Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Heart Desmos

I have written about Desmos before but that was two years ago. And the folks at Desmos have been busy. Specifically today I want to talk about three specific things they have given us since.

Activities by Desmos

One of the first things they started to create was a set of activities that, at times, didn't even use the graphing calculator. But all of them are really well done. I still think my favourite is Central Park. In this one students walk through the development of what a formula is. And they do it in such a low key way that starts with estimation and a simple visual interface that deals with making parking spaces. Other activities like Penny Circle (modelling functions) used the skills of Dan Meyer to interface the graphing calculator with an interesting activity. Function Carnival (distance time graphs), Tile Pile (ratios) and Waterline (modelling functions) showed the diversity of mathematics. From lower end ratio stuff all the way to related rates.
And then they came out with Polygraph. This was basically the game Guess Who. That is, you pick a graph and then your partner has to ask yes/no questions to help guess what graph you chose. The neat part is that each student does this from their own computer or device and they play against each other with Desmos randomly pairing them up. You set up the class as the teacher and give the student the four character code and end up with a record of what each student did during the activity. With Polygraph they have made several versions: Parabolas, lines, basic quadrilaterals, advanced quadrilaterals, hexagons, and rational functions.
Regardless of the activity, you create an account on and then start the activity. You will be given a unique four character code for your students to enter when they go do


Once Polygraphs came out, the online math community loved it so much that they asked for the ability to create their own. So it wasn't long before Desmos released Custom Polygraphs. They are pretty easy to make. Here is one that I made about distance time graphs.
Making them is pretty easy and basically just requires you to create each graph in Desmos. One piece of advice about making these is that you should plan out the 16 different choices ahead of time, but try not to have too much diversity or it may be too hard for students to solve the puzzle. Another neat idea is that you actually don't need to have the choices as graphs. Because you are using the Desmos calculator, you can actually just import an image in for each choice and not have a graph there at all. Like this one for primary students that has nothing at all to do with math.

Desmos Activity Builder

Once teachers started really using Desmos, they started coming up with complete activities that used Desmos as their backbone. Something like this activity jointly created by Cathy Yenca and Michael Fenton called Match my Graph. Desmos saw what they were doing and thus create the Activity builder. This now gives teachers a way to essentially create an interactive slideshow that has Desmos as the backbone. Once you have an idea, its pretty easy to put it together. Here is one that I put together on Anscombe's Quartet.
When you make these you have three choices of slides. A graph, a question or text. The question slide is very interesting as you ask a question of the students and they type in their answer and then you have the option of letting them see how other people answered. It's a neat feature to let students know how others have answered the same question.

The Desmos Community

With all of these tools now available for teachers to use and create with that means there are a large number available for us to use. You don't have to create something that someone else has already done. To that end there are currently two ways to search for these teacher made activities. Desmos has built it right into by including a search feature on the top right. Enter a topic or teacher name and the available activities pop up. The other place is a teacher created community called the Desmos Activity Bank. Here teachers can submit their Desmos activities and anyone can use them. One of the nice things about all of these activities is when you get to them just click on Start New Session and it automatically gets added to your Desmos teacher account.

So make use of all these tools to help make the learning in your math class dynamic and Desmosified

Monday, November 9, 2015

10 Creative Alternatives to Research Reports and Papers

Research reports and papers have been around a long time. They haven't evolved much. Here are 10 ways to make them more relevant. (Flickr / Nic McPhee)

10 creative alternatives to research reports and papers

 The following article was pulled from the Ditch the Textbook website 
by Matt Miller

I felt the 10 alternatives are worth a look and so is his website.


The merits of doing research and creating these reports and papers are valid. When they create them, students …
  • Gather information
  • Evaluate sources
  • Organize and synthesize data
  • Form ideas and cohesive thoughts
  • Create a polished, finished product
  • Cite where they got their information
Here’s the problem, though: the finished product just isn’t very relevant to the real world, be it in the workforce or in people’s personal lives.
Reports and papers often end up where mine always did — in the trash.
If students are going to do their best work to learn and create, shouldn’t it be in a form they can be proud of — and that they want to show others?
I think it’s time that we turn research reports and papers on their heads. Here are 10 creative alternatives:
1. Websites. By making a free website using tools like Weebly and Google Sites, students are much more likely to attract eyeballs to their work. Websites can be shared easily, and they live on when people stumble upon them through Google searches. When students publish their work to a website, they’re creating a positive digital footprint as well.
2. Piktochart infographics. Have you seen those super long infographics that you have to scroll down through to see all the information? They’re all overPinterest and other social media. Piktochart can turn a report or paper into a flashy eye-catching visual. Start with a predesigned template or use the graphics, text and other goodies to create your own from scratch. (Here’s a post I wrote with 20 ways to create classroom pizzazz in class with Piktochart.)
3. Google Drawings interactive posters. Gathering lots of information for a report or paper onto a poster board might be impossible (or require teeny tiny text!). A Google Drawings interactive poster (see post on this here) fits the in-depth research genre better because it can be a jumping off point for more information. Use a Google Drawing to present some visuals. Then, create links from that poster to Google Docs or other resources that provide more information about the topic. Be sure to use a live hyperlink (Ctrl+K is the keyboard shortcut) to get readers where they want to go.
4. Linked YouTube videos. Researchers gather information and present it in video format in front of an audience of millions every day. It’s called television news. Students can create short videos on the different segments of their report or paper. Then, they can upload them to YouTube and link them together usingannotations. It becomes an interactive video version of their reports. See this example I did with a post I wrote on Google Classroom.
5. ThingLinks. ThingLink lets students create clickable hotspots on an image. Students use an image (either use a pre-existing one, an information-based one like a map or a chart, or create one with a tool like Google Drawings orPicMonkey). Then, they add clickable dots to important parts of that image. Those clickable dots can take readers to sources already existing on the Web or to Google Docs or other sources created by students. See ThingLink’s website for examples of how this awesome tool works.
6. Radio shows. Programs like “This American Life” and other audio documentaries do a phenomenal job of creating long-form stories and journalistic presentations in an engaging way. With some planning, students could record a compelling podcast/radio show presentation about their content. They could add interviews, sound effects, background audio from a site like a restaurant or a bus station, etc. Use tools like Audioboom (upload audio so others can listen to it) and Audacity Garage Band (for mixing audio). Can be simple or complex.
7. News broadcast. In No. 4 above, we used short video clips to create an interactive video presentation. But news broadcasts generally aren’t very interactive. Students could create a news show, blending video, images, sound and effects together using a tool like WeVideo or Camtasia Studio. It could be uploaded to a class YouTube channel where others could watch.
8. Info/image slide show. The “Did You Know?/Shift Happens” videos created by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod have been viewed millions of times on YouTube. They’ve taught us about rapid changes happening globally, and we willingly watched because they were engaging. These text-based slideshow videos can be very popular, and students can create them with YouTube’s photo slideshow tool or Animoto (free for educators).
9. Aurasma aura poster. This one actually utilizes poster board, but it’s so much more than the standard poster. With Aurasma (an iPad app), students can create auras. An aura is a video or image that displays over something in real life when you look at it through the camera in the Aurasma app. (Here’s an example of how it works.) Students can create auras for different images on their posters. When the viewer scans the images with the Aurasma app, it displays videos or images with more information.
10. Google Slides slide book. I’m all for ditching textbooks, and this is a great way to do that. Instead of using a standard textbook, students can show their understanding by creating an interactive, engaging one! In place of reports and papers, students could create a slide book like this one (created by Matt Macfarlane, a teacher who provides this to his students). Notice the images, links to sites and embedded videos.