Desmos Fellows Weekend

This past weekend I flew out to San Fransisco to the Desmos headquarters for their Desmos Fellowship Cohort 4 weekend.  I had the absolute privilege of learning alongside 40 other Cohort 4 fellows, 10 returning fellows, and several Desmos staff for the weekend.


Imposter Syndrome was definitely a thing for me from the moment I got my acceptance email from Desmos.  I personally know and have met many people who had been accepted in prior cohorts and to now be included in that list with people such as Julie Reulbach, Sara Van Der Werf, Elizabeth Statmore, Jonathan Claydon, Mary Bourassa, and Sam Shah to name a few (and that doesn’t even include those who now work for Desmos) only adds to my Imposter Syndrome feelings.  Not only that, I could name a handful of other amazing educators who have applied and gotten a “not yet” email from Desmos.  Yet, I was selected to be part of this group?  I honestly thought I’d get an email saying, “Sorry, we made a mistake with our previous email.  Please apply again next year.”

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My feelings of Imposter Syndrome increased as we started communicating as a group of  Cohort 4 on Slack before our weekend.  I so appreciated what Stephanie shared with us, “I want to remind everyone. We hand selected each and every one of you. You are enough right where you are today.”  I did my best to go into the weekend with those words in mind.


With that, here’s a recap of the weekend.

I got in early Friday morning and had some time to sightsee before things started at Desmos.  Ashley, Melissa, Chris, and I headed out in the streets of San Fransisco.  We ended up missing a few turns as we spent more time talking and getting to know each other than focusing on the map, but we eventually found our way to the cable cars and rode to Fisherman’s Warf.



After that, we headed back to Desmos HQ for the “official” start of the Fellows weekend.


We started the weekend in our Home Groups -each returning fellow had a group of about 4 current fellows.  The returning fellow touched base with each of us prior to the weekend, and we met in this group for a short period of time each day.  My home group was led by Kathy and included Jamie, Louisa, Vickie, and me.

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Friday night the schedule was really focused on creating a comfortable space for the rest of the weekend.  Shelley talked about the norms for the weekend.

  • Stay strengths-based
  • Stay engaged
  • Embrace our growing edge
  • Attend to self-care throughout

We did introductions (which was somewhat intimidating with such a large group of amazing educators), Mary shared responses from a 20 questions Desmos activity we had completed.  I loved the activity itself and the way she complied the information as another way to get to know our group at the start of the weekend  (much of our group was introverted, reminding us all that calculus is something several of us hadn’t done much with in a while, as well as having us talk to someone next to us and discuss how we answered some questions).  We then had time to talk with different groups of people as we were able to select from a few different options they had set up for the night.  Going into the weekend, I had met a few of the other Cohort 4 fellows, returning fellows, and Desmos staff from TMC or other conferences.  I really tried to be intentional about meeting people I hadn’t met in real life already, but also giving myself time to have conversations and get to know people better that I had already met.

Takeaway:  Here’s what stood out to me Friday night.  Shelley let us know prior to starting that we didn’t need to bring our laptops.  We were at Desmos (an ed tech company), yet the first time we met as a whole group, technology wasn’t needed.

Our hotel was about a mile away from Desmos HQ, and I loved the opportunity to talk with other Fellows as we walked as well as the time to get some exercise and decompress after a day of learning.



Saturday started with Faith and Lisa sharing some of the principles Desmos uses when creating activities.  Lisa led us through Point Collector.  Nico and I worked through this activity together, and I enjoyed starting by using math that my 8th graders would know and then as we progressed we expanded by using other things that we ourselves hadn’t used in a while such as circles.

Takeaway:  I really enjoyed how Lisa made it clear to us while we were working on the activity that we didn’t HAVE to get to all the challenges.  We may try all of them, but maybe we just focused on one and that was ok.

So often in my own classroom I want students to complete everything. Lisa paced the activity in such a way that it wasn’t expected that everybody did everything.  They could have, but it wasn’t expected.  As Lisa used the Snapshot feature to share examples of our work, she focused on the creativity and not the ones that earned the most points.  I also liked how seeing others’ work encouraged me to think of ways that I could apply their strategy to another challenge.

Breakout Session 1 (Lauren and Christelle)

I went to Lauren and Christelle‘s session titled Turning the Diamond on Desmos.  If I’m being honest, I don’t know that I feel “qualified” to write about what I learned and what was discussed at this session as I’m still processing everything.  Please, give me grace here.  We started by talking about why we love Desmos (the tool -rather than Desmos the company) and how those reasons address Access, Achievement, Identity, and Power in our classrooms.  Lauren and Christelle challenged us how to think about how to be more intentional about addressing identity and power in our classrooms.

One of the quotes/questions they shared that stood out to me is, “Do I get to be a better me, or do I have to become you?” in regards to students in our classrooms.

“Do no harm.” is one of Desmos’s principles, and they brought up something I’ve been thinking about following their presentation, “Do anti-harm.”

Takeaway:  Lauren talked about how this work isn’t only for teachers who teach in racially diverse classrooms, but it’s also important for teachers who teach students of the dominant culture as they work to educate those students on these things.

Desmos Design Process (Jenny and Zack)

Jenny and Zack talked about and walked us through part of the process (Crazy 8’s and Storyboarding) Desmos goes through when creating activities.

Takeaway:  I would like to try using both Crazy 8’s and Storyboarding when creating an activity this year.

Keynote (Eli)

Eli talked to us during lunch, and it’s always fun to hear from him, the founder of Desmos.

Takeaway:  I appreciate how Eli is upfront about the fact that he dislikes technology and dislikes ed tech even more.


Then we were given work time to collaborate with others on a project or idea.  I worked with Nicole, Vickie, and Ranesha on a distributive property activity using algebra tiles.



We ended the day with Desmos trivia and then walked to the food trucks for supper.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to trivia, but it was SO fun.  It was also fun to have a few other former Fellows join us as well as other MTBoS friends (Elizabeth and Howie).



Graphing Calculator (Christopher and Michael)

Christopher and Michael did a session on the graphing calculator where Michael led us through his activity Charge!, and Christopher had us think and talk about that activity as a learner, teacher, and leader.

Takeaway:  There is an activity builder for this activity, yet Michael chose not to use it.  How often do I try to make an “activity” out of something where the Desmos calculator might be a better option and lead to more creativity for students?

Breakout Session 2 (Martin)

I went to Martin‘s session titled CPA CL Skills (Copy, Paste, Adjust Computation Layer Skills).  It had been a while since I’d worked with CL, and it was a good refresher.  I would really like to continue working with and learning how to use CL better.


We had time to continue working on the project we started the day before and then shared what we all had started working on.

The Imposter Syndrome started to creep back in as I saw (and continue to see in Slack and on Twitter) all of the amazing things others created.


We had one last opportunity to connect with others as we talked about our takeaways and goals after our weekend together.

In some ways the weekend was everything I expected and more, and in other ways it was so different than what I anticipated.  Other than simply giving a recap of what happened, it’s hard to put into words the entire experience.  It was truly amazing.

I related to so much of what Brett wrote in his reflection in this post, “I’m amazed at how little time I spent in the Desmos environment.  When I applied, I expected to learn all kinds of new things about Desmos, spend time coding in CL, building and critiquing activities builders, but my experience was far more transformative than that.”

I didn’t use my computer charger once all weekend.  Going into the weekend, I anticipated that much of the weekend would be spend being explicitly taught how to do certain things in the Desmos calculator, in CL, or in activity builder.  None of that happened.  Instead, learning in Desmos was organic -when we were working in Point Collector and needed/wanted to do something or when we overheard another group try something new.  Read Jennifer‘s post for more of these.

A huge focus of the weekend was spending time building relationships and connecting with the people there -relationships that will continue online long after our time in San Fransisco.  If this experience parallels other experiences I’ve had with MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere) friends, I believe that our online communication will be stronger now and more online learning will take place because of the relationships that were strengthened during our time in San Fransisco.

And I am so excited to see that learning that take place!


the whole group


Some of the Desmos staff (top left – Michael Fenton,  top right – Shelley Carranza, bottom left – Eli Luberoff, bottom right – Dan Meyer


Old Friends (clockwise starting in the top left – Lisa Bejarano, Sean Sweeney, Jay Chow, Jennifer Williams and Jennifer White, Mary Bourassa, Joel Bezaire)


New Friends (Clockwise starting in the top left – Mark Kreie, Nicole Madrigal, Larissa Peru and Stephanie Blair, Joce Dagenais)


More New Friends (top – Shira Helft and Ashley Goetz; bottom from left – Lauren Baucom, Melissa Paletta, Kathy Henderson)