Fish, Google, Teacher Desmos & Twitter (& piecewise functions)

A couple of times a week I receive an email like the one below.


I get asked pretty frequently for help finding math activities for all levels of math.  I know why I get these emails.  I led K-12 math for 5 years in my district of 200 math teachers and answered these emails all the time.  I also sent frequent emails with all kinds of cool things I found for the classroom.  The problem is though for the last 4 years I’ve been back in the classroom full time and I don’t have the same time to research for others the cool stuff out there.  That said, I will often send something on to those that ask if I have the time.  I’m sure that Chris and Colleen (the people who currently hold my old job) get these emails too.

In the last couple of years my response to these emails has slowly changed.  Instead of sending something that I find, I send a response like the one I sent today…desmos-email-back

I have changed from giving links to activities I find to sending quick emails telling them how to find what they are looking for.  Really, it only takes a few minutes to find great resources for the mathematics classroom.  Last summer I blogged about some tips for finding resources HERE.  I am finding I need to add to this blog post with a bit more information.  So this post is part 1 of 3 I will do in the near future.

I sent the advice above without testing if it would work.  So after I sent the email I made sure by taking my own advice.  I timed myself to see how long it would take to find something great on ‘piecewise functions’.  Here is what I did..

  1. I went to my favorite search engine, Google, and entered the following into the search engine:google What came up were pages of possible activities to use. ( By the way, I prefer google’s search engine to the search engine at teacher.desmos because I find activities and also things I can use on the online graphing calculator & videos &…).  The key to using google is to add the word ‘DESMOS’ to your searches if that is what you are looking for.  The favorite thing I found was the the first thing on page 2 that came up on my search (I am not going to give it to you, you need to go find it yourself, I promise you, you will learn more if you do it yourself and it would only take you 2-3 minutes – go now).
  2. If I don’t find anything at google (and sometimes even if I do), I go to and sign-in (If you don’t have a FREE account yet, what are you waiting for, SIGN-UP now.  It only takes a few minutes).  I then search Desmos site for what they offer.  Not only do Desmos employees write cool stuff here, but they also look at all the stuff we all make and ask for permission to tweak it and add it to their search features.  Here is what I searched: desmos-piece        Note: at teacher.desmos I search first using just the one math vocab word I am most interested in.  My search brought up 4 things.  The introductory POLYGRAPH activity being the best.
  3. Go to twitter (create an account if you need to, it only takes a few minutes) and search ‘piecewise desmos’ on twitter’s search engine.piecewise-and-twitter  After I did this my favorite things I found came up (by the way, this is my #1 thing I do usually, but I made it #3 since many the people who ask for my help are twitter save-and-editphobic).  Do this and you will find a link to ‘Harry and the purple dot’ and ‘Piecewise functions’ by Nick Corley in the first few tweets that came up.  Great stuff.  Go find it for yourself.  Once found you can click the 3 vertical dots on the right and ‘Copy and edit’ to make these activities your own.
  4. If #1, #2 and #3 bring up nothing, then I tweet the following:  desmso-tweetI tweeted this at 5:12 pm today.  I always hear something in 24 hours or less. (usually way less). It is really important in your tweets to tag the math education on twitter using the hashtag #MTBoS and also tag @Desmos on twitter.  I promise, even if you don’t have a ton of followers like I do, someone will answer you.  The online math community is where 80% of everything I use in my classroom comes from these days. They are welcoming and want to help.  Here are the responses I received after tweeting this out:
    • At 5:30pm I received this tweet: tweet-back   with this picture.  piece-wise-functions
    • & an hour later I received this tweet from Nick (who I mentioned above…twitter-response-2

linkAfter spending less than 6 minutes (remember I timed myself) online doing #1, 2, 3 and 4.  (note:  this 6 minutes included opening up 20+ links I found – I could have opened more…)  I found lots and lots of Desmos piecewise activities I could use if I were teaching this topic right now.  If you want to find what I found, invest 5-10 minutes yourself.  Or if you have a different topic you want to find something on, do #1, 2, 3 and 4 with a different topic.

Note #1:  I still share activities I find interesting with my coworkers (both at my school and around MN) pretty often.  I am not done doing this.  If I can help I will.  What I do want is others to help me find great things.

Note #2:  The 3 things I do above do not include my 2 favorite ways to find activities.  To do what I do, you need to invest a bit more time into twitter and the #MTBoS community.  II will share these things in a future post.

Note #3:  An email I love getting from people is the following….”Sara, Can I buy you a coffee sometime soon and you help me learn about twitter and the #MTBoS community?”.  I will always make time for you  (If you can find your way to Minneapolis) and will happily get you involved in the best place to be now days for math PD and resources.

Peace & love  Until, next time…..


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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