Desmos meets Mondrian

One of my very favorite parts of being a TSA for Instructional Technology is teaching in the classroom of a brilliant teacher who is intrigued by tech, but a reluctant user of it.  Why? Because I walk away with so many incredible ideas.  I laugh that after 3 years out of the classroom, I come up with far less great classroom ideas than I used to, however I really know how to spot a good idea when I see one.

Today was one of those dreamy days.  Lara Collins, 8th grade math teacher at King Middle School in Berkeley, and I were colleagues when I was teaching math just a few year back.  In fact, I remember in 2005 when I first started teaching middle school, after a long stint as an elementary school teacher, and Lara & her partner in crime Leah Alcala took me under their wing and gave me unique, creative lessons for weeks and weeks of curriculum.

Although I co-taught with Lara today under the auspices of having students use Desmos to gain insight into solving systems of equations, I also got to see the artistic creations of the 8th grade students at King who have been doing a whole lot of dabbling in the intersection of graphing and art.

After learning about how to write the equations of horizontal and vertical lines, students were introduced to Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and did a study of his work, his use of color and the variety of ways he uses horizontal and vertical lines to create various moods. Students then created their own Mondrian-influenced graphs, with each line defined by its equation. Though they didn’t use Desmos for this project, they sure may next year.

A second art project followed soon thereafter.  Students wrote linear equations to design stained glass. Some learned how to set domain and range restrictions.


Some did the artwork on paper, while others used Desmos.  Each result is gorgeous.  So glad to have these great ideas to share with others.  Thanks, Lara!
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Finding Time to Code

I had the privilege of being invited into Susan Gatt’s 4th grade class at Rosa Parks yesterday to introduce her students to coding.  Elementary teachers often talk with me about their interest in having their students learn to code, but struggle to find space to teach it.  Last year our district tried out Code Monkey for beginning coders, but this year we have been really happy with the free courses at and through Kahn Academy.  I have done an introduction to coding lesson many different ways over the past few years as a TSA.  Often, I start by giving 1 student a task, such as picking up a water bottle that is across the room, and having students agree on some common commands to use.  Students quickly find that they need more commands than they had originally thought, and discuss how to be more creative with the few agreed-upon terms.

Yesterday, I tried something different.  First, I showed the introduction to coding video.  There’s a clip in there where Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat talks about how he took coding classes in college and I knew that would create a buzz as the big Warriors/Spurs game was happening that same night and right now it feels like everyone in Berkeley is a Warriors fan.

I talked about how learning to code involves both an excitement about solving puzzles and a willingness to open your mind to figure out how to translate ideas for a computer.  I said that we are translating all the time to help people understand what we want.  I flashed up quick photos of my two boys from spring break, Mason and Egan:









As it turns out, Mason gets really frustrated when he is not understood and Egan is able to understand and translate for Mason better than anyone in our family.  A typical exchange sounds like this:

M: “Mason Funi.”

Me: “Oh, you said something funny?

M: “No, mama, no!  Mason funi.”

Me: “Sure, Mason, I’ll get you some food.”

M (increasingly irritated): “No, mama, no mama, no! Mason funi.”

E: “Mom, he wants a smoothie.”

M: “Yep.  Mama, Mason Funi.”

I shared this interaction with the class, knowing many of them could relate with their own younger siblings and talked about one part of learning to code, was both learning how to communicate with the computer and learning to debug your code when things didn’t work as you had expected.  We laughed about how Egan is the only person in the house sometimes who is able to debug Mason’s code.

There is a lot I like about the curriculum.  Coincidentally, they were Skyping later that afternoon with Gene Luen Yang, author of Secret Coders which is a fabulous graphic novel that involves binary and coding.  My son loved it and it was really cool that Susan’s class had been reading it and other novels by this author.  What a thrilling afternoon for them and I’m so glad I was a part of it.  Rosa Parks is the first school in Berkeley to have gone 1:1 in 4th and 5th grades and I love seeing all the creative directions that teachers have gone in when using Chromebooks.


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Revival (yet again)

Here we go…much time has passed and I’m sure both you and I are far wiser.

It’s February.  My birthday month.  A leap year.  A month to ski, celebrate presidents’ birthdays, and the coming of spring.

A far more important consideration is how schools celebrate Black History Month.  I’m loving how the 6th grade team at my alma-mater (or at least my alma-mater for my impressionable years in my development as a middle school math teacher) integrated Google Forms and sociology for a full grade-level immersion into issues of race and education.

As explained by my colleague Robert MacCarthy, “Instead of staying “safe” for Black History Month at my school, my sixth grade team of teachers wanted our students to look through the lenses of race and gender as sociologists. They helped craft a survey and polled all 180 students. The entire 6th grade was mixed up into random teams and they came up with their own claims after analyzing the data and started seeing that we are not walking through the same world. This is day one. It was awesome to let 11 and 12-year-olds start seeing the world through race lenses, especially our kids who are not of color because they rarely do. It was powerful for us to see them open up their math toolboxes to find these differences.” More to come next week when they will be sharing their results with one another.

Brilliant use of Google Forms.  I’m in awe.




Nitty Gritty GeoGebra News

This is a quick post primarily for anyone who attended my GAFE presentation today in Palo Alto.

Quick reflection.  Fixing techy things on the fly in front of an audience isn’t something I’m entirely comfortable doing.  Even after 2 years as a TSA for Technology, I’m still a whole lot more comfortable working with teachers one on one than I am presenting to a large group.  I used Pear Deck for a few opening slides and while in my head I was 100% sure  how to mirror my screen so that the audience saw the ‘student view’ on the screen while I saw the ‘teacher view’ on my screen, I still got flustered when it didn’t quite work as I had anticipated.  And, when I did mirror my screen, I needed to change the resolution so that the edges of my screen didn’t fall off the big screen and somehow it never occurred to me to pause my presentation for 10 seconds to do that.  Why not?  Who knows.  It was quite silly of me to not just fix it and me typing it here will remind the inner-workings of my brain to not ignore that in the future.

On another note, I promised to write about how to ensure that Desmos and GeoGebra show up in your Google Drive if they don’t appear when you search for them.
google drive desmos First, be sure you’re following these three steps and type in either Desmos or GeoGebra after clicking on “Connect more apps.”

If you are logged into your school GAFE account and either or both of these programs aren’t found, you need to contact your GAFE administrator who will need to open up these apps for your district domain.  In my district, it would be the Director of Technology to contact, but it may be different in yours.

Also, a note on saving work in GeoGebra. Again, if this method doesn’t work, it has something to do with how the app is or isn’t restricted in your district GAFE domain and you should contact your GAFE administrator.Saving in GeoGebra

1) Go to the hotdog (3 lines) in the upper right-hand corner.  2) Click Save.  3) Click the GeoGebra icon in the lower left corner of the save dialogue box which opens 2 saving icons.  4) Click on the Google Drive icon that appears.  5) Title and save your GeoGebra file.

Alternatively, you can export the file as a .ggb file, find it in your downloads folder and upload it into Drive.  That way is very clunky, but it works.

And that is the nitty gritty.

In other news I enjoyed Chris Betcher’s keynote this morning about how to think more critically about ways we integrate technology in schools.  Remember the Jetsons?  How they had a flying car?  To where did they fly their amazingly innovative technology?  To work!  He cautioned us about limiting students’ uses of new technology to simply ‘fly to work.’  Good stuff.

GAFE Palo Alto Presentation

Assuming you’re not in Palo Alto this Sunday at 3pm, HERE IS A LINK to my presentation at the GAFE conference.  All things math using Desmos and GeoGebra.  As part of this, I put together a list of standards at each grade level 4th-12th that can be taught using these programs.  Now that I have made this list of standards, it pains me even more to think about how little math teachers in my district use this software.  Baby steps.

If you use either Desmos or GeoGebra, there are a few links here to things I have done in my own classroom, but there are even more links to brilliant ideas I have found in the blogsphere.  The bloglist of resources at the end is by no means exhaustive, but is a decent start of a library of Desmos and Geogebra lesson ideas.

Have Kids? Missing Math?

In just a few short weeks my kids and I will be partaking in this water obstacle course on Lake Siskiyou in Northern California. After several tentative years in the water, my 6-year-old recently learned to swim and now I can’t seem to get him to keep is head or body above water.

6030665773_0bbe5b76f5_z So while I’m not encouraging anyone to stay indoors with their kids doing math or technology this summer, I wanted to share a list I made for elementary school parents in my school district for summer activities.  Teachers often send home summer reading lists or ask that kids read 20 minutes per day over the summer.  And libraries often have summer reading games.  But what about doing the same for math? I put this list together for families in my district in the hopes that math could get equal air time to reading this summer.  Maybe I’ll find time later to comment on some of my favorites, but in the meantime, I hope it’s useful to other parents.