Breaking the Barriers to Political Cartoon Analysis

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then the layers of nuance and meaning in a political cartoon (often with some strategically placed text) must be worth at least 10,000. Those primary source text documents we love to throw at students are great, but political cartoons can offer a change of scenery while building the same important critical reasoning skills. It might even provide some humor, or at least a clever angle that provokes further investigation.

The symbols and analogies woven into political cartoons are illusive by design. So how can we give students the tools to analyze political cartoons and the confidence to start unleashing some of those 10,000 words of epiphany?

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers a content-focused series for both U.S. History and World History with tools to help students decode political cartoons.

Take voting rights for women, for example. This classic political cartoon summarizes the 19th Amendment’s ratification in one clever image that gets to the heart of the struggle.


What is going on here? What complex story is this image telling us? After spending a few minutes considering various elements of the image, this online tool can help students break it down.

The interactivity provides handy rollovers to help define text references like “National Suffrage” and “Ratification.”


Next students can start determining  what emotions are communicated by the central figure. Does she seem in a hurry, a bit apprehensive? Why? The focus is on those last few buttons. How should students interpret that part of the image? If they need a few clues, this online tool offers enough explanation to set their thinking in the right direction.


Now take a look at this cartoon from FDR and the New Deal. What’s next for this homesteading FDR in his Granny apron?


The Supreme Court had just overruled the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). (It is interesting that both those acronyms stand for completely different organizations today.)


What piece of equipment is he hoping to save from the Supreme Court Moving Co.?


And what’s the power source in that little generator?


Whether they are analyzing pertinent content presented in a political cartoon to help explain a complex issue, or creating a clever caption that highlights the attitude and meaning of the image (alla New Yorker cartoon contests), it's an engaging activity to sharpen a student’s analytical skills.

Here are some more resources from the Turning Points in U.S. History and World History series that offer political cartoon analysis activities using the online clues.

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Project-based Learning, Data Literacy, and Online Resources

In the 1960’s students spoke of the “mind-blowing” Age of Aquarius. Today they speak of something even more amazing — and a good deal more data intensive: the Internet of Things (IoT), in which objects like doors and light switches can collect and exchange data. Of course, students are also bombarded with information on social and scientific issues, along with facts, opinions, advertisements, political speeches, blogs about health, the environment, technology, and so on.

Project-based learning (PBL) helps students survive this data deluge and voice their ideas on local and global issues.

The Inquiry-Based Disciplinary Literacy (IDL) Model provides unique student-driven opportunities to solve authentic problems in a collaborative environment. Planning, action, and reflection are crucial.

Students direct their own learning by developing real-world questions and conducting research to answer those questions. Students also decide what they will create and how they will share their findings. As students acquire new knowledge and embed it in the project, they learn and apply skills from all content areas.

The IDL process has five phases: (1) Ask a compelling question; (2) Gather and analyze sources; (3) Creatively synthesize claims and evidence; (4) Critically evaluate and revise; and (5) Share, publish, and act (Spires, H.A., Kerkhoff, S., Graham, A. & Lee, J., 2014).


Students begin with a list of topics. These can be derived from content-area standards, interdisciplinary units, news stories, books, social media, and other sources. Next, students learn to write a compelling question — one that motivates them to seek answers supported by sound evidence. In the process, students learn to identify the position and motivation of various stakeholders.

In the research phase, students make decisions about the credibility and relevance of the information they find — skills crucial to success for anyone confronting the IoT.  To make these evaluations, students must build knowledge from data (i.e., they must be data literate). That means answering some key questions: How was the data collected? Is it credible and relevant?

Now students can present and defend their opinions by making sound judgments based on reliable information. Key challenges in this phase involve choosing the best way to organize and display information for a specific audience.

PBL lends itself to differentiated instruction since students must make decisions about their roles in creating the final product. Striking differences in abilities will emerge. Students have a natural affinity to work on tasks that highlight their own strengths and interests. By working collaboratively in PBL groups, students can demonstrate those strengths and take responsibility for their roles in completing the project.

Students think critically to create the question and plan the investigation, as well as when they collect, evaluate, and display the data. Decision-making skills are crucial if students are to select appropriate digital tools to research, synthesize, evaluate, and publish the end product.


SAS Curriculum Pathways provides quality resources for supplementing PBL lessons — for free! You’ll find hundreds of standards-aligned lessons in the five core disciplines, each equipped with guides that include learning objectives, assessment rubrics and keys, and a detailed procedure.

A constraint in teaching data literacy is the lack of grade-level appropriate data sets. With SAS Curriculum Pathways, that’s no longer an issue. Data Depot provides an online repository of more than 100 downloadable, user-friendly data sets that enable students to work with real-world statistics.

Discover Writing Navigator, a writing tool that guides students through the writing process: planning, drafting, revising, and publishing. By integrating these resources, teachers can create project-based learning lessons and teach data literacy in any discipline.

Want to learn more…

If you are attending ISTE  in Denver this summer, stop by our poster session, PBL, Data Literacy and Online Resources, on Wednesday, June 29, from 8:00 am–10:00 pm MDT.

Our goals are as follows:

  1. Introduce participants to free K-12 resources for supplementing PBL lessons including:
    • Data Depot, a repository of data sources and focused lessons that will help your students become more data-literate.
    • Writing Navigator, four interrelated products that guide students through the writing process: planning, drafting, revising, and publishing.
    • Explore! Primary Sources, a repository of materials in which we’ve clarified the historical context and provided content-based questions that encourage active reading.
    • Science Virtual Labs, online experiments across a broad range of core topics.
    • Interactive Atlas, view and generate customized maps; use draw tools to add information.
  2. Answer questions about PBL implementation.
  3. Gather feedback and recommendations for improvements.

Hope to see you there!

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Improving Student Writing with a Free Add-on for Google Docs

Among the more than 240 million Google Drive users are many students who increasingly use Google Docs to create essays, lab reports, blog posts, and other forms of communication. That’s one reason why SAS Curriculum Pathways has created the SAS Writing Reviser Add-on, a tool that helps students using Google Docs improve any type of writing. And if you’re attending ISTE this year in Denver, you can check out this writing tool by making a quick stop at our poster session, Improving Student Writing with a Free Add-on for Google Docs, on Monday morning, June 27, from 8:00-10:00 MDT.

In the past, writing tools espoused abstract ideals of perfection that students were then asked to transfer to their own work. Not surprisingly, that transfer often failed to occur. The Writing Reviser Add-on shifts the paradigm by focusing on whatever the student writes. The impact of that shift is difficult to overstate.

This tool helps students improve their work in ways that traditional products cannot. Specifically, the add-on helps students ask questions experienced writers ask automatically. The focus is not mere mechanical correctness, but the kind of judgment that is essential to effective writing. The tool is designed to be instructional (not just evaluative), to help students take advantage of missed opportunities, and to provide teachers with a record of those enhancements.

The Writing Reviser Add-on can be used in a variety of contexts depending on student needs and available technology: individual, small-group, and whole-class. It can be used by students as they complete essay assignments drawn from original prompts created by the student or teacher. The tool is learner-centered and standards-based, and it targets higher-order thinking skills.

In this session, you will do the following:

  • See a demonstration of this add-on
  • Learn about best practices for integrating it in a variety of educational settings
  • Have an opportunity to use the tool—just as students would

We look forward to seeing you in Denver!

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Closing the STEM Opportunity Gap with Free Apps for K-5

It's no secret: there is a growing gap between the number of STEM jobs available and the number of workers qualified to fill them. Of even greater concern is the under-representation of  women and minorities in STEM careers compared to the general population. Organizations like Change the Equation and the Department of Education attribute this discrepancy to a lack of STEM opportunities and engagement for women and minorities in the United States. For example, these organizations identify a lack of preparation among elementary school teachers to encourage female participation in STEM. In addition, they note that novice teachers are more likely to teach STEM courses at high-poverty schools, meaning that students in such schools are likely recieving a less-than-equitable education compared to their more affluent counterparts. Lastly, minority students are woefully underrepresented in STEM AP courses.

Technology, known to some as "the great equalizer," has shown promise in reducing America's achievement gap. In fact, The US Office of Educational Technology identifies free STEM software, like SAS Curriculum Pathways, as a potential solution for closing the opportunity gap. However, technological promises are contingent on equitable access to content. Otherwise, edtech solutions run the risk of widening the achievement gap by widening the opportunity gap.

At SAS Curriculum Pathways, we remove the financial barrier to high-quality education software. As part of a STEM-based company, we are particularly interested in fostering the development of tomorrow's STEM leaders. Furthermore, we recognize the breadth of technology being deployed in schools and the need for cross-platform, device-agnostic resources. Our hope is that any student, regardless of geographic location or socio-economic status, in any school, regardless of technology implementation, can take advantage of our resources.

STEM Opportunity Gap

Interested in learning more? Are you attending ISTE this year in Denver? If so, swing by our poster session, Closing the STEM Opportunity Gap with Free Apps for K-5, on Tuesday, June 28 from 10:30 am–12:30 pm MDT. During this poster session, we hope to achieve three overarching goals:

  1. Introduce participants to free K-5 resources for building a solid STEM-ready foundation, such as the following:
    • Reading with SAS Reading Records, a digital solution for running records of reading
    • Math with SAS Math Stretch, a suite of early number sense exercises
    • Coding with our latest app, CodeSnaps, a tool for coding in a no-, low-, or high-tech environment
  2. Work individually with attendees to devise an integration strategy that works for their classroom.
  3. Gather feedback and recommendations for future product improvements.

Hope to see you there!


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Engaging ELL Students with Authentic Experiences and Digital Resources

Language teachers often take advantage of authentic input to enhance learning output. The use of realia allows students to see and hear the target language used properly and in context, which heightens linguistic and cultural comprehension. SAS Curriculum Pathways offers free resources that serve as authentic materials (#authres) for English Language Learners (ELL). These resources can also be adapted to teach academic subject matter and second language skills concurrently.

ELL_ISTE2To accommodate the range of learning preferences and levels in an ELL classroom, teachers must select materials that are applicable to the lesson and of interest to the students. To customize and personalize a learning activity, TESOL suggests that teachers consider three C’s: concepts, contents, and customers.

The flexibility of our resources allows for differentiated instruction and supports a variety of assessment methods. Interactive lessons put students at the center of their own learning while visually dynamic content and ELL-friendly practices (closed-captioning, roll-over tool tips) ensure that the learner is able to understand the material and deduce meaning and purpose.

Want to learn more?

Are you attending ISTE this year in Denver? If so, swing by our poster session, Engage ELL Students with Authentic Materials and Relevant Digital Resources, on Monday, June 27 from 11:00 am - 1:00 pm to learn about the following:

  • Using core subject matter to provide ELLs with discipline-specific content and second language skills concurrently.
  • Content-based instruction and relevant learning experiences that allow students to explore multiple examples, confront real-life problems and practical applications, and make connections between prior and new knowledge.
  • Creating meaningful interaction to communicate for social, intercultural, and instructional purposes.

Hope to see you there!

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Creating Student-Generated Maps that Showcase Inquiry

Robert Marzano explains in The Art and Science of Teaching that to maximize learning students should actively process content as they are learning it. So how does geography fit in this Active Learning Continuum?

Clearly, geography skills encompass more than the obvious “Where” questions. Students can expand their geographic reach to explain “How” and “Why” by making annotated maps that illustrate complex understanding.

Social Studies standards like these in North Carolina promote precisely this level of student-centered pedagogy.

Objective 1.01 Create maps, charts, graphs… as tools to illustrate information about different people, places, and regions… Objective 1.02 Generate, interpret, and manipulate information from tools such as maps, globes, charts… to pose and answer questions about space and place, environment and society.

Imagine students using a geographic context to display, for example, the pros and cons of three potential routes to the 1890s Gold Rush in California.


SAS Curriculum Pathways Interactive Atlas student-created map of routes to the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Or imagine students conducting online research to assess data and create an annotated map with triangles connecting countries where one or more languages are spoken across three contiguous countries.


SAS Curriculum Pathways Interactive Atlas: student-created map of language connections across South America.

Here students create annotated maps that highlight inquiry-based learning. Such activities exhibit the synergy of technology and creativity that ISTE standards demand. Students produce outcomes that display learning in a geographic context.

Want to learn more…

If you are attending ISTE  in Denver this summer, stop by our poster session, Creating Student-Generated Maps That Showcase Inquiry, anytime on Wednesday, June 29, from 11:00 am–1:00 pm MDT. We will be addressing these goals:

  1. Offer k-12 participants a new perspective on using online, student-generated maps as a creative and active palette for learning.
  2. Introduce the capacity of SAS Curriculum Pathways Interactive Atlas as the following:
    • Reference tool
    • Multi-layered map template tool
    • Set of annotation and map creation tools
    • Map library
  3. Explore examples of more than 50 inquiry-based, map-making activities focusing on historical and demographic content.
  4. Gather feedback and recommendations for implementation.

Hope to see you there!

ISTE poster

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EDM 2016 Tutorial - SAS Tools for Educational Data Mining

We're so excited for EDM 2016 in Raleigh, NC this year and even more pleased to announce that we'll be hosting a tutorial on using free SAS tools for educational data mining. This tutorial will take place on June 29 and will include a hands-on* demonstration of SAS® University Edition and an overview of SAS® Enterprise Miner™ through SAS® OnDemand for Academics. We hope to see you there!

* If you intend to participate in the hands-on activities, please bring a laptop with SAS University Edition already installed. The process can take up to an hour so there will not be time for it on the day of the tutorial. The free download is available at

Tutorial Overview

This tutorial will focus on introducing SAS to participants and guiding them through the use of the suite of tools using relevant educational data sets. The tools that will be covered include:

  • SAS® Programming Language. SAS programming language is a powerful language designed specifically for intensive data analysis. This highly flexible and extensible fourth generation programming language has a clear syntax and hundreds of language elements and functions. It supports programming everything from data extraction, formatting and cleansing to data analysis, building sophisticated models, and generating reports. The SAS programming language is at the heart of the SAS University Edition tools.
  • SAS® Studio. SAS Studio is the development environment for SAS University Edition and runs through the web browser as well as in the cloud. It offers a powerful GUI interface that allows novice programmers to interact with data and perform analyses without writing any SAS code themselves. However, the SAS code is all generated behind the scenes and is visible to help users learn.
  • SAS® Enterprise Miner™. SAS Enterprise Miner helps users streamline the data mining process to create highly accurate predictive and descriptive models based on analysis of vast amounts of data. It includes innovative algorithms in the areas of statistics and machine learning to enhance the stability and accuracy of predictions, which can be verified easily by visual model assessment and validation. Users build process flow diagrams that serve as self-documenting procedures. These diagrams can be updated easily or applied to new problems without starting over from scratch. In addition to process flow diagrams, Enterprise Miner provides a programming interface for advanced users. Enterprise Miner allows integration with open source software for data manipulation and model comparison, the open standard PMML, and databases for scoring models without data movement.

Additional SAS tools that may be covered if it is of interest to the participants include tools for time series analysis, forecasting, matrix manipulations, and advanced statistics.

Tutorial Format

This tutorial will be presented as interactive instructions where users will be guided through the tools using relevant education data with a focus on techniques that are commonly required in the EDM community. The tutorial will also include an overview of SAS and its commitment to education research by a leading SAS executive. We also seek to gain feedback from participants prior to the event so that we can tailor the sessions to specific needs or questions. A tentative schedule is below:

Session 1: Introduction and SAS University Edition

9:00-9:15    Introduction – Introduction of presenters and participants and overview of SAS Analytics U

9:15-10:30  SAS Studio and SAS Programming Language

Coffee Break

Session 2: SAS Studio

11:00-12:30   SAS Studio

Lunch Break

Session 3: Keynote and SAS Enterprise Miner

14:00-14:30  Keynote – Keynote presentation will provide an overview of SAS and its commitment to education by discussing tools made available to researchers and products made available to K-12 educators and students.

14:30-15:30   SAS Enterprise Miner

Coffee Break

Session 4: Participant Requested Instruction

16:00-17:00   Additional Instruction – based on the goals of the participants we will delve deeper into aspects of the tools already presented or introduce additional tools as listed in the tutorial description.

17:00-17:30   Conclusion

In addition to the tutorial, instructional materials will be made available to participants. We will also provide guidance on avenues for further learning through online instruction.

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Paideia: A Remedy for Groupthink

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

_Z0C5636Ralph Waldo Emerson has long been lauded as America’s great champion of individualism and nonconformity, but this mantle may now be passing to Adam Grant, Wharton School business professor and bestselling author.

In his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant argues that educators neglect one of their most important duties: encouraging students to think for themselves. If we want our children to grow up and change the world, he says, if we desire that they resist the “groupthink” that too often infects the classroom and—inevitably—the workplace, we should give them genuine opportunities to take more control of their learning and challenge the status quo.

For Grant, college admissions offices are as much a part of the problem as our secondary schools. Instead of exploring their interests and pursuing innovative ideas, students enroll in test-preparation classes and follow conventional paths designed to help them build impressive resumes. A better approach, he thinks, is to include a creative portfolio as part of the admissions process. He even floats the idea that a policy of random admissions might encourage students not to focus so much on checking all the right boxes.

Interviewed in a recent issue of The Atlantic, Grant responds to Jessica Lahey’s question about how teachers can best introduce what she calls “novel, research-based approaches” without creating chaos in the learning environment. Among these approaches, she includes “student-led inquiry; small group, peer-to peer teaching; and problem-based learning.”

Grant acknowledges the potential for chaos when students are given more responsibility for their learning. He recommends that teachers offer a variety of pedagogical approaches. For example, he suggests alternating short lectures (10 minutes maximum), student-led activities using small-group jigsaw strategies, and tutorials designed to help students develop good questions. This combination will nurture curiosity, creative thinking, and confidence—qualities that can lead to success in the classroom and in the workplace.

The interviewer described these strategies as “novel,” which may come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who are familiar with the Paideia program. First introduced by philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler in The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982), Paideia (from the Greek paidos: the upbringing of a child) remains a powerful, innovative approach to educating all students to develop intellectual skills and to think critically and creatively. The National Paideia Center serves these days as a hub for all things Paideia.

Notice how closely the Paideia instructional scheme— represented by their Three Columns of Learning—resembles the one recommended by Adam Grant:

Key to the continuing success of Paideia is the fervor with which its practitioners have embraced new technologies to increase student involvement and academic skill development. For example, in Long Island City, New York, students at the K-12 Queens Paideia School use laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets to target content knowledge (Column 1) and intellectual skill development (Column 2). They also use—and learn to think critically about—multiple social media tools and apps. The Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia, provides 1680 computers and 930 iPads for its 956 students.

The research on Paideia is clear: the combination of these innovative strategies and technologies fosters student inquiry, original thinking, knowledge, and independence. As a result, students develop the competence and the confidence needed—as Adam Grant’s title says—to move the world.


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3 Learning Myths Busted by Brain Research


The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It can process emotion, memory, and learning while controlling body functions such as heart rate and breathing. How do our 100 billion neurons work together to accomplish the greatest human achievements in art, science, mathematics, engineering, government, and language?

Neuroscientists have made enormous progress in unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Researchers know that the brain changes continuously as we learn, a process called neuroplasticity.  Before teachers can fully make use of the latest brain research, we must first address common myths about how the brain works.

We only use 10% of our brains

No evidence supports the assertion that we only use ten percent of our brains. In fact, brain-imaging studies show that we use all parts of the brain. A large portion of the body’s energy is used to maintain and operate the brain. Why would the body invest so much in an organ and not make full use of that investment?

Even during sleep, the brain is active. Although there is much we don’t know about what the brain does during sleep, we do know that it alters between cycles of deep slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Some neuroscientists conjecture that the brain may use sleep time to prune and reorganize neurons.

Researchers know that various regions of the brain work together and neurons with similar functions cluster together.  Furthermore, should the brain experience trauma, it can reorganize and rewire itself to compensate for the loss. That’s pretty amazing!


We can learn without paying attention

Who hasn’t wished this one were true! Each moment, our senses are bombarded with stimuli that compete for attention. The brain uses this information to make sense of the world.

When our brains receive new information, a nerve cell transmits an electrical signal, triggering the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. As we learn, brain cells undergo chemical and structural changes, and there are changes in the number and strength of the connections between neurons.

Brain cells work together to sort and prioritize data competing for attention, a limited resource that drives learning. Selective attention is the way the brain allocates resources allowing us to tune out distractions. Instead, we focus on what matters; what doesn’t we ignore. By filtering out unessential information, the brain manages cognitive load.

How does your brain processes conflict between word-recognition and color-recognition?

See for yourself. How fast were you able to name the color? The delay in your reaction time is known as the Stroop effect, which occurs when our brain fights to inhibit the automatic process of word-recognition in favor of color-recognition—selective attention at work! Did you make errors?

Now, imagine a brain with a developing prefrontal cortex completing the same task. Consider your student’s reaction time, impulse control, and fatigue. Teaching children executive function and self-regulation skills will enable them to focus their attention, filter out distractions, and control distracting impulses. These are essential skills in school, work, and life.

We are either right-brained or left-brained

The myth explains that left-brainers are verbal and analytical and right-brainers are artistic and creative. Left-brainers tend to do better in mathematics and logic, whereas right-brainers excel in music and art. Left-brainers plan in advance and approach challenges in a rational, linear way. Right-brainers, on the other hand, tend to think in images rather than words, focus on the big picture, behave spontaneously, and have scattered thoughts. In this paradigm, left-brain and right-brain are merely two different ways of thinking, preferences, or personality traits.

It’s not quite that simple.

No one is fully right-brained or left-brained.

Before Roger Wolcott Sperry established that brain has specialized functions in the left and right hemispheres, the right hemisphere wasn’t even considered conscious!

Today we know that the brain’s two hemispheres are specialized, can communicate, and have the capacity to reorganize and rewire themselves. Environment and experience physically change the brain, so no two brains are completely alike.

Language, for example, is largely a function of the left hemisphere, but some components of language occur in the right hemisphere. Precisely how much will vary from person to person. The point is that many regions of the brain work together to process language.

We use the whole of our brains, and they change constantly as we learn. Teachers can change their students’ minds and brains—both literally and figuratively.

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Geometry: Explore, Learn, Prove

geometry headerAre you teaching a lesson on parallel lines? What about a lesson on the interior and exterior angles of polygons? If so, our Geometry lessons are the perfect resources for you!  We released our first one, Parallel Lines and Angles, this past fall. Since then, we've released four more. The lessons broaden the content of the tools in the Practice and Prove Geometry Series.

As with the lessons in our popular Algebra 1 Course, you'll find the following in the new Geometry lessons:

  • Alignment to all state standards
  • Compatibility with the PC, iPad, Chromebook, and other mobile devices
  • Interactivity and instructional feedback


Each lesson contains five sections: Get Ready, Learn, Practice, Review, and Quiz. Here’s what each section provides.

Get Ready

In Get Ready students are introduced to the lesson. They receive an overview, along with the lesson’s objectives and key vocabulary terms. Students may also practice prerequisite concepts and access guided notes.

get ready


The bulk of the instructional content is in Learn. Each page provides interactive components and guided practice. A palette is always available so that students can enter answers with appropriate math notation. As students work through the guided-practice problems, they receive immediate feedback. Congratulatory feedback reassures students; instructive feedback helps students persevere through mistakes.



To help students confirm what they have learned, practice provides additional problems similar to those found in Learn. Students receive immediate and instructive feedback. Once they finish, students can save, print, or send a summary of their results.



Review provides students with a lesson summary and access to additional practice resources and printable materials.



Finally, students assess their understanding of the lesson content with Quiz. Unlike Practice, students do not receive immediate feedback. Instead, their answers and work are submitted to a results page where they are then marked. Students can save, print, or send their results.


So check out the Geometry Lesson Series page. More lessons are coming soon!

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