Math Breakout Rooms

I was introduced to Zoom breakout rooms last March when my district went remote. Breakout rooms were novel and many teachers started to use them during the last couple months of school. It was one way to get students into smaller groups where they felt more comfortable sharing. They were awkward at first for students and staff but most were able to get their breakout room sea legs by May.

Fast forward to the 20-21 school year. Like many around the nation, my school started the year off completely remote. Having a head start in March helped most teachers get into a routine quickly. Most teachers started to use breakout rooms immediately and were able to see the benefits. The social interaction that usually occurs in-person can’t be exactly replicated, but a form of it can in a breakout room. I’ve been part of some amazing student math discussions in breakout rooms this year. I’ve also been in other rooms that were full radio silence. Some this year have had detailed agendas that students follow while others are more student-directed.

Most of my elementary math breakout rooms consist of 2-5 students. Since we are using a hybrid model I try to match students in-person with those at home. I found early on that partnering up kids in the classroom over Zoom causes major audio issues. Less students participate in the breakout room when there are more than five participants. Generally, students in the breakout room have a specific task or activity. Sometimes the assignment comes from their consumable journal and other times it might be a prompt. Students are usually in the their breakout rooms for 5-15 minutes. We have a 45 minutes block for math. While students are working I pop in and out of the rooms with my camera and sound off. I observe the conversation and ask questions if needed. Most of the time, I visit a room and listen to what’s happening, add something in the chat for that room and then move to the next room. After the breakout rooms close the class has a debrief sessions and I try to have each team discuss their solutions. This strategy has worked out well this year, but I’ve had inconsistent success.

I still have questions.

  • What makes a good breakout room?
  • What’s the ideal room size and time?
  • Does camera on/off matter?
  • How do you manage breakout rooms while teaching in-person and elearners at the same time?
  • Should students share their iPad screen?
  • Do you find annotation through Zoom helpful?

I don’t believe there’s a perfect formula for a breakout room, but there are better practices. Feel free to let me know what has worked in your classroom.

Math Schedule and Hybrid Routines

I’ve been teaching in a hybrid model setting for most of the school year. My school started remotely and proceeded with an in-person staggered start. The classes are divided so I have half of the students in the morning and the other have in the afternoon. I appreciate that the school has made social distancing a priority and is limiting the amount of kids in a physical classroom at one time. The overall schedule has also changed and my math block has decreased to 40 minutes instead of 60.

Long story short, I teach kids at home and in the classroom at the same time. My instruction is mostly digital. I do that for a number of different reasons. While the digital model hasn’t been ideal, it allows everyone to participate and I can gauge engagement by looking at a teacher dashboard. My agenda and routines for each class have changed over time. Currently this is how I’ve been managing my quick 40 minute block.

11:00 – 11:05


Students come into the classroom and login to Zoom. Students at home do the same. Once everyone is logged in we start the meet and greet session. Usually there’s a prompt that students answer. This is whole group and students talk to each other about the responses. This time is dedicated to help build classroom community and connect with students. You can find many of the pictures for the meet and greet here.

11:05 – 11:10

Students log on to Nearpod for a brief review of past concepts. I use Nearpod for this time slot around three days a week or so. It’s a quick 2-3 slide presentation. Sometimes I’ll replace the Nearpod with a Quizzes or Desmos task. This time is purposefully used for students to review past concepts and I can see if additional practice is needed for specific skills.

11:10 – 11:25

Students take a look at the agenda slide and then review the goal for the day. The class completes a consumable journal page under the document camera. This is generally the time that is used to introduce new concepts/skills. Questions are asked the most during this slot. This time slot can be a challenge to manage as far as engagement is concerned. Still tweaking.

11:25 – 11:40

During this time students are either working in breakout rooms, on a set of problems from the consumable journal or independently working through a teacher-paced Desmos task. During this time I’m working in Zoom breakout rooms with students or sending feedback through the Zoom chat. I’ll often turn off my mic and video so I can hear the students and so the conversation doesn’t slow when I enter a breakout room. At times I might ask a question or two to check for understanding. The class then comes back together before the end of the session to review the group work/Desmos task results. There’s a quick closure statement about what we explored that day. I then say goodbye and a new group of students start populating the Zoom waiting room.

This routine will probably change, but it has been working so far. Ask me in a week and I might have a different answer.

Digital Weekly Math Reviews

This school year has been a bumpy ride. Many teachers have been asked to teach students in-person and online at the same time. Along with the hybrid model, time with students has been limited, which can cause retrieval issues. I’ve noticed that students need more retrieval opportunities with more feedback this year compared to years past. More check-ins and reviewing has been necessary. Out of necessity comes a different approach. For the last couple months I’ve been using a digital math review practice at the beginning of each week. I’ve been finding different ways to use Desmos to help students think about their own mathematical thinking. I have created a few original decks in the process, but have had the most success with copy –> edit with other decks. There are so many brilliant Desmos users (I’m looking at you  RCS Desmos Team!) that’ve already put together amazing decks with CL self-checking abilities.

The Desmos activity in this post was primarily used to review math concepts. My rookie level CL skills gives the students a higher, lower, or just right designation. The small written feedback has been helpful so far. The deck begins by reviewing math concepts explored during the unit.

The next slides offer students an opportunity to review the results and go back to change them.

Students take around 5-10 minutes to complete the task. From the teacher dashboard I can tell how each student is doing and if additional review is necessary. I’m hoping as I learn more CL that I can make these types of practices better. Feel free to use the activity by clicking here. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create!

Thoughts on a “normal” return

The last time I saw a full class of students in-person was March 2020. I’ve been teaching in a remote/hybrid model since then. Along with many educators, I’ve had to change my approach, learn new skills and find ways to reach students in a different way. My platform has drastically changed to a digital model. Schools have also had to change the way in which they provide support for the community. 2020 was a rough year. It also provided us with a different perspective on how schools can address needs of students and staff.

My hope is that August 2021 will look different than August 2020. With that being said, I also hope education changes because of what has happened. Let’s analyze what worked well during remote/hybrid learning and what didn’t. I’d like to continue some of the processes that have been used this year and possibly discard/replace others. This post is meant to reflect a bit on some positive shifts that might be beneficial moving forward.

1.) Online meetings and professional development Part of me wonders why we haven’t been doing this all along. In my experience, staff meets are generally used to communicate information to staff. Many times this can be written up in an email. I think having virtual staff meetings encourages the organizers to parse down the content to what’s important and to give time for staff the ask questions as needed. It also helps that specific questions for individuals can be addressed by the presenter as they stay on the Zoom session while others exit the meeting. I’m going on a limb here and say this could also apply to district meetings, professional development, and school-wide assemblies. I feel like this year the professional development has been more applicable than any other year. It helps that the presents are in-house.

2.) Emphasis on social and emotional needs Ever since the pandemic began I’ve noticed an increased emphasis on addressing SEL needs. Districts have tried to implement SEL programs to encourage students to talk and to work with one another. Some districts are even trying to create opportunities for students to come back into the school so they’re able to receive in-person time with staff. Breakout rooms and meet-ups have taken place to encourage this type of collaboration. Teachers have also been part of this initiative as many administrators recognize that self-care should be required.

3.) Hybrid/Remote models Now, don’t get me wrong here. I think in-person instruction is the best bet for most students, but I think having a form of a blended model works better for others. I’ve seen some students shine with a hybrid and remote models and others that would certainly benefit from being in a classroom. Let’s not think of going back to “normal” school as the best option. I’m wondering how this will play-out during the 2021-22 school year. Time will tell.

4.) Digital resources and a learning management systems Going completely remote last March required teachers to make a hard transition. Most paper-based resources had to be converted. I initially used SeeSaw with my students and Canvas became available this school year. It was a steep learning curve but most teachers in the district are now more comfortable in creating digital assignments for their classes. Transferring non-digital curriculum resources to digital has been very time time consuming this year. I’m hoping that the resources created this year will be used next year. The lonely copy machine hasn’t been getting much love lately.


This year has required teachers and administrators to stretch like that haven’t before. It has been a stressful year. There have been some positive pieces that I’d like to see continued even as we move to a sense of normalcy next school year. It’ll be great when classrooms will once again be filled with students being able to work closely together, share/use math manipulatives, use vertical whiteboards, participate in school clubs, attend recess, have pe/music/art in a classroom, and attend field trips. I’m looking forward to the day, but until then let’s think about how education structures could potentially change moving forward.

Digital Math Tasks, Predictions and Reflections

Student feedback and goal setting have been different this school year. The students that I teach have been learning from home and in the classroom. The district has moved back and forth between remote and hybrid models since August. Students have recently been back in the classroom and and it’s not possible to use shared paper materials. This has been one of the most challenging problems this year. Therefore I’ve needed to rely on digital means for instruction and manipulatives. This has impacted how students receive feedback and set goals.

I’ve been using Desmos more than ever since my lessons are digital. It has pushed me to find ways to use the platform so students think more critically about math. Through the process I’ve learned more about how to create better tasks that enable students to reflect on their math work. I’ve found so much support from the Twitter Desmos community. I’ve slowly been learning more about Desmos CL and how to incorporate it into my decks so students are able to process the concepts they discover and receive feedback. I started using CL more frequently after reading Julie’s fantastic post. For the past month or so I’ve been working on creating self-checking tasks with small wins here and there. Last week I found a recipe that has been somewhat successful for formative checkpoints. I used it with a few different classrooms last week with multiple choice questions.

Here’s how it goes. Students synchronously complete a list of multiple choice questions related to a specific skill. I added the sketch pad for students to show their work and used teacher pacing to make sure students only have access to the question slides.

Once students finish the questions they visit a slide where they’re asked to reflect on the questions. They also draw on the sketch pad how they think they performed. During this time students revisit the questions in order to make an accurate prediction.

Then the final slide opens indicating correct/incorrect answers. The prior slide is copied over and students reflect on their performance compared to the estimate.

The student responses comparing their results to the prediction were stellar. Afterwards, the class had a conversation about the questions that were more challenging than others and why those stood out. I’m hoping to expand on this idea in January.

Feel free to use/copy/change the activity. It can be found here.

Remote Parent/Teacher Conferences

Like many teachers, I had remote parent teacher conferences recently. It was a different experience for sure as mine have always been in-person or over the phone. I’d say around 80 – 90% of my conferences are usually scheduled on back to school night in August and parents come into the school in November to discuss their child’s progress. This year was obviously different. Based on a recommendation from my school and team I decided to utilize a sign-up genius this year. It was fairly seamless and my parents were able to sign up without much trouble. Each parent signed up for a 10 minute slot to discuss their child’s math progress. Ten minutes can go in a flash during conferences so I tried to organize as much in advance as possible. In the past I’ve tried to include student reflections as part of the process and I wanted to do the same with our Zoom-ified conferences this year. I used this Desmos deck.

Students started to complete the card sort about a week before conferences by reflecting on their progress and determining which skill fit a category. Students reviewed their Canvas/SeeSaw history and analyzed their work compared to the standard. I gave class time for students to complete the Desmos task.

As the individual conferences proceeded I brought up the above screen and mentioned that this is the student’s perspective and we’ll discuss how accurate that perception is compared to what I’m seeing in the classroom and work that’s being produced. As I went through the categories I moved or kept the skills in place. The good news is that most of the skills were in accurate categories. When change was needed it tended to be one column over.

I then spoke with the parent about additional opportunities to address certain skills. Each grade level had a different screen in one Desmos deck.

This made it easier to move through each screen with the parent as one session ended and and a new parent entered the waiting room. I also used the advanced zoom function to make the slide as large as possible for a parent to see as some were on phones during the conference.

The conference time went quickly and by the time we finished that slide time was up. The conference were completely digital and I’m hoping that this might be something we consider as an option moving forward.

Asynchronous Math eLearning Days

Last weekend I planned for two days of non-live instruction for students exploring 4th-6th grade concepts. This planning sequence has been on my calendar for a few weeks and I’ve spent a good amount of time wrapping my brain around how to keep the lessons engaging without being there. I also had to figure that I wouldn’t be able to answer questions live. I discussed this dilema with another teacher and we came up with a couple options for students involving a choice menu. I decided to give students a small choice board for the two days the school deemed as asynchronous. My choices are below.


Grades 5-6

Fraction Escape Room by Patty Stephens – This activity is a robust review of fractions. It took my students around 30-45 minutes to finish the task and it was quite challenging for some. This fits in really well with a fraction computation unit that the class recently finished.

Equation Modeling – Mega Man by Kurt Salisbury– One of my classes has been introduced to equations and this activity is a fun way to review and play with variables before introducing a formal process. This is a class favorite and it also introduces students to Mega Man!

Pan-Balances – Solve me mobiles – Similar to the equation modeling, this was used specifically for students to help visualize equations. The questions are also found here.

Grade 5

Integer practice by Jay Chow – My fifth grade classes are starting to explore integer computation and this was one way to have the students practice adding/subtracting integers. The Pokemon evolution was a bonus and I guess it’s still fairly popular as students gravitated towards this option.

Coordinate Graphing Ice Climber Plotting Points by Lorri Sapp – My fourth grade crew has been studying coordinate grids and this was a perfect activity to reinforce those standards. The activity begins by reviewing the basics of a graph end simply moves through the process to graphing coordinates in all four quadrants. The students enjoyed the game with the last couple slides the most.

Grades 4-6

Math Art Challenge – Isometric Grids by Adrianne Burns This was a fun activity that helps students explore geometric patterns on an isometric grid. Students built patterns and submitted them via Canvas. This was a student fan favorite activity as it applied to multiple grade levels and students were able to combine art and math.

Decimal and Fraction Review – Students in my fourth grade class have been exploring conversions this unit. This Desmos deck was used to review multiples of 10 and to also practice recent skills.

Map-Accelerator – This options gave students an option to review and be exposed to skills related to the Map test that was taken in the fall. This is a new feature and students and teachers are still getting used to how this works. Not many students chose this option.


Students worked diligently on one task each day. Some tried their hands at two. They then submitted a screen shot of their work for attendance and completion purposes. I’ll need to remind a few to turn in the assignments after break but that’s par for the course this year. With a few tweaks, I’m planning on using a similar style for the next planned asynchronous day.

Digital Check-ins

During a normal school year (all in-person) I interpret non-verbals and try to check-in with students frequently. I stand by my classroom door and give eye contact to students as they walked in and ask how they were doing. Sometimes students stop and tell me about their adventures or something that happened over the weekend. One of my goals was to have students talk more than me. The same check-ins would happen as students leave the room to head out to their next class. I believe these small moments overtime helped students connect to the classroom. Soon, students would share with one another about their lives and the classroom community builds from the ground up. A feeling of familiarity develops and students are more willing to take mathematical risks in the classroom. This organic process is more challenging when some students in your class are remote and others are in-person.

This year my school has been switching back and forth between remote and elearning. Tomorrow marks the third time this year that everyone will be remote. As or right now it looks like everyone will be remote until January, but that could change. My check-ins have had to take a different form this year. I call them “meet and greets” but they have the same premise. Every class starts with a meet and greet question or activity. It takes around 5-10 minutes and most days if feels like it is worth every minute. Here are a couple options for digital check-ins.

1.) 100 Prompts. I tend to get the questions from this shared spreadsheet.

Some of the questions are real gems, while others do not quite fit yet. This year I have used questions from this sheet around 50% of the time.

2.) Images. My students tend to get a kick out of these images as they are dramatic and some are related to pop culture. Students tells me what number they are and why.

I have found students open up and I see them laughing a bit as we progress through this meet and greet. So far my class has completed a cat, squirrel and baby Yoda. Twitter seems like the place to find these images by typing “on a scale how are you feeling” in the search bar.

3.) Desmos. Desmos has an amazing array of starter screens. My kids enjoy the robot and create a pumpkin activity. I think they could have spent more than 10 minutes creating their own pumpkin.

I tell the students ahead of time that this will be shared with the class and I turn on the anonymize filter if one or more students want the info to be kept private. I have not had a chance to use the data collection decks but they look promising. I am planing on using the Silly Warm Ups at some point next week. I am anticipating some amazing responses for the giraffe slide.

4.) Zoom. This is probably used the least, but using the Zoom private chat function has its benefits. There are times where I ask students to tell me how they are doing and to send me a private message in the chat. This has worked well for issues that happen in the moment. For example, a student told me that a family pet passed away. That awareness changed how I interacted with that particular student and was helpful when I followed up with them later. Just make sure students (and the teacher!) uses the private chat and not public.

Digital Fractions

My third graders started to explore fraction concepts last week. It has been a challenge as usually fractions are introduced with physical area model manipulatives. I usually take out the fraction circles and general pattern blocks for the introduction. That’s out of the question this year so I’ve had to rely on digital means.

I started the unit by reviewing fraction area models with a Desmos task. Students identified parts of a square.

The deck gets more challenging as it progresses. I was able to get through slides 1-11 with students. Slides past that could certainly be used but I’ll probably revisit those later in the unit.

From there I introduced students to linear models of fractions on a number line. Students identified benchmarks of quarters and halves on number lines. Students discovered equivalent fractions in area models and then transitioned that to number lines. Enter Desmos task # 2.

Students first start the task with a WODB slide where students analyze fractional parts. There’s also a beneficial card sort where students sort groups of equivalent fractions. The challenge questions in this deck are no joke. My class spent a good 15 minutes on the last two slides. Those slides helped contribute to a great fraction conversation afterwards.

During the next morning my students completed a GimKit to review the learning so far. The class also reviewed the notation for fractions greater than one whole. Students observed how the numerator can increase when the denominator stays the same. We also investigated how fractions are division and the quotient can be used to determine where to place a number on a line.

During the next class students completed a PHET simulation on fractions and area models. Students started on level 1 and then moved upward. The simulation can easily be added to a Nearpod presentation.

Most students ended up around level 4 + before time ran out. Later in the day students completed a Khan Academy quiz on fraction models. This quick check-in was valuable as I was able to quickly gauge where students were in their understanding of equivalent fractions.

During the next day students work on placing fractions on a number lines – enter Desmos task 3.

Students placed the fractions on the line and checked to see how close their estimates were to the actual answers. This gem of an activity gives students an opportunity to self-check and this deck was used over two different days. Students reflected on their progress in class during a debrief process.

On Friday students finished up their week by completing a fraction polygraph with different partners.

Students asked questions, used math vocabulary and a bit of detective work to find the correct cards. This was challenging for some kids as it highlighted who had an adequate grasp of fraction benchmarks.

I’m looking forward to diving into fraction concepts even more next week.

Math Reflections in Desmos

It’s hard to believe that my school year is about 25% complete. Ask any teacher and they’ll probably say that number isn’t correct. It certainly doesn’t feel like it right now. Report cards are right around the corner followed by Zoom conferences. While thinking about conferences earlier this week I started to brainstorm a few ideas of how to help briefly communicate how students are feeling about math in relation to their achievement. I’ve used student reflections and goal setting for that in the past with moderate success. Google Form reflections have been used to showcase students’ perceptions of their understanding of certain math concepts. The data I received was useful but organizing it into a presentable format wasn’t ideal. Also, time is certainly important this year as I’m not seeing kids as much this school year and I needed a different way to collect the data. This year I decided to switch my strategy after reading @mathycathy ‘s tweet.

I took the idea and changed the three categories for my 3rd-5th grade students. I then took the skills associated with the test and wrote them out as a text cards. Groups of problems were categorized with certain skills. Students reviewed their digital test and dragged the cards to a category.

Students then reflected one last time to make sure each skill fit a particular category. I think most questions came from students wondering if the blue or green categories applied. There wasn’t much of a question for those in the “I can’t solve problems yet” category. Students then completed the last slide.

This slide is directly from Cathy’s task. If students didn’t have any questions they’d write “none at this time.” Many students wrote questions about the test. They wrote down questions about particular test questions that they might be confused about or extra help that might be needed. I was glad to see that many students advocated for themselves with this model.

I’m planning on using this during parent conferences this year over Zoom. Student perceptions are important and being able to communicate where students think they are compared to the expectation is an important piece. At some point I’d like to have students use goal setting after reviewing their assessments. I’m looking forward to seeing how this pans out with my other classes throughout the year.