Episode 243: [REPLAY] Morphing Your Assessment Practices – A Math Mentoring Moment

Jul 24, 2023 | Podcast | 0 comments



Episode Summary:

Today we’re releasing a replay episode where we spoke with Nick Rhodes who has been teaching online in one of the largest cyber schools in America. Nick shares his story from transforming from a rock band front man to working in accounting to teaching math to being a founding member of our Make Math Moments Academy to becoming a rockstar online teacher! Nick wonders how to adjust his assessment practices so they line up with his problem based approach to teaching. 

This is another  Math Mentoring Moment episode where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker Community who is working through struggles and together we brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to overcome them.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to morph your existing assessment practices to align with problem-based teaching; 
  • How Desmos can be utilized when teaching solely online; 
  • How to choose technology to maximize learning; 
  • How to use observations, conversations and products to assess students; and, 
  • How can we use standards based grading when promoting growth.


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As I began my journey into problem-based learning, the first thing I thought about was what technological tool is going to work best?what tool will allow me to create and to run a 3-Act task in a virtual environment? What tool will allow all students of different thinking? What tool will allow for discussion or collaboration? What tool-

Today, we speak with Nick Rhodes who’s been teaching online in one of the largest cyber schools in America. That’s like online without COVID being a thing. Nick shares his story from transforming from a rock band front man, to working in accounting, to teaching math, to being a founding member of our Make Math Moments Academy, to becoming a rockstar online teacher. What a journey? Nick is now wondering how can he adjust his assessment practices so that they line up with his problem-based approach to teaching mathematics.

This is another math mentoring moment episode, where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker community, a person just like you who is working through some struggles. And together, we brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to overcome them.

Let’s Hit it. (singing)

Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce.

And I am John Orr. We are from makemathmoments.com and together…

With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity…

Fuels sense-making.

And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome, Math Moment Makers, to another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we get to dive into shifting our assessment and evaluation practices with our good friend from the academy, Nick Rhodes.

Yeah. And the conversation unfold nicely because we have a really great transition story that Nick shares. And then we get right into how we can morph our assessment practices, but also change them so that it aligns with what we’re doing in the classroom day-to-day. So let’s just go right into it. Let’s get into that discussion with Nick.

Here we go. Hey there, Nick. Thanks. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. How are you doing today?

I am doing fabulous. Good morning, guys. Thank you so much for having me on the podcast every. Monday morning, I usually go for a run while listening to a new podcast episode. But today, a little bit different, however. I’m here with you. I’ll check out this week’s episode later on today.

Hey Nick, I got my run in this morning. I don’t know why didn’t you get yours in still. Come on now.

I did get one this morning until 6:30.

There you go. True, true, awesome stuff. Awesome stuff, Nick. We are excited to chat with you about all the things that you’re doing in your classroom and something that we can help you with. But to kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re coming from, how long you’ve been teaching, what’s your role in education?

Awesome. So I’m originally from Central Long Island, approximately 50 miles east of New York City. In 2005, I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I currently reside with my wife and two daughters. And a little bit about my teaching story [inaudible 00:03:36]. Back in September of ’99, I attended Stony Brook University, which was a local university about 10 miles from where I grew up. And was originally interested in enrolling into their teacher education program.

I was always good at math, supposedly. I love to problem solve. I was doing Sudoku puzzles as a kid. I was always paying attention to how teachers taught each class differently. So I thought it would be a good career for me. However, when I found out that I needed to take a public speaking class in college, I decided to go a different route. I asked myself, what career can I go into that doesn’t require any public speaking, you do math every day, at least at the time, that was what I thought I was doing, you engage in critical thinking and you play with Excel spreadsheets? You guys guess what career I went into?

Oh, fantastic. I’m loving it. I’m loving it. Don’t keep us in suspense.

Come on a learning journey. Let’s go. It’s Hero’s Journey curve. Let’s go. So it’s accounting. Yes. So I went to school to be an accountant. You can do spreadsheets. You engage in critical thinking you do calculations. So that was kind of where I decided to go as I started my career in college.

So after finishing up my general studies at Stony Brook University, I transferred to Long Island University, which is the eastern part of Long Island, pretty close to the Hamptons. And I enrolled in their accounting program. So I graduated from there with an accounting and finance degree in December of 2003. And upon graduating, I was offered a job as an auditor, working for an international firm.

After two years or so, I burned out. I was working 70-plus hours a week. And I said to myself, okay, I think I’m meant for something bigger. But at that time, I was not sure of what that was so prior. And so prior and during those years working in the accounting field, I was singing for a Pearl Jam tribute band based out of New York City. And just a bunch of guys playing music for fun, nothing serious, but then eventually the four members of the band decided that they were going to write original music and the tribute thing started to fade away.

So I decided that I wanted to continue the tribute thing. So I began for a searching Pearl Jam tributes in the United States and eventually stumbled upon a Pearl Jam tribute band based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was looking for a lead singer. So I applied for the position. I flew to Pittsburgh for an audition. And long story short, I was hired and moved at the end of 2005. And once I moved, I found an accounting job that paid the bills, but most of my focus was on the band and touring.

So band and touring was more important to me than the accounting at that point. But here’s kind of where I’m going with this. It wasn’t until after 30 shows or so that I realized what that something bigger was. And it was to be a math teacher. It was the experience of being a front man that allowed me to overcome my fear of public speaking.

So in January of 2007, I went to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh to attain my middle and high school mathematics certification. So that is a little bit of story how I got into teaching. So then, in October of 2008, I was hired for a long-term sub-position as a high school math teacher, teaching algebra and consumer math for a local school district. And after that assignment ended, I was offered a position as an adjunct instructor at Kaplan Career Institute, teaching numerous accounting courses and a Microsoft application class.

I was there for about a year. The school was doing some internal restructuring, and I was worried about losing my job. So I decided to apply to local school districts, including a cyber school, for a teaching position. In early 2010, I was hired at a cyber school here in Southwest, Pennsylvania as an academic advisor, basically a guidance counselor, if you would say. And then it wasn’t until 2015, five years later, that they were hiring a bunch of math teachers due to the increase in student enrollment. So I applied and I was hired in August of that year. The last five years, I’ve been teaching algebra 1. And this year, I am teaching pre-algebra and business math. So that is my teaching story, getting into mathematics education.

Well, I’m telling you, first off, what a journey, but there’s one part of this story I want to get a little clarification on. I’m picturing Eddie Vedder or someone being Eddie Vedder onstage. And through that process, you realized your true calling to be a math teacher. I want to know more about that. And actually, and I’m sure this, Nick, from being a part of the academy and also listening to a many previous episodes, I had a little stint growing up in a band as well. And now I’m going to go back and I’m going to start thinking like John, maybe that’s where my calling to be a math teacher happened. And I just didn’t realize it at the time.

Maybe you can help me out with that, Nick. What helped you see that, you know what I want to head into math teaching? You’ve overcome this fear of, obviously, like you had mentioned, public speaking, which again, like teaching is kind of like a permanent public speaking gig, right? So what happened there? Where was the click? And then we want to dive a little deeper and go back to your own experience in the math class.

I think, and even the story of any veteran Pearl Jam watching some of their early gigs, listening to him sing, you can tell, like at the time, at the beginning of the stages of singing in front of people, he knew he had a great voice, but he wasn’t into it. I felt like he had a lot more to provide in his vocal. And I think it was a year or two later once he started to become more comfortable in his own shoes and realizing, “Okay, I have a lot of emotion to provide here. I need to give it my all.”

And I started noticing a difference in his voice. It become more powerful. You can feel the lyrics, you can feel the emotion. I kind of relate to that, in my own experience, as being a front man. Just starting out like being nervous, my first gig was on Bleecker Street in New York City at a place called Kenny’s Castaways. It was like a hole in the wall. The ceiling was coming down. The stage was like probably a five-by-five. It’s a very small stage. And I remember my first performance, how bad it was. I remember how nervous I was. I forgot the lyrics.

But I think being vulnerable, which is extremely important, made me better. I sat there and I watched a video of myself performing and I said, okay, this was not good. I wasn’t wearing the right clothes. I was off pitch. I forgot the lyrics. I wasn’t making eye contact with the audience. It’s just a mess. And I said, okay, I can do one of two things. I can just say you know what? I’m done. I’m going to wrap this up and do something else. Or, I’m going to learn from the experience and I’m going to get better. I’m going to work on these things one at a time.

And that’s what I did. I just worked on getting better in all aspects of performing. And over a couple of years, I started to find myself. I’m like, okay, I have conviction. You hear me sing the songs. You can relate to the lyrics. I’m performing to my best. I’m giving it my all. I think it’s, over time, where you start to feel like, okay, this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I’m supposed to be performing these songs I’m going to do…

And that’s exactly what happened. I just got better and better as the years got on and got more comfortable. At that time, I realized… I don’t know what show it was or the show at all. It could have been just I’m sitting there in my house or just thinking about performing and I’m thinking to myself, you know what? I think I’m now ready to quit my accounting profession. I wasn’t having fun. I didn’t enjoy my career. So maybe it’s now time for me to experience what I really want to do is become a math teacher. And I think that’s where I just decided to go for it.

And I remember in my public speaking class college, I did very, very well on my first public speaking assignment. And I go back to my experience as being a lead singer of a band. And now, with COVID and all, we’re not performing much anymore, but I do practice that behavior on stage. Even though I’m not there, I do it in my own house to make sure that I’m still giving it my all. So that’s kind of my story there.

Awesome stuff. I think it’s… If we kind of think about your reflection process, you said you needed to slowly increment get better at different things. Think about that as a teacher, because that self-reflection is so important for us as teachers to do as well. And you were kind of modeling that in a different field and also led you to the teaching field. So it’s a lot of vulnerability, a lot of ongoing process of how you can get better as a teacher, how you can get better at whatever tasks that you would like to do.

So I appreciate your story there. Nick, let’s dive a little bit deeper into your math moment. I know that you’ve listened to most episodes. What’s a math moment that when we say math class triggers a memory for you? I’ll give you the follow-up right away. We’re going to ask how that influences your teaching.

You ever see the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray?

Oh yeah.

That pretty much sums up my experience all the way back to sixth grade. But I’ll paint you a picture of what my math experiences were like. So, I walk into a math class. All the desks will be perfectly placed in rows. You sat down in your science seat and took out your notebook. The teacher walked around the room with his or her grade book, making sure you completed the prior night’s homework assignment. You were turned to the next clean sheet of paper in your notebook and begin copying down notes that were displayed on the chalkboard.

And we spent about 10 to 15 minutes of class doing that. The teacher would wait until everyone was done. There was always one kid that was slow taking notes. So we had to make sure we waited for him to finish up. The teacher would turn the lights off in the classroom. You know what that meant? The signal for the projector screen was going to be turned on. So he or she would turn on the projector and place the black line master on it, which included, or notes, but they had example problems.

All right. So he or she would then ask us to copy down each example problem. As we copied word for word, the teacher would go through the procedures on solving the problem. And then after several examples are presented, we were then asked to solve a problem on our own. After a set specified times to complete the problem, the teacher would then call on a student to go to the board to show the class how to solve it.

Now, you guys probably know about 90% of the time the student at the front did not even know how to start the problem. So the teacher would give the student an unhappy grin, ask him or her to sit down, and then would ask the class if someone else would want to come to the board, basically to show their struggling students how it’s done, you know what happens, crickets all around.

How did it that influence…? Do you remember that…? So obviously this is a memory, like it’s an ongoing memory of what math class sort of was like for you. I’m wondering, do you have a memory of like how you personally felt as a math learner? And the reason I’m asking is because of my backup to your initial fear of public speaking, I’m wondering whether that was something that influenced or had any sort of effect in this particular scenario where you might be the next person that the teacher calls on to take the trot up to the board to maybe, or may not be able to get started on a problem.

Yeah. Good question. Actually, I did not have a fear to go to the board. I’d actually volunteer. My hand would go up. I always wanted to be the kid that would want to go to the front because I was supposedly good at math. I was really good at taking notes. I was really good at memorizing procedures. And no matter what problem the teacher gave, I was able to solve it very quickly also. But do you remember that it was the same problem but different numbers. So she’s switching numbers around, but the same type of problem.

There weren’t problems where I consider it to be like non-routine problems where you’re addressing a standard and you have it on the board. I think she wanted to make sure that we got the procedures down. I think that was the big thing there. But yeah, I never was nervous going in front of the board because I knew the math. So I wanted to show the class that I could do it. I think me volunteering every time, it did make a lot of students in the class uncomfortable saying, oh, he must be the smart kid in the class.

Thanks for sharing that memory. And I think it goes to show all the things that kind of go into how we teach and what’s going on here. Nick, I’m wondering, can you… I think this goes nicely into kind of your journey. Can you share with us the teaching success? We know that you’ve been a member since the very beginning of our academy. You’ve done lots of learning along the way. And I’m wondering, what is a success that you can share with us that you’ve had? And also, I wouldn’t mind you clarifying for our listeners your cyber school. Maybe before you go into the success, give us a snapshot of what that looks so that…

I think a lot of us probably understand what that looks like right now, but maybe you’ve been there for a long time. You’ve been teaching this way, way before we have. So I’m wondering, could you give us a snapshot of the school, but then also kind of go into a success based on the learning you’ve done in the, say last year or so?

Yeah, sure. So in my setting, I’m a virtual classroom teacher. So I teach, synchronously, five days a week and I have five sections. So currently, this year, I have three sections in pre-algebra and two of subjects business math. We have approximately 25 to 30 students in a class. And if we happen to have higher number of students in the class, we are assigned a co-teacher. So someone else that kind of helps with you in your journey. So as of right now, our school, I think, has over 11 to 12,000 students. And it’s one of the largest cyber schools in the nation. So I’m really excited to work for our school. And like I said, it’s difficult. I find it very challenging to teach online. I started out teaching in-person for about a year, year and a half, and I found that it was a lot easier being face-to-face.

So, of course, being no remote has definitely had its challenges. And I listened to the podcast, I listened to people who are now remote to teaching face-to-face, and I’m listening to them and their struggles. And I do still have the same struggles they do. Even though I love experienced teaching online I still have those same struggles those teachers have that have been teaching only for maybe six to eight months online. So I tried to listen to them and take what they’re saying and try to apply it to my situation.

It’s one of those things, too, that I think, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fully replace that face-to-face experience. And in some ways, I kind of hope we don’t, or we don’t figure out a way, because there’s something about that human connection piece. Right? And I was actually just speaking with a neighbor who is doing his work all online. And now his company’s talking about going completely virtual and only meeting once every quarter. And we were just discussing some of the negative impacts of doing something like that, just that lack of human interaction.

So in some ways, I think we don’t necessarily want to stay online forever, necessarily. And in some cases, I think there’s students that really benefit in that learning environment. So having that option for them is really good, but I think it’s still going to have the many challenges that we’re experiencing along the way. And I guess trying to figure out how we can do that best is something that we’ll all continue to work on here together.

I want to go back to John’s question here about a recent success, and actually, I’m wondering if you can kind of maybe rewind a back a year or two ago and help people picture where you were from a pedagogical perspective, from a content knowledge perspective, and then maybe share some of your learning along this journey and where you are today. What does your classroom look like, sound like< say two years ago? And what does it look like now?

I also want to caveat here that we’re not suggesting… Nothing’s perfect, right? No one’s class is perfect. So we’re not trying to put that pressure on you, but what are some of the things have changed that you’re seeing and you’re experiencing a difference in how your students are learning and how you’re able to facilitate lessons?

Sounds great. I’m going to go back, if you don’t mind, to my experience as a student, because it does relate to where I am currently. So I look back at my experiences as a student, I couldn’t help to think that this is the way math should be taught. I mentioned earlier about being taught in a traditional fashion, copying notes, going over examples. And then you get the homework assignment, you get some time to work on it in class, and then it’s the same thing the next day.

So, I’ll be honest. My first two years as a teacher, I did the same thing that all my math teachers did. And I used to teach math based on how we learned it. So my first couple of years, I did exactly how I experienced it. After just two years though, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I asked myself, is this it? I just use the same lesson for every topic year after year?

I was in the binder. It’s over. I’ve done. It has success.

It’s done. My students are doing very well in class, but did that mean they understood the math? Were my assessments rigorous enough? Or, was I just really good at programming robots? I got a first glimpse of this when I asked a higher order thinking question in class one day. And students complained saying that they couldn’t solve it because this problem was like the other problems they have done before. So my-

You can show me how to do it.

Yeah. My response was, we just learn how to do this. And they said, no, we didn’t. And when they said that, I realized something. I failed my students. They didn’t fail me. I had them believe they were good at math. And I said to myself, something has to change. And that is when I decided to do some research to find other ways of teaching math, getting away from that traditional approach of teaching.

Well, guys, after some digging, I came across both of your websites. How did I found it? I was typing in like just math teaching strategies and it just popped up somewhere. So I went to John’s website, I went to Kyle’s website, and I just looked at them and said, wow, this is great. So I started looking through a 3-Act Tasks and I was saying to myself, this is what I need my class to be like. I need a hook. Something for them to be curious about, to get them into a problem.

So I realized it was going to take a lot of time and patience on my part to understand how problem-based learning works, and then figure out how to make it work in a virtual classroom. So I enrolled and completed your Making Math Moments That Matter 12-week workshop. I completed the Are You Picky Enough? course. And I just finished up to module three, the assessment for growth courses. So it was [crosstalk 00:23:44]-


You’re on fire-

They’re many takeaways. Oh man, there are so many takeaways from these courses, but there was one thing in particular that stuck with me. They always go back to it whenever I start to question what I’m doing in the classroom, and it’s the Hero’s Journey curve. Now, if you combine that idea with setting up math experiences through video games, I know Dr. Raj Shah’s podcast episode 18, right?

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup.

You put that video game design and you combine it with the Hero’s Journey curve, you just created a powerful math moment for your students. I think those two ideas alone helped me create a way for me to teach mathematics online. So I’m going to come back to the Hero’s Journey curve and the video game design as it connects to what I’m about to tell you.

So, as I began my journey into problem-based learning, the first thing I thought about was what technological tool is going to work best? What tool will allow me to create and to run a 3-Act task in a virtual environment? What tool will allow all students of different thinking? What tool will allow for discussion or collaboration? What tool will allow me to quickly assess what my students know and allow me to adjust? What tool allow me to leave descriptive feedback to move students thinking forward? All of these things I was thinking about and the one program that I realized it did all of these things, and you guys probably know this, is Desmos.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

If all those ideas just came from your, Are You Picky Enough? Course, that was an amazing experience. LI didn’t realize when I look at that compared to Kahoot or Quizizz or other types of tools you can use in the classroom, when you were talking about that in your course, I just realized, my gosh, yeah, Kahoot, it’s multiple choice, it’s about speed, it’s not about knowledge. And it really got me thinking. So I want to thank you for that because it really helped me pick out a tool that I thought was going to work best for for my classroom. And Desmos classroom has been the go-to tool.

So over the last two years, I’ve been working on developing a digital curriculum strictly through the use of Desmos classroom activities, either by selecting one of their activities that are currently existing, or one of your tasks and putting my own spin on it. So I did take the one that… What was it? It was No Bikes Allowed. I think it was Kyle on a scooter. I think you guys were in California or somewhere and you’re riding a scooter.

That’s right.

Yeah, [crosstalk 00:26:18].

Yeah. I actually use that-

San Diego.

I use that as a task and I put it into Desmos, and use that as a lesson to get students to learn how to create an equation of a line given two points. It was a good way to get them into that particular lesson. But before I started diving into creating a digital curriculum, I thought to myself, where do I start? How do I know if these activities are going to do the job that it was intended to do? Like not turn my students into robots. That is where the Hero’s Journey curve fits in.

And pretty much, every activity that I create follows the design of a movie. So I combine the learning curve with the video game design. We have like a producer, which is myself. I’m responsible for creating the overall experience. Carefully design the movie. So the learning goal is not realized until at least the last third of the movie. I know you mentioned in one of your modules that you don’t want the learning of goal to be established too early, kind of ruins the surprise. You don’t get the ending of the movie before it even starts.

So when I produce a movie, I always think about what is the learning goal that I want to come out in the end? So that’s the producer. That’s me. My job is to make this experience. The actors is all my students. The screens in Desmos are different scenes, which includes prompts that produce the actors struggle, right? They notice and wonder. They’re predicting. They’re estimating. Settling a dispute. The information gap. Crafting a scenario, these math language routines I’ve been learning more about.

So the screens are kind of like the scenes in the movie. The actors are my students. And then the audience is also myself, right? I’m anticipating what might happen in a movie. I’m monitoring what the actors are doing. Maybe some foreshadowing there and what’s to occur on later screens. Which is the first two practices of the five practices.

So I developed a spreadsheet that follows what I call a quality assurance check. It encompasses everything that educators have shared, either through sessions in a virtual summit, an episode in your podcast, or a book that I’ve read. Open middle problems, mathematical language routines, math debates, the five practices, so forth and so on. And each movie has pretty much the same plot, right? It has an intro, rising action, climax, falling action, and a resolution. However, sometimes I throw in a surprise ending.

And that plot of the movie can contain two separate stories. And at the end of the movie, both stories are linked together, kind of like what I sent you guys with [Cliff Battle 00:28:54] and Sugar, Sugar, John’s activity. At the end, I was able to relate the Click Battle and Sugar, Sugar together for one final screen. So you can relate those two things together. I’ve also thrown in a thermometer rating screen at the end of the movie for students to rate the movie, leave feedback for the teacher, and reflect on their own learning.

So that’s kind of how it [inaudible 00:29:16] everything into developing a spreadsheet that kind of guides me through the problem-solving process by making movies through Desmos.

This is great. And it sounds like you’ve done some great, great learning here for your students’ benefit. And it sounds like the activities you’re running are amazing. And you’ve built those up with that learning that you’ve done, like the Are You Picky course. We designed that on purpose so that folks like you could learn how to pick activities, but also then dive into specifically Desmos, how to make that happen in your classroom. So I’m so glad that you’ve taken that learning and you spun with because building a curriculum around Desmos is like a whole different ball game, right?

You’ve taken the lessons and then kept going with building and building and building. Like the activities you shared, combining already existing activities and editing them. That’s some great learning and I appreciate you sharing. And actually, I wouldn’t mind you sharing with us, you said the No Bikes Allowed activity. You put that into Desmos. It’d be nice to link those up here on the show notes page so that folks can have a look at some of the activities you’ve created in Desmos. So I wouldn’t mind putting those down. So let us know that. Share a link with us after this and we’ll get that up on the show notes page.

I want to kind of move into this sheet that you, because I’m looking at it right now. The sheet that you’ve created, which is like your curriculum for, I think your, say, algebra course or your high school math course. We call them something different here in Canada or in Ontario. And I’m wondering, this is some great stuff. You’ve already kind of mapped out where your learning goals are. You’ve mapped out what your big ideas are. You’ve mapped out what problem-based activities are going to hit those learning goals.

I guess my question, Nick, then for you, you’ve done a lot of the work that Kyle and I did a number of years ago when we built our curriculums for our courses. And it looks so similar. I guess my wonder is, what’s your pebble in your shoe right now? What’s kind of got you up at night when you’re thinking about like, I wanted to call these guys, I wanted to get their take on something? What is that thing that you want us to kind of chat about? Because it looks like you’re doing some great stuff here.

Yeah. I believe I have a pretty good handle on student engagement and creating mathematically rich activities like that. I’m thinking better. We always get better, right? We’re never perfect. But at the point where I’m ready to move on to a different piece of my practice and the assessment piece, which I think all teachers can say is the most challenging. I feel that it’s out of whack. Like the student’s marks on my assessments do not align with teaching through problem-based approach. What I’m doing here, which you see in the spreadsheet, making sure I’ve crossed my T’s, dotted my I’s, and providing that rich learning environment for those kids, they’re not performing as well as I would thought on my assessments.

So I like to have some ideas, maybe brainstorm on how to close the gap so that their marks properly align with the rigor in my classroom.

Got you.

I love it. I love it. Assessment is so challenging and it’s so big. And it’s funny because a colleague of mine, Yvette Lehman, from work, we constantly go back and forth and she’s got so many great ideas in mathematics. She’s very, very strong with assessment. And we talk about assessment a lot because to her, everything begins with assessment. And I agree with that statement, but at the same time, I’m like, it’s hard to begin with assessment when it’s like you’re trying to piece together all these other things.

So your journey sounds very similar to our journey, John and myself, with that we kind of focused on engagement first. It was like I couldn’t get high school kids to look in my direction. So it was like I needed to get that under control or at least that’s what I thought I needed to do. So we focused there. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work with that, especially doing the online workshop. It really helps with trying to get students to engage in the mathematics.

But then comes this challenge and teachers say this a lot when they start shifting. When you come from a scenario like you unpacked in your Math Moment where the sort of traditional approach for many people looked and sounded like what you were sharing, this idea that the teacher would essentially pre-teach everything and then we’ll just assess on that. That makes assessment like really easy, right? Because it’s like, here’s the stuff, learn it, and I’m going to see if you learned it. And that is it.

Whereas when you start shifting to problem-based teaching, things changed significantly, because now it’s not simply looking for steps and procedures. There’s more to it. So my wonder is, if we can get a little more clear on what do those assessments look like and sound like right now? Because, again, I see this all the time. And we were stuck here for a very long time where our lessons were like we were helping our students see mathematics is like this, but then we were assessing in the same way for quite some time.

So it’s like students were getting kind of like conflicting messages. So what does that look like and sound like for you when you’re doing an assessment? How often is it happening? What does it look like and sound like? Does it sound sort of like your traditional test? And where do you see those struggles sort of emerging when you’re actually looking at these assessments and trying to figure out, hey, where do we go next?

Yeah, sure. So I’m currently doing, I guess it’s called backwards planning. I create the assessment questions first and then develop the activity around the assessments. So I’m thinking, okay, if I keep that in mind, if I know what questions I want to ask them, I got to make sure that the Desmos activities I create allow them to use the activities to answer the questions. Even though they’re not directly related, they’re like, okay, I go to screen two and maybe I can use that one to help me with this question. But it’s all about going back and using your, I guess, notes. Because I use Desmos as notes for students as well.

So there’s two types of assessments that I give students on a regular basis. I used to call them tests. I used to call them quizzes. And then I started changing names, because when students hear the word assessment or test, they just run away. So I now call my first type of assessment learning goal check-ins. So I used to have learning goal assessments. I changed the name.

Now these types of assessments, they are usually approximately 10 questions and they are a mix of like fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice. I try to ask more fill-in-the-blank questions, I do multiple choice. And I ask different types of questions that hit the standard. I make sure that there’s not a question that is the same as the next one. So it’s like different levels of thinking. And like using a depth of knowledge, levels, one, two, and four. So I try to hit on all of those Bloom’s taxonomy. I try to hit those through those learning goal assessments.

Now the students do have the ability to retake a learning goal assessment. And what I do is I leave general feedback for every question that students answer incorrectly. So I anticipate ahead of time what the struggles are going to be with each question, and then I leave feedback. So no matter how the student responds, when they click on the button to submit their learning goal assessment, they will see all the questions that you answered incorrectly. But underneath each question is feedback for them to improve.

These feedback has been very difficult. We’re having 125 students. There’s no way I have time to leave feedback for every single question, for every single student, every single assessment. So I’m trying to find ways to push everybody forward no matter what they did on that problem. So that’s currently the first type of assessment. The second one are Tic-Tac-Toe choice boards. So I’m a huge fan of students having choice when they are going to display what they know.

So I give them like nine different tasks and they select three that either create a row in a column or diagonal. And they show me what they know through different tasks. Maybe it’s an open middle problem. Maybe it’s a breakout room activity in Desmos. Or maybe it’s a retro game like Kurt Salsbury. He made a retro games in Desmos. So maybe be I’ll throw one of those in there from the complete, like a video game. Maybe it’s being a teacher and scoring an open-ended response from maybe a standardized test. They give a student a score and they have to explain why they give a student that score using a rubric.

So I try… I use Flipgrid also. I do explain to an alien where life students have to explain to an alien how to solve an equation or how to graph a linear function. So I try to use different tasks, and I fill them up with my choice board and give students the option to select what they want to do. And then I leave feedback based on what they produce.


Those are all great assessment strategies, for sure. I think that you are meeting the big ideas we shared in the assessment course, which is like assessment is supposed to be for learning, right? Like it drives learning. It’s for promoting growth and how can we promote that growth to our students or how have our students grow. Everything that we do in assessment should drive that one focus. And I think those activities are definitely doing that.

I guess I’m wondering, you’re saying that your struggle right now, or your pebble in your shoe is that those assessment results aren’t matching what you’re doing in class or is there some other like, Hey, my standard assessment results aren’t great and I need to fix though? Does that summarize what your struggle is? Or is it the assessment approach that you’re taking with your choice board? Those that aren’t matching up or is it the standard stuff?

Well, a lot of students aren’t doing the choice boards. I wonder if it could because it’s too much work, i maybe too time consuming. And there could be a gap in technological skills for some students, because I do have students who live in different parts of Pennsylvania. So I have students that could be in Philadelphia out east that could be students in north, south. And every school district has difference, where they might’ve came from. Use of technology is different everywhere.

So it’s possible a lot of these students don’t have the necessary skills to be able to download Google Slides and download the PowerPoint and then work on it, and upload the PowerPoint to the assignment. I don’t know for sure. But I will tell you, I am looking for other ways of gauging their learning. And I was wondering if I could figure out a way through the Desmos activities to use that as somewhat of assessment, like gauge the student learning growth over time. Maybe there’s like certain screens I can look at and say you know what? The students didn’t do well in this assessment, but I can see here in this activity that they’ve grown from screen one to screen 20. And can I use that to justify a mark that can replace their assessment score on, say a learning goal assessment or a choice board. So that’s what I’m kind of thinking about.

Let me ask you this, Nick, in a perfect world, if you had a magic wand, what would that look like for you? Like if you could say, I’m going to, at the end of the course, create a mark for a kid and that’s going to represent their learning, what would that like perfect magic wand world look like for you? Especially in an online world. Because I think this is an important question, because I think everyone right now is trying to wonder, how do I give assessments or how do I give a mark to students that I don’t see face to face? I’m wondering what would your perfect world look like if you could say, this is the market, the end and how did I get there?

I would love to create a digital portfolio. That is something I think is the answer, is having the learning be captured throughout the course of the school year. But, unfortunately, with the way our school is, we need to report grades almost on a weekly basis. There has to be marks in the grade book. I can’t just leave feedback and have the book be open. So I need to put marks in there.

So if I had the choice, I would have one grade and it would be the portfolio and just updating the grade as students are learning through the course. I’d like to still do that as part of the grade, but it’s like, okay, you have all these assignments, say 15 assignments in the grade book, and you have all these learning goal assessments that are based out of 10 points, then you have Tic-Tac-Toe boards that might be worth a little bit more. Is it too much now to add a portfolio as part of the group for each quarter to try to do after three learning goals have been… We three learning goals, I then create Tic-Tac-Toe board.

So I’m wondering if could do that. Because I need to have certain number of marks in the grade book as students are going through. We have guidance counselors so that they contact these students every couple of weeks to report on their progress to parents. So that’s kind of the struggle I’m having right now with that.

Are you feeling like the marks that you’re assigning that you’re feeling like it has to be weighted the same for everyone in the group? Or how are you feeling about how the marks might vary depending on different students and where they are? Because I… The reason I’m asking is I hear this idea of you’re liking the idea of a portfolio, which we definitely love this idea. What about that? Do you feel is maybe holding you back, given the current situation you’re in, where you have to have these marks reported pretty frequently? Are you worried about fairness, about equality, equity? What piece is, I guess, holding you up on that?

I guess I’m not too comfortable with changing marks in the grade book when I don’t really know for sure if that’s the score they should get. Like, for example, if you look at the last… This upcoming learning goal is on slopes of lines. And I’m thinking to myself, okay, well, that 10 points and a student gets four out of 10, but then through the activity, through my movie, my Desmos activity, they are able to find the smallest slope possible given numbers zero through nine. They solved an open middle problem in Desmos and they found the smallest slope in the entire class.

So to me, it’s like they understood what the learning goal was, but it didn’t reflect that on their assessment. So I say, okay, well, you had a four. So do I replace that now with say a nine out of 10 points? I’m trying to figure out how to validate this four that I should give and change those marks throughout the course of the year. Because I have students that haven’t done any assignments in my classes, but they are showing brilliant work in Desmos. Because they have a 0% right now in the grade book, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to somehow capture something they’ve done and put that in the grade book, even though they might be struggling trying to get their schoolwork done.

Let me ask you this, because this is a common struggle, Kyle and I both had early when we moved from, and I think this is where you are, too, we moved from teaching that very traditional way, the way you described it here in this episode so far, to a problem-based approach. And then wrapping your head around how do I give marks when I want these marks to also represent their understanding on learning goals? I guess my question right now to you, just to kind of clarify where the struggle also is happening, is your mark book set up?

I know that you’ve done some learning in module three of the assessment course where we teach kind of restructuring how your mark book looks, because that part is kind of the fix for us on how to kind of be comfortable with changing marks or having marks or having assessments be flexible throughout. So I’m wondering what is your mark book look right now, that’s also preventing you from say this challenge you’re having of kind of like, I’d like to change this but I don’t know if I should?

Yeah. So we are using a learning management system that has been created for our school internally. So there’s no Excel spreadsheets or fresh grade ranking like that. We’ve our own grade book that we have to. And it’s set up either showing student name each row, and then it has the assignments vertically, and then you put the scores in there. Allow the assignments are graded automatically. So there’s not much work for me to do when it comes to reporting grades. There’s nothing [inaudible 00:45:40]. But Tic-Tac-Toe boards, of course I have to manually break. And then usually on a learning goal assessment, the last question is the middle problem, which I need score manually. But that’s kind of how it’s set up there.

Yeah. When you say there are assess, I’m imagining this kind of chart. It’s got kids names down the left side and then you’ve got rows and columns where you enter in marks across the top or the assignments. Do you get to put in whatever you want up top there or is it like, this assignment one, it’s my racing cars assignment, or it’s my linear relations work? Do you pick those or are those set by your school?

I pick those. I name the assignments.

Gotcha. Gotcha. So I guess your perfect world was like you’d want to be able to change some of the grades to represent what they know. And you want to be able to use the information that you’ve obtained from observing the students doing the activities. I’m wondering, like right now, it’s probably set up like assignment one, or quiz one, or learning goal one is… Oh, sorry. Maybe it’s check-in one. Is that true?


So I think when Kyle and I made this shift, what helped us is we moved to a standards-based grading approach, which we didn’t have assignment one or assignment two anymore. We changed those titles across the top of that sheet to a particular learning goals. So it would be like, I can solve two-step equations, or I can solve a system of equations by substitution. Very like I-can statements. Or it might be like I-understand statements. It’s things that we wanted to look for.

And when we did that, it actually… I don’t know, Kyle can share that. too. But what happened is that we felt more comfortable since now we had this mark that could be representative of that particular skill. When we saw improvement on that skill, we felt comfortable going back to that mark and going, hey, look, I’ve seen consistently through different means. Like, I saw consistently in the Desmos activity. I saw consistently in a conversation I had with that student. That they understand that skill. Or they can do that skill.

And then we felt comfortable going back to that mark that was in the mark book and swapping it out with a new mark. And that would then keep track of a mark for that particular skill. That helped us… That stumbling block we had, like you’re having, is that I don’t feel comfortable changing a mark because I don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to mean. If you change the meaning behind what you’re capturing, then I think that can help you feel comfortable about going and swapping things out.

We definitely write down all of the changes that happen along the way, but that documentation of changing a mark based on information. And the information doesn’t have to be just product all the time, like a quiz, or a test. And that allowed us to go, hey, look, I saw work here. I’ve observed work here. I had a conversation with at work here. I’m going to use that with my professional judgment to say that this kid’s learning is this particular score on that learning goal.”

And I think…. Here in Ontario, we actually have to do that. We have to use observations, conversations, and product, all three to influence our kids’ grades, not just products. I’m going to stop here. Let Kyle jump in. Or, Nick, maybe you want to comment on that thinking.

Yeah, yeah. I can comment on what you said about conversations and observations. So that’s something I considered using conversations with students, but I realized it was too time-consuming. So I have a 50-minute online session, which equates to about 30 minutes face-to-face. So everything done online takes a little bit longer. So currently, I don’t have any time built into the class period to do that, but I did take your advice on maybe creating what mastery days or learning goal improvement days.

So on those days I have students choose what they like to do. So they can like review and address feedback on assignments. They can revise their work in a Desmos activity. If their thinking has grown, I give them the ability to revise their work in Desmos. They can complete a social prompt in Flipgrid. If they’re done with everything and they want to do a Flipgrid response, I give them the option to do that. If they won’t receive extra support on a concept or work on a choice board, they can do that.

Do I give them a choice in what to do or should I decide where I feel they would best benefit from? I’m still struggling with that. Do I give them the choice or do I say, you know what? You three are coming with me, you three are going to do this? I’m still trying to think about how to maximize my time when I give those mastery days to have the conversations I need with those students to verify a mark.

Yeah. Cause that’s kind of what I’m picturing right now is thinking about using more of a traditional-like assessment is more to get you a general sense of who’s where. And that, especially in an online environment, like we also have to keep that in mind, is that that is much more challenging to get a sense of who heard what in our lessons and who’s understanding this or that. I find daily ticket out doors, like even a single prompt or two. And I know you, Nick, have used like the Shot Put unit from the Make Math Moments website. And at the end of every single lesson, there’s a consolidation prompt or two, which is really to help the educator get a better sense of who heard what.

Sometimes when we’re consolidating a lesson, kids are head-nodding in online environment. You can’t even see head nods. So you’re just kind of guessing. No one’s asking questions. So those consolidation prompts are really helpful to get you a sense, a general sense on a daily basis of who heard what so that you can document some of where students are, and help you determine what else do I need to know.

And I think this is the challenge, especially in math, and, Nick, you being someone who started going into that accounting field, it can be really tough when people who, especially, have sort of like a math background, an analytical sort of thinking brain, it’s really hard for us to kind of shift away from this idea of like, everyone write this assessment, let’s take these marks, let’s put them in the grade book and then trying to think of like how do I change this without it all being mathematical, and without weightings, and without this and that, and all of these things that sort of go into a traditional grading system.

So I’m kind of picturing if we use our learning goals, you had said you use backwards planning. You start with what are you going to be assessing. Which is great. And I think maybe even having like shining the spotlight more specifically on the specific learning goals and the success criteria that you’re going to use to try to gauge who is where, that process can start on day one of a learning cycle. Where, on day one, I’m noticing certain students are showing these particular learning goals or these particular skills. And I’m going to use that to help with my assessment process. And making maybe that written assessment, that written test as something that’s obviously going to influence your understanding of who heard what, but then using that as your information on which students you want to talk to and about what.

And that might require maybe shifting some of the time you’re spending with feedback. I heard that as a challenge or a pebble in your shoe, is, like, I can’t feed back everything. Which we 100% agree. So trying to pick what parts for, let’s say for every student, what is it that you want to ensure they have a little bit of feedback. Because, of course, we could feed back everything. That would be ideal, is like one-on-one working with a student and feed-backing every step of the process, amazing. Not really feasible if you’re teaching 70, 80, 90, over 100 students in a day or in a semester.

So my wonder is like, could there be a process? And I’m looking at your sheet as I’m spit-balling with you here. I see your sheet…. And it’s a great planning sheet for how you come up with your learning experiences. Now I’m wondering, is there a spot somewhere, whether it’s on this sheet or maybe it’s in a new sheet within this big collection of spreadsheets, where your going to essentially be trying to track which specific activities match which learning goals? And what little bits of information can I put down to help support my understanding of what each student knows in the classroom?

So there was a lot there that came from John and I over the past few minutes here. So we want to pause so to get your thinking, like what are you chewing on right now? What are your thoughts? And we can dive a little deeper here.

Yeah. Great. So I was thinking, I’d like to have a couple screens, maybe one or two that when I’m looking to gauge the students’ learning, I can use that as their summative assessment. I was thinking like maybe which one doesn’t belong, or would you rather, or two truths and a lie, some way at the end of the activity to get their understanding of the content. So that was something I was thinking about, was trying to include some additional screens for that. Because I really would like to have something, even like just a prompt at the end. Like you said, using a prompt to say, okay, here’s a question. And depending on how they respond to it, that would at least give me an idea of what their current level of understanding is.And they can always update that response as they go through and address my feedback.

So that’s one thing that I was thinking about. I’m a big fan of polygraph games, the guests who games. Maybe I set up a day during mastery days. I grabbed the kids I want to have a conversation with. Instead of having a group conversation with five students, maybe we all just play a game of polygraph and see what kind of questions they come up with. I can gauge your understanding of what types of questions they’re going to ask their peers. Just trying to think of different activities that I can do to keep the engagement up, but I also can use as formative assessment.

Those are pretty good ideas. And I’m wondering… As we think about what some of the big next moves for you are and what would be your next steps. Because we’ve talked about lots of different things here about changing what learning goals go across the top of your grade book to different activities you can use in your classroom, on assessments or thinking about how you capture that evidence in a, say a different way or smaller chunks is also a good thing to do. Like I used to have one big unit test or one big assessment that kind of captured lots of learning goals.

And I moved into restructuring those quizzes or tests as one. Remember that was one source of evidence that I use to help determine a grade. It wasn’t the grade on the unit or the mark. It was one source. Because I used the observations from those activities I saw. Like what Kyle said is that when you go into that activity and you have things you’re going to look for, like, these are the outcomes that I want to come out, and if I see them, I’m going to do a little check mark on a kid’s name to say, hey, look, I saw that.

And I can use that to kind of shape that mark later on when I see that test. But the tests themselves or the quizzes themselves were a lot smaller than I used to have, because then I could gauge… And they were more frequent. It was the same amount of questions being asked, but I could gauge where students were on those particular learning goals. And I knew a lot of information when I looked at that because I used to be able to go, okay, look at the test result. Here’s one mark that represents the test. I know a kid’s got a 60, but that didn’t tell me a lot about the particular learning goals where I needed to help them the most.

And also relaying that to the parents. You would say like… A parent would say like, “What can we do to do better?” And you would say, “Well, I see that you have a 60 on that unit test. I guess do more homework or share more information somehow.” But then if you had it broken down by learning goal, you can say, “Look, this learning goal, you’re doing really great at. I don’t need to see more evidence from that. Like you’ve demonstrated that consistently over time. But this particular learning goal, I haven’t seen a lot of information from you. And what I have seen isn’t that great. We need to fix this up.” You’ve got way more information when you break them into smaller chunks so that you know what kids can and can’t do or do what they know and what they don’t know.

So I think maybe that would be a good next step for you, is how can you change some of your structure so that you capture more specific information so that you know a lot, and then it also will help you structure those lessons. It sounds like you’re already structuring your activities to kind of, look at those things, but now you just want to say like, I want to pull that information so that I now have confidence that when I go to assign a grade that that kid’s grade isn’t just the test mark.


I wonder if the activities are a little bit too long, because sometimes it takes two to two and a half weeks before we even established the learning objectives. That eats up a lot of time. So I might need to have some checkpoints in there so that I’ll be more specific on the goals. Because sometimes I’ve learning goal one and I have part A part B. So maybe I should be more specific and make them smaller chunks like you said with goal number one is focusing on just, I can find the slope between two points. Maybe learning goal two, I can find a slope given a grass.

Well, when I first went that model, I had very specific learning goals just like you’re saying. So it was very specific look-fors. But then when I kind of, after running a couple semesters like that, I had like 35 learning goals, which was 35 entries in the mark book which I was keeping track of over time. Which was manageable for sure, but what I found was it was more valuable to look at, say, a little bit take a step back and look at larger learning goals. Because then if I saw that the student was pulling the slope from this one and this technique using this technique or this technique and this technique, it went into say one learning goal about like, I can confidently find learning goal.

It’s like over complicating things, right? Like where John and I… I think I would even more specific than John did. We were kind of doing this together. We were creating our sort of path together, but we were doing things slightly differently. So we were kind of feed-backing each other. Like I had more goals and I found it just got too overwhelming. Where now, you had also mentioned how hard it is to try to give feedback to every student on everything. And it’s like, well, when you have all these learning goals, I felt like there’s need to feedback every specific piece.

Whereas it might still be okay to break them down into these smaller pieces, but then maybe bucket them a little bit, where when it’s finding slope between two points, given the graph, then it’s like, okay, that’s going to go in this bucket, which we’ll call it the slope bucket. And I can be more specific with students if I need to be, if I feel that it’s necessary for a specific student. But I’m not going to do that for all students, if that makes sense. Right? So it’s like trying to help yourself stay organized.

And then the other thing, too, that sort of popped into my mind as I’m reflecting here and we’re chatting is just this idea that I’ve found assessment to be a lot easier when I started thinking about mathematics from more of a conceptual standpoint. And what I mean by that is, if I’m fishing for procedures, even though I’m shifting to a problem-based lesson like you are, for many years, we were still looking for students to know steps and procedures. And what I didn’t see was that students fundamentally, it was either they could memorize it or they couldn’t. And there was this huge gap between it.

And the only thing that fills that gap, or at least that I can see filling that gap, is conceptual understanding. And by looking and trying to look like, so when a student does struggle with slope, what is it about slope that they’re struggling with? Right? It’s not just a formula. It’s, do they understand what it is we’re trying to achieve? What is slope telling me about this context? Am I using enough context? That’s a silly question for you, because I’ve looked through your sheet and you obviously are using very contextual problems. But just some things to kind of be thinking about in terms of like, okay, I’m doing these problem-based lessons.

You also mentioned like, if they go too long, especially without that post, right? That put a post in the sand every now and again to kind of go, okay, where are we at? Who knows what? Where are the struggles happening? That can really help you from a feed-backing perspective. But if I’m waiting too long before I’m getting a real true sense of where students are at, then we’ve got trouble.

So for example, I went into a classroom the week before we went into the holidays. It was a virtual classroom and we did an activity. And I gave a consolidation prompt at the end. And I followed up with the teacher the next day and said, “Hey, how did students do with the consolidation prompt?” And the teacher said, “Well, the ones who handed it in did pretty well.” I was like, “Well, how many handed it in?” She said, “Well, eight out of 20.” There was 20 in this class. It was a very small class for the grade level.

And to me, right there, as an educator, I’m going, okay. That to me is a huge red flag that if I wait two weeks before I find out that information, that students aren’t engaging in the consolidation prompt, then I can address that problem. I can touch base with the students. I can touch base with the parents, right? And say, “Hey, listen, I’m just checking in on it daily basis here. I’m not going to call every day, but I just want to let you know that so-and-so didn’t submit anything. So the problem is I have no feedback to offer.”

And that can be hard at first, but just to get students into this routine of constantly giving you something back. And it turns this idea of homework a little bit differently as well, where it’s not about just hammering them with a ton of homework and some will do it and some won’t. It’s like, I truly want you to hand in this prompt or these prompts so that I can get a sense of where you’re at. And it can be at a very high level. And it could be a pile of like, not there, getting there, got it.

It could be just those three piles. And you just get a general sense so that you can quickly add it to your spreadsheet, here’s where these students are. And then as you get to these more formal assessment process, like a test, or a quiz, or whatever it is that you’re going to use, you’ve got all of this other information here helping. Because I think, as educators, sometimes we work so hard to try to help students, but the problem might not even have anything to do with their understanding of math. It could just be that they’re just not doing the work. And if that’s the case, then that could cause some problems as well, right?

So it’s like trying to get a general sense almost like a daily temperature, I know with COVID now, people testing their temperature every single day, just to get a sense of where are people at and where are the students at as we’re kind of making progress. Because I think of how much time I wasted feed-backing students that weren’t putting in the necessary effort. And what I mean by that wasn’t that they weren’t worth the feedback, it was just the feedback was going to waste. So I was spending all this time trying to feedback, but I didn’t realize the issue was that the student wasn’t engaging with any of the feedback along the way.

So I wonder if we can maybe chunk this down, use those learning goals to help chunk it down and then almost have a daily something that you get a sense. And it also might change students’ perspective on like, oh, wow. Like when students ask in our classes and they say, is this for marks? That doesn’t happen anymore because we’re like, everything, everything impacts your mark. Everything you show me is going to be utilized to give you this grade at the end. And it’s like, really, we shouldn’t have to even say that.

Like, students, I wish they knew that all the work they put in is going to help them in the long run. But in reality, it’s just like them knowing that we’re constantly watching in order to help, not to hurt, not to punish, but to help them, I think gives them a different sense of why they’re doing the work they’re doing each and every day, instead of just like waiting to cram for that test or waiting for the test and just not worrying about it.

Big ideas here. We’re going to pause, get your response, and then we’re going to talk about maybe some takeaways and maybe some next steps. And get you rocking and rolling here on a Monday. Because I know you’ve got that run, is still in the tank for you, right?

We’ll see about that. Yes. Hopefully. But yeah. Great information for sure. Just sitting here thinking about how to restructure the great book in a way that accurately reflects the student’s learning over time. I watched the FreshGrade module lesson you gave, John, and using those shapes and all those different colors and all that. And I’m wondering if I can make something very similar to that, like a spreadsheet, like maybe a tab to what I currently have, and then you have a prompt. I don’t want to say call an exit ticket because you don’t need to do that every single day with something, it could be in the beginning of the lesson, maybe the middle of the lesson, just to give me an idea of where students are on that learning goal, based on how far we’ve gotten so far in the Desmos activity. Some kind of checkpoints. Like when you’re going to track, but there’s different checkpoints.

I’m wondering if I can put something there or maybe it could be something I do in the virtual classroom to get a sense of where students are responding and your chat note with me or putting them in breakout rooms and they can do a prompt there. I can look at the work when class is over and put a mark or something in the Excel spreadsheet at that point in time. And just kind of keep up with that throughout the course of the year.

And then of course, I can then somehow combine those scores and put them into the grade book in a way that I feel is good and correct in my opinion. And then also [inaudible 01:09:06] having those grades in there for the assessments as well, standing there but not being the only thing that I look at when determining a final grade. So I’m thinking about all those things and trying to somehow make it all work.

I do like using Desmos a lot because students, when they come to class, they love it. They always asked me like, “Okay, what are we doing today in class?” “We’re going to do a polygraph today.” So I’m wondering if I can use some of these screens to gauge your understanding and put a mark on and going from there. That’s a great advice there. And I got to start thinking about how I want to do that, but at least gives me a step in the right direction.


It sounds like you’ve got some great kind of next steps. And I know that we’d love to follow up with you in the future in a few months. And obviously we’re going to follow up with you in the academy as you’re going, like you’ve got your progress log. We can interact there for sure in the academy, but we definitely could follow up vocally here on the podcast in about six months near the end of the year when we’re kind of wrapped up the 2020 and 2021 school year.

But before we take off here for this morning, Nick, I’m wondering how you feeling right now after this call? You were coming in with wondering some stuff. We’re going to go out. You’ve got some next steps to walk away with, but how are you feeling so far about your confidence level on doing those next steps?

Yeah. I feel really good. I’m going to take my skills using spreadsheets and try to come up with something that’s going to align with the learning goals, looking at the grade book maybe, having learning goals up on top, and being in more control of the grade book manually then having a computer give a score for a student. Just having more control over that and being okay with changing scores based on student’s progress. So I feel more confident doing that now.

I love it. I love it. And I think always thinking about when there’s something you don’t know about a student, what they know, understand, or can do, asking. I think that’s always a good one. And then also opening that door for students to have the opportunity where you give them this grade. And if they know that this grade is dynamic, that it actually is trying, you’re trying, never will you ever come up with something that’s the right mark for a student.

There’s no way to do that. It’s like an approximation based on what. And by opening that door for students as well to say, “Hey, listen, this is based on what I know about you now. And if you think that there’s some area that I don’t know enough about what know, understand, or can do in this math class, I want you to come and tell me. You can privately message me. We can set up a small group time. Whatever it is, I want you to show me what you think I don’t know about you right now. And that is going to influence this mark. “And I find as soon as I open that door for students, it changes the dynamic about why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s not just doing math class just for the sake of doing it.

You know what, Nick? It’s been a fantastic time here learning with you. John and I have been doing our best trying to minimize the length of episodes recently. We did a really horrible job of it today. That means that we really dug in into some really common struggles that we all experience in math classrooms. So we want to thank you a ton for taking the time, for being a part of Math Moment Maker community, sharing your experiences with the online workshop, and the assessment course, and the academy, and all kinds of great, great things that you’ve been doing.

Clearly, you are following in the footsteps of Eddie Vedder and trying to continuously get better at your craft. So our hats go off to you for that. And I’m hoping that we’ll be able to check in with you, obviously, through the academy, we’ll continue to do so. But here on the podcast, maybe in nine to 12 months to get you back on and see where you’re at.

That’d be fabulous. Thanks, guys.

Awesome stuff. Thanks so much for joining us here, Nick. And we’ll talk soon.

Take care you, guys.

Take care. As always both, John and I learned so much from these Math Mentoring Moment episodes as we try to remove those hurdles, those speed bumps that pebble in your shoe from day-to-day math teaching. But remember, we don’t want it to wash away like footprints in the sand. So make sure that you’re reflecting on what you’ve learned. For John and I, we get this opportunity to always come back to conversations and write the intro and the outro and the website copy. All of this stuff is helpful for us to really solidify some of the discussions that we’ve had and to ensure that we can make some changes.

A great way to hold yourself accountable as you reflect is to write it down. Or even better, share with someone, your partner, a colleague, or maybe a Math Moment Maker from the Math Moment Maker community. You can comment on the show notes page or, hey, tag us @MakeMathMoments on any social media channel. And also get into our private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12.

Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming Math Mentoring Moment episode where you can share a big math class struggle, apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. And remember, it’s a very short, short form. You’re just given us a general sense of what the struggle might be. And then we send you the details so that we can dive in and really try to come to some sort of next-step together as a Math Moment Maker Community. So again, head on over to makemathmoments.com/mentor and fire in your big math class struggle.

In order to ensure you don’t miss out on the new episodes as we put them out on Monday mornings, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

Show notes, links to resources, and complete transcripts that you can read from the web or download and take with you, go on over to makemathmoments.com/episode138. That is makemathmoments.com/pisode138. Well, until next time, math moment maker friends, I’m Kyle Pearce.

And I’m John Orr.

High-fives for us. High-five…

For you.


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The Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast with Kyle Pearce & Jon Orr

Weekly interviews, strategy, and advice for building a math classroom that you wish you were in.


Download the 2-page printable 3 Act Math Tip Sheet to ensure that you have the best start to your journey using 3 Act math Tasks to spark curiosity and fuel sense making in your math classroom!

3 Act Math Tip Sheet


Each lesson consists of:

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson consists of a Teacher Guide to lead you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure your lesson runs without a hitch!

Each Teacher Guide consists of:

  • Intentionality of the lesson;
  • A step-by-step walk through of each phase of the lesson;
  • Visuals, animations, and videos unpacking big ideas, strategies, and models we intend to emerge during the lesson;
  • Sample student approaches to assist in anticipating what your students might do;
  • Resources and downloads including Keynote, Powerpoint, Media Files, and Teacher Guide printable PDF; and,
  • Much more!

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson begins with a story, visual, video, or other method to Spark Curiosity through context.

Students will often Notice and Wonder before making an estimate to draw them in and invest in the problem.

After student voice has been heard and acknowledged, we will set students off on a Productive Struggle via a prompt related to the Spark context.

These prompts are given each lesson with the following conditions:

  • No calculators are to be used; and,
  • Students are to focus on how they can convince their math community that their solution is valid.

Students are left to engage in a productive struggle as the facilitator circulates to observe and engage in conversation as a means of assessing formatively.

The facilitator is instructed through the Teacher Guide on what specific strategies and models could be used to make connections and consolidate the learning from the lesson.

Often times, animations and walk through videos are provided in the Teacher Guide to assist with planning and delivering the consolidation.

A review image, video, or animation is provided as a conclusion to the task from the lesson.

While this might feel like a natural ending to the context students have been exploring, it is just the beginning as we look to leverage this context via extensions and additional lessons to dig deeper.

At the end of each lesson, consolidation prompts and/or extensions are crafted for students to purposefully practice and demonstrate their current understanding. 

Facilitators are encouraged to collect these consolidation prompts as a means to engage in the assessment process and inform next moves for instruction.

In multi-day units of study, Math Talks are crafted to help build on the thinking from the previous day and build towards the next step in the developmental progression of the concept(s) we are exploring.

Each Math Talk is constructed as a string of related problems that build with intentionality to emerge specific big ideas, strategies, and mathematical models. 

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

MMM Unit - Snack Time Fractions Unit


Partitive Division Resulting in a Fraction

Shot Put Multi Day Problem Based Unit - Algebraic Substitution


Equivalence and Algebraic Substitution

Wooly Worm Race - Representing and Adding Fractions


Fractions and Metric Units


Scavenger Hunt - Data Management and Finding The Mean


Represent Categorical Data & Explore Mean

Downloadable resources including blackline mastershandouts, printable Tips Sheetsslide shows, and media files do require a Make Math Moments Academy Membership.


Pedagogically aligned for teachers of K through Grade 12 with content specific examples from Grades 3 through Grade 10.

In our self-paced, 12-week Online Workshop, you'll learn how to craft new and transform your current lessons to Spark Curiosity, Fuel Sense Making, and Ignite Your Teacher Moves to promote resilient problem solvers.