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Asilomar #4: Be Less Helpful

Be Less Helpful – CMC North 2009 – Dan Meyer from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

Session Title

Be Less Helpful

Presenter

Dan Meyer, High School Math Teacher / Google Curriculum Fellow

Narrative

30% of my talk targeted how we teach — the subtle ways we encourage students to stop thinking. 70% targeted what we teach — the not-so-subtle ways our adopted curriculum makes our students intellectually timid and incurious.

Very little of the content will be a surprise to regular readers. However, after my O'Reilly webcast, I resolved to always add some new content or some new analysis every new time I present the material, both out of appreciation for those attending who, in their loyal readership and commenting, have done a great deal to shape these ideas, but especially because ideas, if they're worth anything, should keep growing and changing.

Visuals

Big pictures designed for conversation.

Handouts

A place for people to interact with ideas using notes and drawings. Very similar to the handouts I designed for last year's presentation, which I model in this video.

Homeless

  • I was really, really sick throughout the entire thing.

22 Responses to “Asilomar #4: Be Less Helpful”

  1. [...] Be Less Helpful, Dan Meyer. [...]

  2. on 13 Dec 2009 at 11:35 amDean Shareski

    I resolved to always add some new content or some new analysis every new time I present the material, both out of appreciation for those attending who, in their loyal readership and commenting, have done a great deal to shape these ideas, but especially because ideas, if they’re worth anything, should keep growing and changing.

    Amen. Particularly the part of about ideas growing and changing.

  3. on 15 Dec 2009 at 8:20 pmAndrew

    I loved seeing the open with the tasty-easy axis. When I came across your idea of visual media for teaching, one of the first things I did was remember reading that comic and go grab that image to open my unit with. So glad to see you use it too. I gave them some fruit on the graph, and my favorite question was, “Which fruit is misplaced?” Riotous discussion. Come to think of if, you could teach an entire unit on the cartesian plane from that image. “I only eat fruit in the peach to grape domain.”

    Great presentation.

  4. on 16 Dec 2009 at 4:42 pmDan Meyer

    Yeah, such a good intro. I used it on Monday. I asked them to throw out yell out ten pieces of fruit, which I wrote on the board. Then I asked them to rank them from one to ten by tastiness. Then the same for ease.

    Then we talked about a better way to show both kinds of rankings on the same picture.

  5. on 19 Dec 2009 at 10:27 pmjosh g.

    The assumption (both on your part and on the audience member who asks about it) that a digital projector setup is required for this seems weird to me. Granted I would way, way prefer to have one to do this kind of work, but during my practicum I did not have one at all and I made some stuff work anyway.

    For one problem I just handed out photocopies of the image I wanted them to work with. I asked them the question verbally, and they had to construct their own mathematical structure on paper. (It was just taking measurements on a scale photograph vs a real object, so the structure wasn’t too complicated.)

    I could see this working with an overhead transparency system too. One transparency for the visual, one for a grid to overlay and mark up w/ points and such as needed. (I really dislike writing on those things though.)

    That said, I want a proper projector next time I am running a math class. I will friggin’ buy my own if I have to.

    (Watching this in chunks and I’m only partway through, so apologies if this gets discussed later.)

  6. on 19 Dec 2009 at 10:32 pmjosh g.

    Geez that was so negative.

    Ps. this is fantastic and thanks for sharing the video.

  7. [...] I love watching people get something they didn’t get before.  I like being helpful (although not too helpful).  And working with kids is fun – they have less stuff in the way of getting to know who [...]

  8. on 22 Dec 2009 at 7:54 amDan Meyer

    In the same way, mechanized transportation isn’t “required” for travel between California and Maine, it’s just an unbearable experience without it.

    The joy of this kind of teaching (for me) is that it shortens the distance between Things That Interest Me and What I Teach My Students. If I see something online, I paste it into a slide. If I see something on my drive to school, I stop, take a picture, and paste it into a slide. The faster I process Things That Interest Me into What I Teach, the more I find thing interest me.

    If I have to add another step in there, or several steps, like “print out the photos on paper, copy the photos onto overhead transparencies,” I will experience these epiphanies much less frequently. I will be interested much less often, and my teaching will suffer.

  9. [...] weeks ago, I posted the conference video from my CMC-North session. The slides were synced to audio, which is nothing new, but also to video of my delivery of the [...]

  10. on 11 Jan 2010 at 10:42 amWhat I Believe | Tech Ed-dy

    [...] a “nudge”.   In this I have been very influenced by Dan Meyer’s mantra “Be Less Helpful“.   Dan’s blog posts and talks on this topic have really helped me understand why [...]

  11. on 23 Jan 2010 at 2:46 amCliff

    is belesshelpful.com a password protected site? I tried to investigate, but was denied. I’d love to see what’s there, partake, and contribute if I can.

  12. on 23 Jan 2010 at 6:24 pmDan Meyer

    Cliff, hi, thanks for your interest. The site is currently under development but I’ll let you know when we go live.

  13. [...] math more effective. One of his biggest contributions to my own thought is the idea of “being less helpful.” For Dan, this is about taking everyday situations that are not inherently mathematical and [...]

  14. [...] to why. I consider the main point to be a problem solving method I’ll refer to (via Dan) as Be Less Helpful, in [...]

  15. on 19 Nov 2010 at 10:28 amClimeGuy

    I thought I would throw my 2¢ into the ring:
    Be less helpful? It depends.

    -Ihor

  16. [...] of the recurring themes on super-teacher Dan Meyer’s blog is Be Less Helpful. Spoonfeeding learners only leads to intellectual timidity and, with apologies to Dorothy Parker, [...]

  17. [...] Less Helpful. That is one of Dan Meyer’s key ideas in teaching math. The basic idea is that if you don’t help students so much, they can learn to think [...]

  18. [...] One change since I left the classroom is our district has adopted a new mathematics text, California Mathematics from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill. In just one week with the text, and already I’m complaining. The text in it’s ambition to be helpful, engaging and entertaining, is constantly focused on the non-pertinent, and telling kids what they should be able to figure out themselves. It’s a beautiful proof for Dan Meyer’s admonition to “be less helpful.” [...]

  19. [...] One change since I left the classroom is our district has adopted a new mathematics text, California Mathematics from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill. In just one week with the text, and already I’m complaining. The text in it’s ambition to be helpful, engaging and entertaining, is constantly focused on the non-pertinent, and telling kids what they should be able to figure out themselves. It’s a beautiful proof for Dan Meyer’s admonition to “be less helpful.” [...]

  20. [...] time for me to embrace being less helpful (thanks Dan Meyer). image from [...]

  21. [...] of the recurring themes on super-teacher Dan Meyer’s blog is Be Less Helpful. Spoonfeeding learners only leads to intellectual timidity and, with apologies to Dorothy Parker, [...]

  22. [...] this is about what the student does, more than about you. The simplest thing is to simple “be less helpful” but you can take it further and take a risk. Make your students confused, make them fail, it [...]