Inspiring Stuff, November Edition

Welcome back Math Geeks!

For the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to write for the Global Math Department newsletter.  It’s great tool to find out what’s going on in the online math world about math teaching and to watch professional development webinars.  Check the site out here and read about some of the fine folks that coordinate the work here.

In this week’s Global Math Department newsletter, I wrote about some stuff (activities, resources, writing, thinking) that I found useful, inspiring, and worth sharing.  I’d like to share a few of them with you here.

Pondering Place Value

Sarah Caban (@csarahj) has been busily writing about her learning on her blog Math on the Edge.  Her post, Decimals, Backwards Slashes, and Giggling in Math Class, describes a 5th grade lesson she conducted with some teachers.  She was inspired by the same Andrew Gael (@bkdidact) post, Our Kids are Not Swiss Cheese.  

From her blog:

In her post, she reflects deeply on the challenges that arise as she navigates the landscape of her students’ partial understandings about place value and decimals.  She writes:  “…it is scary to invite kids to put a bunch of partially formed ideas on the table. It is messy and it will take us awhile to sift through them and make connections, but I think it will be time well spent.”  Her thinking is important to consider and offers some insights to how we can tackle the issue when students have incomplete understanding of math concepts.  Give it a read and continue the conversation in her comments section.

Sarah’s most recent post, Smaller, Bigger, or More Precise:  Refining Our Internal Truth Detectors, talks about the wonderful wonderings that these same students produced later in the week about numbers and place values.  I’m a firm believer that elementary learners are more ready and open to pondering the ideas of calculus than high school students.  (I wrote about my ideas here.)  Young minds wonder about infinity and zero and forever and “what if…?”  School has a way of eroding our “math wonder” as we substitute in our procedural answers for their wondering questions.  Sarah is inspired to leverage that wonder for more learning and this post captures that thinking.  Give it a read and be inspired!  She includes video and audio of student thinking.  Share your learning and reflections in the comment section.

A Curated List of Desmos Activities

Matt Vaudrey (@MrVaudrey) has created a useful (and stylish!) resource for any teacher that is interested in using Desmos.  

If you’ve been waiting for a low-floor invitation to give Desmos a try in your classroom, then this resource is for you.  If you’re looking to expand your skills or looking for more activities built by other teachers in the #MTBoS world, then this resource is for you.  If you’re an elementary, middle, or high school teacher looking for a bank of activities in one place, then this resource is for you.  Basically, you’re going to have to work very hard to make this activity not for you.  Check it out!  (And if you have activities you want Matt to add to his list, shoot him an email at

Desmos and Parabola Slalom

Looking for a new Desmos tool to engage students and extend their thinking about parabolas?  Check out their Parabola Slalom activity inspired by Paul Jorgens (@pejorgens).

Throwback Post #1

I’ll leave you with two “throwback” posts.  These are posts that were written a while ago, but I didn’t come across until recently.

First, I’d been looking for some ways to help some 9th graders see the value in combining like terms.  I came across this Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) post from May 2016 that offers a lesson opener that creates a need on his post, Creating a Need for Coordinate Parentheses and Combining Like Terms.  Here it is:

 As the title suggests, you’ll also find an idea for why we want to use parentheses to talk about coordinates.  Interested?  Here you go:

Throwback Post #2

Second, I can’t wait to try something I learned from Cathy Yenca (@mathycathy).  I’m always interested in finding “stock” questions I can use to promote more student discourse about their wonderings and thinking in any lesson at any time.

From a post from 2013:

In her post, she describes a lesson where she conceptually introduces a task for students to solve.  She concludes the student discussion by showing a formal procedure (the distributive property).  She wanted to know what and also how her students were thinking about the algorithm rather than have them simply practice it.  So she asked:  “Right about now is when a student always asks a question…who’s got it?”  Read about what happens next here.  

Can’t wait to try this strategy out!  How about you?

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