Monday, February 15, 2016

My Tech Tools [Desmos]

Desmos Activities (Activity Builder)
• Capture
Not completely necessary, but students can log in with a Google account. One benefit to logging in with a Google account is that a student can access previous sessions (their work) at any time because Desmos activities save in real time. Desmos also has a teacher dashboard to know which students have shared their thinking on a specific question in REAL TIME. The teacher dashboard does a wonderful job capturing student graphs and text responses. Note the progress bars below. Unlike Pear Deck, the Desmos activities allow students to move at their own pace. I love this feature, but it might make the sorting and assessing a tad more challenging at times.
- I wish logging in with Google did not allow students to edit their name.
- I wish the teacher could choose the activity to be "student-paced" or "teacher-paced"
- I wish there was a way for students to enter mathematical notation in the text boxes.

• Sort
The teacher dashboard allows the teacher to sort ALL student responses:
- as an individual student
- as thumbnails (of graphs)
- as a list (of text responses)
- as an overlay
With so many ways to sort student work, the teacher dashboard can allow the teacher to focus either on specific questions, a single student's graph/work/note, or the overall climate of the classroom. There are many great sorting features that can make the session extremely informative when assessing. One feature Desmos Activities lacks is sorting student work alphabetically. As a teacher, I'm still able to assess student thinking, but I know sorting alphabetically would make the process more efficient.
- I wish student names could be sorted alphabetically on the left and with thumbnails.

• Assess
Since students can work at their own pace during a Desmos Activity, it makes it a tad more challenging to assess student thinking at times. The more screens your students have to see or interact with during the activity, the more a teacher needs to assess. This can be both informative and daunting to a teacher. I prefer using or creating activities with a specific focus, making it clear to the teacher if students are working toward learning objectives. The Match My Parabola activity (seen here) allows the teachers to visually assess the progress (and understanding) of students matching parabolas. A picture is a thousand words of student understanding, and Desmos graphs do that.
Two tech tips:
1) Use the power of Command+F on your computer for assessing academic language.
2) Log into your dashboard on a tablet and circulate the room.
• Discuss
A well-designed Desmos activity will allow both students and teachers to discuss their thinking and the mathematics. This presents the teacher with many teachable moments. Since you currently can't hide student names, a teacher can log into the session and use their screen (session) to discuss the mathematics. Personally, I love using student work to discuss the math. Until the dashboard can hide student names, you might need to be creative and use the Snipping tool (Windows or Mac) to quickly grab student work and display it in another presentation-style program for students to see. I have had so many rich discussion with students because of the thinking I am able to assess. Here's a nifty little trick to make your workflow more efficient.
- I wish there was a button to toggle between hiding names and viewing names on the dashboard
[update] You can now toggle between student names and pseudonyms.
- I wish there was a button to lock student screens when discussing specific parts of the activity.

Desmos Activities Conclusion:
In conclusion, pick activities that are focused and have a clear learning objective that can be assessed best with minimal screens. The awesome Desmos team continues to release updates to their Activity Builder and I'm hopeful that many things on my wishlist (and yours too) will soon become realities. For example, sorting student names alphabetically is important to me because it would make my workflow much more efficient, essentially allowing me to assess student thinking quicker. I'm confident Desmos Activities will see all green from me soon!
Learn more about Desmos Activities here.

More from the My Tech Tools Series:



  1. Good to know what's your (tech) tools in your classroom. Here I see the pain that the majority of tools are privative software. So basically the user is only a user.

    I plead to use free software [] because, among others you could modify the software and distribute the modifications.

    Imagine if you could add your wanted features...

    on the other hand, the pain in desmos is that it has not translations. So we, non-english teachers, can't use it.

    1. Lo siento!
      Sorry to hear that non-english teachers can't currently use it. If you use Chrome, will it not translate it?

      Your "free software" idea is a great idea. However, I might not completely understand the effectiveness of this option. Realistically, most teachers (me included) are inept at modifying software. If the learning curve is easy, I'd be interested to know what percentage of teachers might actually add this to the many other things they need to do to prepare for their students.

      Can you elaborate or provide some examples?