Desmos in Science

I've wanted to try the Desmos activity builder for a long time, so I finally did. We were finishing up the nervous system, so I grabbed a graph of an action potential and went for it. Here's a live student link if you want to give it a try.

I set up a few slides with an image of an action potential superimposed on a graph. I then asked students to identify different regions on the graph using the activity input tools.

The really powerful moment came when I revealed their work superimposed on the question. individually, it was easy to see in the dashboard that most people had the right shape.

Superimposed, we could really dive into the differences between the sketches.

At the AP level, we focused on the scales and how it lines up with the chemical concentration in the cells. I'm also glad I had this question first because it immediately helped me target students who were struggling more than others.

From there, I used the same graph but superimposed a horizontal line and asked students to mark the rest state voltage as well as the threshold voltage. Again, the superimposed image gave students a lot to think about.


As a lesson, I'm happy with how it went. Students were able to self-assess and gain insight from seeing multiple, simultaneous responses. I'm thinking hard about how to break the content barrier and get teachers to look at it's utility for feedback and metacognition.

As a teacher, what could I have done better? What would you have done differently? Can you help me get a true graph of the action potential (ahem...please?).

(Both screenshots are mine, names are anonymized).

3 thoughts on “Desmos in Science

  1. Craig Steenstra says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’d like to use the Action Potential activity as a teacher. Can you share the link to that?

  2. Audrey says:

    Hi Brian. My thoughts:

    Slides 2 and 4 – did you want the maximum to not show on the graph? It’s just out of range in the student view.

    I especially love slide 6 – did you show them the overlay for that too?

    There’s nothing like the moment the kids get to see the overlay view! I usually put a slide immediately after they’ve seen an overlay wherein they point out similarities, differences, or do a notice/wonder, although you likely did that live since you’re face-to-face. I need them to put their thoughts down in writing, because I usually spend some time the day after following up, showing & discussing all their reflections, so as to pin things down. Also, I usually get so caught up watching/intervening during the activity that I sometimes miss opportunities to actually come to any conclusions.

    Also, I’m not sure if this would make sense for this activity, because for action potential, there seem to be many possible correct graphs, but if there IS one correct one…I sometimes log myself in as a student during an activity. Teacher Audrey then hides Student Audrey, right up until we’re all looking at the overlay view. Teacher Audrey then unhides Student Audrey’s graph, on which that correct graph has already been input. Here’s an activity in which I did that: https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/572273e5f25c49d7057a8957 . In that case it wasn’t so much about correct/incorrect, as it was about how all their points formed an ellipse without them using any algebra, or even knowing ahead of time what shape their points belonged to.

    I so get the content barrier thing. Even tech savvy teachers have the preconception that it’s only useful for math because of the graphing aspect. It’s been slow bringing science teachers in too, and I’m thrilled that you’re using it now. Have you tried the cardsort? They are truly applicable to any subject, no graphs needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *