If you teach in Berkeley at middle or high school, or have a child of that age, chances are you recognize one or more of the teachers pictured here. This amazingly powerful group of math teachers were among the 27 6th-12th grade Berkeley teachers who attended this 2-day workshop in August led by Dan Meyer and Shelley Carranza from Desmos.
Desmos is free software which allows students to model mathematics and problem solve in some pretty incredible ways. First, there’s a graphing calculator which can be used for coordinate graphing in 5th grade to linear equations in middle school and quadratics and beyond in high school. Having the same tool that can be used in increasingly complex ways from 5th grade through high school means that teachers of any of these grade levels can come together and collaborate on powerful professional development.
Then, there’s modeling software, which allows teachers and students to both model and visualize the mathematical ideas being explored. Curious to see what got these teachers so excited? Watch this brief video and predict how many pennies will fit in the large mosaic circle shown at the end of the video:
A huge exchange of ideas followed with a lot work looking something like this
But what this work sounded like, was even more provocative. Using the software at teacher.desmos.com, teachers discussed how they could create deeper opportunities for engagement, formative assessment, and error analysis when teaching rich problem solving tasks connected to their curriculum. Desmos’ tools are based on several design principals including:
- Ask for informal before formal analysis
- Create an intellectual need for new mathematical skills
- Give students opportunities to be wrong in different, interesting ways
- Create objects that promote mathematical conversations between teachers and students
- Create cognitive conflict
- Create activities that are easy to start and difficult to finish
These design principals allow teachers and students to engage more deeply in the mathematics while learning the content found in the curriculum of any grade level.
This group of teachers is hopefully the beginning of more regular collaborations between middle and high school math teachers to look deeply at questions of pedagogy and how we can best support students.