Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Edublogger: Dan Meyer

I am a fan of Dan Meyer, ever since I saw his TED talk. His opening is pretty dismal: "I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn't want it, but is forced by law to buy it. It's a losing proposition." It's good for a laugh, and we come away convinced that he nevertheless remains enthusiastic about changing that. Inquiry followed by learning to formulate problems seems so much more engaging than working through the "paint by numbers" approach in textbooks.

Dan is now working on his PhD in education from Stanford. He blogged recently about how we use abstractions in texts, and it triggered lots of connections with EDUC 402. He is a fan of S.I. Hayakawa, and references his book chapter How We Know What We Know. I like the ladder metaphor, illustrated with his example of Bessie the cow. We often get stuck at a particular rung of the ladder, far from where the student may be. Reminds me of Magritte's pipe that is not a pipe. I think we need to explicitly point out to students that math at the symbolic level is a very high level of abstraction. After the inquiry, and their problem is formulated, they need to understand they are looking at the concrete lower rungs. Now they just need to figure out how to climb the ladder.


  1. I'm a fan of Meyer's, too -- his thoughts about true student engagement supercede math!

  2. Often I feel like math and history teachers might have the toughest time trying to "sell" our material. Students seem just to have an aversion to these types of "dry" subjects. I am similarly inspired to change this view, and to try and make it the most exciting it can possibly be in my classroom while still relaying the necessary content information. We certainly have our work cut out for us.

  3. I like that you mentioned Magritte's pipe.

    I think that this concept definitely applies to the critical thinking we want our students to be able to experience and master, in their approaches to any text, including math. I think this particular skill will require us to think outside of the "paint by numbers" box...I would have loved this in some of my math classes growing up (though I do have to say that my high school calculus teacher gave us what we needed to know...he was a wonderful exception to the "paint by numbers" classes/teachers/textbooks).

  4. What sold me on my high school Algebra II teacher was how much he loved what he taught. His eyes lit up. He had a Daily Math calendar, with a few problems he did every day. He drew flawless circles (no, really; he was famous for it at my school). He never treated it like "just a job," or even acknowledged that this wouldn't be something enjoyable for anyone. His enthusiasm was contagious. I had a 98% in that class, not because he was an easy teacher or because I had any aptitude for math (neither are truth), but because how much he loved it made us care.

    Tine said that math and history have it the hardest; I imagine all teachers feel that way, honestly. Get into a room and tell kids they're going to be reading Shakespeare. Watch their faces pale and their eyes go dead. They're already disinterested; why commiserate? It's the sharpness and joy you bring to it that lights them up. After all, if it doesn't seem like we give a fig, why should they?