Flipped Classroom “Level Up”

I wanted to share my own journey through using videos for instruction. I’m going to put it in game format so that you can find your “level” and hopefully find room for improving your use of the video notes. I also want to say that I definitely have more “levels” to go as I continue to learn and refine this process, but hopefully this helps!

Found this on fonts.google.com!

Level 1: Create Videos for Students to Watch at Home!

This was the first step, that I started doing in about 2014 or so. I included parts of the video where I said “pause the video now and try this problem on your own!”. The intention was good but I bet most students did not pause the video and try the problem on their own. I did find Doceri very helpful and here’s how I use it, though find the software that works best for you!

Level 2: Create Graphic Organizers for each Notes Video

Every video I create now has notes that students must fill out as they watch the video. Research has shown that note-taking increases retention, and it is another modality for them to encode information and remember it long-term. I encourage students to pause the video frequently to catch up on notes, but the advantage of the video is that it can go “their speed”. I even show them how to increase or decrease the playback speed of the video so they can match their own note-taking ability! I find myself repeating to students “You must watch the video, listen to my explanations, and write the information down!”

My youngest son when he was 1 year old! This meme hangs in my classroom.

Level 3: Use a Program to Monitor Student Engagement

When I first started, I discovered EDPuzzle, though I now use PlayPosit because that is what my district uses, but both are very effective. They both record how much of the video students have watched so that I know who has watched it and who hasn’t.

Level 4: Embed Questions to Increase Engagement

Even better than just seeing if students watched is to include questions that pop up during the video. This does several things. First, it encourages students to watch the video to be able to answer the questions. It also breaks up the video into smaller chunks. It engages the students in a more active way. And lastly, it gives me (the teacher) feedback on which students understand.

One combination we have at FCPS is that PlayPosit “talks” to Schoology, so as students complete the video notes, their grade is automatically synced into the gradebook!

Another advantage of using EDPuzzle or PlayPosit is that I can embed the notes from Level 2 as a link so every student can have access to the notes, especially as we are virtual right now!

Level 5: Include open-ended opportunity for students to “fix” their wrong answers

I want students to be engaged, but getting a question wrong is frustrating, AND many students will just ignore the video and see if they can get the questions right (frustrating for me!). I don’t allow students to change their answers to the multiple choice (MC) question, but following every MC question, I have this prompt:

If you got the wrong answer on the previous question, explain what you did wrong mathematically or ask a specific question to show that you are paying attention. If you got the previous question right, leave this blank!

I “onboard” the students at the start of the year so they know they must leave a comment or ask a question that is very specific to what they got wrong. If they “mis-click” (a common response) I tell them that I won’t give them credit for this because it doesn’t prove to me that you were watching the video!

A reasonable student response within PlayPosit

Level 6: Respond to Students Questions Prior to Class

One disadvantage of the flipped classroom is that if a student has a question, they cannot ask the question right there to the teacher. Although I encourage students to write down questions and bring them to me, I rarely get that level of learning [1].

However, because of the shift that occurred in Level 3, I actually get a lot of feedback now as to why a student chose a specific wrong answer. I then turn around and will message the students an answer to their question, and I’ve found that screen-casting [2] makes this process faster for me and easier for students! Then, I have an “FAQ” page for the whole class where I’ll post students questions and answers to those questions (often my screencasts) to help students with questions they didn’t know they had!

A corollary to this is that if a large part of the class got some questions wrong, I can review this at the start of class!

Level 7: Skip Explanations to Questions for students that Understand[3]

Often I’ll ask a question in a video, have EDPuzzle or PlayPosit pop a question up for students, then I will explain how to do that question afterwards. There is a feature that I have used a little that will skip a student to a specific time in the video depending on their answer. I have set up some videos so that if students get the question right, they don’t have to listen to the explanation! This is a good incentive for the students to get the question right as it cuts down on the time they’re spending on their notes, yet explaining the question to the students who need it.

The ability to add a “jump” in if depending on the answer.

Level 8: Skip to Different Explanations Depending on the Wrong Answer

For each question, you can type an explanation, which is especially useful for common wrong answers (e.g. “No, you were supposed to add these two numbers, not subtract them.”). But you can take this one step further because the “Skip to Time in Video” from level 7 can actually skip students to alternate videos! I could create a video explanation for each wrong answer and help students understand the material based on their wrong answer. The video could then loop back to the original video once they are done with their “video detour”.

The view from within PlayPosit editor of feedback depending on the student response

Level 9: Preview and Connect to Class [4]

The last thing I’ve done is I try to give a preview of the video notes in class. I like to think of it as a “teaser trailer”. This ties the class to the videos, which reinforces and reminds the students to watch the video notes. More importantly, it gives the students an idea of what they’re going to watch and the reason for it, which increases the likelihood that they’ll remember and understand when they watch. It is also one more time that they see it, but spaced out (spaced practice) which increases their ability to remember the information.

As I mentioned before, there is still more for me to learn and grow, but hopefully these levels help you progress and grow in your own journey of making videos to explain math concepts to your students!

[1] I would argue that we often don’t get that level of learning lecturing in the classroom! Some students ask good questions but most students seem to rely on others to ask good questions until they are asked to complete problems on their own! And this is the strength of a flipped classroom: students get to do the practice work while they’re in the room with us!

[2] I have both Screencastify and Screencast-o-matic extensions. Screencastify is great for short (<5 min.) responses, so most of my student explanations are there. Screencast-o-matic is required for longer recordings (like recording notes in class).

[3] Yes, I realize that students could just guess and then they would be missing an explanation, which is one reason I haven’t done this for all my videos (that and it takes a lot of time!). But I’m not sure how often this is and it can be mitigated because I can include an option of “I don’t know” which counts as a wrong answer, but then allows them to watch the explanation and go back and explain it in the box afterwards (Level 5).

[4] This isn’t “level 9” because it’s more difficult to do than the other levels, it’s just something that took me a lot longer to figure out and was pointed out to me by a mentor. Thanks, Kent Wetzel!



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How I Create Math Videos

I’ve had a few teachers ask me how I make my videos, so I thought I would share the app and how I use it.

The App

The App I use is Doceri. Unfortunately it’s only really available for iOS, which means you have to have an iPad to use it.[1]

The New Doceri: Flip Your Classroom with a Flip of Your iPad ...
Doceri, the best video creation app that I’ve found

The reason that Doceri is so effective is that you can write and the app records every pen stroke[2]. With a simple scroll of a bar, you can go forwards and backwards through every single pen stroke that you’ve written. Furthermore, you can add “flags” between strokes, so that you hit a “play” button and the app writes (at a speed you choose) your strokes back to you, stopping at each flag. This makes dictating over what you wrote a snap! I can write everything out, planning what to say, then go back and speak over my writing without having to think about writing and talking! I find that this helps me speak more clearly and with more precise language than I would if I had to multitask.

Another key feature of Doceri is the ability to zoom in and out so that you can write in “fine print” even without a pen on an iPad. I find writing on an iPad more difficult than writing on paper but I can zoom in, write in very large letters, then zoom out and my handwriting looks much better! The zooming does not affect the final product of the video.

If you want to see these features in action, I created a short video to show all of these features to colleagues.

How I Use It

I create guided notes for students so that they are writing as they are watching the videos, increasing their engagement. I make the guided notes in Google Drive, then open the documents on the iPad. I take a screenshot because Doceri can import images, so I import exactly what they see and I write directly on the guided notes in the video.

After creating the video, I export it to Youtube, then upload it to PlayPosit, which is a website that allows teachers to embed questions in videos and monitor student progress through the videos[3]. The questions that check for students understanding also increase student engagement.

Doceri vs. the Rest

Why Doceri when there are other video content apps out there? I once sat down to create a comparison table, because when I first started flipping my classroom, I wanted to choose an app and stick with it for consistency. The table is old so some things may have changed, but I still have not found an app or website with all of these features. The stroke-recording feature allows me to change a 45 minute video into a 15 minute video. The zoom feature allows me to write smaller and more cleanly, allowing me to have fewer screens that students have to go between. These are the essentials but Doceri has plenty of other bells and whistles that make it worth it.


When I installed it on the iPad, even a few years ago, it was free for an unlimited trial! I found that the $30 to remove the watermark was worth it because I used it so much, so I paid that back in the day and the license I received has been able to migrate between iPads that I’ve used.

[1] I know the iPad requirement stops many people from using it, but before you give up, I would recommend asking your school to use the student iPads, if they have any (I’ve done this before) or using a website like DonorsChoose.org (I’ve had teacher friends do this before). In my opinion, it is well worth it for video creation alone!

[2] I actually use my finger because I run down the rubber tipped pens too quickly. Yes, I’m too cheap to buy an Apple Pencil, but maybe one day.

[3] I have also used EDPuzzle in the past, but our district purchased PlayPosit, so I use that now.

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Re-imagining School

Coronavirus has hit and schools are doing distance learning in all sorts of ways. School systems did not have enough time to prepare and though everyone did their best, student learning was far from ideal.

We likely will not be going back to school in the Fall, at least not in the way we all thought it was. And instead of thinking “How can I minimize the damage?” what if we asked “How can we revolutionize education?” Here’s one teacher’s idea for how schools could improve the education experience during this time.

The Paradigm Shift

Instead of thinking of teachers are working with a block of children, but straddling all the layers of curriculum planning, tutoring, and counseling, what if teachers divided up those duties in different ways?

Some teachers would focus on curriculum (hopefully this is the smallest set). With distance learning, theoretically one teacher could create tests, quizzes, video notes, assignments, and project for an entire county for a given class (say, Algebra 1). Ideally you would have a small team (3-5?) teachers working on it, and that’s all they would do. Our school system uses an LMS (Schoology) and with the resources feature, curriculum could be easily pushed forward to teachers county-wide.

Then, some teachers would focus on tutoring. They would be available to reinforce ideas, teach individually or in small groups (online or in person) and help students who need the help OR provide enrichment activities (created by the curriculum team above) to those students who are ready to deepen their understanding. This would be the largest set of teachers, but I would argue that class sizes would decrease because (1) students would get help when they need help and (2) these teachers would not need a planning period, so they would be able to help more students over the course of a day, albeit in smaller groups.

Lastly, many teachers would be assigned to focus on the counseling aspect. Teaching is relational and I not 100% whether separating the tutoring and counseling duties would be wise, but our school has 3 counselors for 1200 students and that’s just not reasonable. We need more focus on mental and social health during this time, so while we are separating roles, why not take a pile of teachers and assign them to check in with students, teach time management and general organization skills, and assist students very specifically.

Too Similar to a Bad Idea?

This separating of curriculum and tutoring responsibilities is not ideal in a regular classroom because I firmly believe that teachers are best when they emphasize their strengths and style, but with online teaching, the difference in resources between a technologically capable teacher and one that is struggling to navigate creating curriculum online for the first time is tremendous. Many teachers nearing the end of their retirement are considering retiring early if online school is to continue. This would allow for teachers to focus on the students and play in to the teachers’ own strengths as much as possible during this time.

I must give the caveat that I am a high school teacher and have considered this at the high school level. It would also probably work at the middle school level, but we would need a different model at the elementary school level.

If there is an in-school component, as I hope there is, careful thought should be given to allow teachers freedom in how to present ideas[1].

Students will also need to be taught certain things that are obvious to most adults: (1) how to ask for help, (2) how to know whether you understand something, and (3) time management and organization skills. Many of these could be addressed by the third category of teachers, the “counselors”, who would have manageable case loads and could focus on life skills, especially during this time of distance learning.

Realistic Take-aways

Of course this shift in our educational system is likely too big a leap for the bureaucracy of any school system of our size, but hopefully some things can be taken from these ideas, including

  • a better organized central repository for “best online lessons”.
  • significantly more support to counselors during this time
  • more focus from the teachers on student understanding instead of “best curriculum”
  • time spent on teaching students how to study independently

I have been thinking of next semester as “Damage control” and pessimistically thinking in terms of worst-case scenario, but I need to do more thinking in terms of “What new ideas can we embrace to make the teaching even better, especially once we return to the school in person?”

[1] I have some colleagues who teach a class where they are required to follow a curriculum so closely, they are simply moving through a power-point (that they are forced to use) and walking through lessons with the kids. They don’t like this and I don’t blame them. I fear this idea is too similar to that, but during online schooling, the relationship with students is so radically changed that I think these ideas would work better.

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[Distance Learning] How to Maintain the Teacher-Student Relationships

Previously I focused on the technology I was using during Distance Learning, but I’ve come to realize (re-realize?) that when my focus is the relationship with the students, I am more effective, creative, and joyful in my work. So here’s a list of the things that I am doing to keep up with students during this time of Distance Learning.

Weekly Survey

I use Google forms and ask some of the following questions.

  • How are you doing right now? (1-5 Likert scale)
  • Here is some space to explain your answer to the last question, if you want to.
  • How do you feel about the work from last week? (1-5 Likert scale)
  • Do you have any questions for Mr. Newman?

I then follow up with any students who had questions. I also try to reach out to any students who said they’re doing “poorly” on either of the scales.

Comments in the Gradebook

In addition to trying to grade student work in a timely manner[1], any assignment that is not a 100%, I leave a comment for how students can improve their grades. I want the grade-book to become grounds for a conversation.

Student’s view of their grades

This includes pointing them to Desmos or activities where they will find more in depth comments and explanation, when they’re looking at the work!

Including positive feedback

I have also made it a point that any time a student improves their grade, I don’t just delete the old comment, I replace it with something like “Good job fixing this!”. This is to promote a growth mindset when it comes to their grades and their work, seeing how they’ve improved may motivate them to keep improving[2].

One quirk about Schoology is that we’ve been required to put all our grades into one category “Term 4 Continuity of Learning”. One side effect of this is that grades are sorted with the most recent at the bottom. This initially frustrated me because students must scroll down to see their latest grades on assignments, but one positive from this is that they must scroll past their old comments, including the ones saying “Great job fixing this!”.

Keeping track of student conversations

I try to message students, and I started keeping track of all of my students message (emails) to me and all of my messages (emails) back to them or their parents. This has helped me see trends, if certain students aren’t replying, so I can focus on them and contact home if necessary.

I am keeping track of this in a spreadsheet, where I have 2 columns adding up how many times I’ve contacted them and how often they’ve contacted me. I use conditional formatting to highlight the lowest numbers and make sure that I’m keeping up with students who aren’t responding.

Keeping track of contacting students & parents.

Student Discussions

One feature of Schoology are the “Discussion boards”. Normally in class we work in small groups and tackle textbook problems this way. More than ever before I have heard from students that they miss this aspect of class, especially “seeing how their classmates solve the problems” because it provides a new perspective on a problem they may already know how to do.

For discussion posts, I require them to leave a comment often to the prompt “What is a mistake you would expect to see others make when doing problems like the one in this lesson? Give a specific example of what such a mistake looks like.”

Then students are required to comment on at least 2 other posts. This keeps students engaged with one another and they see that I want them to interact with their peers.

After their first project during distance learning, I required them to leave positive feedback on their peer’s projects. Students really appreciated hearing good thing about the work they had done from their classmates and responded to their classmates’ positive comments and feedback.

Daily Updates with a “Random” Fun Item

I always sent out daily reminders of the work, but to make these updates more interesting, and more likely to be read, I started including random things I’ve found from the internet. Here are my most common categories of things I’ve included:

  • Make Jokes
  • TED Talks
  • YouCubed Videos on Growth Mindset
  • Items Related to Covid-19
  • Pictures and Videos of me with my three boys at home

I do not yet know how many students read or watch the videos on these updates, but I’m going to ask on next week’s poll to find out how many students are getting something out of these.

Plenty of Video Explanations

One way to comfort students is to see a person rather than just math. All my flipped videos only show the notes being filled out with my voice-over because they were made before I expected distance learning. But now for most explanations I try to use Screencastify, with my face in the corner of the video. We can’t use real time video (yet) but I create a weekly explanation video for all the students, walking them through the work they’ll be doing, and I also like to respond to individual students with my face there as much as possible.

Reach out and Lead with “Is Everything Okay?”

Just in general, when I see a student isn’t doing work, I try to reach out and make sure they’re okay first before getting onto them about not keeping up with their work. Students are going through all kinds of things anyway, but without actually seeing them in class, I don’t have a way of gauging their mood and I didn’t realize how much I relied on those visual cues for gauging a student’s well-being.


I do not know if these things are working, but I have received some positive feedback this week about how students have appreciated my work during this Distance Learning time. Perhaps because it’s teacher appreciation week, but maybe some of these things are making a difference in students lives.

One nice thing about the weekly survey is that I can chart overall student growth in mood. It seems to be trending in the right direction (1 is good/relaxed, 5 is stressed/bad). Below are the graphs, starting from week 4 and progressing to week 6.

Forms response chart. Question title: How are you doing right now?. Number of responses: 58 responses.

Forms response chart. Question title: How are you doing right now?. Number of responses: 78 responses.

Forms response chart. Question title: How are you doing right now?. Number of responses: 62 responses.

[1] One day later so that all the work is in as many complete it after 10pm that day, but so that they are not waiting too long to get a grade.

[2] I’ve heard it said “Never assign a grade while a student is learning” and I am hoping that with all the things that are different during Distance Learning, I can start a paradigm shift in how students see grades: they are changeable sign posts on the path to learning rather than final scores of a game.

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[Distance Learning] What’s working Survey

I hate that I can’t tell you who tweeted these questions, but I found these on twitter and thought “that’s a great idea!” so I added them to one of my weekly Google Forms surveys that I give my kids.

What is working in our distance learning version of class that you wish other classes were doing too?

What is working in other distance learning classes that you wish we did more of?

Here are the unfiltered responses to the first question (the second actually weren’t interesting except for one “more worksheets”)

all the daily posts and updates keeping me reminded of what we are doing this week
When you make videos to help us with a question, that is very helpful because it is almost like you’re talking in person.
Having an overall plan for each day so you know what to complete on each day.
A daily agenda helps a ton! It’s so much easier to organize my schedule and plan ahead when things are structured by the day.
most my classes do the the chart where they write the dates and what we should have done by then
For this class we get daily updates which is helpful to make sure i’m on track.
The math help room is nice because I can see if you already answered my question.
I enjoy the projects because we are using our skills and applying them to real world things.
Daily updates
Doing quizzes and test because none of the my other classes has done them.
I like how you try every single thing to help your students. Other teachers just use the hours they have to help, but also I have just have one other class
Our schedule is more strict which i like while other classes are a little more all over the place
The mini-quizzes
Nothing- all my classes are doing the same thing i like (video notes)
The daily updates really help.
The video explanations! They’re definitely more helpful than just reading a schedule.
Daily updates are really helpful
All of my classes are doing the same thing.
I try to make myself focus more on schoolwork during some parts of the day to increase efficiency
I like how we have video explanations and how we have a to-do list of work we need to do everyday so we stay on track and don’t get behind.
The assigned practice makes learning the content more accountable.
Posting the work that we have to do each week.
I wished there were more class discussions.
Your daily reminders/updates
I like hw we have video explanations
The document that is basically a calendar for the week that says what needs ot be done each specific day.
The way you post once a day and are easy to reach when needed.
I like how up to date and personal Mr.Newman is being
The weekly video updates and explanations are somewhat helpful; it gives a routine to the upcoming week versus just putting an update in Schoology and assigning work.
I really like how you check in with all the students to see how they are doing, I guess I can’t blame other teachers for not doing it since you do know a lot more about online stuff than your average teacher.
The video explanations for each week help a lot. Only one other class does this for me and I find it really helpful.
Weekly explanation videos and layouts of what should be done each day.
Daily updates
I wish my other classes had a Math Help Room type thing so that I could ask questions and understand what I’m doing
Posting a week’s worth of work early so that we can schedule to work on it rather than receiving surprise assignments at 7:00 on a Wednesday that are due at the end of the week. I like being able to see everything that’s graded on the distance learning plan, so I can double check that I’m doing everything I need to be doing.
An easier way to submit assignments, like a monday-friday chart to submit my work
gave work that was more manageable to do in one day like your class
there all the same
these weekly surveys that ask how is our mental heath and our stress levels about all this.
this quiz that you makes us do, and the ted talks and quotes that you do every week
I like that you put all of the work for the week in one google document with dates assigned and due dates. My other teachers aren’t as organized and sometimes it is confusing.
being able to see other classmates work to make sure i am on the right track
just assigning the work for the week so if I want to work ahead a little bit i can
Having like the doc that has the day and what were doing that day
Thereś a predictable schedule.
Folder of the weeks work

The thing that surprised me that I think I am going to take with me into the future (when we get back to “normal” school) is the weekly agenda. The students really appreciated the flexible structure that I provided. Due dates were at the end of the week, but I gave suggestions for what to do each day and students need that structure and that flexibility.

Here’s an example of what they are talking about:

And here’s the associated explanation video. This also surprised me how many students said they appreciated the video walk-through. I guess it is one step closer to a personal interaction and that’s something many of these kids are craving right now!

My next challenge is to figure out how best to share this information with my colleagues in a way that encourages them and doesn’t demean their efforts so far.

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[Distance Learning] The Trig Modeling Project

Every year in Precalculus there are four major projects:

  • Sound and Decibels (Logarithms and Exponential Functions)
  • Trig Modeling Project (this one!)
  • Law of Sines/Cosines Google Maps Project
  • The Stop Motion Parametric Project

The first two and the last one all have similar formats: students find/collect/create data, find a function that fits the data, create a graph, and then create three questions to ask their classmates.

During a normal year, students would present their projects to their classmates, and this usually goes really well. I do a few things to ensure success here [1]

The Idea

My hope in this project was to connect real-world situations and show students that periodic, sinusoidal functions are all around them. Students sometimes grab data that ends up not being sinusoidal, but once they throw it on a graph (Desmos!) then we can have a short, quick conversation about whether it’s sinusoidal or not.

Students then take the data and create a model and four representations of that model: description, equation, table, and graph. I ask the students to link their graph in Desmos so that I can quickly check and so that they can open it back up if they lose the Desmos tab on their computer.

Students then go beyond by creating three questions based on their model. I emphasize that these need to be asked in context–you don’t hear people saying “How much Y will there be when X is 34?”, instead they ask “How much daylight will there be on February 3rd?”. They then answer their question on a subsequent slide for when they’re presenting (again, on a normal year).

Here’s my explanation video to the students.

And here’s my example presentation that I give to each of the students to use as a template.

Changes This Year (Distance Learning)

I did not change the delivery of the project much at all!  Since I flip the classroom, I already had the explanation video created.  I did allow students to choose whether to be in a group, and who they wanted to work with. I do not think that all my students have ways of communicating with everyone else in the class right now, so I needed to make sure they could communicate before I put them in a group, and yet, in this time of isolation, I wanted students to work with others as much as possible. So I let them pick their groups (up to 3).  A little more than half the students chose to work in groups.

The biggest differences was how I requested students to “check in” with me. After they got their data and equation, they were to check in with me. After they finished their graph, they were to check in with me. In a normal class, I would be circling the class, looking over their shoulders, giving advice in person, but I really needed the students to let me know when they got something, so that I could approve or help them improve their work. A few groups didn’t check in, and had to go back and do almost the whole project over again (it’s easier the 2nd time because they knew what to do!).

Next time I do one of these, I’m also going to point out the commenting feature. Especially if the students type +[your email], then it emails you directly and students don’t have to fool around with messaging you in whatever app you’ve selected. Furthemore, when I open the email, I can click and it takes me directly to the slide in question!

“Presenting” This Year 

Normally students present and it’s an awesome experience because often I’m learning right alongside the students and the students sometimes notice this! But I wanted some way to have students see one another’s projects, so I did two things.

First, I created two Desmos activities (one for each block), and selected 3 presentations. I copied their equation slide, graph slide, and two of the question slides from each, and made these Desmos activities for my students to work on the next day:

I turned on the feature “see other students’ answers” because these aren’t meant to be a test–they’re meant to have students learn from each other, and this way they can see each other’s work and learn something!

Then, I am going to post all of the presentations up and have the students do an online “gallery walk” and share 3 things that they appreciate about some of their peer’s projects. I’m considering assigning 2 of the 3 because I want everyone to get some positive feedback.

And here are some of the projects to give you a few examples. I plan on posting more on my teacher website.


Honestly these projects have been just as good, if not better, than previous years, perhaps because I’ve been jumping in and out of them, giving advice, and helping students. This process has definitely encouraged me to consider what kind of feedback to give and how much to help a student. Since the student isn’t standing right next to me, waiting for an answer, I have a little more time to think about the feedback, and give just enough to make the student think and do as much of the work on their own as possible.

I liked doing these projects so much that I want to expand this and am trying to include this in my Algebra 1 curriculum! Here’s my explanation video for them. I will certainly be trying the last two projects on this list.

Reasons these projects are ideal of Distance Learning

  • They are real-world and students have some choice in what they want to study so they grab students attention when worksheets don’t. I find that many students are primarily motivated because they’re in a classroom with their peers, but that’s been taken away so we need other ways to encourage students.
  • The projects are on Google Slides and partners can collaborate through typing directly on the Slides.
  • If a student types +[your email] then it sends you an email which you can click on the link and it takes you directly to the slide and comment the student needs help with. This is a tremendous time saver for me as a teacher, instead of digging through a list of student project.
  • Since the projects require the student to find their own data in the real world, and I must approve that before they continue, it is nearly impossible to cheat. You can’t “Google” this project and come up with a good project! This beats the traditional assessment (tests, quizzes) hands down during this time of Distance Learning.
  • I can create a spreadsheet with links to students projects to quickly access, along with grades for each group. I grade each slide on a scale of 1-4 (one day I hope to create a typed out rubric for this, but I have the rubric in my head after having done this for several years) and their grade is the average of these.
  • The comments I leave encourage re-visiting the project, which helps the students see that feedback is a conversation, not just a one-and-done with an assignment mentality. This is essential to strive for during these times of isolated learning.
  • When using Desmos, I can quickly do a screencast of a group’s graph and show them how to change it, or give them ideas for improving their equation! In some ways, I believe I’m helping students out faster than if I had to walk over to them in class and give them suggestions while they play with Desmos! I’m balancing being “less helpful” with being helpful enough to get them going in the right direction.
  • I have a spreadsheet that I shared with all of my students. I called it the “Math Help Room” but it’s become more like an FAQ because I’ll leave questions and answers up there, including some of my video responses to students questions. Then, if a student has a question that they already had, I can copy and paste the link to the video and give it to the student! This is the equivalent of getting the whole class’s attention when we’re in class, but this feedback is more timely and better (at least in that way)!


[1] Here’s a list of the things that I do to make the presentations as painless for the students as possible:

  • Students are in randomly assigned groups, so if there’s one shy student, they can plan ahead to be the “clicker”.
  • I tell students “if you volunteer, then you get to fix your project afterwards”. The motivated students volunteer and can go first, demonstrating what a good project looks like. We only get through 3-4 presentations a day, so other groups have another day or two to “fix” their presentation and iron out any mistakes. I even tell the students “I grade the first few groups easier because they don’t get to see other presentations for ideas.” I expect later groups to improve their presentations based on what they’ve seen.
  • Along with the “going easy on the first groups”, I also go easy with my questions and feedback, helping the first few groups through mistakes they made. Later groups get it a little tougher, especially if there’s a mistake that already came up and they didn’t take the time to fix what they knew they did incorrectly.
  • Every student in the class types in the presenter’s Desmos link so they have the graph of the project in front of them and can work on that. It is less intimidating to the speakers to have some of the audience looking at their screen rather than everyone staring at you as you’re talking.
  • To that end I also give students a google form to fill out, which includes questions like “rate how well this group presented”, “rate how well this group demonstrated knowledge of this topic” and “ask one good question for this group”.


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SBG & Distance Learning

Background: Standards Based Grading

Standards Based Grading is simply the practice of rearranging your grade-book so that students get a grade for a standard or topic rather then for an assignment.

This practice has led me to change how I assess: quizzes are categorized by standards so that a student might take one quiz but receive multiple grades for that quiz. Then it becomes clear to me that a student should be allowed to demonstrate growth in a standard or topic, so giving them 2nd and 3rd opportunities seems like a no-brainer, as long as it doesn’t take up an inordinate amount of time for me.

One other thing that can happen is that how something is assessed becomes more flexible. A test can replace a grade that was initially given from a quiz. A conversation can change a grade that came from a project.

I always wanted to…

One thing I always wanted to try was to allow students to do “video explanation reassessments” where students explained their work on a short video and then submitted that to me to assess their understanding. I even had students use Flipgrid in the Fall semester of this year anticipating that possibility, but we were always just “too busy in class” to explore that option further.

Then Distance Learning happened. I could no longer give students assessments in the traditional format. But students were expecting the possibility of “retaking” their quizzes for higher grades, since that’s what I had allowed up until we were stuck at home. I wanted to give students the opportunity to demonstrate understanding of previous topics, yet wanted more confidence that they were the origins of what was written and held forth as a demonstration of understanding.

Enter the video explanations. Here’s my prompt for students:

Here’s what I want you to do: find 3 questions in the same section of the textbook that are similar to the quiz. Do them without your notes or a calculator (if it’s a non-calculator quiz). Then record a video of you explaining how to do them (you can use the record video button in Schoology messages). I don’t need to see YOU but I do need to see YOUR WORK in the video.

If you need to do other practice problems before trying the “official” problems, do as many as you need to so that you can do the official ones without your notes and without a calculator (if it’s a non-calculator quiz).

Some students had problems submitting a video through Schoology, so I offered alternatives, such as uploading it to Google Drive and sharing the link, or putting it in a class Flipgrid that I created the last day we were together[1].

The Result

And many students created really insightful videos!   Are there students who cheated and used other resources to solve the problems? Probably. But often I could tell who was “faking it” and I can say with confidence that the vast majority students who took me up on this did the work honestly.  I could see their thinking and know whether they had done the work on their own.

And what did this have students doing? Working on previous topics that they didn’t understand, going back and doing practice problems and working to the point of being able to present the math. During this time of Distance Learning, I declare that a win! So what if it is “easier” than what they would have had to do if class was in session? So what if they don’t retain the information as well as they would have, had they been required to turn in practice problems to demonstrate that they’ve been doing spaced practice? At this point, I am happy to help students earn the grade the want by demonstrating understanding in non-traditional ways.

Conclusion: My Future Classroom WILL Be Different

I know that the Coronavirus has brought way more pain and suffering to even being to make a comparison of the good vs bad that is coming out of this. I am very sad for those who have lost loved ones during this time and I do not want to ignore that. But in one small way, this situation has improved my classroom by forcing my hand into allowing alternative assessments for my students, and I am thankful for the small positives that we get in this dark time. I will make an effort to allow future classes to submit explanation videos to demonstrate their understanding, and my future students will be better because of that.


Edit: I asked a few students what they thought and I just HAD to include the only response I’ve gotten back so far:

“personally i’m not a good test/quiz taker when it comes to math! I like doing these videos because I don’t feel so stressed that i’m gonna fail! With the videos you can go at your own pace solving the problems! I hope this helps! Thank you for allowing us to do this it helped my grade a lot and I feel much better about the content of the class!”


[1] I created it so that students could present their projects simultaneously. I had the next 3-4 days planned to be presentations of projects, but the coronavirus cut that short, so we used Flipgrid instead to “present all at once” and then students could watch one another’s presentations.

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Distance Learning, Week 1

Distance learning started this week (3/30/20), and I just wanted to share (1) some of the things I tried but aren’t doing, (2) some of the things I am doing, and (3) some of the things I want to try.

Things I’ve Tried but am No Longer Doing


I used Zoom for the first week we were “off” just to offer help to students who were struggling with the math. Ideally this would be connected to my iPad so that I could write on the iPad and the students could see it (rather than lift the iPad up in front of my camera). If we were allowed to use Zoom anymore, then I might rig up a USB camera to hang over paper, a whiteboard[1], or my iPad, but video conferencing was banned in the county the following week.

YouTube Live Stream

I only wanted a one-way video anyway[2], so I thought “what about YouTube Live Stream?” so that students could see my writing while “chatting” to me in a Google Doc. Here’s the crazy setup:


One tweak I had to make was that I had to check the “ultra-low latency” option, otherwise streaming was about 30 seconds behind my writing. Even then, it was about 5 seconds behind my writing and that’s long enough to be a barrier to helping in “real time”. But even without that, this was just a beast to get working. I couldn’t use my Linux Laptop because there isn’t an easy[3] way to screen-cast Doceri onto Linux. I couldn’t use my school laptop (foreground) because I don’t have installation rights on that device, and you must install a streaming program to send to YouTube.

Discord (or Slack)

I tested this out with a few kids, and I think it would have been a great tool had I been able to introduce it in class. You could have a separate room for each topic, respond to kids individually or as a small group, or whole-class on a specific topic. I could even turn on audio channels to help students even faster than typing.  And it’s all in real time with alerts, with plenty of options to manage a large number of students on at one time (I have 67 Precalculus students between the two classes, though they would not be all on at the same time). Slack would have been very similar, minus the audio channels. Unfortunately (1) students can’t use their school accounts to create an account neither in Discord nor Slack, and (2) I think it would just be too steep a learning curve for some students.

Things I’ve Tried That I Will Keep Using

Google Doc or Spreadsheet “Math Help Room”

Since there’s no tool available for a “chat” with students, I just created a Google Doc and left it open! For my Honors class, I decided to go with a Spreadsheet, which helps me organize the topics on the tabs at the bottom, and each question gets a new column. So it works a little like Slack or Discord, in that I can have multiple students asking questions at the same time, answer different students, and then students can go to the document and use it as an FAQ so they’re not waiting on me if it’s outside of office hours.

Here’s the video I used to explain the idea to my students (Google Spreadsheets) , to give you an idea of what it looks like.

And here’s the Google Docs explanation video.


They took their 5 minute limit off for FCPS, so I can screen-cast explanations (mostly using Desmos!) and quickly get the link to the kids. I started with a project in Precalculus, which uses Desmos heavily, so I can make 30 second or 90 second explanations to students very quickly. I throw the explanation into the “Math Help Room” Google Doc above for other students to get the same help if it’s a general enough question. Then, when I’m helping another group, I can copy and paste the link from the Math Help Room so that students quickly get the explanation they need!

I used Loom before, but Screencastify saves the videos on Google Drive, which I guess is a little more secure from our county’s perspective. But Loom raised their video limit as well indefinitely so I may be using that more in the future once the Coronavirus pandemic is over.


I’ve written about Doceri before (more than once), but the ease with which I can record a video, send it to YouTube, and send the link to students, is incredible. I do the same thing with these links: paste them in the “Math Help Room” and share them with students who need a certain explanation. In some ways, not having a live video feed keeps me from having to repeat myself! I simply have a library of explanation videos specific to each students’ needs!

Student Video Explanations

Since I run an SBG classroom, this had led me to allow retakes on all assessments for the classes that I have the flexibility to do so. However, I can’t allow students to take quizzes while at home because I can’t guarantee testing security. So what I’m doing is having the students do problems and explain them. Students can record videos directly in Schoology through messages, they can share Google Drive links with me, OR they can use Flipgrid (some students can’t do the first two, so I created a Flipgrid for them to submit these and that seemed to work!). I appreciate how I can hear student thinking and explanations. Since I grade on a 1, 2, 3, or 4 SBG scale anyway, this was very easy to replace the quiz grades!

Google Forms

Google forms is so handy for collecting information! It works great as a check-in for all my students, letting me know who understands something and who needs more help. I want to make sure I put student well-being first in all of this, so I try to always lead with a Likert scale for “How are you doing?” along with space for students to explain, and then I try to follow up!


I almost forgot this tool since I use even when we’re in a physical school building, but this increases engagement and helps the students know whether they’re understanding the material or not! Before I would touch base with each student that didn’t get a question right and asked a question in a video (unless enough needed an explanation and then I would teach whole-class). Now I reach out and message each student who had a question (although I’m behind on reaching out since I’m first concerned with the students I haven’t heard from at all!).


I saved this for last since out county has this tool and I know not every county does. But whatever LMS you have, you need a way to message students. I can message students fairly quickly, and I reply very quickly using email. To speed it up even more, I dictate my responses: Read&Write for Chrome on a computer, but my phone’s Google voice dictation software is even better! If you are able to use Schoology, the best thing I’ve done for creating assignments is to create an all-inclusive Google Doc where students submit their work by taking a screenshot or picture. Here are some example:

Algebra 1, Week 1 example

Precalculus Example (Students don’t submit their work here, in this case)

Example of a specific topic in Precalculus

When you assign the above documents, if you attach it using the button “Assign From App: Google Drive Assignments” then it creates a copy for each student and makes grading (and checking in on students) much easier!


Things I Want to Try

Desmos Assessments

I’ve been watching Julie’s awesome “Assessments with Desmos” webinar, and now I really want to create an authentic Desmos Assessment for my students! I need to play with it some more, but I like how you can make the assessments “less Google-able”. It also can create highly interactive assessments, where learning is the priority over assessing. I appreciated her suggestion to “try using the Desmos activity remotely first before having it count as an official assessment” for the sake of the students and their stress level.

Schoology Assessments

I want to get my Precalculus students back up to speed on their Algebra, Logarithm, and Trigonometry skills, so I’m thinking one “miniquiz” a week. If I create the assessment in Schoology, then it automatically grades it! I’d make it multiple choice, and include “none of the other answers” as an option, and use it pretty frequently just to keep the kids honest. Then, I’d also explain to them that the miniquiz is a minuscule part of their grade (~2%) so cheating on it doesn’t really help them, it only hurts them and their future. Then, I’d have the miniquizzes for future years, so that the kids can enter them all on their own after doing them on paper!


That’s it for now, but I have many more ideas that I want to get to soon. I’m very glad that we’re working on a project in Precalculus, as I feel that the students that are working are actually learning through this. At the end of this project, students are supposed to ask 3 questions and then answer them, so I want to figure out a way to put those questions out for their peers to answer, because you can’t Google for an answer key if your classmates created the questions!


[1]Except that all my whiteboards are at my off-limits school at the moment. If I really needed them, I could get them, but since I can’t use Zoom, that’s a moot point.

[2]And I only ever used Zoom as a one-way video, with the students chatting back to me. This was actually pretty effective, especially for the one student who has trouble talking in class, even individually, but has very good questions and can think much deeper than his oral communication allows.

[3]I don’t like having to use a Wine emulator, even though I know it’s possible to do it that way!

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Barbie Bungee

I’ve heard about the Barbie Bungee for a while now but I’ve never tried it before this year. My excuse was that I have 3 little boys so I don’t own any Barbies, but when my colleague offered her Barbies because she was teaching Algebra 1 at the same time as me, I couldn’t refuse.

Where to Start

Dan Meyer fostered a discussion on who started the activity best. I thought I could give the students even more of the burden of work, so I created a worksheet that left out the words “regression” and didn’t even point them in the direction of what type of data to collect. Here is my worksheet.

Barbie Bungee (Word doc)

The Day of Planning (Day 1)

After introducing the situation and explaining that “Barbie doesn’t know right now what height she wants to jump from, but she will tomorrow!”, many students didn’t know where to start. Many groups didn’t include Barbie at first and many didn’t test it by actually dropping Barbie (which came back to haunt them!). Nobody thought to use “LinReg” (Linear Regression on a TI-84) on their own and I suggested it to a few groups who seemed stuck.

The best help I gave on day 1 was to walk them through what will happen to them in the next day of class: “You will get the height but you won’t be able to measure any more… what will you do?”. I also encouraged groups that were done early to “test their plan on a height that they hadn’t tried yet”.

Not every group had a equation. Not every group had more than 3 data points (though they were struggling the entire time!). One group had a quadratic equation!

The Day of the Jump (Day 2)

On the day of the jump, I told them where we were going: “Barbie wants to go somewhere tropical, so we’re going to the pool deck![1]”. After giving them the height, I watched them struggle. And struggle, and struggle. Students had to convert (I didn’t tell them what units I was going to give it in!) while others had to come up with an equation. Despite my repeated reminders the day before for students to have more than one copy of their data in case anyone was absent, two groups were missing the one student who had “all the stuff”.

The students took much longer than I thought, both figuring out how many rubber bands to use AND attaching the rubber bands. Fortunately the drops didn’t take very long, and fortunately we have 80 minute classes (block schedule), so the students had about 15-20 minutes after we got back to the classroom to write up the “report”, explaining which parent function they used and giving future students advice.

Here’s a short video that I created for the students that I showed them on the last day of school to “remind them of the good times we had doing Barbie Bungee”. I was amazed at how fast and easy it was to create this video on WeVideo!

I think in the future I’m going to start my class with this video from Dan Meyer:


[1] Yes, my school is one of 2 in the county built in the 70’s and so it has a pool. If it wasn’t the pool, I would have taken them to the gym where there’s a 2nd floor. If it was warmer outside, we would have gone to the stadium bleachers.

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Student Survey for Students

At the end of last year, my principal sat down with me to have an end-of-year conversation. That was my second full year at this high school and she is now 2 for 2 in giving me some incredibly insightful advice. She asked me to “support my students by stepping out of my classroom.” What she meant by that was that she wanted me to reach out to coaches, club advisors, music directors, and other teachers or adults that can positively influence my students in my class.

Every new class I give a “get to know you” survey with a handful of questions and I’m constantly refining the questions to get as much info as possible in as few questions as possible[1]. In the fall I tried to hone in on which adults to talk to by giving them a question like “Name someone you respect”. Unfortunately 95% of the answers were “My Mom” or “My Dad” and the other 5% weren’t helpful, but I thought more carefully about the question this semester and the results were amazing.

Here’s the question I gave on my “get to know you” survey this week for my new classes:

Name one adult at the High School who knows you, you respect, and can motivate you.

Out of 87 students, 9 didn’t give a name of anyone. They’re on my radar right away now. I’ve already called home on several of them (not to talk about the question, but just to start supporting them early with a positive phone call!).

I am also a new-teacher mentor in our high school, so I looked for any new teachers on the list (there were several!) and emailed them right away to encourage them. I then emailed other teachers on the list because all of us could use some encouragement.

Now I hope to make contact with those teachers throughout the year and see if they can help me if a student isn’t doing well OR use the teacher/coach/other adult as a positive role model. Our school uses Schoology and most of my students are good about seeing/responding to messages so even if a teacher no longer teaches that student and doesn’t see them on a regular basis, a simple message of “great work!” could go a long way.


[1] Because I know I won’t have time to read 50 answers to each of the 90 students. What ends up happening is that I read hardly any of the answers!


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