Category Archives: Technology

Building My Course Website with Google Sites

My school uses Moodle as our platform for sharing course materials. I used it for two years, but it was just way too clunky for me – editing everything takes thrice as many clicks as it should. So last year I decided to upgrade to a Google Site for my class. I just redesigned it for the upcoming school year and it looks really pretty, so I wanted to share it:

Here’s the new site, which doesn’t have any content yet, but will aim to do the same thing as my old course website for the same class (if you want to see what content I put on there). On my site students…

  • Check their homework assignments (I do not write homework on the board, just announce that there is homework)
  • Check for upcoming tests and quizzes – I write which standards are included, so then students…
  • Read the text of standards for the course
  • Access materials to study for specific standards, whether for the first quiz, or for a reassessment
  • Find daily materials including images, problems and links for students who take notes on the computer
  • Leave anonymous feedback for me
  • Check their grades (I make internet reports with EasyGrade Pro, host them in my Public Dropbox folder and link from this website)
  • Access the grading scale for standards
  • Request a Reassessment, through a Google Form, which goes to a spreadsheet I can see
  • Access a virtual whiteboard through Scribblar where we can interact virtually after hours, or where students can interact with each other (experiment this year)
  • Fold their laundry (there’s an app for that)

As you can tell, I use it for a lot of different things in my class, all aimed to INCREASE student accountability, which is why I spent time to make it look how I wanted it to. Some tweeps enjoyed the look (and the fact that I have some goofy elements in my Reassessment Request form, check them out), and they were wondering if I could post a template for the site, so I did! When you are making your Google site, if you are at the “Manage Site” interface, click on Themes at the bottom of the sidebar and then click on the Browse More Themes button at the top right.

Theme name: Math Class Portal – @bowmanimal

The pretty banner wont be there, but other than that everything else should. The only thing that you really have to change besides adding your own content are the forms embedded in the Reassessment Request page and the Anonymous Feedback page. Those are both Google Forms. You can either link your own existing forms … OR I posted templates of those in the Google Doc Templates which you can modify and use.

  • Go to
  • Search for “Bowman Dickson
  • One is named “Anonymous Feedback Template” and one is named “Reassessment Request Template
  • Just click on “Use this template” to make your own. In the document, if you go to Form –> Edit Form, you can make your revisions.
  • Then link the forms from the website to the one you created instead of the ones from my template.

PS. The background of my website is an origami crease pattern… if you do some origami and then unfold it so the paper is flat, you can color the creases and the folds different colors to reflect the 3D structure. Beautiful!

Getting Started with GeoGebra – Tutorials, Examples and More

At Twitter Math Camp 2012, I gave a session about getting started with GeoGebra. Here are the resources from my session, including eight tutorials and links to pages with lots of other tutorials


  1. Why Should you use GeoGebra?
  2. How do you use GeoGebra in your classroom?
  3. Why use GeoGebra instead of Geometer’s Sketchpad or another math visualization program?
  4. Where do I get GeoGebra?
  5. How can I learn how to use the program? <– TUTORIALS!
  6. How can I find ridiculously cool applets that are way above my skill level?


Why should you use GeoGebra?

The idea of learning a new technology and incorporating it into your teaching can sometimes very overwhelming. And you should never just use technology for technology’s sake, as some administrators seem to espouse. You have to have a real reason to use it. GeoGebra can improve math instruction in a million ways. The dynamic nature of the program gives you the ability to explain and explore concepts that simple pen and paper (or marker and whiteboard) can’t! I find myself using the program at least weekly, sometimes more.


How do you use GeoGebra in your classroom?

AS A DYNAMIC DEMONSTRATOR: To help students understand a tricky concept during direct instruction.
How can you get students to understand that the perpendicular bisectors of a triangle ALWAYS meet at one point? Construct a triangle with perpendicular bisectors in GeoGebra and move the vertices of the triangle around and let them observe that those lines always meet up at a point. (PS, sorry I didn’t upload these – this post took forever as it is and there are lots of examples of applets in the tutorials section below)

DYNAMIC WORKSHEET: To give students a chance to explore a concept at their own pace in small groups or individually.
One activity I do every year is let students “discover” derivative rules using a derivative tracer. They enter a function into a GeoGebra applet, which then traces out its derivative. With that, students try to guess what the equation of the derivative is. Once they collect a bunch of examples or correct derivative equations, they look for patterns to come up with a rule.

STUDENT EXPLORATIONS: To give students a powerful tool with which to complete their own investigations.
I have had students convert pictures to integrals, fit functions to data of really crazy things that they wanted to study, and calculate the volume of real world solids of revolution. Getting them comfortable with program with more guided activities earlier in the year gives them the skills to be able to do amazing things with it on their own later in the year.

CREATING WORKSHEETS/ASSESSMENTS: A tool for you to make your worksheets and assessments very professional looking.
You can copy and paste anything from GeoGebra into a Word Document, giving you the ability to put very good looking graphs and diagrams in your teaching materials.


Why use GeoGebra instead of Geometer’s Sketchpad or another math visualization program?

Well, first, it’s free. I mean, that should really be enough, but I’ll keep going. Because it’s free, you can install it on as many computers as you need (so students can use the program at home and at school). And you don’t actually need to install it – you can run GeoGebra right from a web browser, or host web applets that just require a student to have a browser with Java installed (i.e. 99% of people who own a computer and keep it even remotely up to date). Basically, no matter how annoying the tech department at your school is, GeoGebra is pretty easy to get going.

Additionally, because the program is free, it is developing quickly, and resources are easy to share and easy to come by. The community around GeoGebra is strong and constantly growing – check out GeoGebraTube, a ridiculously large repository of GeoGebra applets.


Where do I get GeoGebra?

Download it here. Click on “Webstart” to download the installer. You can also start a web applet here (in “Applet Start”) and download an offline installer for students without internet access.


How can I learn how to use the program?

Luckily, the program is incredibly intuitive. The best way to learn is to open up the program and experiment! But some people hate that and need a bit more of a push to get going (I had to teach my mom how to text with her new phone, so I think she is one of those people). That’s totally okay – my recommendation is to work through some tutorials that can show you how powerful you can be with the program. I wrote 8 tutorials that progress from GeoGebra basics to some cool intermediate to advanced things that will go a long way in creating your own applets.

GeoGebra Tutorials (written by me):

1. Basic Construction, Geometry Focus
(program basics, menus, windows, basic geometry tools)
(tutorial, finished product)

2. Basic Construction, Algebra Focus
(algebraic input, changing the display, copying into another program)
(tutorialfinished product)

3. How to Make Sliders to Animate a Concept
(dealing with variables, making your illustrations dynamic, animation)
(tutorialfinished product)

4. How to Make Tracers
(showing how things change and tracing the results)
(tutorialfinished product)

5. Inserting a Picture and Making a Checkbox to Show/Hide It
(putting a picture in and fixing it, checkboxes to show/hide objects)
(tutorialfinished product)

6. Using the Spreadsheet to Manipulate Data and Modeling
(inputting and visualizing data, fitting functions to sets of data)
(tutorialfinished product)

7. Uploading to GeoGebra Tube
(uploading your creations to the web to make sharable web applets)
(tutorialfinished product<– With GeoGebra 4.0, this is even easier! There is a menu item in File–>Export–>Dynamic Worksheet as Webpage (.html), and then you can directly upload to GeoGebra Tube.

8. GeoGebra and Google Forms
(using Google Forms to make a way to collect student responses)
(tutorialfinished product)

Other tutorials I have found:


How can I find ridiculously cool applets that are way above my skill level?

If you aren’t all that interesting in making your own, you can still find tons and tons of great applets. Like this applet that helps derive the equation for the area of a circle…

Head to GeoGebra Tube, an official searchable database of GeoGebra applets for just about any topic imaginable. Feel free to be inspired by the amazing work that some people do with the program!!


Best of luck using this program to help make your math teaching more dynamic!

Integration Drawing Projects ’12

I wrote about this project back on Sam’s blog this summer when Sam gave me reign of his kingdom for a month or so, but I wanted to share the student work that I got this year from it, because it was much better than last year, and some of the work is actually really beautiful/cool/interesting (Math Art, MArTH anyone?).

The basic premise of the project is to RECREATE A PICTURE USING INTEGRALS by doing the following:

  1. Upload a picture into GeoGebra.
  2. Place points around all the outlines making sure to hit critical points
  3. Fit functions to the outlines.
  4. Use integrals to shade in the areas between the outlines.

I initially waffled about whether this was a worthwhile problem or just an exercise in integrals, but having taught AP Calculus this year, I realize how these problems of just finding the area of a weird shape are interesting and important for deep understanding of the connection between a Riemann sum and how the integral actually calculates area. So basically, if you think that this is a worthwhile problem…

Find the Area of R and S given that f(x) is blah blah and g(x) is blah blah blah squared.

…then this project is just a glorified, more interesting, more complex version of that problem. If you don’t think that problem is worthwhile, well, then you probably wont like this either. Regardless, it was a great thing to do to hammer in ideas about finding the area between curves, and a great learning mode while AP’s were occurring because attendance did not really matter all that much. It took most students 3 and a half 45-minute class periods (so about 2.5 hours), though I think that more efficient students not freaking out about standardized tests, and consistently present in the classroom, might be able to do it a little quicker.





(the good, the bad, the ugly!)


Goodbye Paperless Classroom, Hello Collaboration

After a three-week experiment, I’ve decided that I’m going to downgrade my classroom from “paperless” to “minimal paper usage.” Every student in our school is given a tablet computer, which is awesome, yet very few teachers take advantage of the tablet capabilities of these computers. I thought I would try this year and had every student bringing their tablet to every class. We have been taking notes and doing homework with Microsoft OneNote. The cool part about this is that I have their notebooks shared with me on our school network, so I can check out their notes if I want, AND no one has to rip out paper from their notebook to hand in, only to lose it when I hand it back (or, on the rare occasion, have me lose it). OneNote automatically syncs with their shared notebook on the network, so I can grade their notebooks on my computer without them sending anything to me, and then they can automatically see my marks on their homework notebook the next time they open up their computers and sync – without me sending anything to them. This, I have found, is absolutely awesome. It’s more efficient and more organized and I think saves a considerable amount of valuable class time.

But the in-class tablet usage is another story. Here are the downsides:

  • It has taken them like an average of 6.8 minutes* to start-up their computers and get going every class, which is possibly the most annoying thing in the world. My hairline recedes a little bit at the beginning of each class from the stress of the wasted time – I couldn’t have kept that up for very long.
  • Our tablets are not reliable. Every class, someone’s computer wont start, the pen wont work, the screen wont flip to the right orientation, a computer will spontaneously light itself on fire etc. etc. I’ll get a hand raised every lesson with someone asking me an annoying tech question that I can’t answer and I have to make the choice of whether to help them out or to keep going with class and let them fend for themselves. As an efficient/impatient person, I choose the latter, sorry kid!
  • Most importantly, there’s a weird invisible barrier between everyone with computers in front of them. I have found that the level of collaboration in the class went way down. I could have predicted this with regular laptops, but I would have thought that the tablet would feel just like a regular notebook. But something about that extra weight over a notebook keeps people from scooting over to see what a neighbor is doing, keeps the computer flat on the table instead of being able to show someone else, and keeps students eyes down more often than up.

Final decision: I’m keeping the tablets for the homework (where efficiency is paramount and collaboration doesn’t really matter), but ditching them for in class stuff. Though I’m sad it failed, it helped me really realize what I value in my classroom. Frank’s famous $2 Interactive Whiteboard post really captures well how technology can actually restrict modalities of learning though it can expand our abilities to visualize and manipulate things. And even though I read that a few times this summer, it took the experience of the tablets to make me really understand what he was talking about.

So what did I do? I had the school order whiteboards for the math department. And we used them today to play the Mistake Game, where students present the solution to problems and purposely hide a mistake in their solution. And it was awesome. My favorite math class of the year by far.

I guess I’m willing to sacrifice a tree or two for mathematics sake.

[See the mistake(s)?? Kind of a silly one.]

*Educated guess. I’m not ridiculous enough to actually time that and record the data.

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.