A Desmos Lesson That Felt Like a “Fail”

Sometimes, despite diligent planning and preparation, a lesson does not go quite as planned.   That was definitely true of my first Desmos lesson.   In fact, at least in my eyes, it was a bit of fail.

After attending a session on Desmos at the NCTM annual conference last April, I could see the power and promise of the platform to help students visualize math.   After returning home from San Diego, I looked at a bunch of lessons on Desmos and found several that I wanted to try with my students.   I also found one that was fairly similar to a lesson that I already teach that matches the story to the graph.   I decided that this particular lesson would be a good place for me to start.   (The version of the lesson that I usually teach is described in this blog post .)

As I prepared the lesson, I invested hours figuring out how to build piece-wise graphs on Desmos and how to build a card sort.    Once I had the lesson built, I created a class code on Desmos and  had one of my student aides enroll in it and do the lesson to test it out.    Based on his feedback, I made a few tweaks to improve the lesson.   Going into the lesson, I felt like I had done everything that I could to prepare but still felt the usual nerves when I try out a new platform for the first time.   When it comes to teaching a lesson, I like to have anticipated every possible eventuality and have thought about what I want to do in response.    That can be hard to do when I’m learning a new platform.

As I taught the lesson over the course of the day, it got a little smoother with each iteration.   I made a few changes after each period and it was fairly smooth by the end of the day.     My struggles were not with the lesson or pacing, but with how to facilitate a lesson on the Desmos platform.    All of my planning didn’t prepare me for how students screens would look when I used Pause or for the fact that when I displayed my screen on the Promethean board every student in the room could see what every other student was typing (even before they hit Share With The Class).   Hence, I did not anticipate the fact that the impulsive boys in my second period class would see it as a great opportunity to type silly messages and pull other kids off task.   After a few trials and missteps, I figured out that I needed to make kids Pause, turn to the screen to introduce the task/question, freeze the screen on the Promethean Board before kids started, and tell kids not to hit Share With The Class until I gave the direction to do so in order to ensure that each student had the opportunity to think about the task/question without being influenced by someone else’s response.

I walked away from the lesson feeling that most of my cognitive energy/focus was on how to manage facilitating the technology rather than on facilitating the discussion the way that I normally would have done.    As I looked at student work during the lesson and the ending exit ticket, I could see that students had grasped the necessary concepts.  When I graded the unit test that was the day after the lesson, the class average was 97% with the lowest score above an 80%.   So, objectively speaking, it was a success.   It definitely felt like a fail though.

So, where do I go from here? Despite the bumpy road, my students said they liked using Desmos and I still believe their is power in it.   So, I will live outside of my comfort zone.   I have two lessons planned for this week using lessons created by Desmos to teach about plotting points on the coordinate plane and graphing inequalites .   I also spent several hours this morning creating another lesson of my own on Desmos modeled after @mathycathy ‘s Twin Puzzles Desmos activity to explore order of operations with rational numbers.   (Her activity was great, but I wanted to incorporate some rational numbers rather than just using whole numbers).

Every day, I tell my students that  you get better at things when you work at them.   Hence, I am going to work at getting better at facilitating Desmos lessons by doing some more of them.


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