We’ve all had that moment in a lesson, whether it be online or in person, where we ask the students if they have any questions and you’re met with silence and blank faces. I’m not going to dive into the reasons for this or give you a magic wand to make them all speak to you; however, I am going to introduce you to a tool for feedback that the students may be more confident in using. The brilliant thing about this as well is that it can help to initiate conversations from both a subject and a pastoral point of view.

Desmos is known among the maths teaching community as a graphing calculator, but not many realise that they also have an interactive section of their website with so much more than graphs. The feature that I’ll be focussing on is the ‘Starter Screens’, where there are ‘Screens for Checking In’ and ‘Screens for Checking Understanding’. This article with focus on the use of the slides, rather than their creation. Should you want to know more about that, there is a link at the bottom of the article to a video explaining how to create your own slides.

Before going into detail about how I have used the ‘Screens for Checking Understanding’ slides, here is a preview of the types of ‘Checking In’ slides that you can use and adapt for checking in with students:

These are the slides that would be most beneficial from a pastoral perspective, as you are able to ask multiple students about their thoughts, feelings, events in their lives or anything that you’d like, whilst giving them a platform that they may be more comfortable and confident with. One way that I plan on using it in the future, is to have the students complete a slide or two once a week during form time, so that I can get to know my form better whilst also pinpointing students that may need more support.

It’s no secret that students lack confidence to ask questions in front of their peers or divulge their concerns and worries. One of the features on Desmos is to anonymise the responses, meaning that, should you want to display and discuss responses, the students can do so knowing that their identity is hidden. For the screenshots included in this article, I have anonymised the students’ responses.

For this lesson, I’ve created a plenary where the students have been asked to rank their confidence, answer 3 diagnostic questions and then ask any questions that they may have.

When the students are completing the slides, you are able to see who has logged on, which slide they are on and the slides that they have completed. This is accessible through the ‘summary’ tab and your page will look like this:

Because you are able to link your account with your google classroom you are able to import your class lists. This means that when students are completing this task, anyone that has not logged on yet will be greyed out; this has been useful to see who is engaged in the lesson.

When you select a slide from the top of the screen, you will see all of the students’ responses. For any page with a ‘slider’ that the students can move, you are able to see two different views; either individual responses or a stacked version:

The slide that I have found to be the most beneficial is the final slide, where students are able to pose any questions that they have about the topic/lesson. This is where that “tumbleweed” moment that I mentioned can be best overcome.  Students are able to ask questions that they might be embarrassed to ask in a lesson. They can edit their question after it’s been sent or put more than one question in the box should they wish to.

When on the snapshots page, you are able to organise your responses, whether that be based on a theme or a time of the lesson that you’d like to respond to them.

The responses below are from a lesson on angle facts – I have organised the responses based on their type. I decided to wait until the following lesson to discuss the answers. I used the ‘present’ function to display all of the questions and then I used this as a starter. I had the students thinking about and researching the answers, followed by a class discussion around the more challenging questions. I was both surprised and impressed by the level of knowledge and curiosity displayed by this year 7 class. This type of starter was generated by their own questions and promoted them to develop their understanding and challenge their knowledge. This was a rare and important opportunity for students to create and foster their own learning, and one I intend to recreate in the future.

Whist there is still much to explore on the Desmos website, I hope that you are able to use some of these ideas in your own lessons to promote thinking, questioning, to check for understanding and wellbeing and to generate those important discussions with your students.

Watch the video below: