Perceptions on summer math packets vs. online refresher

Is it possible to transform our summer math packets into a more engaging, interactive experience?

At our last curriculum committee meeting I pitched the idea of retooling our summer math packets by offering an optional digital learning experience using Canvas. While there’s little debate that summer slide occurs, are math packets the answer? Until this year we had no alternative, but since our district has invested in Canvas and students in grades 6-12 are now 1:1 iPad, we now have the ability to leverage the technology and create an alternative that is hopefully better than worksheets.

To plant the seed I created a dummy Canvas course (feel free to poke around and enroll –even use a fake email and username if you want to remain anonymous). It contains one module on equations which consists of:


Here’s a section from the Overview page.homepage

Most of my colleagues haven’t dabbled in Canvas to the extent I have, so I merely wanted to present a framework which is a work in progress. While we tabled the idea for this summer, we still had a lively discussion. There was a lot a conversation centering on whether creating a self-paced course was worth the time and effort. Would students do it, would they wait till the last minute, would they take the time to watch the videos and do any extra work, would they complete an optional task? There were also questions on grading optional tasks, where would we find the time to create it, and would this minimize the summer slide.

With all the talk about students’ work habits, I realized I needed to get their input. We have developed some perceptions about our students so we need to either confirm or refute them.

I surveyed 103 7th grade standard math students, representing four classes. Not included in the 7th grade survey were two pre-algebra math classes and one algebra class. One colleague and I surveyed each of our two standard classes using Google Forms. I did my best to create an unbiased survey, but you’ll see where I missed the boat.


What pleasantly surprised me were the number of students who would voluntarily watch a tutorial if they needed a refresher. The next set of results surprised me a bit as well.


Seventy-five percent said they would not voluntarily complete extra worksheets if they needed a refresher. Not surprising for seventh graders. Is there a way to change this mindset? The second question in the above image is not reliable. While I’m impressed that 80% said they would go above and beyond if the task interested them, the response choices were too limiting. The manner in which the students completed the packet was of particular interest. Nearly 20% waited until the end of summer while nearly 60% completed the packet a bit at a time throughout the summer. This is quite different than what the teachers expected.

In the graph below about 68% think apps and internet resources are somewhat to very valuable to learning concepts. It is here where I would want to leverage the technology. GeoGebra, Desmos, and other virtual manipulatives would make an nice addition to summer review. So would other online activities such as SolveMe Puzzles, Refraction, Lure of the Labyrinth, 101 Questions, etc. I could even include puzzles and strategy games like Game About Squares, 2048, Set, and KenKen.


The above graph surprised me and it didn’t surprise me. I looked at the spreadsheet to see who answered a 1 or 2. The students I had who disagreed had strong math skills so perhaps they should experience something more. And if that’s the case, shouldn’t all students have the opportunity to experience something more?

survey 4

For the last graph, sixty percent said between 1/2 hour to one hour per week is a reasonable amount of time to spend on summer math review. Nearly every student who chose “Other” suggest no summer packet. One student said 15 minutes per week, and another said 1 page per day.

At the end of the survey I gave students an opportunity to share “anything else.” Overwhelmingly they said they didn’t want to do the packet. I get it they’re kids. Does that mean they also wouldn’t want to do a summer review on Canvas? Probably, although they did not specifically articulate that in the open ended response.

What to make of all of this.

Is it possible to make summer review more engaging and interactive? Absolutely.

Are we there yet? No, but maybe this time next year we will be.

I would love to learn how your school handles summer review. I do think an online format can offer more–if done properly.

Collaborative learning with Canvas discussions

This year I’ve been using the Canvas learning management system primarily as a work flow tool–because that’s what it is–primarily. It’s heavy on teacher productivity. Post, turn in, provide feedback, and electronically grade assignments. Create pages for resources or a week-at-a-glance. Build modules to deliver content. But what are the students doing?

For me the best feature Canvas has to offer is the discussion forum. It’s a place where student learning is visible. It’s a place where students learn from others and contribute to the learning of others.

To launch our 7th grade unit on percent I posted a discussion prompt using Robert Kaplinsky‘s Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon task from the 101Questions site.

BBB questions

I probably shouldn’t have led the students by saying, “Here are my questions, what are yours?” but I was impressed with their questions. Here are a few:


The students not only had to post two questions, they also had to respond to one other student. What impressed me more was how the online discussion minimized student status, gave all students a voice, and allowed them to contribute.


The following day students explored the answers to their questions with Kaplinsky’s Act 2. But my point is how the on-line discussion facilitated collaborative learning.

Here’s another example. Students shared their solutions to a small task, gave feedback, and later revised their work. Some posted as a narrative while others uploaded their work.

Percent rectangle

percent shade2

I plan to add more discussion forums in the future. Overuse can kill a good thing, but a well placed discussion is gold.

Partnering with parents, keeping them informed, Canvas

Since we returned from winter break I’ve been making a concerted effort to reach out to parents. Why the awakening? I had been so focused on implementing interventions (grade level lunch crew for students who don’t turn in assignments across multiple subjects, pulling students into math lab, etc.) that parents were left out of the loop. It came to a head when a parent never knew her child had been in lunch crew at the request of multiple teachers more than 10 times in one quarter.

I want to blame our RtI program for taking my eye off the ball. I wanted to hear, “Let’s bring in the parents when this isn’t working.” RtI has many shortcomings, but it’s my responsibility to communicate to parents. I didn’t. I should have called or emailed instead of relying on my online grade book.

Partnering with parents, keeping them informed
Two weeks ago I had a twenty minute phone call with a parent. She revealed intense frustration. Frustrated with the teachers; frustrated with her child; frustrated with herself. To repair the relationship I started contacting Mom daily, informing her if an assignment wasn’t turned in, if her child skipped lunch crew, and an occasional success when her child did turn in an assignment. The phone call and email communication have been replaced with notations in the assignment notebook. An assignment contract is now in place. Time will tell if this intervention will work, but at least the parent has been formally informed.

On Friday I contacted a few parents about their student’s eligibility for sports. One parent was quite frustrated because their child chooses to show them only what he wants to them to see. With most assignments on the iPad Mom is looking for transparency. The timing could not have been better.

Earlier in the week I sent an email notifying parents that our learning management system, Canvas, is now accessible to parents. Instructions on how to create an account were included in the email. So far four parents have created an account.

This post ends happily for me because this is the transparency the parent is looking for. My Canvas course is structured using pages. Each page provides an overview of the week, with links to in class practice, assignments, etc.

canvas week

When the parent creates the account he/she will also be able to see the feedback I’ve given to the student. For example, here’s a student who is not balancing equations with the one-step process.

student work
Textbook page in Word; pdf created for students to load into Notability.

I provide feedback.

student work feedback

Several days pass. The parent hasn’t created a Canvas account but must have talked to the student about correcting the work. The student resubmits.

student work2

I provide this feedback.

student work feedback2

Canvas is not the be all end all, but the transparency it offers does help keep parents informed.

5 Practices: applying lessons learned from chapter 2

5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions

Chapter 2: Setting goals and selecting tasks

If I want my seventh graders to have a meaningful mathematical discussion I have to raise the level of thinking in the learning target. But it’s not over yet. I also need to select an appropriate task to support the learning goal.

As I wrote last week, I’m really enamored with this number puzzle.

Choose any number. Add the number that is 1 more than your original number. Add 11. Divide by 2. Subtract your original number. What is your answer?  Do the puzzle again for other numbers. Why do you get the answers that you get? Will this always work?

This puzzle fits nicely with our 7th grade expressions and equations unit and has the potential to be an anchor problem. Let’s look at how I can modify the learning target to raise the level of thinking and mathematical discussion.

Original target: Students will translate verbal phrases into an expression or equation.

I know my students can handle a more robust learning target. The number puzzle can certainly support it. This is still a work in progress, but here’s my revised target:

Revised target: After translating a verbal phrase into an equation, students will discover how grouping symbols and order of operations provide clarity.

When I gave the puzzle to the students, their first inclination was to simply follow the directions. Based on their work, their equation would look something like this:


This lesson now has a much better chance for meaningful mathematical discussion by focusing on grouping symbols, order of operations and how their use provides clarity. I could begin by saying, “Take out the equals sign and question mark. Make equivalent expressions using parentheses, brackets, fraction bars, etc.” We could then have a discussion as to which equations best represent the puzzle.


As I mentioned this is still a work in progress. If you have insights, please share.

Other bloggers discussing Chapter 2 can be found at the link below.

5 Practices–establishing a purpose for reading

Middle School Math Rules blogger Sherrie Nackel is facilitating an online book study on 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. I read the book last summer, but I honestly didn’t get much from it. It wasn’t the book’s fault. It was mine.

Enter the reading fix-up strategies…

Re-read.  I’m going to re-read this book, but as I do I will take a different approach. If I re-read it the same way I first read it, I’ll get the same results. I need to do something different.

Establish a purpose for reading. Over the summer I read the 5 Practices in a survey mode. This time my purpose is to directly apply what I’m reading to improve specific mathematical discussions taking place in the classroom.

Make connections. When I re-read Chapter One I immediately thought about a discussion my students recently had on a Number Puzzle. I want to improve that conversation.

number puzzle

There are a gazillion more discussions I want to improve, but let’s take one thing at a time.

I know I’m a bit ahead of myself; chapter two is about selecting goals and tasks. But given all of this, I want to put that Number Puzzle task under the 5 practices microscope.  It has the potential to be an outstanding anchor problem that can be revisited and discussed throughout our expressions and equations unit.

Chapter One of the 5 Practices introduces anticipating, monitoring, selecting, sequencing, and connecting. I’ll be looking at how to improve the math talk by doing a better job of anticipating responses, monitoring student responses in real time, selecting specific students’ work to advance the discussion, sequencing those selections, and connecting mathematical ideas.

I appreciate Sherrie spearheading this book study.  Be sure to click the link below to read other bloggers who are writing about the 5 Practices.

Exploring a WTF problem

We’re starting a new unit on expressions and equations and I was looking for an appropriate warm-up. I wanted something intriguing but could also double as an intro to translating verbal phrases into expressions and equations. After thumbing through this Walch resource I picked the following. Only later did I connect it to Dan Meyer’s post on WTF problems. His Problem #4 is similar to this:

Choose any number. Add the number that is 1 more than your original number. Add 11. Divide by 2. Subtract your original number. What is your answer?  Do the puzzle again for other numbers. Why do you get the answers that you get? Will this always work?




As I visited each group I asked, “Why are you always getting 6?” I heard vague responses such as, “It has to do with a pattern.” Time was running out so I set the exploration aside to return to my original objective–translating verbal phrases.

We translated the problem as:


It’s at this point where I think the exploration will become more fruitful. Right now the students are not making any generalizations with the work they’re producing. But if I have them take one of their problems and represent it similar to this, perhaps they’ll see:


I’ll be anxious to explore this warm-up more when the weather warms up. Hopefully we’ll be back in school tomorrow.

Tri-state EQuIP rubric

Every time our math committee meets we are energized by the progress we’ve made but at the same time we feel deflated because there is so much more work ahead of us. Last week we were again reminded that our math units need bolstering.

On Wedesday we once again analyzed our progress using the Tri-state EQuIP Rubric designed by Achieve. For the 7th grade rational numbers unit there are four areas we need work on:

Linking Mathematical Practices to learning opportunities and assessment items.

We hadn’t formally identified the applicable MPs to each learning sheet and activity so we went back and did that. Examining our assessments was next. My colleague and I experienced a giant YIKES on the decimals assessment because hardly any items could be linked to a MP. Since we ran out of time we need to revise those items plus look at the other assessments in the unit.


Explicit writing, speaking, and listening opportunities

We made some progress here by modifying directions on some activities. For example our subtracting integers portfolio was modified to include two peer reviews. The next time I assign this task students will create a draft of their video using Explain Everything then two students will watch, listen, and provide written feedback before creating the final video.


Instructional supports

We have some intervention and enrichment resources but we need find more and better organize the ones we currently have. The rubric also identifies the need for a performance task for the unit. I think we inadvertently listed it in the instructional supports section.


Scoring rubrics and pre-assessment reflection plans

Formally identifying the characteristics of partial credit, high partial credit, and full credit are on the drawing board. We also need to create a pre-assessment reflection plan for students to identify their strengths and what they need to review. This also includes helping them design an action plan before they take the assessment.


Lots of work ahead.