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Using Desmos for Remote Student Feedback

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Today's blog post comes to us from all-star AP Stats teacher and Desmos guru Bob Lochel. Bob is in his 24th year teaching at Hatboro-Horsham High School, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Bob has been an AP Statistics exam reader and table leader, and has worked with many teachers on the east coast as a Desmos Certified Presenter. Bob shares his classroom ideas often on his site,

Providing clear, actionable feedback to students on a regular basis is a crucial task for all math teachers. In statistics, feedback on written work is even more important, as students often struggle early in the course with the increased expectations of clear, written communication for free response questions. When teaching in-person, my classroom features frequent opportunities for students to receive feedback on their writing:

  • Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (VNPS):I randomly select teams of 2 or 3 to work through problems on classroom dry-erase boards, which take up 3 sides of my room. I provide verbal feedback to groups as I roam the room and highlight interesting responses in whole-class chat. You can learn more about this classroom technique in Darryl Yong’s blog post.

  • Partner share: When students complete FRAPPY problems (past AP free-response items), I have students trade papers and highlight “look fors” in responses. In this method, students see examples of high-quality work from their peers and reflect upon their own responses.

  • Digital HW checks: I use our district LMS, Canvas, to have students share responses. Using Speed Grader (a wonderful tool for feedback!) I can provide individual feedback on written pieces.

But now it’s Fall 2020, and many of my strategies have been locked down. I can’t send students to boards, and trading papers just can’t happen. And while I love Canvas, I want something in real-time which can promote classroom discussion. So how can we use Desmos to give feedback to our remote students?

(1) Using Desmos to Discuss Free Response Solutions

This Desmos Activity Builder, “Written Responses and Feedback”, has a simple format. Ten screens – each screen has three generic response areas, labeled “prompt #1”, “prompt #2” and “prompt #3”. After I assign the activity to my class, I pace the class so they can only work on that day’s screen. Here are some ways I have used the prompts so far in my remote-learning classroom:

  • As a homework check: Provide your answer to question 34 from last night’s homework in prompt #1.

  • For FRAPPY responses: Complete the assigned FRAPPY – provide your answer to part a in prompt #1, and part b in prompt #2.

  • As a class-wide temperature check: In prompt #1, share 1 good thing happening right now. In prompt #2, name one idea from the last week you need to study and improve upon.

Here is an example of a FRAPPY from the experimental design unit. Question 2 from the 2011B exam describes a scenario where patients suffering from acrophobia are randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups. Part (a) asks “Was the study an experiment or an observational study? Provide an explanation to support your answer.” As students worked through all 3 parts of the questions, I scanned for interesting responses to Snapshot and share with the class.

As a teacher, my strategy is often to find one “awesome” response – Essentially Correct, two responses which would be graded as Partially Correct, and one Incorrect response. I organize the responses and get ready to present as students finish their work.

As time runs down, I pause the activity and begin to present responses. This year, I have asked students to decide which (if any) responses should be graded Essentially Correct. Next, I ask students to identify a Partially Correct response AND provide a step to improve the response.

Selecting and sequencing responses to use in class can be done in real time if you are comfortable with Activity Builder’s teacher dashboard. If not, consider having students provide responses one day as homework, then prepare your selections for class the next day.

(2) Using Desmos for Individual Student Feedback

The teacher dashboard can also be used to provide individual feedback to students. In this example, students answered the “Buildings and Grounds” question from 2013. Questions which ask students to explain bias always create some stickiness for students. This year, I provided feedback to each student based on the 2013 rubric between class meetings, discussed general patterns I saw in the responses and answered student questions.

Pro-tip: If I sense a feedback comment may be common to many students, I will type it, then copy/paste it to an Excel document to have at the ready for the next student.

Final Thoughts

Having students critique the work of their peers can also be a valuable teacher move to help improve the written communication of all students. Desmos Activity Builder has a simple interface which allows students to share their written ideas and teachers to select and sequence student works to use in full-class conversations. Individual feedback from teachers also allows students to reflect on their submissions. If you are new to the Desmos game, you can find videos of past webinars featuring Activity Builder on the Desmos YouTube channel.

Use this spreadsheet to find Desmos activities for many of the Stats Medic lessons

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