I've continued to invest in my iPad infrastructure. I now have my own computer lab of sorts, 25 iPads and a color printer. Any sort of digital product has become incredibly convenient to output.

At the heart of the work flow has emerged Desmos, the greatest thing to happen to a math teacher. Part of my crazy Algebra II idea involved a change in how students perceive graphing. For years, kids have told me they hated it. I never understood why. I don't know completely, but from what I've observed it involves the tedious nature of graphing by hand, the limitations of calculator screens, and an isolation of graphing as a diversion from algebra proper. In Pre-Cal it can get especially ugly when attempting to do anything meaningful with polar equations or conics.

Achievements

Progress I've been able to make thanks to Desmos:

  • graphing by hand is dead in my classroom
  • students can analyze polar equations and conics in a meaningful way
  • students spend their time on the math, not fiddling with window parameters
  • student work that requires graphs is far more professional looking
  • students can manipulate systems of nonlinear equations with ease
  • students in Algebra II have made honest to goodness connections to what graphs mean

Implementation

Adjusting to a Desmos environment really just takes patience and frequency. In Algebra II the students used it on the third day of school. I kept cycling back to it over and over. It was the heart of our graphing units. It helped me rethink the way I do transformations which had lasting effects on the way I approach a lot of Pre-Cal topics.

The pictures only tell half the story.

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Traditional graphing calculators do such a horrible job of showing off the beauty of functions. Intersection points with a tap. Precision zoom with the pinch of a finger. Never having to describe the logic behind a theta step or attempting to square up a pixellated graph. The tedious nature of graphing just disappears. You gain so much more time as an instructor because you aren't dictating a dozen button presses. Or, in some cases, skipping a graphical unit entirely because of all the button pushes.

Impact

Words don't do it justice, but my instruction is completely different and significantly worse without this modern tool. As a professional, I have become SO much better with my conceptual algebra understanding because I can generate a graph in 5 seconds. Among other things, Desmos helped my personal understanding of complex numbers; helped me learn the mechanics of polar ellipses, hyperbolas, and parabolas; let finally illustrate vectors decently; and teach growth and decay problems that don't suck.

This is the part where I'd link to a list of activities that are powered by Desmos, but it'd be half of my entries for the school year. I've tagged them all appropriately.

Ok, not everyone has a classroom set of iPads or laptops. You can't get to the computer lab every day. But even if the one change is to start using Desmos as a math professional, you'll be doing yourself a big favor. Students deserve to know that graphing technology didn't stop advancing in 1996. I don't care if they can't use it on the SAT.

Posted
AuthorJonathan Claydon
Tagsdesmos