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During the first period of school and college closures, the majority of lessons in my own school were asynchronous, so I didn’t experience teaching live online until the autumn term when Year 10 and Year 12 were sent home following positive cases in those year groups. My first online lesson was with Year 12 Further Mathematicians, a bubbly, lively group – well they are in person! During this first lesson, apart from the odd comment in the chat or over audio, it felt like I was talking to myself – and I had no clue if my students were picking up the concepts correctly. While the class were working on a set of questions, I quickly made a Desmos classroom activity with five multiple-choice questions on the topic we’d just introduced. In the second half of the lesson, the class worked on these questions and suddenly I could see what they were doing and what they were doing wrong – I gave feedback to individual students to highlight their errors, and saw them changing answers to later questions as a result. In some ways, it was even more effective than mini whiteboards in class, because they couldn’t see their peers’ responses, and I could focus my attention on those getting things wrong – rather than those asking for help, or where I was as I circulated the room.

With 2021 starting with online teaching, I started creating Desmos activities for most of my lessons. My colleagues were keen to use them and learn how to create them themselves, so I thought it would make a useful AMSP network session – Avoid Teaching Into The Void seemed an appropriate title! Demand was so high that after running the first session on Tuesday 26 January 2021, we ran it again six more times across the South West! In the session, we focused on getting the most benefit with the minimum amount of effort to prepare. The teachers attending worked through a sample activity to get a student’s experience before looking at how the teacher dashboard can be used during a lesson to give feedback and to share what students had done. The second half of the session then looked at creating the features that were used in the sample activity. A sample activity is linked below if you wish to have a better idea of what was covered.

In the hour session, we could only scratch the surface of what is possible with Desmos activities, but hopefully many of those who attended have been exploring this powerful pedagogical tool further and finding it useful for their lessons. Once you know what is possible with the Desmos activities, creating them is fairly straightforward – as one teacher who attended said, “Amazing to see how easy it is to create your own activity – I’ve only pinched other people’s before!” It has also been great to hear from teachers who have since used some of the ideas discussed with their classes, the following is fairly typical of many of the emails we’ve had, “Thanks so much for the session last week. I used Desmos today with a fairly weak Year 8 group. I found a lesson about area and adapted it with some multiple-choice questions and a card sort. It was great, the students really enjoyed it. I shall definitely be sharing this with the rest of the department once I’ve used it a bit more!

Later this academic year, we plan on running some follow up meetings, for teachers who have been using Desmos classroom activities to share and discuss their experiences – what works well, what tricks they have picked up, and any other good ideas or to ask questions, as well as exploring some of the more advanced features such as the Computation Layer. Details of these sessions will be emailed to the local contacts on the AMSP Stay Informed list once they are confirmed.

If you missed these sessions and you’d like to explore Desmos activities, you can view a sample activity from the meeting.

Teachers in state-funded schools and colleges in England may want to look at the On Demand Professional Development (ODPD) course titled Desmos in the Maths Classroom.

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