WNBA Scoring Averages – Activity Analysis

Here’s an image from an activity (WNBA Scoring Averages) that I wrote earlier this year.


When we dropped the activity into the search pool at teacher.desmos.com, I didn’t think it was a world-changer, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t untouchably awful.

Hang on a sec while I fire up our database to check how many times it’s been run since it arrived on the scene in May 2016 .

Seven, eight, carry the one… Round up for good measure… Almost there… Aaaaaand…

Zero. Zero sessions.

Needless to say, that’s not a lot of sessions.

So what went wrong? I’ll offer a few theories, and along the way highlight a couple of things that might be worth preserving. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on how to make this—and activities like it—better.

Screens 1-3

Bummer. 27% of the activity just to set the context. That’s killing my discussion-to-screen-count ratio.

screenshot-2016-09-21-21-49-51 screenshot-2016-09-21-21-49-53 screenshot-2016-09-21-21-49-55

Screen 3 (above)

Before asking for a calculation, ask for a prediction. Nice!

Screen 4

An opportunity for students to wrestle with the meaning of a scatterplot in a setting they haven’t seen a thousand times. Also, a chance for teachers to highlight interesting responses, starting with informal ones and progressing to formal ones. That being said, I can’t shake the feeling that nobody cares about the patterns they see on this screen.


Screen 5

This screen’s a mess. “The red point means WHAT? My original prediction? I can’t remember that!” And a purple point that I might move? This is just awful. (P.S. What’s the input field for on this screen?)


Screen 6

I can just hear the conversation now… Me: “In row 1, write the equation…” Students: “Why?” Me: “Because I said so.” That line hasn’t been working with my three year old twins at bedtime, and I don’t think it’s going to play out well in the classroom. There’s got to be a better motivation for plotting this line now, something beyond the “trust me, just do it” rationale I offer here. Maybe the solution is to skip having students enter the line, and just jump from Screen 5 to 7?


Screen 7

Continuing that thought… I propose deleting Screen 6, and revising Screen 7 to read: “(1) How do the points compare to the line y = x (shown in black)? (2) What does this mean in context?” Even still, I’m not sure how strong a screen that leaves us with.


Screen 8

“Boom, a line of fit! Now use it! ” This screen reveals a couple of major open question I have about modeling activities in Desmos Activity Builder. (1) Should students generate the line or curve of fit? Always? Sometimes? Never? I think “sometimes” is the right answer here. But I’m not clear (yet) on when it’s the right move. Here I offer it to students “for free” so they can focus on using and interpreting the line. But I’m not sure that’s the right move. (2) Many of the modeling tasks I’ve build in Activity Builder feel a little too linear and granular (as in, one tiny step, then the next tiny step, and another, and another, with all students moving through in the more or less the same manner and sequence). Is this the best approach? I doubt it. But what’s the alternative? I haven’t figured that out yet.


Screen 9

Interpret the parameters in context. Yay!? But—students had no role in generating that value, so it feels uninteresting to ask about it. I’m wondering about an alternative screen—or sequence of screens—where students use sliders to create their own line of fit. Then answer a question or two about the meaning of their parameters in context, ideally in contrast to a classmates’ parameters. Hm. Still feels lackluster.


Screen 10

I’ve thrown this discussion-prompting screen into a handful of activities over the last several months. Do you think it’s helpful? My hunch is that some teacher tips go unread, but a student-facing screen encouraging discussion at this point is sure to be noticed.


Screen 11

As was shared recently over on the Desmos blog, we strive to activities that are easy to start and difficult to finish. Low floor, high ceiling, etc. Extension screens are one small part of that puzzle, and I’ve dropped one in here to wring a little more value out of the context, and to spark (possibly) a conversation about residuals. I like this screen. At least I think so. I’d love to know what you think.



I’ve rambled a bit about what I do like, and what I don’t like. And in the latter, hinted at ways that I might be able to improve this activity. Unfortunately, even with those improvements, I don’t think this is a particularly strong activity. It lacks a compelling problem. There’s very little cognitive conflict, even with the predictions at the beginning. (Maybe I could hold those up at some point early on: “Here’s your prediction. Here’s all your classmates’ predictions. Let’s see who’s closest!” Or maybe not.) Students don’t have very many opportunities (if any) to be right or wrong in interesting ways.

Over To You

So what do you think? Is this salvageable? What does it suffer from in its current form? What strengths does it have, and how could we build on those?

Thanks in advance for chiming in!

Comments 7

  1. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your thoughts and critique of your own activities. I think it’s a great practice we all can do with the activities we create. Your activities are always so clean, creative, and full of rich math.

    As for your WNBA activity, I agree that using the first three screens to deliver [important] information might be a lot for students. Especially English language learners. What do you think about deleting screens 1-2 and starting the activity straight away at screen 3? Maybe just add the year(s) for the fact and simply the question.

    For screens 4-7, I’d propose just having one screen (maybe two) and have the graph y=x on their with a draggable point on the red line so students can change its slope in order to best fit the data. Then move on with the math and the conversations from there. I think you could accomplish the same, maybe more, with about 6-8 screens.

    Thanks again for sharing and being vulnerable here. I look forward to more thoughtful reflections and feel free to toss one of mine up there so the #mtbos can critique it.

  2. Post

    Andrew, thanks for your comments. I notice a theme in your suggestions (one that parallels some recent conversations we’ve had at Desmos) about trimming/condensing/combining. Over the past month or two, I’ve realized that most of my activities contain several screens that ask students to do things rather uninteresting, unimportant things. I think your suggestions here will help me increase the average value of each screen in this activity. And in general, that principle of shorter-and-sweeter (and richer) will likely help next time I sit down to write an activity.

  3. Hi Michael,
    Ditto to what Mr. Stadel said about your open reflections.

    I’ll start off with admitting that I know little to nothing about sports and tend to steer clear of this topic for classroom activities…this is something I need to work on as I know many students are very into sports. But that’s probably why I never used this activity.

    This has an obvious 3-Act feel to it. I think the information in the beginning is important to setting the story and (now that I’m taking the time to read it) kinda makes me want to know the answer. I think that the video and discussion about what math students see is an integral part to wanting to keep going. I’m not sure how that would integrate into an activity builder, but it seems like it would be easier now that we can control the pacing. This is kind of what I’m picturing:
    1. Show a video (if one exists)
    2. In desmos students type in what “mathy” questions the video poses.
    3. Have the teacher screen up so we can see the questions. (If you’re brave enough! Otherwise, read some aloud.)
    4. Reveal the question we’re working on
    5. You could even have slides asking for input about what info they would need, etc…
    All of this can be done outside of activity builder as well if the activity is getting to be too much “input” and not enough “let’s just do the math”…but the ideas can be presented in the Teacher Tips section

    On screen 5 can you use Desmos Magic to plot the point for the student? “The red plot was your prediction, use the purple dot make a new prediction.”

    I think like the idea of skipping from screen 5 to 8 and having them create the line of best fit using sliders (like you suggesed in step 9.) This gives them ownership of their answer. Although, I wonder if it’s then important to eventually show them what the actual line of best fit is…I feel like this is important, but don’t want to make them feel like we’re saying “hey…you were wrong…here’s what you should have done…”

    For screen 10, I recently did a “Think, Pair, Share” setup in desmos. They submitted an answer themselves, then the next screen said something like, “Discuss your answer with your group, combine your best thoughts into 1 coherent group answer.” Then we looked at answers that were submitted as a class. Again, I can see this being too much “input”, but thought I’d throw it out there.

    And as for screen 11…no comment…as I have absolutely no clue what’s going on there! 🙂

    Also, since we made predictions at the start, I feel like I’d like to go back and compare my original prediction to what we determined? Is there any sort of reveal to this?

    Not sure if any of this would make the activity more usable…plus I’m not sure how much of it is possible and fits with the activity builder feel. Good luck and thanks for allowing us to grapple through this with you!

  4. @ekraskin What a wonderfully epic comment! Thanks for all these amazing ideas. Between Andrew’s comments and yours, I think I have renewed interest in making something work around this context and data set. Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. I clicked through to see your blog… and was a little bummed to see so few posts. I’ve subscribed anyway, in the hope that you’ll share more of your thoughtful, insightful reflections there in the weeks and months ahead. Cheers!

  5. It’s much easier to respond to other people’s posts than to create my own. 🙂 If you looked at my WordPress blog, I never actually started it. I have one on Weebly, but don’t often post there, either. It’s definitely a work in progress!

  6. Hi Michael,

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts about an AB that you have built and want to improve or start over from scratch.

    I agree with Andrew and eraskin’s suggestions. I wonder if a key question to focus on for the activity is, “How does the scoring average success in college compare to the scoring average the first year for a WNBA top pick?” Consider having the red point on the line x=19.4 to manipulate the prediction without the rest of the data. The next slide would include the data along with the prediction and the line y=x. I would pivot the best fit line that Andrew mentioned around the mean college and mean 1st year scoring. The significance of this point is often overlooked.

    Keep up the good work, Michael. I appreciate your focus on always wanting to make a better learning experience for students.

  7. @eraskin: Don’t give up on the blog idea yet! You’ve got plenty of insight that other teachers would enjoy (and benefit from) reading.

    @scott: Thanks for your comments, and the kind words. I’ll keep serving up what I’m working on, whether it goes well or not. 🙂 I appreciate you stopping by to share your thoughts.

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