Google Sites: Learning in Action: Final Project Reflections

For my final project, my Algebra 1 students created a Google Site that contains explanations, examples, videos, worksheets, practice problems, quizzes, and so much more! For all the concepts they have covered this semester, there is an overview page, a links page, a practice problems page and a quiz page.  Students created videos where they explained concepts to their peers, either through demonstrating the step-by-step process needed to solve a problem, or through entertaining songs created about a formula or a solution.  Most of these videos ended up on the overview page for the chapter.  The other page that may need some explanation is the links page.  Here students put links to other related resources they found on the internet.  This might involve Khan Academy videos on the topics being covered.  Or it could be a math site where careful explanations are given, such as or To balance out these more “dry” methods of review, there are hopefully also links to some games that allow practice of mathematical skills to be combined with entertainment.  The hope is that each student will be able to find some extra resource that will help them review in a form that suits their learning style.

I am very proud of the class for the hard work they put into creating a great site and for the creativity they showed in their approach to the site and to the videos.

The hope is that this site will not only be valuable to them as they study this semester for their assessments, but that it will also be a resource they can refer back to in future years as they study Geometry and Algebra 2.  At the beginning of this year, I had a number of my past students who were just beginning Algebra 2 come and ask me to quickly remind them how to factor using the technique they learned in Algebra 1.  While it was a privilege to help them, next year I can just send the students back to this site.

As with all technology, the Google site is not perfect.  For example, there are difficulties with uploading some material.  Though the students found ways to insert graphs, there are other graphics that did not work when inserted into the Google site.   Also, mathematical notation is limited in the Google site.  This was a minor inconvenience in an Algebra 1 class, but would be a major distraction in a Calculus class.  Whether this issue was only a problem because Algebra 1 students are not always aware of the importance of notation remains to be seen.  (Hopefully next year when I get my IB Higher Level Year 2 class to create their own site they will find ways around the limitation.  YES, I already have plans to continue and expand my technology use!)

The other issue that caused significant problems related to the mistakes that inevitably ended up on the overview page.  Because editing access for each chapter was only given to a select few, other students could not post comments when they detected an error.  This meant they could not work towards correcting the error.  To overcome this, each chapter was given its own “Comments” page that the whole class could edit.  The goal of this page was for the class to become editors and proof-readers.  If they found a mistake they would post a comment alerting the chapter creators to the error, and giving a correct solution.  Other students could then agree that a mistake had been made, or they could offer their own reason for why the original approach was correct.  The idea was to start a dialogue where students had to justify their mathematical reasoning while helping to improve the site.  (It sounded like a good plan anyway.)  Students did end up using the comment section in an unexpected way though … for the chapter on exponents they each ended up writing about their own misconceptions.  They would say what they were struggling with and how an example on the overview page helped them to understand the concept better.  Cool!

Being human, there are guaranteed to be some mistakes on the overview pages that do not get identified.  Regardless, it was a step in the right direction.  Now I just have to figure out how to improve the editing and correcting process.  Since at least one group creating a Google site for me next year will be seniors, I will most likely give all of the students in the class full editing rights to the whole site, rather than restricting access.  Hopefully at that stage of their development, the students are mature enough not to erase or mess with other peoples’ input.  (Though time will tell I guess.)

One of the unexpected benefits of this project (besides once again having students complete my course homework for me), was watching their joy and excitement as they were given some control through the editing rights to their chapter, some freedom to learn and study in multiple ways, hopefully finding a system that worked for them, and some creative opportunities, on a large scale through the video production as well as through simple things like the font, color and organization of their pages.  They truly rose to the challenge.  (I just hope that they learned some important math along the way.)

So that is what the students did.  Now, for me …

A year ago, I would never have attempted this project.  I would have appreciated the benefits and marveled at the options, all the while justifying why I could never do that!  Yet here I am!  There is still a long way to go on the technology journey, but that first big leap has been taken …  Let’s see where it all goes from here.

Before ending this course I have to thank Jeff for persevering with me.  I am sure there must have been many days where he hung his head in despair and longed for the simpler world of dealing with adolescent digital natives.  Thanks for opening up a whole new world to me Jeff!  I hope to one day make you proud!

It is hard to believe that the journey begun nearly two years ago is coming to an end.  We have run the race and the finish line is within our reach.  Or is it …

The official, graded portion of the journey is definitely coming to an end.  A mere two year marathon …

You Can Do It by sirwiseowl Keith Davenport

But the true journey to implement up-to-date technology into the classroom … that is a long road.

The long road ahead! By qmnoic (Matt MacGillivray)

It is not always an easy road, as challenges and obstacles are faced …

long hard road compressed by alvazer (Alvaro Vega F.)

But there are definitely rewards along the way that make it all worthwhile.

Monument valley by Vvillamon (Vicente Villamon)

So let’s not just ride off into the sunset!

The Long Road Home by Stuck in Customs (Trey Ratcliff)

A Tale of Two Classes (and Two Choices)

Soon after our face-to-face COETAIL session for Course 3 I had the opportunity to learn a very cool movie-making software called Corel Video Studio.  This seemed serendipitous since one option for our project for course 3 involved creating a visual media presentation for the classroom.  With great energy and enthusiasm and armed with my new skills, I began to collect photos and video clips to use in my presentation.  However, as the project began to take shape, I paused and reflected … hmmm … Should I create this project, or should I take option 2 and instead of creating a presentation myself assign my classes to create a presentation?  Choices, choices!

Often we talk about the contrasts between digital natives and digital immigrants, and the imaginative and technologically creative talents of the natives.  So I made my choice!  I am going to learn from the natives!  The plan is to glean new ideas from my students while allowing them to review for their IB and AP exams through their presentations.  However, to make this a valuable learning tool for me as well as for them, I hope to include a post in our next course where I have enhanced my own presentation with the skills learned through observing my student’s process.

But now to make it interesting …  I have an AP Calculus AB class taking their final external exam in two weeks and an IB Higher Level Math class taking their final at the same time.  Do I want them both to do the presentation in the same way with the same set of instructions?  This was a tougher decision.  In the end I decided to use vastly different approaches so I could compare the results.

My IB HL class was given very general instructions.  We broke the topics of the course up and had each person sign up for two topics.  They had to prepare two small presentations: one for each topic.  The only requirement was that for at least one they had to use some form of movie-making software.  To reiterate this, we emphasized that at most one of the presentations could be done using PowerPoint.  The instructions they were given simply told them the goal of the assignment.  They were to create two presentations that would help both them and their classmates review key material for their external exam.  The specifics of what they should include and how they should do it were left open.  Also, of the two presentations they prepared, one of them would be presented in class; the other had to be able to stand alone so peers could go through it and use it for personal review at their leisure.  Both presentations had to be posted on the OLC.

For my AP Calculus class, I am part of a team of three teachers who teach different sections of the same course.  We all set the same review assignment.  For this group, they were given very specific instructions on what their presentation should look like and what it should include.  The rubric was included and each group was assigned class time to present their content.  The document is given below.


You have seen, studied, and excelled at many calculus topics throughout the school year.  Now it’s time to get ready for the final event – the AP Calculus AB Exam on May 4.  As you assume the role of teacher for the day, you will review the major topics and practice problems on the AP Exam. 


  1. Partner up!  
  2. Receive your topic.
  3. Limits, Continuity, and Differentiability (three ways to evaluate limits, when is a function continuous, when is a function differentiable, IVT)
  4. Derivative Rules (power, product, quotient, chain, implicit, trig, inverse trig, exponential, logarithmic, MVT)
  5. Derivative Graphs and Applications (extrema, concavity, EVT, linear motion with derivatives, related rates, optimization)
  6. Approximating Integrals (area, Riemann sums, trap method, average value)
  7. Integration Rules (definite, indefinite, u-sub, Fundamental Theorem)
  8. Integration Applications (net change, linear motion with integrals, area, volume)
  9. Grab Bag (exponential growth and decay, separable differential equations, slope fields)
    1. Develop a 20-25 presentation to highlight your topic using a 10-12 slide PowerPoint or similar program.  You will have two class days in which to plan together.  Remember, you are reviewing, not teaching, your topic.  Choose what to include carefully highlighting what is most important.  Be sure to include the following:
  • Title slide with topic and group members’ names
  • Main ideas, rules, reminders, and memory tricks
  • Meaningful images and examples
  • Accurate information
  • 2+ practice MC AP problems from Sample Tests III and IV with time worked in for the class to solve
  • A clear layout
  • 24+ point font
  • Citations for images and content from outside sources
  • Something to make us smile
  1. Submit your presentation to our shared folder by 7am on April 1.  If you need anything photocopied for your presentation, bring it to class on April 1 as well.
  2. Practice and present.  Speak slowly, clearly, and confidently.  Remember, you are the expert!    


Review Assessments:

  1. Homework from Review Book and past AP problems
  2. Daily Quizzes on previously reviewed topics.  You can drop your lowest two review quizzes.
  3. PowerPoint and Presentation for Test Grade

PowerPoint and Presentation Rubric 

  • Content                                                                                                          _____ /30
    • All main ideas, rules, reminders, and memory tricks covered
    • Meaningful images and examples
    • Accurate information
    • 2+ practice MC AP problems from Sample Tests III and IV with time worked in for the class to solve
    • Citations for images and content from outside sources
    • Something to make us smile


  • Format                                                                                                           _____ / 15
    • Title slide with topic and group members’ names
    • Clear layout
    • 24+ point font
    • Slides are easy to read and understand


  • Delivery and Coordination                                                                        _____ / 15
    • Use a clear and confident voice
    • Speak with your face, not your back, towards the class
    • Summarize material effectively and avoid reading line for line from your slides
    • Interact with other students – ask questions and solicit feedback
    • Show evidence of organization and partner coordination
    • Submit work on-time

      Total:  _____ / 60 

Before I give you my comments on the final products, let me share one presentation from each class.  The first is a project from my IB HL class covering half of the Statistics and Probability topic.  The student chose to use MovieMaker for his stand alone portion.  He also posted it on YouTube.  When he was determining what would be most helpful for his peers to review, he chose to primarily focus on formulas.  Rather than have an audio track where he explained ideas, he chose to use a music track with everything else presented as text.

YouTube Preview Image

The second project is from my AP Calculus AB class covering integration applications.  This partnership chose to present their material in class using a combination of PowerPoint and Prezi.  They opened both documents before class and then just switched between them during their presentation.  Since it is difficult to instruct another person on exactly when and how to switch from one part of the presentation to the other they combined the two sections together using SmartRecorder.  Unfortunately, they began the prezi portion of the presentation on the wrong slide.  This will be posted on the OLC for their classmates to use for review.  Since they are presenting in class, they do not have an audio track either.

TC and DH Applications of Integration

If I was to give this assignment to a class again there are a number of things I would do differently.  Firstly, on the day the assignment is given I would talk about the benefits of images and how we remember information.  I would also spend a few minutes talking about PowerPoints and what makes a PowerPoint presentation effective.  Though the IB presentation above has all the key information, I would recommend that the content be presented with more visual prompts such as the Venn diagram and graphs and that the material be given in more practical terms or at least connected to the IB exam.  For example this may mean that they include some IB style questions which focus on a particular topic.  The AB group had more visuals that they used to their benefit in front of the class, but they needed to make sure each screen was still readable.

When assigning the project I would also try to give them an example of a good project, especially highlighting a project that uses a different mode of presentation (rather than just PowerPoint).  In AB, out of the seven groups only one used Prezi, the rest just did PowerPoints.  In the IB class, I was regularly asked if they had to do a movie and repeatedly explained why they could not just do PowerPoints.  Students are comfortable with PowerPoint and consider it the easy option.  To encourage more creative work, I would change the rubric to include a creativity grade.

Next time I would definitely give more specific instructions and rubrics to both classes.  Though the quality of the IB work was good, it lacked consistency.  One student presented a PowerPoint where the formulas did not have key subscripts, making the information useless.  Before posting it on the OLC, those details needed to be corrected.  The IB class was also less likely to include examples because it was not written up in a rubric.  Also, the value of audio for some topics would be addressed here.

Finaly, I want to try this out again on a topic that they have not been taught.  Preparing an engaging review session is very difficult.  It would be interesting to see how they do when they are coming up with new material.

Despite some of the unexpected pitfalls that were encountered, I believe this was a valuable learning experience for both the students and me.  I will definitely do it again and improve using the lessons learned here. 

I am attaching a third presentation here because the student did a great job at bringing humor to his presentation and thinking through how he could present his concepts in a visual manner.  Unfortunately, there are a few notation errors which influence the effectiveness of this particular presentation as a review tool.   Great creative thought though!

Stanley’s Vectors

Indulge Me … Why I Teach

Technology.  Teaching.  Technology.  Teaching.  Technology. 

These words have been running in circles in my head.  Actually, circles would suggest that they are following a pattern and have a designated path.  No such luck.  The part of the analogy that does fit though – there is no end to the circulation. 

Teaching.  Technology.  Teaching.  Technology.  Teaching.  Technology … 

Ever Decreasing Circles by Simon Tong

Two youtube videos “When I Become a Teacher” and “A Vision of K-12 Students”  have caused me to think further about … you guessed it … Technology and Teaching.  “When I Become a Teacher” shows what happens when we let fear or laziness dictate how we teach; when creativity and initiative are surrendered for convenience and ease.  “A Vision of K-12 Students” shows what our students crave in the classroom; creativity and collaboration unleashed.  The first raises the question, “why do I teach?”  The second raises the question, “do I engage the students with technology?”

Let me give the short answer to these questions before asking for your indulgence with a long answer. 

When it comes down to it, if you ask me why I teach and then hang around long enough to hear my answer, the ultimate reason is … because of the students!  They are why I do this; they are why I stay late; they are why I keep working on lessons and trying to improve them; they are why I want to invest in educational technology.  Students make this journey worthwhile! 

As to the second question, the answer is unfortunately “not enough”.  I use technology (and will post later on some of the technology being used in my classroom), but is it enough?  Can a digital wannabe really engage digital natives?  These questions are still being pondered. 

Now I ask for your indulgence as I share a story involving students and technology. 

Last year my Honors Algebra II with Trigonometry students were given a portfolio assignment modeled on the IB criteria.  IB literature gives a number of specific purposes for assigning portfolio work, including that it “deepens understanding and provides intrinsic motivation”.  The assignment was written by a colleague I was fortunate enough to work with for three years, Mr. Clement.  The topic was cryptography and the basic tools needed were matrices.  Now, let’s face it, getting to decipher and encipher messages is pretty cool! 

Students were asked to work with a partner and were given ten days to complete the assignment.  This is one of the few occasions where students were back in my office within hours of being given a long term assignment to discuss their current findings and techniques.  It was exciting to see them so enthusiastic about Math.  Their creative juices were flowing.  Each partnership presented their findings in a creative manner and I was often fortunate enough to have been given a role in their various melodramas.  Reading their papers was fabulous.  I was cast as an army commander, a math wizard, a drug lord (that one worried me a bit!), a long dead psychic, and a children’s story character to name but a few.  Imaginations had run wild while performing mathematical calculations.  I am indebted to Mr. Clement for sharing this assignment with me.  It was one of the highlights of the semester.  As you can tell, I could talk for hours about the extraordinary work of this exceptional group of students. 

Instead, I want to break the class into three groups and talk about how they used technology.  Group 1 fulfilled the obligations of the assignment.  They typed up their creative stories and used MathType for the matrices.  They met the requirements.  Group 2 finished the main part of the assignment early and tackled the extension.  The extension involved more complicated ciphers.  The matrix manipulations necessary went beyond the scope of the course.  To conquer this part of the assignment students researched online sources, waded through technical writings, discussed and collaborated together, and then applied their new knowledge to the problem.  So, technology and the skills to search for, find, and understand internet sources were used.  One group extended the technology aspect of the assignment by also creating a movie of their story (definite Oscar material). 

Group 3 was an exclusive group, containing only one partnership.  They exceeded my expectations and blew my mind.  These two gentlemen combined their exceptional mathematical skills with their technical genius and their passion for programming.  The task they set for themselves was to write a program that would allow them to encode and decode messages using any 2×2 or 3×3 matrix as a key.  They kept me updated on their progress as they identified each obstacle and proceeded to work out the code (pun intended) necessary to get the computer to encode and decode messages.  Needless to say, I graded this project first and was blown away by the computer skills, initiative, and creativity of this pair.  But the story does not end there.  As I used their program to help me grade other projects, I regularly emailed them and “complained” about a limitation in their software.  Invariably within 24 hours I would receive an email thanking me for “purchasing the upgrade” to the program and all the new features I needed would be at my disposal.

(One of their emails said:  “Thank you for purchasing Matrix Encoder v3.2, the most powerful matrix tool in TAS.  Your payment of extra bonus points should appear soon on Loren and my columns in the grade book as well as in Easy Grade Pro.  Enjoy the new features.”  Genius and a sense of humor!!)

So while there is great value in this tech journey I am undertaking, I know there is no way I will ever be as tech savvy as my students, just as I could never write a program like these guys did.  But I will continue to delight in those moments where I have posed a problem that has challenged them to research, to extend themselves, and to incorporate skills they are passionate about into their math.  I will cheer them on, encourage them in their success, and watch them take flight with their plethora of skills.  (Speaking of taking flight, one of these students, Kevin, has written an Android program and he says “people with Android powered devices can just go on Android Market and search “Volume Control” to download it”!  Kevin has a site for this and future programs, so watch this space to follow all that he accomplishes.)  My digital wannabe skills pale in comparison to their digital native talent.  The value of this story though is to remind me that I do not need to always have the answers; sometimes I just need to pose the right question. 

Now back to the two original videos and subsequent questions.  Steve Collins in his post My Thoughts on “When I Become a Teacher” suggested the closing statement to the video be changed to “Don’t be like us.  Use technology to … be different … teach different”.  While I continue to work on effectively doing just that, there is so much more to the issue.  If my technology skills are going to determine my effectiveness as a teacher, then all is lost.  My skills will never compete with those of my students.  But maybe there are ways I can encourage students to think, to create, to analyze, to evaluate and to apply as requested by the digital natives in “A Vision of K-12 Students”.