Using Lesson Sketch with Pre-Service and Inservice Teachers

Using Lesson Sketch with Pre-Service and Inservice Teachers

Robert Wieman, Rowan University,

As a mathematics teacher educator, have you ever had problems like these?

  • You want your pre-service teachers to think about a specific issue. However, the written cases and videos you know about include too many details, or not enough, or deal with the wrong content. If only there was a way for you to create an “approximation of practice” (Grossman, et al., 2009) that highlighted exactly the issue you wanted, with exactly the right level of detail.  

  • Your PSTs plan spend hours planning a lesson, but when you have them rehearse in class, they get up to begin the lesson and do not know what to say. If only there were a way for you to get them to play out the lesson in their imagination, so that you, and they, had a concrete sense of what they thought would happen.

  • Even when you do something that meets the challenges above, do you struggle to capture and save your PST responses?  Do you look back at assignments or classroom discussions and think, “That would have been great data”?


LessonSketch is a free, web-based platform I use to address these problems.  

I create cartoon “depictions” of classroom situations and then embed these storyboards in interactive “experiences” that I can assign to my PSTs.  Because I design the depictions, I control the focus and amount of detail. I can choose to show the whole class, or a group of students or just an individual student’s work.  


Whole Class


Small Group


Individual Student


I can depict several students talking at once, and then zoom in on each of the individual comments and ask PSTs questions about them.  



I can ask PSTs multiple choice or open-ended questions, and their responses are automatically saved in an excel spreadsheet that I can then download to my own computer.

I can also have my PSTs make their own storyboard of lessons they plan to teach, which forces them to imagine the lesson in concrete detail.  They have to decide what exact words the teacher will say, and make specific predictions about how students will respond. They have to make choices about how they will arrange desks, and what representations they will share with the class. This helps move them beyond vague planning phrases like, “I will introduce the problem,” and gives me a much better sense of their expectations. (For instance, they often have students respond with “ideal” answers, and have difficulty anticipating the kind of “messy” language that students might use when first articulating their thinking.)


Examples of Work that has grown from LessonSketch

I have worked with a group of colleagues to develop a LessonSketch experience that focuses on planning to launch a rich task. Our pre-service teachers view a slide that shows the problem as well as the teacher’s goals for the lesson. (Generally, we have already done the problem in class.)  Then they are then shown a number of initial student reactions, and asked to describe the student’s thinking and suggest a move they might make during the launch to support productive student thinking. This work has helped us think more deeply about the purpose of launches, what we might mean by expertise in launching rich tasks, and how to support teachers in learning to launch more effectively (Wieman, Jansen, 2017; Wieman & Webel, under review).  

I have also worked with colleagues to examine the effectiveness of having teachers make storyboards of their own lessons as part of the planning process.  We hypothesize that storyboarding will force teachers to be much more specific, which, in turn will enable them to be much more specific about how, exactly the lesson as enacted differed from the lesson as planned.  (Aaron, Amidon, & Wieman, under Review.) My collaborators and I shared on work in an AMTE Webinar:


About the Project

The mathematics teacher education materials created through the LR+D Fellows Project have been developed in part with the support of National Science Foundation Grant DRL-1316241. All opinions represented in these materials are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation. The experiences and depictions created for this module were done on the LessonSketch platform. All the graphics in the LessonSketch platform are © 2015 The Regents of the University of Michigan. Figures taken from the platform for illustrative purposes are used with permission.


How to get started

For a sense of the kinds of experiences you can have your students use, pleases visit and create an account. Click here* for detailed information about how to create a basic user account.  As a basic user, you can browse the collections, complete some introductory experiences., and use tools, such as the Depict Tool.



Aaron, W., Amidon, J., and Wieman, R. (To be given, January 2018). Using LessonSketch to Supporting educative reflections in practicum experiences (Working title), Part of the AMTE Professional Development Webinar series.

Aaron, W., Amidon, J., and Wieman, R. (Submitted 2018). Supporting educative reflections in practicum experiences: The use of LessonSketch. Submitted to the Annual Meeting for the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, (AMTE), Houston, TX, February, 2018.

Grossman, P., Compton, C., Igra, D., Ronfeldt, M., Shahan, E., & Williamson, P. (2009). Teaching practice: A cross-professional perspective. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2055-2100.

Wieman, R., & Webel, C. (Under Review). Patterns connecting interpreting and deciding how to respond while launching: Noticing from an integrated perspective. Submitted to Mathematics Teacher Education and Development.

Wieman, R., & Jansen, A. (2016). Improving pre-service teachers' noticing while learning to launch. Paper presented at the The thirty-eighth annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Tucson, AZ.


*  Link for detailed info about how to create an account:


If you are interested, there is a session at AMTE on February 8 at 10:15