Last school year I discovered Dan Meyer’s blog while completing one of my assignments for the T3 grant. If I remember correctly, I think the assignment directed me to a post on the blog about the value (or lack thereof) of homework. I found myself in agreement with most of what was included in the post and then discovered a great discussion about the issue in the comment section for the post. I had become so used to the often ignorant comments that follow local news articles on newspaper websites. It was refreshing to see the comments used in such a productive way and reminded me that this was even a possibility. I read other entries on Dan Meyer’s blog and continued to enjoy what I found. The blog became the first education blog that I checked in my Google Reader each day.
Since last year, I had fallen off in following Dan Meyer’s blog. Laura helped me reconnect with Dan though in our conversation about my learning contract last week. She also directed me to a webcast that he presented on 10/1/09 entitled “How to Save Math Education.” The presentation began with Dan discussing current students’ impatience with irresolution, in part because of the amount of television an average student watches. They struggle with any problem that does not allow them to use processes they have already learned and provides a clear correct answer. I am confident that this is an observation that most math teachers have made in their classroom, although I am not sure my classes had any more patience with irresolution when I myself was a student. I am not sure I truly developed that patience until all of the engineering courses I took in college, although there were probably points where my patience grew slightly in middle school and high school.
In his presentation, Dan also points out that too often teachers and textbooks feed this impatience with irresolution. Even when we provide students with problems with a real-world context, we give them the problem with the math framework already given in the problem. We do not allow them to actually think through how to solve the problem. Sometimes we even give them the equation that goes along with this supposed real-world problem. All they have to do is plug in some numbers without even having to understand what the problem is asking and how to slowly apply the math framework to the problem themselves. When we are modeling how to solve a problem, we should also be modeling this process of taking a problem with no math framework given and slowly laying down the framework on the problem as the students think through the problem. In the example problem Dan provides, he initially shows a picture of a blurred tennis ball falling. Initially, you don’t even know it’s a math problem. That’s a good thing.
One great thing about the presentation for me personally is that most of the example problems Dan provides fit perfectly into my curriculum for 8th grade math. He’s providing me with the training wheels that I desperately need to start to change the way I teach. When those training wheels come off, I am going to come crashing down to the pavement. There will be scrapes and bruises, but in the end it will be worth it.