This post was started in November when I was on my way back from the Fellow’s weekend. It languished in my drafts until today.
As I write this, I’m on my way home from a weekend at Desmos HQ where I worked side by side with other Desmos Teaching Fellows. The Fellowship is meant to build “community, mentorship, early access to our best ideas and technology” among the 39 members of the first cohort. It was a heck of a time.
What we did
We spent pretty much all our official time in the Desmos office either engaging in presentations from Desmos staff and collaborating with fellow Fellows. Folks like Shelly, Michael, Christopher, and Dan spoke at length about how they teach teachers to use the calculator and the Activity Builder. Folks like Eli gave us the framework of Desmos’s history, guiding principles, and outlook for the future. And we spent a healthy amount of time just chatting and getting to know each other.
What I learned
The Desmos staff is insanely talented. They have done an impressive job finding folks that not only excel in engineering and design, but really do understand what makes for good math pedagogy. Every member of their team could create an exceptional Activity Builder lesson. They also clearly want to make their product better at all times. The whole staff was around all weekend and were constantly being pelted with “little suggestions” from 39 teachers with feature requests. Not only did they gladly take it all in, but they would follow up with deeper questions about what else would make the calculator and AB better for students and teachers.
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. Continue reading
I did Central Park in class today. I’d never really done it because I wasn’t sure how it would go over with our short classes1, and I was afraid that my classes would struggle with that kind of abstraction this early. But I went for it. Holy heck, it was awesome. They loved it. A few needed a little help, but even my weakest students did very well with it and were really encouraged. Many satisfied looks, many arms thrown into the air when all 16 of those parking lots were filled.
For the past 2 years, I have tried teaching Exeter’s Guess and Check method for problem solving. Glenn Waddell gives an excellent summary of it here. For a summary of the summary, students use a table to organize guesses for a problem solution. After a few iterations, a student can look at the rows of the table to formulate an equation and then solve.
I see it as a very reliable strategy that scaffolds beautifully, but for 2 years I have not been able to sell it. They don’t see the point, they refuse to believe it’s better than what they would otherwise do, etc, etc. But I saw moments in the Central Park experience that made me think merging Guess and Check with a scaffolded Activity Builder may be a better path to teach it.
I’m not 100% sure what that looks like just yet, but I’d love to hear suggestions if you have them. I wonder if a table in the grapher could help, though that is not very easy to see on the dashboard.
I will admit that I made little to no attempt at describing my students’ struggle with Guess and Check. I will try that in a follow up. I just wanted to get this down now.
140 minutes — I know, right?!?