Desmos Now Embedded in Year-End Assessments Across the United States

Amy X. Wang, writing in Quartz:

Enter Desmos, a San Francisco-based company that offers a free online version of TI’s graphing calculator. Users across 146 countries, most of them teachers or students, are currently logging 300,000 hours a day on the platform—and today, Desmos announced a major partnership with testing consortium Smarter Balanced, which administers academic exams in 15 US states. Beginning this spring, students in those areas will use the online tool in math classrooms and on statewide performance assessments.

When students take their year-end assessment in 15 states, they’ll see the same free calculator they’ve been using at school and at home the rest of the year. That assessment will more closely reflect what they know, rather than what they were able to express through unfamiliar or costly technology.

USA Today has the reaction quote from Texas Instruments president Peter Balyta:

Peter Balyta, president of TI Education Technology and a former math teacher, defended the purchases, saying a TI calculator “is a one-time investment in a student’s future, taking students through math and science classes from middle school through high school and into college and career.” He said TI’s technology is evolving, but that models like the TI-84 Plus come with “only the features that students need in the classroom, without the many distractions that come with smartphones, tablets and internet access.”

This is interesting. In a world where more and more assessments are delivered digitally (and pre-loaded with digital calculators) the sales pitch for hardware calculators is their lack of features, rather than their abundance.

There is clearly a market today for a calculator that lacks internet access. Around 20% of teachers in my survey said they wouldn’t let students use mobile devices on exams for reasons of “test security” and another 10% cited “distraction.”

Open, interesting questions:

  • Are those figures trending upwards or downwards?
  • Will schools and parents continue to pay Texas Instruments an estimated 50% profit margin for more test security and fewer distractions?
  • How do math coaches and instructional technologists help teachers harness the advantages of the internet while also managing concerns about security and distraction?

2017 May 12. Peter Balyta makes a longer case for hardware calculators, one which won’t surprise anyone who has followed this discussion. He mentions (1) lower cost, (2) fewer distractions, (3) greater test security, (4) more features, and (5) availability on tests.

About 

I’m Dan and this is my blog. I’m a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

63 Comments

  1. Trevor Warburton

    May 9, 2017 - 6:19 am -
    Reply

    I find the characterization of Desmos as a “free online version of TI’s graphing calculator” to be misleading at best. But maybe to a non-math educator the differences between the two aren’t that big.

  2. Reply

    If the Desmos app can work without an internet connection… it seems like there should be some kind of way we can have them use it without compromising security.

    • Yeah, teachers can (and do) ask students to put their phones into airplane mode for tests, but that tiny icon is tough to see across the room.

    • Honesty is number one students should learn. Cheating is at last hurt themselves. Trust them. If they don’t understand,any tools won’t help anyway

  3. Reply

    Will schools and parents continue to pay Texas Instruments an estimated 50% profit margin for more test security and fewer distractions?

    Not until Desmos makes a way for “test mode” to integrate into the main app.

    Yes, there is a “Desmos test mode” app. It only works for iPads. (I only found this out after fruitless App Store searching on my phone.)

    Nothing but truth here.

    And let’s be frank: having a separate app is just way too inconvenient. (Necessary for a standardized testing situation, but I’m talking about day-to-day here.) There needs to be a method that a.) integrates in the main app and b.) is teacher-friendly, with a giant visible-across-the-room indication that it is being used.
    • Honestly its pretty easy buy a cheap smartphone and install desmos into it then disable wifi in that smartphone my guess it would be $50.00 for a cheap smart phone at least its cheaper than the ti-84
      There may be more to it. Feel free to add to my idea

  4. Reply

    I use Desmos every day in class, and the students are allowed to use it on my tests. Most stay on task, and I’m at an at risk school. I lock down the iPad and the Chromebooks on test day because I was asked to by the department. The majority of my kiddos used Desmos on our state test this year and some never picked up the TI that was offered. I try to teach my students responsible tech use.

    Right.

    They will never learn appropriate technology use if we are always locking things up and taking away distractions.
    • Stacey Lincoln

      May 22, 2017 - 12:56 pm -

      Hi Kaitlynn!
      My I ask how you lock down the iPad and Chromebooks on test day? This year our students acquired laptops throughout the district and I’m trying to figure out how to lock down Desmos for security during tests being that my department is also wanting that security. Please share Thanks!

  5. Reply

    Congrats! I am one of a trio of math teachers at our school advocating for Desmos. It’s a great product. We’re trying to get the earlier level math teachers to adopt it so we’ll have a consistent approach to working with data.

    I let my students download Desmos, although most of my tests don’t require a calculator. We use it a great deal in the classroom, though, and the kids love it. Very intuitive (which TI’s emphatically are not).

  6. Reply

    I envision a test mode available within the main app where students sign in to their account to access the test or the “workspace” for the test (either preset questions to answer on Desmos or an open workspace to accompany a paper & pencil test). Students show up on a teacher dashboard like the one for activity builder. An alert goes off on the dashboard if any student goes off the Desmos tab or Desmos app. At the end, none of what the student worked on is saved in their account for later. Even better if it disables their ability to take screenshots or use the camera.

    • Thanks for laying out your design, Laura. I’ve passed your notes along to the rest of my team.

    • Gonna second Laura’s description, I’d be happy with this. (Although, hmm, you can reply to texts in a notification subwindow on my Android phone … not sure if the app would notice that? But now I’m thinking too hard about developer problems)

  7. Reply

    Come on, Dan. This feels to me like a bogus and pseudo-context-y question:

    Will schools and parents continue to pay Texas Instruments an estimated 50% profit margin for more test security and fewer distractions?

    WTH?

    TI’s “estimated 50% profit margin” is not relevant to the reasons for usage of physical calculators on tests.

    You’re presenting this as if the need to keep TI’s profit margin high underlies people’s intellectual need to use a physical calculator.

    Am I missing something about intellectual need here?

    – Elizabeth

    • I don’t think I understand your objection, Cheese.

      Laying my cards on the table: I suspect that we will continue to see a contingent of parents and educators who will be happy to pay Texas Instruments to keep the internet out of the classroom. I just don’t think they’ll pay TI’s current price. The profit margin will have to shrink.

  8. Reply

    I don’t give any assessments online. But when I’ve thought about it, I’ve been torn about the test security of giving assessments on tablets vs. laptops. With laptops, students can see each others’ screens, which is bad. But with tablets, I can’t stand in one place and see everyone’s screens, which is also bad.

    • Garrett Shorr

      May 10, 2017 - 7:56 am -

      Any thought of a partnering with a TI competitor to have Desmos installed on a single-purpose physical device? That would take care of security issues and help destroy the TI monopoly.

    • Sorry – I was rushing earlier and wasn’t at all clear. Also, I had some other thoughts to share as I was driving to school, and when I read this reply, the thinking behind your question came into clearer view and triggered some other considerations. So can I have a do-over, please?

      I am 89% wiser after reading this comment.

      There are a bunch of other factors that you should consider in your assessment of the situation.

      One is that we teachers, schools, & parents are completely constrained by the test security requirements themselves. Whether or not we object is irrelevant. Every time I’m asked to give a standardized test, they make me sign a huge test security affidavit that requires me to surrender my dog, my children, and other things of value if I fail to comply. I would be the one who’s held responsible for the failure to maintain a secure test environment as defined by the test makers & the state or organization (ETS, Pearson, etc).

      The second thing to understand is this: we teachers in CA public schools are legally prohibited from requiring a kid to buy ANYTHING. So if ETS says a kid can only use an approved calculator (from a list) on an AP test, then we (our dept) have to maintain a stash of these approved calculators that kids can check out for the duration of the test. A total PITA, but not providing these would be considered a Williams violation and is actionable. My school gives a ridiculously large number of AP tests each year (we’re #3 in the world) and as the biggest school in our city, you can imagine what our stash of usable calculators looks like.

      Third factor to consider is that for this reason, most of us try to buy as many used calculators as possible; these secondary-market purchases cut into TI’s profit margin as well. FUN FACT: the best time of year to buy a used TI calculator is right after the AP tests are finished.

      Fourth factor: most schools are still in the Wild West phase of institutional knowledge about how to effectively implement online standardized tests in their current environments. The demands on our wi-fi are insane, and we teachers, admins, and IT staff are still learning how to manage classroom and school-wide bandwidth. This includes figuring out how to police all the different devices kids wear/have/forget about that each nibble away at the wi-fi signal available to the testing computers/Chromebooks. So many tiny non-phone devices each stay connected to wi-fi apparently, and I found myself to be a huge failure this year at getting every kid to power off ALL devices that were nibbling away at our wi-fi signal (even after I had collected all cell phones and powered them off). The individual testing environments kept freezing, crashing, or hanging. It sucked.

      For tests that use the embedded Desmos, we are still in the early stages of a steep institutional and individual teacher learning curve. As Eli and I discovered this spring, there are still some frustrating obstacles to a smooth implementation. For one thing, even my Desmos-experienced kids had some trouble entering certain functions under test pressure (the need to use “tab” to get yourself out of an exponent triggered a few nervous breakdowns this spring). For another, making sure that the naming conventions in the online tools are consistent with the standards is an unexpected and non-delightful set of landmines.

      Basically, we are in the midst of a giant paradigm shift in standardized testing, and the shifting realities are causing a lot of big and small pains in the butt that take away time and energy from teaching and learning mathematics. There is a lot of frustration over all of this, and I have a hunch we are may see a backlash.

      But every major technology shift paradigm shift has its hiccups. It used to be a big deal to have a personal computer but electric typewriters were cheap and easily available. Now everybody can have a PC and it’s pretty hard to find a typewriter.

      I predict the same will happen with the TI calculators. But we’re not there yet.

      Elizabeth

    • Cheese, thanks. Incredibly educational comment.

      Garrett, we have no plans currently. We might just like our multi-purpose physical devices too much. We’ll see.

    • We installed the Desmos secure app on student chromebooks at one of our junior highs. Teachers can let students use it for classroom assessments without having internet access.

  9. Reply

    I think it is important to consider that the the security and integrity of a math assessment rests more on the validation of questions. Searchable questions are not the kinds of questions we should be assessing anyways. Then I suppose the security issue is unauthorized collaboration among students. Just saying that sounds weird.

    The pursuit of a functional and standardized assessment with practical correction schemes has concerning effects on how we teach and treat mathematics. I think the shift needs to come from the other end; school policy needs to catch up to the reality our students are living in.

    • A PS — You would be **amazed** at the number of health-related devices and wearables that we aren’t aware of but that hop onto (and gobble up) wi-fi bandwidth. Insulin monitors, heart monitors, and more. These seem to be both LTE and wifi-enabled, and they’ll hop onto wifi sometimes (for updates maybe, or transmission?) and suddenly wifi signal slows to a crawl — even though you have already collected and powered off all the cell phones in the room.

      I’m not about to pry into which student is wearing what device/monitor (sometimes they’re visible, but a lot of times they are not), but we are slowly figuring out these implementation issues.

      Just another little facet of modern life that online testing must adapt to!

  10. Reply

    All compelling.

    In response to your third bullet point – Is the core issue here that students will Google the responses, or share their responses with other students? Both of these issues could be resolved by applying some of the advances in assessment to the world of mathematics.

    Resolving the idea of “googling the responses” requires questions and scenarios that are not simply “Google- able”. Introducing more open ended problems that allow students to apply mathematical concepts could be informed by the NAEP’s new “Scenario-based task” assessments (see http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/tel_2014). Conversely, math teachers could actually Google the responses to the questions and tweak those questions so they are similar but not exactly the same question.

    Sharing responses with other students can also be addressed with some nascent ideas that are already developing in the world of “MOOCs”. For example, what if we gave all students the steps to a solved mathematics problem but with the steps scrambled, and then have them unscramble the steps to show an “order”? I worked on a project called Knowla that allows text to be scrambled randomly so all students get a different problem – this strategy could potentially be applied to mathematics problems too (see evaluation of Knowa – http://bit.ly/2pjSvcC – Disclosure: I did the evaluation of the prototype and I don’t get any ongoing revenue from that project). That does not directly use Desmos, but perhaps students would have to solve a piece of that problem with teachers’ acceptance of Desmos as a testing platform.

    Finally, the capability for examining the process of problem solving through internal analytics could provide very valuable “big data” for educators about students’ mental models about mathematics in the context of problems. Using the ideas of assessment embedded in games, or “stealth assessment”, we could potentially design probability maps of what actions students take that indicate different evidence of student learning (see an example of Val Shute’s work https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/stealth-assessment). A slightly different tactic is to use networks to create steps towards understanding math concepts that could then help math educators diagnose and address students’ creative conceptions in instruction (I *really dislike* the word misconceptions) similar to the work that Karen Willcox from MIT has done with community colleges (see http://fbw.mit.edu/technology)

    The potential for dynamic and adaptable assessments for mathematics is huge. Desmos already has a strong foothold in the community of educators, and a clear dedication to the math community. I am hopeful that leveraging technology in a creative way can not only resolve the concerns about using dynamic platforms for assessment, but even allow us to reconsider assessment as part of the learning process, and not just a grand finale.

    • Thanks for your thoughts here, Meredith. I’m still wrapping my head around the maxim I see online and elsewhere that “if the answer can be Googled or if a calculator can compute the answer then the question isn’t worth asking.” I’m struggling to excavate the embedded assumptions. Very interesting.

  11. Reply

    The TI-84 is a lot cheaper than a phone or computer so I am not sure where the “costly technology” comes in against the TI. Believe it or not, not every kid has a smartphone or computer. I have taught sophomore math with and without allowing the kids to use their smartphones as a calculator. I will argue that it is almost impossible for a sophomore to stay on task when they have a smartphone in hand. I really do not think the goal is to keep the internet out of the classroom. I think the goal is to use the best tool for the job. If I need a screwdriver I get a screwdriver, not a Swiss Army Knife with a screwdriver like attachment that, with some major expensive modifications, might work. The TI is the perfect tool to be a calculator, and nothing else. I am sounding like a TI stock holder here and I do not intend to but I have been teaching math a long time. I have done and seen many variations of “calculators” in the classroom, from none to use whatever the student has access to. All these variations can work with the proper preparation and budget but for the “average” teacher and the “average” student a dedicated calculator seems the best and cheapest option.

    I am not sure how the 50% profit margin comes in here. If TI is only doing 50% that is pretty low. A smartphone is more like 300%.

    • Thanks for the comment, Garth. Let me inject some facts into our discussion.

      I am not sure how the 50% profit margin comes in here. If TI is only doing 50% that is pretty low. A smartphone is more like 300%.

      Apple is the most profitable smartphone manufacturer in the world and it only manages a 38% operating margin.

      The TI-84 is a lot cheaper than a phone or computer so I am not sure where the “costly technology” comes in against the TI.

      You can buy a TI Nspire CX for $137.99 and an unlocked Moto G for $179.99. If you don’t mind ads or refurbishment, prices for smartphones drop below $100.

      This price comparison isn’t all that useful, though, because the smartphone does more.

      Believe it or not, not every kid has a smartphone or computer. I have taught sophomore math with and without allowing the kids to use their smartphones as a calculator. I will argue that it is almost impossible for a sophomore to stay on task when they have a smartphone in hand.

      It’s true that many students don’t have smartphones or computers. It isn’t true that students can’t learn to manage distraction, but I agree that it isn’t easy and, what’s more, you’re joined in your concern by 10% of teachers in my survey.

      So my question is: if I’m a parent or a principal buying technology for students, would I rather purchase a smartphone that includes a graphing calculator or a graphing calculator that doesn’t include a smartphone? If the latter, would I also be willing to pay a 50% markup for that lack of features?

      My point isn’t that either decision is right or wrong. I’d choose one and you’d probably choose the other. My point is just that a decision now exists where one didn’t before.

  12. Reply

    As long as state testing and college entrance tests (SAT, ACT, AP) ban using tablets and phones, a program like Desmos can’t be the only item used in a classroom. I have encouraged my students with android devices to download a free app that mimics the TI-84 for use on work outside of the classroom so that they are comfortable with the calculators that they will be using on these high stakes tests. We use Desmos in the classroom on their iPads and for demonstrations.
    For me, it’s not a matter of test security or distraction that keeps me using the bricks. These are issues that are present with or without technology.

    • I have nothing but respect for anyone who says, “I have to prepare students for high stakes tests and Desmos isn’t allowed on those tests.” Totally fair. But I find it interesting that the Texas Instruments CEO didn’t say (or at least wasn’t quoted as saying), “We’re still the only ones allowed on the SAT, ACT, and AP exams.” Perhaps these 15 states are anomalous. Or perhaps they indicate a trend.

    • I only looked up the build cost of an iPhone. Retail is $600+. Cost to build was listed at $225. That smartphone also requires an account with a phone company. Now it is a major school annual budget line item. As a math teacher and the school IT department I get to see the good and the bad of internet devices. Cheese’s fourth point is extremely relevant. Bandwidth is fixed.

      In a perfect world I think the smartphone/laptop solution is the way to go. The trouble is there are just so many glitchs in that “perfect” that make the smartphone/computer option have problems.

      I must say this is one of the most thought provoking threads I have followed in a while. Good stuff.

    • Our school takes a strong stance on state test security. We don’t allow any student-owned smart-devices to be in the same room as the test, and students have to clear the memory of their calculators before and after each testing session. We are (painfully) far from allowing Desmos on those tests…

    • You have to put some super duper ******** on those “cost to assemble” numbers for smartphones. Some company may have a general idea what a part costs, but the price of the phone is supposed to account for parts, the giant factory its assembled in, the machines that put it together, the people that manage those machines, the people that piece together parts machines can’t do, the cost to package the phone, the cost to ship the phone, and the cost of the engineers designing the phone in a first place. To say $600-225 = $375 profit is very bad math.

  13. Tina Palmer

    May 10, 2017 - 8:32 am -
    Reply

    What about the fact that the TI is programmable? Kids have written programs to solve all SORTS of problems…or worse, had someone ELSE write the program. At least if they had written it themselves, I could be proud of their skills! :)

    • TI can trace it’s monopoly to the small button on the back of the calculator that allows teachers to “reset” the device before tests. That and working the college board to allow it into the SAT and AP tests.

      I now have seen many kids in high school doing homework with Desmos and then entering values into graphing calculators so that they know how to take the test

    • @Tina, Eli and I both share in common that programming our TI calculators was some of our first exposure to programming. We’ll always be grateful. It seems as though TI is moving harder in that direction with its Innovator Hub.

    • My comment was somewhat in jest, but I don’t think your solution actually works. The first link in your results is for a comment thread, but as far as I can tell, none of the free apps recommended there have similar user interface to the TI graphing calcs.

      I think the TI operating system is proprietary. When you download an emulator, you need to enter in a ROM code from your purchased calculator to get the emulator to work. I suspect it’s illegal for me to give out the same code to all the students, so I was surprised that there’s a free (legal) one out there.

      All my kids have laptops from the school, and very few of them have graphing calculators. And yet graphing calculator skills are explicitly included in our state standards, and explicitly included on end-of-course tests that have a big impact on students’ lives. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. The worst thing is that I have to spend time teaching them to operate a clunky user interface that real scientists and engineers don’t even use.

      Okay, well, I guess Dan has reprimanded me enough — I’ll go breathe into a paper bag now :)

    • I believe this comment connects to another important aspect of TI technology that is not fairly discussed in this article — and that is that there is so much *different* mathematics that can all be done in one platform on the TI-Nspire. Yes, there are the robust graphing features (and graphing analysis and dynamic graphing), but there are also transformational geometry tools, dynamic geometry pages, embedded programming capabilities, data & statistics pages and analysis tools (for all different types of data & statistics representations — histograms, box plots, etc.), as well as the ability to program/design your own interactive mathematics explorations/pages. The TI-Nspire is an all-around mathematics exploration tool that provides dynamic tools for all of these areas of mathematics.
      Using the TI-Nspire just to “calculate” is not a *misuse* of the technology, but it could definitely be an *underuse* of the technology. There’s so much you can do with it…all in one place! I think it’s important to consider this expanded view of what the Nspire can do — and why this tool plays a powerful role for students in math classrooms.

    • Hi Michelle, this post doesn’t intend to examine which calculator has more features or to settle the question “which calculator is better?”

      This post is interested in one thing:

      When asked to make a positive case for TI’s hardware calculator over Desmos’s software calculator, Peter Balyta didn’t describe features that TI has that Desmos lacks. Rather he described a feature TI lacks that Desmos has – internet access.

      I’m not claiming he’s wrong to do that. I think that sales pitch resonates with a lot of teachers. But I also think it’s a very unusual way to pitch an edtech product, and it left me with three questions which I outlined at the end of the post.

  14. Megan Bartley

    May 10, 2017 - 10:00 am -
    Reply

    How do students from rural schools who still are not well connected to the internet compete in the ever more technical testing environment? 20% of the nation’s schools are rural and filled with kids who grew up fixing engines. There is a massive amount of STEM potential being lost in these communities. How can we address this as a nation? I love Desmos and hope federal funding in education could be used to equip these communities/schools with the opportunity to use it!

  15. Reply

    In other reactions, I want the 15 states to be a trend not an anomaly and because I would lose faith in future of math education I am going to continue believing that making it true!

  16. Reply

    In response to cheese our wifi is password protected. Too many students knew it so we actually changed it. This has allowed us to dedicate school bandwidth to school uses only. Alas, it looks like these medical devices need the networks to be open it appears for them to work.

    I recently had students creating graphs from their phones and there was very little off task behavior on the phone because there was an end product: a graph to be prepared for 3D printing. I have come to the realization that students are much more motivated by the ability to create an artifact to keep that requires hard work rather than a grade. As we know, many students are not motivated by grades while the high achievers are.

    Without being prompted a student who usually rarely picks up his pencil took his linear equation graph home and wrote more of the equations on his own. When it wasn’t for homework. Why? He wanted to get a few steps closer to typing those equations into Desmos to see if it replicated what his rough draft looked like. That was a win for me. And a win for Desmos.

    • @Martin- I’m talking ONLY about our school’s dedicated, secure, password-protected wifi network. But we all have community members with legally mandated needs and universal access, so you’re never going to get a perfectly secure but still osmotic mesh. If policy-makers and test-makers wanted a perfectly secure system, we’d have to use chisels on cave walls in remote corners of the globe. There is always a tradeoff between accessibility and security. We just haven’t yet figured out where the line is yet.

  17. Reply

    I would love for both tools to be available to students and let them go back and forth. There are times I look to Desmos to help me solve a problem, and there are times I reach for my TI84. I can’t honestly say one is better than the other; the needs of the task at hand determines which one I use.

    • A thousand times this. Generally speaking, it seems that Desmos is best-suited for exploratory tasks and proper calculators are best suited for closed-end tasks. With exceptions.

      And this distinction cuts at the core of the discussion. Some of us focus on what is, and insist that internet-enabled things are simply not allowed or advisable for external exit exams (SBAC, AP, IB, SAT, ACT, etc). Most questions on these exams are called Google-able, but might better be described as simple exercises where cheating is relatively easy.

      Some of us focus on what should be, and want students to always and only answer interesting questions. I have no love for TI, and the XKCD comic from 10 years ago is hanging, laminated, in my classroom. But their syntax makes it so feasible for students to get the answer they are intending to get. I can’t say that about the powerful internet options.

    • “But their syntax makes it so feasible for students to get the answer they are intending to get. I can’t say that about the powerful internet options.”

      I don’t actually know what this means. Help?

      My perspective is that calculator syntax and operations often distracts from the mathematics we’d like students to attend to. (Example.)

    • Agreed that this shouldn’t be seen as a false dichotomy. Here’s my Twitter reply to Dan re: this post.

      I wonder if this post propagates a false dichotomy between Desmos and TI. Like, one is “for” education and teachers and the other isn’t?!

      TI-Nspires have been powerful learning tools for my students to explore and make sense of mathematics. It is how you *use* the tool to push student thinking, ask interesting questions, unveil misconceptions, and *do* mathematics.

      https://twitter.com/HowWeTeach/status/862114427574812672

  18. Reply

    Interesting design!

    If the goal is for kids to take the devices out of their pockets, and use them on a test, could/does Desmos have test mode for the app on Android on iOS? These platforms make information available in their developer kits such as whether the mobile network is activated, or whether the wifi is activated. Perhaps if test mode is activated, then the Desmos App could detect whenever a student turns the wifi or network off and make it super obvious to anyone proctoring that that is the case. The screen could turn a different color, or the device could make a noise or vibrate to alert the teacher that test mode has been compromised? If that isn’t possible, maybe the teacher could even have a screen on their computer that gives them the status of kids use of connected calculators. This screen could basically be the screen from the activity builder, and if any kid goes off line, switches apps, it could communicate that to the test proctor in a way that isn’t frighteningly creepy or watchful overlord-y.
  19. Reply

    As our school/district is expanding its technology more and more teachers in our department are beginning to get chromebooks in the classroom. Our district envisions a digital curriculum. With that in mind we are also looking down the line at testing digitally.

    So like when our students took the SBAC through a locked down browser we are anticipating the same thing for our assessments and talked about creating a locked down browser with access to Desmos.

    This is a few years down the road for us to have full class sets of chromebooks so we could fully implement it however a couple teachers will have full class sets next year so they may try this out then.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on the logistics, Erin. These use cases are really helpful for my Desmos team to think about.

  20. Tim Hartman

    May 11, 2017 - 5:20 am -
    Reply

    Congratulations! This is great news that is hopefully the beginning of the end of TI’s monopoly. Last year, we went almost entirely towards desmos in the classroom. It’s not perfect, but was definitely better for our students’ conceptual understanding. This year we had to switch back to TI84/WabbitEmu/GraphNCalc83 because it’s the first year that PARCC Algebra I is a graduation requirement in MD and you have to understand the TI84 to be successful on it. It surprised me that TI only makes a 50% profit margin on a clunky $100+ piece of techology from the 80’s. As good as they are at cornering a market, they must be bad at business.

  21. Reply

    Growth opportunity!

    Note from a college educator: within my (admittedly small) circle of college educators, I do not know any who use Desmos.

    There seems to be MUCH broader adoption of Desmos at the high-school level than college. Free internet tools like SageMathCloud and WolframAlpha seem, to me at least, to be much more popular at the college level. I wonder if this disconnect has some future implications.

    Calculators are still broadly used in lower level college math courses. Calculators are also required for Actuarial Exams and CFA exams (mostly TI’s, also some HP’s).

  22. Reply

    This might actually make for an interesting statistics problem on survey design, bias, etc. If I am reading your survey correctly, then the 20% having concerns with exam security seems likely to be understated.

    The “reason” part of the survey required a written response whereas the other parts were check boxes. This possibly explains why many folks that do not allow devices on exams did not respond with a reason. Is it reasonable to assume that those not providing a reason are not concerned with test security?

    As I read it, 725 respondents allow a TI, but not a device on tests (138 allow a device on tests). But, the bar graph for the “reasons” only shows 389 responses for not allowing a device on tests.

    A device is allowing for an open note exam at the very least. Would be shocking to me if only 20% of typical teachers responded yes to the question: “Devices are not allowed on exams, in part, because of test security concerns”. Of course, these respondents may not have been typical (or my intuition off).

    • I think that’s right. Only 154 out of ~1,000 said they would allow a mobile device on a classroom exam. 448 of the complement didn’t leave a reason, many of whom would likely have checked a box if I had decided in advance which reasons to include. And past that you still have the bias of sampling on Twitter.

  23. Reply

    Useful perspective from the classroom.

    Just stopping by to offer perspective from a school district that has successfully used Desmos Test Mode on state tests (and during classroom instruction and classroom assessments) for several years.

    We’re a 1:1 iPad district, and our state tests are paper booklets. With preparations from our ed-tech team, and collaborations with Eli and Team Desmos, we were able to pilot the Desmos Test Mode app three years ago on our Math 8 state test. After a successful pilot, and revisions in the Texas Education Agency’s graphing calculator policy permitting secure tablet graphing applications to also be used, we haven’t turned back! Both our Math 8 and Algebra 1 students now use Test Mode on state tests.

    We use software that “locks down” student iPads so that they stay securely in the Test Mode app. They can’t take a screenshot, they have no access to the internet, and the iPad camera is disabled. There’s no pressure on the teacher proctor to ensure that the iPads remain “locked” because the software we use takes care of that remotely for all students who are testing. For those interested in the details, check out this post by one of our tech directors, Carl Hooker.

    What’s interesting is that our revised state testing calculator policy ALSO permits students to use a handheld graphing calculator. Our students know that they may use both the TI and Desmos Test Mode for state tests (and classroom-y assessments too – I should mention that teachers can also use that lock-the-iPad software in classrooms throughout the school year, or use Apple Classroom to manage student devices locally). Having access to BOTH devices during instruction, AND for assessments, to me, obligates me as a teacher to show students how to use both tools well. Granted, once you show a crew of Algebra 1 kids how to do a regression on a TI first, and THEN you show ’em on Desmos… well, asking them to try it on TI ever again is a tough sell. #2ndMEM7ALL2

    My sample sizes every year are small, but after state testing, I give a three-question survey annually. Here’s what my students are saying about using both a TI handheld and Desmos Test Mode for instruction and assessment. For the record, student preferences for Math 8 and Algebra 1 don’t align… yet.

  24. Reply

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Dan!

    I think your second question (re: parents and teachers continuing to purchase and leverage TI products) doesn’t address the full issue in that it suggests that the only “benefits” to using these tools are more security and fewer distractions.

    I agree with parts of this statement from your post: “When students take their year-end assessment in 15 states, they’ll see the same free calculator they’ve been using at school and at home the rest of the year. That assessment will more closely reflect what they know, rather than what they were able to express through unfamiliar or costly technology.”

    This resonated with me — but through the lens of the TI products that many/most of our students are currently using in the classroom. For example, this statement could have read: “When students take their year-end assessment in __ states [not sure of the number here, but maybe 50?], they’ll see the same ___ calculator they’ve been using at school and at home the rest of the year. That assessment will more closely reflect what they know, rather than what they were able to express through unfamiliar ___ technology.” [I deleted the word “free” and “costly” — using TI calculators and using Desmos both have costs. The costs associated with laptops/Chromebooks and WiFi are not trivial for many of the schools I work with.]

    My point is that many students already DO take these assessments with the technology that they have been using and learning with all year — both TI-84s and TI-Nspires — not a “foreign” piece of technology that they are having to learn “for the test.” One reason for this continued integration of TI technology may well be the full suite of mathematical options these devices bring to the math classroom. They provide a “one-stop shop” for so many different areas of mathematical and statistical inquiry — dynamic graphing, dynamic geometry, statistical analysis, programming, data collection, etc. — all in one device. This full suite of inquiry tools is one reason why these devices are so powerful and so useful at the classroom level — and since teachers and students are learning with these devices all year, it follows that they are an “aligned” tool for testing with, as well.

    I think my big idea here is to suggest that many teachers / schools are not buying TI products solely (or mainly?) for “more test security and fewer distractions” — but because of the powerful role these tools play in supporting inquiry and learning in the mathematics classroom.

    • I think your second question (re: parents and teachers continuing to purchase and leverage TI products) doesn’t address the full issue in that it suggests that the only “benefits” to using these tools are more security and fewer distractions.

      I didn’t suggest those benefits, though. Peter Balyta did. That’s all I’m responding to here. TI’s many proponents may have wished he talked about geometry or stats support or other areas where TI has a clear feature advantage over Desmos (for now) but that wasn’t his argument.

      Since this post, Balyta wrote a longer piece expanding on the case for hardware graphing calculators. It makes a brief argument about features that TI calculators have that Desmos doesn’t currently. But, again, notice how little attention he gives those features.

      His primary argument is that internet-connected devices are a liability in the classroom – both for reasons of distraction and security. (Look at the quote Balyta pulls out of the article from Jennifer Mueller.)

      All I am saying here, again, is that I think this is a very interesting argument for an edtech company to make, especially in 2017, and I’m curious whether or not it is sustainable.

  25. Reply

    After 39 years as an engineer, I became a high school math teacher. I’ve never seen an engineer use a TI graphing calculator. A spreadsheet does the job so much better. I bought a TI-89 Titanium a year ago and taught Pre-Calculus and Calculus for 1 year. The TI-89 was difficult to learn and over-complicated. Desmos was faster, colorful and easier to read. I encouraged the students to use Desmos or any similar app. The TI-89 is most useful as a paperweight or museum piece. Hopefully, the test authorities will dump the old slow graphing calculators soon.

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