Conics & GIFs (& why GIF’s are my new addiction)

I have a new addiction.  It has been slowly building this school year.  For years I’ve been addicted to adding visuals to my math lessons – many of you have attended trainings on why this is so important and I’ve shared my reasons for this and also my favorite visuals (In fact my first blog post ever was a collection of visual resources from a session at an NCTM regional in the fall).  I know visuals have become an addiction because I keep bumping up against my school districts’s storage capacity limits – visuals have been impacting my daily life as I’ve had to go to using memory sticks to support my addiction.  HA!  In the last year or 2 I’ve learned how easy it is to add GIF’s to my lessons and my addiction has a new layer to it.  This post is why you too should be addicted to GIF’s in your math classroom.

I know GIF stands for ‘graphics interchange format’ but I like to think of GIF as an acronym for Giving Information For….Noticings and Wonderings’.  If you can find the right GIF’s for your math classroom, they are more powerful than any image you can put in front of students.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, then a GIF is worth 1000 pictures.  (OK, so I made that statement up….but)  I love GIF’s because they are repeated messages/visuals for our student to notice relationships and connections.  There is such power in repeated messages.

I love GIF’s more than videos on YouTube (though I love me a great video too) for lots of reasons:

  • I can easily download a GIF to use by ‘right clicking’ one I find and saving it to my lesson files.
  • I can more easily upload the GIF into my Active Inspire/Promethean (smart board) lessons and annotate over them if I want.
  • GIF’s are short – great for the attention span of me and my students.
  • I don’t have to override my district’s blocking of YouTube if I use a GIF
  • GIF’s repeat over and over.  LOVE!megan and sara

I’d like to introduce you to my student teacher, Megan, who is has just 7 days left in student teaching world.  I’ve shared her with my amazing co-worker Morgan this yea
r.  Not only have we started dressing the same (embarrassing for her I am sure), but I’ve also passed on an addiction for GIF’s.  She has been fully in charge of developing lessons for our current unit on Conics – and she has used GIF’s to visualize things that were very difficult to visualize in the past.  I’ll use what she found to conic imagesshow you why I LOVE using gifs in the classroom.

  1. What is a conic section?  In our old school way of doing this we would find a great visual to show this like this one.  On good days we would use a visual with color or we would make rice krispies and place them in cone containers and have our students slide them – though this created a huge mess.  Look at this GIF instead and imagine the possibilities:  conic_sections
  2. Circles.  Use MTBoS superstar Alexander Overwijk’s perfect circle GIF and ask students to notice/wondedrawing perfect circle gifr on how he draw’s circles so perfectly.  Connect what they notice to distances. In addition she wanted to connect the construction of a circle to the definition of a circle: A locus of points that are a constant distance from a point.  circle defintionHere is the screen shot of her smart board slide……circlebut imagine how much better this visual is when combine with the GIF. Her use of a GIF drove home the idea of a ‘locus of points’ better than other ways I’ve seen it done.circle_construction
  3. ELLIPSE. Here is a screen shot of my student’s first exposure to an ellipse.  My student teacher showed this to students BEFORE defining an ellipse – – –Ellipse
    Here is what it looked like as an GIF  – students constructed the definition of an ellipse with their notice and wonderings.  800px-Ellipse_AnimationMy student teacher also went old school and constructed ellipses using tape, string and chalk and moved the foci to reinforce what the GIF above showed.  Here are a few other GIF’s of Ellipses.  how to create an ellipsehow-to-create-an-ellipse-animation-of-locus-and-focus
  4. PARABOLAS Here is the GIF we used to help students understand the definition of parabolas – first a screen shot followed by the GIF.
    1. Parabola.PNGparabola_construction_purp

    One thing I love about GIFS –  over videos – is that you can annotate over them.  Notice that in the screen shot that my student teacher made the directrix in the GIF to the left RED and the focus point ORANGE so she could connect this to her definition – magical.

  5. Here is another Parabola GIF.how to create a parabolaparabola-locus-animation-demonstration
  6. HYPERBOLAS  We have not found the perfect GIF for this YET, but here a few to start – We would love it if someone could make a better one…..hyperbola (1)

Some closing thoughts:

  • ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE!  Above, I asked for a better Hyperbola GIF and within a couple of hours the amazing @samjshah (check out his blogmade this on Geogebra to represent the Hyperbola definition.  It is so great! I will Gifify and post as soon as I can.  Thanks Sam!
  • We did not use all the GIF’s above – I added a few extras so you could choose your favorites.  A few good ones is better than lots.  I recommend no more than 1 per day.
  • I’ve used some amazing GIF’s for many other Advanced Algebra topics this year.  At some point if I am asked to I’ll upload my other favorites.  I’d love to have your’s – tweet me @saravdwerf or comment below with a link.
  • I LOVE creating GIF’s of things on Desmos – if you have not done this yet – get on it and use GIFsmos  I made a bunch in my transformations unit.  If I can do it you can too.  (or google ‘desmos gif’ and steal others have created) Here is a video of how to do it from the amazing Chris Lusto (he went to college in MN – so he must be amazing).  
  • My student teacher made a great (non-GIF) Desmos Activity using a photo hunt (find the 5 differences in 2 photos by circling them with a circle or ellipse.  You can go to Student Desmos now and play using the code DP22.  I will get you the teacher version soon from my student teacher and link it here….
  • I also love to use silly GIFs to lighten up the classroom or reflect the mood of my students.  Here is a silly one for you to close out this post with.  Enjoy.  Until next time…..
  • 4 by 4 truck equals 16 math geeks
Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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