Doing It with Desmos
Math curriculum and practices have been franticly adapting to meet the needs of 21st century students. Yes, our students still need procedural fluency skills, but they also need to communicate effectively, interact with technology appropriately, and engage in higher level thinking. Desmos, which started as a free online graphing calculator site, has recently launched Teacher Desmos, a platform in which teachers can use Desmos made lessons or build their own 21st century lessons using pre-programed “plug ins.”
My PLC and I have found that Desmos lessons are extremely engaging with students. In fact, all 4 of us were formally observed using Desmos Tile Pile in our college prep and sped collab college prep classes, and we incorporate them into our program whenever possible. However, there have been fewer activities available for 7th grade than what we wanted to use with our students.
So, I decided to write one, just do it. I had never created a lesson using their platform, nor had I ever worked with their plug ins. The learning curve was steep, but the support materials were awesome. I watched videos, reviewed the components I could incorporate into a “slide,” and allowed myself time to let this new type of lesson development sink in.
I knew the lesson I wanted to begin with, a revision of Georgia Department of Education’s, Orange Fizz Experiment. Why this lesson? Because it had ugly handouts. The content and learning were fantastic, one of the best from the entire year, but it was visually so unappealing, hard for the students to read (icky font), and contained squished data tables, and funky page breaks. I reasoned that I could make it better, I could make it inviting, and as a bonus the students might get intrigued by proportional reasoning.
Slide by slide I began to revamp the lesson. I learned how to insert pictures, add text, include editable data tables, create multiple choice response with explanation items, link tables to graphs, and develop free response sections. I suffered setbacks, like being unable to incorporate as many components on a slide as I desired, but that made the final product more user friendly for students.
The original Orange Fizz Experiment falls within the proportional reasoning unit of grade 7, one of five major focus areas for the year. It addresses these standards: 7.RP.1 Compute unit rates associated with ratios of fractions, including ratios of lengths, areas and other quantities measured in like or different units. 7.RP.2 Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities. 7.RP.3 Use proportional relationships to solve multistep ratio and percent problems. Additionally, it encompasses these Standards for Mathematical Practice 1. Make sense of problems, 2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively, 3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. By using Desmos, I was able to effectively increase the Mathematical Practices to also include 4. Model with mathematics, 5. Use appropriate tools strategically, 6. Attend to precision, and 7. Look for and make use of structure.
The original Orange Fizz Experiment was entirely tables and calculation. It did not have a graphing component, which I added. It seems natural for students to experience the constant of proportionality from a data , table, and graphic standpoint. It was their first time doing this. I added a synthesis slide to the end of the activity, that pushed the students to contrast the proportional relationship between two lines, something they had never done.
Before doing the lesson with students, I shared the activity with my PLC, student teacher, and math TOSA’s. I wanted them to do the activity as students, to find any sticking points, so that I could adjust before it confused kids. Their suggestions made it into the current version, and helped the kids to see the mathematical connections better.
I was nervous, it was time for the activity to be completed by real students. ALL students (college prep, sped, el, and honors). I worried that our internet would go down, or that students might be able to erase the activity. Neither happened. I fretted it was too short, or too long. It wasn’t. I feared that the students would not like it, they were hooked. The students moved easily through the slides, entering data, making graphs, answering multiple choice and free response like pros. They saw that proportional relationships graph as a straight line through the origin. They were able to self correct/help a teammate if they noticed that the data created crooked lines. They correctly hypothesized values needed to make lots of Orange Fizz, and analyzed graphs to determine which one would be the most “Orangey” tasting. Desmos makes sense to students, they engage with the materials naturally.
As teachers we grew too because the Teacher Dashboard gives tools for teacher use in Real Time to support learning, and engagement. As the lesson is in progress teachers can view individual student work, or groups of student work, or pause the class for discussion/clarification. From the Teacher dashboard, all student data can be displayed to look for patterns or errors and allow corrections to occur anonymously.
We also collaborated within our PLC, with our two math TOSA’s, and shared the lesson with colleagues at other sites. Here is the link if you want to try it! https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/5802c1b650227fe905b57929
Doing it with Desmos changed a dull lesson into an engagement monster. The students wanted to keep going, they have asked for more activities like it, and they got the math. It was an uber win for us all.