Friday, April 22, 2016

Open Middle and Google Docs

A few weeks ago Kassie, a teacher I support, came up with a great idea. The idea was inspired by one of our other Digital Learning Coaches, Michelle, who introduced Kassie to hyperdocs.

Idea: Incorporate Open Middle problems with Google Docs.

Here's how it went...
Kassie had her students work in eight groups. This happens often in her class. She pushed out one Google Doc to the entire class so every student has editing rights. However, you just need one group member to make edits for their group.

Each group was working on the following open middle tasks:
Use the integers from 0 through 9 only once to create an equation with:
Day 1: One solution
Day 2: No solution
Day 3: Infinite solutions

First, students work on their desks with whiteboard markers, discussing with their group members. Isn't that lovely!
Second, students enter their equation into their respective cell inside the Google Doc table.

Third, each group needs to test the equations that other groups submitted. Keep in mind, that each group could not submit an equation identical to another group. Once they worked on other equations, they entered if they agreed or disagreed with other groups.

I experienced Day 1 and it was awesome to see the collaboration and community of learning throughout the room. When debriefing with Kassie about Day 3, she told me students realized an equation with infinite solutions couldn't be done if they use the numbers 0 through 9 only once. That's awesome! Good work kiddos! She ended up allowing them to use a number more than once. I'm wondering how it might change if we allowed them to use the numbers 1-10 (only once).

Since our middle school students work on iPads, a large Google Doc table like the one above might not let the math breathe on a smaller screen. I adapted her Google Doc to look more like this as a template:
  • I split the eight groups into two tables on two separate pages.
  • Each group still enters their answer into their respective highlighter-yellow cell.
  • Each group has a vertical column so they work downward when entering agree/disagree

I inserted this Open Middle question as a placeholder above the table inside the template.

Make your own copy of the template by clicking here

This is definitely a way for students to create their own answers which turn into questions their classmates can use to practice procedures and challenge their understanding of specific math concepts. It is student focused. It's a great way for students to generate questions that both the teacher and students can use. It makes math a social experience through the use of technology. All of the student answers are housed in one location.

Open Middle,

We have Google Classroom in our district which makes it 200 (student) times easier to push things like this out to students. If you don't have Google Classroom, there are other ways to get this out to your students' devices. If you need ideas, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter.


  1. Like this idea a lot. Pushes for variety, too. Gives meaningful things to do for groups that finish earlier... all good!

    1. Right on. Let me know if you give it a go.

  2. I really like how you are using technology to facilitate easier student collaboration. Do you ever run into issues of malicious students deleting or changing other groups' work?

    I've never tried this and am trying to think about how this would look without technology. It seems like it would be much more challenging to share student solutions. So, obviously then they also had pencil and paper to test out the solutions.

    Was there also discussion as small groups or whole class?


    1. Knock on wood, no malicious student deleting or changing other groups' work. Three quick thoughts on that:
      1) It's about creating that class culture and establishing the respect of the learning environment. My fellow has done a great job with that.
      2) Remember, there is only 1 student per group editing the file, so it's only about 8-10 kids editing the file.
      3) If this were a problem, and the teacher REALLY wants to find out who the malicious student was, the teacher can change the editing rights on the Google Doc so students can't make anymore edits. Then click on revision history and track down the suspect who made those changes.

      I was also thinking how a teacher might do this without technology. Sticky notes immediately came to my mind. Big shocker, I know! A teacher could create a grid on a piece of chart paper and respective groups could write their sticky on a piece of paper and put it on the grid while looking at another group's sticky to take back to their group to discuss. Another idea would be for the teacher to prepare a grid on their computer and project it on the screen. They could allow a responsible student from each group to come up to the computer and type in their equation when ready. Does that make sense?

      There was both discussion in their small groups and whole class.

    2. All interesting reflections. I like your non-tech alternatives. It makes it obvious that tech is not the lesson but rather a tool that facilitates smoother student interaction.

    3. The tech also makes it more accessible for the teacher to archive this experience and refer back to it. Additionally, it's easier for the teacher to share with colleagues.

  3. Hello! This post was recommended for The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2016: a collection of people's favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.