Monday, July 3, 2017

Polygraph Vocab Jar

If someone is trying to curtail their use of profanity, they might set up a Swear Jar. Every time they use a swear word, they deposit an amount of money inside the jar. Since there are a variety of swear words, the incentive is to consciously be aware of your profanity with the intention to minimize your profanity and find other (less colorful) ways to communicate.

I'd like to introduce the idea of a Polygraph Vocab Jar when playing Desmos Polygraph activities. Whereas the Swear Jar might have a negative connotation to it, I see the Vocab Jar as having a positive connotation. The purpose of the Vocab Jar would be to invite and encourage students to increase the frequency of use and variation of math terms when playing Polygraph activities. Check out what I mean in this video:

You might remember I blogged about the power of Command-F (Mac) and Control-F (PC) when finding a specific term within Desmos activities. I'm utilizing the same tool here when looking for specific math terms in student conversations when playing Polygraph. I also like the idea of keeping track of the frequency of terms used from the word bank. If you want a math swear jar, I added two columns to keep track of taboo words. On a related note, I recently blogged about word banks and taboo words in Polygraph. Check it out.

In the video, I mentioned the idea of having some incentives in your math classes. For example, if you're a single-subject teacher and have multiple sections of Algebra, you could turn it into a friendly competition between class periods. The class with the most variation and use of terms from the word bank with successful polygraph games gets [fill in the blank].

Click here if you want copy of the spreadsheet featured in the video above.

As much as I love the Command-F feature to find terms on a webpage and keeping track of them in a Google sheet, I would love to see a Vocab Jar integration into the Desmos Polygraph. I think it would be a valuable tool for teachers to continue their formative assessment of student conversations and use of mathematical language.

What do you think?
If this is something you would find useful, would you send a +1 to Desmos for me?
If you have a way to improve this idea, leave a comment below and Cc desmos.



  1. Nice! Always fun to see a mockup of new ideas.

    I'm a fan of some kind of frequency chart for word usage. Seems really useful to keep track of that information.

    I find the swear jar concept interesting, but perhaps also at odds with a core Desmos design principle: "Create an intellectual need for new mathematical skills."

    That is to say, it's our conviction that the formal language we ask students to use ("vertex," "intercept," etc.) was invented for a reason, even though we had words like "smile" and "skinny," etc. Humans invented that language because it helped us communicate more precisely. If I have to impose extra constraints – either a prohibition against home language or an incentive for formal language – I think I'm admitting to myself I don't actually think that formal language is useful on their own.

    1. What if there was a way to connect usage of proper vocab with successful guessing of the proper graph as well as with total number of questions needed in order to succeed, this might drive the "intellectual need" home with students who are too lazy to be precise in their vocab.

  2. I agree with Dan. This is really a conversion about precision. Students build mathematical language when we create a need for communication, which is exactly what Polygraph does. So if my idea can be understood using my informal language, what's my incentive for choosing the more precise mathematical word? I think about how we might use the vocab jar to create the need for Ss to be more precise with their language. Looking forward to thinking more about this.