Unit 1: Benefits of Utilizing Desmos and Desmos Activity Builder


Return to Utilizing Desmos Activity Builder in the Mathematics Classroom

Objective: By the end of unit 1, a participant should be able to explain the benefits that Desmos and Desmos Activity Builder brings to the mathematics classroom and how they are changing mathematics teaching.


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.

What is Desmos?


Desmos is a free online graphing calculator created by Dan Myer and Eli Luberoff. The calculator can be downloaded as an app to numerous devices including phones, iPads, and other handheld devices. Desmos is changing the mathematics classroom. For decades handheld graphing calculators have dominated in the mathematics classroom. Now Desmos offers an entirely free app that is relatively easy for students and teachers to learn. As Sara Vanderwerf stated on her blog “DESMOS IS A GAME CHANGER. Desmos is an equity and access answer for all our students.” (2016) In my own experience in the classroom, I see students who are hesitant to utilize the handheld graphing calculators effortlessly use the Desmos graphing calculator.


What can students do on Desmos? The Desmos graphing calculator has much of the features of a handheld graphing calculator. Basic operations are computed. Functions and non-functions can be graphed without changing the mode. Trigonometric functions can be utilized in both radians and degrees. Regression equations can be calculated.

Please take a few minutes to explore the on-line Desmos Graphing Calculator: https://www.desmos.com/ Simply click on the Start Graphing button to begin using the graphing calculator. If you take a few minutes to created an account, you will be able to save your graphs for other purposes later.

Here is a webinar that you can watch to become familiar with the Desmos Graphing Calculator https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BpKOfq-H58

Desmos Activity Builder

Desmos Activity Builder provides teachers with the tools to create online Desmos-based classroom activities. Activity creators can build a series of screens that walk a student through interactive activities. Screens may ask a student to graph or answer a question based on a graph. Another screen may ask students to match cards that belong together in a mathematical manner. While learners move through the inquiry-based activities, teachers can monitor student progress and understanding while watching the dashboard. If an instructor notices a misconception performed by numerous pupils, the activity may be paused. Other Desmos activities provide interactive math games that teachers can use to build and assess mathematical language. Desmos Activity Builder is a great way to engage students and build inquiry skills.

Sample Activities

Polygraph Game
Marble Slide

To explore classroom activities, follow this link: https://teacher.desmos.com/ Please start by creating your own free account. Once you have an account, you can create your own activities. You are ready to start exploring. Be sure to bookmark your favorite existing activities. You can search for an activity on a specific topic using the search bar at the top of the screen or you can choose from the listed options on the left. Previewing activities allows you to work through the activity as a student would.

Desmos Activity Builder provides teachers with a number of options for activities. The activities can be as simple or detailed as you desire. Here are a few activities that give you a taste of the possibilities:


Polygraphs, such as https://teacher.desmos.com/polygraph/custom/56ec19cad56751cb087d4b0d, are a guessing game between two classmates. Each student is paired with another student. One is the “picker” and the other the “questioner.” After the “picker” chooses one graph or picture, the “questioner” asks yes or no questions and uses the answers to narrow down the correct graph or picture. It is very similar to the game "Guess Who?" I have use polygraphs with all levels of students from beginning Algebra through Pre-Calculus. It is an effective tool if your goal is to build your students' mathematical language.

Marble Slides

In Marble Slides, such as https://teacher.desmos.com/marbleslides-parabolas, students are able to manipulate their graphs by changing specific constants in the given equation. The object is for students to make the marbles hit each star when they are dropped. Marble Slides can work with nearly any level of students who is learning to graph. It is a great way to incorporate piecewise functions as students learn how to limit the domain.

Card Sorts

With Card Sort activities, such as https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/582772edaaede8571b3df6db, students are able to group images, graphs, and/or words/phrase that are similar. I created this sample activity for my algebra students. Learners were to group all the functions together and all the non-functions together. As a creator of the activity, you can insert graphs, images, or words. A variety of math levels, including elementary, would benefit from utilizing card sorts. The instructor can view the dashboard to quickly assess which students are grouping cards correctly.

Card Sort


With Simulations, such as https://teacher.desmos.com/carnival, students are able to make mathematical predictions and then compare their predictions with the computers answer. This specific activity was built by Desmos.com and is available for anyone to use. Here students watch a carnival ride, such as a Ferris Wheel, and attempt to create a graph that represent the blue chairs distance from the ground. You can follow up this activity with Function Carnival, Part Deux. I found that the simulation assists students in comprehending that what they see will not match the shape of the graph.



The following article on MindShift by Katrina Schwartz details the many ways that Desmos is changing how mathematics is being taught: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/06/could-this-digital-math-tool-change-instruction-for-the-better/


After reading the article and viewing the various options for activities, discuss the following questions with a partner:

1) How would utilizing Desmos Graphing Calculator and Desmos Activity Builder change how you teach mathematics?

2) What benefits would the Desmos Graphing Calculator and Desmos Activity Builder bring to your students?

3) Did you find the sample activities engaging? How do you think your students would react to these types of activities?

4) After viewing sample activities and seeing the possibilities in Desmos Activities, into what specific lessons would you like to integrate Desmos Activities?

Please enter your response into this Google Form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdwaY1rgHDoPqev1lR4SmkrWwNqROsbN4cbvRcG673Wdi2T4Q/viewform You will also be able to read responses from other teachers who have participated.

Unit 2: Incorporating Desmos and Desmos Activities into Mathematics Lessons

Resources and References

Bensley, J. (2016, March) Polygraph: Ellipse. Retrieved from https://teacher.desmos.com/polygraph/custom/56ec19cad56751cb087d4b0d

Bensley, J. (2016, November) Funstion sort. Retrieved from https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/582772edaaede8571b3df6db

Desmos. (2016, May 12) Webinar: Introduction to desmos graphing calculator [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BpKOfq-H58

Desmos. (n.d.) Function carnival. Retrieved from https://teacher.desmos.com/carnival

Desmos. (n.d.) Marbleslides: Parabolas. Retrieved from https://teacher.desmos.com/marbleslides-parabolas

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/

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/