George Lucas Educational Foundation
Online Learning

Using Google Slides to Make Virtual Math Classes More Engaging

The popular tool helps teachers assess students’ thought processes and provides opportunities for students to work together to solve problems.

August 19, 2020
Teenage girl doing math homework on a laptop
Sladic / iStock

Many of us will be teaching remotely this fall due to the pandemic. How can we ensure that effective mathematics instruction and deep learning will still take place? 

Using Google Slides is a simple yet versatile way to teach mathematics remotely. Google automatically saves each slide deck, the toolbar is user-friendly, and the decks can be shared (and saved) by students. Giving students access to the slide deck by sharing an editor’s version of the deck link is a necessary first step toward student collaboration.   

Last spring, I used Google Slide decks to engage my sixth and seventh graders in intriguing and enjoyable online lessons that coincided with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ eight Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP), which promote mathematical thinking, understanding, and application:

SMP 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

SMP 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

SMP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

SMP 4: Model with mathematics.

SMP 5: Use appropriate tools strategically.

SMP 6: Attend to precision.

SMP 7: Look for and make use of structure.

SMP 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Here are five ways to teach mathematics online with Google Slides while promoting student collaboration and maintaining the integrity of effective mathematics instruction.

1. Observational Slides (SMP 3)

An observational slide may be used at any time during a lesson but is particularly useful as a warm-up to get students participating at the start of class. It can include a mathematical image and a question for students to consider. The students respond by typing a question or comment either in the chat section of your program, directly on the slide, or on the forthcoming slide.

This becomes a wonderful alternative to the “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” verbal math routine. A teacher can use this as an assessment of student thought. The activity may be extended by responding to the students’ comments or by asking a student to expound further on an observation or to question a comment written by a classmate. This slide design creates a level of equity within the lesson because every student has an opportunity to contribute.

2. Matching Slides (SMPs 3 and 8)

Another fun way to begin class is with a matching slide. Reimagining an activity from the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum for grade six, I designed a slide with eight percentage prompts (e.g., “30 is 10% of what?”) on the left side of the slide, their movable solutions on the right, and a column in the center of the slide where students would place the solutions. I made four copies of the slide, paired up my students, and placed them into four breakout groups.

The expectations were for the students to discuss possible solutions, mentally calculate, and, if necessary, defend and decide upon the solutions. This activity required mathematical discourse between the students and collaboration, and students enjoyed the game-like discovery element.

3. Prompt Slides (SMP 3)

A teacher can place a question or fill-in-the-blank statement on a slide and invite students to post responses on that slide or the forthcoming slide. This activity creates a student-driven element in the lesson and provides a window into the thoughts of each student. Teachers can also invite students to post their own questions on the slide and encourage students to respond on another slide or verbally. Either way, this activity has the capability to change the course of a passive online-learning experience.

4. Equation Slides  (SMPs 1, 2, 4, 6)

Including an expression or equation slide is an obvious option for math instruction. Students answer on forthcoming slides or in the chat section of the remote-learning program. I used an equation slide to encourage my students to mentally calculate 1 percent of whole numbers after our discussion of how to do so with multiplication and division. This was a chance for students to use their conceptual knowledge to support their procedural knowledge, practice mental calculation precision, and learn from each other as student-generated solutions appeared on the screen.

5. Game Slides (SMPs 1, 5, 6)

Game slides are versatile because they can be used as game boards or scoreboards, and they practically guarantee lively math discourse. To end a session on probability, I created a slide on which I embedded an online spinner app and a score table so that my seventh graders could keep track of the number of times they spun particular colors on the spinner. This allowed me to observe the results in real time, as it provided a record of the data my students collected. They then used that data to answer questions about the game and probability of colors, actual results, and new predictions—all on an additional slide. This eliminated the need for a worksheet or alternative means of recording data; all of my students’ game results and answers to the questions were housed in the slide deck.

Using game slides is a pedagogical tool I learned from Dr. Theresa Wills, an online instruction expert at George Mason University. She regularly updates her popular YouTube channel for educators. She should be high on your list of online-learning professionals.

Google Slide lessons were new for my students, but they immediately adapted to them. Sometimes my lessons were entirely composed of collaborative slides. My students eventually were able to complete slide decks asynchronously: I assigned partners a set of slides to complete within a class deck (up to four slides) that I would later assess. I would design those lessons as 20- to 25-minute sessions to prevent student fatigue.

Although it initially seemed insurmountable, we now know that we can teach online in a way that excites students and stimulates them to learn. Want your students to perk up and speak out in your next online math session? Add a collaborative slide to your lesson, and watch them come alive.

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  • 6-8 Middle School
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