Desmos Potluck for Lunch

One of the endless new ideas I have gleaned from being a Desmos Fellow is that of a Mathematical Potluck.  I’ll let Shelly explain…

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Fellows post graphs of a new calculator idea they’re tinkering with and we collaboratively try to recreate it, learn from it, chat about it, etc.  The conversations we have on Slack are pretty amazing and I have been really fascinated at how much math one can learn simply from playing with other people’s creations.

I’m surprised it took me this long, but after 7 months of Desmos Fellow potlucks it finally dawned on me that I should be creating this same learning environment with my own students.  My teaching of students nowadays comes in fits and starts, but one consistent source is a weekly class at UC Berkeley.  It’s a Cal-Teach intro course on math and science pedagogy for undergrad math/science majors who are considering getting their teaching credentials.  The course is just 2 units, meets just once a week, and touches on everything from equity to teaching English Language Learnings to learning to lesson plan to pedagogical content knowledge to integrating instructional technology.  So I share my potluck with the caveat that our time to develop Desmos calculator skills and ideas is a bit fleeting.

However, I found hosting a Desmos potluck to be an incredible way to build mathematical ideas while also building a sense of community among students in my class.  In class we briefly played around with the calculator and I purposefully left their homework very open-ended:

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The next week in class as our warm up, I had them look at all the submissions, choose one which interested them for any reason, play around with it and try to recreate it or use ideas from it to inspire something new.  I encouraged them to walk around the room and speak to the author of the item if it had mathematical features they wanted to know more about or aesthetic features that they hadn’t yet discovered.    Their homework was to continue their potluck contribution:Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 3.26.25 PM

As mathematically fun as the potluck structure was, what was most exciting to me was seeing their beaming faces and the pleasant surprise of so many students to learn that others had found inspiration in their graphs.  For example, here is Danielle’s original graph:

Danielle’s work inspired multiple potluck contributions including Aubrianne’s contribution: “I was inspired by Danielle’s graph and played with using multiple variable coordinates on a polar graph and with variable shading.”

Meanwhile, Aubrianne’s original contribution was this.

Which also inspired several graphs including Wes who explains, “I was inspired by Aubrianne’s graph. I enjoyed how hypnotizing it was and wanted to create something similar. I tinkered with parametric functions and element lists in desmos. It was basically a lot of trial and error.”

If you’re interested in seeing more, The entire potluck is here.

I am currently helping to teach a 6th grade RTI math class and going to launch a Desmos potluck with them as well.  This notion that students should create something, and later realize that their ideas have inspired new ideas is such a powerful one and I’m looking forward to playing around with how to use this notion to deepen students’ learning of mathematics.


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