Teach Kids How to Spread with a Knife with Blocks and Shaving Cream

Learning to spread with blocks and shaving cream

Want a super activity that will help to teach toddlers and preschoolers how to spread with a knife? Use building blocks and shaving cream! This fun and easy activity helps to strengthen fine motor skills and co-ordination, and helps prepare children for spreading butter on toast and making peanut butter sandwiches!

Recently, while preparing some crackers and peanut butter for snack, I got thinking about teaching the children how to spread butter and peanut butter and such with a knife.

I wanted an fun and engaging activity that could fill a morning – a play-based activity that didn’t involve actual food, so I mulled it over for a few days.

Learning to spread with blocks and shaving cream

This morning, I was looking through all of my shaving cream posts, and I had a lightbulb moment. I thought “Hey!  Shaving cream is spreadable, and it’s most definitely fun and engaging!”  The hooligans LOVE playing with shaving cream!

All that was left was to figure out WHAT we could spread the shaving cream on.

It didn’t take long to come up with the answer: foam blocks!  The hooligans could work on their spreading skills while building structures!

Let me just tell you – this activity was FABULOUS!

Not only was it a great activity for teaching spreading skills, it was a wonderful construction activity, it incorporated messy play, imaginative play and fine-motor development, and at the end of it all there was some water-play as well.  Could it get any better than that?

Let me show you all the fun!

Supplies Needed:

foam blocks, shaving cream, bowls, pate spreaders

For your conviencience, this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  

  • foam building blocks
  • foaming shaving cream (not gel) – canned whipped topping or foaming bath paints could also be used
  • small pate spreaders or plastic knives
  • flat work surface (tips to protect your work surface below)
  • small bowls

Prepare Your Work Surface:

To start, choose a flat work surface.  If it’s something like a plastic tray, a baking sheet or a table that you’re not too fussy about, you’re good to go.  If you’re concerned about the surface of your table however, I would advise protecting it first with a table cloth or towel just to be safe.  I’m not entirely sure what effect shaving cream might have on it, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Doing the Activity:

STEP 1: Place the blocks in the middle of the table.

STEP 2: Fill a small bowl with a generous squirt of foamy shaving cream.

STEP 3: Give each child a pate spreader or plastic knife and let them know that they’ll be working on their “spreading skills” while building structures.

For the benefit of the youngest hooligan, I did a little demonstration.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t entirely for her benefit.  Maybe, just maybe I couldn’t resist.  It all looked so inviting and fun!  Whatever the case may be, I dipped the spreader into some foam, scooped it up, spread it on a block, and “splat”, Ismushed the block to the table to start things off.

toddler stacking blocks spread with shaving cream

Everyone followed suit, dipping into their bowls of shaving cream and carefully covering a block with foam.

The fun had begun.

spreading shaving cream on blocks

Spreading, dipping and stacking ensued.

teaching spreading skills with shaving cream

According to their conversations, some were baking cupcakes, some were building towers, and some were building cities.

toddler spreading shaving cream on a foam block

What fun!

Open-ended building always sparks so much creativity, and adding the shaving cream just took it to a new level.

And their fine motor skills got a work out, manipulating the knives, turning those blocks over and over to coat them with shaving cream, and then of course, critical thinking was required to plan, stack and build their creations.

foam blocks and shaving cream structures

This activity was such a winner in my books, and one that we’ll repeat over and over I’m sure!

Teaching my little ones how to use a knife for spreading couldn’t have been any more fun.

And how did we end our morning?  The kids had fun washing all of the shaving cream off in a big bow of water.

washing blocks in shaving cream and water

If you have a favourite activity that teaches spreading skills, I’d love for you to leave a suggestion in the comments below!

Be sure to check out all of our shaving cream activities and our structure activities before you leave!

for FREE crafts, 

activities & recipes!


20 Of The Best Zoom Tools For Teachers

20 Of The Best Zoom Tools For Teachers

20 Of The Best Zoom Tools For Teachers

by TeachThought Staff

What are the best Zoom tools for teachers?

Whether you’re doing quick mini-lessons with 2nd-graders or lecturing to college students, Zoom is a powerful teaching tool for online learning.

While there are many alternatives to Zoom, for now, it remains the standard for video streaming and conferencing for remote teaching and learning. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be extended and improved with a few tweaks, add-ons, tools, or existing feature use.

So here we are–a collection of some of the best Zoom tools for teachers and schools. Some of the following Zoom tools for teachers are features of the Zoom platform itself, while others are external apps that integrate with Zoom, and still others are Google Chrome extensions.

Another way to think about this list is a collection of tools, features, resources, and related ways to improve the overall experience of Zoom for teachers.

20 Of The Best Zoom Tools For Teachers

1. Google Drive for Zoom

With this app, you can transfer your Zoom recordings and transcripts to your Google Drive account.

2. Whiteboarding

The native Zoom whiteboard feature will allow you to share a whiteboard that you and other participants (if allowed) can annotate on.

3. Virtual Backgrounds for Zoom

The Virtual Background feature allows you to display an image or video as your background during a Zoom Meeting. This feature works best with a green screen and uniform lighting to allow Zoom to detect the difference between you and your background. You can also upload your own images or videos as your virtual background and can use Virtual Background in a Zoom Breakout Room as well.

4. Enable or Disable Recording

Depending on the purpose of the Zoom meeting, you may absolutely need it to be recorded or absolutely cannot allow recording. That’s where enabling or disabling recordings come in.

5. Room Polling

According to Zoom, the polling feature for meetings “allows you to create single choice or multiple choice polling questions for your meetings. You will be able to launch the poll during your meeting and gather the responses from your attendees. You also have the ability to download a report of polling after the meeting. Polls can also be conducted anonymously, if you do not wish to collect participant information with the poll results.” This obviously useful for quick-and-easy formative assessment.

You can read more about room polling here.

Note: You can download room poll data as well, which you can read about here.

6. Screencastomatic

A third-party tool for capturing any video stream–screencasts, webinars, lectures, office hour consultations, conferences, meetings, etc. There are both free and paid versions and a photo stock library as well.

7. Annotation Tools

While better online whiteboard options exist, if you’re in Zoom and want to stay there, enabling annotation tools (for yourself or viewers) is a useful Zoom tool for teachers and students alike. You can read more about it here.

8. Wikipedia Search

The Wikipedia Search chat app for Zoom allows you to search for Wikipedia articles directly from your Zoom Chat channels and share them with other users in the channel.

9. Prezi Video

Prezi Video is a visual communication tool where you overlay your visuals on screen next to you, so you can hold more engaging video conferences with students. When you host video meetings with students, you no longer have to choose between sharing the screen or maintaining a personal, human connection for improved engagement. Overlay your visuals directly on screen next to you and experience more engaging, impactful, and interactive Zoom video conferences.

10. Push To Talk

This built-in Zoom features allows you to remain muted throughout your Zoom meeting and hold down the spacebar when you want to be unmuted and talk. This is likely more useful for students than teachers.

11. Waiting Rooms

The Waiting Room feature allows the host to control when a participant joins the meeting. As the meeting host, you can admit attendees one by one, or hold all attendees in the Waiting Room and admit them all at once. You can send all participants to the Waiting Room when joining your meeting, or you can allow participants from your Zoom account and participants at specified domains to bypass the Waiting Room.

You can also customize the waiting room–to clarify the purpose of the room for students, for example.

12. Keyboard Shortcuts For Zoom

While some keyboard shortcuts don’t seem like shortcuts at all, some of the following may actually help your teaching.

13. Translate It

This Zoom app is designed to translate text into different languages though as of publishing time, we haven’t had a chance to test it out.

14. Zoom Scheduler via Google Calendar Chrome Extension

Schedule Zoom meetings directly from Google Calendar with this Google Chrome Extension. (You can find more Best Google Chrome Extensions For Teachers.)

15. Automatically Schedule Meetings (including recurring meetings)

Zoom allows you to schedule meetings with multiple occurrences, so that each occurrence uses the same meeting ID and settings. You can schedule these meetings in daily, weekly, and monthly increments. You can also set a recurring meeting to be used at any time. Meeting IDs for recurring meetings expire 365 days after the meeting was last started.

You can read more here.

16. Take attendance with usage reports

If your Zoom meeting has registration or polling enabled, you can generate a registration or polling report for to take attendance or for other documentation requirements. The registration report contains the following information of registered participants:

  • First and last name
  • Email address
  • Date and time of registration
  • Approval status

17. Schoology Zoom App

Securely create, manage and launch Zoom meetings from within your Schoology environment.

18. Screen Sharing

Among the most useful tools for Zoom is screen sharing–especially when Zoom is used for training or webinars. Meeting participants can annotate on a shared screen as a viewer or the one that started sharing your screen.

18. Microsoft Teams Zoom App

If you use Microsoft Teams in your classroom, this app allows you to start, schedule, and join Zoom Meetings directly from your Microsoft Team space.

19. Nearpod Zoom App

Integrate Zoom into Nearpod to easily start Zoom meetings from within your Live Participation Nearpods and have your students join both with one code.

20. Breakout Rooms

On the Zoom video streaming platform, Breakout Rooms are a way to break a larger meeting into smaller meetings (as few as two and as many as 50).

21. Rewatch

Rewatch is a private & secure video channel for your Zoom recordings. It organizes and transcribes your team’s recorded all-hands, training, and recurring meetings—all in one place. Every Zoom recording is automatically transcribed so the content is readable and searchable by your team. It’s never been easier to quickly find what you’re looking for.

20 Of The Best Zoom Tools For Teachers

Math Has Prepared Me Poorly for This Pandemic

Graph of Coronavirus deaths in Italy.

Here are two representations of the horror of this pandemic.

First, a graph of coronavirus deaths in Italy.

Graph of Coronavirus deaths in Italy.

Second, the obituary page of a newspaper in the Italian city of Bergamo, first from February 9 and later from March 13.

Both of these are only representations of this pandemic. They point at its horror, but they aren’t the horror itself. They reveal and conceal different aspects of the horror.

For example, I can take the second derivative of the graph of deaths and notice that while the deaths are increasing every day, the rate of increase is decreasing. The situation is getting worse, but the getting worse-ness is slowing down.

I cannot take the second derivative of an obituary page.

But the graph anesthetizes me to the horror of this pandemic in a way that the obituaries do not. The graph takes individual people and turns them into groups of people and turns those groups of people and their suffering into columns on a screen or page.

Meanwhile, the obituaries put in the foreground the people, their suffering, and their bereaved.

Math has prepared me poorly for this pandemic—or at least a particular kind of math, the kind that sees mass death as an opportunity to work with graphs and derivatives.

For students, it has never been more necessary to move flexibly and quickly between concrete and abstract representations—to acquire the power of the graph without becoming anesthetized to the horror that’s represented much more poignantly by the obituaries.

For teachers, there has never been a more important time to look at points, graphs, tables, equations, and numbers, and to ask students, “What does this mean?” and particularly now, “Who is this?”


Two relevant quotes here.

  • “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Commonly attributed to Joseph Stalin.
  • “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.” Paul Brodeur, quoted in Mukherjee’s Emperor of all Maladies.

2020 Apr 10

Another example. It’s one thing to see a graph of unemployment, and another to see the lines for the food bank.

2020 May 25

What are the importance of education?

In everybody’s life, education is a critical aspect since I t is the process of acquiring experience and wisdom of the behavior in different areas. Indeed the importance of education is significant in our lives. The study is not restricted to what the person gains from  institutions but  it also contains the information that the life experience and older generations informally gains. Training provides a way to learn and then apply knowledge on various subjects in order to better the lives of individuals. This develops during childhood when students understand all about what is occurring outside them.

Initially, learning came in the form of a oral tradition but  with the objective of maintaining cultural knowledge through down the generations. Although knowledge transitions from of the older population to the younger population remain important, through times the situation has evolved.  The educational institutions and academia  became a  medium  that provided training .And it is  evolving constantly to support the learning process for students as well as educators.


Importance Of Education 


The younger children must be educated, and therefore be able to understand truth properly once they grow older and make decisions which influence not only their lives, but community as a who  Education is important to improve the life of any person who wants and bring about a positive change to society. Higher education institutions as a prerequisite for the country’s development are priority for both the remainder of the developed world. For example the developed countries such as Korea, England, Japan, Germany   made primary school mandatory for children, resulting in a high rate of literacy. The nation has several men, and this is because of education, who contribute to the growth of the economy.

In addition , new policy changes are continually under way in the developing countries  to enable the kids to develop more less. Several students will begin online courses and interactive methods in the research process.
Regardless of how hard it is to learn, it’s important to note that education should be valued by any citizen. Education   significantly affects the lives and provides us several possibilities to grow and develop.  The option would be to use us or not, but we will surely be appreciative for this decision.

Rainbow STEM Challenge

Rainbow STEM Challenge

Have you ever had a Pinterest fail? I know I have!​​

Sometimes a project seems like unicorns and rainbows in theory and then you try doing it in your own classroom and everything turns into chaos.

Kids are off task…

The project flops…​​​​

​​That’s why I love having my go-to resources like The Plato Pack where I *KNOW* the lessons will always be a success.

It’s such a huge time saver!​
Speaking of Pinterest WINS, I wanted to pass along this simple STEM project so you can print it out and add it to your lesson plans…

Getting Ready

Prepping the project was really as simple as gathering together supplies for each group:

  • 15 pipe cleaners (including one of each color in the rainbow if possible)
  • A small container of playdough
  • Scissors
  • One record sheet for each child

And then, for testing later, I grabbed a small plastic cup filled with 50 pennies.

Rainbow STEM Challenge

Each group had the same goal: building the strongest rainbow.

To successfully complete the challenge, however, I set out some extra rules. The rainbows had to:

  • Stand on their own
  • Use 15 or fewer pipe cleaners each
  • Not use any other material like tape or staples to bind the pipe cleaners together.
  • Stand at least 4 inches (10 cm) tall

Since a big piece of STEM learning is design, teamwork and problem solving, I had students first work with their groups to create a plan on their record sheet.

Then they set out to actually build their rainbow!

After all of the groups had finished creating, it was time to test the strength of the arcs.

Working on one rainbow at a time, we placed the plastic cup at the center of the arc and slowly added one coin to the cup at a time until the arc collapsed.

The kids were so excited to see what design was the strongest!

To stretch students’ thinking, we talked about what worked well and what needed to be tweaked next time.

Then kids set off to adjust their designs before we tested them again to see if there was any improvement.

Extension Activity

A simple way to build students’ creativity is having them use leftover pipe cleaners to make their own design: trees, animals… anything!

I’m including an extension record sheet in the download (below) for you too.

Grab Your Download

Click the blue button below to download your easy-to-follow directions and then join The Plato Pack to get instant access to more than 150+ jaw dropping (but easy prep!) STEM challenges kids will love!

Click here to subscribe

Save time, stay inspired and get EVERY student bigger results!

The Place of Technology in Education

The Place of Technology in Education

by guest

My experience has thought me that there are numerous reasons why technology is a key aspect of the learning process in the 21st Century – known as the Information age. I believe we can list the topics related to technology importance in education as it follows:

1. For students: Students and children love to be interactive and technology provides that. Learning with technology has now become part of students lifestyles.

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

2. For teachers: technology is known to be a requirement for the learning environment and to provide flexible learning environments. We not only use it with students but to train ourselves and help the teacher community.

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

3. Children are digital natives! They know technology better than most adults. Dealing with technology in the classroom not only helps them learn better but also contribute to their multitasking skills.

4. Students can learn at their own pace: With the integration of technology into education, children have the ability and possibility to slow down, return to the lessons, watch it again, and come back to concepts they learned (in case of asynchronous learning). If synchronous sometimes they can reach out to teachers after the lesson or google information that they might still not understand as well.

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

5. The limitation that existed before the internet is gone. Accessing information outside of books offer students many ways of learning a concept. Teachers can find creative ways to develop and teach their students the learning environment in lessons.

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

7. Technology improves relationships between teachers and students: When teachers effectively integrate technology into their subject areas, teachers become consultants, mentors, and coaches. Students can also collaborate with their classmates through technological applications. technology builds bridges.

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY
The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

8. Technology evaluation: evaluating students’ performance can be done instantly with technology. Tools such as Google and Microsoft forms, Mentimeter, Padlet, and many other resources are easy and practical ways to do online surveys and tests. They also help to build more interactive sessions.

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

See some examples of work created for interactive sections with my students (material in Turkish):

From my perspective, the reality of our present is that adults want to live yesterday, youth today, and children in the future. The concept of “digital native” is used for primary school students with Z generation because they are grown in a digital environment.

However, we also need to consider different philosophies cultures and habits of each generation, society, economic privileges, governmental support, among others. Individuals who are not born in such a “technology world” but use technological tools and equipment are called “digital immigrants”.

According to Arabaci and Polat (2013) “Nowadays, students are digital natives, and the teachers are digital immigrants. Class is one of the common places of the digital immigrants and digital natives. Therefore, it has become necessary to reconsider classroom management in this new century. As the leader of the class teachers have to be aware of the changing characteristics of students in the classroom, otherwise this will bring many conflicts“.

For effective classroom management, today’s teacher needs to be “digitally wise”, acquire digital technology literacy, have the skills to meet the students and education process needs, the expectations of students, and constantly develop themselves.

In classroom management, our digital native students are very talented and willing to use and implement collaborative web 2 tools.

With the collaborative studies and mini-evaluations we apply with our students in the lessons, they have the opportunity to both practice and reinforce what they have learned. As a conscious technology user, digital natives also guide digital immigrants in the classroom about the use and development of applications.

Check out the presentation created by me and used during my lectures (material in Turkish):

The pictures are the author’s own – Attribution CC-BY

If you would like to continue reading about the role of technology in education, check out the following resources:

Author: Nurhan Boyacıoğlu

Nurhan Boyacıoğlu has been a primary school teacher for 27 years. He explores the importance of using technology in his classrooms for both his students’ development and his professional development and gets training on how to use it with STEM applications.

Featured Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash – See License

Tags: digital education, Digital Literacy, primary education, techonology

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3 Modes Of Thinking: Lateral, Divergent & Convergent Thought

3 Modes Of Thinking: Lateral, Divergent & Convergent Thought

by TeachThought Staff

TeachThought is about, more than anything else, human improvement.

A core tenet of humanity is our ability to think critically and with imagination and creativity. Therefore, it makes sense that our ability–and the decision to–do this consistently in some ways defines us as a species. Critical thinking, in part, involves simply avoiding cognitive biases.

See also What It Means To Think Critically

Further, it’s not a huge leap to say that the ability and tendency to think critically and carefully and creatively supersedes content knowledge in importance, but that’s a discussion for another day. In general, it is our position that critical thinking is of huge importance for students, and as such is a big part of our content and mission at TeachThought.

benefits of asking questions

In pursuit, the sketch note above from Sylvia Duckworth is a nice addition to that index of content. Sylvia has consistently done a great job converting ideas into simple visuals–on our 12 Rules Of Great Teaching, for example.

You can follow Sylvia on twitter here.

We’ve taken the visual and fleshed it out with some commentary from Wikipedia (a resource we love, by the way).

3 Modes Of Thinking: Lateral, Divergent & Convergent Thought

1. Convergent Thinking

Summary: Using logic

Also called: Critical Thinking, Vertical Thinking, Analytical Thinking, Linear Thinking

Wikipedia Excerpt & Overview

‘Convergent thinking is a term coined by Joy Paul Guilford’ (who also coined the term for the ‘opposite’ way of thinking, ‘Divergent Thinking’).


‘It generally means the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity, for instance in most tasks in school and on standardized multiple-choice tests for intelligence.

Convergent thinking is often used in conjunction with divergent thinking. Convergent thinking is the type of thinking that focuses on coming up with the single, well-established answer to a problem.[1] Convergent thinking is used as a tool in creative problem-solving. When an individual is using critical thinking to solve a problem they consciously use standards or probabilities to make judgments.[2] This contrasts with divergent thinking where judgment is deferred while looking for and accepting many possible solutions.’

2. Divergent Thinking

Summary: Using imagination

Also called: Creative Thinking or Horizontal Thinking

Wikipedia Excerpt & Overview

‘Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It is often used in conjunction with its cognitive colleague, convergent thinking, which follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution, which in some cases is a ‘correct’ solution. By contrast, divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘

By contrast, divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn. After the process of divergent thinking has been completed, ideas and information are organized and structured using convergent thinking.’

3. Lateral Thinking

Summary: Using both Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Also called: ‘Thinking Outside the Box’

Wikipedia Excerpt & Overview

‘Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.[1]

To understand lateral thinking, it is necessary to compare lateral thinking and critical thinking. Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the truth value of statements and seeking errors. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the “movement value” of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.’

3 Modes Of Thinking: Lateral, Divergent & Convergent Thought

Can You Get a Negative out of a Square Root?

Can You Get a Negative out of a Square Root?


Unmatched math delimiters. Adding final one for you.

The simple answer is: yes you can get negative numbers out of square roots. In fact, should you wish to find the square root of any positive real numbers, you will get two results: the positive and negative versions of the same number.

Writing a Square Root Equation for Positive and Negative Results

Consider the following:

16 = 4 * 4 = (-4) * (-4)

In the equation above, you can either multiply 4 by itself or multiply (-4) by itself to get the result of 16. Thus, the square root of 16 would be:

The √ symbol is called the radical symbol, while the number or expression inside the symbol—in this case, 16—is called a radicand.

Why would we need a ± symbol in front of 4? Well, as we have discussed before, the square roots of 16 can be either 4 or (-4)​.

Most people would simply write this equation simply as . While it is technically true and there’s nothing wrong with it, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Instead, you can also write the equation in such a way that it explicitly indicates that you want both the positive and negative square root’s results:

This way, other people can easily tell that the one who writes the equation wishes to have positive and negative numbers as the result.

Perfect and Imperfect squares

As you may know, 16 is a perfect square. Perfect squares are radicands in the form of an integer, or a whole number, that has a square root of another integer. In the example above, 16 is a perfect square because it has the number 4 as its square root.

Positive real numbers are not always perfect squares. There are also other numbers such as 3, 5, or 13 that are referred to as imperfect squares. If a radicand is not a perfect square, then the square root of the radicand won’t result is an integer. Take a look at the equation below.

5 is not a perfect square. Therefore, its square root won’t be an integer. Additionally, the square root is not even a rational number. Rational numbers are numbers that can be expressed as fractions composed of two integers, e.g. 7/2​, 50/4​, and 100/3​.

The square root of 5 is an irrational number since it can’t be expressed as fractions. The numbers right of the decimal 2.236067 … would continue on endlessly without any repeating pattern. Still, both irrational and rational numbers are part of real numbers, meaning they have tangible values and exist on the number line.

Square Roots of Zero and Negative Numbers

We mentioned earlier that any positive real numbers have two square roots, the positive one and the negative one. What about negative numbers and zero?

For zero, it only has one square root, which is itself, 0.

On the other hand, negative numbers don’t have any real square roots. Any real number—whether it’s positive or negative—that is multiplied by itself is always equal to a positive number, except for 0. Instead, the square root of all negative numbers is an imaginary number.


By definition, the square root of (-1)​ is i​, which is an imaginary unit. As a side note, imaginary numbers do not have a tangible value. They are not part of real numbers in the sense that they can’t be quantified on the number line. However, they are still used in math and the study of sciences including quantum mechanics, electricity, and more.

To get a better understanding, let’s take a look at an example. For instance, let’s say we want to identify the square root of (-9)​, what would it be?

The #1 Most Requested Desmos Feature Right Now, and What We Could Do Instead

Linked card sort activity.

When schools started closing months ago, we heard two loud requests from teachers in our community. They wanted:

  1. Written feedback for students.
  2. Co-teacher access to student data.

Those sounded like unambiguously good ideas, whether schools were closed or not. Good pedagogy. Good technology. Good math. We made both.

Here is the new loudest request:

  1. Self-checking activities. Especially card sorts.

hey @Desmos – is there a simple way for students to see their accuracy for a matching graph/eqn card sort? thank you!

Is there a way to make a @Desmos card sort self checking? #MTBoS #iteachmath #remotelearning

@Desmos to help with virtual learning, is there a way to make it that students cannot advance to the next slide until their cardsort is completed correctly?

Let’s say you have students working on a card sort like this, matching graphs of web traffic pre- and post-coronavirus to the correct websites.

Linked card sort activity.

What kind of feedback would be most helpful for students here?

Feedback is supposed to change thinking. That’s its job. Ideally it develops student thinking, but some feedback diminishes it. For example, Kluger and DeNisi (1996) found that one-third of feedback interventions decreased performance.

Butler (1986) found that grades were less effective feedback than comments at developing both student thinking and intrinsic motivation. When the feedback came in the form of grades and comments, the results were the same as if the teacher had returned grades alone. Grades tend to catch and keep student attention.

So we could give students a button that tells them they’re right or wrong.

Resourceful teachers in our community have put together screens like this. Students press a button and see if their card sort is right or wrong.

Feedback that the student has less than half correct.

My concerns:

  1. If students find out that they’re right, will they simply stop thinking about the card sort, even if they could benefit from more thinking?
  2. If students find out that they’re wrong, do they have enough information related to the task to help them do more than guess and check their way to their next answer?

For example, in this video, you can see a student move between a card sort and the self-check screen three times in 11 seconds. Is the student having three separate mathematical realizations during that interval . . . or just guessing and checking?

On another card sort, students click the “Check Work” button up to 10 times.


Instead we could tell students which card is the hardest for the class.

Our teacher dashboard will show teachers which card is hardest for students. I used the web traffic card sort last week when I taught Wendy Baty’s eighth grade class online. After a few minutes of early work, I told the students that “Netflix” had been the hardest card for them to correctly group and then invited them to think about their sort again.

I suspect that students gave the Netflix card some extra thought (e.g., “How should I think about the maximum y-value in these cards? Is Netflix more popular than YouTube or the other way around?”) even if they had matched the card correctly. I suspect this revelation helped every student develop their thinking more than if we simply told them their sort was right or wrong.

We could also make it easier for students to see and comment on each other’s card sorts.

In this video, you can see Julie Reulbach and Christopher Danielson talking about their different sorts. I paired them up specifically because I knew their card sorts were different.

Christopher’s sort is wrong, and I suspect he benefited more from their conversation than he would from hearing a computer tell him he’s wrong.

Julie’s sort is right, and I suspect she benefited more from explaining and defending her sort than she would from hearing a computer tell her she’s right.

I suspect that conversations like theirs will also benefit students well beyond this particular card sort, helping them understand that “correctness” is something that’s determined and justified by people, not just answer keys, and that mathematical authority is endowed in students, not just in adults and computers.

Teachers could create reaction videos.

In this video, Johanna Langill doesn’t respond to every student’s idea individually. Instead, she looks for themes in student thinking, celebrates them, then connects and responds to those themes.

I suspect that students will learn more from Johanna’s holistic analysis of student work than they would an individualized grade of “right” or “wrong.”

Our values are in conflict.

We want to build tools and curriculum for classes that actually exist, not for the classes of our imaginations or dreams. That’s why we field test our work relentlessly. It’s why we constantly shrink the amount of bandwidth our activities and tools require. It’s why we lead our field in accessibility.

We also want students to know that there are lots of interesting ways to be right in math class, and that wrong answers are useful for learning. That’s why we ask students to estimate, argue, notice, and wonder. It’s why we have built so many tools for facilitating conversations in math class. It’s also why we don’t generally give students immediate feedback that their answers are “right” or “wrong.” That kind of feedback often ends productive conversations before they begin.

But the classes that exist right now are hostile to the kinds of interactions we’d all like students to have with their teachers, with their classmates, and with math. Students are separated from one another by distance and time. Resources like attention, time, and technology are stretched. Mathematical conversations that were common in September are now impossible in May.

How to Be Successful With Online Faculty Meetings

Online Faculty Meeting

As many school districts go into the new school year with at least some of their operations online, school leaders are wondering how to plan effective online faculty meetings. Faculty meetings provide teachers and staff with information, support, motivation, and inspiration. And they are essential to keep your school’s shared vision on track. But conducting them online is a new territory. How do you ensure that your time together is productive and effective? These suggestions for setting norms for online faculty meetings are a good place to start.

1. Request cameras on.

Face-to-face contact with colleagues and teammates is essential. So many of us are feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Being able to see each other reminds us that we’re part of a team with a common goal. Oh, and nobody cares if your roots are showing or your office is messy! Here are a few simple tricks that will help you look your best on video chats. 

That being said, some teachers have legitimate privacy concerns and may not want to expose their coworkers or supervisor to the inner workings of their homes. Be respectful of those concerns and allow staff to use virtual backgrounds for meetings if desired. 

2. Wear what makes you comfortable.

Some school districts have been getting in social media hot water by trying to regulate what students and teachers wear during online learning. Remember, this is a time to be flexible. While sweatshirts and leggings might not work for in-person school attire, are they really taking away from your online meeting? Let common sense be your guide when it comes to online dress code, and put trust in your teachers that they know what’s appropriate and what’s not.

3. Keep background distractions to a minimum.

By now, we’ve all witnessed things like dogs jumping onto laps, kids running in and out of the room, doors slamming, and doorbells ringing. During staff meetings, suggest that everyone try their best to find a quiet place, let others know they are unavailable, and close their doors.  

4. Use your mute button.

Listening to one speaker at a time in a group conversation is a bit tricky with video conferencing because there is that tiny bit of lag time. It’s hard not to talk over one another, particularly when the conversation is spirited. It takes a little practice, but ask participants to keep their microphone on mute unless they are speaking and encourage everyone to take a beat before they jump in.

5. Watch the time.

There’s nothing worse than showing up on time, ready to go, and having to sit around waiting for colleagues to join a meeting. It’s kind of a no-brainer, but honoring time limits shows respect and consideration for one another.

6. Allow yourself to be present. 

Connecting as a staff is more important than ever. And doing so effectively requires full attention to the business on hand. Although it’s tempting, resist the urge to multi-task. Honor this time as an opportunity to touch base and share ideas. Everyone contributes, every voice is heard.

7. Do your best to stay on track. 

When it comes to faculty meetings, everyone is happier when a clear agenda is set and followed. No doubt, everyone’s experience this fall is going to be unique and there may be a need for more guidance than usual. Break into smaller groups or schedule one-on-one sessions for individuals with specific questions or problems that are not relevant to the whole group. 

8. Keep it positive.

Times are hard, and we’re all stressed. It’s easy for staff meetings to devolve into complaint sessions. But it’s essential for the entire faculty to approach meetings with an open mind, listening ears, and a commitment to working together respectfully for the benefit of all.

9. Celebrate each other.

Our teachers are doing such an amazing job with all of the changes that have been thrown their way. Make your time together inspirational. Try opening your meeting with something fun, such as one of these 15 Virtual Icebreakers to Cheer Up Your Online Meetings. Set aside time together to build one another up with shout-outs, encouraging words, brilliant hacks, and success stories. 

10. Don’t forget the bottom line. 

As always, the ultimate purpose of faculty meetings should be focused on outcomes for kids. Agendas and conversations should ultimately be centered around doing what is best for our students, especially in this crazy, uncertain time. The more you can keep the main thing the main thing, the more productive and effective your meetings will be. 

Even though we had a taste of online learning and communication in the spring, we’re all still learning. We’re dealing with loss and change and upheaval. By adopting these few simple norms, you can help ensure staff meetings will be a time to come together to cheer each other on, share ideas, and solve problems.

How are your online faculty meetings going? Come and share in our Principal Life group on Facebook.

Plus, guidelines for in-person staff meetings.