Friday, December 28, 2018

Google Classroom or Google Sites: Which Should I Use?

Maybe as you rev up for 2019, you have considered creating a digital classroom to support your physical classroom. Or maybe you would like a way to stop answering so many questions about materials and due dates. Or maybe you have just been wondering about Google Sites and/or Classroom. Allow me to offer some thoughts on why you might choose one over another.

Google Classroom

Wikipedia describes Google Classroom as a "free web service developed by Google for schools that aim to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way." Can't trust Wikipedia? GSuiteEDU Expert Team Member Laurah Jurca explains that "Google Classroom is designed as a document management system. The primary purpose of classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. It is not an LMS like Moodle." With Google Classroom, you can:
  • Assign work to students within a class.
  • Assign certain work to certain students within a class.
  • Grade assignments paperlessly and record grades in a Classroom gradebook.
  • Make announcements to your class.
  • Schedule assignments and announcements.
  • Make every students his/her own copy of assignments.
  • Take a quick poll or ask a quick question of your class.
Put simply, if you are sharing digital resources with your students, grading things paperlessly, perhaps even struggling to keep your Google Drive organized while you do these things, Google Classroom could be a huge help. If you want to use technology to differentiate assignments, Google Classroom is a great way to get started. If you're tired of using class time to chant out the directions for making a copy of a Google Doc template for students, Google Classroom will do this for you!

Using Google Classroom does have a few drawbacks. First, if you are using it in a K-12 GSuiteEDU domain (aka you teach in a K-12 school), only other members of your domain can join your Classroom unless the domain administrator provides access. This means that your Google Classroom may only include students or staff members at your school. A Google workaround is that parents can be invited to get email updates from the Classroom. Unfortunately, the email updates are about assignments; if teachers are not using the assignments feature, the email updates would be blank. Remember that Google Classroom is designed to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students, so if files are not created to be assignments, it can be difficult for parents to participate. Second, you can do a little customizing of a Google Classroom (header image, name of class), but you don't get many options for how your Classroom will look. As an example, once you add materials to your Classroom, you can't reorder them easily. You also can't add pages beyond what Google Classroom wants you to have.

Google Sites

If file sharing and grading isn't your focus, but you like the idea of having a digital repository of resources that you can share with your students, Google Sites might be the tool for you. The tool is exactly what you imagine it to be based on the name, a handy way to make a website. With Google Sites you can:
  • Embed your class Google Calendar to class happenings and due dates.
  • Add images and videos to create a visual record of your classes.
  • Choose from set layouts and colors for a just right number of options.
  • Create one page or many pages depending on your needs.
  • Stockpile Google Drive resources for your students.
  • Co-edit the website with other teachers or students.
  • Connect your site to a Google Analytics account to see how often people visit.
  • Make your site available to the world or just the people you choose.
In short, if you aren't looking for a digital way to manage the files you share with students, consider creating a Google Site. If you haven't looked at Google Sites in the last couple of years, it's definitely worth a revisit. Where several years ago Google Sites offered endless (often confusing!) options and things to click, the new version of this tool is pared down to very popular choices and has a drag-and-drop ease to making a beautiful set of pages.

Like Google Classroom, there are some things I wish were different. First, there are only six themes to choose from. Each theme has several color and font choices to increase variety, but there are still design limits in place here. Second, old Google Sites allowed for page-level permissions so that the author of the site could decide which people could see and/or edit which pages of a website. That feature has not yet been added to the new version. Fingers crossed that it will be added someday soon.

The Last Word

If you are regularly sharing files with students and grading them digitally, start using Google Classroom. It can really help you and your students stay organized. When you get started, create announcements and assignments and invite guardians to receive updates. If, instead, you need a place to stockpile resources and document what is happening in your classroom for anyone to see, use Google Sites. You will have more design options and won't be limited to including just the people who attend your school. Parents will thank you for creating a way for them to support your work at home.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Tatsulok Puzzle Template

Several years ago I bought a bunch of science games from a company called Scienterrific Games. One of them was a puzzle called Tatsulok. Tatsulok is a Filipino word meaning triangle. In the puzzle you match question and answer sides of triangles in order to form a giant triangle. Scienterrific Games sells five versions of Tatsulok puzzles.

Just before the semester ended, I needed a couple of review activities for my reactions unit. Some students were struggling with the content and I needed to spend some time to remediate. Meanwhile, I wanted to provide activities for the rest of the students to practice a skill and get instant feedback. Puzzles are great for this, so I used the Balancing Equations Tatsulok that I purchased from Scienterrific Games ($13.95 for two copies). It took most students, working in pairs, about 15 minutes to solve the puzzle. Each side of a triangle had an unbalanced chemical equation or a set of coefficients that would balance an equation. Match them all up to form the big triangle. Most students seemed to enjoy the puzzle and worked independently while I provided extra help to those who needed it.

When I finished the lesson, I started thinking about creating a template for this puzzle. I love puzzles and have made several that I use in my classroom. I decided to try making the template as a Google Drawing. It is available here and looks like this:

The text boxes can all be edited to create a puzzle with 18 questions and answers (or some can be eliminated for a puzzle with fewer questions and answers).  The dimensions of the Google Drawing are 11" x 8.5" so you should be able to print it on a regular sheet of paper as a landscape document. I hope that you can use it to make something fun for your classroom. I'd love to hear what you do with this template!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Escape to

I've written several times about the amazing free tools at In fact, when I am looking for a way to get people interested in spreadsheets, I almost always use Flippity because once people see the variety of the tools, and how easy it is to create them, they are hooked. This weekend, when I teaching a Google class, I revisited Flippity as part of my Sheets lesson and found a new addition to the family: a Breakout tool!

Breakout games and escape rooms have become all the rage. Teachers are crafting lessons where students have to apply content knowledge to decode clues and open locks. Presenters are sharing breakouts at conferences in all content areas. And escape rooms aren't just for school. They are popping up all over for team-building, challenge seekers, or just a night of fun.

The trend to use breakout activities in classrooms meant a great demand for boxes. The one I purchased was $100, so if you wanted several for your classroom, you have to have a good budget to get them. Then there is the time it takes to create a great lesson, or the fee you pay to sites to find a lesson, and the time it takes to program all the locks. It's no surprise that digital breakouts emerged. That's what the tool at is, a digital breakout tool.

Head over to Flippity and take a look at the demo. Then download the template. It's a Google Sheet with eight lines, one for each lock. You delete the text in the cells and create your own clues and combinations. Then publish the template to the web, grab the link to share the game, and you are ready to go.

When you play the game, you will see red locks until you solve the puzzles and open the locks. Then they turn green.

This is a free tool, but it is very slick and includes many awesome options:
  • Make the answers case-sensitive. Or don't.
  • Make the locks open in a certain order or a random order.
  • Include images, videos, links, Google Docs or Drawings, and even Desmos graphs or EquatIO equations.
  • Customize the initial instructions, hint warnings, and completion text.
If you have been wanting to try a breakout game in your classroom, now is the time. If you can type things into a spreadsheet (and, of course, you can!), you can create an engaging lesson for kids without spending anything on a box and locks or a membership to a service to access lessons. Once you create your lesson with Flippity, I hope you'll share it with others!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Get Ready for Conferences

In most districts around me, October is the month when Parent-Teacher Conferences happen. Conferences are a great time to talk about student goals and progress, but they are also a great time to connect with parents and talk about ways to support students at home as they work on material they are learning at school. One of the most important ways to do this is to create a way for parents to access assignments. I like to do that with Google Calendar.

It's very easy to create a Google Calendar for your class. Go to and click on the + that is underneath the small month calendar on the right hand side.

 Then click on New calendar.

Give your calendar a title that matches your class and start adding assignments and class happenings as events. I like to make my class happenings "all day" events so they show on the calendar as a colored bar at the top of that date.

The next step to make this a shareable resource with students and parents is to go into settings and mark the calendar as Public. Then copy and share the public link to the calendar with your students and parents. Here is a short video I made to show how this works:

Quick hack for Google Classroom teachers: Google Classroom is notoriously unhelpful for parents because parents can't join Google Classrooms. If you are creating assignments and posts in Google Classroom, they get automatically entered on a calendar that matches your Google Classroom. You can follow the steps above to make that calendar public and share it with parents so they can see what has been assigned in your class even though they can't join the class!

When you sit down with parents at conferences this month, be sure to share with parents how they can help at home. You might have a system that you love for sharing the information with students, but consider whether or not that system makes sense for parents too. As a parent myself, I sometimes feel frustrated that I didn't encourage my child to study for a test or polish a presentation because I didn't know it was happening. Having access to a calendar that shows what is happening in class and what is assigned to the class is a great first step to helping parents help your students.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Digital Interactive Notebooks, Part 2: Adding to your Students' Collection

My last post demonstrated a way to use Google Slides and Drawings to make a digital interactive notebook. I had demonstrated this process at the SPARCC conference in August and a woman who attended my session emailed me this weekend with this question:
"When I was [using] worksheets, glue, and composition books, I was able to compose their notes as we went. These notebooks were continually changing. I'm having trouble seeing how this well work digitally since once I share a copy of the Notebook with them, I'm not seeing how to send out additional notes."
This is a great area for further consideration! There are two ways I would address this in my classroom, depending on how much or how often or how long I have been using interactive notebooks:

1. I've been using interactive notebooks for years.

If you've been using interactive notebooks for a long time, you probably have a demo notebook or examples from previous years. You might make changes from year to year, but you have the basics down. In this case, I would build a digital interactive notebook for a unit at a time. Instead of one composition notebook that contains everything from the year, you might have 10 different slide decks that function as one "chapter" of the total. Then you could use your example notebooks from years past to build all the templates you need for a particular notebook and share it with your students at the beginning of the unit.

2.  I'm teaching new content or new to interactive notebooks or teaching

If you're just getting started with interactive notebooks, or if you're just getting started with a new prep, you might not have a full idea of what the finished product will look like. Or maybe student questions cause you to take the notebook in an unforeseen direction. Or maybe you have an amazing idea a few days into the unit. Or maybe you want to use a particular template over and over again in many "chapters" of interactive notebooks. If so, the "import slides" option can be very helpful.

In Google Slides, you can import slides from one Google Slides deck (or Power Point presentations) into another deck. I would have my Notebook template made in Google Slides and shared as "View Only" with my students. Then, if I needed to add a page to their notebook, I would create and add the page to my Notebook template and tell the students to import that page from the View Only Template.

Below are some screenshots that demonstrate the steps to import slides from one deck into another. Have students start inside the interactive notebook file they are creating.

Click File and drag down to import slides:

In the pop-up window that appears, click on the presentation (notebook template) that contains the new slides they need for the notebook.

In the pop-up window, click on the new slides that will be added to the notebook. Then click Import slides.

It's important to know that you can import one page or every page just by clicking to select. As long as your template has been shared with the students and you make changes to the template, the students will be able to import the new slides they need for their notebook. This is a great feature for students and teachers to know, even if you're not using it for interactive notebooks.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Using Google Slides & Drawings to Make Interactive Notebooks

If you were using interactive notebooks in the spring of 2017, you probably remember the Great Glue Shortage. Somehow that spring making slime exploded onto the scene and glue was hard to come by. I know this because my son had 7th grade social studies that year with a rockstar teacher named Nikki Diehm. My son, who has hated crafts involving scissors and glue for his entire life, loved this class, and especially this teacher, and even seemed to embrace the making of the social studies interactive notebook. So when she asked everyone to help replenish the glue supply, he begged me to help get her some. The trouble was: there was no glue on store shelves anywhere. Because slime.

It was then that I first started thinking about digital interactive notebooks. As a high school teacher, glue is often a deal breaker for me. The getting it out, the everyone is sticky, the cleanup - these things make it not worth it for me. I do love the idea of interactive notebooks, though. My students have always really enjoyed using foldables and an interactive notebook seems like the place where you glue your foldable for instant notes + study tool.

Here is a sample I made. The background was created in Google Drawing. The blue rectangles are shapes I made in Slides and animated to disappear upon click.

Digital Interactive Notebooks are all over Pinterest; there are as many methods as people pinning them. Here are directions for my version:

1. Create a Google Slides deck as Interactive Notebook template.

2. Change size in Page Setup to 8.5” x 11”. Lots of people don't realize that slide size can be changed. See images below for tips to do this.

3. Create Google Drawing and change size in Page Setup to 8.5” x 11” (same as above). 

4. Create graphic organizer as Drawing. Download as JPG. 

5. Insert the Drawing JPG as Background on a Slide. This will keep the graphic organizer locked in place (unless students change the background of the slide).

6. Make copies for every student through Classroom or by providing the link. 

7. Kids create textboxes and shapes and add animations to make it interactive.

I want to be clear about a couple of things before I hit Publish. First, I probably wouldn't have thought about interactive notebooks in a digital way if it weren't for the fact that my son had an amazing teacher who he loved and who used them AND there was a glue shortage. I appreciate many things I have learned by listening to my kids talk about Nikki's classes. Second, I am a fan of Interactive Notebooks - digital, paper and glue, or otherwise. I'm not posting this because I think everything should be digital. In fact, I do not think that. 

If you try this or if this post was helpful, I hope you'll share that. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Tracking Progress with Google Sheets

My friend Andreas is a Spreadsheet Jedi. So when I saw this post of his where he created a progress tracking to-do list, I immediately wanted to try it. Since I am a new AP Chemistry teacher, using Andreas' system to track progress in AP Chemistry seemed like a great idea.

My AP Chemistry students have their first unit exam in my class next week. I wanted to help them self-assess and review, but I didn't want to make a typical high school review guide. AP Chemistry is, after all, supposed to take the place of a college class. AP Chemistry has something like 117 learning objectives, all keyed to six Big Ideas. I recently created a list of the learning objectives in Google Docs so I could use it for curriculum mapping and so forth. I used Andreas' tutorial and my list of learning objectives to create the AP Chemistry learning objectives tracker.

I shared the file with my students so they could each make their own copy. I suggested that they look at their lab and quiz scores from our first unit to deduce whether or not they have mastered an objective. If they have, they check the checkbox. When they do, the objective turns from yellow to green and the text is struck-through. The percent of mastered objectives is instantly calculated and displayed. Our goal will be for 100% mastery by AP Exam day.

This afternoon a fellow chemistry teacher (named Amy!) mentioned she would like to try something like this for her work with Standards Based Grading in AP Chemistry.

I think this could work the same way as my tracker except I would add a second column of checkboxes for "progressing" (or some other word that means not yet mastered but progress is being made). Conditional formatting could turn those rows one color while mastery could be a different color. The visual cue of different colors would be appealing and indicate progress.

Now we can all keep our goal in mind, while staying organized and focused. How are you tracking student achievements? How are your students tracking their mastery?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Getting Kids Talking with Talking Points

I'm teaching AP Chemistry this year for the first time in a very long time. Since many of the students in AP Chemistry are my former students, I had the benefit of knowing almost everyone on day 1. Rather than start with a traditional icebreaker activity, I decided to use a strategy called Talking Points that I learned about at TMC18

Talking Points is a strategy that is designed to get students involved in discourse about a topic. The teacher creates a short list (10ish) of statements that have some built-in controversy or at least differing interpretations. Using words like "most," "best," "worst" help create statements that are easy to argue about. In groups, students read the statements and tell their tablemates if they agree or disagree and why. They tally up the agrees and disagrees for each statement and then share takeaways with the whole class. While they discuss, the teacher can circulate and eavesdrop on the interesting discussions that ensue.

Where I can see myself using this to address chemistry content this year, on day 1 I used the strategy to learn more about what my students think about AP Chemistry. Since I am designing some of what we will do based on my agreement with some of these items, it felt like a good way to introduce the rationale for what we do. My statements are pictured below:

It was fascinating to listen to their ideas as they discussed these statements. Every students participated in the discussions and many were very lively. Here are some of the takeaways:
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that a major focus of AP Chemistry should be preparation for the test.
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that we should practice tasks that are similar to the test this year and that we should become proficient at solving a certain number of problems in a certain amount of time.
  • Most students disagreed that earning an A in AP Chemistry ensures a 5 on the test. 
  • There were mixed reactions on whether or not we should practice calculating without a calculator (and most did not realize that you cannot use a calculator on the multiple choice part of the AP Exam).
Some of the trends and takeaways they identified included:
  • "We really want to practice the test."
  • "Although the test is important, the class and material is most important. The score is not necessarily definitive." 
  • Our agrees and disagrees were split in half.
 Here are reasons I will use Talking Points again:
  • In small groups, every student spoke. Without having to guide the discussion, I could just listen to the interesting things they said. 
  • It wasn't like pulling teeth to get them to share ideas.
  • When I described the AP Chemistry Exam and the types of tasks we will tackle this year, I think my vision made more sense to them. I think the activity did lay a foundation for the rest of our work.
I'm looking forward to using this in a more content-specific way the next time. Perhaps to compare answers to a lab or methods to solve problems or  review essential questions. I'm also planning to use this same activity with parents at Meet the Teacher next week. I hope they will embrace discussing these statements, too!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Anchor, Aweigh!

Podcasting is an area that I would like to explore this year. I'm not sure I want to podcast (maybe, though), but I know a lot of people who regularly listen to podcasts and that is not a medium I have tapped into much so far. In some ways, podcasting appeals to me because I could speak my thoughts much faster than I can type them, so maybe a podcast to accompany a blog post or instead of a blog post? I'm not sure. Still, I would like to learn more about them in the next 12 months.

To that end, my friend Ryan and I serve together on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Speech and Debate Association. Ryan suggested that maybe the OSDA needs a podcast, so we volleyed that idea back and forth at a recent meeting. Ryan started by asking a lot of logistical questions - how would we do it, where would we store it, could we mix in listener questions and comments, and on and on. My answer to all his questions was "yes, with Anchor." Again, I don't know much about podcasting, but I had heard that Anchor is a great tool. We quickly checked it out and, to prove to him that we could do it, we made a test podcast that I have embedded below:

Thoughts on Anchor: 

  • It was incredibly simple to make that 2 minute podcast. We did the whole thing (create an account, click New Episode, and start/stop recording) in fewer than 10 minutes.
  • You can upload audio files, record audio files, grab files from your anchor library, mix in listener messages, and add transitions. All with easy buttons.
  • You can store your podcast on their site. And you can farm it out so its available other places too.
  • Their mission: to democratize audio. How cool is that? They say they will do that by having a diverse team that represents everyone and offering awesome tools that are 100% free. It sounds too good to be true, but, in my limited so far use, it was true.

How can we use podcasting in our classrooms? Weekly podcast that reviews the week? Designated but rotating podcaster who makes a recording of a big idea or important takeaway? Citizen chemistry podcast? I really like these ideas, but I need to think about it more. 

Are you podcasting at school? With students? Share ideas as comments.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Get Rocketbook, indeed!

Last year I bought my first Rocketbook. Have you seen these? It's a notebook that you write in, often with a Frixion pen, like a regular notebook. At the bottom of every page, there are seven symbols. You get the accompanying free app and link each of the seven symbols to particular location in your cloud storage. Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or wherever you want to store your handwritten notes. When you scan the page with the Rocketbook app, the notes automagically go to the cloud location indicated by the chosen symbol. It's a great marriage of handwritten notes with technology storage and access.

I love handwritten notes. I like them because when I write something down, I am more likely to remember it. And to think about it afterward. But I also like the freedom of writing with a pen, of words mixed with doodles and pictures, diagrams, and annotations. This is hard to recreate with a digital note-taking tool, but easy to write with a pen and store in a digital way.

There are several styles of these awesome spiral-bound notebooks. There are the one-time use notebooks for write, store, and discard. There are also reusable notebooks. I have the Rocketbook Wave. When I have filled it up with notes, it can go into the microwave with a cup of water on top. Run the microwave and the whole notebook erases itself so you can start again! There are also Everlast Rocketbooks that can be wiped clean with water. In my classroom, I refer to spiral notebooks as the devil's tool, but I make an exception for these great notebooks because they are sturdy, well-made notebooks that can be used again and again and allow me to integrate writing and technology.

Recently Rocketbook expanded their line to include a similar notebook for drawing. The Rocketbook Color has eight blank pages, 2 dotted pages, and 2 lined pages. The pages can all be written (drawn!) on with dry erase markers and wiped clean after they have been scanned and saved. Crayola dry erase products are recommended but any dry erase markers will work. Last week I presented a session on sketchnoting at a local conference and recommended the Rocketbook Color as a great sketchnoting tool.

Rocketbooks are great for everyone, but they have a special devotion to educators. They have an educator community that one can join to stay abreast of new notebooks and share tips and tricks. They also offer a 30% discount on a bulk order of notebooks and they donate $1 from every notebook to Donors Choose.

If you are looking for a back to school bonus for yourself or a favorite teacher, treat yourself or your favorite to a Rocketbook. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Follow the Leader[board]?

image from
It started simply enough. I saw a product that I thought was awesome. But expensive. Expensive enough that I wouldn't just buy one, awesome enough that I really wanted one. But then there was a contest and I could win one. And who doesn't want to win something? So I entered.

This contest, though, wasn't a random drawing. It was a test of skills. A series of questions had to be answered. The questions showed up at all different times, so I was constantly watching my phone. At first I was in the lead. In my head, I had all but won the product. Sometimes the questions were timed so the pressure was on. Sometimes I rushed to answer first and I made careless mistakes. I fell behind, but could still see the goal. Eventually, as other people got started and were successful, I watched them climb on the leaderboard as I dropped. 

When I fell to a position that I thought I couldn't recover from, I stopped participating. I gave up. I even received messages of encouragement from the people running the contest: "Team challenge!" "Bonus for getting others to participate!" Nah. Once winning didn't seem realistic, I just was no longer interested. The contest is still running, but I'm not in the running. Because the goal no longer seems attainable.

I'm not a competitive person by nature. I don't play sports; I don't care about winning games. I have lived the adage, "It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game." In fact, as a speech and debate coach, I am known for the motto "skills, not scores." Still, a couple of weeks ago, I was super enthusiastic about this contest. Now the wind is out of my sails. Watching my progress relative to others deflated my spirit.

This has me thinking about my classroom. What are the ways we add a leaderboard to our classroom? How do we try to use competition to encourage kids to succeed? How do we damage kids with competition, especially when they don't think they can succeed? I once had a student tell me that she wouldn't volunteer to be a peer tutor because helping other students could mean her class rank wasn't as high as it could be if students struggle.

Grades are obviously one way we create a leaderboard. We have honor rolls and awards for kids who earn good grades. Do we equally recognize improvement? Some teachers let other students grade their papers or pass back papers so students become aware of who is on the leaderboard. Even without grades, we subtly use leaderboards through our classroom behaviors. We use webtools that create leaderboards for us. We call on students who know the "right answers," reinforcing the leaderboard.

How do these structures, and others, motivate a struggling student, a student who, like me in the contest, has decided that there is no way to win so she might as well give up? As I head back to school this fall, this is what I am carefully considering. I'm looking for ways to level the playing field, to help everyone focus on skills, not scores, with very little competition, so that everyone feels they can succeed.

I've written this post to submit to this virtual math teaching conference. I think it is important to talk - and think - about who is succeeding at math and why they are successful. How can what we do in our classrooms bring equity to students? And how can we help students realize their potential? But the conversation is obviously not limited to math. These questions apply to all subjects, all classrooms. What are you doing to eliminate the leaderboard in your classroom?

Friday, July 27, 2018

You down with TMC? (Yeah, you know me!)

For several years, I have wanted to attend two summer conferences - ISTE and TMC. My interest in ISTE stemmed from the hurricane of posts and shares that happens every June. Surely if everyone is attending, it must be awesome. My interest in lesser known TMC came from reading Amy Gruen's awesome blog. The enthusiasm with which she has described TMC made me really want to attend. This year, because both were so close to home, I was able to experience both. While I had a good experience at both conferences, they really could not have been more different from one another. Since my most popular posts have been comparisons, here is a quick one about these two conferences:

I have never been to a conference like TMC where

  • organizers encourage attendees to list pronouns of choice on name badges
  • thank you notes are left on a table in a common area so attendees can thank someone
  • a session lasts for six hours over three days (I loved this!)
  • organizers encourage attendees to stand like pacman to encourage others to join
  • buttons are distributed to help people connect and interact
  • math is discussed as a platform to bring equity to all
  • trendy math educators sing songs and do cheers and break every possible math teacher stereotype

Seriously, TMC is a special gathering of people.

I loved every session and I took away many things that I will use in my classroom or suggest to someone else this coming year. At some point, I hope to blog about those things to help me remember it all. In the meantime, this post will focus on the big picture.

It has been said that people won't remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. And if you read enough of these TMC recap posts, you will find a common theme in how people felt when they heard the keynote by Julie Reulbach. Sense of belonging. Renewed purpose. Valued and necessary. As a 25+ year Speech and Debate coach, I have heard a lot of speeches. This one was special. I will not forget what she said or how she made me feel. I feel incredibly lucky that I was there to hear her say it. I crawled to the finish line this past school year, but Julie's speech helped me shake that off and re-evaluate a little.

At the end of TMC18, we were encouraged to choose one thing to implement this year. Someone will check in to see how we're doing in October. I'm picking two things - one to do and one not to do - both inspired by Julie's speech.

To Don't: I'm not going to work on Sundays this year. Julie made the point that we are all enough. I tend to work too much, to take on too much, to put myself last. I'm going to make a conscious effort to stop that. I'm going to enjoy a day off every week. Working six days is enough. I'm enough.

To Do: The #MTBoS is a special group of people who inspire me a lot. I will admit to feeling like an impostor in this group, often because I am a science teacher (who teaches a lot of math). I love the #MTBoS and I will continue to participate in the community because Julie says I am not an impostor and because these people are amazing. But I will also work to find - or form - a community like this for science teachers. I need to stop waiting and searching for the #STBoS; it's time to make the community happen. If you are a science teacher wishing you could find a group of charismatic, nurturing, curious other science teachers, please connect with me. I'm going to start using #teachscience a lot and see where that gets us.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Lots of Fun with Numberella

While wandering around the expo at ISTE, I stumbled upon a board game. A board game, at a technology conference. A longtime lover of board games, I was immediately intrigued. Numberella is a game designed to increase skill level and engagement in mathematics. I watched for a while and eventually played. In just a few minutes, I was hooked.

Numberella has two basic ways to play. For players that are evenly matched, the game is pretty straightforward. Players, in turn, roll dice, choose cards, and questions or follow directions. Correct responses earn ANT coins. After a certain amount of time, the person with the most coins wins. When players are unevenly matched, other elements of strategy and luck are introduced so that players who struggle with math can still outwit and outlast others. By including "fortune cards" and "magic," the winner will not necessarily be the student with the strongest math skills. This built-in differentiation levels the playing field to help build confidence and determination. The game is available in three levels, so it provides practice for students at various levels from second grade through early high school.

Questions on the cards in the game are varied in style. Take a look at a couple of examples:

The small but mighty rule book includes teaching tips. One of the Fortune cards allows a player to hijack another player's turn. The teaching tips suggest that a teacher use this if they see a student really struggling so it can "take the heat off" the student and save the embarrassment of not knowing. The teacher can hijack the turn and explain how to solve, teaching a mini-lesson during the game. Or intervene in whatever way makes sense. I love the idea that the teacher is playing the game! Another tip is about time. Turns can be timed, but the teaching tips indicate that timed turns should only be used when players are very confident. The game also includes some DIY cards so teachers or students can create their own challenges.

When I sat down to play at ISTE, I had no idea about the educational nuances. It just looked like a fun game. Numberella was designed by Alexander Newberry and has a delightful British vibe. Lose a turn is called "Miss-a-go;" quirky characters adorn the game cards and box and create a charming backstory for the game. 

So what was this board game doing at the educational technology camp? There is an app that accompanies it. With the app, teachers can track student progress, create leagues and houses (because British!), have a leaderboard and more. In fact, Numberella has initiated a launch challenge via Twitter and the app. Teachers are competing for a chance at winning some free sets of the game and our progress is being tracked in the app. Wish me luck. I am currently in fourth place.

I already had a post in the queue for this clever game, but this was the perfect time to make it live because I am taking Numberella with me to TMathC this week. My new friends at Numberella donated the game so it could be played by amazing math teachers this week at camp. Thanks, Numberella. We are grateful!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Coding with Micro:bit (ISTE Gem #4)

I definitely want to dig deeper into coding in the next year, so I prioritized coding activities at ISTE. To that end, I had signed up for a ticketed (but free) session called Creating with Micro:bit and it was a highlight of the conference for me.'

Micro:bit is a very small, inexpensive, programmable computer that can be used for all sorts of things. I had no experience with micro:bit before the session, but I did have some experience with coding. I lead a coding camp for kids where I use predominantly free resources available online and some other coding gadgets. Most of what I help kids with at camp is block-based coding.

Upon entering the session, each participant received a micro:bit! That was a tiny computer and a USB cable for attaching it to the device we brought with us to our session. [Note: there are iOS and Android apps for the micro:bit that use bluetooth to connect to a device so it would not require a USB connection] We were directed to a website where we could start using blocks or Java to write a program.

We started by creating a program that would run when the lights dim, so the first command was if the light is less than a certain level, the program would run. Like all block coding experiences I have had, once a basic program has been achieved, participants quickly start adding other blocks to try to accomplish other things.

We used Microsoft MakeCode to write our programs, but micro:bit can also be programmed with Python or Scratch and some others. As you can see in the above image, MakeCode looks a lot like other block coding languages and has many options (input, music, radio, loops, logic, and so much more) to explore. Even with all these options, it was so easy to get started and incredibly gratifying when it worked!

Once the program is written, you click the save button. Then open the folder where it is saved and drag it to the micro:bit (which is connected via USB) to copy it. Then the program will run on the micro:bit. I created a program that would spell out the letters of my name:

I'm still not exactly sure how I will use this in my chemistry classroom, but I am going to find a way. I am toying with an idea for a new PBL when students have to animate a chemical process using a combination of making and coding. Maybe this is a good place to start. Micro:bit does have teacher resources available on their website as well as lots of other information for getting started.

Are you using coding in your science classes? Please share your ideas.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Photo Editing with Aviary (ISTE Gem #3)

When I became aggravated with the lines at ISTE (and getting closed out of sessions), I began to dedicate more time to the Vendor Expo. Lots of booths have small demo areas set up for sessions to take place right in the Expo. It was at the Adobe booth that I saw Leslie Fisher present on several Adobe tools, including the mobile app Aviary.

Aviary is a mobile photo editing app (iOS and Android) that Leslie described as an underused tool. Indeed, I had not heard of it, so I quickly downloaded it (it's free!) and began to follow along. Import a picture from your camera roll or take one within the app and then start editing. There are SO many ways to edit - enhance, add effects, crop, adjust, change the orientation, transform the image, add text, draw on the image, change the focus, add vignettes or stickers or frames or overlays, touch up blemishes and red eyes and whiten teeth, add a color splash, and create a meme.

I added a variety of effects to a photo I took of two turkeys and made a GIF out of the images. It is inserted below so you can get an idea of just a few of the possibilities in this free tool:

It is very easy to tap an effect and fiddle with the controls. Then Apply if you like it or Cancel if you don't. I especially like the splash of color option. My daughter played with the app for about five minutes before she declared, "I love that photo app!" 

When you get the image exactly the way you want it, you can save it to your camera roll and/or share it via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or other apps like Messages or Mail. If you're looking for an easy, free photo editor for your mobile device, this is a great one!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Computational Thinking with Polyup (ISTE Gem #2)

One of my favorite takeaways from ISTE was a new (to me) app called Polyup. Polyup calls itself a "free and open computational thinking playground. Modify expressions, functions, and algorithms to discover the beauty of math." Whatever you want to call it, it's a lot of fun!

The premise is that a machine will complete computations with numbers and operator blocks. Each time the machine must be modified to get a correct output. Watch this one minute video to see how the machine operates:

It's very fun (and a little addictive) to keep modifying the machine to achieve a particular number. The mobile app comes with a game called Number Practice that has five games per level, each level with a new number goal. Number Practice is also available on the web version of Polyup and all are free to use. There are many other ready-to-use Polyup games for grades 3-12 that you can load on a device with a scannable QR code.

One of my favorite features of Polyup, though, is the ability to create levels yourself. The GIF I created above shows all the operations your custom levels can contain. You could easily use this to help your students practice some very sophisticated math. Or, better yet, you could have your students create their own levels to demonstrate their computational thinking or help their peers practice. Again, these custom levels are shareable with QR codes like these:

A little digging around on the website shows that they count Jo Boaler among their advisors, so they are getting great advice! Whatever you call it, however you use it, I think students will be engaged by Polyup and you will love it too. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Let's be Fab@School (ISTE Gem #1)

Over the next several days, I'll be blogging about the things I saw at ISTE that I cannot wait to try in my classroom. The first of my ISTE gems is the Fab@School Maker Studio by FableVision Studios.

When I saw the title of this session ("Paper Prototyping Bootcamp") and the presenter (Paul Reynolds of FableVision), I made it a priority to attend. In fact, I was the fifth person into the room for the session! I have been a papercrafter since I was in middle school, so anything involving paper or cardstock automatically intrigues me. The Peter Reynolds book The Dot is one of my very favorites, so combine the Reynolds brand with papercrafting and this was destined to be a fave. 

Peter and Paul Reynolds are doing really cool things at FableVision Learning, the resource for creative educators. One of those cool things is Fab@School, a very easy-to-use maker studio software that is web-based, inexpensive, and appropriate for all ages.

In the video below, I demonstrate in two minutes how easy it is to model a cube that can be printed and cut out.

There are so many more options than what I demonstrated in that two minute video. There are simple things like copy and paste and rotate. You can add a graph paper background if you need one. You can free draw with a line tool. You can add text. You can hook many shapes together and then "weld" them into one big shape. You can also "unweld" shapes into component parts (including shapes from the Fab@School ready-made projects). And so much more.

When you have a project just the way you like it, you can print, cut and fold it. Or, and this is the part I really love, you can send your page to a Silhouette die-cutting machine ($150 on today) and it will cut on the cut lines and perforate the fold lines. How awesome is that! Kids are using Fab@School in combination with Silhouette cutting machines to prototype everything from simple 2D masks to complicated, scaled models of their schools. Fab@School has a library of projects, lesson plans, and tutorials.

My sister got the Reynolds brothers to sign a book for me
at the NSBA conference. It's a treasure!
A single license for Fab@School costs $25, so for $175 plus the cost of some cardstock, you could have unlimited fun with paper! Where many typical Maker Space tools could cost thousands, these tools offer a low cost option for some seriously creative fun. Plus, if you are working with an economically disadvantaged population, ask for a discount on licenses. I bet you'll get it.

I'm hoping to incorporate a project this year where students design components of a chemical "scene" with Fab@School. Then we'll print them out and automate them with a coding or robotic component of some kind. Stay tuned. It's going to be awesome.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

It's ISTE Time!

Next week at this time, the annual ISTE Conference will be winding down, but this week everyone is gearing up for a BIG five days of educational technology.

Last year I wrote this post about the Google + Community #NOTATISTE. At almost 2200 members, it's not as big as the conference that will take place in Chicago next week, but in many ways, that's better. The people who participate are very interested in sharing with and learning from each other. If you will not be at ISTE, I highly recommend this community. I have participated in the community for the last two years - lots of the fun of a conference without the expense! Currently people are introducing themselves and making badges to post to the community. There are daily challenges that people can answer via Flipgrid (or just by posting comments) and a very impressive wheel of door prizes.

I am headed to ISTE this year. I am going to attempt to blog from my sessions, so hopefully I will post next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I'm planning to focus on coding and am really looking forward to a session on Micro:bit. I'll be bringing one home (Thanks Microsoft, Micro:bit, and Fair Chance Learning for that!), so I'll be able to practice what I learn there.

What are you doing to get ready for ISTE or NOTATISTE? Maybe we'll connect at the conference or the community!

Sunday Saves 6.10.18

Here's what I bookmarked this week:

1. SpeakerDeck: This is an online host for slide decks. Start with a PDF and turn it into slides. Then use the service to present or share as a link or with embed code. Here is a deck I made to try it out (using the embed code to post it to my blog - not sure how to make it smaller!):

2. Crayon: A very bare bones (still in alpha) collaborative whiteboard space. Very easy to use! Click the Get Started button and then type in a name and a room name. To ask others to join, provide the link or just share the name of the room. Then users can interact on the board.

Note in the image above that it shows the names of who is on the board at the top of the screen and shows what color ink they are currently using. Crayon is not fancy, but it is easy. 

3.  What does an atom look like? A good video from PBS Nova: