Here Are Ten New Desmos Activities

The Desmos quarter just ended and this was a huge one for the team of teachers I support.

First, we made substantial upgrades to our entire activity pool. Second, we released ten new activities in the same amount of time it took us to release one activity two years ago. This is all due to major improvements to our technology and our pedagogy.

Technologically, our engineers created a powerful scripting language that hums beneath our activities, enabling us to set up more meaningful interactions between teachers, students, and mathematics.

Pedagogically, my teaching team has spent the last year refining our digital mathematics pedagogy through daily conversations, lesson pitches, lesson critiques, summary blog posts, occasional lunch chats with guests like the Khan Academy research team, and frequent consultation with our Desmos Fellows.

The result: we cut an activity pool that once comprised 300 pretty good activities down to 127 great ones, and we gave each one of those 127 a serious upgrade, making sure they took advantage of our best technology and pedagogy. Then we added ten more.

I don’t think I’ve learned as much or worked as hard in a three-month span since grad school, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my team – Shelley Carranza, Christopher Danielson, and Michael Fenton – for committing the same energy. Also, it goes without saying that none of our activity ideas would have been possible without support from our engineers and designers.

In future posts, I’ll excerpt those lessons to illustrate our digital pedagogy. For today, I’ll just introduce the activities themselves.

Picture Perfect

Hang loads of pictures precisely and quickly using arithmetic sequences.

Game, Set, Flat

Your shipment of tennis balls has been contaminated. Use exponential functions to find the bad ones.

Graphing Stories

Graphing Stories comes to Desmos just in time for its tenth birthday.

Pool Border Problem

One of the oldest and best problems for exploring algebraic equivalence. We wouldn’t have touched it if we didn’t think we had something to add.

Laser Challenge

Use your intuition for angle measure to bounce lasers off mirrors and through targets.

Lawnmower Math

Use Algebra and the properties of circles to help you mow ten lawns automatically and quickly.

Land the Plane

Use linear equations to land airplanes safely and precisely.

Circle Patterns

Practice circle equations by completing artistic patterns.

Constructing Polynomials

Develop your understanding of the behavior of polynomial graphs by creating them piece by piece, factor by factor.

What’s My Transformation?

This is my favorite introduction to the concept of a transformation. “Actually, there’s really only one parabola in the world – we just move it around to make new ones.”

We are still testing these activities. They are complete, but not complete complete, if you know what I mean. You won’t find all of them in our search index yet. We welcome your feedback.

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.


  1. Reply

    Killer activities!
    I just did a workshop yesterday with a group of secondary teachers and they fell in love with Desmos activities including custom activities and polygraphs!

    While they really dug Marbleslides, Function Carnival and Polygraph: Quadratics, there are a few you just mentioned above that I wish I was aware of yesterday.

    Added to the list for next time… Keep up the great work, team!

  2. Reply

    Typo on Circles?
    Sample Answer: Each circle includes the red points inside and the blue points outside of the circumference.
    Switch ‘red’ and ‘blue’?
    Also, it would be cool if you could engineer all 4 of these to appear. It can do two, but not four.
    \left(x+\left[-1.25\ ,1.25\right]\right)^2+\left(y+\left[-2.165,2.165\right]\right)^2=\frac{25}{4}

  3. Larissa connors

    February 2, 2017 - 8:51 pm -

    You are my hero! Teaching with Desmos systems of equations activities this week has been ridiculously gratifying, SO many good conversations are happening in my classes and the kids are all engaged! Can’t wait to use these new activities!

  4. Reply

    These look awesome! I am continually amazed at how versatile Desmos is. Yesterday, I had 7th graders checking equivalence of expressions using Desmos and then in the evening I used Desmos teaching Calculus at our local Community College to show limits and continuity! I can’t wait to start playing with these activities!

    Also, the CAASSP test in California has adopted the Desmos calculator (I’m guessing all Smarter Balanced states?), which is a huge upgrade for our students!

  5. Reply

    So many thoughts! First and foremost, it is so easy to take for granted all the wonderful resources the Desmos team has created. It’s mind blowing that this is all freely available to teachers and is simultaneously pedagogically sound and technologically engaging.

    Regarding the Graphing Stories, will there be (or perhaps is there currently) a way to do this on activity builder such that you can upload a graph, have it overlay the numbers, and have it “play back” the graph in real time like you’ve done?

    • Regarding the Graphing Stories, will there be (or perhaps is there currently) a way to do this on activity builder such that you can upload a graph, have it overlay the numbers, and have it “play back” the graph in real time like you’ve done?

      Thanks, Robert.

      Does “you” mean a teacher or does “you” mean a student? When you say “upload a graph” do you mean a camera phone picture of a graph on paper? Maybe you can clue me into the kind of lesson you’re imagining.

    • Yeah, that’s cool. I see where you’re going there. There isn’t any way to do what you’re trying to do without access to the admin toolset. But I’m happy to make that happen. If you’re game, head to the calculator and create the answer graph. Send that to me and I’ll assemble the other screens.

  6. Reply

    Here’s my beef. I love all these activities and the interaction that the secret Desmos code adds to their functionality but for someone who doesn’t follow any of the Desmos worker bees on Twitter or this or the Desmos blog, they would be unknown to exist. Even if they went to the site they basically either have to already know they exist or they are outta luck. Sure you can search by topic but there has to be some better way to visually put all these great activities in the spotlight without having to sift blog posts and Twitter. And yes, I do know how to keep track of my own book marks but I’m talking about someone new to the whole Desmos vibe.

    • Sure you can search by topic but there has to be some better way to visually put all these great activities in the spotlight without having to sift blog posts and Twitter.

      I definitely won’t claim we’ve nailed discoverability. And we’d hate for our hard work to go unseen. Any suggestions for us, David?

  7. Reply

    These are awesome! I love the streamlining of the activities. I just did Picture Perfect. It feels like Central Park, but I think more accessible. With all the work my students have done with y=mx+b I think this will deepen their understanding of the growth of patterns. It also really stretches thinking of using the slope formula to calculate the coefficient of n, your hook or figure number.

    I also liked land the plane a lot. With an upcoming unit on slope, I’m definitely going to include both of these. Thanks. Looking forward to digging into the others.

    Happened to use teacher pacing for the 1st time too with Stadel’s Inequalities activity today. The discussion was fueled by the histogram after submitting a slide with a yes or no question followed with reasoning. After clicking on to the next slide, the sound of quiet concentration was an awesome feeling to see my 6th grade math support students exhibiting.

    • Love the anecdote from your support class, Martin.

      The more I use the conversation tools, the easier they become and the better I get at planning activities to take advantage of them. I build activities that have more pause-worthy moments, moments where students unloads lots of early thinking which I can help them formalize in a conversation.

  8. Melissa Lechleiter

    February 8, 2017 - 7:03 pm -

    This is great. I was just on Desmos looking for a graphing polynomials for my students to get some more practice and have a little fun. They love when we have Desmos activities. They like the marble drop activates, I use it in all my classes Algebra 1 to PreCal, the more advance student “cheat” use non linear functions and non quadratic to get the stars. I can’t wait for them to see the new activities. Thank you to you and your team for working so hard to help us become better teachers.

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