Inside My TCEA14 Session: From Verbs to Tech, Apps to Invigorate Algebra

Today, I taught a session at our state technology conference, TCEA, during Math Academy. My session, Tools and Apps to Invigorate Algebra, was all about web tools and applications to help teachers build more learner centered activities for students.

I approached this session from a standards based perspective instead of an app-based perspective. Yes, there are tons of apps in the app store that could have surely filled the 50 minute session but knowing what I do about sessions, teachers and classrooms…I knew that focusing on how to utilize a few great tools really well would serve most teachers better.

In Texas, we are not common core and what often happens is that when teachers find great ideas or lessons online, they are a bit hesitant to embrace them because of the CCSS label. The thing is that if we apply what we should know about about our own standards, we will see that many of the CCSS ideas most certainly do apply in Texas.

I started the session by sharing the Lead4Ward App which comes with tools like the color coded STAAR snapshot which places standards side by side according to category and college readiness. I may not be such a huge fan of STAAR testing but in terms of readability, this form is an excellent resource for teachers. I found it especially useful when helping teachers learn how to “unpack” the verbs within our standards. In addition, teachers can access the “Cognitive Complexity: Verbs of the TEKS” page which list out the most commonly used verbs by subject. Once I looked at the list of verbs, I had another bright idea.

I went through the TEKS and highlighted all of the verbs, which speak to the actions that kids should “minimally” be able to do in Algebra.  I then took all of those verbs and created a wordle. The visual that it created lent itself to quite a bit of spark in the room…which seemed to be “aha moments” for some. It should be noted that “determined” was almost always followed by “the reasonableness” within the TEKS and that was important to consider as we discussed what the boldness of the verbs meant.

The point that I wanted to make was that Algebra should be a course where kids are “DOING”. They should be investigating, analyzing data, interpreting, predicting, describing and yes…determining the reasonableness. Technology can most certainly support students in doing so.

With that in mind, I chose to spend time sharing Desmos and how this, highly underused tool in Texas, can support algebraic understanding. (We tend to stick with our “test approved” calculators) In addition, I shared Des-man, the penny project, 3-Act Math Task, Visual Patterns and several blogs along with Dan Meyer, Fawn Nguyen, Chris Danielson, and pretty much the twitter math community. We spent time looking at these tools both from the teacher and student perspective. I believe that doing that made the difference.

What I found was that by focusing on how these tools could be used in depth in relation to the standards that we have to teach, the teachers who were participating walked away feeling like they had some tangible tools that they could use and maybe a different way of thinking.

Click here to go straight to the google slide of my presentation.


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