Learn to Code Desmos Activity Builders!

Yes, you can code Desmos Activity Builder’s to personalize them and make them do more! If you have been creating Activity Builders but want them to do more, coding is the answer! The coding in Desmos is called Computation Layer (CL). I highly recommend trying it out, as it’s great fun to program a small bit of code and then see it work in Desmos!


Jay Chow

By far the best resource I have seen out there to learn CL is Jay Chow’s blog post, A Fool’s Guide to Learning CL.  Jay is a Desmos Fellow and CL extraordinaire, plus I think he’s probably the nicest person I have every met. His blog post includes step by step instructions, hints, fun scavenger hunts, and even webinars to help you learn CL.  Bonus – he’s holding 4 more Webinars starting in February!

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Jay also has many other gems on his blog (I’m so thrilled he’s blogging), like several Breakout! Desmos activities! Thanks for all of your great work Jay!  🙂

Desmos Art Project

Last year I had my students create an art picture using Desmos.  I showed them examples from Desmos.com Staff Pics, Creative Art to motivate them and give them ideas.  My students loved the art they saw on Desmos, and were excited to create their own pictures.  They came to me outside of class to learn how to graph certain functions, restrict their graph, and color in their art.  It was a blast for me and a great learning experience for them.  I loved how excited they were about creating their art!  I have done this with students in Pre-Algebra and up, but you could change the project to make it appropriate for lower grade levels by having them graph only lines, or having them plot points in a Desmos table and connect them.

To keep all of their art projects in one place, I created a Desmos Activity Builder for the project.  Having them do the project through an Activity Builder helped me manage all of their graphs so I could easily view them and access them for help.  By using an Activity Builder, I was also able to include the instructions for the projects and helpful tips for them.  I used teacher pacing, and restricted the screens to 1 – 5 during the project.  After they finished the project, I turned on the “Reflection” slides so they could fill those out.

I had them print out their Desmos Art, and I made a huge collage of it on my wall in the back of the room.

My Activity Builder Includes:

  1. Project Instructions Screen
  2. A link to Learn Desmos so they can use more advanced equations
  3. Example screens that taught them how to restrict and color their graphs (and more) for them to examine and play with.
  4. A blank graph screen for their project
  5. A screen to describe their project
  6. Two “Reflection” screens for after the project was finished.
    1. What did you like the most about the project?
    2. What would you change about the project?

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Here is the work of the Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 students at my school.

Desmos Art

Desmos Art Collage on my wall!

Desmos Activity Builder for All Disciplines

I am presenting “Do More With Desmos Activity Builder” for ALL disciplines at the annual NCAIS Conference (North Carolina Association for Independent Schools) October 27th.

I am excited to bring Desmos to other disciplines because it is not only an amazing engagement software, but it is also FREE for teachers.  I presented it to non-math teachers at my school last week.  They loved it and one teacher even created a card sort before she left my session!

I created a self-paced Desmos Activity Builder for non-math teachers.  This activity showcases the Desmos screens and includes tutorials on how to get started with Desmos.  Please share the Desmos love with non-math teachers in your school!

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Stephanie Blair, another Desmos Fellow, created a Google Doc to share other non-math Desmos Activity Builder.

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You MUST Try Desmos Activity Builder

Desmos Activity Builder is the favorite thing that I use in my classroom.  I use it almost everyday.  I use it for in class lessons, differentiation during class, independent work, homework, and even for assessment.  You need to at LEAST check it out.  Right now.  TODAY!

Desmos Activity Builder will change your teaching life.  It takes your regular lesson and makes it interactive.  It enables the students to actively learn while allowing you to closely monitor that learning in real time.

Imagine one of your Powerpoint or Smartboard lessons.  But now imagine that instead of you going through the slides at the front of the class, the students are going through each slide at their desks, each on their own device.  And, when you ask them to graph something, you can see them all graphing at the same time.  Instead of asking a question to the class, you ask them the question on the same slide as the notes.  They can put in a free-response answer, or a multiple choice answer with explanations.  You can see every students answer in real time.  You can also chose to have all of the students see each others answers.

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-10-27-22-amIn Activity Builder, I can have the students work at their own pace, or I can chose teacher paced so I control how they move through the slides.  The thing I love most about Desmos is that I can see the students working in real time.  They have multiple choice slides so I could even give a Desmos Activity Builder quiz if I wanted to!  There are already many pre-made lessons in Desmos Activity Builder, so you don’t even have to make your own!  They even have bundles of lessons for each topic!  Below is an preview of the Desmos Bundle for Linears.


I did a very brief “Learn Desmos” for my fellow faculty at the beginning of the year.  I modified it so that you could go through it independently and learn all about Activity Builder!  Click here to experience the things you can do with Desmos Activity Builder!



If you have never used Desmos I highly recommend the great tutorials on the Learn Desmos site.  These will walk you through the calculator (great for students) as well as the Activity Builder.



Desmos Tutorials


Where to find additional amazing Desmos Activities:

Desmos Teacher Lesson Directory

Desmos Bank



Also!  If you are new to the Desmos Activity Builder, you should attend the Global Math Webinar this Tuesday at 9pm EST, Diving Into the Desmos Dashboard!




Assessment Using Desmos

I use Desmos in class on an almost 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.

Introduction to Transformations Marbleslides!

I just made my first Marbleslides in Desmos!  It was incredibly easy, and the students said it was a really fun way to learn.

This Marbleslides activity introduces students to transformation form and lets them practice moving graphs around with Marbleslides (SUCCESS!!) using the new parent graphs they just learned.  My students know transformation form with linears, y = a(x – h) + k, but have not moved any other graphs around yet.  (For this activity I used the absolute value, quadratic, square root, and cube root functions.)

I have two goals with Desmos this year.

  1. Shorten my Desmos Activity Builders, so that I have time in class to practice with the students outside of Desmos.
  2. Make worksheets to accompany my Desmos Activity Builders, so the students can have notes to look back on.

I felt this activity accomplished both, and my students really seemed to enjoy it.  I have provided the activity and the worksheet for you to try.  I would love feedback!

Desmos Introduction to Transformations Marbleslides



Assigning Desmos Homework

I read about #MTBoS30 on Twitter yesterday.  After blogging only about once a month (or even every other month) for the past year or so, I actually blogged three times in a row last week!  I doubt I can blog something every day.  We have AP exams this week so we are missing class days, and then we only have two weeks left until finals.  But, I am going to try!  I love and miss blogging and am happy to get back into the habit again. Plus, I absolutely adore Anne so I’m in for anything she starts!

I am writing this blog as a Public Service Announcement.  Or rather should I say, Prevent Stupidity Announcement.  If you want to assign Desmos for homework but DON’T want your inbox to look like this (imagine about 150 more emails), then use Desmos Activity Builder.

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This should have been obvious to me, but I’m never my best at the end of a long week (especially this close to May).  Thankfully, the wonderful Dylan Kane is way ahead of me and made a “blank slate” template on Desmos Activity Builder!  This is such an ingenious way to utilize Desmos and cut down on a teachers workload.  Instead of searching through my Haiku inbox or 170 emails to see students work, I will now only have to look at ONE page on Desmos.

For those of you not familiar with Activity Builder, you can start with Dylan’s template, make an instruction page, and then have your students create all of their graphs in the same place.  As a bonus, you don’t have to wait until they are finished and emailing you before you see what they have done.  You can watch them working LIVE, and help them if needed.  Your screen will have ALL student names and graphs on one page (also, love the new “fake names” option)!  Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 6.11.30 PM

THIS is what my homework should have been.  Feel free to check it out and even play along if you like!  🙂

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