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edu180atl: john burk 8.5.11

For the past two days, I have attended a professional development workshop led by Dan Meyer, a math teacher with a problem. Dan’s problem is that he loves math, but his students, like most students, do not.

You can understand this when you take a look at how many of our students see the story of math. Take a look at the problem above.

This math problem has a good shot simultaneously winning world’s most boring and traumatizing story.

Dan’s ideas for flipping math on its head come from looking at good stories and distilling their essential three acts.

How do you do that with a math problem? Simple—put the problem first, wordlessly. When students feel the problem in the gut, set them loose to seek out the information and tools they need to solve it. And finally, don’t wrap things up by checking the answer in the back of the book—give them a real world payoff that shows the math works. Blow up the Death Star. Here’s Dan’s hook for the problem above:

Working with Dan the past two days, I’ve learned that we can transform the story of math to make it every bit as gripping as the latest summer blockbuster. What would happen if we brough technique to the rest of education?

John Burk (@occam98) is a physics teacher at Westminster schools with a passion for discovering new things, particularly regarding his 9 month old daughter. He blogs at Quantum Progress.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. John, Thanks for the amazing summary of the time with Dan Meyer. I agree, he is inspiring. As a biology teacher, I’d love to bring Dan’s model to my classes. I am confident students would respond, engage, and learning would be profound. One of the things that I enjoyed most about Dan’s workshop (and about teaching in general), is that it was so interactive: every teacher in the room was dependent on the other teachers in the room for a more complete learning experience. I am always amazed and energized when I get to be around other teachers and we all have protected time to work together to strengthen our skills and expand our toolbox. I would love to see Atlanta educators take up your challenge to bring Dan’s model to our whole schools – not just the math classes. If there any any biology teachers out there who want to collaborate, let me know. I’m in!

    August 5, 2011
  2. I’m a huge follower of Mr. Meyer and his “be less helpful” mantra. His work and the work of one of my former college calculus professors changed my entire approach to teaching mathematics.

    I hope to meet Dan one day so I can personally tell him what his work means to our profession.

    August 6, 2011
  3. Stephen G Kennedy #

    John, what a great piece of writing. I had to miss Dan’s talk, but some Trinity teachers went and I’m eager to hear what they thought.
    Dynamic, personal engagement between teacher and student has to be what makes learning click, jump, and electrify school for kids, no matter what the age or subject area or skill or time of day.
    There is no reason why every teacher cannot be a Dan Meyer — and every student a Jedi warrior or a Batman of math or a — well, you get the idea.
    Thanks for good stuff! Stephen Kennedy

    August 6, 2011
  4. Thanks John! Just a few days ago I was watching North by Northwest, and a thought occurred to me. The cynic could be well justified in saying that certain essential skills may have atrophied over the last decade or two, or three. But one skill that I consider to be sharpened on a yearly basis is that of story telling. Movies like Memento make Hitchcock’s classic, still one of my favorites, look like a children’s’ story. So your question is spot on. What would be the effect if we spent time brushing our instruction with technique rather than percentages?

    August 8, 2011

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