5 Ways to use GIFs in Math Class (Or any class really!)

5 Ways to use GIFs in Math Class (Or any class really!): More than a picture, but less than a video, and loads of fun of course! Come see how I use GIFs in my math class!

Since we’ve been a 1:1 school, I’ve been trying to come up with more and more ways to leverage the technology for better learning and higher engagement.  My favorite mantra from Alice Keeler is always, “It’s not digital, it’s DIFFERENT.”  In other words, if all we do is load up our normal lessons and worksheets into Google Classroom, and play a few games, we might as well just save ourselves the trouble.  If we are going to use tech for something, it better help us engage students more, help them learn better, or make things more useful, visual, interactive, etc.

GIFs have become something for me that I think can check some (or all) of these boxes, and they are a pretty simple concept.  More than a picture, but less than a video, and loads of fun of course.  So here are the 5 main ways I leverage GIFs in my math class.  I’m sure you could adapt this and find/make GIFs that fit any other subject area.


1.  Tutorials


Why say it in a 10 minute video that students have to sift through, or have just written instructions, when you can have the best of both worlds?  GIFs can be super helpful to illustrate how to use apps/websites and get students to be more self-directed.  Below I’ve linked to two Google Sites where I use GIFs.

  • Students were using these website pages to work on a statistics project.  The links below take you to pages where students could see how to create a scatter plot in Desmos, how to adjust axes, and how to find the best fit line:
  • This one is actually for teachers.  A colleague and I were both contributing to the site, and posting a small Google tip each week for other teachers.

In both of these examples, GIFs were accompanied side by side with short instructional steps.  This way, it’s short and sweet, and if you come back to reference the tutorial later it is searchable!  No trying to find that part of the video, you can “CTRL+F” and search for keywords for what you are trying to find!  Yay!

2.  Student Notes (Google Slides)

This past year I did a mix of notes in Google Slides and paper, just depending on what I felt was more useful for each topic.  I know some want to go virtual INBs all the way, while others want to go paper notes all the way.  Who’s to say what’s right, but this is a neat idea nonetheless!  You can still use it even if you want students to take traditional notes.  Maybe you could do this for students who are behind, or just students who are struggling.  I could to about 10 posts just on Google Slides, but here’s how I used GIFs in some Google Slides notes (follow the link or click through the presentation below):

Starting at slide 3, I use GIFs to show me working out problems for students.  Sometimes when students are looking back at notes, it’s hard to tell where one step ends and the next one begins.  This way, they can see one step at a time, on a loop, as many times as they want to see it.  I included a static image slide after each GIF slide to draw students’ attention to important points, and so that they don’t constantly have a moving/disappearing image if they just wanted to look at something.  Afterwards, you can see I added a few interactive slides for students to complete.  They had to solve a couple of problems on mini whiteboards and use Insert->Image->Camera to put a picture of their work on the slides.  Then they had to try to come up with what they thought a compound inequality looks like (building into the next topic).  I plan to use this more this year. (I’ll talk about the program I use at the end!)

3.  Using GIFs to Illustrate Vocab/Concepts

Sometimes math concepts are tough to visualize from static images/graphs alone.  This is where GIFs can come in really handy!  See some of the concepts illustrated below:


Use these in notes, on your projector before starting a lesson or to wrap up a lesson, or anything you like!  You can even just attach them in Google Classroom with an assignment!

4.  Student Input

I like working in collaborative slides.  That is, ONE set of slides where all of the students can edit and add a slide at once.  It’s like the Google Classroom feature to ask a question, but better because students can personalize it!  In this Google Slide, I’ve asked students to post a meme illustrating their weekend, and then another to show me how they feel about linear equations.  Students could just as easily find GIFs and do this type of activity as well!

I like throwing these in every once in a while so I can get to know my students and get some informal feedback on how they are doing (although a lot of times their meme/GIF choices will be a little dramatic).

5.  Spice Up Your Google Classroom/Website Banner!

Last, but certainly not least, you can use GIFs to spice up anything you want in your classroom that you would normally use images for.  Below, I’ve got a couple banners you could use to spice up your Google Classroom or Google Site banners!  It’s super simple and the kids (or at least mine) are super impressed that you took the time and had the tech savvy to make your own (I’ll show you how in a minute).


Click here to see what it looks like in my actual Google Classroom

I plan to use these when students return in the fall, and hopefully they love them and will see right off the bat that I don’t just use tech to upload worksheets, I do it to make things DIFFERENT.

Epilogue (How to make your own!)

I know GIPHY has a way to create your own GIFs from images, but to create mine I use a screen recording tool called ScreenToGif.  It is a free program to download, and super simple to use!  You record part or all of your screen, can edit out parts if you ran long or made mistakes, and then hit the “Save As” and make sure you save as a GIF!  Easy peasy!  Then you just upload your new awesome GIFs to whatever platform you like.

Have fun using GIFs this school year!  I know I will!


It’s Summer…and I can’t seem to stop!

It’s Summer…and I can’t seem to stop! It’s summer break in Carmi, although you wouldn’t know it. I’ve spent most of the first days of summer working on my Honors Alg. 1 curriculum (!), but I also have an exciting announcement!

Thursday, 5/23 was our official first day of summer!  Although you wouldn’t believe it.  I’ve spent most of it working on plans for next year’s new Honors Algebra 1 class (!!! so excited!).  But I also have an exciting announcement.Bitmoji Image

I’ve decided to open a Teachers Pay Teachers store and try my hand at contributing to the awesome resources on there!  So far I have 4 activities on there, various types.

Here are a couple of pictures from my lessons:


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I’m trying to come up with resources that address conceptual understanding.  I feel like that is something TpT is lacking.  Most of the lessons I’ve gotten from there are either practice/fluency focused, or application tasks.  While both of those or great, I was hoping to fill the void and provide teachers with some great opportunities to build conceptual understanding (see first two lessons) or quick formative assessments (i.e. card sorts) to determine misconceptions with students.

My main two categories will be full lesson plans to build conceptual understanding (ideally to be used at the beginning of a topic/unit), and card sorts to use as quick warm-ups and exit tickets to see if students are able to apply concepts and sort different cases.  Here’s a look at the lessons I have planned coming up!  I will update this page with the links to these as I get more finished!  I also plan on bundling lessons over the same topic (Linear Equations Bundle, Systems Bundle, and Polynomials Bundle are already in the works!)

Conceptual Understanding Full Lesson Plans

Card Sorts

  • Monomial/Binomial/Trinomial/Polynomial
  • Degree of a Polynomial (constant, linear, quadratic, cubic, quartic)
  • Types of Factoring (a=1, a≠1, GCF, Difference of Squares)
  • 1-Variable Linear Equations:  One Solution, No Solution, Many Solutions
  • Systems:  One Solution, No Solution, Many Solutions
  • Quadratic Functions:  Standard Form, Intercept Form, Vertex Form
  • Discriminant:  2 Solutions, 1 Solution, No Solution
  • Geometry:  Similar or Not Similar
  • Pythagorean Theorem:  Right Triangle, Obtuse Triangle, Acute Triangle
  • Vertical Angles, Alternate Interior, Corresponding, Alternate Exterior
  • Even/Odd Functions
  • Limits (∞, -∞, 0, Does not exist, #)
  • Exponential Growth/Decay
  • Linear/Exponential
  • Linear/Exponential/Quadratic
  • Function/Non-Function
  • Linear Function/Non-Linear Function
  • Sine/Cosine/Tangent (triangle pictures)

Follow my page, Conceptual Mathematics, on Facebook to get updates when I add new lessons to my store or blog.

Any topics you would like to see a lesson/card sort for, but it’s not on my list?  Request one and you will receive it for free just for giving me the idea!


When Nerd Worlds Collide

We have two weeks left of school, and I’ll confess the fatigue is setting in. But as it always goes with teaching, just when you think you will pull your hair out, something cool happens and your students surprise you and make you proud.

We have two weeks left of school, and I’ll confess the fatigue is setting in.

Bitmoji Image

But as it always goes with teaching, just when you think you will pull your hair out, something cool happens and your students surprise you and make you proud.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still been a stressful week trying to get everyone done with this last project over parabolas, but I’m just so impressed with some of the creativity and cool new things students were willing to try this late in the game.  I will definitely do the project this way next year!  I gave students much looser requirements list this time because I wanted to let them choose things they were interested in and be creative.  Boy did some of them really deliver!  Here is the outline of the project (click on the image below to see the Google Doc):


Students had to choose an application of parabolas, write two parabola equations, and provide an explanation and visual aid.  This gave them 15 out of their 30 points.  Then they could choose smaller add-ons for their project for 5 points each to add up to their 30 total points.  My favorite of these are:

  • Take a live video of your parabola topic
  • A stop-motion animation of their topic in Google Slides
  • A Desmos animation of their topic
  • Take a selfie with another parabola around town or your home (McDonald’s arches, a water fountain, a hammock, etc.) and create a parabola on it with Desmos.

**I had an example of each of these ready just to give students a few ideas. (Angry birds stop motion, a simple mario jump in Desmos)

My students have come up with some great ideas and put in a lot of hard work over the last few class days!  I am so proud and excited that they were willing to learn some new fun tech skills so close to the end of the year!  I love it when we can combine math with other fun things!

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.  Click on each image to see the animations.  I have to say, I think the video game ones are the most creative ones and students definitely pushed ME conceptually to help them problem solve with all of the crazy things they wanted to do (see the last one!).  I even had a couple of students I couldn’t help them with every single idea they had in time, but they were like, “That’s ok, I’ll just turn in what I have now and we can keep messing with it.”  SCORE ONE for Mrs. Childers!!  The more complicated ones also opened up cool discussions about domain and range restrictions, which is a topic we will review for exams next week anyway!! Woo!

basketballstopmotion       moon

mario1hc       mario3jl.PNGmario2bf


Let me know if you want more info on creating any of these animations, or if you have done something similar with your classes!  I would love to know what other teachers do to wrap up a quadratics unit!


“A picture is worth 1000 words…”

Wow.  Get ready for a REALLY cool story.  This one spans all 6 years I’ve been teaching.

Wow.  Get ready for a really cool story.  This one spans all 6 years I’ve been teaching.

It’s been forever since I’ve posted anything. This year has been INSANE with teaching, color guard, and personal stuff…hopefully I can go back and post some this summer?  I was even thinking a few days ago that I’d like to write a blog post, but hadn’t thought of a topic yet…enter today’s story.

So, I was actually in the middle of searching for different parabola project rubrics that teachers used, just to get ideas.  I wanted mine to look a little different this year (more on that later).  But while I was browsing online for parabola project ideas, I ended up on Pinterest in my search, and there it was!  This image that I had pinned a long time ago from my very first year teaching 6 years ago.


I wanted to do a hands-on activity before polynomials because I know they can feel very abstract and useless to students.  It is the only lesson I remember from my first year, but it’s still a lesson that I’m super proud of and use every year!  I will get to the lesson logistics in a minute, but this was just a really fun find!  And then it turns out, it’s not even my pin, but a link to someone’s blog post.  I now know that someone has a name, Shana McKay of Scaffolded Math!

Here’s a short snippet of her post:

“Disclaimer: This is not my idea. If it is yours, I would LOVE to meet you, chat, virtually shake your hand and pat you on the back. In fact, I’ll write this post TO you.”

Now that doesn’t happen every day!

I instantly replied to her blog post with my email, and found her Facebook group Visual Math, which I joined!  I guess the group (which is awesome by the way) wanted to know more about the picture when she posted the blog back in the fall, but they didn’t know it was mine because the original pin got taken down!  So she just posted it in the hopes that someday I would see it and contact her!  Coolest. Nerdiest. Day. Ever.

They want to know more about how I run this activity in my classroom, so here’s a walk through of how I run the activity.  We do this activity as an intro before they know ANYTHING about parabolas.  In fact, most of them have not even heard the word parabola.  I’ve done it before the entire polynomials unit before, and this year I actually just did the activity after polynomial arithmetic but before we started graphing.  I think I like it better there.  Anyway, here is how it usually goes.

  1. I tell the class a context for a perimeter of problem.  I use a perimeter of 40 because this allows for LOTS of correct answers so they are all finding different ones.
  2. This year, I used the idea of pushing together a bunch of small square tables (the kind you see in restaurants that only fit one chair on each side).  You want to push together enough chairs to fit exactly 40 people around it.  This usually takes a minute to sink in (especially because students get so mixed up about perimeter and area), so I will often give them a visual that doesn’t equal perimeter 40 just to give them a jumping-off point.  Something like this:example.PNG
  3. Next, I ask students to create several rectangular “tables” that will seat 40 people around them and cut them out of colored paper that has just a plain grid on it.  Now I also ask them to write the area in a dark colored marker in the center of each rectangle they create.
  4. When it looks like everyone has at least a couple designs, I have a handout (pictured and linked below) that has an x/y table on it and a graph.  I have the same table and graph up on my projector.worksheet
  5. I next ask students for a few of the base measures they came up with and their areas and we fill in the table.
  6. Once we have the table done, I ask students, “Who has a rectangle with a base of 1? 2? 3?” etc. and students come up and tape their rectangles on the board in the correct spot (x-axis = base measure, y-axis = area).
  7. Once the graph is complete, sometimes with a few gaps, we discuss the basics of the shape that was created, called a parabola, and I introduce the vocab.  We always have a great discussions about this.  Why can’t we have a base of 20?  A base of zero?  So then we can talk about x-intercepts.  Which table that we created has the biggest area for food?  Where is it located on the graph?  Bringing in the idea of the vertex and the maximum.  Then we discuss how the symmetry of a parabola happens because a 1×19 rectangle and a 19×1 rectangle have the same area.
  8. Often the day after this activity we talk about all of the terms again more formally, but I feel like now they have a better understanding of why a parabola looks the way it does and how multiplication factors into it (get it?)

Bitmoji Image

I would love to find out if you have used a variation of this activity and how it went, or if you have any suggestions!

This activity is near and dear to me, and I loved it so much after I taught it that I used it for my LearnZillion Dream Team application that year!  Here is my application video if you want to view it!  (My voice is usually not this perky I promise, but if you’ve ever seen a LearnZillion video you know they are usually bright and cheery).

I’m so excited to share this activity with my math nerd friends as well as the awesome stories behind it!  And apparently this picture is literally worth 1000 words!  (1,009 to be exact)

I hope everyone has a great rest of your school year!


Evaluating Expressions Game

We played a game in my Math Foundations class today for solving expressions, and I really like it!  I struggle to find games I like in class, because so many of them require you to just do a bunch of problems, and then do something with the answer (Like play bingo, etc.).  While these games can be fun, I like games that require some strategizing and some problem-solving throughout the game.  This one checked both boxes!

This week, we’ve been reviewing Evaluating Expressions, and Combining Like Terms.  This game reviews Evaluating.  I’ve seen lots of versions of this game out there, but in all of them the expressions are already given.  I wanted to tweak it to make it a strategy game, so I left blanks and had students fill them in.

image1 (1).jpeg

How to play

Here is a link to my version (for FREE!!) in my TpT store if you want to use it in your class!

I wanted a bit more strategy, so I let the students come up with the expressions.  I gave them blanks like:  ___+___x, and they would fill in with say a 3 and a 2, making 3+2x.  Since there were 10 blanks in each game, they were able to use the numbers 1-10 each once to fill in their blanks (like an Open Middle problem).  This way, they had to think about what numbers should go in each blank so that they can get larger numbers for their total.

At first, students were just randomly putting in numbers (some just literally did 1-10 in order), and I let them.  I wanted them to see what happened when they rolled the dice and got their total.  After they got through their first game, I asked them to write new numbers in, and strategize a bit more.  We didn’t quite get through the second game as a class, so I will let them finish that tomorrow.


I think once students finish 2 games, I will bring it back in and talk about strategies they could use to get a higher score, regardless of what they roll.  I will ask some questions like:

  • “Should the bigger numbers go with the variables or without?”
  • “Which types of numbers should go with the negative signs?

Then, once we’ve had that discussion, I will have them fill out their 3rd game.  This time, they will have to try to beat ME.  We will play under my document camera, and this time we are going to all use the same dice roll value, so the strategy will be the only thing that matters this time!

We’ll see how it goes 🙂

Happy almost Friday everyone!


An Escape Room in High School Math

I had never done an escape room before, but last winter a bunch of my husband’s family decided to try one together.  It was AMAZING!  Highly recommend if you are looking for something new to do.  After that, I really wanted to try to create one, so before the end of last year, I tried out an escape room in my Math Foundations class! 

There are a few posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while, so since I’m home from school today with food poisoning *face palm* I figured I’d catch up.  Expect to see a few posts from me over the next few days!

I had never done an escape room before, but last winter a bunch of my husband’s family decided to try one together.  It was AMAZING!  Highly recommend if you are looking for something new to do.  After that, I really wanted to try to create one, so before the end of last year, I tried out an escape room in my Math Foundations class!  Another teacher and I had been wanting to try it, so we purchased some escape room supplies to share.  (Pictures of finished escape room are at the end of this post)

What is it?

If you’ve never done an escape room before, basically it’s a series of puzzles and your goal is to either escape the room or open a box, etc.  There are a bunch of locks everywhere.  You get an initial story and clue to get you started, and that helps you open the first box/door/etc.  The items/clues/puzzles in there help you open the next, and the next, etc. until you have solved the room.  Usually the time limit is one hour.


Here are all of the supplies we purchased off of Amazon, let me know if you would like any specifics!

  • A variety of combination locks, with varying styles of number, letter, and directional combination possibilities.
  • A small safe that looks like a book.
  • A keypad safe.
  • A couple boxes that could be locked.
  • A chain.
  • A hasp that can hold up to 6 locks.
  • Blacklight Mini Flashlights.
  • Pens that write in invisible ink.
  • Blank Dice
  • A map
  • A braille alphabet
  • Blank Journals
  • Blank Puzzles
  • A magnifying glass


*Note:  This could have been pared down quite a bit to make it more affordable.  If you have any devices in your classroom you could easily use Google Forms instead of locks, or even iPads (you can change the passcode on each one, then the next clue is in the photos, in the web browser, etc).

The process…

After I had all of the supplies, I set out to create my escape room.  It feels overwhelming at first, but here was the method to my madness.

  • Pick a theme (I chose a spy theme), and create a short ‘story’ of what you want to happen in your escape room.
  • Flesh out your story a bit.  Spell out exactly what clue you will start with, what it will lead to, which lock you will use, etc.  It’s definitely more fun if some of the clues actually mean something with the story.  For example, my story mentioned that you are agent ‘314’, so my first 3-digit lock, which I had on a suitcase, was ‘314’.  This especially gives them an easy win at the start so they get excited.
  • Get creative with your setting and clues!  Like I said, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make these clues if you don’t want to.
    • I used a magnifying glass handle (could easily be a pencil or marker) and a strip of paper wound around it as a clue. (pictured below)
    • In another part I used a ‘postcard’ with a ‘decoder’ that had holes cut out in strategic places. (forgot to take a picture, but see this blog post)
    • I brought a comforter/pillows and a suitcase because my escape room was in a ‘hotel room’.
    • I created a fake headboard out of paper and left blacklight clues.  I turned one desk into a nightstand and the rest into a bed.

Here is the Google Slide I used to plan:

Some extra touches…

To make my escape room a little extra fun, I tried to do some extra things to set the mood.

  • Used a magnifying glass as a clue
  • Gave my initial clue as a ‘mission’ description
  • I found a 1hr of spy music YouTube video to play in the background.
  • I gave a note at the end that looked like a ransom note.
  • Gave my Google Form some ‘top secret’ decoration
  • Here are all of the problems we practiced, and my ransom note and ‘secret agent profile’

Using with Students…

One thing to keep in mind is I did this with a small class (only 13 students).  This would be difficult to do with a large class all at once.  If you would like to do with a large class, I would recommend splitting in half.  Half of the students work on the escape room, other half work on an assignment, then switch the next day.  I did end up giving more hints than I originally intended for the non-math puzzles, but many of my students had never solved puzzles like this before, so they needed an extra nudge.  Overall we had a great time, and it was a great way to review and break up some late-in-the-year burnout.  I definitely think it will be easier next time now that I’ve got one under my belt.

Have fun designing your escape room!  Let me know if you need any advice!  (Pinterest is great for puzzle ideas too!)

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Forms and Sheets and Sites…Oh My!

Last post, I shared a basic “4 Steps to Getting Started with Google Classroom” document that I will share with my school in the fall as we go 1:1 Chromebooks.

Today, I’d like to share a more in-depth tutorial that I created for Google Forms and Sheets!  I have been gathering info at the 4C’s Conference earlier this month, while completing my Google Certification Levels 1 and 2, while browsing Pinterest and Twitter, and while reading Alice Keeler’s AMAZING book “Teaching Math with Google Apps.”  I have created a Google Site with all of the ideas I have collected, and sorted the site into these topics to make it more manageable:

  • Google Forms Basics
  • Google Forms Tests/Quizzes
  • Google Forms Assignments
  • Google Forms Rubrics
  • Google Forms for Everyday Tasks
  • Tips for Making Google Forms Quickly

You can find my tutorial site here.  I also created a doc for each page, because when I tried to print the pages of the site, my formatting got lost and the images went weird.  Here are my files and example forms if you would like to make a copy and steal them for your own use!



Google Certification, LearnZillion, and Google Classroom Tips

Happy Monday everyone!

I’m going to start the week off by tooting my own horn just a little bit because I’m overjoyed about how my summer has gone so far.  A few accomplishments:

Happy Monday everyone!

I’m going to start the week off by tooting my own horn just a little bit because I’m overjoyed about how my summer has gone so far.  A few accomplishments:

  • I earned my Google Certified Educator (GCE) Level 1 and Level 2 Certification.  If you haven’t gone through the training center, I highly recommend it!  Even if you don’t plan on taking the certification exams ($10 and $25), the free training gave me great ideas to enhance my digital lessons using Google Apps.
  • I became a 2017 LearnZillion Dream Team Content Creator, and I’m super excited to be a part of their latest project!  I just started last week, and I will tell you more about the exciting new content as we roll out at the end of the summer.
  • I just heard today that I am going to be a LearnZillion Ambassador this year!  This is a new position at LearnZillion, but basically I will be helping to develop the content that we will present at conferences, in blog posts, etc.  I will also get to travel to both national and local conferences to talk about my story on the Dream Team and talk about LearnZillion’s resources!

I also have all of these lovely badges I get to display on my websites, social media pages, and email signature.

Google Tutorials

I’m sure there will be more of these throughout the summer, but I am beginning to create some Google tutorials that I want to share with my colleagues throughout this year as we transition to 1:1 Chromebooks.  At the beginning of the year, we are going to encourage everyone to create a Google Classroom for each class so they have a centralized location to distribute announcements/assignments/due dates.  This first tutorial is a quick-start guide to creating and using a Google Classroom site, and it is aimed at beginners, but has a few tips even if you’ve used a Classroom page before.  Feel free to steal it and tweak it for your needs if you need something to take to your school, or need help getting started!  I plan on coming up with a walkthrough of a few more advanced features soon.


Here’s the file in two different formats:

PDF:  4 Tips for Getting Started with Google Classroom
Google Doc:  4 Tips for Getting Started with Google Classroom

Is there anything I’ve left out for beginners, anything I should add?  Leave a comment below!

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some tips on using Google Forms and Sheets!


My Takeaways from the 4C’s Conference (Part 1)

This week I went to a two day conference in Mt. Vernon, IN called the “Rock the 4C’s,” and it was the best local conference I’ve ever been to!  So many great takeaways and the Keynote speaker was amazing!  Today, I’d like to share some of the inspiration I got at the conference.  Tomorrow, I’d like to show two exciting ideas I’m now working on for the fall as a result of this inspiration.

In case you are unfamiliar, the 4 C’s are a new “buzz” in education:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity

Keynote:  Buddy Berry, Superintendent in Eminence, KY

  • Buddy Berry talked about his schools and how they began to do things differently.  They went from the lowest performing schools in Kentucky to some of the highest performing schools by making some radical changes that would scare the pants off of most of us.
    • They made some sacrifices for two years to get a device for each student.
    • They got wifi buses so students could be online while they ride to school.  They decided to shrink the gap between low and high income families by parking their wifi buses in lower income areas at night. (AWESOME!!)
    • They engage their students in passion projects and dedicate a significant amount of time letting students pursue their interests.
    • They complete community service projects that help solve problems in their community.  Some of their students decided they didn’t like that their was a creek dividing the black and white “sections” of their cemetery.  They designed a bridge that would both metaphorically and physically connect the two parts of the cemetery, 3D printed a model, and made a proposal to the cemetery board.  This is just one example of the amazing problem-solving and community involvement he talked about.
    • They dedicate zero time to standardized test prep.  Yet they are still some of the highest performing schools in the state.
  • Mr. Berry’s keynote and breakout sessions inspired me to think differently about how I want to improve my classroom this year.  I need to not just think about better ways to teach my content.  I need to think about how I can offer more choice, collaboration, fun, and real-world problem solving skills that they an apply and see the results of in real time.  Most of all I need to be less afraid to try something CRAZY.  So many of the examples he gave us were completely out of the norm for the educational world.  But they have repeatedly done “crazy” things and it has paid off.  More about that in my next post.

Google Apps Breakouts

  • Besides the awesome inspiration and mindsets, I wanted some more inspiration on how to best use Google Apps when we go 1:1 Chromebooks next year.  Displaying GCE_Badges_01.pngI have recently become Google Educator Certified – Level 1, and I am currently working towards my Level 2 certification.  Some powerful things I’ve learned from the certification process and the conference:
    • Google is perfectly set up to use multiple apps at a time to create powerful lessons and communication with students and parents.
    • I can use Google Forms and Sheets to automate previously tedious processes, so that I can spend more time creating powerful lessons for my students.
    • Students can collaborate on pretty much every Google platform.
    • More on this throughout the summer as I begin to create  lessons for fall using the Google Suite.

Other Breakouts

  • Two other sessions I attended were about using PBL in the classroom, and a 3D printing/STEM session.  A few important takeaways:
    • Instill that it takes time to find the answer to a real-world problem.  Encourage them to keep improving and revising their projects and use all of their time given.
    • Choose projects that could have many different solutions to the problem.
    • Limit the materials they can bring from home and make sure they get the materials pre-approved.
    • Have other, cheaper materials in the classroom, but give them a “budget” and give each material a “price”
    • Always have them present their projects in an authentic way.  Present to their peers, other grade levels, create a Google Site, present to parents at a parent night, etc.
    • Try to also choose projects that are connected to something in the community.  Students can also suggest problems they see in their community.
  • Last, I went to a session on Sketchnotes with Pam O’Risky, which I knew nothing about.  I loved it!  Basically, it’s just a way to visually represent the same information you would take notes on, but it is much more memorable because you draw sketches, make mind maps, and personalize your sketchnote based on your thinking.  The link above has some great resources/examples/videos if you are new to the idea.

Top Three Takeaways

Ok so here are my top 3 things I will think about as I plan for my classes this year:

  1. What combinations of tools, apps, projects, and activities will best help my students engage and learn?
  2. What choices/freedom can I give them so they can find something they are interested in?
  3. How can my students authentically show what they know?

Three Apps I Didn’t Know About

  • Rewordify – an extension where you paste a link of a website that is difficult to read, and it changes words to easier vocab.
  • UBlock Origin – An extension that blocks ads on websites and Youtube videos.
  • EdPuzzle – An app where you can trim Youtube videos, add interactive questions/content, voice over, and add voice memos at strategic parts of the videos.

Tomorrow, I will present my two project ideas that I want to try this year that both scare and excite me.

This summer consider:  What are you trying in your classrooms next year that seems scary/crazy?  How will it be worth it if we pull it off?

What happens when we let STUDENTS Ask the Questions? (Part 2)

My Algebra 1 students used the last week of school to pursue their interests, ask questions, and play! See what happened…

The Project

In my previous blog post, I discussed an activity I wanted to try during our final full week of school (this week we just have one regular day and then exams).  The whole goal of the activity was to empower students to ask and answer their own questions, something I want to explore a lot more in-depth next year.

I launched the project, let them choose groups and their topics, and then they set off to work.  I gave them most of the week to:

  • Write 3-5 questions they were curious about.
  • Attempt to answer 1-2 questions (they have more than this in case one is a dead end or turns out not to be as interesting as they thought)
  • Prepare a short “show and tell” talking about their topic, any fun facts, and what they found out.

Getting Started

So here’s what happened when we started:


  • Almost all of the students had a good time getting started, playing with their topic, maybe doing some quick research, etc.
  • Many of the students struggled to write their own questions, and some of the ones they wrote weren’t very “meaty,” so we had to have some discussions about what makes a good question that will allow us to play.
  • Everyone was able to find something they were pretty interested in. (It’s the end of the year, so even if they weren’t jumping up and down, I’ll take it!)
  • Some students came up with some great questions I hadn’t even thought of, which is always a plus and what you want with something like this!! Score!!
  • Lots of students were afraid to do something “wrong.”  Yikes, you can tell they haven’t had enough time to “play” this year, something I need to strive very hard for next year.

Student Questions

Once we discussed what made a good “meaty” question that takes some playing to answer, lots of groups came up with some awesome questions!  I also mentioned not EVERY question has to be meaty if it’s something they are interested in, but I wanted at least one “Hmmmm…” question.  I want to share some of them here, but obviously there are too many to capture them all!  I will share some more when I get to see their show and tell presentations tomorrow!

Checkers Board

  • “How many checkers does it take to cover a checkers board (if there are no gaps between checkers)?”
  • “How many moves can it take to get ‘kinged’?”
  • “Is it possible to ‘jump’ all 8 of the opponent’s checkers in one move?  If so, how many different ways?” 

Rubik’s Cube

  • “How many twists does it take to solve a rubik’s cube?”
  • “What is the difference between a 3×3 and a 2×2 cube?”
  • “How much do you think one cube weighs?”

Magic Squares

  • “Does a magic square only work with addition?”
  • “Does it only work with the numbers 1-9?”
  • “Does it have to be a perfect square, or can it be different shapes?” 

**This one was actually one of my favorites, my students had lots of “aha!” moments!  They were afraid to play around at first, afraid they would do something wrong.  Many of them chose the number they wanted to total up to first, and then tried to fill in numbers.  The conversation would go something like:

Student:  “I can’t get this one to work.”

Me:  “Ok, so what number would go here to make it total to ___ like you want?”

Student:  “Hmmm… -2?  Can we have a negative like that though?”

Me:  “I don’t know, what do you think?  Should we allow negatives in our magic squares?”

Student:  *Finally realizes after 2 days that we are playing around and there are no ‘wrong’ answers*  “Oh!  I don’t know!  I will try it!”

Me:  *Mental self five!*  “Awesome!  I’ll come back and you can tell me what you found out.”



  • “What kinds of shapes can you make tesselations out of?  Can they be any shape?”
  • “Are there different kinds of tessellations?”
  • “How can we make our own tessellations?”

**I liked this one a lot too because students went lots of different directions.  Some found lots of cool ones that had already been created and we talked about some that were translations, some that were reflections, some that were rotations, etc.  Some created them by hand, and some used some different shapes tools on Google Slides and just changed the colors.  I’m super excited to see all of the cool tessellations they came up with!


A few things I’ve thought about this past week:

  • My students need lots more practice at this!  They are not used to being the ones asking the questions that drive us forward.
  • I need to figure out how to introduce activities with the tiniest piece of information possible, so that students can have the freedom to come up with these questions. 
    • For example, I saw an Illustrative Math task that used a scatter plot, and I was thinking of creating some kind of time lapse video of my laptop battery charging, and using it next year when we talk about linear equations so that students can ask questions like:  “How does it know how many minutes are left?”  “How fast is it charging?”  “When will it reach full charge?” and more…
  • My students need more chances to be the experts in the room!  They have so many great ideas/insights/questions and I keep losing sight of this as I keep to the “pace.”  As always (and I’m sure I’m not alone on this one), I need a better balance between student inquiry and keeping students on pace to cover the material we need to cover in Algebra 1.
  • I need to figure out what to do with students who have trouble focusing or lose motivation halfway through when we are doing projects next year. 

Anyone have any help/insights on these?  Please comment below!!