Using Desmos Activity Builder

Thursday 12th November 2020

They say necessity is the mother of invention! I think if it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the subsequent shift to predominantly online provision, the teaching profession would probably not have developed its use of technology at anything like the rate that we have witnessed over the course of the last six months. Teachers have had to embrace the use of online platforms to organise, set and collect work, conduct live online sessions, attend meetings, and access professional development opportunities.

Those of us who work within the AMSP have also had to adapt our ways of working during this time; although we have used online platforms for many years now, we are now using them in ways that, until recently, some of us didn’t even know was possible!

As lockdown was rapidly approaching, my colleague Cat Van Saarloos and I decided it would be a good idea to run a Core Maths Online Festival – 22 online sessions for maths teachers who are interested in developing their knowledge and understanding of Core Maths. We enlisted the help of big-name guest speakers, as well as some of our wonderful colleagues at the AMSP, and set to work to design a broad, varied and, hopefully, enticing series of webinars and workshops. However, the elephant in the room still needed to be addressed – how to keep people interested during a 1.5 hour-long online session?

We knew the way to achieve this was to build in as much interactivity as possible. The use of polls and breakout rooms provided opportunities for interaction but we felt that, for the sessions to be truly successful, we needed a way for teachers to access the maths itself, to record their solutions (or attempts), and to offer their thoughts and reflections. We got lucky! We became aware of the Desmos Activity Builder at just the right time (about a fortnight before our first session), and this provided us with all the tools we needed to make the sessions truly interactive. I won’t go into detail here about how the Desmos Activity Builder feature works; suffice to say that if you’re running online sessions and you’re not using it, you may be missing a trick! With it, you are able to manage the interactivity by pacing and pausing, you will see feedback as it comes in, and you can share responses by using the snapshot feature. You can also share your activity with others, adapt what others have already created, and pull activities from Desmos’ extensive collection of ready-made lessons.

Since the Core Maths Online Festival, I have run both online and face-to-face sessions with teachers on how to get started with the Desmos Activity Builder – it is pretty intuitive though, and an hour-long session at a department meeting in Plymouth recently was sufficient for everyone attending to feel confident in using the basic tools. If you are interested in finding out more about Desmos, we offer an On Demand Professional Development (ODPD) 'pod' that you can work though at your own pace and, although the series has already started, we are also running a Live Online Professional Development (LOPD) course on using Desmos that you can still sign up for.

By Tom Rainbow

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