A blog about teaching and learning in a maths classroom.

Evidence of doing anything

Tuesday, 24 November 2009 | 5 Comments

I think that each student using a netbook/laptop in your class presents some slightly different issues in Maths.

So far, at least, most of the activities that I’ve had students working with on their laptops have been interactive widgets. (We’ve been doing algebraic techniques, index notation and solving equations since Year 9 got their laptops). For instance, here’s some of the activities we’ve used for equations:

  • Equations Practice

  • Solve equations by doing the same thing to both sides. Levels 1 and 2 have 1-step equations, level 3 has 2-step equations and level 4 has unknowns on both sides.
  • Algebra Balance Scales

Solve simple linear equations using a balance beam representation. 2-step equations.

Keep up with other activities like these as I categorise them in the Maths Links section. Better still, submit your own link – help me build a directory of activities proven by maths teachers as useful.

Unlike some other subjects where you may have the students create something to submit, playing with a widget doesn’t produce anything. So, what evidence do you have that the students are doing anything? Of course, you’re circulating around the room – but there is nowhere in my room where I can see every screen at once, mainly because the viewing angle is narrow for these netbook screens and my room is fairly small, so the last row of seats is just centimetres from the back wall. For a low motivation, low ability class, some less structured time on a widget could be fairly unproductive.

I think a couple of ways around this are:

  • add a little structure with a worksheet they have to fill in (see more below)
  • record some results in their work book (there’s no way we’re getting rid of exercise books in Maths)
  • capture some screenshots that the teacher might check

The worksheet idea… say you were using the “Algebra Balance Scales” activity above a worksheet might look something like this:

  1. Have a go at three equations of the form 3x + 2 = 8. Show the steps you used to solve one of the equations.
  2. Have a go at three equations of the form 3x + 2 = x + 6. Show the steps you used to solve one of the equations.
  3. Use the Create Problem button to enter this equation, 5x + 2 = 7, and then solve it.
  1. Use the Create Problem button to enter this equation, 3x + 7 = 4x + 6, and then solve it.

I’ve made this into a worksheet, available below.

Algebra Balance Scales

Some ideas for widget makers:

  • Support your widget with some specific, written down, activities; even something printable (shock horror!)
  • If you make a widget that takes students through some steps to get to an end results, have some code words they need to collect along the way and a secret place on your web-site where teachers can find out the keywords.
  • Add a simple scoring mechanism to activities to at least show attempts, even if not scoring right/wrong.

How are you using widgets like this and ensuring students are engaged?

If you like this idea and make some worksheets to support online activities, please share.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License (?).

Posted in • Classroom ManagementLesson IdeaEquationsPrintableWorksheetTechnologyDigital Education RevolutionLaptops 4 LearningWebsite | Short URL:


Lois Lindemann on  24 November 09  at  10:16 PM #
I really like these activities. I don't have one netbook per student, but I can use these with pairs of students collaborating to solve equations. Thank you!


Simon Job on  25 November 09  at  06:55 AM #
Lois, do you find your students just get in and solve problems, or would you provide some structure for them to work to?
Ms.J on  30 November 09  at  04:54 PM #
I have the EXACT same problem. Online "exploratory" widgets are great for motivated students, but that's just not the majority of students I have. I've gotten so frustrated with this that I've started learning how to make my own. Ideally, what I would want is a widget where a user can put in a name and email, and the results would be mailed. That way I could tell the kids to put MY email in, and I could get results without having to collect papers and go through them. There's nothing more frustrating that grading PAPERS for an online activity - and I do a lot of that right now. Also, it would provide even more immediate feedback for the kids. Not only would they get feedback about "right" and "wrong" answers, but they would know when they have completed the assignment satisfactorily, and when they need to keep going. If you have any more ideas about how to automate the process, please share! ~ Ms. J
Lois Lindemann on  30 November 09  at  05:23 PM #
For me, the level of structure really depends on where the activity is used in the lesson: if it's done during a starter or plenary I don't always ask the students to record anything, but they might need to be prepared to answer questions - which I often provide in advance. If the activity forms the main work of the lesson I do like to get them to record something, either in exercise books, on a worksheet or by doing some form of online assessment. We subscribe to [url=][/url] which has a lot of onine 'homeworks'. These also make good classwork assessment tasks. If a student has logged in, their mark is saved in a database. (Of course if they are working in pairs, I have to keep a record of who has worked together, because only one student gets 'credited' with the mark.) I've started developing a few Flash activities for my own site, I'm putting a print a 'certificate' link on the end of each one - this is basically a record of what they have done and gets stuck into an exercise book. It's low tech, but it works and it is visible should someone decide to look at students' books.


Simon on  06 December 09  at  04:22 AM #
Ms J. a lot of the paid services tend to do this better, that is recording student results for the teacher. Thing is, the maths faculty at my school just can't afford the subscription costs. One service I looked into the other day, to subscribe one year group, would have cost over 90% of our annual budget. And, thanks for the explanation Lois.

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Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
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