Monday, July 3, 2017

Polygraph Word Bank

Have you ever wanted your math students to get better at using math language?
Have you ever wanted your math students to be able to compare attributes of visual mathematics?
Desmos Polygraph activities supported through word banks is your jam!

Over the past three years as a Digital Learning Coach in my district, I've been able to see Polygraph used in a variety of ways. This post will share a few of the many things I've learned.

My first year, I supported a high school Algebra teacher. We debriefed after she ran the Parabolas Polygraph activity with students. She was a little bummed that students weren't using more of the academic language they had been learning. For example, minimum, maximum, x-intercepts, roots, vertex, etc. I offered the suggestion of providing students with a word bank, possibly carved out on a section of the whiteboard, with the words she wanted her students to use. She one-upped me and put them on a half sheet of paper and printed them out to give to her students next time she played polygraph. I'll revisit this technique in a few paragraphs.

My second year, I supported a Math 8 teacher. She was running the Lines Polygraph activity with her students. I looked at the dashboard while students were playing and many of the students were asking questions about the slope using either "uphill" or "downhill" as their descriptor. I asked the teacher about this. She said this is the way she taught it. I asked her about the mathematical association with uphill and downhill and she replied, positive and negative, respectively. I paused the class (before the pause feature existed, ha!) and drew two lines to represent the "uphill" and "downhill" slopes on the whiteboard. I told the class I noticed they have been using the terms uphill and downhill to describe these slopes. I went on to tell them, this is a great place to start, and now we're going to make your language even stronger by referring to uphill slopes as positive and downhill slopes as negative. For the remaining time, we're inviting you to use positive and negative.
I love this experience, because it validated the work the teacher did while raising the bar for the students to strengthen their mathematical vocabulary. I believe if you set the bar low for students, they'll often meet it with a high success rate. If you set the bar high for students, they'll work toward that high bar, often with a comparatively high success rate.

Back to the word bank.
My third year, I supported an Algebra teacher at our continuation high school. She ran the Parabolas Polygraph with her students and had a word bank up on the whiteboard. We debriefed and talked about making a half sheet of the words she would like students to use. Furthermore, let's make a Taboo list of words we want students to avoid using. She tried the Polygraph again, using the word bank handouts and noticed students were using the academic language a lot more than when the words were up on the whiteboard.

It's not enabling the students by providing them with a half-sheet of math terms you want them to practice and use. It's enabling if you're the one telling them what questions to ask their partner, or worse; you're typing in the questions for them. Providing students with the half-sheet, a physical token, places an emphasis on your invitation to students to practice and use specific math language associated with the concepts at hand.

I've learned a lot over the past 3 years, implementing both Desmos Activities and Polygraphs. I would say the use of a word bank handout is one of the most effective ways to get students practicing and using the math language you want them to use. Here are my current word banks (and Taboo lists) for Parabolas and Lines. You'll notice I intentionally left some blank spaces in the tables so students (and teachers) can add their own. I can't think of everything.

Consider the Low-Tech versions of Desmos Polygraph so students can practice using academic language more frequently without devices.

What words would you add to my word bank (and taboo) lists?


BONUS feature:
You've heard of a swear jar, right?
When someone is trying to curtail their swearing and/or use of bad words, they'll set out a swear jar, placing an amount of money in the jar every time they use a bad word.
*Consider the idea of a VOCAB jar in your math class. (future blog post coming soon)


  1. Your work greatly helps the students with Math jargons. Here at my small tutorial center, I focus more on equations and worded problems. But knowing the vocabulary of Math is a good thing too.

  2. I tried your work in my tutorial center and its really helpful. Thanks again.

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