Saturday, October 6, 2018

Reflecting on my 1st NCTM presentation

I was out fishing on the lake in Maine on a beautiful fall day when this blog post consumed me and I needed to get it all out.

About a year ago, I wrote a proposal to present at NCTM Hartford and to my surprise, it was accepted.  It was "Doing More with Desmos: Learn How the Desmos Activity Builder Promotes Discussion through Discovery." That is a mouthful as I put it on the title slide of my presentation.

I have presented on Desmos before. I am a Desmos fellow.  I love Desmos and I use it a lot in my classroom. 

Along with teaching, I also coach and volunteer as our church youth group leader, so when fall hits, I get super busy.  By September 21st, I still didn't have my presentation ready, but, that day, I was motivated to prepare it and it just came to me.  I used @RobertKaplinksy 's "What I've Learned from Being a Presenter" to develop my presentation.  The biggest thing from him was the idea of planning on paper first.  I am one to jump right to the powerpoint slides, or now google slides.  I loved brainstorming and organizing on paper first and it made it so much easier and probably faster when I did go to google slides. 

Things I kept in mind while planning:
  • Use at least 36 font
  • Don't put too many words on a slide
  • If relying on tech, use a screen shot of what you need just in case
  • Have an agenda and refer to it often to show progress 
Here is my presentation: Doing More with Desmos

I was presenting at 1:30 pm on Friday of Columbus Day weekend.  My family always goes to Maine for the long weekend, so I wasn't staying overnight in Hartford.  I woke up at 4:50 am, showered and hit the road at 5:15 to leave from MA to CT.  I arrived around 6:40.  Registration opened at 7.  I listened to the rotating keynotes and then went to 2 presentations. I got to have lunch with some MTBoS friends and delicious pizzas:

I had to eat and run so I could get to my room early and check out the technology and wifi because I was warned the hotel had different wifi than the conference center and I definitely needed everyone to have wifi.  @davecesa told me the new username and password and suggested putting that into my slideshow (great tip).  I even added the password to the first few slides in case people came in late.

The room was set up for a workshop style with tables which was perfect.  I was able to figure out the HDMI cord and my clicker as working, so I was all good.  Just making sure your tech will work is very stressful.  Once you are all set, then you can focus on the people in the room.  I welcomed everyone as they came in and let them know about the new wifi information.  I suggested that a laptop would be best, but Desmos would still work on ipads and cell phones.

I got started right at 1:30 and had 75 minutes.  I planned out my time.  I had 4 activities for them to play with - Marbleslides, Polygraph, Card Sort, and Parent Graphs and their transformations.  I was figuring I would spend about 10ish minutes on each, let them play, and then I would talk, because then I wanted to show them the teacher side of it all and then give them time to play with others at the end.  My timing was pretty good.  I did keep checking my watch to stay on time.

My title slide was so long, I forgot to add my twitter handle and blog site. I think I intended to add it, but just forgot. I have since added it, so it will be there if people go back to find it through the NCTM site.

I did introduce myself, name, and school, should have plugged twitter more, but that's okay.

One thing about conferences is you don't often know how many people, their math ability level, or if they have used Desmos or not, so I polled my audience.
 "Raise your hand if you have used the free online computer,"
I had a room of about 50 people and about 75% raised their hands.
  "Hands down, raise you hand if you have used Desmos Activity Builder."
About 10 hands went up.
I said, "Perfect"
That was what I had planned for, more of a beginner session on Desmos, but I would have been able to adjust to diving deeper into the activities if my audience was more experienced. I was glad it was going in the direction I was anticipating.

I will say @steve_leinwand came into my session and I got a tad nervous, but never let them see you sweat.

I let the audience know that there were going to be other sessions on Desmos - there was a calculus one, an Algebra one, and one about middle school. And, I thanked NCTM for allowing for so many Desmos sessions.  I am happy that my fellow Desmos fellows offered to present a variety of Desmos - a little bit for everyone - @DaveCesa @BobLoch and @Allison_krasnow!

I made a google doc and used a LINK so I could have a way to share my presentation with the audience as well as my virtual filing cabinet of Desmos activities.

I had my agenda with one of my student responses on it to read for fun.

I started with Marbleslides because it is one of my favorites and I like it best 2-1 - that is 2 people to one computer.  Remembering that my title including discovery and discussion, this was perfect.  I gave them the opportunity to play - that is their discovery, and with 2 people on one computer, the discussion is a natural development.  We did the lines version.  I asked them what they noticed.  They participated which is OH so helpful.  I was sure to get to everyone who had something to share and I repeated what they noticed or their questions so the whole room could hear.

I told them I was going to pause the activity and counted down, 1, 2, 3 and paused.  Some of them didn't realize what happened, but they stopped.  I had frozen the projector so I could see my Desmos teacher dashboard to see that most of them were progressing through.  So, I switched to my dashboard so I could show them what they would see as a teacher.  I showed them how to anonymize students before showing the class.  I shared with them these were the names of famous mathematicians and the students could see the name in the upper right hand corner of their own screen.  I showed the graphs at the top showed the progress of the class and students. If I hover, I can see which students might be stuck on screen 1 and check in with them.  I can see if students have finished the whole thing.  Next, I asked what they thought the difference between the dots and check marks might mean and they figured out that it meant that they were correct.  One teacher asked if a student reset after they got it correct, would it still show as a check mark.  I did not know the answer to that but we looked because there was a group that reset every time and they still had check marks.  Question answered.  I was happy that throughout the presentation I was able to answer almost all of the questions asked of me.  I don't like it when I have to keep answering, I don't know, I don't know.  I have taught with Desmos long enough to be able to answer most and that is comforting.

The next activity was Polygraph - another fun and powerful activity.  I asked the audience to know go one to one and use their own computer.  I explained the Guess Who-like face game before I gave the code to explain that was for students to get used to asking yes or no questions.  I also shared the story of the first time I used Polygraph in class, I thought I would have to pair the kids up and then once they were done, keep pairing them up but I was pleasantly surprised when Desmos automatically did it.  It was a risk worth taking.  My audience loved it.  I walked around and listened to them working.  I froze my projector and checked in on my teacher dashboard to look at their questions.  Someone asked if the graph was in the 3rd row.  I announced to the room that asking location questions like "is your graph in the upper right hand corner"? weren't going to be helpful because Desmos has thought of that and rearranges them differently on each computer.

I asked if I could pause and got an overwhelming NO!  Someone raised her hand with a question at the same time, so I walked over to answer and told them they could play for a bit longer while I helped her.  I came back and hit pause and they moaned loudly.  Ah, that was the response I was going for.  Tells me they were engaged and invested.  I showed them my teacher dashboard.  I shared that there are many polygraphs and I like to use them before I am introducing a graph to build a need for the vocabulary - like with quadratics.  Kids want to talk about slope with quadratics.  I ask them not to use slope because that is for a line and they are wanting to know what to say - build that need!

Also, in the corner of each slide, I put a little desmos icon that was actually a link to my teacher dashboard so I could quickly get there from each page.

Next up, I shared card sorts - geometry - point, line, ray, and segment.  I used these for the first time in my geometry this year and could share that.  I let them know that they had to drag one on top of the other and hover there for them to click together.  And, I let them work. I walked around and checked in, answering questions.  One question that always comes up is how do they know if they are right.  I let them know that I think it is okay that they don't know that to start.  If they were to turn green or red for right and wrong, then it just becomes a game of dragging green and red.  I showed them that I usually monitor the classes' progress and when most people are starting to be finished, I will project my teacher dashboard and show them if they have a check mark or not.  You can also show individual students screens and then it is green and red and they can see if they are right or wrong now.  I shared how one of my students did it.  At first, she just did groups of 2, not 4 like intended.  So, then she did groups of 4 but it still wasn't correct.  Turns out she groups all the pictures, all the definitions, all the notations, and all the vocab words together.  She wasn't wrong, just different :)

My fourth activity was Parent graphs and their transformations which uses the desmos calculator and sliders, so if people weren't familiar with the calculator or the sliders, they got a chance to play with that.  It was super long, but I let them work their way though just a bit, noticing patterns.  I monitored my teacher dashboard for a few to get to a challenge on screen 10.  Then, I paused them and showed them the teacher dashboard for screen 10.  I can see each student or I can do an overlay and we can have a class discussion.  It was a parabola that should have shifted to the left 3, some people went right, some went down.  I asked them how they would discuss this in their classroom.  (I knew I had captured this same challenge slide 10 in my class later in my slideshow so I could refer to that later.)
I also showed them how to pace.  I said it was 42 slides and my class didn't finish all in one class, but as a teacher, you might want to just pace slides 1-10, get people to that challenge and then discuss and check in.

As all these activities were happening, people were loving it and thinking about how they could use it in their classroom.  One woman said about the geometry one, Oh, I just taught this.  I told her she could use it on Monday as a check in and formative assessment to check for understanding.  A few people were wondering how long the codes stay in use for (almost 6 months, then they go inactive but can be reactivated.) They asked how long student data was stored.  I said I still have all my codes from the past few years.  Again, so happy I was able to answer these questions.

Other do we assign them? I will get to that.
How do we find them? I will get to that.
Glad that was where they wanted to go because that was where I was going.

After these 4 activities, but before going to the teacher side, I shared a little more of a Math and Me Survey I did in Desmos so share that you can do more than just graphs and I shared student responses.

Then, I switched to the teacher side.  I taught them how to assign the activities, checking them out first. 

I took a screenshot of the dashboard and used arrows to recap - anonymize, pause, and pace.  

I showed them the teacher view with individual students and with the overlay and how that can allow for class discussion.  Someone asked what if someone drew something inappropriate, could you remove that.  I suggested instead of showing the entire class, you could use the screen shot and pick a few to put in a slideshow and discuss, so you are ignoring that other one. 

I shared how to find the activities and reminded about just googling it to find even more, explaining that if it is officially on Desmos - they have really tested it and tried to break it.  If little old me makes one, you might not find it on desmos, but you could find it on google.

I showed how to edit them.  I said to go to the dot, dot, dot in the upper right if you wanted to change an activity up - maybe delete or add slides or change some vocabulary to get started.  I didn't remember to show them how to enable the marbleslides, polygraph, and geometry, but someone was trying to edit one later and then I brought it to the audience's attention.  Go to your name in the upper right hand corner and click on Desmos labs and then enable all three with checkmarks.

I shared how to learn more including reading the teacher tips within the activities and requesting a Desmos fellow.

And, on the final screen I listed a bunch of different codes for them to play with.  I had a title of Let's Play and I got there with 20 minutes left.  I told them they could play with them as I walked around and helped people with their individual questions.  I changed the title of the screen to be the so that people could have that to take with them.

Phew!  I had so much fun.  I will admit after lunch and an early drive, I was hitting the wall at 1 pm with my presentation at 1:30, but Desmos is awesome and it sells itself.

I had a volunteer outside the room who listened to people's comments as they left and also asked people what they thought.
She said, they said, "best one of the day", "that was so cool", "I'm going to use that next week." "I learned so much."  Bingo!  Yes!

This positive feedback followed up with 2 really cool tweets:
One from Steve Leinward:

Followed by a reply from Eli Luberoff, Desmos Founder:

Thanks to everyone for all the great support!  I am so happy to have had the opportunity to share the Desmos love with even more math teachers.


  1. Jennifer - Thanks presenting and sharing. I learn so much from other people's presentations. Your narrative and observations are appreciated.

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