Why 2:1 Laptops are Gold

Recently, my parents were visiting to celebrate my son’s 7th birthday.  They asked what projects I was involved with at work and instead of explaining, I grabbed a laptop and asked them to try out a 5th grade Desmos Activity I had recently written.

In my role as Teacher on Special Assignment for Instructional Technology I find myself immersed in many types of projects, but the one which our district math coach often calls me ‘relentless’ is my work to get all middle school math teachers using Desmos at various times throughout the year.  In pursuit of this goal, I taught a lesson using Desmos in 5th grade classrooms at ten of our eleven elementary schools this winter when they were on Engage NY’s Module 6 which is coordinate graphing.  The students used Desmos to discuss several topics, however the stickiest and richest conversations occurred when students were trying to write their initials using T-Tables.  They’d call me over in a panic explaining that they were trying to make a C but they computer thought they were making an N:

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“Huh” was my general response.  “I wonder why that happened?”

Some continued to tinker on their own while others would call me over and say that THEIR computer had done the same thing as so-and-so’s computer…thought they were trying to make a different letter than they actually were.

So we’d talk, and eventually kids realized that the computer does just as you instruct it to do, so the order of the points in your T-Table matters.

This led me to write an Activity around this big idea which if you’re interested in trying out, can be found here.  I’d love your feedback if you have a moment to try it as because of SBA testing, I haven’t yet been able to try it out with kids, though I plan to do so in the next week.

But there we were, in my kitchen, with my parents (who I am quite sure are reading this post) asking what’s new at work.  So I gave them each a laptop and had them try out this Activity.  They were lost. Very lost.  Both because they hadn’t thought about x’s and y’s since my brother was born and because the format of a self-guided online task was completely new to them.  I offered minimal help, with just a quick crash course on how to graph coordinate pairs.  However the real help I offered was to tell them to share a single laptop.


The video  below doesn’t capture how rich their conversation was once they were sharing a single device.  Work which was at their frustration level only moments earlier when they each had their own laptop suddenly was not only fascinating to them, but do-able.  Although my dad is the one typing, just moments earlier my mom had figured out a crucial issue that had stumped them.  They are going to kill me for posting this, but it’s worth it.  When is the last time you saw 2 grandparents productively struggling through a Desmos Activity?

LiveStream Weather Ballon Launch

Anything live-stream should be publicized live (times below are Pacific-Standard).  So with no further adieu, I will simply share the announcement and links incase you want to follow this.  I will be there for the launch and post a follow-up blog with  my musings.  I’m quite excited.

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Dear students, families and colleagues:
On Wednesday, May 4, we will attempt to live stream Longfellow’s high-altitude balloon launch. Longfellow’s 8th graders have not only been working hard on refining their lab report writing skills, but also on predicting conditions at extremely high altitudes based on their understanding physical science concepts.
You may wish to watch with your students if you are a teacher, or track the flight and recovery efforts after school if you are a student. (This is a ground-, not balloon-based live stream). This is our first live stream, so bear with us – our priority is balloon launch for the students and timely recovery so they can write lab reports the next day.
Here is the tentative schedule for the live stream:
  • 10:30 am: Preflight setup, Longfellow yard.
  • 12:00 noon: 7th and 8th grade lunch begins, Longfellow yard. Final flight preparations, commentary from students and teachers.
  • 12:15-12:45 pm: FAA filed launch window (Balloon will launch during this time).
  • 12:45-3:15 pm: Balloon flight and live tracking via website.
  • 2:45 pm-??: Recovery operations. Continued live tracking and periodic field updates if cellular service is available.
You can also explore high-altitude flight predictions here and track our balloon once in flight here.
After the balloon is recovered, I will make all of the data and imagery that our sensor and camera systems collect available.
This high-altitude balloon launch would not be possible without the generous support of the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and the close collaboration of Ted Tagami and Tony So of Magnitude.io.
Matt Hinckley and Jamie Robertson
Longfellow 8th grade Science Teachers

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 code.org 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 code.org 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.