In July I spent some time at Desmos HQ driving Eli's Lambo and shooting the breeze with people about how they incorporate Activity Builder and how the Desmos staff see as the role of Activity Builder in the classroom. Two things stuck with me: be thoughtful in AB design, and see how could change the way I assess.

Prior to my visit I had decided to experiment with Activity Builder more. I saw a lot of great work with Pre-Cal kids having to explain their thinking more, and Calculus kids could certainly use the same. The language barriers for making mathematical arguments have been a barrier for my students in the past, and I want to start being more picky about that kind of thing. I also want to push my kids to better understand how the regular Desmos calculator works with regard to restrictions, notation, and such.

In 11 weeks I've done 9 actual, premeditated Desmos activities between Calc AB & BC. There's at least another half dozen instances where they used it to make a project or annotated a pre-made calculator page. Here's a small sample of stuff I tried:

Calc AB

Being a math-based LMS, having access to notation is great. Here I asked AB a series of questions about derivative methods:

Being able to let kids sketch is also nice. For an activity on curve sketching, I provided the first derivative and they had to sketch the original function as well as the second derivative:

I really like slides where something has to be added to a graph, makes it easy to see how much a misconception has propagated. Here I can quickly tell that two students misinterpreted the initial picture has f(x) rather than f'(x). Were they working together? Did this idea manifest in separate parts of the room? I can figure it out fast.

Calc BC

For BC my built activities are part of their regular assessment program. I also incorporate it into their classwork a lot. While doing area between curves and volume, I was able to share a calculator page with them and have them add integrals to it. At regular intervals they complete Activity Builders as closed notes (though collaborative) assessments.

Here they shaded regions of a velocity curve where speed was increasing versus when speed was decreasing:

It's also been easy to adapt free response questions to the format:

Since it's a smaller group we've been able to learn a lot of nitty gritty things about the calculator. How to use folders, make dynamic labels, define variables, etc.


In all cases I make sure the activities are short and sweet, usually less than 10 screens. I consider what the activities let me do that's not possible with paper (for instance, compute nasty integrals). I also make sure the kids get to see the data that gets collected. In BC for example, we always go over their assessment when it's finished. I'll call up the dashboard and scroll through interesting answers or demonstrate common issues. At no point are kids being called out to mock them for getting something wrong, rather we use it an opportunity to discuss what mistake they might have made and how what we can all learn from it. Kind of like a digital "my favorite no" kind of thing.

There are still some scaling issues I'm working on. For the most part paper assessments are still faster for AB given the size (75), but there's potential there. So far it's working great. Kids can use the system well, I get useful information from it, and the technology gets out of the way.

AuthorJonathan Claydon