Math Matters

My Top 9 Tips and Tools in Google Applications

Using Google for digital activities has been transforming!

I started really digging into what Google applications could do for me while trying to recreate hands-on activities I use for student learning into a digital activity. My goal was to find ways to make the digital versions as close as possible to the physical materials students love to work with and that can engage visual and kinesthetic learners alike. I now have activities that use Google docs, sheets, forms, and slides though I do use slides more often than not.


In this newsletter I am sharing 9 of the top tools that I find useful and how they work in case you too are working frantically to create digital materials that engage learners. And BTW - #3 changed my life!


And a shameless plug - if you like what you see here, please follow me on social media. And if you think I may already have created an activity that can save you time, check out my activity materials. I offer them in both pre-printed formats on my own online store or as printable versions in TpT. At this point, almost all of them also include a digital version using one of these Google applications.

1. Images

Sheets: I guess I never knew this and maybe it always worked on Excel and I never tried it. I recently created a Pixel Art type activity that covered 1-step equations. Since some of my equations contained stacked fractions, I needed a way to make them look right in the sheet. So I started with PowerPoint and my good ole equation editor. I created each equation (all of them so they looked the same) and one at a time I saved each equation as a picture. I know using PowerPoint sounds weird, like why not just use Word? But when I try sometimes to save something as a picture (right-click on an image and you should see this option) it's not always available in my Word files - IDK why. But it is ALWAYS an option in PowerPoint. Anyway, I want my equations to all look right and Google sheets doesn’t have an equation add on that will let me make pretty fractions or fancy roots so… enter images. Once you have an image you want to put in a cell, you can put it inside a cell (making sure to accommodate the cell size) or you can overlay it on top of a cell or cells. It was a game-changer for me for sure. Now I can still have pretty math problems even if I have to save each one separately and merge cells to make it fit. J

Find it under the INSERT menu options


While I’m on images, I want to also include a note about adding images in Slides, Drawings, and Forms. You should absolutely add images! These visuals help students (or other adults if you are sharing a presentation with big people) to connect to the content and be more engaged.


In Slides and Drawings, you can use the Insert menu of options to find the ability to insert images you have on your computer, as well as from the web, your photos, or even use the camera on your laptop (or Chromebook for students) to add an image. This is a great option for older students. Teach them how to do this to take a photo of their work done on paper using their Chromebook or other device camera and put it on a slide before they submit their assignment back in Google classroom. This helps hold them accountable to actually doing the paper/pencil work instead of just texting and getting answers from friends without actually doing the assignment. ;)

In Google Forms, you can also include images to questions or as answer choices. Like my challenge with sheets, sometimes I need stacked fractions, special math equations, or even geometric models that I can’t make easily in the application. So I create them, save as pictures, then insert them in the question as either the visual that goes with the question or as the answer choices.

2. Backgrounds

Create your own background using a drawing and download it as a png or jpg image. Then add it to the background of a slide and add any additional text on top. The background is not changeable for students when you assign the file so they can’t accidentally delete something. It's great for products you sell too so that your property can’t be changed by others. See tip #8.

Find it under the SLIDE menu options

3. The select tool in Slides and Drawings

Ok, this one isn’t technically a tool found in the menus per se but it’s a really cool feature. You can select multiple objects on a slide or a drawing by clicking on the first image, click shift, and click on another image. Keep holding shift to keep selecting many individual images or text boxes, etc. But this isn’t the coolest part. If you hold down the Shift key first, then use your mouse and the left button (at least it’s the left one on mine) you can draw a blue box around multiple objects on the screen. When you let go, all of the objects that the box outlines or touches at any point are selected and you can copy, move, etc all of them at one time. So cool and helpful because I can use this for the next item in this list.

4. Arrange in Slides or Drawings

One of the ways I often work in slides is to create digital drag and drop activities. I snip images of the physical cards I use in an activity and then copy these images all to the slideshow so I can have students match them up or do other drag and drop tasks on the slide. Often if you drag all the images from your computer over to your slide (or drawing) they spread out all over the place, and I always need to resize them all. Enter tool #3!

I use the select box tip to select all of the “cards” at one time. Then once they are all selected, use the Arrange features. You can align them all to the center and to the middle to pull them all into one “stack”, then you can resize them all as a stack making fast work. Note that they still may not all be exactly the same size because of how you snipped them, but for most things this is ok.

Other things you can do with the Arrange menu tools…

Suppose you want to have all your little cards in a row or column. Use the Arrange menu option to align to the center (for a column) or to the middle (for a row). Once you have a row or column you might also want to spread out those cards evenly so the space between them is the same. To do this choose the Distribute vertically or horizontally features under the arrange menu.

But there’s more you can do under Arrange! Select an image or object and under Arrange you can rotate or flip it or center it horizontally or vertically on the page. You can also change the order of different objects, sending some items backward or moving some forward in the layers on the drawing or slide. A.MAZ.ING!

5. Use your Voice in Slides

Maybe you are tired of typing after making an activity, but you still need to put in speaker notes. You can Voice type your speaker notes on a slide instead. Wow. Mind-Blowing!

I can’t be the only one who finds this awesome. Even while I sit typing in the text on a slide, I can voice in my notes for other users, students, or even myself for later.

Find it under the Tools menu options

6. Word Art in Slides and Drawings

IDK about you but I really like to make my headings and titles on my slide activities look fun and appealing. For this sometimes I change up the size and font I’m using, but you can also use Word Art. Located under the insert tools this is a cool way to add text with flair. Once you click the option to insert Word Art, you can enter your title or heading into the box, then hit enter, and Voila! You can change the font too so make it super cute, then change the text color AND the color of the border around the letters making your title really stand out. Use the bucket to change the the fill color for the letters and then adjust your border color and weight. Even bold it and make it really amazing.

Find it under the Insert menu options

7. Format Options in Slides and Drawings

You can find “Format Options” in a couple of ways, including under the Format menu list. Here you’ll find several great things you can do to objects. Back to activities where I have cards or images, under Format Options, you can resize, either controlling dimensions separately or lock dimensions to keep the ratio the same as the original but to scale up or down. You can also rotate under the size section using angles other than 90 which worked fantastic on my activity using protractors overlaid on angles. J


Other adjustments you can make include the specific position of objects. I use this when I’m making several slide backgrounds that are similar by maybe with a different “mat” or image that will fill most of the screen. I note the size and position of the first one, and then as I make copies of the drawing or slide, I can put in the next image and make it the same size and placement as the previous one. You can also recolor images, change the contrast and transparency, and add shadows or reflections. This is fun if you put in a Word Art title to add a bit of drama.

8. Download

Often I work on drawings first when I’m creating a new presentation and then I use the drawing as my background in the slideshow. You can put a different background on each slide or use the same one and change the textboxes or whatever is on top. See tool #2. I use drawings for a couple of reasons. A drawing file is a transparent background so a completely clean slate. Often I put a colored shape to fill my drawing “canvas” completely so that the final image for my slide has color plus the other things I want because, in the slides presentation, you can have a color or an image but not both. This is mainly what drew me to drawings because I can have both this way. I put in a colored shape to fill my drawing, then later on images, activity parts, text, titles, etc. I include all the objects and text that in the final slideshow activity I create, I won’t want to be editable or changeable by others (if I’m selling it on TpT for example) and students can’t accidentally (or on purpose) edit or delete them either. For me often the basics include the colored background shape, a copyright line at the bottom (since I put most on TpT), the title, and an image. Other slides in the activity may also have additional parts that I don’t want to be editable. Once I have the drawing all ready, then I download it as a png. You can actually choose a png or a jpg. I’ll let you debate the difference but I usually choose png as I find it gives the sharpest image because sometimes text from things I snipped from a physical activity version might be a little blurry if I use jpg.

Once you have downloaded the drawing as an image, it can be added as the background to a slide. But the uses don’t stop there. I sometimes make a drawing and download the image for other things, including social media posts, because I can make them the size I need.

Find it under the File menu options

9. Making Matching Items in Forms

I don’t use forms for a lot of activities because it feels a little “worksheety” to me. I did create one recently where I needed to have some matching type items but there isn’t a “matching” question option in the dropdown. Here’s my workaround… Create a question type for a multiple-choice grid or a checkbox grid. Both work but have different uses I’ll explain. Both will require you to create your options in a set of rows and columns. Your rows can be one set of terms or problems and then the columns can be the answers. When I was working on this, I needed to have students select a graph that matched each type of function so I also used an image with the question that students would reference. Then the rows were the function names and the columns were the letters that I assigned to each graph. I made the image using a table in Word, putting in my graph images, and then screen snipping the image as a whole so I could insert it in the question in forms. The multiple-choice grid question type then allows students to pick 1 radio button in each row to match their response. If you wanted them to be able to choose more than one choice in a row, then pick the Checkbox Grid question type. In that one, they can pick multiple items per row.

Bonus Tip! Page Sizes in Slides and Drawings

If you decide to try a few of these things, just a note about the size of your drawing and slides in your file. Drawings automatically default to a slide size with a ratio of 4:3 while Slides default to a size of 16:9 making them wider and filling more of the screen. If you leave the defaults and create a really nice drawing that you put in the background of a slide in your new slideshow, it will appear distorted since it's stretching that image to fit the new scale of the slideshow. To prevent this, change the dimensions of your drawing and/or slideshow to match each other. I like to make activities using a basic portrait or landscape view with 12x9 or 9x12 inches in area, but you can really make it anything that works for your needs - just make them the same. To do this, in either or both applications, go to the File menu and select Page Setup (it's toward the bottom), then choose custom in the dropdown box and enter your own dimensions. You can use centimeters, inches, pixels, or points - whatever you find helps you most!

Find it under the File menu options

Math is Integral

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Kelli D. Mallory, Ed.D.



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