September 2 Day 908: Zooming Around the World

I gave a math talk today online.

In Peru.

Three years ago, something like this would have been unimaginable. Now, after teaching online through COVID, it seems like a natural next step to share mathematical joy beyond our borders.

It felt novel. I haven’t ‘taught’ online for months and months. So I fretted over everything:

  • Would the Desmos activity work for participants in South America?
  • Was there a limit to the number of participants that could be active in Desmos?
  • How would translation work? Was it even needed?

Of course, I overprepared to be ready for any eventuality.

The quick answers: Yes, Desmos worked but not that many people in Peru were familiar with it so active participation was lower than I would have liked. Consequently, I did not need to worry about overloading the system—I have yet to reach a limit on the number of participants. According to the documentation online, the number of participants should be unlimited but the teacher dashboard might slow down. (This is different from Google Docs that limits active users to 100 people.) Translation was sequential rather than simultaneous— first I spoke and then Samuel José Rojas Marticorena translated my ideas. I got better at understanding when it was my turn to talk but next time (and there will be a next time), we might plan for a nonverbal signal to make the transition between speakers smoother. Sequential translation takes more time, so I did not get to explore all the materials I prepared. Thank goodness I planned for the possibility of skipping around the slides with a navigation bar:

Did you know you can Insert > Pictures > Stock Images > Cartoon People in PowerPoint?

These 12 squares appeared in the top right corner of every PowerPoint slide (I added them to the background of the master slide so I only did the work once.) Clicking on a square takes you to a slide in the deck represented by the icon. Which square do you think will take you to Desmos worksheet information? Math exploration? Puzzle? Definition of the Fibonacci Numbers? Strong Law of Small Numbers? Reflection? Magic trick? Summation identity? The end? The beauty of it all, no one knew how many slides I skipped to stay within the allotted timeframe.

What amazed me most was the number of participants on a Friday evening (6 pm in the Lima time zone). They were patient and appreciative. They invited me to “return” again soon because, in the words of one participant, “This was like candy. We want more.”

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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