Episode #95: The Vast Majority of Ed-Tech Is Garbage: An Interview with Eli Luberoff

Sep 21, 2020 | Podcast | 0 comments


In this episode Eli Luberoff, the CEO of Desmos not only shares why he thinks most ed-tech software doesn’t make the grade he shares significant insight on what makes Desmos a thought leader in math education.

Stick around while we chat about how ed-tech can hinder learning and how ed-tech can help learning; how a software company’s guiding design principles can make you a better coach and/or teacher; and, why we need to be active and not passive when ensuring accessibility and equity in our classrooms. 

You’ll Learn

  • How can ed-tech hinder learning and how can ed-tech help learning;
  • How a software company’s guiding design principles can make you a better coach and/or teacher;
  • Why we need to be active and not passive when ensuring accessibility and equity in our classrooms.
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Eli Luberoff: The vast majority of EdTech is garbage. When I think about the ways that technology can be powerful, and helpful, and serve us, instead of us serving the technology I like to go back to some of the original thinkers, to folks like Seymour Papert where when he was describing the promise of computers he described it as a system for augmenting human thinking. That's been a big guide for us, is what are the ways in which the technology can- crosstalk-

Jon Orr: In this episode, Eli Luberoff, the CEO of Desmos not only shares why he thinks most EdTech software doesn't make the grade, he also shares significant insight on what makes Desmos a thought leader in math education.

Kyle Pearce: Stick around while we chat about how EdTech can hinder learning, and how EdTech can help learning. How a software company's guiding design principles can make you a better coach or teacher, and why we need to be active, and not passive, when ensuring accessibility, and equity, in our classrooms. Queue up the music.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce from TapIntoTeenMinds.com.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr from MrOrr-IsAGeek.com.

Kyle Pearce: We are two math teachers who together with you, the community of educators worldwide, who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark curiosity fuel sense making, and ignite your teacher moves. Are you ready there, Jon?

Jon Orr: Of course, Kyle, of course. We are honored to bring you this episode with Eli from Desmos.

Kyle Pearce: Now, before we get into our discussion with Eli we want to let you know that if you're listening to this before Friday, September 25, 2020 then you're cutting it close to joining us for our new PD offering on closing gaps with your grade 2 through grade 10 students. We've built a self-paced, nine-module, fully online course called The Concept Holding Your Students Back.

Jon Orr: When students struggle during tasks often it's because of missed key learning opportunities. Now, especially, your students will have missed key learning opportunities from this last school year. With working with our own districts and our own students we narrowed down those gaps to deficiencies in the area of proportional reasoning.

Kyle Pearce: In our new comprehensive PD course we'll not only unfold the fundamental concepts for teaching proportional reasoning so that you can close gaps with your students but we'll also show you how, and give you, the lessons and resources to use in your classroom to help make it all happen.

Jon Orr: If you're interested in learning more about registering be sure to check out MakeMathMoments.com/proportions. If you're listening after the Fall 2020 registration close you can still head to MakeMathMoments.com/proportions to join the waiting list in order to get notified for your next opportunity to participate, which would be next fall.

Kyle Pearce: That's right, Jon. So, head on over to MakeMathMoments.com/proportions before registration closes this year.
Hey there, Eli, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We're extremely excited to chat with you today. How are things going on your end of the continent. I believe you're out in California, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Eli Luberoff: I am, indeed, out in California, and very excited to be talking with you today. In the middle of some very troubling times, it is always, always good to be able to talk about math.

Jon Orr: Yeah, we are as a society are definitely in troubling times. I think we've had some similar protests that's happening here in Toronto. You guys are having protests across your country. Kyle and I are from Canada. So, yeah, definitely troubling times, also in the midst of COVID-19. So, 2020 is proving to be something that we're fighting a battle on many fronts. So, we're glad that you're here talking to us.
Eli, I've met you a number of times, and actually I wanted to share this story. Actually, you probably don't remember this but I think I met you in 2012, and it was in Philadelphia at an NCTM National Conference. It was my first National Conference that I went to, and I was actually ... 2012 was like just when the iPad started hitting schools and I was on the hunt for something that could work on my iPad to bring back to my classroom, because I was getting like a class set of these things, and I wasn't sure what to do.
I remember walking the exhibitors floor back then, and I didn't realize, I think, it was you until later. I come across this like super young guy who's eager to share with me this graphing calculator that would work on my iPad. I was, "Is this going to work on my iPad?" I'm sure you remember, Eli, back then everything was like Flash based. I was like, "Is this going to work?" You're like, "No, I coded this whole thing in HTML5." I didn't know what that was at the time and-

Eli Luberoff: You're like, "Wow, sounds good."

Jon Orr: Yeah, and I was like, This is going to be great. Then, I remember that's all I was obsessed with for the rest of that conference. I think I met you back then, and as I said, I don't think I knew it was you, it was just some young guy. Later I was like, That was you on the floor. So, I've met you a number of times since then, but can you do us a favor, Eli, and let our listeners know a little bit about you and the company Desmos.

Eli Luberoff: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That has to have been me because there were about two of us at that point, and the other one lives in Indiana and definitely wouldn't have been crosstalk. So, yeah, absolutely. We actually got our start in Flash, as well, and made the switch to HTML5. So, I believe that I was very excited about that, and very proud of it, because if I was talking with you at the beginning of 2012 that was right after we launched. It was Valentine's Day of 2012 was the official launch day for our web-based graphing calculator.

Kyle Pearce: Oh wow.

Jon Orr: Interesting, yeah.

Kyle Pearce: Fantastic.

Eli Luberoff: Right? Right at the beginning. I remember ... I tell people that story and they're like, "Aren't there other things you should have been doing on Valentine's Day?" They're not wrong, there are. crosstalk Valentine's Day.
So, my background, I was a math and physics major in college, and I paid my way through college by tutoring. I would go out to Westport, Connecticut and tutor the kids of banking scions, and then I would come back to New Haven public schools and I would volunteer tutor in those public schools, where I was just kind of flabbergasted by a couple different things. One of them was that wildly disparate access to resources, and the other was the insane cost of a hand-held graphing calculator. So, my students in Westport have two different graphing calculators, and they would lose them, and get a third, and then a fourth. My students in New Haven $100 is a prohibitive expense for a lot of families to this day.
So, I was really quite bothered by that stranglehold that these calculators had, and also by the inequity that they would cause. Over time over the last eight years I have come to realize that the inequity represented by graphing calculators is just the tip of the iceberg, and so we've been expanding our work in other ways to make sure that we're giving every single student the same kind of access and opportunity to the best of our abilities.
So, it was then started it. It sounds like I was taking too much credit for the initial version of the calculator. I was just one of two people who was working on it at that point, and then a team that has grown enormously since. But, our goal kind of up front there was, Let's make something that is much, much, much better than what students have had access to from a calculator perspective, because computers are insanely powerful. You were walking around with an iPad, and the amount of computational power on an iPad is greater than on the original space shuttle that launched humanity into space. It's just absolutely nuts how much of better technology than it was. So, we're saying, What would it look like if we could take advantage of that, if we weren't restricted to a set of 130 pixels wide by 80 pixels tall that you get on a hand-held graphing calculator and instead have full color, and a processor that's 4000 times faster, so every single time that you type a letter it can graph it and you can see the connection between these different representations of mathematics?
It was in a lot of ways, actually, a technical experiment when we started it. We didn't know that there was going to be as much interest in it as there has been, but over the last eight years it's now grown to see, I think last year it was almost 50 million people who used Desmos somewhere around the world over the course of that year.

Jon Orr: I will tell you, I vividly remember when I was teaching stats, and I was in that high school classroom, and having the typical, I don't want to name names here, but the typical graphing calculator that people bought, the hand-held one, and how many times the night before a lesson I had to like go through the procedures to make sure that what I wanted to come out, lets say it was a regression, to go through this series of button presses. It made such little sense to me at the time, and also to my students. It was really tough. So, I know for me that was like mind blowing when I found out that you could do as much as you can do on the Desmos, online version, but it just seems like more and more features coming all the time. So, fantastic stuff.

Eli Luberoff: I appreciate that. Well, and it's one of the enormous benefits that we have is that we don't have to manufacturer our own hardware. We're able to build on top of the incredible open source world of code and the work that browser manufacturers have been doing. When we launched I don't even think Chrome was a thing yet, it could be that it had just come out. Then, how far the web has inaudible, so we get to stand on those shoulders. When it's a website we can. Every single day we update it. It's always, always, always constantly changing in a way that you can't do when the hardware they have to ship and people ship back if it doesn't work right. So, love getting credit for a lot of that progress, but a huge amount of it has been from other folks, and we just inaudible on their shoulders and benefit from their incredible work.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that's awesome. I want to dig a little bit more on that as we go here on how you guys are helping students, and teachers, and what that looks like, and how you're addressing accessibility, and equity, and access. So, we'll get into all of that, but before we do, Eli, we always ask one question. It's only the question that we ask all of our guests and it has to do with memorable moments from your past in the sense that usually we say math class what jolts in your brain as a memory that stands out for you? We talk to teachers, and other professionals in education, and they'll tell us a memory they had from elementary school, or high school, or college, or maybe even their workplace. When we say math class, Eli, what just comes right to mind as a memory that's standing out to you, and why is it standing out to you in such a way?

Eli Luberoff: Yeah, I've got two memories from elementary school on exact opposite sides of the spectrum. So, the first one I'm in first grade, and I remember this question just so vividly because I remember the just deep feeling of injustice in my heart with this one. The teacher gave us a rectangle and said divide this into four equal pieces and was expecting three vertical lines, or three horizontal lines, or may one vertical, one horizontal so you'd end up with four rectangles that are all the same size. What I did was I drew the two diagonals in, and I did that because I had a ruler and that was the only way I know that I would get it exactly correct, because I would have those two reference points on the opposite sides of the diagonals. She told me I was wrong. I got no credit on that one. It was a graded inaudible, and I was devastated.
I was devastated, and I remember coming back in and proving that it was actually that the areas of those two triangles were the same even though they looked like they were different, by drawing in the vertical and the horizontal lines and seeing that each of them was half of the same rectangle. Nevertheless, she said, "Yeah, but they're not the same shape and the thing I was asking for was same." It was one of these moments that just stood with me. It's so important to acknowledge student thinking, and creativity, where it happens. Marking something wrong when it's not wrong, or not acknowledging which parts of it are right, can be really damaging. This was 25 years ago and I still remember it so clearly.
The other story that I remember so vividly was my 5th grade teacher. This is the woman, Liliana Klass, who I'm actually still in touch with. She's on Twitter. She sometimes likes what I Tweet. I've featured her in a few of my talks just because she had such a deep impact on me. I remember a month-long assignment that we did. It was over the course of the month around finding the circumference of the earth using the same method that Eric inaudible used 2000 years ago, looking at the difference in the length of the shadow of a vertically hanging rod in two different parts of the world, and circumference comes from the fact that there's curvature between those two.
What I remember about this one is two things. The first was that she just let us go, like the amount of times that someone would come up to her and say, "What next? What do I do? What do I do?" She would just say, "I don't know. I have no idea. Try something," and over the course of a month. Then, I remember the moment that my table had the epiphany that it was the opposite interior angles was the way to figure out, to unlock the secret here. I'm sure that she was nudging us. I was not aware of it, but it just felt like we were the ones who did it, like we succeeded. It was one of the first memorable experiences of us being the producers of mathematics instead of receiving wisdom from other people. That was just incredibly, incredibly vivid to me, and continues to stand out.
I also remember when I went back and visited her, this was when I was in college, and she said she was retiring to go be a photographer in New York, and I said, "Why, I remember that project so vividly. This was such an impact on my life," and she said, "I'm not allowed to teach that project anymore, and that was actually the straw that broke the camel's back for me, because there isn't time for it because we have two days associated with high-stakes testing, and then the rest of the year spent preparing for that high-stakes testing. I'm not allowed to spend a month on a project anymore." So, I ended up doing a sad-story sandwich which wasn't my intention, but the middle of it, I remember so vividly that question and the effect that it had on me and feeling like I could be a producer of mathematics.

Jon Orr: I'm so happy that you've highlighted this. What I'm picturing in my mind is a true investigation, a true exploration and, obviously, that must have had this lasting impact that you're sharing, because now you've created a tool that essentially allows teachers to engage in that investigative approach to mathematics, essentially every single lesson, right? I think the sad part of that story with the testing and how high-stakes testing often times sort of restricts teachers from doing what maybe they know is the right thing to do in the classroom in order to follow protocol, or follow procedure. To me that's a really sad story, and I really hope that we continue to kind of work through that standardized test issue that seems to be really limiting, and hindering, so many teachers from doing great things in the classroom. So, I appreciate you sharing that story and, clearly, that's impacting the work you're doing now.
As we continue on here, we have another curiosity. I'm wondering, and I know a lot of teachers when I share the word Desmos they sort of look at you like, "Huh, what is that? Like, what is a Desmos? Where did that name come from?" Is there a origin story you could share with us to help maybe it'll make a connection for people to easily remember it next time?

Eli Luberoff: Yeah, so there are two different origin stories to this. One of them completely fabricated by my colleague, Dan. He's told it a few times, and I remember walking at the California Math Conference behind a pair of folks, and one of them was telling this story to the other one, and they come out of it and they're like, "Oh, yeah, that makes sense." It was absolutely wild to me, two people I'd never met telling a story that wasn't true about my company. The story that he likes to tell, and so feel free to troll anyone you want with this, is that it's an anagram of the name of my favorite math teacher, Ed Moss. He was an incredible teacher, and we know that that's not a true story because my favorite math teacher was Liliana Klass from 5th grade, from a second ago.
The true story is that originally Desmos was a tutoring software company. This is from that period where I was paying my way through college by tutoring. It was called Tutor Trove, and it was a horrible name for a company, and an especially bad name for a tutoring company. So, I decided that we needed a new name and I did a contest for all of my friends and family. I looked in my bank account and I had like $205 and so I said that whoever comes up with the best name for this company I'll take out for dinner with a budget of up to $205, and got hundreds and hundreds of responses, most of which were absolute garbage.
One of my friends had done one of those Wikipedia deep dives where he just kept clicking all the way through, and he ended up at an article on Desmology, which is the study of human ligaments, and found that it was based on this Greek word Desmos that means link, or connection, or bond, and it just seemed like a pretty good name for a company, and one that my dream was would be able to grow with us. I didn't want to be called a calculator because I knew even then that our aspirations were much bigger than just calculators. It was a good general purpose, sounds like it is spelled, sounds academic, and was available, so Desmos it was.

Kyle Pearce: Nice. I remember hearing you telling that story when I was last at the headquarters, and both stories, the fake story and the real story, but I'm always finding that interesting how you at such a, say an early stage could see the future of this company, I think changing math education. I think you guys are a leader in math education change, providing software, but also great models in education.
This brings up another memory for me that I remember saying to Mary inaudible, a fellow Canadian teacher out of Ottawa when we were both in San Francisco at your headquarters for a Desmos Fellow Weekend a couple years ago. I remember saying to her while we were watching you speak one afternoon there, It's amazing how you were a tutor but you don't have training in a teacher, or teaching in classroom experience, but I found it so amazing that without being a teacher you had such great ideas, almost like this great understanding of what makes good learning, and great learning techniques. I found that just to be amazing that you've got you who are learning how to become this great teacher, and at the same time doing this little thing like running a huge company.
So, I often wonder about that. What are you doing, Eli, to learn so much about being in the education space, as well as say running this software company. Maybe you see them as the same thing. I'm sure they are to you, that you are in educational leadership but also running kind of software at the same time. So, how are you managing like both of those things?

Eli Luberoff: Yeah. Well, I think I'm extraordinarily lucky by virtue of having founded Desmos that I'm now inside of our company surrounded by some of the most incredible thoughtful educators that you could ever hope to work with. We have more former teachers on our team than we have programmers on our team at this point, as a technology company. Even some of the programmers are former teachers themselves. So, I get to learn by osmosis from these just incredibly thoughtful people inside of the company. It's also you talk about the Desmos Fellows Event and the incredible math teacher community on Twitter and just all around the world every conference I go to.
It's one of these where it would be hard for me to not pick up some of these best practices, and ideas, just by virtue of the community that I get to spend my time with. It always just blows my mind when a CEO, or a leader at any level of a company, doesn't spend a whole bunch of time with the people that are benefiting from their work, because how can you possibly learn.
To me it's almost the other direction. I came into this with, I think, some very good ideas. I love mathematics and I've thought really hard about it and I was, I think, a good tutor back when I was a tutor. The truth is that a huge number of my ideas were very poorly formed, and I've gotten to learn over now eight years. I'm sure I'm going to look back at my ideas of today and think that they also were naïve in various ways.
I, for example, at the beginning thought that tutoring was the future. I read that one Bloom essay about how an hour of one-on-one time with a student results in two standard deviations of improvement more than curriculum interventions, more than basically anything else that they could find. Then, my take away was like, Yeah, absolutely, tutoring is the future. This is what we should do for every kid. It's taken me a fair bit of time to understand that tutoring is not actually the way that we achieve the goals we have at Desmos, which is supporting every single student, that that's public education. Not everyone has access to a tutor, that not all tutors are good at helping students form ideas. So much of learning comes from the social elements of a classroom that you just can't get with one-on-one time. I'll readily admit that I didn't enter this world with brilliant ideas about math education. It's been a process of learning, and there's still so much more to learn.

Jon Orr: Well, clearly you're a very reflective individual and I'm going to say that that must have a lot to do with the current success of Desmos and how you continue to do great things. I mean, hanging with Dan Meyer and folks that like to teach and think like Dan, as well, that's got to definitely up anybody's game, it doesn't matter who you are. So, that is fantastic. I think you bring up this amazing point that, How could you possibly serve that community without hearing the challenges, the struggles, that they're encountering in the classroom and really getting a good sense of how they're actually leading a day-to-day lesson. Obviously, you're paying close attention to that.
So, let's dive a little bit into this because it's interesting, we were just chatting with Dan Meyer recently, and that episode will be coming out just a couple weeks before this one so folks can go back and listen to that episode. You know, we were chatting about EdTech and how sometimes technology, and educational technology, is just this, sometimes it's so shiny and you just get captivated by the idea of it, and you often lose sight of whether it's actually going to help, or hinder, or just keep things the same, maybe just distract from the good work that you're already doing. So, how do you see EdTech enhancing learning, and where do you see EdTech maybe hindering learning in certain places?

Eli Luberoff: This is a fun question for me, and this is the question where I'm going to make some enemies I suspect, because my crosstalk is that I think the vast majority of EdTech is garbage. It's somewhere between useless and nebulous. I don't know if all the listeners on here are going to agree across the Board, but when I think about the ways that technology can be powerful, and helpful, and serve us, instead of us serving the technology I like to go back to some of the original thinkers, to folks like Seymour Papert where when he was describing the promise of computers he described it as a system for augmenting human thinking. That's been a big guide for us, is what are the ways in which the technology can act as an appendage and let you think more effectively and explore more quickly, and communicate more effectively, and robustly?
So much of technology, inside and outside of the education space is not focused on that, it's focused on monitoring behavior, and telling you that you're wrong without telling you why, or telling you that you're right without helping you then build on top of that thinking. So much of it is just not ambitious enough from my perspective in terms of this idea of augmenting human ... Intellect was the name of his paper.
When I boil it down, there's three things that to me feel just concretely useful about technology when it's done right. So, one of them is that technology can help us communicate much, much, much more effectively, hopefully. Inside of a classroom this is a little bit less important because we love the idea of a teacher walking around and engaging in conversations, standing by a student, or a group, and hearing, since so much happens in that kind of space.
We're feeling it right now especially acutely during something like COVID, but it's really, really hard to get that same kind of interaction, and sometimes technology can be helpful. So, you look at like our Teacher Dashboard where you can see the responses from all of the class, and you can start to see aggregated data, and you can implement the five practices for effective discussion by pulling out examples of different approaches that students might have taken to a problem. So, there's something around communication where done right technology can be really helpful. This is where we're communicating thinking as much as possible instead of a dashboard of checks and Xs that tells you, this student knows math and this student doesn't, when we know that's such an oversimplified D point.
The second one is that computers can be really, really powerful for simulation, and so this is when you want to connect two representations together. This is, I'm curious if I set these initial conditions what's going to happen. In industry this is so critical. Imagine that you want to know what the effects are of making the wings on a plane 10% wider. Are you going to build another plane, fly it, and six months later know the answer, or can you run this through a computer and have it do a lot of that work for you? We see this in a lot of our work where instead of telling you, This is going to work, or this isn't going to work, we can show you the exact effects of setting initial conditions in a problem, or sketching a trajectory of a person versus time. So, that's the second one.
Then, a third one, which is related, is when technology lets you just explore a space of ideas much more efficiently. When you're just starting to graph, for example, you shouldn't be typing that into a computer. We want to make sure that you know that it's not magic, and you're learning about what coordinates are, and where the points go. You have a function, you turn it into a table, and then you plot those, and then you connect them. At some point you would love to be able to say, Okay, I get that, I know how to do that, now I'm going to type an equation and a millisecond later I can see the graph of that equation, and I'm going to change it and a millisecond later I can see that change. Now I'm going to make this parameter adjustable.
The process of exploration, it doesn't just take it from taking a day to taking a minute, it lets you explore spaces that you couldn't have otherwise. There's epiphanies that you're able to have when you're able to explore that much more rapidly, that you just couldn't have. So, those are the three that get me really excited. It's the communication, the simulation, and the connected representations and then, finally, this idea of being able to explore much, much more efficiently and rapidly. Any tech that satisfies some of those needs I get very excited about, any that are about monitoring, or surveillance, or grading, those bum me out a little bit and, unfortunately, that's most of EdTech.

Kyle Pearce: I'm glad you brought these up because, like you said, there's so much EdTech out there of kids just trying to game the system and, If I put in this number here did I get it right? Did I get it right? Did I get it right? So much of that EdTech hinders learning in the sense that it's all about just trying to see if I can get a credit, or a score, here on this program before actually understanding what I'm doing. I really appreciate it that you guys have that exploratory option in your software in the activities that you built, those three guiding ideas that computers can help with, because I think that allows good teaching to happen. I think that you guys are doing a really good job at that.
Those lessons that you have created, or allowed teachers to create, it's I'm not just going to tell you if you're right or wrong. Another example is you're multiple choice option is that so many tech companies would just build a multiple choice question and then have it auto check, but you guys have made the conscious choice of saying, You know what, we're not going to auto check this. We're going to let the teacher decide if this is right or wrong, and we're also going to make the kid put in a why you chose this option, instead of just which option did you pick. I really thought that that was thoughtful, and it helps us teachers do good teaching in the classroom.
So, so many good things that you've just outlined on what helps education, and also outlined those things on what's hindering education with some of the bad examples of EdTech. I think, Eli, we're going to title this episode as what you just said there that the vast majority of EdTech is garbage. That sounds like a good title.

Eli Luberoff: crosstalk

Kyle Pearce: ... like it a lot. Your software is not only like teacher friendly in a sense it allows us to make good teaching moves in the classroom with your conversation tools, the way you guys have built this, but it's super easy to use. I think that has been one of the game changers for your software versus so many other EdTech softwares out there, is that it's just ... There's no clunkiness to anything and that is so important, I think, for teachers to use because the last thing a teacher wants in front of students is to look foolish. So, it sounds like you guys, or it feels like you guys, have put a lot of thought into that, because of that, and because of the aligning with great teaching practices. Is there anything else that you guys are using for guiding principles when you're designing specifically the software that you guys are building?

Eli Luberoff: Yeah. We've got a few guiding principles that I can share for sure. A quick note on Desmos being very usable. This is deeply, deeply important to us, and not just because of what you mentioned where teachers are faced with what is a decision every seven seconds, like anything we can do to reduce that burden. Also, this deeply held kind of belief and sadness that technology and education doesn't hold itself often to the same bar that you have with other technology. So, SnapChat, and Facebook, and Twitter, and YouTube, and Netflix they work so hard to make a really seamless user experience, and then you get into education and it doesn't look, or feel, like that.
I remember feeling that about, Why are we still using a handheld calculator from 30 years ago when phones have become so much more usable, and it's still this you need a 400 page manual to use one of those tools. That's just a sadness where we tend to not hold the same bar in EdTech as we do for other tech, which makes me furious. The honest, true reason why Desmos is really usable is because I am a very bad user of technology and I get made fun of for this all the time.
I'm the one who 50 years prematurely is saying, Get off my lawn when it comes to tech. I can't download Apps onto my phone very effectively. I like paper books over Kindle. The team like never believes me. I can't set up my computer to talk to my printer. What is Bluetooth? I'm a quite bad user of technology, which is why like almost all of the teachers that we work with, the teachers on our team, have to teach me about how to use tools as opposed to the other way around. So, it's meant that we've had to make a tool that is easy enough to use that even I enjoy using it, which I know it sounds crazy but is pretty high bar, so just a kind of side note on that front.
In terms of the values that guide our work. Actually, updating these but there are five that guide us. So, the first one is, Do No Harm, which we're planning to upgrade because that's a little bit too passive in our mind in these times of, especially now, but I think always, that just avoiding harm is not sufficient to be on the right side of systematic change, but that's our first one. Our second one is, Trust Teachers, which we're also planning to change for, actually, a similar reason, which is that that lets us off the hook. It's, again, a little bit too passive and we want to change that one to something that is more collaborative and kind of active voice in terms of our responsibility of helping making classrooms what we think that they should be.
The other three we're going to keep, I think, as they are. The third one is, Design For Real Classrooms. This one has a number of different pieces to it. So, one of them is our deeply held belief that classrooms are actually a great structure for learning, and that this idea of being in a room with peers, and with an expert who can help guide a discussion, and the peers aren't all studying at exactly the same preparation as each other, that that's actually really great to have heterogeneous classroom led by a strong teacher.
So, that's one and that's one that's kind of controversial in Silicon Valley. There's a lot of folks who are saying, "No, a classroom should be 10,000 people watching a video lecture at the same time." That's not how we feel about it. We love classrooms, we love classrooms. So, Design For Real Classrooms, but also design for the real constraints that classrooms face. So, this is, math class periods are really short. They're also different from place to place. So, having this assumption that you're going to have an hour and a half when you don't is important. Classrooms often don't have reliable technology. The internet cuts out, the devices are bad. We put a lot of work into making sure our file size is very, very small, and our software is reliable even in those conditions, and that it can work on lower-powered devices like Chromebooks, which we love by the way. So, Design For Real Classrooms is the third.
The fourth one is, Design For Delight, and this gets back to that same point that often education software is pretty utilitarian. It's got to do its job, and it doesn't matter if it's fun to use, and it doesn't matter if it's easy to use, and it doesn't matter if it's beautiful. We try to, where we can, introduce delight to say that learning is delightful and the technology that matches it should be delightful as well.
Our fifth one is, Works Every Time. This one is a little bit of a counter to some of the technology ethos of, Move Fast and Break Things was, famously, Facebook's mantra for a long time, in that when you break things in a math classroom you're breaking learning inaudible often, and if you've got something that goes wrong just 1% of the time in an App that means that one out of every three classrooms is going to be affected by it, and derailed, and learning won't happen. So, we want to hold ourselves to a higher bar than a consumer product of just working, just working every single time.
That also plays into a little bit of our theory that technology should be really kind of understanding of what you type, and so this is one where inside of our tool works every time translates to, if you write an equation we're going to try to understand it as best as we can. We're going to try to avoid throwing errors. We're going to not be really strict about, Man, you added a space here, or you didn't type Y= before writing the sign of X. There's a whole bunch that we think is the responsibility of the classroom to enforce norms, and here's exactly how we want to write. Things in the responsibility of the technology is to just work. We want it to just work without question. So, those are our five guiding company values.

Jon Orr: I love those. Those five are actually, I'm looking at them and I see them as being really helpful really for anyone. I'm picturing myself in a PD role right now where I'm doing a lot of workshops. If I followed those five principles I think I would be making sure, and if I could check off all five of those things for my next workshop, or my next session, or PLC with teachers, I feel like I would be well on my way to a really worthwhile experience.
So, I like those. I love how you're going to be a little less passive on those first two. I thought they were great as is, but I like how you're always striving for more, so that's great. So, we have Do No Harm, Trust Teachers, Design For Real Classrooms, Design For Delight, and It Works Every Time. I love all five of those.
Something I'm also hearing in this conversation. We know this about Desmos. We know this about you and the team at Desmos that right now there's some pretty devastating things going on in the world. For some people up to about a week ago it was COVID-19, but then also our attention has been drawn to a problem that has been around for decades, centuries. It's this idea, we all know about the killing of George Floyd, and the protests going on right now. We know that Desmos is making huge strides in the field in the area of accessibility and equity. I'm wondering, can you speak to that at all? I know this particular instance, the George Floyd situation has really hit home for you. We heard that at the beginning of the episode. I just want to open that floor up. I want to give you an opportunity to speak your thoughts on that. How's Desmos trying to help address access and, in particular, equity issues?

Eli Luberoff: Yeah, really, really grateful for that question. One of the things that I've learned over even just the last week is that entering into spaces and not bringing up these topics of violence against black people, and violence against brown people, when this is something that is so just on top of people's mind, is itself making the space quite uncomfortable for those folks. So, I'm really grateful that you bring that up. It's something that we've been learning quite a bit about. If I had to describe my evolution I think initially this idea of make every student, help every single student, learn math and love learning math is our company mantra. Originally I thought that the way to do that was to make sure that every student had access to it. So, we make our software free, and we make it so that it works on every device including low-powered devices, and we make it usable, and we just kind of put it out there for everyone to use, and that's enough.
What I'm learning is that that is too passive, that we can't actually achieve equity, and we can't build a society that we want, if we're just like putting it on a platter and saying, "Hey, come and get it," to everyone because different people have such different access, such different opportunity, and such different life experiences. We're seeing this with the COVID crisis in an enormous way, that it's disproportionally affecting black and brown communities. The disproportionate leave the missing learning that we're going to see this coming year is impacting those same communities, that not everyone has a computer at home, and not everyone has connectivity at home. This is the result of just, as you said, years, decades, centuries, of kind of systemic inequity and oppression. The only way that we can fight that is by trying to be proactive in the other direction. You can't just be not racist, you have to be anti-racist if you want to get to the kind of society that you want.
So, we're early in this work. We've been putting a lot of effort in the curriculum that we've been building making sure that we're recognizing identity, and we're recognizing that unless students see themselves and see themselves reflected in the mathematicians that we highlight, and in the math that we are showing, it's going to continue to be a space that is more welcoming to some and kind of naturally continuing just the cycle of saying, "This is not a space for you. This is not a subject for you," that we really want to inaudible. Lastly, we're just trying to learn from the folks who have been so, so thoughtful in this space for years in working with organizations, nonprofits, reading the work of Rochelle Gutierrez, and others just to make sure that we're kind of continually on the forefront of how to be anti-racist in our work.

Jon Orr: I'm glad you said that. I find it so interesting, like the way you have said that it's not enough to just say our software is here for free, come get it, that passivity-ness. I feel like that's like the same approach as an educator. If I'm in the classroom and I'm saying, "I treat everyone the same, therefore I'm not a racist," or "I'm not part of this issue," and just putting your head in the sand. I think that passivity it's around us so much that if I just say I'm not part of it is not good enough, it's not doing the opposite, like you said, is that it's not good enough to just say, "I'm not racist." I have to be anti-racist. As educators, we have to not say, "We're treating everyone the same." We have to actually say, the opposite, We're treating everyone as they need to be treated, or we're treating everyone as we're going to help them get what they need to get. I like how you pointed out Gutierrez's work about identity and seeing themselves as a student of mathematics, of learning mathematics. I think that's so important.
Kyle and I have also been learning alongside some great educators that have been sharing their work, like inaudible has been doing some really good work. She had a session in our virtual summit last year that was really great. We are on that journey, too. I think that, you said it, It's not good enough to just say, or avoid, that conversation, like I'm glad that we brought that up here in this conversation because it's happening right now at the time of this recording, and it happened before all this, too.
Getting ready to wrap up here, Eli, because we're conscious of your time. I'm so thankful for you and this conversation and glad that you were here and, hopefully, we can spread the good word of Desmos and all the great things you guys are doing. Before we wrap up, is there anywhere that you'd recommend people to go read more about any topic that you're interested in, or learn more about Desmos?

Eli Luberoff: Yeah. I would say, just go to our homepage, open it up, use it if you've never used it before. Let us know what works and what doesn't, this is how we get better. There's a couple resources that we've been working on, so there's a Learn.Desmos.com website that will walk you through some of the different features that we have. Mostly, I would just recommend to folks to become part of the community. We've got a Facebook educators group. We're really active on Twitter. I've got my distaste of each of those platforms for reasons that won't come as a surprise to people who've listened this last hour but, nevertheless, I think community and communication is important. The math community is one of the most remarkable that I've ever been a part of just in terms of how open, and welcoming, and sharing, and giving of time and expertise it has been. Of course, every community can always improve but this is one that I'm especially proud to be a part of.

Jon Orr: Well, that's awesome there, Eli. We so appreciate your coming out and definitely those links you've shared, Desmos.com, the main page is great but I'm telling you if you are in the classroom right now and you have not been to Teacher.Desmos.com, dive into any activity that's up there as a featured activity right now. Just give it a go and I promise you will not regret it.
So, thanks so much for all the work you do, Eli, with you and your team. We appreciate you. The math community appreciates you, and we hope you have an awesome day, and we get to catch up with you sometime soon at one of these, what do they call them face-to-face conferences, one day soon hopefully?

Kyle Pearce: What a novel idea.

Eli Luberoff: Okay, thank you both.

Jon Orr: Have a great one. We'll talk to you soon.

Eli Luberoff: Take care.

Kyle Pearce: We want to thank Eli again for spending some of his time with us to share his ideas, and insights, with us, and with you, the Math Moment Maker community. Before you head off we just want to remind you one more time about registering for our new course, The Concept Holding Your Students Back, unlocking key understandings in proportional relationships to reach every student. In this 9-module comprehensive PD course we'll not only unfold the fundamental concepts for teaching proportional reasoning so you could close gaps with your students, we'll also show you, and give you, the lessons and resources to use in your classroom to make it all happen.

Jon Orr: If you're interested in learning more about this fully online, self-paced course be sure to check out MakeMathMoments.com/proportions. Now, if you're listening after registration closes, again that's September 25, 2020, you can still head over to MakeMathMoments.com/proportions and join the waiting list so that you get a heads up well in advance of our next cohort, which will be in the fall of 2021.

Kyle Pearce: In order to make sure you don't miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or your favorite podcast platform.

Jon Orr: Also, if you're liking what you're hearing please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach an even wider audience by leaving us a review on Apple Podcast, and Tweeting us at MakeMathMoments on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.

Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources, and also full transcripts from this episode, can be found at MakeMathMoments.com/episode95. Again, that's MakeMathMoments.com/episode95. All right, my friends. Well, until next time I'm Kyle Pearce-

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us, and a big high five for you.

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