Desmos

Distance Learning: Sorting Through It All

Technically I’m still on Spring Break, but this all ends next week, when we go back to school remotely. I’m one of the lucky few who didn’t have to get thrown into the fire immediately, so I’m using this blogpost as a way for me to sort through what I’ve done and what my take-aways are. I’ll be updating this as new things come my way, so I can keep track of everything useful in one spot.

My dear friend @rdkpickle

So my friend @rdkpickle had to start distance teaching already. She’s kinda amazing in all the ways, and so on twitter she shared out how she was doing her lessons — and noted that they’ve been going well. They are low-tech in that they use Zoom and Google Docs, and use a Google Doc as an anchor for the lesson. I love that the doc allows kids who have to miss the lesson for whatever reason (emotional/anxiety issues, having to take care of a sibling, etc.) have a way to keep up.

Before sharing it, I want to say: seeing what she did was the very first thing that I saw that made me feel like: “okay, I can do this. It’s doable.” BLESS. When talking briefly with her online, she was saying right now she couldn’t be all investigatory in the same way she was in class, almost like she was ashamed. BUT very little of we’re doing is going to be like what we do in class. The ballgame has changed (from basketball to some other sportsball!). Right now, for me, the question is can I give space and structure and community to kids where they feel they can learn a few things. And @rdkpickle’s low-tech approach allows for that!

Here’s a PDF her googledoc, which she said I could share. (And here’s the google doc.)

 

Zoom

Mike Flynn (helped by Sarah Bent) gave two wonderful webinars on distance learning that he has put online — March 11th and March 17th. (If you only have time for one, I’d watch the second one, but both are great.) They were some of the first things that made me realize distance learning was possible, by showing how to do it through his webinar. (Unlike, say, dry powerpoint lectures on teaching active learning strategies. Ahem. We’ve all been there. I just think over and over, “Physician! Heal thyself!”) My takeaways were both about distance learning and about zoom, so I’ll list them here. Fundamentally, though, the best way to learn zoom is to actually just get a few friends and all try it out together (each of y’all practicing being the leaders/hosts of the meeting).

  • If you can, start the zoom meeting 10-15 minutes early and let kids know you’ll be there. You can just have informal chats like you do before a normal class, and you can use that as an easy way to start building community.
  • You can record your sessions, but if you do that, don’t start recording during that informal chat time. (Right now, since Zoom is overloaded, it’s taking them a long time to get the recorded sessions on their website, FYI. But you can have zoom do a “local recording” on your laptop… so I was thinking if the file were small enough, I could just upload that to a google drive folder my kids could access.) Note that the chat box doesn’t show up on the recording.
  • Talk with kids explicitly about the weirdness of talking on Zoom. There are going to be awkward pauses because we can’t use facial cues and body movement to figure out if we’re going to talk or not (we’re all sort of trained to sort of check before we talk so we don’t start at the same time as someone else). So name that, and say that awkwardness is normal in zoom. You should also mention (and give) lots of wait time — just like we should be doing in our regular teaching.
  • It’s okay if you’re having kids use chat to stop every so often and take a few minutes (in silence) to read over the chat so you can respond to what you’re seeing.
  • The chat can be the “lightest lift” for interactivity, but it’s effective! One tip I got on twitter is that you can ask everyone to write a response to a question, but not press enter until you give the command. Then you’ll get a quick flood of responses that you can go through, and students can also read.
  • You can also set the zoom meeting to have the chat be private – so students are talking to you but not each other… then as you see the responses, you can say “Nice thinking, Jake!” or “If you’re thinking about a parabola instead of an exponential function, you’re going in the wrong direction!” This came directly from Michael Pershan’s experience teaching online this past week:
    ETfBLfsWkAM3His
  • If you have pre-determined questions you want to ask at a particular time during the lesson, have them written in a google doc/notepad, so when you want to ask it, you can just copy/paste them in.
  • Have everyone use their own regular names in zoom (and not emails or userhandles) to make life easier for you.
  • There is a way to include “polls” in your zoom meetings, but I couldn’t figure that feature out when trying it out!
  • You can divide your class into groups (either randomly or pre-determined) and send them to breakout rooms. You can visit any of those rooms and join in the conversations. Each breakout room is given a number when students join. You can have one person in each group (e.g. the person whose last name comes first alphabetically) to create a Google Doc in a Google Drive Folder you share with them in the chat window… And title it “Group 5, March 25, 2020.” Then all participants can write answers in their google doc and you have access to all of them in an organized way.
    • When students are first put into a breakout room, if they’re new to working with each other, start with a non-mathy but quick ice-breaker to get everyone talking (e.g. what’s your favorite pizza topping?) and build a tiiiiny bit of community before diving in.
    • SUPER COOL DISCOVERY: When I did this in Mike Flynn’s webinar, one person in my breakout room showed me a ridiculously cool feature. In any google doc, you can go to INSERT > IMAGE > CAMERA
      julie4
      And then you just take a picture of your work using the webcam, and it automatically inserts the picture in the google doc!
      julie3
      Bam!
  • Don’t go crazy with the new technology. There are so many apps and websites. Limit yourself to just a few, like two, for your own sanity and your students’ sanity. Keep it simple and easy — don’t go down the rabbit hole of looking for “the perfect way to do x, y, or z.” Be okay with the tradeoff of having “good enough.”
  • When designing online learning, start with the question “how do we want our students to learn?” Then choose your technology based on that.
  • Screensharing is awesome (so you can set up a google slideshow, and in zoom you can screenshare that slideshow to the kiddos… And you can show kids how to annotate so individuals or the whole class and write/type/draw on a screen you’re sharing (and you can save that).

 

Desmos Activity Builder 

Julie Reulbach led a webinar on using desmos for assessments, but basically she outlined all the ways we could create activity builders to actually teach content also, and bring students along with us as they navigate the pages, and we talk through what they’re doing. Her resource page is clipped below so you can see what’s there…

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But importantly, her page includes links to various activity builders where you can simply copy and paste! Here’s how you copy and paste screens from better activities that your own into your own! They can even have computational layer in them!

Some key tips for creating Activity Builders (but not necessarily for assessments in particular):

  • Steal steal steal screens from other activity builder assessments if you’re doing anything fancy (e.g. self checking, anything with computation layer), because there’s no need to reinvent the wheel right now. Julie has curated a whole list of activities that she takes screens from! And desmos has curated a bunch of starter screens(e.g. “graph how you’re feeling today?”) that you can take!
  • DESMOS NOW ALLOWS FEEDBACK – so you can write a note to individual students.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-ebHOily6k&feature=emb_logo
  • Importantly, let’s say kids are doing a desmos activity or assessment, and you want them to show their work that they’ve done on paper. All you need to do is create a screen which has a blank graph, and instruct kids to insert an image (see sidebar instructions in the image below) and they can actually INSERT a picture of their work! The workflow is a little clunky because they have to take a picture on their phones and then email/airdrop it to their laptops, and then select that file. But it took me only like 20 seconds after I had done it once.
    julie2

Some key tips for using Desmos for assessments:

  • Have kids log in with their name, but “last, first.” That way when you grade their online assessment, you can sort the responses by their username, and that will match your gradebook.
  • Have a fun introductory “hi there!” screen
  • Have students fill out an honor code/statement screen first if doing a formative assessment
  • After you finish the activity, have two screens at the end. First, a feedback screen so you can find out how they felt it went. Second, a screen asking them if they have any questions or anything they want you to know.
  • If a formal assessment, you should PAUSE the activity at the end — so kids can’t go back and change their answers or share the class code with other kids

 

Michael Pershan’s blogpost

My friend Michael Pershan has been in the thick of online teaching. He wrote a detailed blogpost about what he’s discovered thus far. I highly recommend reading it! Big takeaways:

  • His school is using Google Classroom (like ours does), so he’s using that to create a system of organization for the kids, with instructions given day-by-day (within a unit):
    He noted: “The most important thing, though, is that each learning activity becomes its own “assignment.” During week 1 I was creating large documents that students were working on over multiple days. This was good in one sense, because I had to post only one thing. But it became very difficult to monitor the progress of kids through the assignment at all. And then it became tricky to modify the plan in the middle of the week by adding on other bits of classwork.”
  • He’s using google classroom to teach kids how to upload their written work. (Note: my kids always submit PDFs of their work on google classroom, so they’re very familiar with this!)
  • To give feedback on google classroom: “Google lets you comment on the work itself via highlighting and commenting, but I’ve found it more useful to give a quick written comment that appears under the assignment itself.”

 

Twitter

Lots of great things being shared on twitter. It was so overwhelming that I stopped looking at twitter for a while, but I did save a few things:

 

What Wasn’t That Useful For Me – But Here are the Nuggets I’ve Taken Away From These

What I have below doesn’t mean these aren’t good for others. It just means that for me, I like to jump in and these things didn’t quite pan out fully.

Alice Keeler had a webinar (“Oh Crap, I’m Teaching Math Online Now“) that wasn’t crazy useful for me because it was a brief overview of many things I already knew about. It was just super tech happy (look at Pear Deck! Look at Geogebra! Look at Desmos! Look at …) and didn’t give me the focus or vision I’m searching for.

Global Online Academy (GOA)’s 1 week course on Designing for Online Learning. Since this was designed to be “big picture” (so it can accommodate people from many schools and teachers of all stripes and many disciplines), I had trouble getting specifics that I wanted to latch onto. Here’s what I did get:

  • They recommended Loom for laptop screen recording, if you were going to be making videos from your laptop. It seemed pretty seamless and easy to use, based on this short video tutorial:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvRVJ46ffoQ
  • The basics of good teaching are still important — clarity and being organized is paramount. Specifically for online learning, they highly recommend:
    • building routines early (just like with regular teaching!)
    • share the “learning goals” at the start of each lesson explicitly
    • don’t get over-excited and share too much… curate what you share and make it super easy to follow
      • using a lot of whitespace and images
      • don’t include anything that isn’t super important — focus on key ideas
      • not using too many fonts
      • everything you share with your students should be “crisp” and “clean” (not “busy”)
  • Be present for students. Create or adopt an online persona. Don’t leave them hanging, but show them continual engagement so they know you’re with them on this journey.

Desmos Pre-Conference 2018 Recap

This is a quick blogpost that I’m using to recap just some of the information from the Desmos Preconference before TMC18. I was dealing with some other stuff when I returned from TMC, and then I had to take a short few-day jaunt to see my parents/aunt/uncle. Now I’m finally home and starting to do things like write college recommendations and think about my new class for next year (Algebra II). But I’m afraid if I don’t take the time to reflect on some of what I took away from the conference, I will not end up using it. But at the same time, I feel like it’s so much stuff that to do it comprehensively, it will take too long and that’s keeping me from starting. So here’s my pledge: I’m just going to do what I can, and not worry about being incomplete, and then I’m going to #pushsend.

Tonight, I’m going to #pushsend on the desmos preconference day.

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I went to one session, led by Heather Kohn, David Sabol, and Mary Bourassa. These three desmos fellows shared how they use Desmos in the classrooms. Here are a few gems:

  • Heather often creates handouts to accompany activities. For example, for Will it hit the hoop? she has a spreadsheet for kids to fill in (e.g. “Predict, Screens 5-11” “Analyze, Screens 12-19” and “Verify, Screens 20-26”). 
  • I shy away from doing cardsorts (or even short activities) on desmos because I tend to have some groups finish way earlier than others. But this would happen even for paper cardsorts! So here are some tips. First, just so all groups start at the same time, you can pause the activity on the first screen (which you can have be an introductory screen). When everyone is ready and logged in, you can then unpause the activity which allows everyone to start at the same time. More importantly, you should create a slide after the cardsort/activity which links to another activity or has some extra practice for those kids to work on. And for extra fun, you can have this slide be a “marbleslides challenge.” But one tip is to use the teacher dashboard to pace the activity to the slide before the challenge, so that you can make sure kids aren’t rushing. (You can check in with the first group done and ask them a few questions to make sure they’re getting things.)
  • You can do a Which One Does Belong on Desmos (example: go to https://student.desmos.com and enter 5CK W7N). Have kids vote on which one doesn’t belong. You can then display how they voted! If no one picks one, after they finish and you discuss, you can have them go back and everyone has to pick the one that wasn’t picked… and then explain why that last one might also “not belong.”
  • David was worried about how kids will access desmos activity knowledge later. There’s a lot of digital work and verbal work in class, but then things aren’t archived. So here’s a great example of how David deals with this. He used Andrew Stadel’s “Math Mistakes with Exponent Rules.” On day 1, he used the first day PDF to have kids work the problems in class. Then on day 2, he screen grabbed the second day PDF and made a desmos cardsort (sorting them into true/false) and used the dashboard to showcase wrong answers and have class discussions. Also, after the cardsort, he had a screen that said: “Make a FALSE statement that a classmate may think is actually TRUE.” Then that night he created — using what kids wrote for their false statements — a paper copy with all these FALSE statements (sometimes there’s a true statement that a person wrote!) where kids had to identify the errors!
  •  A great question in a desmos activity is to show a lot of work/visualizations/etc. and write: “What would you tell this student to reinforce what they know and correct their errors?” If the student work has some nice thinking and some subtle not-so-good thinking, this often will lead to solid class discussions.
  • Mary uses Desmos occasionally for assessments. There were only a few questions, but they involved deeper thinking (e.g. given a graph of part of a parabola, can you come up with the equation for the parabola?). The presenter asked her kids to do all their written work on paper handed out for the test. Yes, students could revise their work/answers based on what they saw on Desmos, but that had to be reflected in words/notes/changes on the written paper. So a student guessing-and-checking on desmos with no supporting work will not garner credit. (For students who finish early, put a screen with marbleslides challenge.) One big note: make sure that at the end of the test, every kid goes to a blank last screen, and then PAUSE the activity. That way kids can’t come back and rework problems or show other students particular questions on the assessment.
  • Rachel K. (attending the session) said that she often had kids project their laptops up to the airplay and lead the class through something they found/built/figured-out on the Desmos calculator, or will have one kid lead a desmos activity on the big screen.
  • I often worry about how to lead effective discussions on activities that kids are doing. For pre-existing Desmos built activities, there are “teacher tips” that help teachers figure out what to focus on and how to facilitate conversations. But more importantly, whether Desmos built or random-person built, every activity has a teacher PDF guide (Click on “Teacher guide” in the top right hand of the screen for the activity.) You can print this out and use this to help you come up with a specific list of things you want to talk about, and stop at those places (e.g. questions, places to pause, etc.)
  • After the session, I talked with Heather about this feeling I had when doing long activities with Desmos. Although I was constantly checking the dashboard, and walking around listening for conversations, I often felt useless and bored and like I was doing something wrong because I wasn’t … doing much. She let me know that she also feels this, but that’s part of it. Letting kids engage. But I realized that some of my best classes (without desmos) have me circulating and listening but not doing too much beyond that. I was “being less helpful.” So I think I just have to make sure that when I’m not doing much, it’s because kids are doing good things mathematically and conversationally, and that’s because I’ve orchestrated things to be that way.

As an interlude to this wall of text, here’s my favorite nerdy math picture from the day.

20180718_141146.jpgYes, indeed, you see a 3-4-5 right triangle, and a visualization of the oft-taught “Pool Problem.” In Starburst. My kind of math manipulative!

For the remaining two sessions, I worked on playing with Computation Layer and refamiliarizing myself with it (I spent 3 days earlier this summer spending huge swaths of time on this… a huge shoutout to Jay Chow who helped immensely with this). Having CL experts in the room and granting myself three hours to play with CL was amaaahzing. I first reacquainted myself with some of the basics (a lot of which I had forgotten, but it came back fairly quickly) and then I decided to start trying to “desmosify” this calculus optimization activity.). I didn’t get too far in, and so far this is no better than the paper version of the activity, but I am proud of what I was able to do with my CL chops! (You can see what I made here.)

The keynote session was given by Robert Berry (the new NCTM president) and he gave an overview of the recent NCTM book Catalyzing Change (which I have bought but haven’t yet read!), talked about some big picture NCTM things (advocacy, membership, financial health), and then told us what has been happening on the ground level. He ended his session talking about technology and what excites him about that. He said that “Technology that supports and advance mathematical sense-making, reasoning, problem solving, and communication excites me” and that “Competence is about being participatory in mathematics – with each other, with the teacher, and with the mathematics.” He then said technology can be used for good or evil based on how technology affects the following things in the classroom: 

  • Positionality [how students engage with each other, their teacher, the curriculum, the technology, etc.]
  • Identity [how students see themselves]
  • Agency [how students present themselves to the world? how do we create structures for that to happen?]
  • Authority [“shared intellectual authority”]

His latest NCTM President’s Message is precisely on this. Also, Robert is a totally awesome guy.

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That’s me on the left, him in the middle, and friend and TMC keynote speaker Glenn Waddell on the right.

Lastly, Eli (founder of Desmos and super nice guy) showcased a new desmos feature for teachers: SNAPSHOTS. You can read about it here, but what I love is that it allows teachers to facilitate discussions more thoughtfully in line with the 5 practices. (I’d love any help finding or coming up with problems at the high school level that work well with the 5 practices… Most examples that I’ve seen are at the middle school level so it’s been hard to wrap my mind around how to find/create problems for a precalculus or calculus class that might make this approach work super well.)

My favorite slide of his was:

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Eli keeps things simple, which allows me to read slides like this and think: “wait, in what ways does my teaching do that?”

And with that, it’s time to #pushsend.