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.
About 
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.

22 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.)

  5. 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.

  6. 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.