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.