Monthly Archives: August 2020

360 Podcast – Brian Simmons on Mindful Teaching and Learning Through the COVID Pandemic

Welcome to the first episode of season 3 of the 360 podcast! In this time of returning to in-person instruction during the global COVID pandemic, we chat with Brian Simmons, a mindfulness teacher and educational leader from Manhatten, NY. We discuss ways that we can use mindfulness and meditation to help us teach and learn well through this uncertain time. 

About Brian Simmons from brian-simmons.org:

“I was an award-winning writer/producer for Comedy Central, and was suddenly struck down with a 10-year debilitating illness that changed my life trajectory. It sucked, but it was totally worth it.

Along the way, I learned very deep lessons about how Mindfulness and ancient wisdom can help a person exactly when they need it most – when life doesn’t cooperate. Today, I am an educational leader and mindfulness teacher in NYC, and I use this experience to relate directly to real people with no time for nonsense.

Regardless if you are a skeptic, seeker, educator or student of any age. When I was first introduced to meditation culture in the 90’s it made me cringe. It still does sometimes, but the practice of Mindfulness changed my life. And, it blew my mind. I believe it will do the same for you.

I’ve spent decades practicing fiercely with some of the best meditation teachers on earth. I’ve completed teacher training at the Center for Mindfulness at UMASS Medical College and am a graduate of the Community Dharma Leaders program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. I also serve on the teacher’s council at NY Insight Meditation Center in Manhattan and am a meditation teacher on the 10% Happier App. I’ve learned powerful techniques and perspectives that work, and I love sharing them with people.”

Mindfulness in Education

Navigating Life Changes

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Connection and Reflection: 5-ish Tools for Teaching Mathematics During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is hard.

I’m planning out my start of year classes and it’s just beginning to hit me that I can’t do group work in the same way, and I can’t walk around the class in the same way, and I won’t be able to help a student in quite the same way. Students will be wearing masks, and will be sitting 6ft apart. With a strong belief in learning being a social activity, this semester is going to be like no other.

However, my priorities remain fairly consistent, although how it looks will be different this year, especially as I may need to be able to pivot between in-person and virtual learning for the foreseeable future. They are:

  • To give the students a positive and engaging experience of learning mathematics
  • To help students learn collaboratively
  • To help students to become learners, reflecting on their own progress and being able to adapt accordingly

In summary, my priorities for the year, whether in person or through the computer, are Connection and Reflection.

Connection: This will be especially true if we end up going fully online, but the more ways the students can connect with each other the better the learning will be.

Reflection: This has always been important, but in a time where we can not really meet with students one-on-one, we have to get creative in terms of helping students to reflect on their own learning.

Here are some tools that I will be using for student connection and reflection in the coming weeks:


Flipgrid (Free)

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Flipgrid is a k12 social platform where students can share videos with each other and with their teacher in a safe and transparent way. This is a great tool for general introductions, class social interactions, or creating reflection videos for assignments.

Marco Polo (Free) is a good alternative, too.


Desmos Activity Builder (Free)

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With some phenomenal options for sharing thinking between students and giving teachers full access, Desmos Activity Builder is a must-have in the connected math classroom. You can use one of the pre-designed activities from Desmos or other teachers (use this google search for better results from other teachers), or you can design your own from scratch, or using their hugely helpful templates.

They have taken follow-up discussions to the next level with tools to show aggregated and individual responses, as needed. You can anonymize names, or show named responses.

Desmos has put together some great webinars for you to get quickly up to speed on how it all works. And, it’s all completely free!


Diagnostic Questions (Free)

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Designed by Mr. Craig Barton himself, Diagnostic Questions is a free tool that will give you some great data from multiple choice questions that you can set for students. I like that this software has the option to ask students to submit a summary of their thinking and not just to click on the ‘correct’ answer. This tool is easy to use, set up, and is completely free, giving you a lot of information on student mastery.

ASSISTments is a similar program that is more US based questions.


Classkick ($7.99/mnth for Pro Account)

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I reviewed Classkick a while ago, and although I haven’t used this for a while, it could be a great way to seamlessly transition between in-class and virtual learning. You can see all students working live on an assignment, giving them live feedback. There is the option for students to help other students, and with a pro account, you can export grade data, as needed.

When it is difficult to walk around the class room in the same way, Classkick is a great way to see everyone’s thinking without having to rely on multiple choice questions.


Padlet (from $12/mnth for education account)

Padlet is a great way to organize student responses in a variety of formats including pictures, video, and typing. Useful for both in-person and at-home learning, it is a great tool for students to share ideas with each other, to work on a project, or to post questions. You can also see which student has viewed what if you need to ensure that everyone is engaged.

I hope this list helps you to start the semester/term well and for your students to feel connected and enjoyment in their learning. Feel free to write a comment below if you know of any tools that are a must-check-out for students to connect and reflect in the coming weeks.

Latest Posts

Connection and Reflection: 5-ish Tools for Teaching Mathematics During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I’m planning out my start of year classes and it’s just beginning to hit me that I can’t do group work in the same way, and I can’t walk around the class in the same way, and I won’t be able to help a student in quite the same way. Students will be wearing masks, and will be sitting 6ft apart. With a strong belief in learning being a social activity, this semester is going to be like no other.

How to Create Your Very Own Math Ed Search Engine

Inspired by Robert Kaplinsky’s Problem-Based Learning Search Engine, I decided I wanted to create my own based on my favorite websites to check before starting every unit. The process is very simple but at the end of it, you come out with a search engine that will only search websites that you decide are worth […]

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