Julie Bensley

Return to ETAP 623 Fall 2016

Utilizing Desmos Activity Builder in the Mathematics Classroom

About me


This year I began my twelfth year of full-time teaching. Over the years I have taught a variety of levels of mathematics including pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, second year algebra, pre-calculus, and statistics. I also briefly taught early levels of French, but mathematics is my passion. I love helping students find how mathematics can be both beautiful and creative. We all have mathematical minds and simply need to learn to access them. I currently teach at Alfred-Almond Central School in Western New York, where I enjoy taking our math team to competitions.

I am a wife, mother, daughter, twin, sister, scrapbooker, reader, gardener, football fan, and math nerd.

My Topic/Purpose

This course, Utilizing Desmos Activity Builder in the Mathematics Classroom, will focus on how teachers can utilize the graphing calculator found at Desmos.com (also available as an iPad app) along with the Desmos Activity Builder site that allows teachers to create their own interactive and inquiry-based learning activities. Graphing calculators have met an important need in teaching important concepts in the math classroom since the early 1990’s. The Desmos graphing calculator and Activity Builder site enables students of all levels and socioeconomic backgrounds to engage in meaningful mathematical activities. Incorporating Desmos activities in the classroom enhances the learning of math students by providing visualizations and simulations that allow students to test their own ideas and build connections to new ideas. In this course, participants will answer and reflect on the following questions:

· What is Desmos?

· What are Desmos Activities?

· How can Desmos Activities be utilized in the classroom?

· Where can a teacher find Desmos Activities?

· How can a teacher create their own Desmos Activities?

Learning Outcomes

Learners who complete this course will be able to

1. Explain what Desmos is and how it can be used in the classroom.

2. Describe how a Desmos activity enhances student involvement and understanding.

3. Find existing Desmos activities to utilize in their own classroom.

4. Create a unique Desmos activity to utilize in their own classroom.

Needs Assessment

1. Instructional Problem

New standards in mathematics promote students have a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics and how they can be applied in the real world. Incorporating various forms of technology is an essential component of building this comprehension. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) holds the position that, “It is essential that teachers and students have regular access to technologies that support and advance mathematical sense making, reasoning, problem solving, and communication. Effective teachers optimize the potential of technology to develop students' understanding, stimulate their interest, and increase their proficiency in mathematics. When teachers use technology strategically, they can provide greater access to mathematics for all students.” (NCTM 2011) Desmos provides teachers will an easily accessible technology that promotes inquiry-based learning to build mathematical understanding in students.

For years, mathematics teachers have integrated the handheld graphing calculators as tools for mathematical modeling. These handheld devices come at a cost that many schools and students cannot afford. Desmos is completely free. It can be accessed online or through a free downloadable app on any device. As Sara Vanderwerf stated on her blog “DESMOS IS A GAME CHANGER. Desmos is an equity and access answer for all our students.” (2015) Desmos is also extremely easy for students and teachers to use. Many students struggle to learn the keystrokes required to operate a handheld graphing calculator requiring instructors to take a great deal of extra time in class to teach calculator skills. In my own experience using Desmos in the classroom, students quickly begin to utilize the tool and are less intimidated by the graphing calculator.

Numerous mathematics teachers who blog about their teaching experiences are boasting the benefits of using Desmos in the classroom. Not only is it free and easy for students to use, the Desmos Activity Builder provides methods for teachers to provide students with inquiry-based lessons while monitoring students’ progress. At a time when educators are seeking methods of formative assessment, Desmos meets that need. “Desmos provides the power to explore these ideas more deeply, apply them in a new way, connect them to new representations, and the whole time, give me a great bird’s-eye view of what students do and don’t understand to drive instruction moving forward.” (Kane, 2015) As students work, the teacher is able to see their progress and individual responses by viewing a dashboard. I have found this component extremely helpful in monitoring students' participation and understanding.

Given the wonderful benefits for mathematics teachers and students, it is important to provide teachers the opportunity to learn about Desmos and become educated on how to integrate Desmos into their lessons. I believe this tool has the ability to change mathematics classrooms. This course seeks to inform teachers about Desmos and how to incorporate it into the classroom.

2. What is to be Learned

Educators will learned how to both incorporate Desmos Activities into math class and build their own activities using Desmos Activity Builder. A variety of activities within this course will lead participants through the numerous ways Desmos can be used in the classroom as well as some of the benefits it provides for their mathematics students.

Analysis of the Learner and Context

1. The Learners

Learners will include current and pre-service educators teaching in mathematics classes primarily in grades 8-12. Learners will have a range of skills in utilizing technology in the classroom. Given the relatively easy learning curve for using Desmos, teachers with any amount of technology skills should quickly be able to understand and begin to use Desmos in the classroom.

Learner Analysis Learners within this course include mathematics educators. Most of these educators will be ones who are interested in blending various forms of technology into their classrooms. They are also willing to build in inquiry-based activities for their own students.

Prerequisite Skills Participants will need to ...

a. have knowledge of the graphing standards across the standards and particularly for their level students.
b. have basic understanding of how to use any type of graphing calculator.
c. have understanding of how to build a lesson.
d. have a willingness to integrate technology tools into his/her lessons.
e. have an interest in inquiry based learning.  

2. Context for Instruction

Participants in this course will utilize this webpage to navigate through using Desmos. Learners will be able to engage with the course from any location and at any time through a personal computer or device on which they can access the internet. Participants will also desire to access the Desmos website and/or app on a computer or device.

3. Exploring the Instructional Problem and Solution

Learners will be able to progress through the units to learn about Desmos and learn how to find and utilize existing activities and then build their own unique activities. A variety of activities will provide participants opportunities to engage with the Desmos website or app as they explore the possibilities of using the tool within a mathematics class.

4. Goals of this Mini-Course

The primary goal of this course is empower mathematics teachers to incorporate the Desmos Graphing Calculator, Desmos Activities, and/or the Desmos app within their lessons to promote a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Within this course, teachers will explore existing Desmos Activities and experience creating their own inquiry-based activities.

Performance Objectives

By the end of the mini-course,

1. The learners will explain the benefits of utilizing Desmos and Desmos Activity Builder in the mathematics classroom.

2. The learners will demonstrate an understanding of how to use the various tools on the Desmos graphing calculator.

3. The learners will incorporate existing Desmos Activities into mathematics lessons.

4. The learners will build unique Desmos Activities and integrate them into mathematics lessons.

Task Analysis

Course Prerequisites · The participant will be a current and pre-service mathematics teacher seeking to implement new technologies and mathematics simulation tools in his/her classroom.

· The participant will have access to a computer as well as a secondary device with internet capabilities.

· The participant will be familiar with traditional graphing calculators.

Performance Objectives:

Unit 1 Overall Objective:

· The participant will be able to justify the utilization of Desmos Activity Builder within a classroom.

Unit 1 Objectives:

· In a discussion post, the participant will describe the benefits of utilizing Desmos Graphing Calculator App in the classroom.

· In a discussion post, the participant will relate how the Desmos Activities can enhance the learning in a mathematics classroom.

· The participant will utilize a given Desmos Activity as a student would and provide feedback about the experience.

Unit 2 Objectives:

· Given a learning standard that includes a graphing component, the participant will be able to locate a Desmos Activity that could be integrated into a lesson the specific standard and then explain how the activity would enhance student learning.

· The participant will choose and integrate an existing Desmos Activity into his/her own lesson.

· The participant will utilize the chosen Desmos Activity within the classroom and then evaluate the activity and how it influenced student learning.

Unit 3 Prerequisite:

· The participant will be able to develop a lesson plan around a learning standard that includes a graphing component.

Unit 3 Objectives:

· Utilizing the Desmos Activity Builder program, the participant will create a Desmos Activity that utilizes the various teaching screens and techniques available on Activity Builder.

· The participant will develop a lesson that incorporates the built activity along with any other accompanying worksheets or handouts that create a complete lesson.

Curriculum Map


References and Resources

B. Lochl. (n.d.) Desmos classroom file cabinet. [Web log comment] Retrieved from: https://mathcoachblog.com/desmos-classroom-file-cabinet/

Bourassa, M. M. (2015). Technology corner: Desmos activity builder. Ontario Mathematics Gazette, 54(2), 28-30.

Bourassa, M. M. (2015). Technology corner: PHET interactive simulations and more from desmos. Ontario Mathematics Gazette, 53(3), 7-9.

Bourassa, M. M. (2014). Technology corner: Math munch, daily desmos, and Ontario math link. Ontario Mathematics Gazette, 52(3), 7-8.

D. Kane. (2015, Nov 11) Intellectual need, formative assessment, and desmos activity builder. [Web log comment] Retrieved from: https://fivetwelvethirteen.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/intellectual-need-formative-assessment-and-desmos-activity-builder/

Ebert, D. (2014) Graphing projects with desmos. Mathematics Teacher, 108. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/Publications/mathematics-teacher/2014/Vol108/Issue5/Graphing-Projects-with-Desmos/

K. Schwartz. (2016, April 6) Could this digital math tool change instruction for the better? [Web log comment] Retrieved from: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/06/could-this-digital-math-tool-change-instruction-for-the-better/

L. Wheeler. (2016, Jan 27) My favourite: Desmos! #MTBoS [Web log comment] Retrieved from: https://mslwheeler.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/my-favourite-desmos-mtbos/

M. Craig. (2015, Aug 4) Desmos activity builder for function transformation. [Web log comment] Retrieved from: http://www.megcraig.org/2015/08/04/desmos-activity-builder-for-function-transformations/

NCTM (2011) Technology in Teaching and Learning Mathematics. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/Standards-and-Positions/Position-Statements/Technology-in-Teaching-and-Learning-Mathematics/

S. Vanderwerf. (2016, July 28) Evangelizing desmos. [Web log comment] Retrieved from: https://saravanderwerf.com/2016/07/28/evangelizing-desmos/

S. Vanderwerf. (2016, April 29) Duluth desmos training. [Web log comment] Retrieved from: https://saravanderwerf.com/2016/04/29/duluth-desmos-training/