For the Love of Desmos

 

Why do so many students dread graphing?  Because it’s tedious and a lot of work just to get a parabola, much less something more exciting.  When I think about what made me not feel intimidated by graphing, it’s that I owned and mastered the use of the graphing calculator when I was in Algebra 2.  It didn’t replace graphing by hand, but it allowed me to experiment with graphs in ways I couldn’t have without it.  But here’s the thing.  Technology these days has moved rapidly towards intuitive platforms.  The standard graphing calculator, meanwhile, still has layers upon layers of syntax and menus to navigate.  So there’s little motivation for students to try to learn how to use a clunky, old, complicated graphing calculator when, in comparison, their uber-complex and powerful phone is so easy breezy to figure out.

I consider myself to be very lucky.  For me, graphs and equations come alive inside my head.  I visualize them in a dynamic way that helps me to understand the concepts better.  But over the last decade, since I began teaching high school mathematics in 2005, I have come to realize that this is far from the norm, and I have longed for a way to give my students a chance to take part in the dynamic world of graphing that I experience.

Enter Desmos.

Desmos is a website that came out a few years ago.  Their catchphrase is “beautiful, free math.”  And it is.  Then they rolled out teacher.desmos.com, and it has truly revolutionized the way I present graphing concepts to my students.  In fact, I love it so much that I can be found singing its praises through the halls of my high school on a daily basis.  Literally singing.  The kids and the other members of my department know my Desmos song and several of them sing along.  (It’s really not all that impressive, and if you are ever unfortunate enough to hear it, be sure not to have any nice glassware around, as I can’t guarantee it won’t break.  But the enthusiasm is there, and that’s what counts, right?)

While there is a small learning curve for Desmos, students take to it very quickly and are immediately engaged in the beauty of manipulating and analyzing the properties of the graphs of various functions (and non-functions!)  It is, by and large, intuitive, and for goodness sake, it makes graphing FUN!!

With teacher.desmos.com, I design whole activities with pre-loaded screens that challenge the kids to try various activities to get them thinking about graphing (and mathematics in general) in a much richer way.

I am SO passionate about this, and create new activities every chance I get.  I go home after work and am excited to make something new or to iron out the wrinkles in an activity I’ve already tried on the kids.

I want more teachers to latch onto this amazing technology and leverage it in their classrooms, so I’ve set up this website to help get teachers started!  Let the fun begin!

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