Making Desmos Elementary

For the past few weeks, I’ve had the fun opportunity to write for the Global Math Department newsletter.  Haven’t heard of the Global Math Department?  It’s great tool to find out what’s going on in the online math world about math teaching and watch professional development webinars.  Check the site out here and read about some of the fine folks that coordinate the work here.

In the last newsletter, Bridget Dunbar (@BridgetDunbar), Anna Bornstein (@Borschtwithanna), and I (@mathgeek76) wrote separately about the importance of grade level teachers sharing and learning from teachers at other grade levels.  Teachers of all levels have a lot to learn from each other.  You can find the complete newsletter here.  (If you sign up, you’ll get weekly newsletters straight to your inbox!)

Here’s what I wrote about using Desmos as an instructional tool in the elementary classroom.  While historically used by secondary teachers, several elementary teachers are creating a lot of useful stuff.  Give it a read.  Share your thinking.  And I invited you to a call to action.

Making Desmos Elementary

In my August post, I reflected on my experiences at Twitter Math Camp.  I wrote then that “my most important learning from TMC17 is the power of a community that chooses to gather for the sake of learning together and sharing ideas.  The commitment and passion to become more effective math teachers and more inspired math geeks was palpable and contagious last month.  But our community has been weakened by a lack of diversity across the grade levels for years.”

In a keynote talk, Graham Fletcher (@gfletchy) shared this image from TMC15 showing the professional demographic of participants.   

And this breakdown in the #MTBoS community has not changed much over the years.  Elementary teachers are underrepresented and the strength of the online math community suffers.  Many have talked about the causes and potential solutions of this dynamic over the years.  In particular, Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) recently blogged about it here and Tracy Zager (@TracyZager) spoke about it at TMC16 here.  A few years ago, Ben Orlin (@benorlin) shared his thoughts about “Blaming the Last Guy” and I recently shared my own experiences about “The Blame Game” here.

This is why I’m very encouraged by the recent work of Annie Forest (@mrsforest).  Not only has she created Desmos activities for elementary students and teachers, she’s created screencast tutorials to help elementary teachers learn how to create activities appropriate for K-5 students.

If you’re reading this newsletter and you teach middle or high school, you’re probably well aware of Desmos.  Desmos is an amazing instructional and learning tool and continues to further the creation of classrooms where student engagement and thinking are the focal point of lesson design and instructional decisions.

One of the few areas where Desmos falls short is as a tool for math learning in the elementary classroom.  Desmos is great tool for exploring math on a coordinate plane, but that work doesn’t begin in earnest until 6th grade in CCSS (although it’s introduced in 5th grade).  Most of the rich activities they’ve designed are also at the 6-12 grade band.  One of the most powerful features of Desmos is the activity builder which allows teachers to create custom lessons using Desmos features.  Furthermore, those activities can be shared freely and can be duplicated and modified by other teachers.  It’s a community that builds and feeds itself on good ideas, collaboration, and shared inspiration.

This is why I’m really excited about the new card sort feature on Desmos.  Elementary teachers can now create custom card sorts to facilitate instruction and student discourse.  And they can now share those activities with other elementary teachers in the community.  

Back to Annie Forest and her work.  I invite you to take a moment and read her recent blogpost here and watch the videos.  It’s about a 15 minute commitment, but you’ll be fluent enough to use the Activity Builder platform to create your own card sorts.  You’ll also learn how to use the draw feature as a tool to create engaging formative assessment activities.  It’s good stuff.  Trust me.  Check it out.

If you’re a seasoned Desmos user and a middle or high school teacher, you’ll further your own understanding Desmos and expand your toolkit.  Furthermore, you can become an ambassador and invite your elementary colleagues aboard the Desmos train.

There are a few Desmos activities out there already for K-5 teachers.  (Note:  You need to be signed in to Desmos to view these activities, but creating an account is simple, free, and easy.)  Jenn Vadnais (@rilesblue) has a few on her blog here.  Graham Fletcher created a triangle card sort here that’s appropriate for many grade levels and easily scalable to include other geometry content.  Allison Krasnow (@allison_krasnow) created a 5th lesson here using the coordinate plane.  And here are two lessons on fractions by Nathan Kraft (@nathankraft1) and Andrew Stadel (@mr_stadel).

But we need more!  And Annie is offering us a way to start.  

Here’s my call to action:

  • Watch Annie’s videos.
  • Create a card sort and Tweet about it using #desmoscardsort.
  • Retweet the work of others.
  • Invite a newbie to the action.

Let’s have some fun!  Tweet me about the elementary Desmos lessons that you know about.  What did I miss?  What can I add to this list?

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