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.

Digital Student Math Reflections

My classes finished their first assessments last week. During a normal year students would use their math journals and write-up a reflection about what they explored during the unit. Obviously things are different this year. Two of my classes are currently composed of about half in-person and the rest are online. The class is split between an AM/PM model, where half the students come in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. Keeping this in mind I’ve continued to emphasize instruction towards a remote model so everyone can participate. It has taken a massive shift in allocating time to digitize resources that weren’t really meant to be digital in the first place. Tasks, assignments and student reflections are now taking a digital form.

This year I’m using Google Forms for digital unit assessment reflections. Students split their screen to view their Canvas assessment and form.

The first question asks students what they’re proud of. I want students to review some of the positive elements and connect effort to achievement.

Students then review their results and specific teacher comments. I review what the words novice, apprentice, practitioner and expert mean in the context of showing an understanding of math concepts. I also expand the questions on the test through a screen share and show students problems that are related to a certain skills subset. Students spend most of their time on this part of reflection.

Students end the reflection by completing an effort question related to being prepared.

It took students about 10-15 minutes to complete this brief reflection. I shared the general results with the class and we had a great conversation about math growth overtime. What’s interesting is how the AM and PM classes differ even with the same content and instruction. Below is a fourth grade example.

I’m looking forward to adding a goal section to the next reflection. Feel free to click here to make a copy of the form.

Elearning to In-Person Learning

Four weeks down. That number indicates how many weeks that school has been in session. School didn’t have in-person learning until last week when kindergarten and first grade students came back. Next week second and third will be coming back. Although they are coming back there are still many elearning students that will be zooming into the classrooms. Next week more teachers will transition from teaching solely online to managing an in-person and online classroom simultaneously.

As I reflect on the last four weeks, I’m impressed with how quickly students have transitioned to using Zoom and learning with a completely different model. They had practice with our emergency elearning in the spring, but this is different. There’s more structure and teachers have had more time to plan instruction. There have been hiccups along the way for sure (wifi problems, Zoom settings, talking while on mute, getting materials to students, learning a new LMS, …), but most students are engaging in math and exploring new concepts like they would in a regular classroom. Breakout rooms have allowed math to be more social, digital math routines are becoming consistent, and my document camera has been getting a workout everyday as the class completes problems together.

Next week one of my classes will be coming back for in-person instruction. The entire class won’t be coming back to school as some students will be elearning from home. Those students will log in to Zoom as usual. The group of students that’ll be in-person will need to learn new procedures related to social distancing and mask wearing. This may impact those elearners at home as class might not start at time or be shortened because of dismissal and hallway congestion.

I think there’s a perceived notion that once students are back in school that instruction will shift. The copy machine will be back up running again, the teachers’ lounge will be buzzing and the sounds of kids will once again echo off the walls. We’ll be moving back to business as usual. I’m in the camp that doesn’t necessarily agree with that stance – at least for this year. A question comes to my mind when thinking about this.

How is it equitable to switch your instruction and gear it to in-person students when part of your class is still learning from home?

Now, I’m excited that some of my class will be back in school. There’s a comforting feeling that we’ll at some point get back to normal. There’s a physical social element that’s important in being able to see non-verbals and speak to one another in person. Being able to raise a hand (not digitally) and ask for help or show a model in person has many benefits. I’m looking forward to the time where students can play math cards games with each other, build mathematical models and use manipulatives without worrying about being to close to one another.

With all that being said, I believe students in the classroom will continue to log into Zoom, attend breakout rooms with the entire class and participate along with elearners at home – similar to what we’ve been doing during the past four weeks. As the year progresses, individual students/classes will most likely need to quarantine and they will transition to an elearning only model. Parents might decide to move students from a hybrid to eLearning and vice versa. I believe there won’t be a significant shift in the model that we’ve been using except that some of the students will now be in the classroom. Class time will most likely be shortened and adjustments will need to be made for students to navigate social distancing at school. I understand that aspect and know that it’s necessary to be flexible, but am also aware that it’s not a seamless transition from elearning to in-person learning.

Breakout Rooms and Google Slides

I’ve been teaching remotely for the past two weeks and continue to notice that students aren’t able to work together in groups as much anymore. I’d like to change that. I’m finding that breakout groups are one way in which to do this during Zoom sessions. In order to make them more effective I’ve started to find ways to structure the sessions so students are engaged in mathematics and they need to work with their partners to find solutions. I try to get students in breakout rooms once a day and usually that happens. This past week I used a Google Slides technique that I found on Twitter. I discussed this a bit in my last post, but will go into more detail here.

My first step is to find a math tasks that involves some type of collaboration. One of my classes is exploring data landmarks. The question is placed on a Google slide. There are three examples below.

Depending on the class size, I make 6-8 duplicates of the slide. I add “breakout room # ___” on the top to indicate who’s working on a particular slide. I’ll review the task as a class first and then answer clarifying questions. Students are then off to the groups to work for around 5-10 minutes. They return and each group discusses what they created and the strategy behind their solution. This technique has worked well although my learning curve during the past two weeks has been steep. I’m hoping to put together a few tips or considerationsbefore using breakout rooms and Google Slides.


First of all, make sure to create your Google Slide in Edit Master. The reasoning is that you don’t want students to drag, drop or edit unnecessary items. I learned this as students were changing the size of the text and moving around the question off of the slide. I want students to focus more on the problem than the formatting.

Use fields to show where students should place their work. Again, this is so students don’t feel like they need to put their effort into formatting. Having a place for their names and work lets them concentrate more on the task.

Ensure that permissions are set correctly. I made the mistake of not allowing editing rights and it was a disaster as students were able to view the activity, but not write anything on the slide.

Make sure to duplicate the slide and put the breakout group # somewhere noticeable on the slide. Students should be able to easily navigate to their groups slide to begin work.

Create a plan on how you want students to share out their solutions. This will help eliminate some of the awkward silence that sometimes happens when the teacher asks “so … who wants to discuss how you solved this?” questions. It will also help students create a plan before they exit the breakout room.

Limit the time students spend in the breakout rooms and pop in frequently. I’ve found that spending more than 10 minutes in the rooms isn’t necessarily. It depends on the task though, but for my students 8-10 minutes is the sweet spot. I give a minute warning for students to wrap up what they’re discussing and we had back to the class Zoom session


These are a just a few guidelines that I’ve been following this past week. Similar to the regular classroom, not every breakout room has been a success. I’ve made tweaks over the last few sessions to improve the experience. Overall, I’m seeing progress and students are engaging with each other and the math in positive ways. This may even be something I use as my students start making their way back to an actual face-to-face classroom.