Duluth Desmos Training

Note:  I will be adding resources/information to this post later this week from my June 15th training in Minneapolis.  At the very bottom of this post are some links for today.  I will improve these and add more by Sunday of this week. This post includes resources from training’s I did in April (1 hour – resources for this are in white) and June (3.5 hours-additional resources from this training are in orange.) Links and documents are colored in blue.

If you are a secondary math teacher in 2016 and you are NOT using Desmos – something is seriously wrong with you.  Desmos is the first tech tool that I could spend my time – for free – being an Evangelist for.  You need to be using Desmos.  Your students need to be using Desmos.  I can not say this strongly enough.  Y.O.U.  N.E.E.D  T.O.  B.E.  U.S.I.N.G  D.E.S.M.O.S.  If you are not using it yet, my guess is that is for one of 2 reasons.  #1, you did not know about it.  (well now you do, change this) or #2 You think that it will take a long time to learn how to use.  Desmos is not a TI-8x calculator.  There is no need to go to a 3 day workshop led by a TI expert.  Desmos is something you can learn quickly all by itself.  For real, for real.  Don’t’ belivie me?  Give it a try. desmos icon

What is listed below is part of a 1 hour training I’ve done several times for various groups of teachers.  The goal of this one hour training is to take away the fear of using a tech tool and see how incredibly useful and easy Desmos is.  My experience training many teachers is that if you get your hands on it, you will start using it.  Many people, after attending just one hour of training, have come back to me and said things like “I don’t know why I did not use this earlier” or “I used _________, it was as easy as you said”.  Just this week a Math Education Professor at a local university emailed me to tell me his first experience using it with his students saying “It was so much fun…. my students stayed 10 minutes past class…”  Desmos sells itself.  All you need to do is start.  The resources and words below are a quick version of the training I did this last week at our state MCTM conference in Duluth, MN.  Get on it.  Don’t wait, the time is now.  Desmos is where it is at.  I am telling you.

  1. Why Desmos?
  • In the spring of 2015, Desmos hired 3 of my favorite math bloggers; Christopher Danielson (from my home state), Michael Fenton (his blog is pretty amazing) and Dan Meyer (duh!). If a company is hiring the best of the best than the rest of us should pay attention.
  • It is FREE. FREE, I say.  This is a game changer in our schools.    My Minneapolis Public School students (urban/high poverty) now has a way for nearly EVERY student to have a FREE graphing calculator with them at all times on their phones.  Students who in the past were kept out of the technology loop except for the 50 minutes of my class are now able to join the party and have access to the same tool as every other student.
  • If you download the app, you can use it without having to be connected to wireless – again an equity issue. No huge data plans necessary (except for the initial download)
  • Desmos is SO helpful. If you don’t know how to do something – just ask.  Either click the ? button and ask or tag @desmos on Twitter.  You often get an answer within an hour and I have found always within 24 hours from the most friendly people – sometimes the owner of the company, Eli, answers.  What other company answers you that quickly (for free)?
  • I feel like I need to address a few common reasons teachers tell me that leads to them not using this amazing tool.
    1. “Not all my students have calculators”. – I get it.  Not all of my student do either…..but the number who do is far higher than last year.  The number last year who have phones is far higher than the year before.  You would be surprised.  Some students may not have their own phone, but their parents do….or a sibling…or they can use their friends.  Stop using this excuse.  We have reached the tipping point.  More do than don’t.
    2. “The TI-84 is used on my state tests and what about the ACT’.” Using Desmos does not stop you from using other graphing calculators.  I have TI-84’s out on every table in my classroom AND I use Desmos.  In my previous 2 schools I used both in a 1:1 environment and most of my students preferred Desmos.  Yes – state tests use TI products usually and you can’t use Desmos on the ACT (yet) – but my gut says this will change drastically in the next 5-7 years.  Really.  Quote me.  I am hoping I will never have to buy another TI graphing calculator for my classroom and I can phase them out.  What are you worried about.  Desmos is free – you can easily use it in conjunction with anything else you have.

2. Online Desmos Calculator.

  • The first thing people usually know about Desmos is the Online Desmos Calculator. I love it.  I use it all the time for class presentations in class.  I use it all the time to make graphs for homework and tests (screen shots).  I love that I can save things I create to use later and/or share with the other teachers I co-plan with.
  • One tip – if you use the online Desmos Calculator for class presentations or screen shots – make sure you put the calculator in ‘projector mode’ (click the picture of the wrench in the upper right of the screen for this). Life changing.
  • Did you know you can sign into the online desmos calculator? It is the same sign in code as teacher desmos.  I sign in all the time so I can save things I create using the green ‘save’ button on the top left.  To find graphs you’ve saved – click on the 3 horizontal lines in the upper left (hamburger menu).   I often google the topics I teach with the word ‘desmos’ in my search and find graphs others have created and save them on my online calculator.  Here is one cool example of a rectangular prism volume exploration.
  • Be sure to learn what is a slider is. Try this – type y=mx+b into one of the equation lines.  Then when it asks ‘add slider’ click all and explore.  When you see a slider click and hold on the number 10 and watch how you can easily change the settings for the slider.desmos map inequalities
  • Be far one of my favorite things about the online calculator right now is that you can upload images. I use this all the time.  Imagine how fun it is to upload a picture of your students teachers superimposed under a coordinate grid and ask them to graph a circle that will circle their teachers face.    LOVE.  LOVE.  One hint – you can lighten the image by clicking and holding the circle in front of the image.  Love.  I also take screen shots of what I do and print them out for students to do the math on paper before checking their work on Desmos.  Here is one I made using a map of my school and a system of inequalities.  Love.

3. Desmos App.

  • The Desmos App for phones and tablets is what allows you or your students to usemy phone Desmos’ graphing calculator without being connected to wifi. I am so passionate about ALL students having this app on their calculator I have a desmos sticker on the back of my personal phone and when students come to my school’s Math Center for help, one of the first things we do is download the app onto their phone.
  • One thing I’ve leared about Students using the app is that they are much more likely to use it regularly IF you let them use the app on their phone in class. Next fall, during the 2nd week of school I will have all my students take out their phones and we will download it together.  Over the following 3 weeks I will commit to having students use Desmos on their personal phones in class at least 2-3 times a week.

4. Learn Desmos.

  • Michael Fenton is a huge force behind this site. It may be the most important place for you to go.  What I love about Desmos learning tools is they are short.  In 1-4 minutes I learn a lot.  A lot.  Don’t believe me – Check out 2 examples.
  • Interactive Tours – click and follow the directions – this is the first one I did on ‘Regressions’. Within 2 minutes I learned things I never knew before – like you can copy and paste tables from excel right into desmos.    Also – the residuals graphed are amazing.  Love.
  • Videos – I think all the videos are a minute in length….way different than other tech tools.

5. Teacher Desmos

– Teacher and Student Desmos are the sexy poster children of Desmos right now. I love them.  The tend to be the first things others show you about Desmos when they start talking to teahers.  Although I love the things I find and use at teacher desmos, I have found that some teachers I’ve worked with who use the resources here as their first Desmos introduction may get overwhelmed and give up on the tool all together.  If that is you, use the online graphing calculator first for simple things and then use teacher desmos.  Here are some things you should use teacher.desmos.com for:

  • Teacher Desmos is a collection of activities made by Desmos Employees (things like Function Carnival, Polygraph….) and also a collection of activities made by classroom teachers (through Activity Builder). You can use this site 2 ways as a teacher.  First, you can search a topic and use an activity as is with your students.  Or second, you can build your own activity and give it to your students to do at student desmos.
  • Where to start? Use one of the many Polygraph activities (type ‘polygraph’ into the search engine) – some made by Desmos and others by classroom teachers.  Polygraph activities are a series of 16 visuals that students ask yes/no questions of a partner to figure out which visual that student has preselected.  These are great.  Check out Polygraph Parabolas.  If you like what you see, to use it with students all you need to do is click ‘start a new session’ and share the code in the blue box with your students.  Desmos does the rest of the work and you can watch what every student does with this activity on teacher.desmos.com.  It is great.
  • When searching activities, if you find one you like, but you want to make a few changes – this is now simple – just click ‘duplicate this activity’ and now you can change the activity to match your needs.
  • When you start making your own activities using Activity Builder, remember to keep it simple. An activity can be as short as one graph.  The beauty of using this over the online graphing calculator is you can see your student’s responses.  This is great formative assessment.

6. Student Desmos

student.desmos.com is where your students will go to engage in an activity you set up at student desmosteachers.desmos for them.  If students say they are getting error messages and can’t get into the site it is usually because they put a ‘www’ before the URL.  Tell them to start with ‘students….’ and they will be OK.  If you want to experience student desmos as a teacher, feel free to sign onto the student site using this code I made for the teachers at my school to play around with desmos.  I used pictures of my staff to let the play around with some of Desmos’ features.

7. Animate Desmos

Just for fun – check out GIFsmos.  If you want to animate one of your graphs this tool is for you.   I figured it out with no training (and I went to college with a typewriter).  The first one took me 45 minutes.  Now they take me 4 or 5 minutes each.  So worth it.  I loved using it in my transformation of functions unit.  Here is a simple one I made early on – and asked students to write the function represented in the Gifsmos.

8. Extras:

At my session I shared some of the fun extras I love about Desmos – this summer I will take the time to update this section of my blog post. I’ll tweet out when I do.


I would love to hear from you..  Comment below OR tweet me @saravdwerf.

Items for June 15th Training

Thank you to everyone who attended the Desmos training I did in Jpower expoenntial patternune 2016.  Please read and look at the comments from a previous training above as well as additional comments and resources below.  If I missed something or you have something to add, please email/text/tweet me.  

I started our training with a math pattern
I used with my students this year.  Several of you asked how I made it.  Here is the link I used to take screen shots from.  Enjoy.  If you use Promethean software, I’ve also given you the pattern in a pdf of the presentation.  (contact me if you want me to email a flipchart of the pattern to you)

Desmos Training Summer 2016     Desmos Handout



  1. Photo Hunt
  2. Desmos Dictionary
  3. Learning about Activity Builder’s features – go to student.desmos.com and enter code:


  4. Locating Numbers Using Absolute Value from Andy Schwen
  5. Building understanding of Absolute Value
  6. Box & Whisker Polygraph using a Word Bank
  7. Visual Patterns on Desmos from Andrew Stadel (via Fawn Nguyen)
  8. The great collide
  9. Desmos Bingo PDF & Desmos Bingo on Learn Desmos
  10. The Integer Game 
  11. Blue Elevator
  12. Andrew Stadel’s desmos activities.
  13. Graphing Stories on Desmos
  14. What if it hit the hoop? on Desmos & What if it hit the hoop? on Dan Meyer’s blog
  15. The Desmos Bank of Activities
  16. Blog Posts about Activity Builder 
Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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