PD Recap: Know your saws with Polygraph

For all the Desmosing I do with my classes, Polygraph may be the least utilized resource for me. It does an effective job of having students play around with a set of new terminology and fosters a sky-high engagement level. It’s not exactly something I can use every week, so at times I forget it’s there as a resource.

It’s also one of the tools Desmos has created that can turn the head of a non math teacher. Since it’s pretty simple to import 16 images instead of 16 graphs, can’t it could be used to classify artistic styles and techniques, cathedral architecture, maps, biological specimens, or whatever?

Last Friday we had a PD day where a few teachers taught simulated lessons with specific techniques or activities. Each was followed by a little reflection and Q&A session. I offered up a session on Polygraph so that the rest of the school could see why the math teachers were so bonkers over an online graphing calculator and perhaps find a use for it in their classes.

My first step in planning the session was to find the perfect sandbox — what relatively obscure topic could yield 16 images wherein teachers could develop the need for technical language through chats? I’d seen a charming PG on kittens, and I can’t express enough how much I wanted to use it because they were so damn cute. But in the end, I couldn’t find enough on the classification of cats to differentiate them on a formal level. My colleague Dennis suggested saws. Saws! Perfect.

After some minor research, I found the right 16 culprits. Here is the resulting PG.

The best PD is focused on putting teacher in the student’s position. Using saws as a topic, we were able to have the teachers play around in the PG world and let conversations naturally happen. Here are 2:


My goal was to help teachers see that this tool can help students find the need for a new set of words to solve these prompts and then to describe the concepts at hand. I whipped up this slide to outline the process of learning new vocab. This was pretty off the cuff, and I’m sure there is good research on this process out there somewhere.


After talking about Desmos, Polygraph, and how to make a custom set, I took them through this activity as a follow up.

Here were some stray observations…

  • At least half of the participants had trouble making their final selection when they were the question asker in a round.
  • I had 2 math teachers in the room, one of whom had used PG in the past. He was surprised that I look at it as a tool to introduce vocabulary. He has used it in order to review and assess.
  • A great conversation took place about the benefits and drawbacks of setting rules in an activity. My goal is to set up PG’s so that they speak completely for themselves without need to set standards on how students ask questions.
  • Science, Art, French, Social Studies, Theology, and Math teachers were present.



One thought on “PD Recap: Know your saws with Polygraph

  1. Donna MacKinnon

    Love this approach. I have also generally used Polygraph (though not enough) later in the unit.
    Had previously had some thoughts on its usefulness for other faculties & had suggested it to a Science colleague, but would never have come up with this brilliant way of demonstrating it.

    Thanks for sharing, both your clever Polygraph, and the supporting blogpost.


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