Blog Archives

What’s Your Short Term? #JulyChallenge2014 4/31

I just spoke with my brother, @jakebutler, just catching up on the latest. We eventually go into a conversation about concept development, and how it accelerates as history progresses.  The gist was something like Moore’s law applied to the topic of impactful ideas.


A standard long term example he posed was the idea of language and documentation, tracing from spoken, to written, automated, then digital, and now multimedia.  The next big thing comes faster than the last, and sometimes it feels like we’re always playing catch up.  My brother works for an awesome company based out of Boston that focuses on a lot of the social aspects of healthy living, especially in the realm of technology integration.


He told me that they have long term goals, but when it comes to comprehensive and detailed planning, each of their sub teams never looks further out than 2 weeks.  We started applying this format to technology in general and I in turn added the context of education and #edtech.  For the most part, I would argue (as would my brother) that successful technology enhancements have gone away from the secret projects behind closed doors that take at times years to reach a level worth any public reveal, and instead have more of a micro step process.  Upgrade a few things, and often.  The short term plan to update and implement smaller, more frequent changes has been a necessary adaptation to the accelerating progress of technology in general.

As teachers are upgrading their curriculum and technology for near future integrations I think we need to consider the value of this short term cycle.  Instead of having an entire year planned out to the day, we can maintain long term bench marks with the intention on updating our planning through small frequent upgrades.  I doubt that teachers trying to implement formative and interactive technologies in the classroom would have predicted the introduction of @peardeck (read more here).

This hard for an educator to manage.  We already have plenty on our plate between and the hard requirements and soft skills necessary to achieve them.  If a teacher truly wants to match the current culture of technology and conceptual progression we need to have an appropriate design for our planning.  We need to anticipate the change and build in the flexibility so that we can adapt on the fly.

I don’t know if I’d take it as far as this guy…

…but refusing an adaptive attitude is assuming we can predict the future of every step in growth of our students.  And that sounds silly.


I’d love to hear how others have integrated this adaptive planning, with small frequent updates, into their classroom planning (tech and non-tech contexts)


Quick #EdTech tip IWB Mobilized #JulyChallenge 2/31 #MTBoS

I have some ideas for the next few days of posts, mostly dealing with metaphors for teaching.  So far on that list is Farming, Cooking, and I’ve heard that there’s also some thoughts on fishing.  Let’s take a quick commercial break brought to you by the folks at Waco, Swordsoft, Peardeck, Google, and I’m sure some others might creep in.

I used to loved interactive whiteboards.  Yes, that is a past tense reference.  Most of my experience with these is with the Promethean Company.

I learned to be proficient with the standard slide software ActivInspire in which I made plenty of flipcharts.  It was awesome.  I could make interactive presentations, I could screencast the material or export it to multiple other standard formats.  Then I realized the down sides.  Cost.  The handcuffs that anyone in the education industry is all to familiar with.  These boards are expensive.  The accessories are expensive.  And one major downside to the standard entry level interactive whiteboard was it’s own built in shackles.  The board required that you be within arms reach to interact with it.  Of course, one could buy a mobile tablet that goes with the board/software, and that brings us back issue #1: cost.  Companies justify this cost by showing the awesome capabilities of the hardware and software that comes with the package.

I tried some alternatives, like Johnny Lee’s low cost interactive whiteboard that was even featured on TED.  This worked every once in a while, but it still required close proximity to some board as well as constant recharging and calibration.  It started me thinking on how to find low cost alternatives, something more practical for the average teacher.

I tried some Wacom tablets, starting with my first, a bluetooth model refurbished from eBay.

Photo from

This again was alright, but still inconsistent and cumbersome.

A little more than a year ago my student teacher and I tried a newer model of the Wacom Tablet with an added RF wireless adapter.

I LOVE IT.  Here’s why:

  • connects over RF, no wifi required (you can go wireless anywhere, up to about 30′)
  • low weight, I can easily hold it in my hand without feeling a strain as a roam the classroom
  • reasonable cost: $80 tablet + $40 Wireless adapter kit
  • battery: single charge easily lasts more than a full day of HEAVY use, often I get at least a week off one charge

But wait, what about that fancy software?  Aren’t all the built in math tools wonderful?  Yes they are, but Google Drawings, Google Slides, Geogebra, Desmos, and EduCreations have pretty much matched anything I’d done before.  Also, that screen annotation available in those fancy software packages have been replaced by ScreenInk by Swordsoft for a whopping $2.

For those of you that are partial to iPads and apps like AirPlay mirroring,  Reflector, Splashtop or SlideShark, I respect that.  A tablet stylus tends to not be as precise as the Wacom technology, and this tablet with RF adapter doesn’t have a time delay like the others.

With many classrooms incorporating technology into the classroom, teachers need to be mobile now more than ever.  I would also qualify that with maintaining a balance of tech use in the classroom.  Electronic does not imply engaged, and a mobile teacher is needed to manage the 21st century classroom.  By the way, if you didn’t catch the primary advantage, the total cost of this Wacom package (~$120) is about %10 of most other solutions.  Go bug your principals and edutech purchasers to look into this.  I’d be more than happy to field any questions or comments on the issue.

If you have another alternative, I’d also love to hear about that.

Now for Some Real User Power #MTBoS30 3 of 30

I enjoy math, thoroughly.  I also enjoy design and technology.  Recently I’ve had a wildfire like experience in processing and learning material through Geogebra and Desmos.  I’ve been learning and experimenting with these much faster than I could possibly archive organize the material.  I look forward to the upcoming extended break at summer to truly polish this material.  Currently I’m feeling more like

Greetings Programs

This little presentation I had tonight was a breath of fresh air.  It was a mixed crowd and we had a great time.  About half mathies  in the room, and half techies.  It wasn’t a large crowd, so we had a casual, yet productive time.  At around 2/3 of the way through the time allotted, one of those in the room inquired about the coding behind some of the applets.  Others seconded the question, so then we transitioned from math to tech.

Technology geeks, myself included, often dive into the code and lose some of the social part of the experience.  Working on the backend of a program experience too often is a lonely one.  Talking about this experience in a real life, social platform was great for myself and them.  I was able to reflect and process on my wildfire experience of learning, and from what it seems they were about to start their own versions of something similar.

On the other end of the screen, it all looks so easy.

Geogebra and Desmos both use clean user interfaces that allow for wide audience.  Knowing some of the coding and design on behind the scenes still has it’s place though.  Recently education has seen growth in the art of coding.  It has become more accessible with drag and drops like scratch, tutorials and screencasts shared freely online, and organized movements from large institutions like Khan Academy.

Now I would like to throw another idea into the mix of developing a coding mindset.  For those of you that know me, you could probably guess that I’m thinking of Geogebra (and Desmos as well).  Tonight we talked about the object oriented code experience it offers, and it’s simplicity with design and interaction.  To toggle a picture or make an object move, all you need is a slider control and some checkboxes.  I’m not sure where this can go from here, but I like it.

If you haven’t already you should check out these online interactive tools.  And when you do, look at them as tools for tech and coding, not just math.

End of Line


PS: bonus points if you get the geeky references.

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?


%d bloggers like this: