Desmos Is Also a Curriculum Company Now

If you knew me as a classroom teacher, you knew I was very, very cranky about the ways many math textbooks treated students and mathematics, how they failed to celebrate and build on student intuition about mathematical ideas, how their problems were posed in ways that hid their most interesting elements, how they were way too helpful.

So it’s been a joy to get to do something more active about that problem than write cranky blog posts, to get to team up with some fantastic teachers, designers, engineers, and funders all continuously interrogating their assumptions about education, design, technology, math, and society, all to create what I think is …

the very best middle school math curriculum.

This is it.

Call off the search.

You found it.

Read more about the curriculum at the Des-blog, including details about our upcoming pilot.

[extremely Oprah voice] You get a debt of gratitude! You get a debt of gratitude! You get a debt of gratitude!

Aside from my enormous gratitude to the fantastic team I work with daily, I’m especially grateful to two groups:

  • The authoring / publishing team at Illustrative Mathematics / Open Up Resources who created and openly licensed a fantastic math curriculum, one which is the foundation of our own work. They dropped a massive gift on the math education community (or a hydrogen bomb from the perspective of the K-12 math publishing industry) and we were extremely happy to pick it up and build on it.
  • You. I’m talking about the folks who have been reading this blog, commenting on my posts, critiquing my ideas from day one. Your thoughts and mine are all tied together and run all the way through this curriculum.

This blog has been quieter over the last few years for reasons that are predictable – family, Twitter, the death of blogs, etc. – but also because, for the only time in my career, I haven’t been able to write about my work.

That changes today and I’m very excited to collaborate with you folks once again on the work that matters to me most. It won’t be at its best without you.

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


  1. Very nice. I’m hoping that you are working on high school curriculum as well. Also, I just recently stumbled across Assistments and I noticed they also have Illustrative Math and Open Up there. Will Desmos have any tie ins to Assistments or vice versa? Will they be complementary?

  2. Thanks for the well-wishes, Michael. No current tie-ins to ancillary programs like Assistments but anything that’s aligned to the IM scope and sequence should be roughly aligned with our program as well.

  3. You KNOW I love this: “Instead, we show students what their ideas mean in context, without judgment, giving them the freedom to revise their thinking and the incentive to build on their earlier ideas.” Yay for opportunities to revise and extend and expand thinking! Yay for the spirit of rough drafting!


    • It’s an exciting time to work in math ed, with so many people promoting the idea from so many different angles that “kids’ ideas are valuable!”

  4. The Desmos commitment is that anything teachers are currently using for free will remain free. I’d like to ask for one more commitment: to provide reasonably affordable licenses of paywalled material for individual teachers to buy out-of-pocket if we can’t get our districts to commit to your curricula.

    In addition, here are some requests: allowing teachers or districts to create custom curricula, eg, by reaching back and grabbing review lessons from a prior year to throw into this year’s curriculum, if we know kids are going to need that. And making it possible for teachers to insert their own Desmos Activity Builder lessons into the curricula seamlessly.

  5. Marty Gartzman

    January 24, 2020 - 6:29 pm -

    Congratulations Dan and Desmos! Is there a place we get a look at some sample lessons or a sample unit?

  6. Rad! Can’t wait to spend some time perusing it, and then using it once the 6th grade curriculum is out. —The guy you met at Rockin’ Jump.

  7. It is an immense relief to hear you’re back on the long form. Your ideas and contributions are too big and too good for twitter, there’s a lesson there.

    I’d like to offer some cranky thoughts on what I think is the unfortunate legacy of math curricula: alone they can’t get at the consolidation of approaches to quantitative problem solving that today’s students will need.

    The most effective approaches to real problem solving are not from mathematics, and non trivial calculation is best left for a computer. Of course math concepts are useful, but so are concepts from considerations of: programming/computation, units/dimensions, estimation/significance, reasoning/formulation, etc.

    How can real problem solving be brought into school mathematics?

  8. Please tell me you have something in the works for upper elementary? Or any recommended sites or curriculum for grade 5? I love all your work and am now obsessed with 3 Act tasks! Yet, it would be even more amazing to have it all fit seamlessly together. I almost want to move up to teach 7th grade math just to get to use this curriculum!

  9. Sweet! I am super intrigued in this Desmos venture. One consideration, if not open source, from a K-8 district perspective, is that, for better or worse, MANY middle school curriculum decisions are grounded in which curriculum students will matriculate into for grades 9-12. Not that those are variables you can control, but, it’s a bit of reality in terms of why curriculum decisions have been made for MS and how long current curriculum contract years have been negotiated.

    • Thanks for the consideration here, Hilary. We’ll keep it in mind. (Wondering why 9-12 doesn’t take its curriculum queues from K-8 instead!)

    • So true. Seems a pertinent and timely perspective, given the re-considerations currently under way for high school standards and threads of 9-12 math pathways.

  10. As usual, I’m going to come at this sideways.

    The Desmos graphing tool is very nice. I use it frequently, and find it quite intuitive. I’ve long since abandoned all the alternatives on offer. I’m not a hater.


    When you show your graphs about students’ reactions, they are all proxies for learning. “The lessons help me learn math” and “I enjoy learning math using these lessons” are not the same as actual evidence that using Desmos is more effective than other methods. I’m quite prepared to believe that the Desmos lessons are better, but what you present as evidence isn’t good evidence. (The PISA results are quite conclusive on this: thinking you are doing well is not the same as actually doing well — US students score much higher on “I am good at Math” than Singaporeans, while being considerably worse at any actual Math.)

    Likewise the teacher graph shows value judgements. Value judgements are worth considering, but teachers are overly prone to consider engagement as a measure of learning — and it just isn’t.

    Please, do the actual studies, in as blind an environment as you can. Ideally, get a neutral party to do it. Compare learning in a standard method, compared to your alternative. It won’t be easy — I get that. But until you do it properly, all we have is endorsements.

    I don’t buy a grill because George Forman endorses it, and I won’t buy Desmos because some random teachers endorse it either.

  11. I just wanted to flag this tweet reply from Michael Pershan:

    As I said in a recent tweet, the Desmos curriculum “should seek greater control over the drill practice kids do, to prevent teachers from supplementing drill practice from another source. When drill practice is tightly aligned to thoughtful lessons, it can deepen the lessons — it doesn’t have to feel like drill.”