Intro to Desmos for Middle Schools PD

screenshot-2016-10-17-19-18-02Last winter I decided that I needed to take the plunge and finally present at NCCTM. I had been using Desmos activities regularly in my classroom and even ventured into creating my own activities so I decided to share with my fellow middle school teachers. I couldn’t get into a Desmos training session last summer as I had hoped. I begged and pleaded, but it was not to be. Kristin at Desmos did hook me up with some major swag though! So nice. Pencils, stickers, notepads. My attendees were happy.

I hate going to a PD where I’m told not to teach as a talking head as I am in fact being taught by a talking head. I decided in order for my participants to really get the feel of Desmos activities, I would write my presentation in Activity Builder and they would activity participate that way. Here’s the link: Class code: SB73B (Yes, I know I have an error on my card sort. Fix that if you use it.)

We didn’t get through the entire activity in the 45 minute session, but the resource will be there forever for participants to use, copy, modify and train from if they wish. There are so many super good things at PD, but I just incorporated a couple of them into my presentation. I had to own it to sell it, you know? I also made a newsletter type handout for my participants. I promised to post it here because it has hot links in it. pd-desmos-newsletter-by-vaughn

Search “NCCTM Middle School Teacher Training by sbvaughn” if you want to copy and modify. One comment on screen 13. I linked to a sampler of activities put together by the Desmos staff. I set it up with the intension that some participants could play the teacher by creating a class code and some could play the students by using that class code. I wanted several minnie classes running throughout the room. Time got the best of me so this didn’t go off as planned.

I want to give special thanks to @heather_kohn who worked through my original presentation and made insightful suggestions for improvement. I, of course, can’t say enough good things about the staff @Desmos. The resources, the swag, the encouragement, the product, the passion, are more than any teacher could have even imagined so I will just say, thank you.

Making It Real

So, I went TMC16 and for whatever reason, I kept running into Denis Sheeran @MathDenisNJ. It was almost annoying. For both of us. I did get his book Instant Relevance this fall and he told me he would love to hear what I think. So here it goes.

When I ordered the book, I thought, “crap that’s a lot of money at this time of year.” See, I just set up my classroom. Then the mail came and I thought, “Are you kidding me? This is the shortest book since Jonathan Livingston Seagull!”

So now I think this. ALL BOOKS THAT ARE MEANT TO HELP TEACHERS BE BETTER SHOULD BE THIS LENGTH!! I am so serious. I’m beat at night. I can’t do much more than 5 pages. I want to learn more and become a better me. I really do. But some books are so boring and so long and I have the attention span of a gnat. I teach middle school for crying out loud.

So, thank you Denis. I never felt bad or distracted or loserish as I read your book. And this happened.

I took pictures. I had a bag if rolled up coins in the mud room that have never made their way to the bank. I wondered what I was missing out on so I figured my kids could help me.


I showed them a pic of the sac of coins. They guessed high and low. Then the best thing ever happened. One girl who I just moved from math 8 to math 1 (thank you county for being so great at giving us quality tools to place kids properly when they move in—sarcasm intended) said, “hey that’s like one of these things we’re working on. Can I show you?” She walks up to the board and does this.


I am blown away. I should be smart enough to see all the connections, but I don’t. I need my students to do that. I love this gal. I love my job.


My 1st class, math 8, worked as a class to figure out how much $ there was. I introduced the problem to my math 1 kids (periods 2 & 3) and then they pursued it to the end in small groups after they finished another task in class. They totally dug it.


Math 2 kids are a bit harder to impress, but they finished the entire task as an opener as I progressed through fotes.

All of this is just my way of saying, thanks Denis. It works. I get it. I dig it. I’m doing it.

Practicing on real kids!

You have to love a PD where you get to watch other teachers as they hone their craft as well as get to practice yourself…on REAL live kids!!! The kids were on fire as they made models of houses. I wanted to take one home, but I didn’t. (I mean a kid, not their house. The house was swell and all, but talking with these kids was a treat!)

This set-up the need for area and scale and unit conversion in order to make cost estimates of building materials.

The problem created the need for the content. The content did not set the stage for some hokey, convoluted, boring application.

Kind of getting excited for Aug 29!!!

Best PD ever…it was personal

Today was extremely enlightening! We completed the Change Style Indicator. This is published by Discovery Learning International. This is truly the most accurate piece of the personality assessment activities we have done this week. (We will have more at our retreat in the fall. I can’t wait!)

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Elevator speech: How we each react to change is a unique part of our make-ups. There’s neither good nor bad, but there is a range with the majority of people landing in the middle as pragmatist. Clearly not me. So, pragmatist is in the middle and to the left are conservers (rule followers) and to the right are originators (wild outlandish wide open thinkers and starters.)

I’m an originator and I didn’t even know it—well at least I didn’t know it was a thing. I just knew I was very different from just about every educator, boss, friend, and family member that I know. I’m not lonely out there; I’m just different. To process this I will review 1) the characteristics, 2) my behavior in a group dynamic and how I need to turn that into something productive and how I can better help myself and others when in a group. (Two can be a group too.) Sounds fun, right?

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Characteristics of an originator that I qualify for: The only constant is change—so true in my classroom. I change seating arrangements regularly. I try new things probably weekly. I’m super excited to try something new. I’m about dangerous as I try out ideas from a new book. Sometimes I try them before I truly understand what’s really intended. I’m really honest with my kids about trying new things in my classroom. My desk is a complete mess, but if you need the locker list or the post-it note I wrote my gynecologist’s phone number on, I can grab it in a second. I really want to be organized, but I just can’t see it through. I love to have multiple projects going on at home at once. I have boxes of unfinished projects at home. I have an electric bass that I’m going to learn to play. The quilt I was making for my husband for a wedding present is about a third done. In a box. In the attic. I got married in 1987, I think? Details are not important. You get the idea. It’s just who I am.

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To a group I bring big ideas—that may not work—but they may. I approach group problems in a multitude of ways all at the same time. Look, there’s a squirrel. Before you can shoot me down, I’ve come up with six other approaches that may work. The idea that you want to try that is the same thing as we did last year isn’t going fly. Let it go. I need a pragmatist to help me get the conservers to MOVE! I need to be heard once in a while, but I need to listen more. I need to try to enhance what the plan is rather than get pissed that they aren’t going to test out something on 1,000 kids and their parents and then try to fix it. I get it!!! Finally. And here, I thought people just didn’t like me. We just didn’t understand one another. Or appreciate one another’s strengths.

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So let’s take a bit of a personal detour here. My husband does not allow me to rearrange the furniture every week. This is a good thing. He loves that I fix something new and different to eat that nobody has ever heard of as long as it’s good. (OMG, sautéed green beans and beet green stems. Pretty and delicious.) He also tolerates me making all the pillows and coats and leather crap I want. And take a felting class! My English teacher partner for the past 6, maybe 7, years reigns me in in the most delicate, beautiful, loving way. I’m out-there, but she grounds me. These are the 2 two most important people in my life on a daily basis (relax Austin, Kari, Mom, Dad, Beth, Becca—read that last phrase please). I’m lucky they each love me.

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Whoa baby. What to do with all of this? I’m excited. I did Myers Briggs. OK, fine. I’m a INTF. I’m also a Capricorn. BFD. I could read about any of those and they would be believable. But not this. This IS AMAZING. Thanks for listening.




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Today’s PD had us processing the culture and leadership in our schools. I got lots of helpful insights. No time for that tonight, however.

I am getting a new principal this year and I meet with him Thursday. He asked staff to prepare for some specific questions before we each meet with him. The three questions are the exact three questions our instructor said good leaders ask their people. I like him already.

Big take away for today…

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When something goes wrong…don’t dwell on what happened. Focus on why it happened. Stop with the war stories already! Jeeze! Whine on your own time. We have to focus on fixing what is broken and figuring why it broke so we can take better care of it in the future.

PD Week 2–learning about myself. Ouch.

I started week two of a two week PD at Wake Forest. The program originated to address a need at a much higher level than 8th grade math. The education center is part of the Wake Forest Medical School. Seems medical students could pass tests but could not apply, connect and transfer their knowledge into practice once they got into the hospital with real patients. A new and different approach was needed. The center for education was created to address this need. Somehow, and I don’t exactly how this came about, the Piedmont Triad Education Consortium was created. This then merged with a group out of UT Dallas as I understand it. The program I’m at is called PTech. The method is somewhat a PBL (problem-based learning) approach, but not exactly. The elevator speech is that content is delivered as needed rather than up front. Students identify what the problem actually is and then determine what they know and what they need to know and this helps students define the problem(s) to be solved. Instruction is delivered as the need arises. Basically the approach is context then content rather than the traditional content then corny application.

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Today (Monday of week 2) we started our personal profiles. This included Myers-Briggs as well as looking at early personal commandments that we grew up with such as ‘clean your plate’ and early experiences such as ‘being homeless for a period’.

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My early commandment was “love and grace trump all”. What this means and meant to me is that I could screw up, but my family would never leave me or hate me because of it nor should I judge somebody else for a screw up or something that I don’t understand or agree with.

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My early experience was pretty enlightening. (Why I chose this, I don’t know.) When I went to college my second year, I was not allowed to register because my bill wasn’t paid. I was embarrassed and shocked. I went up to the financial aide office and they acted like it was no big deal. They helped me apply for loans and whatever. With that done I went and registered. It didn’t keep me from getting any classes; it was merely inconvenient and embarrassing. The thing is, I was the 3rd kid in college. One of my parents had just driven me 650 miles one way. In all that time, how college was getting paid for didn’t come up. Really? I learned that I had to just figure things out and problem solve as I went. My family just didn’t talk about unpleasant things—like money. And, I never asked. If you ask you get answers. If you don’t ask, you don’t get much of anything.

When I think how this affected me further down the line, it takes 25+ years for it to manifest itself. Education was a given growing up including college (though not how it got funded.) My kids were raised the same way–you will go to college–no discussion. We were fortunate enough, however, to be able to fully fund our children’s college educations. I suppose at a ridiculous level I expect to be thanked for that regularly by my children. Stupid, I know. We did that because we chose to. Because we could. It just happened. No scars. No stories. No trauma. (For the record, much to my surprise, my parents sent me a check for half of my tuition each semester when I was in graduate school. I never expected that. They didn’t need to do that, but they were then in a financial position to do so, so they did. Kinda swell. Thanks Mom and Dad.)

So, how that affects me now is, when people don’t appreciate what I have done to make their lives easier without being told, I get irritated. Sometimes I can’t stand it and I let them know what I have done, but I sincerely feel like they should have noticed without being told. Unreasonable, I know. If I cut the grass and my husband doesn’t notice or gush about it, I’m livid. I fold the laundry but I don’t put it away. If I do, it will go unnoticed and therefore, in my mind, unappreciated.

So let’s circle back to school. That’s why I’m taking this training, after all. When I sponsor clubs like math club and quiz bowl, these cost not only time, but also substantial amounts of money. There is no compensation and no reimbursement. A quiet thank you may come once a year. We actually have to invite admin to the banquet even though the events are in the daily announcements. We want the kids to be acknowledged by admin. We get a quiet thank you, maybe and that is all that happens. Groups go to state and even nationals. The school picks up the entry fees, but mileage, hotels, meals, these are all on the teachers. End of year celebrations/awards/banquets are completely funded by the teacher sponsors. Yes, we do it for the kids. But still, gushing appreciation is actually expected for the glory that is brought to the school. But, no. “Thanks for doing that” is all we get. My head really wants to stop this nonsense and stop sponsoring these clubs until the school and county decide they are worthy of paying for, but waiting that out hurts the kids, so I don’t do that. I continue to be abused and unappreciated. I keep going and doing and paying…for the kids. The school and County literally bank on that.

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When I first started teaching, the treasurer came to my room with my first check during class because auto deposit was not yet set up. I opened my check and my eyes filled with tears. I had just spent 65+ hours each week for four weeks and I got $1,900. I made more at Sea World in the summers 20 years earlier and now I had a Master’s degree. I actually almost threw up. I then spent the next eight years spending as little of my own money as possible on school (with the exception of clubs). I still gave my time because clearly that was priceless-not worth a thing. I would see teachers with these elaborate bulletin boards and treats for their kids and decorations for their rooms and storage systems and workbooks and whatever else. They bought all of these things with their own money. Many had the only salary in their houses and they spent way too much of it on school. I refused to do it. They all thought it was normal. I used to get paid mileage reimbursement in my real-life job before teaching, so when I went to math competitions on Saturdays, I submitted my mileage to my principal. He was conflict avoidant, so he paid it. I soon learned that nobody else submitted mileage, so I stopped. I should have never done that. I should have insisted that all teachers submit mileage reimbursement. I hate to be a jerk, but perhaps it’s time to start submitting mileage reimbursement again. They can tell me they won’t pay it. But they’ll at least have to realize that the personal investment took place.

So, what I’m getting at is that I learned that early experiences affect what I do now and how I react to situations. I love my students and will walk over fire for them, but spending money, wow. That’s for the state, county, school and parents. Seriously. And they need to be told.

Dang. Guess I had some processing to do. I hate that this sounds like it’s about money. That’s not it. It’s about appreciation. I want my efforts and financial contributions and sacrifices to be acknowledged and appreciated. Is that so bad?

If you’ve read this far, you have earned another VLOG merit badge. Go you!

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