Whatever I’m Getting Wrong

Ken wonders if I’m up to my usual School 2.0 provocation with that lesson plan back there, during which I asked the tech wizards for their help.

Conflict for conflict’s sake is a tiring endeavor …. I’m serious on this one: what do you mean by ‘making this better’?

I dunno. Whatever School 2.0 thinks I’m getting wrong.

None of it targets me, I realize, but lecture (by which I mean a teacher leading a classroom, not a teacher talking at a classroom) has become this ‘net-wide punching bag.

The implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion in all that pugilism is that anything we’ve been doing (such as lecture) can be done just as well with networks, project-based learning, 21st-century tools, etc.

With as much openmindedness as a cocky kid like myself can muster, I’m wondering how this lesson could be spruced up to meet School 2.0’s approval.

That’s a pretty honest summary of my intentions here. Nothing confrontational.

Complete honesty, though, would demand this note: if this lesson plan doesn’t offend the School 2.0 sensibility too much then could we please leave a little room at the party for lecture.

Not just because I like it but because it’s an essential part (and I mean it’s an essential part) of carrying kids who don’t know math (and I mean don’t know math) to that place where they do.


Chris comes through, delivers a suggestion for making that lesson School 2.0 compliant.

Sure, you could have worked in presentation skills such that, after the kids were done, they created some kind of public presentation of their findings… in fact, why not still do that? See if one of the kids can get a Gaming Commission rep to do a conference call with the class (use Skype — it’s got 2.0 street cred.)

Have the kids make a Google Preso of their findings or something so that the Gaming Commissioner can follow along, and then have the kids present it to that official for review and commentary.

That’ll give their hard work context and meaning by placing it back into the larger world.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.


  1. Here’s where I think you make an assumption about most teachers:
    “lecture (by which I mean a teacher leading a classroom, not a teacher talking at a classroom) has become this ‘net-wide punching bag.”
    I think most of us would remember the majority of our experiences with lectures as being talked at rather than being led. That’s why it has become a punching bag. When we think of lecture we think of disengaged students.
    Lecture, done well, can certainly be worthwhile and has an important place in our classrooms. Sadly, all too often, it’s done poorly.

  2. I have no suggestions on the lesson specifically, but I wanted to cast a vote for the “pro-lecture” party.

    Yes, lectures can be delivered well or poorly … like everything else in education. That doesn’t mean get rid of them, it means learn to do them well.

    Lectures can be an effective way to transfer necessary information and set students up for acquiring and applying skills (which is where more of the “2.0” stuff can come in).

    Yes, there are ways to enable students to gain the same information on their own. However, as with anything, teachers have to consider what they’re after: effective research or reading or synthesis skills? Then a more “2.0” approach is appropriate. But there are times when that approach is a waste of time when your objectives lie elsewhere. (We should never do anything without a clear alignment between objectives and approaches.)

    And not for nothing, but lectures will be the standard method of delivery in college, and the corporate world has its own version called “the presentation.” That in itself is not a justification, but we also do them a disservice if we never teach them how to get the most out of the lecture/presentation format.

    So keep lecturing when it’s appropriate, just do it well and teach students how to successfully decode and apply it (which it sounds like you’re doing).

  3. I’m not very 2.0. Actually, after I started reading your blog back when, I finally went and looked it up, just to see if there was some big new thing out there that I had no idea about. Imagine my disappointment to find that it just meant, you know, using all this stuff more, ’cause it’s great.

    At my old job they loved to talk about “monetizing” various aspects of their web presence. I loved that term for its foolishness. Uhhhh, isn’t that the point of all business, at least when we rephrase it as “making money” or “how can we make money from this stuff we have?”

    Good is good and bad is bad. A great teacher can teach a good class with a potato, a lawnmower blade and some pushpins. A bad teacher can be given a script, lots of practice, a fully outlined what to do if… list and STILL be wretched.

    Lecture, particularly when it’s something that the lecturees don’t know? It’s necessary. It’s not the be all and end all, but I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve seen that do a whole unit of inquiry and discovery and have not a clue about the basic facts of what they were studying. In some cases they’ve actually cemented their own misconceptions and increased those of their groupmates! They can sometimes muddle through the assessment, particularly if it’s short-answer and the teacher has reviewed a lot. But if you push the tiniest bit on their knowledge or ask them to explain it in their own words? It’s not there.

  4. There’s always been ‘room at the party for lecture’.

    If anything, the party needs to free up some space for web2.0 people.

    The web2.0 crowd may be intrusive, but we’re engaging in a dialog right in their backyard.

    It’s quite a conundrum you got going here: An effective teacher recognizing that teacher-led instruction works trying to use the blog platform as the place to promote good ole’ fashioned instructional practice.

    I’ve felt your pain.

    Oh, and for the Jenny’s out there, lecture doesn’t mean disengaged students. This current model of learners comes well-equipped with a functional set of ears.

  5. Right, and Jenny all I’m saying is that while people will differentiate good lecture from bad lecture in personal one-on-one conversations like these, from their blogs and bully pulpits, it’s become a lazy shorthand for everything that’s wrong with schools today. Which is lazy rhetoric that wouldn’t rub me so wrong if we were talking about a disposable part of my practice.

    But it’s integral to math. Which Jen nails in describing how horribly awry a situation can become when a teacher went inquiry-instruction-only and a kid “cemented their own misconceptions and increased those of their groupmates.”

    Let’s say students are close-reading a text, developing a PowerPoint biography of one of the characters, defining some tough words from context. It’s so easy (says the teacher who has never taught lit) to discuss a student’s flawed perspective on theme or correct a definition or point out a page where the character’s real hair color was discussed.

    This contrasts starkly with math where a student can practice the same skill incorrectly ten times before I come around to her desk to check for understanding.


    Lecture — particularly, good call-and-response lecture — sets kids up for success in inquiry- or project-based-learning.

    And to Ken’s objection that the party has yet to include School 2.0, not the other way around: I agree.

    But only if we’re talking about the party of education-as-a-whole. What I’m talking about is this goat-cheese-and-foie-gras-eating party where enlightened educators talk about how best to teach kids, how to save education.

    That’s the party and, outside this comment box, lecture ain’t a popular face there. Y’all won’t mind if I quote you now and then.