Power in Numbers post II

Posted on October 28, 2017


(Yes.   My nickname for a while in college was “Verbose.”  I”m grateful for the kinds of friends who find gentle ways of teaching basic social skills :-))

Second question in our webinar with Dan Meyer for the Power In Numbers project:   How do we conceptualize math and ground math in real life and things that matter? (OK my notes say “ground them”   but I”m pretty sure it was concepts, not learners).

Dan Meyer said something about wishing he could hear from people who talk past him and asked whether the “when will we use this in our lives” was a huge a deal for our credential-seeking adults as it was for his highschoolers. (YEs, Dan, you asking questions like this matters.)   He went on to explain the kinds of “3 act” lessons where we start with a big situation like “hey, I want to pave a deck here…. ” when it’s not a “word problem, ” but is a “real world” problem so we start with a big ol’ picture of the yard and stuff. Dan Meyer didn’t talk a lot about his “3 act” model  but suggested we Google it:    this link is probably a good dive into it.  One of Dan’s blogs about it is here.

HE pointed out that textbooks take a “real life” scenario and … have one trivial part of that serve as the vehicle for making a math problem where you plug things in, and that he tries to involve richer things:   “Here is my backyard.  What do you wonder about this?”

I don’t remember if he used the word “notice” in there, too, but “notice and wonder” is a big part of getting students into thinking about situations instead of looking for THE ANSWER.

Next question!    From Minnesota, where ABE folks have to be licensed teachers…. but might not have taken math since high school.  (Oh, dear.)   SHe asks:how to navigate “three acts” if they don’t have the background and… four hours to do one math problem would make teachers cry b/c they have a grand total of 70 hours.

Dan asks what the PD options are…   she replies that they have lots of options but most places wont:  what can they do with a little bit of time.

Dan:   he notes secondary teachers are in similar boat and that … there’s really no shortcut around content.   He suggests things like instead of “teaching slope,” to show four lines and talk about “tiltiest.”

Me:   this is the second time he’s hinted at the importance of connecting our “natural language” to the mathematical language, which I have noted is *somewhere* inside just about every “we need to teach this differently” description including Jo Boaler and Robert MOses and David Berg (the latter two include it explicitly in their descriptions).

Then, when they’ve talked about it in natural language, show how that’s done in mathematical language.   He notes it’s not easy but it’s a different struggle and that these approaches take minutes, not hours 🙂


Connie asks about numberless word problems and says  a person she works wiht thinks they are too abstract then.   Dan asks about taking tech to delete things from problems (like blacking out parts of the text of a problem) and asking more interesting questions and whether that is making it more abstract.  He noted that our abstractions are isolating what we think is important; a “map” represents stuff about the world that is important to the map maker/ reader.

He says he deletes just enough stuff and asks “what do you think is about” and that there is a “sweet spot” about what to delete.

(My note there:   this assumes there’s a common caring about the topic and what it is about.)

Connie asks for tings that adult ed teachers will be comfortable with — small manageable steps.   Yes, she wants to go for it all but … Dan suggested finding a place to use deleting and get the teachers  to get students asking questions and asking “who thought that question was interesting?”  and do other pretty simple strategies that get students less terrified of being “wrong.”

Getting students to predict answers was something he noted teachers were comfortable with and that asking for things like ‘what’s an answer that’s too big?”  is *really* helpful for the student who just knows they’re going to be wrong anyway.   Also, asking about “what is necessary info here?”  before giving the numbers…

Next question:  next blog post ’cause I want it in a first paragraph.

Posted in: power in numbers