How Technology in the Classroom Can Increase Engagement
"Why are we studying this?"
"We're never going to need math."
"When am I ever going to use this!?"
These are just a few typical moans and groans that can make an appearance when students reach Grade 8 Math.
And this is where Desmos comes in.
Interaction, animation, and delight are not things that usually come to mind when thinking about math. However, Mrs. El Banna is bringing exactly that to her Grade 8 and 9 math classes.
Desmos, a company based out of San Francisco, has made it their mission to make math fun for free.
They want all students to learn math and to love doing it. All of their activities are free for teachers around the world to use.
Most well known for their digital graphing calculator which is the official calculator for the online SAT exams, they've also created hundreds of digital activities that help students engage with math in a meaningful way.
The purpose of Desmos is to help students apply the concepts that they're learning. In some cases, the activities also help the students with their communication. Combining enjoyment and learning is what makes this platform successful.
"I'm a mathematician!" declares one student.
He's joking, but it's clear that he's actually enjoying the math activity. It's a Thursday morning on the 5th floor of the Middle Years Centre, and a small group of Grade 8 students are doing a Desmos activity.
Competition starts to grow as students monitor each others' answers on their dashboards as they progress through the activity. "David, you got it wrong! Go back!"
David checks his answer, sees that his friend is right, and fixes his answer. Mrs. El Banna checks in by looking at her teacher dashboard, "You got it right."
"Yay! I'm happy!" David declares.
This level of emotion, communication, and interaction makes it seem like the students in this class are mega math lovers.
It turns out that while they don't dislike math, it's certainly not this group's favourite subject.
But by using interactive activities that are designed to be engaging, students enjoy learning. There's no sense of anyone dragging their heels.
"[Students] feel like they're playing games, but they're not. They don't realize how much they're learning," says Mrs. El Banna.
And the ability for a teacher to make corrections or suggestions in real time is impressive. It allows for the type of instant feedback that previously would have only been possible in a one-on-one setting.
And it gives students a break from pencil and paper, helping them to engage with math in a way that allows for practice, solidifies knowledge, and is both fun and meaningful.
Mr. Tam, the Director of the Miniversity, has also been using Desmos in his math classroom for the past five years. Initially, his students just used it for graphing, but then he started using it to practice functions.
Students were able to practice their functions using artwork.
Desmos provides a vast array of cartoons to pick from - and the student has to write equations that will create the correct image on the graph.
Unlike many old-school math texts and practice activities, Desmos brings a sense of play to the classroom. They've been designed with affection and care which comes through in the user experience.
Laughter and enjoyment in a math class is certainly something new.
It's a case of technology and design combining to create a more engaging experience than previously possible. Combining this technology with the care and expertise of the teacher allows for a more fulfilling learning experience than just quietly sitting in rows doing math equations.