Made for Math Freebie: A Daily Pear Deck Template to Boost Student Engagement & Get Authentic Formative Assessment in Distance Learning

Whoo boy, that was a mouthful of a title, but it’s spot on! I’m now back in the thick of distance learning, once again, and this time it’s quite different than what I experienced in the Spring. In the Spring there were a lot of pre-recorded class sessions and we only met for 30 minutes 2x a week to do quick check-ins and a super fast mini-lesson. I also already knew all of my students so getting them to engage really wasn’t difficult at all.

This time around, it’s really different. Classes are 90 minutes each, 4x a week, and we’re doing a whole year of content in a semester. I also know only a small handful of my students because they’ve either been in my Advisory class for the last two years, or I had them last year and they have the total pleasure (mild sarcasm) of learning with me again. I’m grateful for all of the pictures of their faces on our online gradebook, because that’s the only way I know what any of them look like.

There are lots of blank screens and the chat box can be pretty quiet, but don’t let that intimidate you! I’m so excited to report that, amongst all the negative noise this year has brought, I’ve got something really good going on. I’ve found that Pear Deck has been a GAME CHANGER for student engagement and getting formative assessment feedback that is even better than what I get in the classroom in a normal year!

If you’re not familiar with Pear Deck, I would HIGHLY recommend it. I have found it to be the closest way to recreate a typical classroom environment.

I use Pear Deck in conjunction with writing my notes under a document camera that I am screen-sharing through Google Meets. Students log in at the beginning of class every day, and it has quickly become a routine. I have more students engaging through Pear Deck than I have experienced over past years in the typical, in-person classroom setting that we’re all used to. If I have 26 students logged in on Pear Deck, I get 23 responses! That might not be a 100% success rate, but how many times in a traditional, in-person class do you get EVERYONE responding to every one of your questions?

At first, I was trying to be so fancy…Let’s make a new Pear Deck for every class every day, she said, only to later find out how unlikely of a routine that would be to maintain. So, here’s what I did–I made myself a Pear Deck Google Slides template that I can use with any of my math classes (this year, I have Algebra 1/Algebra Support, Pre-Calculus, and Statistics) and reuse every single day. All I have to do is launch the Pear Deck at the beginning of each class and generate a fresh code for my students and we’re in business! If you want to be extra fancy, you can log in early and grab a link for students to join with (so they don’t have to use a code) and post it to Google Classroom for a super painless way to join the Pear Deck every day.

So much of formative assessment are things that come up on the fly, and this template allows the flexibility to recreate it beautifully in a virtual setting. When I was pre-planning everything into Pear Deck, this didn’t allow me that same flexibility to ask questions if I didn’t think of adding them ahead of time. DISCLAIMER: You can add slides on the fly once a Pear Deck has been started, but I haven’t found a way to add custom slides that really fit my math-class needs.

I have created a Pear Deck Google Slides template that has multiple copies of the slides I like to use with my students for formative assessment so that there’s always a fresh slide of that type available if I decide that’s the type of check-in I need to do in that moment. When I use the Pear Deck, I always turn it to instructor-paced, which allows me to change slides as needed, and students have no idea that there may be 7 identical prompts in a row that all say “Ask me a question!” If there’s a need for me to show another one of those slides later on, I can swap to a fresh slide so they can start typing again. If I don’t, no harm, no foul.

When the moment arises, I verbally direct students to swap over to their Pear Deck tab to respond to the question/prompt I just gave them. At this time, I turn my screen into split-screen mode where half of it is showing the Pear Deck slide in question (on projector mode) and the other half is still showing my document camera. Again, this duo has made student engagement in the lessons so much higher than simply relying on them to type into the chat box or asking them to unmute themselves and actually speak (I do both of those, but none of them come even close to the same level of student participation that I get with Pear Deck).

I hope you try incorporating this into your daily classroom routine! It has really been fantastic for me and I hope it does the same for you!

Online Teaching Hacks: How to turn a regular PDF resource into a DIGITAL resource for your students!

Even without the extra added layer of distance teaching due to COVID, using computers/Chromebooks/iPads in the classroom is becomming more and more commonplace. I’ve been fortunate to have Chromebooks in my classroom for the past three years and they have been total gamechangers!

Over the last several years, I’ve learned some do’s and dont’s about how to take a plain old, normal PDF file and turn it into something your students can use digitally in an interactive way. I happen to use Google Classroom, but you can adapt these tricks to whatever platform you have access to. Here are my tips with step by step examples!

What’s in the video?

In this video, I will show you three tips for turning regular PDF files into digital resources your students can use and interact with on Google Classroom along with step-by-step examples. Use these tips to up your teaching game and create a more valuable distance learning experience.

  1. How to select specific pages of a PDF to provide, digitally, to your students. Many times, they don’t need every page and there’s just a specific handful that you want to provide. Here’s how to do that!
  2. How to turn a regular PDF resource into a digital resource that students can show their work on and you can, in turn, provide feedback on.
  3. How to create digital exit tickets for your students. They can show their work and express their thinking, and you can review their work, electronically, and provide feedback electronically, as well.

Here are some of my best quick tips!

  • Familiarie yourself with Print to PDF. This will allow you to select only the pages you want for your students.
  • If you want to post a reference/reading/note material for your students that you do NOT want them to edit/change, use the print to pdf otpion to select your specific pages, if necessecary, and post it as a material to Google Classroom.
  • If you DO want your students to edit/change/interact with the resource you are posting to Google Classroom, make sure to post it as an assignment, and don’t forget to change the setting to “make a copy for each student.”
  • If you want to make an interactive/editable resource, use to convert the PDF page(s) into image files. Use this option if you’re taking full pages at a time. If you plan on using partial pages at a time (like half-sheets, for example), use the built-in screen shot feature in your computer. I use the snipping tool that is built into my Windows HP computer! Either way, make sure you set these images as the background of the Google Slide. Do not simply insert them as an image. Your students can delete them by accident.

I hope you have been able to learn some easy to implement tips and tricks to take your regular old PDF’s into interactive digital assignments for your students!