How not to bore your math students to tears!

Who I am

  • I am John Chapin
  • I teach Math and Computer Science at Freedom High School.
  • My email address:
  • My twitter handle: @Math_CS_Teach


  • Not to teach you everything about Desmos, but to get you going in the right direction.
  • 1/3 Desmos Calculator, and 2/3’s Desmos Activity Builder – Why Desmos?

  • It can get your students doing great math thinking:

    • Modeling math
    • Writing about math
    • Talking about math
    • Making predictions about math, construction arguments, critiquing others
    • Making links between the algebra and the visual graph.
    • Working collaboratively
    • Really all 8 of the common core math standards.
  • Low floor and a high ceiling.

    1. Low Floor –
    2. High Ceiling
  • It has advanced features for:

    • Calculus – Integrals and Functions
    • Math Analysis – Polar Graphing, Trig, Summation
    • Stats – Regression, Statistics, Tables
    • Algebra – Functions, inequalities, domain restrictions, points
  • You can use it to create amazingly interactive lessons very quickly

  • But, they cannot use it on an AP test or an SOL.  

    • True, they need to know how to use a calculator. But, this is not an either/or question. Desmos, does not replace the calculator, but it will enhance your lesson.

Part I – Desmos Calculator

Features that I use:

  • Show what the algebra looks like
    • It always seems like I am saying, “What do you think it looks like? Let’s check it out on Desmos.”
  • Double check homework
    • Solving two equations and two unknowns
    • Finding the x intercepts
    • Verifying regression equations
  • The colors and the ability to make a graph disappear.
    • You can easily graph multiple equations and hide them and then make them reappear.
  • Have them turn in the link instead of printing off the graph for their projects.

Jump in: Desmos Bingo

Part II – Desmos Activity Builder

Features that I use:

  • Use it to introduce a concept such as transformations
    • Convert some of your paper investigations into a classroom activity.
  • Use it to get your students to practice such
    • Trig transformations
  • Turn your paper investigations into interactive classroom activities.

Jump in: Be a student

  • Go to with Class Code – UX5H

Part III – Desmos Activity Builder – Build Your Own

Create your own:

  • Go to and log in
  • Create a new one (click on the icon under “Your Custom Activities”)
    • You can try to create the “Lines activity” from above.
  • Or Copy one:
    • Click on the red button “Browse all activities”
    • Click on “Learn More”
    • Click on “Duplicate this Activity” and start editing
    • Click on “Start a new session” and invite someone to complete your activity
  • Desmos “How To” Page

Steal 2

  • Pick 2 that have already been created that you will use for next year.


  • Tweet to @Desmos the link to your very first activity!

Part IV – Polygraph – Fun way to build math vocabulary

Other Links:

Desmos to 3D printout in 30 minutes.

Screenshot 2015-08-05 19.15.07 IMG_4902

 It can be done:

  • Students do not need to use special expensive software

  • Your school does not need to have a 3D printer.  

At TMC15 (Twitter Math Camp 2015) Heather Kohn shared her class activity where she had her students take their designs from and they 3D printed them.  I thought this was AWESOME!

But, she was at a STEM school where the students had training on CAD software that could create the special files and they had plenty of 3D printers.

I wanted to do the same but my school only has one 3D printer and the students have NO design experience.

Here are the steps I used to create a 3D object using my son’s Desmos design:

1) Create a design in Desmos.

2) Prepare the image in Desmos for a clean screenshot.

  • Remove the background grids.
    • Click on the wrench in the upper right corner.
    • Un-click the round grid, x-axis and y-axis.  If you don’t remove these, they will get converted to part of the 3D design.
  • Click on projector mode to make the design lines thicker.

Screenshot 2015-08-04 19.51.37 :

3) Create a .jpg or .png of the design by taking a screen shot.

  • Take a screen shot of just the design – not the whole screen.
    • On a Mac:  command/shift/4
    • The snipping tool on Windows:
    • Chromebook:
    • chromebook partial screenshot
  • You can actually use any 2D png or jpg design, not just ones from Desmos.  Black and white designs/drawings with thick lines work best.
  • Here is my screenshot – Ben logo.png

:Ben logo

4) Convert the screen shot to .SVG (scalable vector graphics) format.

  • I used
  • Choose Convert to .SVG under Image Converter. I did not change any of the optional settings.
  • Click on Convert file.

Screenshot 2015-08-05 10.44.54

5) Convert the .SVG to .STL(StereoLithography) file for 3D printing.

  • Import into 3D design software:
    • Go to the FREE 3D design website  This is a very basic 3D design program.  You may have to create an account.
    • Click on “Create a new design”.

Screenshot 2015-08-05 10.47.13


  • Import the .svg file (and modify if you have to)
    • Set the scale to 10% (right hand side) BEFORE importing.
      • If you let the scale be 100%, it will probably be too big for the workspace (you won’t see anything – it is very frustrating).
      • If you don’t like the size after importing, just hit Ctrl z to undo and import at a different scale.
    • Import the .svg file created in the previous step   Screenshot 2015-08-05 11.31.05
    • Modify the imported file (if needed).  If you want, you can make the imported design taller, wider, add elements, etc. I added a flat bottom to my design (the purple flat object -top right) because the elements were not connected and would have printed that way- see below for final drawing.  If all the lines in your design are connected, you do not have to do this.

Screenshot 2015-08-05 11.36.17

6) To Print Your Design 

  • Click on “Design” in the upper left hand corner Screenshot 2015-08-05 11.38.22

     If you have a 3D printer: 

  • Click on “Download for 3D Printing.”  This will save your design as a .stl file that can be used by your 3D printer.
  • You can also upload the .stl file to any 3D printer service.  The costs are surprisingly inexpensive.

     If you do not have a 3D printer:

  • Click on “Order a 3D Print.”
  • Choose one of the online 3D printer services.
    • Shapeways is a mainline service.
    • 3D Hubs is sort of like the UBER of 3D printing.

Screenshot 2015-08-05 11.42.36

Here is the end product for my son’s design.  

The whole design process took:

  • Desmos:  20 minutes.
  • .png to .svg conversion – 1 minute.
  • TinkerCad (I am NOT a TinkerCad expert) – 2 minutes for import and basic conversion, 15 minutes for the additional editing.
  • 3D printing – 8 minutes – it is a small design.



My son just got his license, so he is drilled a hole through his printed design and put it on his keychain.

All of this can be done with browsers and little CAD design knowledge and you don’t even need to have a 3D printer.

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?

#TMC15 Day 2 – Notes

It is true.  TMC is like drinking from a fire house.  These blogs of TMC15 are really just my own notes of the experience so that I would have a quick reminder of what I found really exciting and also a parking spot for links so I wouldn’t have to go hunt down the links in Twitter.

There is a Wiki with all of the materials …

Before we started – It is beautiful


My Favorites

1.  AWESOME – Search blogs of MTBOS teachers

2. Cool Geometric shape coloring book – Patterns of the Universe: A Coloring Adventure in Math and Beauty by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harris

3.  Personal Whiteboards Organized – velcro buttons on the plastic sleeves –

a. EAI education smart pals –

b. Or use shop ticket holders from Amazon,

4.  Give high fives as they walk in (everyday) – Why am I giving a high fives? Because you are doing something awesome – walking in my classroom.

5. 3D Desmos Designs – upload image and have them printed out.

Morning Sessions – DESMOS!

I can’t say until this afternoon what the big announcement is, but ask and you shall receive!

Bank of our Desmos graphs we create –

MISC – Cool list of Precalc premade Desmos tools –

Lunch with Timon 

– Tarsia puzzle creator –

Afternoon Favorites – 

– Chris Shore –

– Anna Blinstein – Google Classroom

– Desmos -Make your own Activity builder is coming in August 3rd!

Friday Keynote – 

“Math from the heart, not the textbook”

–  Poor at developing a teacher community

TMC15 Day 1

Morning Desmos Group


Agenda – – create movable gifs from Desmos graphs.

List of Stats capabilities –

-Computer Science Teachers Association –



-Use Periscope to live video feed

Afternoon – Keynote: Growing Our Own Practice



– Great teachers –

– Define problems are actionable (not students finish faster than others, but problem is I need richer tasks).TEACHER AGENCY (finding ways blog)

– Representations of practice include more student voice and student perspective.  EMPATHIC REASONING (math mistakes blog)

– Interpretive principles focus on connections among teaching, math, and student understanding. ECOLOGICAL THINKING (rafranz Davig?)

—–PollEverywhere used to collect real time poll

-Nix the tricks wiki

Afternoon Sessions

–  Video Games and Rich Mathematics

– Play even/odds

-Paths to success

— Embrace the Medium  –

— Notice and Wonder

– Draw something app – repeat probablility –

– Game of Threes – what is the scoring rule?

MathMagic Session – Art Benjamin

 Has a Ted Talks

 Cool!… Why!

Square Numbers in your head 

Magic Algebra

Should have been a snow day! “Get your Education on!”

The roads were horrible.

The hash tage #CloseFairfaxCountySchools was the #1 trending hastag in the WORLD! (yeah the roads were really bad)

All of the math teachers except for 1 made it to school (some high schools only had 1/3 of the teachers show up)

A student made it to my first block class, throws down her coat, scarf and huge portfolio and announces

“I almost died getting to school today!  Let’s get our education on!”

Awesome….  we did not wake up to be mediocre today!

Can the Lesson Study Model work in the US? Look to US manufacturing for the answer.

Can the Lesson Study Model work in the US?   Look to US manufacturing for the answer.

There is a lot of interest in the US Education establishment about implementing Japanese style “lesson study models”. Consultants try to make it sound like it is a new idea. It may be new to US education, but it is not a new idea to the US. It is one manifestation of the continuous improvement quality movement in the Education arena. This quality movement requires three things: the desire to strive for continuous improvement, the willingness and ability of all members to work together to improve and a system for improvement.    In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Japanese were trying to rebuild their manufacturing infrastructure after WWII and the had a desire to get better and were willing to work together to do it, but they needed a system. They looked to the US for their inspiration. They found it in W.E. Deming, a statistician. Ironically, the US manufacturing establishment ignored his system of continuous improvement, but the Japanese embraced it and his system of 14 points permeated their society. The Japanese improved their quality so much that in the 1970’s Japanese automobile quality (which was a joke in the 1960’s) became the standard by which other goods were judged. At the same time, US manufacturing quality became a joke. The US manufacturing industry, after losing significant market share (e.g. in automobile manufacturing) to the Japanese, embraced Deming’s concepts in the 1980’s and 90’s. The quality of US goods is now equal to the rest of the world. There are many things that the education community can learn from Deming and US manufacturing as we help our students compete with other students from around the world.

For example, how did the US manufacturing industry make the difficult change?

  • They realized they did not have a choice. They were losing significant market share every year.
  • They realized that it was a systemic change that required all members of the organization to embrace Deming’s 14 points. This was not a “flavor of the month” program some consultant thought of. It was a way of being.
  • They realized it was a long term process that would take years if not decades.

Does Deming’s 14 points actually apply to Education? Yes. In fact many of the “new” ideas that are being rolled out in public education are just Deming concepts put into education lingo.

For example, it is becoming common thinking that high stakes end of the year testing is not useful and may be harmful. Deming’s points out that we should “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. Eliminate fear.” In education lingo Deming would encourage formative assessment and student feedback as part of the learning process and there would be no need for end of the year tests, when it is too late to affect student learning.

I have attempted to put Deming’s 14 points into Education lingo. Below in bold are my version of Deming’s 14 points. The non-bold words are Deming’s 14 points from the website: . I have grouped some of them together so that there are 10 points, not 14. As I wrote these, I thought of the principals and assistant principals as the supervisors and the teachers as the workers, but these points apply just as well to the teachers as supervisors and the kids as the workers.

1) It’s about the kids and getting them to learn and perform on par with the best students in the world. Everyone from the janitor to the principal should be focused on that.

  • Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
  • Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
  1. Teaching (and leading) the way we have always taught is not working.
  • Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  1. Standardized tests at the end of the year are ineffective because it is too late at that point. Frequent formative assessments are critical. Build the quality into each day’s teaching with many feedback loops.
  • Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  1. There is no end to improvement. No more “this is the way I have always taught and it has worked for me.”
  • Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  1. Teachers need to be learning and improving constantly and this is a group as well as individual process. Teachers need to collaborate and share best practices. Lesson study models and microteaching are effective ways to improve teaching.
  • Institute training on the job.
  • Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  1. Administrators and department chairs need to move from evaluation once or twice a year for a ranking/grade of the teacher to many smaller less formal evaluations with the goal to help the teacher get better.
  • Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
  • Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  • Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  1. Teachers need to talk to and work with each other. Physics needs to talk to math (e.g. math needs to teach vectors before Physics uses them). English needs to talk to History. Precalc teachers need to talk to Calc teachers.
  • Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  1. Focus on the learning process and the kids, not standardized test scores. Do that and the test scores will take care of themselves. Take down those posters that say “your altitude is determined by your attitude”.   Teachers and administrators need to MODEL grit, continuous improvement, curiosity, collaboration, positive attitude etc…
  • Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
  • Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
  • Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  • Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.


All Girls Intro to Computer Science Camp

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to be part of a team that taught an Introduction to Computer Science camp for girls who were rising 9th and 10th graders.  According to the student online journals and our discussions with the parents on the last day, the camp was a big success for most of the students.  We had three other teachers (total of two men and two women) with experience teaching high school computer science.  Things that worked:

  • We had a variety of activities.  It was not all coding:
    • We visited NC state’s unbelievably awesome, new engineering library.
    • We had a way cool female guest speaker from the tech world talk about IBM’s serious gaming division (she is the Manager).
    • We visited the CS graduate student teams and were able to talk individually about their projects.  This interactivity with programmers as well as the variety of projects that were being worked on allowed the students to get a good feel for what it was like to work in the field.
    • We showed videos in the morning while the students were arriving that started with non-CS/Math (popular/funny YouTube videos) moved to fun math/CS (Vi Hart)videos to more serious videos about computer science (girls in tech, careers in computer science etc…).
    • We did logic warm-ups that were fun and a little difficult.
  •  Pedagogy that worked:
    • Non-computer learning activities.
      • Human walk-through.  It is important for the students to be able to visualize what the computer is doing.  Most new students don’t realize that you have to tell the computer to do everything (pick up pen, put down pen etc…)  We required the monitors to be off while for the short beginning lecture and used a “human-walk” through of the concept with the students giving the commands and the teacher performing exactly what they told the teacher.
      • Hands on activities.  We did the popular binary birthdate necklace activity.  I actually thought this was a waste of time before we did it.  Why did the students need to know about binary in an introduction to CS course?  Boy, was I wrong.  It was an awesome activity.  It is critical to do a good job explaining how binary works.  I showed a cool Vi Hart video on it the next day.  It was really cool to see that the students were like “I understand this… this is cool”.   We did a decent job of explaining how it works (it helps that the students are very smart).  The positive social energy while they made their necklaces (everyone was helping each other) was amazing. Some girls wore their bracelets all week.
    • Immediate application of the concept.  The students immediately “tried out” the concept using an easily accessible coding language (Snap!).  We assigned the students short projects that allowed them to try their new learnings.
    • Collaboration – We assigned students to work in pairs and re-arranged the students into different groups every day.  This worked extremely well (especially since we had 3 pairs of identical twins).  Not only did they get to know each other, but if they were with someone that they did not work well with, it was not for long.  For the project the last day and a half, the students were allowed to pick their partners based on the type of project they wanted to create. It is always interesting to see who worked whom. There were some pairs that I would not in a million years have thought would choose to work together, but they got along great and were extremely effective.  We had the students “peer review” each others final projects.  This was an informal activity where the students could see, comment on, and ask questions about other team’s projects.
    • We played music while they worked.   It sounds like a small thing, but it added to the positive energy of the room
    • Created room for personal creativity.  Most of the short projects allowed the students to add their own uniqueness to it.  The could import a picture to use as background or choose a sprite that was a unicorn or a dragon (or just keep it as an arrow).  Another project required the students to create a mad lib.  The functionality for all of the students was the same, but they could choose their story.  Programming is ultimately a creative endeavor and letting the students put their creative stamp on the project made it a lot more interesting for them.
    • Culminating project that brings it all together.  The students were almost addicted to working on the last project.  We gave them categories (android app, game, story, etc…) but they were able to create anything they wanted to.  We had to tear them away from their computers for lunch and they asked if they could go back after they finished eating to continue on their projects.  Many of the girls worked on their projects from home.
    • Online journals.  We asked the students to journal at the end of the day.  Not all of the students liked to journal, but we found out a lot that was working and was not working from the journals and were able to make adjustments for the next day.
    • Used different lecturers, especially someone the students can identify with.  All four of us taught at least once, but we also had an undergraduate student who was helping us. She was very familiar with Snap! and give a lecture for one lesson.  She was close in age to the students and she was a way cool girl.
    • Daily post-mortems.  The four teachers would meet at the end of the day and list what worked and what did not and then make adjustments and plan for the next day.
    • We tried not to make too much out of the fact that they were girls in CS and they were very unique.  We did tell them some of the facts (only 17% of the CS majors are women and ten years ago it was 35%).  Instead, we not only tried to show them examples of women who were in CS (through guest speakers, the teachers and videos), but also women working with men in tech.  For example,  they visited grad student teams that were working on various projects.  Almost all of the teams were an equal mix of men and women.  It was very powerful for the students to see how men and women programmers work together.  The grad students who were women were just programmers, they were not some weird special breed.
    • We tried not to go “pink” and make the camp “girlie” (see article on the backlash to “pinking” CS), but we did do some activities that may not have gone over well in an all male CS camp (such as the binary bracelet and using a meowing cat as the first project) and most of the girls enjoyed these activities.  Giving the girls the opportunity to choose an activity or design that is more feminine is important, but assuming all of the girls would make the traditionally feminine choice is a big mistake.  Yes, some girls chose the unicorn as a sprite in Snap!, but others chose the fire breathing dragon and others chose the bat.  It is a tough balance to keep.  They are girls and, in general, they are different than boys.  But, they are much more than just “girls”.  They are individuals and this individuality should be encouraged and respected.
  • Things I might do differently
    • Create a large project that incorporates all of the concepts being taught and allow the students to work on the pieces of the project that use the new concept.
    • Make sure the students save frequently.  We had multiple issues with the equipment and the students lost their work.
    • Have the students journal from the first day.
    • If the teacher walks the students through some code, have the code actually printed out so the students can easily refer to it.
    • Make the camp two weeks instead of one.  This would allow for a project that could really incorporate all of the concepts.
    • Use some kind of mobile app creator (such as app inventor).