So this post started with me trying to answer a question posed by Dan Meyer on leading professional development:
What is the point of opening a session on teaching and technology by asking the teachers to be students and do some math?
It has now turned into me rambling as I reflect on my experiences leading professional development sessions.
Before joining the Desmos fellowship I had only led 1 or 2 professional development sessions for teachers so my approach has evolved quite a bit over the last few months. All of my limited experience has been leading sessions focused on Desmos.
My number one goal used to be to give teachers something that was ready to use right away in their classrooms. I know there were plenty of PD sessions I would attend in the past where I liked the ideas presented but would go back to my school and not have the time to implement what I took away. I realize that goal is not realistic mainly due to two things: time (I have yet to lead an all day session. The sessions I have led range from 20 minutes to 90 minutes.) and the wide variety of experience/backgrounds of the teachers in any given session. I now focus on having teachers leave with a new tool or new ideas but I understand that they most likely will not have a finished product ready to go.
My sessions then moved towards selling a tool to use in the classroom: Desmos. I get overwhelmed trying to plan Desmos sessions because there are so many wonderful activities. There are so many wonderful features. There are so many subtle features that have huge impacts on teaching and learning. I just want to show them everything! There is no way to show everything during one session.
It took a 20 minute session I led last week to teachers of all subjects to finally realize the most important goal of a session is to give teachers good instruction. This is probably what the Desmos team has been telling me all along but I finally had my “Aha!” moment. I was nervous about presenting to teachers of all subjects on a Friday after we had students for a half day. The professional development on our half days is notorious for being a waste of time. I knew I would have a tough crowd. To my surprise, every session went well. Teachers were engaged and having conversations. My favorite moments were when we discussed feedback (When should you give it? What should it look like? Etc…). It was a lot of fun to listen to teachers share their perspectives across the curriculums, and all of it stemmed from a Desmos activity.
The tool sells itself. I don’t need to point out every little feature for them to be convinced. They experienced an engaging lesson with great questions and wonderful opportunities to have class discussions. I think this is why many of the Desmos fellows tend to start sessions by putting teachers in the role of students. Teachers need to experience good instruction and see it modeled. It doesn’t even need to necessarily be math instruction. If they do, they will buy in and find the time to learn more about the tool you used.
As I start to plan my next session in March, the Desmos Guide to Building Great (Digital) Math Activities is where I will start and come back to throughout my presentation. Those principles are ultimately what makes Desmos worth using.