Exams / Testing Using Desmos

I use Desmos in class on a daily basis.  For our midterm, I decided to let my students use Desmos.  As new Algebra learners, many of my students often make small mathematical errors, especially on exams.  My hope was that using Desmos to verify their answers would help them see graphically when they had made an error, and be able to correct it.

How I created it:

I made a traditional exam on paper and then a Desmos Activity builder to go along with it.  I created a “Welcome to the exam” slide with instructions.  I created two slides for each question, one introduction slide and one working slide (usually a graph slide).  I also added “STOP” slides in-between each question to help the students.  Most of the questions were on paper,  then students verified their answers with Desmos.  However, I did have two slides where the graphs were on Desmos, and they had to write the equations of the graphs.  Here is a sample of the slides.


How I implemented it:

If you have iPads, Desmos has a test mode app you can use.  We are 1-1 so my students did the Desmos part on their computers.  I did not want students having the exam on their computers, or accidentally sharing the exam, so I made sure that they were not signed in to Desmos.  Since we use Desmos frequently, I had to instruct my students to sign out of Desmos after they went student.desmos.com.  I sat behind the students, so I could see all of their screens at the same time to ensure they only were on this screen.  I had them close the window when they were finished.  When they put in the code without signing in, they have to hit, “Join without signing in.”

  1.  Go to student.desmos.com
  2. Sign out of Desmos  screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-7-33-59-pm
  3. Instruct your students to enter the code, and to click on “Continue without signing in.” I had them enter their first and last names. screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-7-38-32-pm
  4. I went around to each computer once they started to verify they were not signed in.  **To do this, at the top right hand side of the page, you should see their name, and then an option to sign in or create an account.  Then you know they aren’t signed in.screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-7-34-59-pm
  5. You can “pause” the activity at the end of the exam so students could not go back to individual screens after the exam. I did not do this, but will in the future. (Thanks John Rowe!)

How I graded it:

I had them put all of their final answers on the test paper.  This way I could grade it like a traditional exam.  I went to Desmos if I had a question about their answers.  For a few students, I was able to give some points back if their Desmos was correct, but they messed up on their test paper. I loved being able to verify their test paper answers on Desmos.  It helped me see what they were thinking and award partial credit where appropriate.

I loved it!

During the exam I kept an eye on the teacher dashboard to see how kids were doing.  I loved seeing kids quietly go, “YES!” and celebrate at their desks when entered their answers in Desmos and it worked.  I also liked using the teacher dashboard to watch the kids work during the exam.  I saw one student enter the incorrect graph, and then see that it was wrong.  They went back to their paper to think and work more, and was able to enter the correct graph the second time.  It was amazing.  The tough part was when students didn’t know how to do the problem, and then their wrong answer was verified on Desmos.  For the future, I really want to try to incorporate Desmos into more assessments, not just midterm exams.


What they said:

Most of my students really loved being able to use Desmos.  It was a great reassurance for the majority of the kids.  The last question (if they had time) asked students how they felt about the exam and if they felt Desmos helped.  I loved reading their replies!  My favorite was, “DESMOS WAS A LIFE SAVER”


Here is the Desmos code if you want to check out the sample Desmos midterm in more detail.

Updated – Great tips from commenters!

For future, just “pause” from the teacher dashboard and that prevents them from accessing it outside of class time. – John Rowe

John Rowe had an excellent suggestion that I had not thought of before!  At the end of the exam, you can hit the PAUSE button so kids will not be able to access the exam later.  Brilliant idea and I can’t believe this didn’t occur to me!

I made shortlinks and printed them on the assessment paper which had the actual questions so being logged in wasn’t as much of an issue.  – John Golden

John Golden had a great idea about using just a Desmos calculator link instead of an activity builder and then giving the students short links on their tests.  I love this idea, especially for shorter assessments.  It is what I was looking for to be able to incorporate Desmos into smaller assessments.

Teaching Students How to Study with One-Sheets

I would love for my students to learn how to prepare for a math test. This one-sheet idea is the closest I’ve come, as they (eventually) do it all on their own.

At the end of last year I had my students create a study guide for their final exam. I had them make one page (or notecard) of notes for each chapter we had studied. My students commented that although they liked the idea, this was difficult to do at the end of the year. They wish we had summarized each chapter while we were in the chapter so they could remember more things to put on their sheets.  My best ideas often come from students.

So this year at the end of every chapter I had my students summarize the most important topics on the front of one sheet of paper.  Since this was new for them, I gave them a list of topics, then had them brainstorm in groups on whiteboard. Afterwards I had them fold one sheet of paper into sections (one section per topic), and then write the information on their sheets.  I encouraged them to include homework problems they had difficulty on, and notes from the in-class review.

As you can see from the picture above, some students created really thorough one-sheets, while others barely wrote the basics. To help model great one-sheets, I shared the most detailed ones with the class.  But this was after the fact and didn’t help students who had not made thorough one-sheets.


In the end of year survey, most students mentioned how much they loved the one-sheets. But several students mentioned that while they liked having one-sheets, they did not enjoy making them (or make helpful ones).  And that they would love help making a great one sheet.  After reading their comments, I talked to them in class about how to help them create better one-sheets. Overall, more of my boys mentioned that they struggled with making helpful one-sheets.  They suggested that we make the actual one-sheets together in class, especially at the beginning of the year when they are just learning how to make them (and before they realize how valuable the one-sheets will be).

So next year this is how I plan on introducing one sheets.  The first time we do one-sheets, we will make the entire one-sheet together as a class.

  1. Give students a list of topics and let them brainstorm together on whiteboards.
  2. Instruct then how to fold the sheet into sections and label each section.
  3. Give them class time to fill in the sections, guiding them about what is important to include and modeling how to organize the material.
  4. Share great examples as I see them in class so other students can add that information to their sheets.
  5. Finish the one-sheet in class (instead of taking it home to finish).

As the year progresses and they get more practice making the one sheets, we will do less in class.  I want them to learn how to make the one-sheets on their own so they will have this skill for future classes.  However, I will make sure to give them class time at the end of every unit to start making their one-sheets.

About halfway through the year my students became upset with me when I didn’t have them make a one sheet for a chapter.  Some students did it on their own but they missed the class time to brainstorm and work on it together.  By the end of the year most students were creating incredibly detailed one-sheets.  Seriously, some of these one sheets were a work of ART.

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Here are some of the white-boards and one-sheets that my students created this year:



Exam Time – Study Guide Assignment

It’s finals time!  I teach mostly freshmen, so I wanted to help them prepare for their Geometry final.  Many students have a tough time studying for a math test, and this one covers an entire semester plus of material.  Geometry is full of things to know as well, like properties of your favorite shapes, everything you never wanted to know about triangles and circles, and finding areas and volumes of anything and everything.

I created a Study Guide Assignment to help them.  I gave them an outline of the topics the exam would cover, and a rubric on how I would grade it.  I gave out the assignment a week before our two in-class review days, with the study guide being due at the beginning of class on the first review day.  I emphasized that they needed to create a study guide that would help THEM.  They did not have to do it any certain way.  They could take notes, use index cards, make a booklet, do it on their computer, any way they wanted!

IMG_3566Today students shared their study guides with the class.  They were very creative!  A few students went all out and created a brand new binder for their study guides.  They created page dividers for each chapter.  On the page dividers, they attached note cards where they had written the notes from the chapter.  In each section they included the most important notes (foldables), study guides, problem sets and assessments for that chapter.  One student even put every page in a page protector!

Here are some of the other things they created.  Below is a gallery of pictures I took today.

  • A binder with dividers, one for each chapter.  Notecards attached to the divider, then all quizzes, tests and problem sets from the chapter in the sections.
  • A section in their INB, so they would have their notes all together with their notes from the year.
  • Index cards, love the “again” card one student created so she would go through them “again”.
  • LARGE index cards (from half sheets of paper)
  • Booklets, like the ones we make in class to review
  • Quizlet
  • A word document (the student even learned to use equation editor – impressive)

The students did an amazing job and most students told me that it took them a couple of hours or more to do this assignment.   Yesterday many were mad at me (as they were finishing them up the assignment), but today they said, “Wow, this should really help me on the exam.”  Exams are still a week away, so hopefully getting this work “out of the way” should give them a huge head start on their studying.

IMG_3574I feel that their study guides are already effective and helping them.  Today, after they shared their study guides, I let them work with other students if they were missing sections on their study guides.  Afterwards, I gave them an exam review packet of problems and was happy to see many students flipping through their own study guides to get help on the problems instead of asking me immediately.  Seriously, I should do this before every test.  Success!

Grading Side Note – I didn’t want to have to grade ANOTHER project before exams, so I had them self score the rubric.  Then, I scored their rubric as they presented.  It counted as a small quiz grade so I graded it pretty easy.  The main point was that they were organizing and re-writing many of their notes.  And most of my students could use a small good grade this time of year.