Planning Professional Development: Challenges and Resources

We asked the Desmos Fellows to describe some challenges they face when planning workshops or presentations, and to share resources or practices that help them overcome these challenges. While not a complete list, here are some of our best practices for professional development.

Audience and Differentiation

Anticipating the needs and experience levels of participants can be challenging. Desmos fellows had several ideas for how to handle this.

  • Harsh Upadhyay has seen that workshop participants often have a wide range of skills, and encourages participants to sit in skill alike groups to support differentiation in the workshop.
  • Sara VanDerWerf spends the first 10-15 minutes of a session assessing the skill level of participants using a quick write and share out session along with a quick Desmos graph or activity that allows participants to show what they are comfortable with.
  • Jed Butler is interested in using prompts to help learn more about participants and their hopes for the session. This can help with shaping goals for the session and differentiating to meet the needs of participants.
  • Stephanie Blair addresses the challenge of different levels of learners by planning in 10 minute chunks. This allows her to spend more time on earlier parts of the presentation when needed and to skip chunks in order to make sure participants leave feeling empowered to apply the learning to their own classrooms.
  • In addition to differences in skill level, Patty Stephens has found that participants often teach a range of math courses. The example graphs at have been a big help in differentiating workshop experiences for participants at all levels, and they also are a great resource for participants wanting to learn more after the workshop.
  • Glenn Waddell has used Desmos Bingo to help differentiate the experience and to keep sessions learner focused.
  • Tony Riehl has used a shared Google Doc with opportunities for feedback during the conference and multiple entry points and options for activities.

Focus and Framing

  • Allison Krasnow shares her thoughts on the planning process and keeping the workshop focused: “I find that in a 1-2 hour workshop I can do one thing well. So I have to think a lot ahead of time about my goal. Is my goal to have teachers do a variety of different slide types and problem types to leave with an overall view of the power of AB? Is my goal to have teachers do a single activity, experiencing it as a student would with plenty of time to think about the pedagogy? Is my goal to have teachers learning to build their own activities and have one ready to use in class? Is my goal to have teachers bring student work from an activity they already ran and reflect on it to think about how they could improve the activity to gain deeper insights into student thinking?”
  • Dave Sabol reminds us that good professional development models good teaching. “I know that a learner’s direct experience with the tool can be most memorable. I know that it’s my job to find tools, activities, and tasks that will frame everything and illuminate the objective of the day.”
  • Scott Miller considers how he can model instructional strategies and teacher moves that teachers will use in their classrooms. He asks teachers to partner with each other during the session and share a device in order to increase discussion.
  • Paul Jorgens acknowledges that not all workshop participants will share his enthusiasm of technology, and that the group can find common ground if the focus is on the students and their learning.
  • Adam Poetzel helps participants focus on student learning by having them experience Desmos activities from the student perspective, followed by reflecting on how the experience can help students learn math.
  • Jenn Vadnais helps participants reflect on principles that support student learning as well as teacher moves that support effective use of Desmos Activities.

Next Steps

Leaving time for participants to reflect and plan next steps helps ensure that new learning will be applied to the classroom. Nolan Doyle also provides follow up support to teachers in his district once they’ve left the session. Many of us offer follow up support via email or Twitter.

What are some other resources or practices that you keep in mind as you plan professional learning experiences? Let us know on Twitter @Desmos.