After my talks last week on the topic Innovative Schools, Innovative Students, Karl Fisch suggested to me to Dan Meyer’s talk, and I thank Karl for that.   Dan’s terrific talk has a great resonance with my argument that if we are to teach our students to become innovators, we must move them away from simplicity and formulas and most of all from absolute answers,  against actually.   We must become more comfortable with discomfort, with lack of clarity, with a lack of simple or certain solutions.

Dan says early in his talk that this is an amazing time to be a math teacher, and this is certainly one of my larger arguments in parallel: this is an amazing time to be an educator.

Dan fears that our educational system is inculcating in our students exactly the wrong traits for their future success, and I would extend, exactly the wrong ones to prepare them to be innovators.

  • Lack of initiative
  • Lack of perseverance
  • Lack of retention
  • Aversion of word problems (99% of students)
  • Eagerness of formula.

He quotes Milch to argue that our biggest problem is that students and society has an impatience with irresolution; they seek simple solutions and quick outcomes and certainty.

Our textbooks teach math computation and reasoning in the same way as a sitcom: find the single, solution, quickly.  This isn’t real life.   I believe in real-life: What problem did you find worth solving that where you knew all the given information in advance, or where you had a surplus of information you had to filter out– why would this be a problem worth solving.

Dan does a great job of explaining how we should rewrite typical math problems to make them more meaningful by stripping them of the rote steps, taking out some of the information to leave that for students to seek and to using multimedia to bring the world into the classroom and engage kids.

His 5 tips:

  • Use Multimedia.
  • Encourage Student Intuition.
  • Ask the Shortest Question You can.
  • Let Students Build the Problem.
  • Be less helpful.  The textbook is helping you in all the wrong ways

“We need more, patient, problem-solvers.”

One of our teachers in Chemistry is now doing  “open-computer testing,” and I think it exemplifies what Dan is calling for exactly.   The questions are complicated and extended, and can not be solved formulaically.   Instead, students are welcome to go out onto the net and seek information to bring to bear on their complex problems.

I share with Dan a passion is that we educate our students to be innovative problem-solvers, something that I fear our education system far too often fails to accomplish.  Let’s move toward a great disequilibrium, a greater embrace of uncertainty and exploration.