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How to Introduce Desmos to Your Intervention Math Class

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

I’m most passionate about supporting intervention math teachers and providing math teaching strategies for students with disabilities, but this post is really relevant (and hopefully helpful) for any secondary math teacher looking for math engagement strategies in their classroom, whether in person or remote.

Did you know Desmos is more than an online graphing calculator?

Did you know it’s filled with pre-made, zero prep, engaging and rigorous math activities perfect for secondary math students?

Desmos activities are incredible if you’re remote, but also equally powerful to use in person with your students. If you already know about Desmos pre-made activities scroll down to the “experience it” section. If you don’t know about Desmos activities, I hope you’ll read this next part.

You likely know Desmos is an easy to use and reputable online graphing calculator, but it does SO MUCH MORE. I know, you’re completely overwhelmed with people throwing ANOTHER TECH PLATFORM at you to use during distance learning. Believe me, the teachers I work with are telling me loud and clear how overwhelmed they feel with remote learning and how frustrated they are when admin - or anyone else - asks them to start using a new tech platform. But if you haven’t used Desmos activities it is the one platform worth exploring. Here are the top 3 reasons I love Desmos:

  1. It’s free.

  2. It has an amazing teacher dashboard where you can anonymize students, freeze their screens to regain attention, and see a snapshot of your whole class on one screen (and you can choose whether students can see each others responses).

  3. It develops conceptual understanding. So many math edtech sites are just digital worksheets (which have a place and need), but Desmos is GREAT for exploring and really building conceptual understanding which is particularly hard to do in a digital format.

Have I convinced you to try it? I hope so! Here’s a great activity to try first, especially if you teach intervention math or special education mathematics.

If you don’t know yet that I have an extreme passion for building a positive classroom community in secondary mathematics, you’re probably brand new here. Whenever I find a structure or strategy I’m going to use to engage my students in mathematics, I try to introduce it WITHOUT math first. Since I’ve always taught intervention math and had students with disabilities in math and students who have just always struggled with math, it’s incredibly important to me that I don’t just throw them into learning a structure and mathematics at the same time. It creates too much math anxiety for them and doesn’t set them up for success. Instead if I can introduce a structure in a fun, get to know you way, without mathematics, when I do add the math in, they feel more comfortable, able, and confident. All of which will continually build my classroom culture all year long!

Let’s start as learners. This activity is called “screens for checking in” and I’d like you to put your student lens on and participate in this activity first.

I actually want you to try this. It’s on “anonymize” and you can use a fake name if you want when you log in. Please take just 2 minutes and put yourself in place of your students. How would they experience this? Is it easy to log in? Are you feeling anxious or confident?

The key idea with these screens for checking in is that it getting students used to some cool Desmos features in a non-threatening way. And you don’t have to use all the screens… when you duplicate and edit the activity for your own classroom, you can just use one or two slides to start your class each day or at the start of a new unit. If you're looking for how to structure your remote math period to keep students engaged, this activity would be the perfect way to spend the first 5-10 minutes of your class each day.

If you teach middle school math intervention, high school math intervention, or students with disabilities in math, it is essential that you introduce structures and activities in non-threatening ways. If you’re looking for math intervention resources or strategies for math intervention I feel strongly that a prerequisite for getting to the math is creating a classroom culture where students feel comfortable sharing ideas and taking risks. Introducing Desmos with these screens for checking in will do just that. You’ll be able to get to know your students, they’ll be able to get comfortable with Desmos features, and that will create an incredible classroom environment all year long.

What do you think? Send me an email,, and let me know if you tried this activity and how it went with your students! In the coming weeks and months I’ll share some of my students favorite Desmos math activities for you to try with your students as well!

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