Desmos Activity Builder

Desmos Activity Builder

Who I am

How I use it:

  • Use it to introduce a concept and vocabulary at the beginning of a lesson
    • Convert some of your paper investigations into a classroom activity.
  • Use it to get your students to practice in the middle of a lesson
    • Transformations etc…
  • Awesome way to help the students connect the algebra and the graph

Jump in: Be a student

Go to student.desmos.com with Class Code –

  • class code UKCV7
  • class code MKGEZ

Features that I use:

  • Student progression information
    • Left side
    • Number of students completed each slide
  • Pausing the Class
  • Graph Overlay
  • Isolating a students written answers
  • Class responses to a question
    • Id good answers
    • Id students who are not “getting it”
  • Carry forward student work from one screen to another
  • Now can make your own Marbleslides and Card Sort
    • Desmos labs
  • Sliders – I almost never let the students use them – they just start guessing.
  • History – you can even grade it if you want.

Part I – Desmos Activity Builder – Build Your Own

Create your own:

  • Go to teacher.desmos.com and log in
    • Use your google ID
  • 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:
    • Search through one of the “Bundles”
    • 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 – with video

Other Links:

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: john.chapin@lcps.org
  • 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

Desmos.com – 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 –
      1. https://www.desmos.com/calculator/dbpcqjdmpm
    2. High Ceiling
      1. https://www.desmos.com/calculator/i7gyoatiau
      2. https://www.desmos.com/calculator/gzk3vxdhqp
  • 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 student.desmos.com with Class Code – UX5H

Part III – Desmos Activity Builder – Build Your Own

Create your own:

  • Go to teacher.desmos.com 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 Desmos.com 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:  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/use-snipping-tool-capture-screen-shots#1TC=windows-8
    • 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 http://image.online-convert.com/convert-to-svg.
  • 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 http://www.tinkercad.com.  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 …http://twittermathcamp.pbworks.com/w/page/66474056/TMC%20FrontPage

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 – https://sites.google.com/site/desmosbank/

MISC – Cool list of Precalc premade Desmos tools – https://cpm-educational.squarespace.com/pct-etools-videos

Lunch with Timon 

– Tarsia puzzle creator – http://www.mmlsoft.com/index.php/products/tarsia

Afternoon Favorites – 

– Chris Shore – http://mathprojects.com/author/cshorempj/

– 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 – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uDK-38CTnLfXyenFUtnh3CSW4Wdyq3zDS_Fik2RDVYw/edit

Gifsmos.com – create movable gifs from Desmos graphs.

List of Stats capabilities – http://support.desmos.com/hc/en-us/articles/204311369-Statistics

-Computer Science Teachers Association – http://www.csta.acm.org/



-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!

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).