Paper, Rock, Technology #MTBoS30 1 of 30

The Battle Begins

So I tried something, and some of it worked.  We did an entire math unit, without paper.



So how do you do math, without paper?

It wasn’t easy.  First we needed the technology platform to work with.  My district has gone 1:1 with Chromebooks in a program we call #ScholarPlus.  Using the Chromebooks in the classroom has been awesome, especially when it comes to visualization and assessment.  We can show graphs, diagrams, geometrical shapes, 3D perspectives, real time effects of changing numbers.  It can and does get really fun.  There are some major downsides as well so let’s break down the basics.


Paper Rock Computer Small

The following are some excerpts of common comments I heard from students throughout the last 3-4 weeks.

Paper beats Computer:

My battery’s dead.  I forgot my chromebook.  The network crashed.  My computer is acting slow.  Where is the document again?  Where do I click?  How is this math?  I miss paper, I learn better that way.  My computer , is going, sooooooo, s   l      o        w.

Computer beats paper:

That was easy.  I can see it.  Can I add this to it?  So you mean I don’t have to turn it in?  What do you mean I can’t lose my copy…it’s always there when I need it?  Can my parents see this?  How will I be graded?  I’m not a good artist, does that matter?

The biggest advantage to using the technology, discussion opened up.  I had high level comments from students on congruence, shape transformation, making sense of values with number talks and problem solving methods I hadn’t even come up with.  The content being pre loaded and interactive allowed us to focus on this discussion time.

Start with the interactive text.  We took a unit created by another school district and turned it into a Google document.  This required a lot of screenshots for pictures, copy and paste for text, and tables tables tables to keep things aligned and organized.  Here is a link to the actual online document we used.

Repeat the success

  1. Google Drawings: These worked awesome in getting the students to accurately draw lines, decompose figures, and label appropriately.
  2. Doctopus and Goobric: Probably the best document delivery, collection, assessment, and overall management system to help organize the workflow of digital content.
  3. Geogebra Applets (examples: 1 , 2, 3): These weren’t embedded into document.  That needs to change, but incorporating them into our discussion was powerful.  Also allowed students to use as instant feedback device.  If the applet disagreed with me I need to check my work.
  4. Desmos: for graphing data from investigations (look at rectangles with fixed perimeter section).
  5. Lot’s of coordinate plane examples.  This needs to happen more in Geometry type of units.
  6. Practice using an equation editor.  Preparing for tech like questions on SBAC and other CCSS computer based assessments.
  7. Use headings for Table of Contents in Google Document
  8. Have students reflect with written responses.

Learn from the struggles

  1. Shorten and Simplify.  Don’t rely on long explicit directions.   If document is getting too long (too many pages), split into smaller chunks
  2. Practice Paper for fluency.  Digital was great as a curated portfolio like experience.  Pencil and paper is still preferred for practice and repetition.
  3. Build in quick assessment opportunities into document for student to explore and get own feedback.
  4. Find something else to do besides staring at a screen for more than 20-30 minutes.  More discussion and activity outside of seat/desk whenever possible.
  5. Start every day with starting up device and opening up document page (hardware and network sometimes need a minute to get functional).
  6. If your going to do constructions, like a perpendicular line, just use Geogebra with shortcut commands.  The conceptual understanding does not require compass and straight edge style of work.
  7. Incorporate Parallel and Perpendicular relationships of lines earlier and more frequently.
  8. Discussions are great, archiving them somehow (reflections with feedback built in) would be even better.

This experience has taught me a lot, but I think the main ideas that hit me square face every day of the unit are balance, preparation, and assessment.  In terms of balance, digital tech needs to be near 50/50 with non-tech experiences.  It get’s overwhelming and students get disconnected.  Preparation, like for any solid learning experience, is much higher when technology is involved.  We need to get the kinks out first.  For assessment I’m now focusing on more than just mathematical understandings.  I’m grading for using tools appropriately, precision and fluency, and articulation.  My best brainstorm so far is to have a rubric for digital notes with categories: Precision, Process, and Problem Solving.


This isn’t my last thougths on the paper(less) debate, and I look forward to hearing other perspectives too.

Now it’s your turn:

  1. Do you teach math?  If not, what do you teach?
  2. Have you gone paperless?  What did you learn in the process?
  3. What do you wonder about going paperless?
  4. How would you assess the experience?


About Mr-Butler

Math Geek Volleyballer Crochet Crazy

Posted on April 29, 2014, in MTBoS30, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Cool. Interesting observations!

    Reading your item 8 (how do we archive discussions?) made me think of this other project I was involved in (InquirySpace) in which somebody had a great idea for PART of this.

    Namely, you know how kids are doing some investigation and at the end they’re supposed to write up what they did? And the writing, although an important aspect of communication, never quite captures what the students did? In fact, how “writing up what you did” sucks all the life out of the experience?

    In InquirySpace, we decided to have the groups do little teeny vodcasts at different points in the lesson. So they used screen capture and the mike (and camera) on their devices to record short videos at answer a particular question or generally explain what they did.

    And they submit the videos to the teacher over whatever networking system is present in the classroom.

    Yes, yes, of course (I reiterate) learning to write is important. But “make a short video” was a much easier task to take on. And it let students explain much deeper understanding. It still required care and hard work and rigor (whatever that is). And they really wanted to do it.

    If this is a good idea, I wonder what it takes for this to be part of the students’ everyday toolbox (as you have done with the Chromebooks and the software you’ve chosen) — and what else it can accomplish besides answering the question on the Google Doc and reporting out.

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