Fixing our "impatience with irresolution": why math teachers should "be less helpful"

Via Jennifer Ouellette, a wonderful TED talk by Dan Meyer, high school math teacher, which is about so much more than math or education. It's about how we think about problems in the real world, how we handle ambiguity, and the problem with impatient problem-solving: "what we're doing here is taking a compelling question, a compelling answer, but paving a smooth, straight path from one to another, and congratulating our students for how they step over the cracks along the way".

In his words, Meyer "sells a product to a market that doesn't want it, but is forced by law to buy it." So he's developed some creative ways to get students to care - or at least to understand. He's absolutely right about the importance of putting students on an equal playing field, and many other things. After watching his talk, though, I fear that he may be preaching to the choir - and perhaps one of the reasons textbooks are so cookbooky is because many teachers aren't comfortable going from the compelling problem to the compelling answer without a guide. As he says, sources of error are scary. Check out Meyer's blog for more discussion of the challenges of teaching analytical reasoning.

More like this

This is a really cool lecture. The style suggested is engaging and takes theory to the real world and then attempts to explain the discrepancies. Kids who can get a teacher like this are fantastically lucky.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

This is wonderful teaching, exactly what I do when I can (I teach a variety of high school sciences). However, I wonder how many others like me are handcuffed to "common assessment" and common curriculum with other members in their department that are unwilling to force kids to the edge--that are only willing to "teach the book"? (Oh, and as a science instructor who is certified to teach math, too, I am also in a continuous battle with the math department to use more real world application problem solving --and don't even ask about the unwillingness to embrace fractions)