Friday, 15 July 2016

TMC 2016 Entry 0: DesCon16

Before "Twitter Math Camp" 2016 there was "Desmos Con" 2016, where a number of people from Desmos, an company with an online graphing calculator, gave a presentation/workshop. Here's how I plan to do posts going forwards - I'll give you some quotes here at the start, you see if you can decide who said them, and then you'll find out by reading the recap. Your choices are: Dan Meyer, Nathan Kraft and Sara VanDerWerf.

  • "Secant, Tangent, Cosine, Sine, 3.14159!"
  • "I refuse to define terms for kids if it's something that they have learned before."
  • "It's vertical, it's a problem, but it's a very heartfelt message."


Some food was provided (had a cheese bagel and strawberry yogurt) and there was general mingling until 9am when Dan Meyer started talking. He was upfront about being "here for selfish reasons", to eavesdrop on what we were doing; their stuff only works with our help and participation. He played a video (recorded vertically...) of Eli Luberoff, CEO.

Eli spoke about how Desmos is able to be used on end of course exams now in a number of states. How the right way to make technology work in math classrooms is to combine the very best of engineering and design with knowledge of what is going on in said classrooms. He also dropped the bombshell that Desmos is becoming fully vision impaired compliant.

Sign Function, Heaviside Function, and Floor Function. ... What?
This was expanded on with a local demonstration; Command-F5 will toggle the audio capability. (Voice depends on your operating system.) It's been adjusted so that typing "sin" is recognized as "sine" not "es ay en" or "sin", and there's key tags it says like "denominator" or "superscript". You can use arrow keys to go through the graph, or have it Trace with a tone.

On Trace, if there is nothing for part of the domain (such as the sqrt function) there will be a "white noise" sort of sound for that portion. Suggestions from the crowd included tan(x) and floor(x). Someone said "Does it work with a circle?" ... Try it yourself, it was not what I expected. Noted that you can't change the limits yet on sliders in this way.


Michael Fenton walked us through these graphs as submitted in advance by the participants, to demonstrate some of what the software can do. Let me just say, from Chris Lusto, OMG what is this. Noted that if you like a graph, you can make a copy. We split into three groups from this point (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced).

In the Intermediate session I ended up next to Glenn Waddell Jr, who brought my attention to the existence of lists, as well as provided me with some statistics files. Pro tip on clicking "share graph" to get a link as well, rather than pasting your own link, to create a fork.

This finished up the morning, and Dan modelled some sunglasses and directed us to pizza and salad, we heard a Keynote Address from Sara VanDerWerf. Her goal was to empower us. She started by welcoming us to Minnesota (her home state), and noting many things she was passionate about. 

A story led to how her brother-in-law is an "Evangelist", and after looking into that term, she found that it's a common term in business marketing, popularized by Guy Kawasaki (one of the first, who also wrote "The Art of Social Media"). The job involves proclaiming how your product or service can improve people's lives - and isn't that what we do as teachers?

Sara evangelizes the things she's passionate about. "When you name what you're doing, you can start to do it better." Create opportunities, and make people come to you. Her "Math Wall of Shame" and "Calculator Museum" are ways for people to talk to her about math before she even says anything. More, the calculator they might prefer (the Casio MS-70L from 1987?) lets her know how they feel about math, giving her a sense of how to approach them before they've said a word.

Consider WHO we are evangelizing to, and frame for that audience. Is it students? Parents? Other teachers? Leaders (in the school or district)? Pulling things back to Desmos, the "Events" (their Carnival and Polygraph features) are not the main thing we should be touting. The TI-81 (1990/91) was a big paradigm shift, and in 2012 with Desmos graphing, we saw another.

In 1991, most students never had access to a graphing calculator outside of the five minutes in a classroom. The last four years of Desmos' existence isn't working for kids in poverty yet either. And Sara had some statistics to show it's not just poverty, it's also race. How do we get more students to use this tool at home?

Key: Have students get the app, and put it on their phone - that's what they're using. If the student has no phone, the parent likely does, and "I haven't met a parent yet who wouldn't be wanting to help their kids"; say something at interviews. If a phone is missing or not charged, a student can share with a friend. If they're not doing it on their phones on a regular basis, they're not going to use Desmos at home. (Some might, but not the ones who need to extend their thinking outside the teaching day.)

Sara also refuses to help students if it's something they can figure out. And to define terms for kids if it's something they have learned before - they need to be able to find answers on their own. ("Desmos dictionary" is a plan in the works.) We know compliant is not engaged. She showed a couple of art projects and told us their stories.

Of note: If there is concern over a child copying an existing graph, do something like the following. Don't say you're assigning a project, simply give some grid paper and say "draw something". Collect, make a copy, then return it and say "that's what you're going to try to recreate". 

Sara concluded by going back over what "evangelism" is - it's not self-promotion, it's about sharing the best of what you, your team, and your organization produce, with others who can benefit. You are all chief evangelists, not just about Desmos, but more. Don't do it mindlessly, there's a WHO and there's a WHAT. And there's a backwards bike you might want to look into.


There are a number of new features in the Desmos Activity Builder. First, "Bundles". Things were getting to a point of pain in terms of searching, so there is now a collection of activities on a topic (eg. "Modelling", "Linear Systems", not simply results of a curated search. It's 5-7 activities deemed to be powerful, in a particular order - not necessarily to be done day-by-day, gaps may need to be filled in. If the writing makes sense (or not) please let them know.

Second, a feature that has been frequently requested - creating your own MarbleSlide lessons. (Under the LABS option.) Define first a point where the marbles will drop from, and then where you put the stars that need to be captured. You can also set up obstacles for your students, "which is awesome or malicious depending on your perspective", to perhaps encourage thinking along a particular line (pun intended on my part).

Finally, another feature, Card Sort. You can create cards that contain shapes, or tables, or graphs, and then as you drag and overlap them, they'll join into a group. No paper cuts or scissors involved. An answer key is not necessary, so that there could be multiple correct ways of sorting (different representations with same slope versus same representations of different relations). But an answer key is possible. Their default dashboard had mathematician names (striving for a wide variety of genders and nationalities).

We broke off into three groups again at this point to explore these features. They want our feedback. It was noted that how Desmos makes money is to sell access to publishers and the bigger fish. We got complimentary socks. I had never actually created anything yet, so that's mainly what I played around with. (My time travel serial also went live with a funny story by Chartreuse.)

There was a "happy hour" after, but I was kind of wiped out, so I went back to the dorms and napped for that hour. Then caught up on Twitter. Eventually about 6pm, I headed out to the Minnesota Twins Baseball game, with thanks to Mark Sanford for driving and having even better navigation skills then me. (Does anyone know where I can get a map of the area? I collect maps.)

TMC2016 in Section 310
It was "ball cap day" so the first 20,000 fans got a Twins Cap. The total attendance was 27,074. Had polish sausage and nachos, avoided the "pork chop on a stick" (what?). The Twins scored first, in the first inning, later it was tied 2-2, eventually they lost 5-2. Notable mathematical highlights: A discussion of the number of ways a man could have won a game where he had to choose 3 of the 4 loons, out of a set of 7 cards. (He did win.) The fact that the home plate is an impossible shape. (It presumes a 12-12-17 right triangle.) And Nathan Kraft leading the trig cheer as mentioned in a quote at the start of this post. (Joined by Joel Bezaire.)

There were fireworks after the game (a few went off on the Twins' home run too), seen while driving away. Came back here to do this post. As I finish it, Sean Sweeney, my new roommate arrives! Oh, because it's after midnight. I should post this. Any questions, let me know!

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