An Elementary Desmos Journey

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During the past few months I’ve had a chance to explore Desmos.  I started seeing the platform on Twitter a while back through different educational chats.  It was prevalent in #msmathchat as well as in the EduTwitter math world.  I saw it across my screen, but didn’t really dig into how it could be used until NCTM.  During that time I attended a session titled “Which Comes First:  The Equation or the Functions?  Come Stack Cups and Use Demos to Find Out!” The session was presented by the University of California staff.

The session started out by having the participants sit in groups with a stack of styrofoam cups.  We were asked the question below.

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My table took the cups and started stacking them. They found the measurement of one of the cups and decided to use millimeters to be more accurate.  We came to a consensus and decided to extend the pattern and graph our pattern.  The presenters then asked us to head to a Desmos url where we could plug in our numbers.  The audience filled out this step-by-step sheet for the next 20-30 minutes.  Being a newbie to Desmos, I appreciated how the sheet guided us through the different components of Desmos and how it graphs the line as the numbers change.  The sheet also includes teacher directions that I found useful as I replicated this exact lesson a couple weeks after NCTM.

The second part of the session went in a different direction.

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Basically, we were asked to find out the option that would give us the most money during the next 14 months.  My table filled out this sheet and used this Desmos template to find a solution.  There was a lot of trial-and-error during this time and some perseverance, but it was a worthwhile journey.  Listening to others at my table was enlightening.  Hearing how other teachers, mostly at the middle and high school levels, gave me a different perspective.  Being able to find patterns and develop algebraic reasoning was at the forefront.  Using Desmos to create or check our predictions was helpful.  Moreover, I was able to learn more about the Desmos platform and how it could be used in my classroom.

Near the end of the session I started gathering all the links to save for later.  I started to think about how this could be used in my own classroom.  I began by using a few different tasks with my sixth grade standards.  The inequality activities were very helpful as I was becoming more familiar with the logistics of using Desmos in the classroom.  Desmos isn’t a math tool that’s used frequently in elementary schools.  The calculator included can be intimidating for elementary students as well the teachers.  Although, when my class first started using the platform my students were totally interested in wondering what all the symbols meant on the calculator.

During NCTM I was fortunate enough to come across Annie’s post on how to use Desmos in the elementary classroom.  I reviewed all of Annie’s examples and decided to graduate and move on to creating my own.  I started with copying a couple card sorts for a kindergarten and first grade group that I see four times a week.  The sort included having students put together base-ten blocks, written names, standard form, and expanded form statements.  The lesson went well and I had to intensely model how to login and ended up using a QR code for students to access the url on an iPad.

I then started getting used to how to create better questions using “what do you notice” or “what do you wonder” types of prompts.  About three weeks ago my third grade students needed to review polygons and relationships.  I decided to put together an original activity.

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I ended up making the shapes in Illustrator and inserted them into the activity.   I used this task with a third grade group of students that were working on fourth grade standards.  Students worked in pairs as I didn’t have enough Chromebooks and iPads for everyone that day.  I used the pacing function and made sure all the students were on the first slide.  I love that Desmos includes that function as many of my students want to speed through an activity.  Stopping with “pause” to review all the different responses was also helpful.  This helped encourage a class discussion.

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At first I used the “anonymize” option, but soon found that students wanted to be identified.  Students used a similar prompt with a trapezoid and triangle.  I then went over a few different vocabulary terms before heading to the next slide.

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Students checked off the criteria that matched the shape.  I then displayed the correct solution and this led to additional questions and conversations.  When creating this I decided to look back at some of the most engaging Demos activities that I’ve used.  Most of them ended with some type of card sort.  I decided to do the same.

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I decided to have a “doesn’t have a match” column to increase students thinking.  It took a while for students to complete this as certain criteria worked with only one shape while other statements didn’t match any.  When I first created this I noticed that some of the statements that were created matched multiple shapes.  Ooops.  It was fixed before I gave it to my third graders, but that could’ve caused a few issues.  After around 10 minutes we review the answers as a class.

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 8.21.45 AM.pngStudents self-checked their work to see how accurate they were.  Some students didn’t actually match the statements completely.  They brought the statement to the column, but didn’t attach them.  I should’ve explained how to do this before completing the activity.  This happened with around three students.   The next time we completed an Desmos activity those students were fine and attached the statements.  There’s a small learning curve with these types of activities and this was one of those moments.

My next step is to learn how about the computation layer and possibly how to use it more effectively with my K-3 students.  I think it’d be great to be able to rotate or drag a shape on a coordinate grid.  Students could then use a digital protractor to measure the internal and external angles.   I’m also looking at how to use polygraphs more effectively next year.  My students had a blast using them during the last week of school. Maybe I’ll learn about that during the summer.  I’m looking forward to using this more with my elementary students next school year.

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NCTM Reflection

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NCTM 2018 finished up yesterday.  It was a whirlwind of experiences and it has taken a while, but I feel like I’m caught up on my sleep.  Overall, it was a memorable time in DC and the weather was terrific for the most part.   In this post I’m going to put together a couple brief takeaways during each day.  Emphasis on brief, as there’s so much that happened over the past few days.

My flight arrived late Wednesday afternoon. Later that night I was fortunate enough to attend the NCTM game night.  Check out the tag for a few Tweets.  I was a bit reluctant as I was going solo, but decided to try it out anyways.  Glad I went.  I think teachers need this type of time to meet each other and build community.  I found the games intriguing and the conversations even better. Kudos to the volunteers and designers of the game night. Everyone that I encountered was welcoming and inviting. I love the idea of the Pac-Man (@ericholscher ‘s idea) tables.  This is something I’d like to bring back to my own school’s staff meetings. It was here that I met many people face-to-face that I’ve known and followed online for years.  It was great to connect and engage in conversations that extend beyond Tweets and direct messages.  There are too many to mention in this post, but it was a pleasure to meet so many inspirational people in person.

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Thursday was really the first day of the conference.  My hotel was about five blocks away from the conference and it was a great walk each morning.  Friday was the exception as it was raining.  I went to visit a few different sessions related to integrating math practices and technology tools.  Kudos to the presenters that also included short-links so that I can view the presentations later.  Annie shared her presentation on math tools and strategies.  I went out to the gorgeous city center for lunch.  Came back and learned about integers and the orb strategy from a group of three teachers.  By this time I had a decent understanding of where the rooms were located and how to navigate from one part of the conference to the other.  I dropped by the #MTBOS (I forgot to pack my #mtbos shirt from a few years back) booth multiple times throughout the day.  I was also able to meet my #msmathchat pals Casey and Bryan face to face.  Both are passionate educators and it was awesome to meet them in person.

Friday started off with a lot of rain.  I walked/ran to the conference center.  I attended a session on how to integrate mathematical practices better.  I also was fortunate enough to learn about Bongard problems – a new concept to me.

I didn’t get it as first, but was in rhythm after a couple practice tries.  I’m still looking for ways to integrate this into my math classes.  My presentation was at 11:30 and seemed to go well.  My only wish was that I had an extra 10-15 minutes of time.   I guess time management plays a role here.  Maybe I should apply for a full session in San Diego next year?  You can find the slides here.  During the afternoon I was able to learn more about math practices and attended a middle school Desmos session on equations and paper cups.  It was here that I actually learned how to use Desmos for the first time.  I’ve tinkered a bit with it this year and have used it for lessons, but found application potential at this session.  I closed out the day with a session on a partnership between the University of Delaware and a geometry lesson study.  It was interesting to hear how the university partnered with the local school districts in designing a lesson study.  Afterwards, I went out to meet some friends for dinner.

 

It was a good trip and worth the sub plans.  Excellent to meet many of my pln in person.  These people are truly changing math classrooms for the better.  There are still some people that I wanted to meet, but didn’t get an opportunity to do so.  Time was limited and so were the sessions.  Maybe next time. The people at this conference are inspiring.  Many of the presenters are still in the classroom or working with schools and I’m encouraged to see the work that they’re accomplishing and willing to share with the math community.  I’m looking forward to finishing off the school year strong.

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