I spend a fair amount of my time at Desmos creating activities with the Activity Builder. In my mind, the job becomes more and more interesting over time for at least two key reasons:
- Over time, the toolset expands.
- Over time, our sense of how to use the toolset expands. That is, our pedagogy improves.
These two developments play off one another, and we find ourselves with more and more opportunities to build increasingly interesting things.
One way we push our pedagogy forward is by holding up two activities and asking questions like:
- How are they similar? How are they different?
- What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?
- In what ways could the Activity Building Code inform these activities? In what ways could these activities inform the building code?
If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear your analysis (similarities/differences, strengths/weakness, relationship to the building code) in the comments.
Each activity has its own strengths, and each activity has the potential to generate interesting class discussion. However, I think LEGO Prices does a much better job with creating problematic activities (Principle #4 if you’re counting).
Are People Waiting to Get Married? nibbles at the edges of a context in a largely disconnected way.
- Students make a prediction, but it never resurfaces.
- Students sketch on a graph, but we’re not told why.
- Students make another prediction, but that too never resurfaces.
- Students write equations. Why? Because we tell them to.
LEGO Prices hits you right out of the gate with a single, overarching question that will drive the rest of the activity: How much did that LEGO set cost?!
- Students make a prediction, and it resurfaces later in order to compare the power of wild guesses with the power of mathematics.
- Students sketch in order to better understand the relationship.
- Students build and then use a model in order to refine their prediction.
The key phrase for me here is in order to. That’s the difference. As much as Are People Waiting… has going for it (and, by the way, I rather love Screen 8), there’s no in order to attached to the tasks we’ve given students. Instead, it’s piecemeal. Screen-by-screen. Asking because we can, not because we must. Questions that serve themselves, rather than a single, coherent pursuit.
LEGO Prices suffers in other ways. For example, I think it does a fairly awful job with Principle #5: “Give students opportunities to be right and wrong in different, interesting ways.” It’s narrow-minded in that sense. There’s really just one way to move through the activity. I’m discouraged by that, and hope to discover creative solutions around that weakness in future activities.
And yet while it struggles with that, it doesn’t struggle with this: clarity of purpose. With the exception of Screen 5 (interpreting parameters), everything students do is done in the service of making the most insightful and accurate price prediction they can.
And that’s something I’ll be trying to infuse in similar tasks in the future.
What did you see in the activities? What did you think of my analysis? Where did it resonate? Where do you think it’s off base? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.