Desmos Card Sort Is More Than Just Technology for Technology’s Sake

I just had my first formal observation and it was scheduled for last period on day 2/2 of factoring by grouping (polynomials with four terms). I was a little stressed when I found out about the observation.

Luckily the #MTBoS is the best and Meg @mathymeg07 and Sarah @mathequalslove gave me great ideas that helped me de-stress. I ended up settling on a Desmos card sort for practice, mainly because my evaluator has already said how impressed she is with my technology use. I would just make a sort where the students would match a polynomials with its factors (3 cards for each set). That led me to tweet about how it was a perfect example of technology for technology’s sake, which made me feel bad but my plans were due the day before already (even though I had just been assigned the observation).

But then I was thinking about it…and it really isn’t just technology for technology’s sake. Using the Desmos card sort gave me and the students way more information than a regular old worksheet. Ok well for the students they got confirmation that their answers could be correct if they were on the screen (which is not much more than me just giving a scrambled answer key or something). But also they gained engagement. There’s something about being on the Chromebooks that is just 10x more engaging than a worksheet. Like, seriously, in all of my classes there wasn’t one time where I caught a group on something they weren’t supposed to be on. Maybe I’m just bad at catching it, but I’m gonna go with they were engaged. And no, my classes are not perfect little angels who just do whatever I ask them. But the pairs that were just sitting there doing nothing were quickly caught and re-engaged (read on for how).

Also, I gained so much more with the card sort than I would have with just a worksheet. Students were in pairs and I had them make their names both of their first names together so I could manage better. I walked around with my iPad showing the dashboard, and I was able to see their work in real time! No more making rounds around the room and not finding out until 2 minutes before ending that a group did everything wrong. No more letting a group wait there for 10 minutes because they finished early (or just weren’t working) and just didn’t say anything!

I wish I had taken a screenshot in the middle of the class (this is just the first four groups from a class that had already finished) but, for instance, I could see right away that the Stefan Banach pair had a mismatch and could go over to them as soon as I was available before they made more mistakes like that. I could also see, for instance, that Diego and Kurt were ready for some extension questions and challenges since they were done earlier. Or I could use this to see that Mary’s pair needed someone from Diego’s pair to help them out since they were stuck on that screen for a while.


Also, it was pretty easy to make. I made an 8 question Kuta worksheet, made sure none of the factors were the same but that there were some similar ones, and then typed them in. I think it took me half an hour while I watched TV to make.

So yeah, I wanted to use Desmos to impress my assistant principal. But really, in the end, I did what I think helped my students and me have the best practice for this topic.

Here’s the links to the card sorts that I’ve done like this:

Factor by Grouping:

Factor quadratic trinomials:

J’adore Desmos et je vais trouver n’importe quelle raison de l’utiliser.

My New #Plickers Solution

I love Plickers. I’ve presented the use of Plickers to my staff and at conferences in Illinois. Recently, I applied to be a Plickers Ambassador and now I am one!


This fall break, I had an idea about storing Plickers in the classroom. This was always the only bad part about Plickers – they take time for students to pick them up if you store them in your room or if you give them to students some inevitably will lose them. But in my class, the students are all assigned a calculator that I store on the wall. They are very used to grabbing this on their way into class because it’s in a hanging shoe organizer right next to the door. Their calculator number is the same as their Plicker number, so I realized that I could just put both together!


I printed the Plickers so there were two pages on one and that shrunk them so that they fit right onto the battery cover of a TI-84. I taped them on with packing tape to create a pseudo-lamination.

My students even said this was a great idea! I will admit, these don’t work quite as well as the regular-sized Plickers. I have to usually go across the room one extra time – so I spend an extra 30 seconds to scan but gain so much time figuring out who has and doesn’t have their Plicker!

As a side note, I’m glad to be blogging (and will continue blogging). I have missed sharing things. It’s not really something I get to do at my school anymore. Funny how I move from being a single math teacher in the school to one of 10 and I feel like I’m sharing less. I’m really glad Zach @z_crass posted this to the #MTBoS the other day:

Also his message at the top of his sheet is spot on for me:

If you like to blog and see the value in it but seem to always put it off (like me) join the group and we’ll keep each other accountable!

We all know I only blog when there’s a challenge, so I’m taking this as a challenge. I will post more because it helps me (and maybe some other people, too).

Mes étudiants aiment qu’il n’est plus nécessaire de trouver leurs Plickers!

Partner Quizzes #MTBoS30

Partner quizzes make me really really happy. Like super happy. I use the protocol written by Christopher Danielson and Michele Luke. It was introduced to me when I used Connected Mathematics when I taught 6th grade last year and that curriculum designed quizzes to be taken with partners that were more difficult than the typical quiz or test. I don’t want to give too much away from their paper since I guess you have to subscribe to that NCTM journal to get it, but the gist is:

  • Students have a partner
  • They are allowed to ask one question to the teacher
  • The teacher grades one from the pair and marks any incomplete or incorrect questions (just a mark, no comments) and leaves one bit of feedback on a post it
  • Students get some time the next day to revise together
  • Both quizzes get graded at the end

I used partner quizzes in my College Algebra and Calculus class. I don’t know if I’ll be using them next year in Calculus since it will be AP, but I do want to continue/start using them in all my other classes. I just need to make assessments that warrant them.

The reason these are just so so good are that they make the students have the best mathematical discourse ever. I always did random partnering and there was never (no exaggeration) a partnership that I couldn’t get to talk about the math. Granted, these were all juniors and seniors that chose to be in the math class (referenced in this post), but when I taught 6th grade I only had one group ever refuse to talk to each other. It is SMP3 at its finest.

The other best part is the one question. The first partner quiz is the best because it gets all the “Can I get a drink?” and “Can we ask a question?” questions out of the way and they learn to really structure their questions well. Sure, they can ask “What is the answer to question 5?” but that doesn’t ultimately help them with that concept that is probably going to come up again in the quiz. It also tells the teacher what they don’t know so I still get that assessment.

The revision process also brings about great discourse and has proven to me that students can take the least amount of feedback (just a dot next to a problem) and completely fix the problem. Some skeptics will say, well they just look up that problem that night. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think most students do this. Sure, maybe one or two will go home and look at the concepts again, but if you wrote problems that required higher level thinking (which is when you’d give a partner quiz), then it probably won’t help the kids. Plus, I’m on an A-B block schedule so they’d have to remember the problem for multiple days and I already have enough trouble just getting them to retain what was taught in the last class.

Overall, the partner quiz is a great process that I’m glad I was introduced to and plan to continue to use. 🙂

J’adore quand les étudiants parlent des maths!

How I’ve Been Grading This Year #MTBoS30

In my College Algebra and Calculus classes, I graded assessments very traditionally. But in my Algebra I and II classes, I graded with rubrics. I am not really 100% happy with the system, but it was kind of a transition to a Standards Based Grading system, which is where I want to be next year.

In my rubrics classes, I handed out a rubric at the beginning of a unit/section that had every goal I would be assessing on the test or quiz. Then, when they took their assessment, I graded using a rubric. I would scale the sum of their understanding points to 50 or 100 because that’s what the person before me had tests and quizzes out of and they seemed like nice numbers. If they wanted to reassess any of the goals on that assessment, they’d have to correct those problems on the assessment, answer the reflection questions, and complete some extra practice problems from their book. It’s the only reason to have the textbook since I started giving them homework packets. I’d determine how many practice problems to do based on what their understanding level was. If they were reassessing a 3, they’d probably have to only do 2 or 3 extra practice problems. If they were reassessing a 1, they might have to do all of them. In that case, usually the first few of those problems were done with me when we met one on one. After they’re done with that, I give them a new set of problems for that goal and I replace their old score with their new one. So far, only one student hasn’t improved when reassessing (got the same score of 3/4).

Example Quiz Rubric .doc   Example Quiz Rubric .pdf

I did like this system because it was very clear to me, students, and parents what the students were proficient in and what they needed work in. I also liked that over the course of a year, almost 3/4 of my students reassessed at least one goal. Sometimes they were pretty much forced to by me, but many times they came to me on their own. Growth mindset in the making. Also, it got students to say “reassess” more, which for some reason sounds better to me than “retest” or “retake”. Small win in my head.

I didn’t like this system because I felt like it caused me to make assessments that did not require any critical thinking. This was the first time I was creating my own assessments, and that’s overwhelming by itself. Coupled with the fact that I didn’t know how I’d grade a problem that, say, required the use of multiple goals or was an application problem, creating assessments became a dreaded task for me. I was always conflicted. Sometimes I would put a goal like “Can apply these goals” but that just set the kids up that didn’t get those goals in the first place for failure. Some people I’ve talked to said that they only give a 4 on a goal if they can do the application problems. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ll be looking into more SBG stuff this summer and it’s nice to know that my principal supports me in that. I know there’s a ton of people that have blogged about it and I’ve bookmarked a bunch and I’ve met people at conferences and workshops that have graciously emailed me their SBG work. I just need to take the time to go through it. I eventually want to get on Dane Elhert’s level:

I’ll talk about my partner quizzes in another post.

How do you assess students? Any advice to a (hopefully) soon-to-be SBG-er?

Ils disent que l’évaluation est la plus importante chose qu’une prof fait. Mais comment on le fait?