Google for Education Innovator #TOR16

I was chosen as a Google Innovator. I’m still in shock, super excited, and a little crazy getting plane tickets, hotel & expediting a passport (don’t let those suckers expire!)


I shared my vision video in a previous post. I’m so excited to be working on a project that will make math suck less (I was more eloquent in my project proposal!) I hope Twitter and blog readers are ready because I plan to take you along for the ride.

I’ll be in Toronto Oct 5-7 to meet our cohort. I can’t wait to collaborate with this amazing group of educators!

I need to give a huge shout out to some folks:

  • my husband Jason (@jasontolen), who encourages me to go after my dreams and supports me every step of the journey.
  • Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) who read my whole application and gave me wonderful feedback.
  • Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) who told me to scrap my first idea and go with my true passion. She was right, the first draft was crap!
  • Shaelynn Farnsworth (@sfarnsworth) who told me this summer that my ideas were good enough and cheered me on along the way.
  • My Algebra 1 team at school who listens to my crazy enthusiasm for Twitter PLNs, project ideas, and edu-heroes & always tries my new ideas.

I just had visions of the Academy Awards: “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

To say I’m excited would be a gross misrepresentation of my enthusiasm level. I can’t believe I get to do this and I know I will come out on the other end a better teacher.

Categories: Google EI, ramblings | Tags: | Leave a comment

Googlefied Scientific Notebooks

Is that a word? Googlefied? My word editor says no, but we are using it anyway. I shared this idea this summer when I conducted PD sessions for schools.

Let me start by saying I am not for 100% paperless. There are many studies that support the need to write and draw for learning. AND, I love me some sketchnotes! But one purpose of using technology is to do things we couldn’t before. You can incorporate so many things into a digital scientific notebook that you either couldn’t do or wouldn’t be easy to do in a regular one. Images of experiments, embedded spreadsheets & graphs, including images from research. The other reason I love a digital INB is for the digital portfolio aspect. What an amazing evidence of learning that is easily sharable with the world. I created a short example using Google Slides (probably my favorite app – I might say that about all of them!) You may freely use it for ideas and adapt it for your needs.

Notice this is 8.5 x 11. You can resize Google Slides by going to File – Page Set Up. I selected a size that could be printed, which also made it easy for me to adapt some of the files I already had.

You may make a copy of the INB here. Please let me know if you find this useful. You can always follow me on Twitter: @TTmomTT

Categories: Google Sheets, interactive notebooking | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Zombie Lines

This is one of those proud moments. The moments when someone has observed you doing something and then goes and does it themselves. My colleague Tessah is a 3rd year teacher, and quite amazing at what she does. She has watched me create & share math activities with GAFE for the past two years. She even created some of her own last year. She found this zombie activity online as a paper copy and after collaborating with our Algebra 1 group decided we could practice our online graphing skills. She did an amazing job creating this digital version. She used the font Zombie Salad from, also a habit she picked up from me. I asked her permission to post it here and she was very willing to share (maybe another habit from?).

Tolen Zombie Graphing (1)

It was created on Google Slides, probably my most favorite Google App because of it’s versatility.

Here’s the finished product. Sorry for those of you who don’t give your students the solutions.

Tolen anwers Zombie Graphing.png

Feel free to use this activity with your students. You may make a copy of this slide here. Please let Tessah & I know if you like her activity. It makes us happy when people use our stuff.

Categories: Google Sheets, online graphing | Tags: | 3 Comments

I applied to be a Google Innovator

I submitted my application today to be a Google Innovator. It’s been a goal of mine for a while now. My vision is to change how we teach using technology, to get away from the factory model of sit and get. Here’s my vision:

I want classrooms full of thinkers, collaborators, & risk-takers, who have an internal drive to learn, create, and contribute to the world, not robots who just follow instructions. The world wants innovation, so let’s send them students who have the skills to innovate.

250 characters is VERY challenging. I know the sentence is choppy but wow 250 characters! I hope the selection committee takes that into consideration!

My solution is to change how we teach math using Google Expedition and Google Sheets. I worked with Alice Keeler this summer and helped her create the first lesson about functions while climbing El Capitan. Then I began a second one. This one is based on an expedition to a Tanzanian manure farm while exploring rearranging formulas. The lesson is titled: This Lesson is Poop.

This isn’t the completed spreadsheet activity, but it’s a good start and will give you an idea about what the spreadsheet lessons will look like that will accompany the expedition.

Other than the expedition part (teacher guided), the lesson is student directed and self-paced. It allows the teacher to ask students individualized questions and guide their learning instead of direct instructing.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 6.15.36 PM.png

Make a copy of spreadsheet here.

I will be working with Alice to finish the spreadsheet in September. August was crazy busy and slowed my progress on it. I will post the final product here whether I get accepted or not. I think this type of math lesson is important and I will continue working on them when I can. I REALLY hope I am awarded one of the grants I’ve applied for so I can get a Google Expedition classroom set! Right now I don’t have the supplies to do this with my students.

I also had a lot of fun making the Video to go along with my application. I hope it conveys my message.

Categories: Google EI, Google Expedition, Google Sheets | Tags: | 1 Comment

Order of Operations with Google Sheets

I look for real reasons for why we use math. Students can spot BS from a mile away, probably because it STINKS! A few years ago, I realized that a spreadsheet was a great way to explore order of operations. We have to tell technology how we want it to process numbers. If we don’t, technology defaults to the basic rules of math, order of operations.

While reading Jo Boaler’s book, Mathematical Mindset (if you haven’t read it, get a copy RIGHT NOW!), Alice Keeler and I started chatting on Twitter. Alice was working on a spreadsheet activity and asked me to collaborate with her. I realized it was the perfect platform for a student directed lesson (I used to guide the exploration) on order of ops using Alice’s inspiration. This is what was born.

Students begin with some research on equations and expressions, inserting images or typing their own examples. There is also a place where students draw a conclusion from their research. Communication and collaboration is encouraged.Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 9.18.00 PM

Then it’s time to play a game. One student writes an expression in words. Their partner calculates by hand and enters their guess. Then we teach a spreadsheet skill (Alice would say Computer Apps class isn’t needed, we can embed it in content – I agree!) This is a basic introduction to entering a function using the =. If your partner calculated correctly, they get a point, if not the first person does. The spreadsheet tally’s the points to see who wins. The 2nd person has to figure out how the spreadsheet would calculate and then calculate by hand the same way.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 9.20.28 PM

The sad part, I didn’t get to use this lesson this year because of the late roll out of Chromebooks. I may put it in Google Classroom as a warm-up one day.

Feel free to use this but please give me feedback. It makes my day when people use my stuff!

Get your own copy here.

Categories: Google Sheets, order of operations | Tags: | Leave a comment

Memes in Google Drawing

I love a good meme. Who doesn’t? I also love giving students fun choices to demonstrate understanding. This year, one of the options I want to include is making a meme in Drawing. I’ve included a quick tutorial below so you can see the process and use it too.

Let’s look at a meme. It’s usually square (doesn’t have to be). The words are bold usually with an outline and placed at the top and/or bottom. Words relate to the image (usually funny).

Dwight Meme

  1. Open a new Drawing document.
  2. Insert an image. It doesn’t have to be square at this point in time.Meme 1
  3. Crop your image.


4. Move your cropped image into the top left corner & click the handle in the bottom right corner and drag it to meet your image.

5. Insert a text box and select a font to use. Anton works well.


6. Type your words and center them on the page. Repeat if you want words on the top and bottom.


7. I like to shadow my words. Copy and paste your words and color them white.You can nudge them in to place using shift and the arrow keys. You will have to change the order  (command down arrow on a mac Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 7.01.39 PM) to move them behind the the black words.

8. Now you can download your image. Go to File – download and choose the image type. I like .png but it depends on what you want to do with it.


How could students demonstrate their understanding with a meme? I can’t wait to see!

Categories: Google Drawing | Tags: | 1 Comment

ISTE 2016

#ISTE2016 was three weeks ago. It was my first ISTE and hopefully not my last. I met so many new people, learned so many new things, met so many Twitter friends, learned so many new things… Oh wait, I’m repeating myself. The experience was a whirlwind and SO WORTH IT!  Rather than type the whole experience, I made a sketchnote of just a few of the things that stick out in my mind. I didn’t put anything on there about the WONDERFUL poster sessions, or reference ALL of the people I met (John Bergman who created flipped classroom), or note all of the sessions I attended, but I tried to capture the moment in a sketchnote (which I did learn a lot more about at ISTE)

ISTE 2016.png

Meeting Matt Miller and Alice Keeler was at the top of my list. Matt is the author of Ditch That Textbook and he and the #ditchbook team let me moderate the Twitter chat every now and then. Our DitchBook meet up was awesome despite the CRAZY hail and flooding and I met Evan Mosier who is another regular to the chat. Ditchbook is one of the best Twitter families and PLN you could be a part of.

Alice Keeler is someone my daughter says I “Twitter stalk”. She and I share very similar opinions about educating children and she is very passionate about what she does. Not to mention, she is a genius with all things Google especially Sheets. As a result of ISTE, she asked me to collaborate with her on a Google Expedition project for math using Sheets. It’s so awesome working with her and it’s going to be an amazing activity that I can’t wait to try it out.

I plan to submit a proposal to present next year. It would be awesome to present at ISTE! At the very least, I hope I get to go again.

Until next year #iste2016…thanks for the adventure…I have so much to take back to my classroom, students, & school.

Categories: ISTE2016, sketchnotes | Tags: | Leave a comment

Rethinking Failure

While at ISTE I sat in on a math mindset session. Kyle Pace (@kylepace) talked about using the motto WTF in his classroom. Now I teach high school, and I know WTF means something very different to my students than to Kyle’s. In his school it means Willing To Fail (your mind was in the same gutter with my students wasn’t it?) This is a phrase I’ve found myself adopting even though I’m still not comfortable with it.

See, failure has always had a negative connotation. Failure means that you’ve, well, FAILED. We don’t want our students to fail, we want them to succeed. In a recent Twitter chat, Brian Rozinsky (@brianrozinsky) challenged me on my thoughts about failure and sent me a link to this article by Alfie Kohn. Here is an excerpt from his article.

Thanks to its adjective, “productive failure” magically becomes a good thing by definition. (See also: “healthy competition.”) But the question is how likely it is that failure will be productive. And the answer is: Not very. The benefits of screwing up are wildly overrated. What’s most reliably associated with successful outcomes, it turns out, are prior experiences with success, not with failure. While there are exceptions, the most likely consequence of having failed at something is that children will come to see themselves as lacking competence.

While I don’t agree with all of what he says, what stuck with me was the idea that failure could be damaging, could frustrate students and make them want to quit. I’VE SEEN THIS. A student fails first semester so they quit trying second semester. A student has been a failure at math for 4 years and now they hate math and no longer feel they have the ability, nor do they have the desire to try.

So if “failure” is not what we want want to say, then maybe we just need to phrase it differently. Let’s look at the Michael Jordan failure quote:


Before all of the talk about failing forward, productive failure, WTF, I would have read this poster and called it PERSEVERANCE.


CONTINUED effort. I don’t think we should be focusing on failure. We should change our motto from WTF to the BIG P {keep your mind out of the gutter :-)}. When you think of perseverance, you think of success. It describes the journey to get there, which may have included some setbacks along the way a.k.a. failure.

We don’t want students putting the word failure in their vocabulary because we never want them to fail, we want them to persevere. That’s why I use Carol Dweck’s “Not yet” in my class. I show my students the video and we talk about what it means. I want them to see how they can be successful, how they can overcome obstacles, how they can persevere and learn, not fail.

So maybe it is just semantics (does anyone else always think of Lethal Weapon every time they say that word? “I’m up for some antics”-Martin Riggs). Maybe Kyle’s WTF really means willing to take risks and failing forward really means perseverance. Or maybe it’s just the educational door revolving.

perseverance (2).png

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t want to discuss failure in my classroom. I want to discuss perseverance and success because this is what students should experience. Our class motto for this year will be the BIG P!

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 12.01.07 AM


Categories: ramblings | Tags: | 2 Comments

Sketchnotes & ISTE2106

I’ve returned from ISTE2016 and I have so much to share but sketchnoting has consumed my brain so I’ll share this first and get back to the amazingness that was ISTE2016 in the next post (hopefully with a sketchnote to help describe the experience).

I was able to attend two sessions on sketchnotes while at ISTE.  Matt Miller @jmattmiller, author of Ditch That Textbook, the guy I talk about on this blog ALL THE TIME, had the first session. It was a great launching point and he had us make a sketchnote during Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk. I SUCKED AT IT! Here’s all I was willing to post:dancer

I’ve created sketchnotes before (see here) but always AFTER a presentation has ended. This was tough! During the session I met Carrie Baughcum @heckawesome another FANTASTIC sketchnoter. AND… she was presenting later with Sylvia Duckworth and Kathy Shrock. I KNOW! MIND BLOWN!

Their session had a TON of resources & inspiration but also many examples of how students use it. Both presentations referenced brain research and how we learn better. I know this is something I want to allow my students to do. I think it will help my “doodlers” focus on my content a little more.

I wanted to practice so I found some websites to help me. The first was Sacha Chua on her blog Living an Awesome Life. This was a great beginning spot to practice. I used Notability (another favorite I mention on here often) and I tried some by hand also. Here are my practice pages.

Notability: Sketch note Practice

Next I went to the site Nuggethead where he has homework after each lesson. The lesson for day 2 was to create a sketchnote while watching a Ted Talk, one with editing and one without. Well… without editing didn’t work for me but here is the sketchnote completed. It’s from Aaron Duff’s @education_geek and his TEDx talk Hack(Ed)-disrupting the eduverse. It’s not perfect but I think I captured the essence of the talk.

Here’s my finished product: Aaron Duff TedX

Yes, that’s a ME sketch. I kind of like her. I’m excited to share this note taking option with students and I’m excited to get better at it myself. A special shout out to Matt & Carrie for inspiring me to get better!

Categories: ISTE2016, Notability, sketchnotes | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Google Level 2 Certification

One of the items on my summer check list was to complete my Google Level 2 Certification. After many frozen windows and a loss of over 30 minutes of testing time and a higher amount of stress than I wanted:


this happened! Woohoo.

ISTE is this weekend and I hope to post about what I learn and who I meet face to face (Matt Miller here I come!) Instagram is usually my personal account, but you can follow me there to see most recent pics. new-instagram-vector-logo

I still have quite a list for summer and only the month of July left. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Categories: ramblings | Tags: | Leave a comment

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