11 Dec 2017

I’m going to speak from my own math experience when I say teaching vocabulary was not easy. We did Frayer Models, creative pictorial representations, and graphic organizers which worked well for many of my students. My struggle was getting students to use the formal academic language when they were doing collaborative activities, justifying thinking, writing, and talking about math. I needed a way to have them practice using the academic language so they were ready to use it to explain their thinking.


Desmos Polygraph provides an opportunity to collaboratively teach and practice vocabulary and give students the need for formal academic language. What is Desmos Polygraph? Glad you asked.


Have you ever played Guess Who? You ask yes or no questions to narrow down the person your partner chose on their game board. Desmos Polygraph gives you the ability to create the same style of game with 16 images that you choose.

The goal is to play 2-3 rounds allowing students to use informal vocabulary to describe what they see and figure out which image their partner chose. The images are mixed up on each students’ screen. That means questions like, “Is it on the top left?” won’t work in this game.


After the initial rounds, you can use the informal student questions and descriptions to build formal content area vocabulary. Use the teacher dashboard to monitor the questions each pair is asking and you can use student work to springboard discussion on the formal academic vocabulary. Desmos conversation tools allow you to pause the activity to have a whole group discussion and anonymize student names to show student work examples.


You also have the ability to create follow up questions to get students to share questions they would ask to differentiate between two images.

Then you can play a few more rounds looking for the use of the formal vocabulary. Students are automatically paired with other students who log into the same Activity Builder session so you can play with your class, other classes in Shakopee, or a class anywhere in the world that connects to the same session.

Polygraph has the ability to push student communication and critical thinking skills. In addition, students will find the need to use academic vocabulary as the task will require increasingly specific questions to narrow down which image their partner chose.


Scaffolding Strategy from Shakopee: Give students sentence frames or word banks to support the use of formal academic language in playing Polygraph.


Creating your first Polygraph:


Go to


Create your Polygraph


Try it with your students


05 Dec 2017

Desmos Activity Builder has quickly caught on as a math teacher favorite. It allows teachers to design activities that guide students through tasks and challenges to help build a deeper understanding of math concepts. (My current favorites are Land the Plane and Transformation Golf)

So, why not use this awesome tool in other content areas as well? Some recently released features, such as card sorts, give this tool a lot of flexibility to be used in any classroom. We will highlight other features in the near future, but let’s start by taking a look at Card Sorts in Desmos Activity Builder. (

Desmos Card Sorts:

Sorting activities are great for encouraging critical thinking, and the discussion about how the cards should be sorted is often the most powerful part of a sorting activity. Desmos allows you to create card sorts (without cutting card after card on your own) with the goal of having students collaborate to figure out which cards should be grouped together. The teacher can see who is grouping cards correctly through the teacher dashboard and use the conversation tools to pause the activity and have a full class discussion if necessary.

If you have pre-set categories you can use images to draw attention to the category headers like you see in the example below.

Screen Shot 2017 12 05 at 2.50.56 PM

Learn more about card sorts using the links below: 

Desmos Card Sorts - from

Create Your Own Card Sort in Under 10 Minutes - by Andrew Stadel (@mr_stadel)

Embed Desmos Activities in Canvas

Collaboration Strategy: Once you identify groups who are sorting correctly, you can make those students the "experts" and have them help other groups by asking questions to lead them toward the correct answers. I have seen this strategy implemented successfully in Shakopee. It works really well if you have set protocols for questioning by using strategies like collaborative study groups.

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