In May I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in Cohort 2 of the Desmos Fellowship. We would be getting the VIP tour of Desmos headquarters and get the opportunity spending the weekend learning about new features and brainstorming ideas with teachers from all over the country. As is the nature of the awesome teachers who use Desmos, for me it served as a TMC17 preview. So many familiar faces!
The in face part of the fellowship wrapped Sunday and here's what the great folks at Desmos had in store for us:
A nice meet and greet at headquarters to give us a chance to get to know one another. I was on the end of the arrivals, missing the initial introductions. I admit I must not have scanned the Cohort 2 names well enough because it was such a surprise to see so many familiar faces. It was also a pleasure to meet so many of the Desmos staff face to face. Excellent people all, and they have wonderful taste in fancy water. Just, you know, don't ask too many questions about the TI-Emulation Layer...
At the conclusion, most of the pack wandered out to dinner having received a quick briefing about the weekend ahead.
We spent the morning getting insight into the design process from Michael, Jenny, and Shelley. The primary focus of the weekend was Activity Builder and what we might want to do with it. The folks at Desmos were also looking for our feedback on what works and doesn't work about the current state of Activity Builder and the Teacher Dashboard. These folks know their audience and think really carefully about what works best for people in the classroom.
We worked through some Desmos designed activities and discussed the principles at play. Does an activity present a challenge? Does it build on student vocabulary? Does it create an immediate need for the math concept at hand? Does it minimize a student's ability to guess and check their way to completion?
These are some really big questions I've asked myself and were part of my reservations in waiting so long to deploy it.
We were given some unstructured work time to develop concepts for fresh Activity Builders, working in groups arranged by content area. Working with the handful of Calculus folks was tricky, it's a real no man's land of application for this stuff so far. Sam and Sarah had a great conversation about motivating the product rule with an area model. Myself, Josh, and Sean tossed around ideas about area under curves and solids of rotation. Both of these topics offered some technical challenges that required us to spend some time talking about the math before we ever created the first slide.
The rest of the day I volunteered to help Jenny user test some new ideas for Teacher Dashboard. I successfully managed to request a feature that was sitting right under my nose, if I had just bothered to stop for a second and click.
We concluded with an introduction of Computation Layer, a more advanced method to tie slides within a Activity Builder. It's not quite ready for primetime and something that's not quite on my radar. One day. I adopt things slowly.
There were some short breakouts in the afternoon, I listened to Dave and Julie discuss their uses of Desmos when it comes to assessment. This is something I plan to do more during the upcoming school year. Julie made us take her Desmos-based midterm.
The morning focus was on helping spread the word about Desmos in professional development. They get tons of requests for training from schools but don't have the staff to fulfill the requests. Being a part of the cohort gives you an opportunity to become a Certified Presenter. If duly motivated, you can prep a demo reel for scrutiny by Team Desmos and if they like what you got, you can get the official blessing and be deployed (and paid) where needed. Another opportunity I might consider for the future, but not right now.
To give us an idea of what they were looking for, Dan walked us through the Charge! activity. We had a discussion about what the go to tools would be for this task and how technology helps and hinders the solution.
We were given more free time to conclude our thoughts from the previous day. Lots of furious work on all sorts of interesting things. I mocked up a dynamic rectangle generator for Sam and Sarah:
I then spent my time hacking through concepts in sequences and series, eventually playing around with Taylor Series generation in Desmos.
We ended the day wandering around the room seeing what everyone had made. So much creativity and talent on display. Some people in the cohort have already developed some real chops with Computation Layer, and some really bonkers things are possible (yellow shading!).
Whenever I attend professional development, I keep my goals simple: have one good conversation about teaching and learn one new thing (and take pictures of random Lambo's that unfortunately don't belong to Eli). I had no idea you could display dynamic values on a graph (the "Area=" thing in my rectangle demo). Sam and Sarah's discussion of the area model proof of product rule (and the two page storyboard) really taught me something I thought I already knew. Dave and I talked Active Calculus, Scott and I talked Pre-Cal spaghetti, Elizabeth shared interesting info about SFUSD, Mary got real fancy with thrown footballs, Stephanie recommitted herself to blogging (we'll be watching, Stephanie...), and on and on...
Thanks to Desmos for being such active participants in the math teaching community and being excellent hosts! It was all over way too soon.