Teaching Math In the Digital Age: The Resources (Part 1)

Teaching Math in this age requires a lot of technical skills when it comes to creating and implementing curriculum. Luckily there are many programs out there that can guide you on your path to teaching Math in this day and age. In this blog I will give you a quick rundown of the tools I use with my students as we go from paper and pencil to stylus and screen.

The first and most interesting website to me, which is incredibly interactive, is Desmos. Desmos is geared towards most standards from 6th grade to college calculus. It can double as a graphing calculator and the best part is that it is totally free.There are interactive activities that students can give feedback in anonymity, manipulate graphs, and even play games with. You as the teacher, can easily connect this program and activities through google classroom or many other mediums by creating a class code, copying it, and pasting it into a link in Google Classroom.

This leads me into the next program/programs that I use daily which are Gsuite, (formerly known as Google Apps For Education). The main program that I use to give access to websites and information to my students is Google Classroom. It is very easy to set up and can generate class lists for all of the programs I am mentioning in these blogs. To assess my students I use Google Forms which can allow teachers to insert answer keys into the assessments so students can get instant feedback. It also frees up time for teachers because Forms will do the grading for you. There are always new features coming out, most recently the screen lock feature which will lock the screen as seen in Smarter Balanced and MAP assessments. You can also import grades from Forms into your Google Classroom if you do chose to use Google Classroom’s grading system.

This leads me into Google Sheets which can be used as grade sheets all the way to creating graphs of students’ data. Students and teachers should get familiar with Sheets because it can save massive amounts of time for teachers and gives students a tool to use in their future endeavors. I mainly use it for data analysis of assessments and to post grades in Google Classroom. The students use it to collect, organize, and display data with graphs and tables. I will introduce Sheets to them once we have gone over general statistical analysis tools and how we derive them. Once they know how they work, I will show them that they can compute what would take them 20 minutes into 1 minute. This saves time for the students and allows them to get a better grasp on the story the statistics are displaying.

The beautiful part about Gsuite is that a student can create a spreadsheet and insert it into Google Docs or Google Slides with a few clicks of the mouse. The student can display data in a presentation with a pie, bar, and many other types of graphs of their choosing. The students can all work on these platforms together through sharing them with other classmates, which allows collaboration to be done anywhere, anytime, very easily. Once the students are done with their assignments or presentations all it takes is a couple clicks of the mouse to turn them in to me in Google Classroom.

In part two of my blog I will go over more online platforms that go deeper into Math and Science which can easily be posted into Google Classroom for easy access. If you start with a few of these programs mentioned above, it will not only save you, the teacher time, but it will save the students frustration by making collaboration and access to materials extremely easy.

A Saturday with Alice Keeler

Image of participants

Some of the S.U.S.D. Ed Tech Cadre with Alice Keeler at the P.D.C.

I will have to admit, I was one of those teachers who created worksheet templates on Google Docs and had my students answer their questions on the computer. It felt amazing not having to waste paper, let alone carrying the worksheets back and forth from work to home.  Finally, I realized that I was doing the same thing with paper, but instead, giving the worksheet on the computer. Don’t get me wrong, worksheets aren’t bad. There are days when I need worksheets, but how can I utilize computers in a more effective way? This year I got “the group”, you know “the group”. I had to figure out creative ways to keep them constantly engaged as I’m putting out rapid fires.  I started following teachers on Instagram and did what teachers do best. I “borrowed” ideas from them to make it work for my class. Quickly, I created weekly Google Slides with my priority standards, expectations, warm-ups with a visual timer and 2-3 minute math videos that aligned with my lessons. This helped, but did it help enough?

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S. U. S. D. teachers gathered for a Saturday session with Alice Keeler.

This past Saturday, I gathered with about 40+ SUSD teachers to laugh and listen to Alice Keeler (#Threedotsandatriangle) speak about engaging strategies and time-saving tips and tricks when using G Suite.

Tip 1: Title your Google Classroom Assignments or Documents with a hashtag, number, and a catchy title. (ex. #002 Kool-Aid)

There are times where it will take a while to find a document because I assigned my students using the same title as a previous assignment. When students, or even myself, search for an assignment there will be multiple results,  there could even be old assignments from previous years!

Tip 2: Ever post something on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter waiting for someone to like or comment on it? Students want that instant feedback/comment, also!

Utilize the private comments in Google Classroom to provide instant feedback. Think of it as instant messaging.

Tip 3: How long does it take you to open 30+ assignments your students turned in on Google Classroom?

Download Alice Keeler’s Chrome Extension “Alice Keeler Drive20”. This Chrome Extension is magical. It opens the first 20 files in a folder all at once, saving lots of time. Give it a try!

Tip 4: for my tech-savvy people:

Give students your question and give them one slide deck for the whole class to work on. Students put their name in the speaker notes and BAM! (One student per slide) All student responses/work all on one slide deck. Yes, there will be some hiccups, but Alice reminded us that kids will be kids and slides are free, so they can easily make another one!

A good idea image

A bitmoji example that can easily be used for student feedback.

Tip 5: How can we get our students engaged?

Add the Google Extension “Bitmoji” to personalize feedback, comments, Slides, or add it to the background of the Google Classroom header. Students start listening and paying attention when they can relate to you. Editors note: Do NOT give students access to this app as there are some very inappropriate images (language) in the app.  For more on this, go here.


I felt differently after I listened to Alice Keeler. Look her up, buy her books, or if you’re frugal like me, the least you can do is follow her on Twitter. She has an overabundance of great tips up her sleeve. Even for the primary teachers!

(Editors note: Alice was the third of a four-part Saturday Speaker Series held at the P.D.C. The final installment will be featuring Jon Corippo on Saturday, May 19, 2018. Go Sign Me Up #371301.)


Data may be a four-letter word, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow to love using it. Throw in the G-Suite of applications, and using data has never been easier or more meaningful.

Data can be dull

Before going further, let me acknowledge that not everyone loves data. I admit to having been on the receiving end of some deadly dull data presentations. I’m sure you can relate: It’s early in the year and we’re asked to look at several slides of charts, tables and numbers. (We likely have a printed version in front of us as well.) We are then asked to note how one subgroup moved up in one area (applause) while another slipped in a different area (groans of concern). It is not as if we don’t want our school to improve — I certainly do — but somehow studying numbers up and down a page is nowhere near as inspiring as any scene from “Stand and Deliver.”

And let’s face it: Most of us got into teaching because of Jaime Escalante. Or John Keating. Or Erin Gruwell.

Like Gruwell, I want my students to become “freedom writers.” Like Keating, I want them to “find their own walk.” Like Escalante, I want them to discover the ganas to succeed.

Passionate teaching and data analysis can go hand in hand

Jaime Escalante may have put on a production every day for his AP Calculus students, but he was also mindful of the bottom line, especially pass rate and average score.

I have long taught AP English. Being passionate has never been difficult. Paying attention to the numbers has been more of a struggle.

I started focusing more on data after attending a Saturday AP seminar two years ago. That session made me face the reality that, although I loved teaching the class and many students seemed to enjoy it as well, the results needed to be better. When the goal is improvement, the first step is acknowledging the problem.

I decided I needed to do more than just give excerpts of released tests, only to forget the results the next day. I needed to record what I was doing, and I needed to record the progress of each student. How else could we establish a baseline and determine growth or lack of growth?

Using Google Sheets

All of my practice test data now gets recorded into one Google Sheets document. For those of you still using Excel, I urge you to shift to Google Sheets. This app includes almost all of the features you were using with Excel, including the same formulas, and it is much simpler. As with an Excel file, I create several sheets (which look like tabs at the bottom). The first is what you see below, a listing of the practice exam excerpts I have given, including a wealth of information about each: date administered, type of passage, number of questions, high/low score, average score/percentage, median score and number of students scoring 60 percent or higher.

8/22 Prose To the Lighthouse/Woolf (2012) 14 9 0 4.6 34.8% 4 2
9/6 Prose Life on the Mississippi/Twain (2012) 9 8 2 4.8 57.0% 5 7
9/21 Prose Portrait of a Lady (2013) – GROUP 11 11 4 7.8 71% 9 9
10/18 Prose “Pharmacy” (2013) – untimed/coaching 8 8 6 7 87.5% 7 14
12/6 Prose Northanger Abbey (2014) 12 11 3 5.7 47.8% 5 3
1/4 Poetry Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 60” (2013) 11 11 4 7.3 66.7% 7 8
2/10 Poetry Donne’s “Love” (2014) 11 11 2 5.6 46.6% 5.5 5
2/28 Poetry Pope’s Essay on Criticism (2014) 13 12 0 8 61.5% 8 10
4/18 Both Practice test (2016) 55 45 16 29.3 53.3% 29.5 6
Total, other than practice test 52.4%

After several months a table like this allows me to see the forest despite those pesky trees. Improvement becomes obvious, especially after the first test administration. What is especially impressive is the number of students scoring 60 percent or greater with each administration. A deeper analysis of that success also reveals the unfortunate reality that students near the bottom did not improve at the same rate as those near the top. This revelation helped me group students together, matching those who were more successful with multiple choice with those who struggled.

A more valuable sheet lists the progress of each student.

Name Avg 8/22 8/22 9/6 9/6 12/6 12/6 1/4 1/4 2/10 2/10 2/28 2/28 Avg PRAC
% PRO % PRO % PRO % POE % POE % POE % %
1 74.3 9 64.3 7 77.8 9 75.0 9 81.8 8 72.7 8 61.5 72.2 61.8 2
2 50 3 21.4 7 77.8 5 41.7 8 72.7 4 36.4 8 61.5 51.9 69.1 3
3 67.7 8 57.1 7 77.8 7 58.3 11 100 5 45.5 8 61.5 66.7 58.2 3
4 43.5 4 28.6 5 55.6 4 33.3 6 54.5 5 45.5 7 53.8 45.2 49.1 2
5 67.8 9 64.3 7 77.8 4 33.3 11 100 7 63.6 11 84.6 70.6 70.9 3
6 38.3 2 14.3 4 44.4 5 41.7 5 45.5 5 45.5 0 0.0 31.9 32.7 2
7 39.4 7 50.0 2 22.2 3 25.0 7 63.6 4 36.4 6 46.2 40.6 32.7 3
8 41.0 0 0.0 4 44.4 4 33.3 9 81.8 5 45.5 9 69.2 45.7 34.5 3
9 44.2 3 21.4 5 55.6 0.0 4 36.4 7 63.6 5 38.5 43.1 58.2 2
10 31.2 4 28.6 2 22.2 5 41.7 4 36.4 3 27.3 6 46.2 33.7 49.0 1
11 44.8 5 55.6 5 41.7 6 54.5 3 27.3 3 23.1 40.4 30.9 3
12 26.7 2 14.3 2 22.2 4 33.3 5 45.5 2 18.2 9 69.2 33.8 29.1 1
13 79.9 8 57.1 7 77.8 11 91.7 8 72.7 11 100 12 92.3 81.9 78.2 5
14 56.1 5 35.7 6 66.7 7 58.3 0.0 7 63.6 9 69.2 58.7 65.5 3
15 43.5 3 21.4 4 44.4 4 33.3 7 63.6 6 54.5 10 76.9 49.1 49.1 2
16 74.1 6 42.9 8 88.9 9 75.0 10 90.9 8 72.7 10 76.9 74.6 81.8 4
4.56 34.8 4.82 56.9 5.73 47.8 7.33 66.7 5.63 51.1 8 58.2 52.5 53.2

Data sparks discussion

You might be wondering at this point, “Isn’t this just a big dull table with numbers, much like what put you to sleep at the beginning of the year?”

Well, yes and no. Aesthetically, it’s not attractive, I’ll give you that. But these are my students. In my view I see names, not numbers, in that far left column, and I want every one of them to be progressing upward as we move to the right. I want to see the greens of improvement and the bolded numbers that indicate 60 percent or more. I share the story of growth (or stagnation) with each student, and we use the numbers to spur discussion: What is causing the improvement? Why do you do better on poetry than prose? Why are you continuing to struggle?

Without hard data staring us both in the face, it is easy to just generalize that “We are all improving.” In fact, some students need to try new strategies.

If you look to the far right you can see that not every student passed the test. (A score of 3 or better is considered passing.) But I can tell you, at least anecdotally, that all students took this process seriously because it was so systematic. Also, I am happy to report that this group of students from Stagg scored higher than the national average.

The data listed in this way also reveals surprises. Students 7, 8 and 11 all passed the test even though the practices leading up to the May exam would not have predicted that. (On the other hand, anyone would have expected Student 1 to have passed with flying colors, and yet somehow he did not.)

Since the numbers were so strong last year and the growth so dramatic, you can be sure I have used these numbers to motivate my students this year. Yes, data can motivate.

Process is simple

Creating this table is easy. Most of it is just inputting numbers next to student names. The formulas are basic, easy to learn and (best of all) easy to duplicate. For Student 1, for example, the formula needed to come up with his average is as follows:


To create the same formula for the other students, I follow these steps:

  1. Copy Student 1’s formula
  2. Highlight the entire column from Student 2 through Student 16
  3. Go to the pull down menu: Edit > Paste special > Paste formula only

Voilá. All of the student averages are now in place.

I have students keep their own data in their notebook, but what I keep in this Google Sheets document allows for greater analysis. Having so much raw data is like recording your weight daily — and doing it honestly. If you have a genuine desire to lose weight, then staring at the scale and recording that number everyday and then examining your long-term trends will cause you to reflect upon what you need to do to make the desired change. Similarly, if a teacher wants to make a difference with his or her students, recording data is an honest reminder of where they are and the extent of their progress. The ideal scenario, of course, is students who want to do better working together with a teacher who has the same ambition. Success may not be guaranteed in that scenario, but it is a lot more likely.

I have thousands of files in my Google Drive. And that is no exaggeration. Probably it’s many thousands. Only a few do I mark with a star, effectively bookmarking them (or designating them my “favorites”). My data file is one of those special few. I use it that often.

New year, new uses

Starting this year, I have expanded the use of this document. I now have sheets for essay scores, lit term quiz scores and writing conference comments. This document allows me to keep a comprehensive record of my students from the first week of school.

This is my 33rd year teaching, and I can assure you the passion is still here. I’ve been doing this so long that when I started teaching, the movies referenced at the beginning had not even come out yet. I admit to tearing up then, and still now, at the end of this movie.

Passion is great. It may even be the most important quality for a teacher to have. But if we want results, we need to do a bit more.

Google Sheets is a great way to start.