By Nick Corley
In a previous article, I wrote about how I use the Desmos calculator (www.desmos.com) in my classroom. In addition to the free online calculator, Desmos also offers a free activity website (www.teacher.desmos.com). On this site you can finds over 100 activities at various levels. In my opinion the Desmos activity website is the best site I have found to monitor student progress and create discourse in the mathematics classroom. The way Desmos builds its activities gives students of all levels an entry point, but at the same time, challenges students of all levels. Teachers in every grade are using it, and not just in mathematics.
If you have a Google based email, you can use that account with the website. If not, you will need to create a Google account.
The Desmos activity website has several options to explore. At the top of the screen is a traditional search tool where you can search by key words or names. The top left column offers you the option to view some of the most popular or newest activities. The column also includes related activities in grouped “bundles.” The bundles link organizes the activities from introduction through concept development, concluding with a culminating activity.
In addition to choosing activities that are listed on the site, Desmos also permits you to build your own activities. From the home screen under your activities, select “Custom”. Next, select “New Activity” found upper-right-hand corner. Once you give your activity a title, you will be brought to the main building screen. You will have several options for creating the screen:
• Graph – Make a graph using the calculator from desmos.com or have students interact with a graph.
• Sketch – Show students a blank screen, a graph, or an image and have them draw or create lines on it.
• Media – Upload an image or a video for students use.
• Note – Add text to the screen or give students directions.
• Input – Set for “text” for written answers or “math” to enable students to create mathematical expressions.
• Choice – Use true/false, multiple choice, or multiple select responses. In addition, you can require students to provide an explanation for their responses. Answers can also be in the form of graphs or images.
Each screen can have a combination of the options above. There is also a tutorial available at learn.desmos.com/create.
On the main activity screen choose “Create Class Code,” which will create a session for this activity. Next, choose “View Dashboard.” An opening screen with the student class code will appear. Students must go to www.student.desmos.com and enter the class code to join the activity. Once you close the class code screen, you will see the teacher dashboard, which will allow you to control the activity. At the top-right-hand side of the teacher dashboard you’ll find three options for views: summary, teacher, and student.
The summary view allows you to monitor the progress of each student and see which slides they have completed. The teacher view allows you to see the students’ responses to individual screens. The student view allows you to see the screen as the students see it, which can be very useful in class discussions.
The Desmos activity website also offers teacher pacing tools that help you control pacing and conduct discussions with the students. These tools are found on the upper-left-hand side of the teacher dashboard. You can pause students, which grays their screens, not allowing students to interact with the activity. You can also pace students in the activity, which can restrict all the students to one screen or a group of screens.
A tool unique to Desmos is the “anonymize” feature. This tool is located right next to the left of the teacher pacing tools, and allows you to replace all of your students’ names with the names of mathematicians. I have found that when I use this feature, students are much more willing to put their true thoughts down, because their names are no longer connected to them.
I use the Desmos activity site in my classroom because it facilitates in-depth mathematical conversations. Whether I am using an activity that Desmos has built, an activity I have created on my own, or an activity that has been shared with me, it enables me to quickly observe all of my students’ work, and build understanding in a different way.
Nick Corley is an eighth-grade mathematics teacher at Northfield Middle School in Atlantic County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @MrCorleyMath and read his blog at mrcorleymath.wordpress.com.