Review: Desmos

Desmos is a powerful online graphing calculator available on all current platforms. There is a good Quick Start guide:

Desmos is integrated somewhat with Google Drive. “Integrated somewhat”? The third-party Chrome apps are generally not integrated as invisibly as the built-in apps (Docs, Spreadsheet, Presentation, etc.). In the case of Desmos, the integration looks like this:

  1. Desmos appears as an option when you use the Create option in Google Drive; however, a blank Desmos graph then appears, with nothing created in Drive.
  2. If you want to save anything from Desmos, you need to log in. Desmos lets you log in with your Google account.
  3. You can save a graph you’re working on, but it isn’t saved to Drive by default. (It’s saved in a special set of Desmos files, somewhere in the cloud, associated with your Desmos account.)
  4. If you choose to save a Desmos graph to Google Drive, it is saved there as a PDF. You can print this PDF, but you can’t open it and make changes to it, or use it interactively.

The assignment

I wanted to immerse my Algebra 2 students in graphing parabolas. (This topic is directly addressed in the CCSS standard CCSS.Math.Content.HSF-IF.C.7a.) I had them graph some simple examples on paper using a few sample points. They were required to label the vertex and the axis of symmetry. They then took pictures of their work using the built-in camera on the Chromebooks; they pasted these photos into a Google Document.

I reviewed their work, leaving comments in the document itself. The next day, they used Desmos to graph the same parabola. They were required to paste the Desmos image into the document, after labeling the vertex and axis of symmetry. I moved their final documents into a read-only folder and added a final comment with their overall rubric-based grade.

Working with Desmos in Google Drive

Each application (non-Google and Google) has a slightly different way of handling exports and imports. Once you’re logged in to Desmos, a Share Graph button appears in the toolbar at the top. There are four different export options, three for sharing the interactive graph itself (using a short URL) and one for sharing an image.

I asked my students to export the image. It then appears in the Downloads folder in the Files app. In their original document, they then used Insert Image | Upload to select the image from Downloads.

Desmos does not provide a way to add text to a graph, so the students were left to figure out for themselves how to do this. I envisioned them using Google Drawing, and most students did this, “crowd-sourcing” the solution. They pulled the PNG file created by Desmos in their Documents folder into Drawing, added the text, saved the Drawing, and imported that into their Google Document (using the web clipboard). A few used the third-party app Pixl Editor for its greater capabilities.

The screenshot below demonstrates my commentary, the graph itself (annotated by the student), and a file-naming convention.

Screenshot 2014-01-02 at 8


Opening a PDF that won’t open

Tech Tips for Tuesday

Do you ever find yourself in a PDF document with a menu that doesn’t work? This happens in the online Prentice-Hall math documents all the time because our Adobe Reader isn’t current. We’ve opened a document by clicking a link on a web page, and then there’s a complete menu that produces errors whenever you click on it.
Here’s how to quickly work around this error by opening the document in Adobe instead of Chrome. When you’re on the working PDF file in Chrome, click the PDF icon in the right side of the address bar. You’ll be prompted to open the document in Adobe Reader. Click through the warnings and errors (caused by your out-of-date software), and you’ll find yourself in the same document, now with a fully functional menu.

Google as calculator etc.

Tech Tips for Tuesday

Need to multiply 1.234 times 56.789 real quick and don’t have a calculator? Just type it into the Google search field, press Enter, and you’ll have the result — called a “product” in the math wing of Building 600 — PLUS a handy scientific calculator. Google is smart enough to recognize “times” or “x” or “*” as multiplication operators.
Also built into Google is a unit converter — need to know how many drams are in a pint? — and a currency converter.

Maintaining Multiple Identities

Tech Tips for Tuesday

I am not a crook. But it’s often handy on a computer to maintainmultiple identities: I have a personal Google account, as well as one provided by the district. I use Google Calendar for my published homework assignments, and the district version of this doesn’t always display correctly, so I use an outside Google account for this.
I find similar needs for multiple accounts with Dropbox and with the publisher of our textbooks. But I don’t want to log in and out of these accounts, so I run multiple browsers.
I use Chrome for my basic needs: email, YouTube, WolframAlpha. For my homework calendars and a few other special purposes, I use Internet Explorer. (I don’t have it on my desktop, so I start it from the Run button by entering IEXPLORE.) I’ve been using Firefox for Synergy because I find I need to clear my cookies a lot to work around various bugs, and I don’t want to toss my cookies in Chrome. It’s easy to Alt-Tab between the three browser windows as needed.

Saving Work from your Document Camera

Tech Tips for Tuesday

You’re sharing a piece of beautiful student work with the class using your fancy document camera. The student is so proud that he or she would like to get a digital copy. You left your smartphone in your other wallet.

What do you do??

Do you have an old SD card from a digital camera that you’re no longer using? Keep it in the document camera, and snap photos there. The Freeze button on our document cameras has two functions: temporarily freezing the image AND storing the image to an SD card. Hold the Freeze button down for a few seconds until the camera icon appears on the screen. You then have a file on the SD card, which you can recover by popping the card back into your digital camera.


Converting images to text

Tech Tips for Tuesday

You’ve snapped a couple paragraphs out of an online source and saved it to your hard drive as a JPEG. You need the text — your students are expected to copy and paste it into their document to edit and annotate — but you don’t want to re-type it.

Is there a magic app that will take an image of text and turn it into editable text? Yes, and it’s already on your computer and your Chromebook. There is an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) option in the upload settings in Google Drive.
To convert an image into text using Google Drive…
  1. Click the cog icon in the top right of Google Drive, and hover on the Upload Settings sub-menu.
  2. Enable “Convert text from uploaded PDF and image files”
  3. Use the Upload icon in Google Drive (upward-pointing arrow in the red box next to Create), and select the file from your hard drive.
  4. The new file in Google Drive will be a PDF containing the image and the OCRed text.


Creating Inbox rules

Tech Tips for Tuesday

“Inbox Rules”: It sounds as if I’m a big fan of my Inbox. Which I am. But that isn’t what I mean.

You can create rules to automatically handle mail that reaches your Outlook Inbox. If your Inbox is swamped with hundreds of pieces of email each day, and you want to easily refile all the Google Drive share notifications while simultaneously not missing that important message from your boss, consider automation.

Go to Options | Create an Inbox Rule, and create a new rule. You can magically filter on sender, recipient, subject, and other criteria, and you can then delete, move, or forward the message. I have a rule that deletes messages from a persistent spammer and another rule that refiles to the Junk folder any message that begins with “hey mr rhodewalt!” (This is part of my campaign to train the students to treat email as formal communication.)

You can add multiple criteria and multiple events to any rule. You might want to create a rule that takes each message sent from kwagner with the subject “SEE ME ASAP” and forward that to your personal email account with high priority. Or, you might want to refile every message with a subject starting with “PERIOD1-ASSIGNMENT” into a PERIOD1 folder and set the category BLUE. 

Once you create a rule, it will act automatically and silently, regardless of whether you’re logged in to Outlook or connected to the district email through a cell phone or other device.


Calling home (semi-)anonymously

We all call home. It’s handy to do it from school, where inbound calls are filtered and blocked after hours.

But how do you call parents when you’re not at school? Do you want your personal phone number visible on parents’ phones, where parents can store it and call you back later at all hours, and where students can see it and use it later for nefarious purposes?

The best solution I’ve found is Google Voice. You sign up and are assigned a local phone number. You link this phone number to your own. You can now place calls to parents which will appear to come from the number assigned to you by Google Voice.

To a user, the experience goes like this: Enter the phone number you want to call into the web interface in Google Voice. The system then calls your phone; once you’re connected it calls the other party’s phone. To them it appears to be a regular phone call.

Google Voice comes with a ton of cool features, including voice mail, transcribed voice mail, text messaging, conference calling, and more. Explore the features here.

Be aware that although Google isn’t charging for this service, it isn’t exactly free. Of course, they collect all kinds of data as we use this. 


6.3 Reflection: Technology and Assessment

I’ve been thinking about these questions constantly the last few weeks. Here are the facts that make the prompt highly relevant to me:

  1. I’m starting at a brand-new school in the fall, where our classrooms will experience 1:1 computing. Be careful what you wish for! I’ve thought of interesting lessons and classroom procedures which would feature technology IF ONLY all the students had computers, tablets, graphing calculators. So now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Well, it takes a bit of planning, doesn’t it?
  2. We as a department are discussing right now to what extent we implement Common Core this year. I feel as if all my decisions regarding next year’s lessons need to wait. But I don’t want to wait.
  3. I’m fortunate to be taking a Leading Edge Certification course. Many of the teachers who are my classmates are already pocket-protector-deep in interactive technology in their classrooms. These people intimidate and inspire me! I think of myself as a tech person, but I feel as if I’m constantly two steps behind them.

So, to answer the question, here are a few of the factors I need to consider.

  1. As with all technology, there must be a Plan B. I actually enjoy this. It’s exciting when the power goes out and my beautiful presentation on the LCD projector suddenly disappears. Students chuckle nervously, many of them assuming the lesson is over. But I have my presentation backed up on a fully charged laptop, and I have three whiteboards and several boxes of EXPO markers, so we continue without missing a beat.
  2. This one’s pretty automatic. Don’t choose the first amazing software solution you see. Consider all the usual software-shopping criteria, a few of which are:
    1. Does it talk to other software? How many export and import formats does it have, and how standard are they?
    2. Is the interface intuitive?
    3. Is the software configurable to do what I need it to do and to do what my co-workers need it to do? If I change my mind about its configuration next month, will the software accommodate that?
    4. Is the price reasonable?
    5. Will it stick around? Is the user base growing? Has it reached critical mass? Is there dedicated development team (and a support team), letting us infer that if we pick this today, we’ll still be able to use it next?
    6. Will it scale? If it catches in one teacher’s classes, could it be used by the whole school and even the district?
  3. Be sure the technological solution serves the learning needs, rather than its being shoehorned into some lesson because it’s so cool.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Keep talking to co-workers and other colleagues about technology. Maybe someone has already fixed the problem.
  5. Formative assessment is a multi-step process. Don’t scrimp on the follow-up and feedback. This is definitely something I tend to overlook.
  6. Keep Common Core close at hand. I’ve been using Standards-Based Grading the last few years. People say this is good because it’s consistent with Common Core; however, my setup is completely based on small tasks, with no room at all for project-based learning. Too bad, since I love project-based learning.

The original prompt is included below.

This module has explored the use of technology tools for both formative and summative assessment. As you think about how you will implement formative and summative assessments in the online and blended environments, what are some of the factors you need to consider?

Social & professional networks

The Internet has impacted my personal learning, communication, and sense of community immeasurably. I got a master’s degree primarily online: Skyping with my advisor, researching in online libraries provided by the university, submitting and discussing my work.

I use social media for fun (Facebook), for keeping in touch with my students (Facebook and Twitter), and for creating cohorts for collaborative assignments (Google+). The media can be an incredible time sink, so you just have to watch out for that. No flame wars, limit your posts of cat videos to one per year, and so on.

I discuss big and little topics with my co-workers through a Facebook group operated by district teachers. We whine and brag and survey at all hours. The screenshot shows a discussion I initiated about a cheating incident.


I expect my students’ responses to the questions about distraction and usefulness to be about the same as my own. I can help them stay focused by giving them guidelines, telling them I’m watching, and giving them concrete assignments, such as those we receive in our online classes (e.g., one original post and two replies).

Posted for assignment 4.3 Reflection: Social & Professional Networks