Desmos: Sparking Academic Conversations

One of the biggest struggles I have as a second year math teacher in a classroom full of ELL or former ELLs (English Language Learners) is getting them to speak. Well, speak about math. Trust me, when it comes to Fortnite, Instagram, Snapchat, and the newest rumor floating around the building they love to talk. However, when it comes to talking about a math problem, you could hear a pin drop.

I had tried every pedagogical move there was to try to spark academic conversation. I had a piggy bank where students would have to put their coin assigned to them into the piggy bank when they spoke. I had queue cards and sentence starters. I moved seats. Even offered pizza to those who spoke the most. All of these efforts were for not.

A colleague of mine told me to try out Teacher.Desmos.com. She raved about it, and talked about how great it would be for my honors class because it enhanced those higher order thinking skills we all know and love as teachers. So I did some research…

I wanted technology that could get my students to communicate with each other, but also get them to the top of Blooms’ pyramid. Silver (2018) Edtech is trapped in Ben Bloom’s basement had given me a lot of knowledge on how to give students technology that they liked and wouldn’t try to sneakily go on CoolMathGames.com. The research states that the technology needs that interpersonal connection, while providing visuals and allowing the students to create most of the work, not the technology.

Desmos was just that. I was shocked at just how much it offered on exponential functions. It allowed students to watch a tennis ball bounce and see how each successive bounce decreased in height. It allowed them to try it out themselves. It allowed them to see what a student wrote on his laptop from across the room and reply to it. But what about what it allowed ME to do? I could see everything from my laptop. How quick students were progressing, a common question many students were getting wrong, I could even switch the screen to a particular problem on all laptops if there was something I wanted to go over.

Are my students talking now? Yes, in the way they know how to best. Through the laptop screens. After all, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Students certainly know how to talk through Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, so why not makes Desmos a platform to create academic discourse.

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