It was time for a change. Our middle school needed a new curriculum that would meet the needs of our students and provide a rich and engaging environment to learn 6-8 Math. After spending months sifting through various curricula, with a little help from edReports, we were able to identify Illustrative Mathematics (IM) as the lead contender. It was not long before we discovered that the Desmos online platform followed the IM scope and sequence very closely and that they had the potential to be an amazing complement to each other. We are now two months into using both platforms and I can honestly say we are not looking back. So, I wanted to write a brief summary of what we are seeing after the first two months of using these curricula.
1) They are amazing together
The two platforms complement each other well, not only in sequence, but in the way that Desmos is designed with IM and OpenUp in mind. You can find complementary lessons for each topic and you can decide which lesson makes the most sense for your students and your own sequence. The material is engaging and the learning is rich.
2) There is a lot of material
Sometimes too much. In the case of IM, there is a lot to cover in a 50-minute lesson, and I often have to cut some of the material to ensure I spend enough time on the main ideas. I know they have to cover enough to meet state standards, but I regularly find that I need to skip certain lessons just to get through a unit in time to move on. Desmos is often closer to being able to get through all the activities in a useful and timely way.
3) They are truly discussion based, in the best way
In the last two months, I have had some of the best conversations I have ever had in my classroom. Students have been engaged and interested as IM and Desmos use prompts such as “which one doesn’t belong”, “what went wrong”, or “which student is correct?”. These are rich conversations that spark curiosity and help my students consider the mathematics from various angles. It is a more creative and interesting way to think about mathematical ideas and it has been amazing to see students engaging with ideas they have never considered. IM pledges that “selected activities are structured using Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions (Smith & Stein, 2011)” and I believe it. Their prompts are excellent and I am already seeing deeper understanding as a result. As a side note, my students are huge fans of Desmos’s polygraph activity (the mathematical version of ‘Guess Who’) and this has seen some amazing results. They also enjoy the opportunity to create a challenge for a classmate (as long as they can solve their own problem first) and this has them engaged for significant periods of time.
4) The formative assessment you get through Desmos is unbeatable
I generally aim to know what every student is thinking at least 2-3 times during a lesson and Desmos makes this very easy to do. With its custom dashboard, it gives you the power to view all student activity and provide individual feedback to students. You can display student work on the screen and anonymize the screens to avoid embarrassment. You can compare answers with their screenshot function and instantly glance over the whole class’s level of understanding.
5) IM is free and Desmos is very affordable!
At this point, I don’t understand why every school in the country is not jumping at the chance to use IM. It’s free and completely customizable. I have known some curricula to be prohibitively expensive and the idea that IM is completely free and a rich mathematics curriculum makes it a no-brainer to me (although you do have to pay the publishers if you want the extra workbooks etc). Desmos is also affordable compared to many textbooks and I would highly recommend this if your district has the resources.
In conclusion, barring an altogether different experience in future units, I would wholeheartedly recommend the IM/Desmos combination. With the richness of IM, coupled with the complementary manipulatives and discussions coming from Desmos, I have every hope that our students are going to fly. But, granted this is only two months in, and I could be completely wrong. I somehow doubt it.