Monthly Archives: August 2011

Classroom Changes: The Paperless Math Class

As a way to help organize myself for the year, I want to document a few major changes that will be taking place in my class. I have exactly two weeks to figure everything out, though I will be busy with faculty meetings and Orientation. So, the biggest change that will be happening in my classroom is that I’m going paperless.

Okay, well, not completely. We’ll probably still do tests on paper. And I might write down notes for myself on paper every now and then. But my plan is to have students do all their note taking and homework in Microsoft OneNote – not only are we a 1-1 school, but every single student has a tablet, which is really the crucial part that makes this possible in a math class. As a school, we totally under-utilize this great resource. An awesome Chemistry teacher this summer showed me a few tools to make this switch really worth it, and the one I am going to highlight today is the one I plan on using.

Interactive Classroom is a plug-in for Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft OneNote (i.e. no new software needed) that allows a PowerPoint presentation that you are using in front of the class transfer directly to a OneNote notebook on students computers. Anything you do to the presentation automatically happens on their computer, and anything they do (which is mostly take their own notes all over the slide) can be seen by you (if they share their OneNote notebook with you). This is easier to demonstrate than explain….

After you install the plug-in, you get a fancy new tab in PowerPoint called “Academic” with a set of buttons that will allow you to start a session that anyone can join:

And then in OneNote, you get that same “Academic” tab, except this time it only has a button that enables you to join a session that someone has shared:

So, the basic deal is that you open up a PowerPoint you have already made and then click “Start Session” (you can also start with a blank presentation and make it all in Interactive Classroom, or change it as you go along too).  Then, enter in the name of the session, which then becomes the name of the page in the OneNote notebook for the student. Here’s what it looks like once you start the session:

Notice that you can insert new slides and add polls and write all over the slides with pretty colors (pretend like I’m writing the red stuff as I chat with the students). The coolest part about the pretty colors is what the students see in their OneNote screen…’

The same pretty colors that you are making on your screen! Cool! And they can write whatever they want on top of what you are writing (or you can have them do all of the writing). Notice that the name of the presentation becomes the page name (which gets added to whichever notebook you have open) and that each slide becomes a new page with the title given from the Title field in the PowerPoint slide. Everything is automatically saved on their computer and everything is automatically organized for them.

Things I’m excited about…

  • Being able to distribute problems instantaneously
  • Showing one student’s work to the whole class
  • Not dealing with loads of paper for homework
  • Automatically having every student have access to GeoGebra, Wolfram|Alpha, PollEverywhere, Google Forms, the web that is world-wide etc.
Questions I’m nervous about…
  • What if this takes forever, i.e. more than a few minutes at the beginning of class every day?
  • What if there are major tech issues (e.g uncharged computers, internet goes down, everything is really slow)?
  • Will the automatic organization lead to them not learning organization on their own?
  •  Is Calculus more interesting than,,, etc?
I’m not expecting this to go 100% smoothly, and I might dump it in a month, but the bottom line here is that if every single student has a tablet, this is definitely worth a try.
  • I had trouble finding Interactive Classroom on Google because that’s such a generic phrase. I would add “Microsoft Academic” to help find it. Or you can download the plug-in from me, from my SugarSync. Is that illegal? It’s a free plug-in…
  • There’s another similar program that goes from a PowerPoint to a PowerPoint if you prefer that, but you and your students would have to both install the program. It’s called Classroom Presenter, and it’s also free.
  • There’s a clunky, but powerful program that does what Classroom Presenter does called DyKnow (which my school also has). It has the added benefit that you can lock students out from the other programs on their computer and send them creepy messages telling them to pay attention. As if I need to feel more powerful. The only downside is that I’m sure it costs boatloads of money.

Changes in the Blog

I had a busy year last year and didn’t get to update as often as I would have liked. I feel like some stories definitely went untold, like when I won the school’s Dance Dance Revolution title… or when a student decided to tell me a filthy joke in the middle of class… or when a student killed an octopus (a large one) with his bare hands while on vacation in Aqaba. Lot’s of stories all the time. But I’m having trouble keeping up with stories blogging and have been more interested lately in teaching blogging. So, long story short, I wanted to send out a warning to people that the blog is going to take a sharp left turn and become basically a math teaching blog. There is a great community of educators in the blogosphere that all share materials. I have benefited an unbelievable amount from them and have decided it’s time to enter the fray. So, if you see much more about Calculus, and much less about monarchs or car damage or Arabic gaffes, don’t be surprised. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from those stories, but they will be overshadowed by teaching practice.


  • Now you can just go to – cool!
  • I redesigned the blog a bit, I hope you like the new look.
  • I’m going to be adding things from my teaching portfolio.
P.S. I added some photos that I took while watching the Austin bats from a kayak below the bridge where they live. It was awesome!

Texcapade: The Austin Bats and the Dilly Surprise

After coming back from Jordan, I spent about 3 and a half weeks in the New York area. First I did an awesome teaching program through Columbia’s Teachers College called the Klingenstein Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers, and then I hung out with dear friends for a few weeks. Then, I made my glorious return back to Texas to do…. nothing. Besides attending an AP Calculus workshop in San Antonio for 4 days, I have been laying low and loving it and that’s just about my whole plan until I head back to Jordan on August 19th.

But while I’ve been here, I’ve been struck again at how the State of Texas is really the Republic of Texas. It feels like a different country down here. When I lived in New Orleans for a few months, I was struck by the very same thing – New Orleans has its own food, very loose liquor laws, its own dialect, and you know it can’t be in America, because there is literally zero Bank of Americas in the entire state of Louisiana (I just looked this up, all of these states don’t have BoAs: VT, WV, AL, MS, OH, WI, MN, SD, ND, MT, WY, and CO… who knew?) But Louisiana had a very laid back, we’re-our-own-country-but-we-don’t-really-care-either-way, type of feel. Texas is different. Every day at our AP Calc conference, we would do the Pledge of Allegiance facing the American flag, and then turn slightly to the right to recite the Texas Pledge of Allegiance to the equally large Texas flag. This is how it goes: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.” Wow.

So I thought I’d share a few things that are unique to Austin as a glimpse into Texas life. These aren’t quite as Texan as Chicken Sh*t Bingo, a Texcapade from last summer, but they are pretty interesting nonetheless…

1. The Largest Urban Bat Colony in the World

Almost in the heart of downtown Austin, there is a bridge over Congress St. under which lives the largest urban bat colony in the world. More bats live under that bridge than live in the entire city of Austin, around 1.5 million bats at its peak. The cool part is that they all fly out from underneath the bridge at the exact same time right around sunset, all off for the night to go hunting for some tasty mosquitoes. If you’re ever in Austin, this is a must see, can’t miss. You can either stand on top of the bridge, sit on the bank of the river down below, or paddle around on the river in a kayak to view the spectacle. They just pour out from underneath bridge for what seems like forever, but is actually around a half hour. They’re not as much fun during the day – there’s a running trail that goes beneath the bridge, and whenever I run underneath it I almost puke. They smell really bad.

2. The Dilly Surprise – A Shaved Ice Delight with a Hidden Pickle

Right down the street is South Congress, a fun little section of Austin with great restaurants, cool stores, and a couple of food trailer parks. That’s right, abandoned parking lots with a bunch of trailers that all serve various tasty delights. The good one on South Congress street has a Thai trailer, Hey Cupcake (guess what they serve), the Mighty Cone (not an ice cream place, they serve delicious savory meals in a tortilla cone), and the Frigid Frog (serving about 100 different flavors of shaved ice). Well, since it has been over 100 every day since I’ve been here, I’ve somewhat a fan of the Frigid Frog. My favorite offering of theirs is the Dilly Surprise, a pickle juice flavored shaved ice that has a real dill pickle hiding inside of it. It’s not much a surprise anymore, and it’s actually a little gross, but I like foods that are a bit of a challenge. And each time I have ordered it, I have struck up some real good conversations with people who are like “Whaaat?” Only in Texas.