While I have used Desmos Polygraphs in the past, I feel as though it was only recently that I have begun to make the most of them.
Here is a summary of how the latest Polygraph I ran on Polygons played out in my classroom.
This activity was given at the beginning of the unit. I wanted to take the informal language the students use and develop it into formal vocabulary for the unit. While the students were working, I used the dashboard not only to manage the class (making sure everyone was on task and asking appropriate questions), but to also start planning my instructional moves for after the activity. I usually just display the responses I want to share directly from the teacher dashboard, but this time I actually had time to take some screen shots and order them as slides.
I began by displaying the shapes they just saw and told them these are called polygons.
This unit will explore polygons and different characteristics or features of polygons. I asked them to think about these polygons as well as a few additional examples with counterexamples (taken from a Kagan activity) and come up with a good definition for what a polygon is.
The students did this individually before getting into groups to improve their definitions and then we shared our ideas to create a final class definition.
We talked about how this activity was meant to gather their ideas and thoughts about what features are important about polygons and how we can differentiate among all the polygons. I showed them a few questions I thought were unique and interesting in how they tried to differentiate among the polygons they had in the activity.
I feel as though this was a big moment in the lesson. Polygraphs always engage my students because of the interaction and competitiveness that takes place during the activity, but it can sometimes be challenging to maintain that engagement during the most important part of the lesson - the debrief. By starting with some fun and interesting questions I was able to hook my students back in. They are enjoying the creativity of the responses and also waiting to see if their work will be displayed and used.
Additionally, we have created a need for vocabulary. A topic that is normally dry and boring to teach has become engaging and necessary. We want to use a common language so that we can be more effective communicators and perform better in the game. While these questions that students used were creative, they were not necessarily the most effective way to communicate about polygons. We would benefit from more precise language.
That precise language starts with the vocabulary used to classify polygons by the number of sides. It was clear that all students were already using the number of sides to differentiate the polygons. These were the first questions asked by students in the activity:
Many students used specific vocabulary indicating how many sides a polygon has and several students classified polygons further within that classification based on sides.
Specific features that differentiated those quadrilaterals were also mentioned.
At this point we took some time to record this formal vocabulary in our notes. I then moved on to show them that a lot of them focused their questions on angles and symmetry as well. We were able to do a quick review of angle vocabulary and types of symmetry based on ideas the students brought back to use.
The most powerful moment of the lesson came when sharing my favorite question.
This response came from a quiet student who would have never volunteered to share in class. Thanks to the technology of the activity and dashboard, I was able to elicit this response from a reluctant student, collect it discreetly, and then decide to anonymously display it in front of the entire class as a model response.
I immediately praised the response in front of everyone sharing I thought this was such a unique and interesting way to phrase the question. I asked my students what they thought this person meant by “traditional?" The students correctly interpreted that “traditional” was meant to convey “equal sides and angles."
The discussion that took place allowed one student's response to be validated by the rest of the class. Instruction was not me delivering my thoughts. It consisted of students analyzing the work of other students.
I think it’s important to note the timing of the feedback I was able to give as well. I did not have to collect papers, read through them, and then return them with written feedback. I was doing this all within a single class period. The technology makes it possible to review a large number of responses during class to help inform instructional decisions in real time.
We ended our class discussion exploring the idea of concave and convex polygons. I was able to show one students’ informal interpretation as well as one student who was already using the formal vocab.
These questions are a great example of how the activity allows for differentiation as a low floor/high ceiling task. You do not need to know the formal language but it helps.
After putting together our formal definitions, we played another round or two where they could practice and put to use those formal definitions.
In using polygraphs to introduce topics, I have found it invaluable to be able to collect and use student ideas as the starting point and building blocks for developing concepts and formal definitions. The more I run polygraph activities, the better I become at sequencing the student responses during the debrief. I would love to hear other ways that teachers have used polygraphs and the teacher moves they make to get the most out of the activity.