Here’s what I hung up last week:
Here’s a closeup of some of them…
These are polar graphs that students designed using Desmos. Then I printed them out on photopaper and hung them up.
This was something I wanted to do after introducing polar graphing. Why? Because one day during the polar unit, I started playing around with desmos and accidentally created:
… from something so simple …
(Now to be fair, desmos isn’t great with creating great complicated polar graphs… and it’s better to write them parametrically to get a bit more accuracy… so this is a bit of a lie of a graph in that it isn’t totally accurate… but it’s oh so pretty.) 
So after our unit on polar graphing, I took 10 minutes at the start of class to introduce this idea of a Polar. Graph. Contest. First I threw this image up:
I then pulled up desmos and asked my kids to shout out some polar function. I graphed it. Then I put in a slider or two. So for example, if they said , I might have added the slider . And then I started changing the sliders. Then I might have altered the function a bit more, like and we saw what happened. Then I gave everyone 7 minutes to just come up with something pretty.
It was magical.
Kids just started playing. They dug into old functions they had learned about. They got excited by what they were seeing. They gasped and turned their screens to show their friends. Some who were getting boring graphs saw the cool graphs their classmates were getting and were inspired to mix things up since they knew they could make neat things. #mathjoy in the house.
My heart was singing.
Then I showed kids a google doc which had all the info for the contest — and the link to the google form to submit their entries. There were initially two contests. Students needed to create the coolest polar graph with one equation. And students needed to create the coolest polar art using multiple equations. However, some students were animating the sliders and coming up with fun animations (like this or this… watch both for a while). So I added an optional third animated polar graph category.
I haven’t yet told my kids who the winners are. I want to just let them appreciate the work of their classmates for now.
After creating the bulletin board, I’ve seen kids look at the artwork. Kids from my class, but also kids from other grades. And what I’ve found fascinating is that so far, very few kids pick the same polar art pieces as their favorites. I expected everyone to love the same ones I do. But it just isn’t the case. I think when I announce the winners, I’ll have the class go to the board, have everyone point out a few that they like, and then I’ll make my grand pronouncement.
I asked my kids, when submitting their artwork, “This is something new I came up with this year. I want to know if you enjoyed doing it or not. No judgments if you didn’t. Y’all tend to be honest when I ask for feedback, and I appreciate it! I genuinely want to know. I also am a bit curious if you had any mathematical thought as you were playing on Desmos? You don’t have to say what thoughts you had (if any) — just if you had any.”
Every student responded positively. Some responses included:
- I think this was so awesome! I love art and this felt like art to me. It is so fun when art and math intersect, I loved it!!!!!
- Messing around with the graphs was actually more entertaining than I thought it would be. I spent a lot more time on this than I thought I would, and I feel like I’ll probably spend more time on this trying to find a really cool design I like (and possibly gaining a better understanding why the graphs look the way they do…).
- I had so much more fun doing this than I thought I would, honestly. Once I finished my multi-equation graph, I looked at the clock on my computer and realized I had been working on it for nearly 20 minutes; it had seemed like maybe 5.
- I really enjoyed doing this assignment. I felt that I learned a lot about polar through it. I didn’t think too much about math while making my graphs, however I thought about math a lot in order to observe and think about patterns I found in my graphs.
Now I want to be frank: there isn’t much “learning” that happens when kids are doing this assignment. This isn’t a way to teach polar. But it is a way to get kids to appreciate the power of polar when they are done working with polar, and what sorts of different kinds of graphs compared to the boring ol’ rectangular coordinate system. I just wanted kids to play, like I played, and get excited, like I got excited. It’s a slightly different way to appreciate the power of math, and I am good for that. Especially since it only took 10 minutes of classtime!
As an aside, I love that when I tweeted this out, a tweep said he was going to be doing this in his class after his kids learn about circles. Um, hell yeah!
 So there are two ways to graph polar in desmos. First is the straight up polar way, and the second is the parametric way. It turns out that the polar way is solid for most things, but it loses refinement at times. Let me show an example. If we graphed , we should get a flower with 57 petals.
And happily, if we graphed it in both polar and parametric, we get the same looking graph:
However if we zoom in a bunch, we can see that the red graph (the polar equation) is interesting and stunning, but just isn’t correct. While the zoomed in blue graph (the parametric equation) is more boring, but is technically correct.
It turns out desmos samples more points using parametrics than polar.
As a result, a few of the polar artworks my kids made aren’t “true.” Their pieces are a desmos quirk, like the red graph is above. But what a lovely desmos quirk.
Note to self: This was adapted by Jo Boaler to be a task in the Week of Inspirational Math 2019
These are awesome! Do you have the equations for the examples that the students completed? (So that I can show some samples in class)
I’m a student playing around with polar, and this is legitimately the coolest thing to see!