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.
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.
Yes, 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.
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:
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.