Category Archives: marbleslides

Excellent Summer PD: Desmos Summer Institute

This summer I went to a two day Desmos training in sunny San Diego that was completely dedicated to improving student learning through activity builder.   Dan Meyer, their CEO, kicked off the training with his typical charismatic, humorous and collaborative way of learning about us and generating the goals and plans for the next two days. There were about 25 teachers and a group of Desmos staff and Desmos Teacher Fellows. So, we were surrounded with amazing support, creativity and collaboration.

The Desmos staff said we can share the materials from the workshop. I love that attitude of sharing. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you one of the great shares of Day 1, the Desmos scavenger hunt. The Hunt provides tasks and solutions so you can test your skills and learn new ones. We had great fun with that.

Using the activities or making your own requires you go to teacher.desmos.com. I recommend you get started by watching the one minute video and then create an account. You can login and start searching existing activities.

I recommend starting with searching the existing activities and activity bundles. There are individual activities or bundles of activities by topic (there is a list on the sidebar to the left of the screen). For instance, in Algebra 2, there is a bundle for exponential functions. There are currently seven activities. By doing a quick preview of each activity, you can decide which ones you want to use and when to use them during your unit. As you preview the activity, you’ll see a green pop-up that gives teacher tips. They are really helpful.

To make your own activities, I recommend using the materials provided by the Desmos team to help you build a great activity. To build your own, use this link to get started learn.desmos.com. Or, sign in to teacher.desmos.com, and click ‘Custom’ under ‘Your Activities’ on the left side bar. You can click ‘New Activity’ on the right and then click the ‘Get Started Here!’ link to take you to learn.desmos.com, to see helpful videos and examples. I also really recommend that you use the Teacher Guide when creating your activity. Each activity has a printable guide to help you build your activity and lesson plan. [FYI, the link to the Teacher Guide is an example, you will get one that corresponds to your activity]

I love the activities in Desmos and have had great success with them. Students work and I am freed up to circulate and help as needed. At a glance, I can see where every student is from the teacher dashboard. I can use the teacher tools to anonymize student names and project individual student work or entire class screen overlays so students can see multiple ways of solving problems. Students get instant feedback on their work. Pacing is individualized and many activities get more difficult as you progress, which challenges every student. Students naturally start to ask each other questions. I can partner students as needed. I can even pause an activity – which always leads to groans and the question, “Why did you stop it?!?” You can read about my marbleslides experience What’s great about marbleslides, if you want more details on a specific activity.

My takeaways:

  1. There are amazing educators out there. Find them and stick with them. Then, find more. Share your ideas. Share your lessons. Build better lessons together.
  2. There are great activities for Algebra 2 already built in Desmos. I’m not sure I want to build any myself. It’s not easy to do and more are being added all the time. There are teachers all over the country adding to the bank of activities.
  3. The activities are varied and can be used in many ways – introducing a topic, vocabulary builders, practice, and formative assessment. So far, the ones I’ve used have all provided differentiation for students.
  4. I will build some activities for my AP Economics classes, which I will be teaching for the first time and am very excited about. I’m picturing supply and demand shocks as a starting place. I built my story board using post-its, as recommended, and am ready to start building!

Having the time to really delve in and learn the tools and process for building activities was a gift. There is a second training August 10-11 in San Mateo, CA. Sign up by July 21

What’s great about marbleslides

Marbleslides is a great teaching and learning game created at desmos. It’s been a great addition to my units in Algebra 2. So what’s great about it? Well, it’s tough to know…

…where to start the list…. hmmm…

How about instant feedback for students? They know immediately whether or not they ‘got it right.’ If not, they try again. Don’t you wish they would do that on their homework? Check the answer, if it’s wrong, try again. This is so interactive and quick, they are more likely to stick with it. ‘Stick-with-it-ness’ is a new term I’ve invented. You may have invented it, too, or some version of it. 🙂

The marbleslides activities allow kids to stick with it, even if they are not as far along as other people in the room. They get to work ‘where they are’ without getting behind the rest of the class. It’s a way to differentiate seamlessly, without it being obvious, because of the high engagement level students experience. You can very easily spend more time with the kids who need you. You can make suggestions, but never give away the answer. You can remind them to read the instructions if they missed them (which happens a lot). They can then ‘reset’ the problem and give it another go with much increased success. They are feeling challenged whether they are on slide 7 or slide 17.

For the teacher: Very little planning time is involved and you get to use that time to assess and reflect. It provides instant information to be used for formative assessment. And, kids can complete the activity later if desired by you or by them.

Pretty cool.

Here’s the play-by-play of how I used the Desmos marbleslides activities with my Algebra 2 students:

First, I had students review graphs of rational functions using the marbleslides activity here. We had already learned this and I thought it would be good to start them with something familiar before moving on to new functions. I had hoped this would also strengthen their understanding of the transformations of that parent function. It did. Yay!

So, they were able to learn to navigate desmos and how marbleslides works. Then, a week later, after introducing exponential functions, I had them do the marbleslides activity for that function. I heard comments like, “Whoa, I understand this now.” If you are interested, go to teacher.desmos.com and create an account. Use their pre-made activities and/or the learn.desmos.com tutorials. You will be up and running in no time. You can email their team or me if you want more info about what I did.

Will this always work to get every student super in love with the topic/lesson/learning goal? I’d love to say YES!, but it may be more realistic to say that probably not everyone will fall madly in love. However, this will certainly raise engagement and increase understanding. And, time flies when they’re doing the activity. This definitely deserves space as another tool in the toolkit to increase overall engagement and mix up your activities. What’s needed? Well… devices – iPads or computers. It won’t work on the phones… yet. So, you may need to schedule some lab time. Totally worth it. 

Should you do it everyday? No. Keep mixing it up so you capture or engage your audience. Some kids will be more engaged one way, some kids another. Some like partners, some like to work alone, some like lecture, some like ‘discovery.’ But, what’s great is, by ‘capturing’ them one day, they will most likely increase their general interest level and they are more likely to be willing to go with it another day with another method. Read Styles and Strategies for Teaching High School Mathematics by Thomas, Brunsting and Warrick for great ideas on differentiating your practices.

More on that book next time.