I adopt initiatives slowly. Specifically tech related stuff. I'm an enormous skeptic, trying really hard to avoid gimmick implementations. Recently, I found that the exciting world of iPads was really kind of bland given the expense and maintenance hurdles.

This school year I have a fresh batch of Chromebooks, which do everything I was getting out of iPads but with a little more flexibility.

A couple weeks ago I had some goals, teach some Desmos fundamentals and get the kids to create some trig function graphs and print them out. This is not, by any means, very amazing, but if you were curious about Chromebooks, here's what I've done. It was pretty simple and the tech was able to enhance the final product.

Learn Desmos

We spent a day getting familiar with the interface. I wanted this year's group to be more proficient with lots of things: axes controls, projector mode, restrictions, and line types to name a few. I pointed them towards the official Learn Desmos page and gave them a few topics to work through. At the end I had everyone go to the main Desmos calculator site and link their Google account to Desmos, enabling saving for future projects.

Activity Builder

Two years ago I started tackling graphing tasks with several rounds of how did I make this? Students were given a printed set of graphs, some guidelines, and asked to recreate them. At the end we discussed the effects of any parameters involved. I liked the concept enough that I filmed it for my PAEMST application.

I first saw Activity Builder during the Desmos morning session at TMC15. It was interesting, but at the time I was willing to wait. In the interim it has improved dramatically. The addition of a folder that can be hidden from students is the magic feature I think I was waiting for. Some real effort has been put into the teacher dashboard. I kept it open on a laptop only I could see as the students hummed along. The goal of class recently was to work through properties of trig functions and have discussions about amplitude, frequency, and translation effects. If you fancy a look, here's the two activities they worked through: Graphs of Trig Functions and Pro Trig Graphing Skills


Now it was time for them to show me what they've learned. I took an old standby project and wrote more exhaustive instructions. I even increased the amount of things they would be doing. With Google Docs as a point of distribution, I was no longer worried about instructions that could fit on a single computer screen.

Trig Graphing Project

Students were able to save their work in Desmos and then work on it outside of class if they wanted. The instructions didn't include the writing that was required, but you can see an example of the final product here:

Later on, it was time to assess. In the past students would be given a few trig functions to graph. They'd be mediocre at best. With better tools available, I refocused the assessment to be more language based.


In general, tech needs to get out of the way for me. I want students spending their time on the task at hand, not making something work. There were struggles in this progression because we were working through the start up costs: learning Desmos, setting up printers, and the fiddly nature of Google Docs. In the end, we made a lot of progress, made some nice projects, and now I can raise the demands of other activities.

Thanks to the people at Desmos who have really been working hard to make all this so easy to deploy.

AuthorJonathan Claydon