenshot of my activity:

And in case it's hard to see, here's a blowup of that number line. (Note that students can get a bigger view themselves by tapping on the graph in the activity.)
The idea is that students take the three numbers and match them up with the cards for "Lowest number", "Middle number", and "Highest number". That's fine and interactive, but what I love, love, love is using a number line to represent one of the numbers. I not only hit visual learning styles, but I get the students to think about where the other numbers would go on that image.

The only issue I see is the labels --- this works fine for three numbers (and I have a challenge screen with five numbers), but I don't want the students to get lost with the labels if I had four or seven numbers. As far as I can tell, Desmos does not distinguish between the order of card in a card sort (which would make this a bit easier). But this is a great way to emphasize different ways of viewing rational numbers.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Changing middle school student passwords in GAFE

Our school (not our district) has GAFE accounts, and I and another teacher do the administration of about 800 accounts. This year, I am trying to streamline some of the work and use some of my new JavaScript knowledge. To start, I wanted to create a form that teachers could fill out whenever a student needs their password reset. (Since we have middle schoolers, some of the possible ways an account password could be reset --- e.g., a text message to a phone --- aren't possible.)

First step, I wrote a form to collect information from the teacher about the student:
Next, I enabled the Email Notification for Forms add-on, so that I'm emailed every time a teacher fills out the form.  The step of changing the password I am planning to do manually based on the information in the Google Sheet. But finally, I changed the script in this tutorial (showing how to send email based off a Google Sheet) so that when I run it, the teachers are informed of the student's new password.

I'm glad some of the steps are automated and that I understand the JavaScript well enough to make meaningful edits. However, if there is an easier way to do this, I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Making more of the Mathematical Practice standards

I try to hit the mathematical practice standards in Common Core, but they tend to fall by the wayside when the crunch to hit content hits. I have put up some kid friendly versions in my classroom and try to reference them often (with heavy emphasis on my favorite: "I can show my work in many ways.")

I did some PD this year where we went through the MP standards in depth, and my biggest takeaway was the type of questions I could ask during class to emphasize each of the standards. There's a nice reference on the Louisiana Believes website, but it still has a lot of verbiage for each standard. I decided to try and distill down two questions per standard that I could see myself asking 6th graders.

I used the color and the font not just to add variety, but to color code the pair of questions that goes with each standard. I'm putting this over my teacher desk so I can always take a quick look and find a question. If you want a copy of this, you can find the Google drawing here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Quizlet, Desmos Card Sort, and matching in math class

Last year, I used Quizlet about five times in class. Even though the intended purpose of Quizlet is learning and reviewing vocabulary, I think it works well for a lot of pre-algebra. For example, the below is a screenshot from an iPad where students need to tap on two squares that represent equivalent expressions (using the distributive property):

My students, for the most part, really liked the Scatter game on Quizlet --- I could walk around and see how students were doing and announce the fastest time within a section and among all my sections. If you put enough options in the Quizlet set, students won't necessarily see the same questions every time, so they really need to pay attention. The only negative I saw was that some students would just tap on squares as fast as possible to get right answers by accident. (If you want, you can see my Quizlet sets at

It turns out Desmos has a relatively new feature called card sort that carries out some of the same functionality. You don't need to have one to one matching, so I tested the feature by creating an activity that assesses whether students can classify a number as an integer or a rational number. Here's the screenshot:
Unlike the iPad version of Quizlet, you drag the boxes together to form groups. You can specify an answer key and see which card were mis-sorted most often (that's a really nice feature!). I'd rather do this on a Venn diagram somehow, but this is a very good second choice. (You can find my activity here.)

I think I could use Desmos card sort for most of the material in 6th grade that Quizlet works for and (as shown above) maybe a bit more. A really good use would be to create cards that show the different ways ratios can be expressed (e.g., rate table, equation, graph, and words.) I'll have to work on that!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Playing with Desmos

The last time I looked at Desmos (about five years ago), it was a cool online graphing calculator, but nothing compared to what I was using in a college classroom (where we had laptops running Maple). However, I looked at it last week with the eyes of a middle school teacher and fell in love with the activities and the activity builder.

The activities are an interesting mix of Nearpod (in that they provide sequenced activities for students) and Formative (in that student answers, including pictures, are displayed to the class). A lot of the activities are aimed higher than 6th grade, which makes sense when you are using a graphing calculator as your interface. My sixth graders do some graphing, but really don't get into the specifics of lines and certainly not anything more complicated. But I was able to find some already built activities that I will think will serve my sixth graders well.

My favorites so far are Tile Pile (which mixes tetris type tiling with ratio tables), Reflections (which does a good job of helping student draw and correct reflections across the x- and y- axis), Exploring Triangle Area with Geoboards and Exploring Quadrilateral Area with Geoboards (which do pretty much what they say), and The (Awesome) Coordinate Plane Activity (picture below).

One thing I really like about the Desmos activity is that you can see all student submissions at once (using the overlay mode). So, for example, in the image above, you would see dots appear representing all the student answers. Hopefully, you see clustering, and if not, you know to do some reteaching. I find this much better to access than Formative where I could only bring up one student at a time (and that after searching for the correct submission).

I've done a little bit of authoring (which is best approached by editing other activities) to create one activity on integers and opposites and another on placing rational numbers on a number line. They are both pretty basic, but I wanted to get a good sense of how the activity builder worked.

I like how you can have graphs with moveable points and text boxes on the same page.
If this works well with my students, I can see a few more activities I want to build. In particular, I know my students can struggle with distance in the coordinate plane, and this looks like a good tool to help them out.

Students access an activity using a code they input at, and they can log in with a Google account if you wish. There's a nice dashboard to see student progress, but unlike Formative, there's no grading scheme that I could find. You will need to provide all the feedback in class. I also found site navigation a bit tricky --- you build your activities at and learn about the tools at, but nothing at either site takes you to the other. I've had one hiccup in what I've tried to do, reported it to Desmos, and got confirmation that it was a known bug within a few hours, so that's decent support.

All in all, I feel like Desmos works better than Formative when it comes to graphing, but I still need to put it to the test in my class.