Parents visiting Doreen Braunagel’s classroom on Tappan Zee High School’s Meet the Teacher Night likely noticed the colorful drawings lining the walls. The artwork is the product of a project PreCalculus students complete at the end of their conics unit. In previous years, students were challenged to create a drawing by hand which included a variety of 10 equations, such as ellipses, parabolas and hyperbolas.
This year, Ms. Braunagel and Christine O’Brien had their PreCalculus Honors students complete the project through Desmos, an online graphing calculator. “The students had to think differently,” Ms. Braunagel explained. “Rather than thinking of the picture first, they looked at how to adjust parameters and restrict domains to get the shapes they needed. They looked at the equation first.”
Being able to instantly visualize an equation was a big motivator for students, many of whom went far beyond the required number of equations to create their images. (A rendering of the New York Giants logo required 31 equations!) “With technology, we’re able to make the requirements more rigorous, which allows students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the equations,” Ms. O’Brien noted. “Students generate an image and realize they need to move it for their design. They start thinking about what part of the equation changes to make that happen. This would be too tedious to do by hand.”
Both teachers were introduced to Desmos through the County-Wide Superintendent’s Conference Day last spring and are impressed by how it has enhanced the conics project. They specifically noted that students were able to get started more quickly with the online project and that Desmos makes it easier for teachers to assess the skill. Ms. O’Brien plans to roll out the web-based project with her regular PreCalculus students and Ms. Braunagel intends to use Desmos with her Algebra II students, as well.