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Easy. Fun. Free.

Here is one of my private assumptions about education innovation that could use some public criticism:

If [x] is going to change teaching practice at scale, then [x] needs to be easy, fun, and free for both the teacher and her students. [x] needs to be all three of those things at the same time.

Realize that if you’re a teacher and you’re reading a blog post, you’re automatically seeded in the top 10% of innovative educators. You’ll try anything once. Let’s also go with Jack Welch and assume that 10% of educators are hopelessly and/or willfully incompetent.

Convince yourself, then, that 80% of teachers exist on a sliding scale of innovation and are basically up for grabs. Those who don’t want to try [x] aren’t necessarily bad educators. They may have made a rational calculation that [x] isn’t easy enough, fun enough, or free enough to adopt.

There are implications here, some obvious, some subtle:

  • “Good” doesn’t matter. This is a little sad. But most of those 80% already have [y], which they consider “good enough.” They won’t pick up [x], however superior it is to [y], unless it is easier or more fun. This puts the burden on the reformer to make something easy, fun, and free that is also good. Good is the Trojan horse of education innovation.
  • You’ll have to package [x] for Internet distribution. Because it’s the only way to distribute at scale for (nearly) free.
  • Learning should always be fun, though I’m not talking about “fun” as it exists in “unlimited rides and deep-fried Oreos at Six Flags.” Rather I’m talking about the profound sense of satisfaction and accomplishment inherent to good learning. Just to be clear.
  • Learning isn’t always easy but learning tools should be. Just for instance, last week, I saw groups of students clicking the same download link over and over again in Safari not realizing that they had already downloaded the attachment. The download window was open but obscured by the browser. Anecdotes like this make me skeptical of Scott McLeod’s argument that computers are to teachers what checkout registers are to grocers. Many of you have vastly overrated the ease of educational computing.

The field of easy, fun, and free innovations that are also good for students isn’t exactly crowded but, for the record, I have bet on two horses. I expect these picks to strike certain readers as simultaneously naive, deranged, or self-obsessed but these innovations, more than any other I’ve used or observed, are ones that sell themselves:

  1. Google Reader.
  2. What Can You Do With This.

No further comment.

50 Responses to “Easy. Fun. Free.”

  1. on 11 Mar 2010 at 2:48 pmMickey

    80% is a waaayyy too optimistic estimate, in my opinion. My experience has consistently been one of disappointment by my colleagues in teaching. I would go as far as saying that at least twice that, or about one in four teachers at the very least, are hopelessly and completely irredeemable.

  2. on 11 Mar 2010 at 2:56 pmSteve Phelps

    I would suggest that just about ANYTHING that begins with the word Google (docs, maps, sites, mail, calendar) should become a staple of any classroom.

    I would also like to suggest GeoGebra for the list of easy, fun, and free innovations. It is nuts what I can do for my students, but more importantly, what they can do for themselves, with this software.

  3. on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:08 pmDan Meyer

    Steve, any thoughts on why GeoGebra isn’t used more widely?

  4. on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:49 pmSarah Cannon

    What’s the percent of the non-highly-motivated teachers even know about GeoGebra? If you’re not already in the blogs/attending the conferences looking for [x], where are you going to be introduced to it?

  5. on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:50 pmSteve Phelps

    I love the software, and I am amazed that there are not more people using it. I think there are three reasons why GeoGebra is not used more widely (at least here in the United States):

    (1) There is still a general distrust of free, open-source, web-based software. That distrust may be rooted in a perceived lack of quality (“if the software was any good, they would be selling it”), or that it will not be free forever, or that it will require a certain degree of tech-savvy that I may not have, or that that (conspiracy theory alert, as I bite my nails to the quick) it will allow hackers to take over my computer. I mean, shouldn’t high quality software be installed from a CD? You can’t possibly get a high quality product from a web download, can you?

    (2) I think Geometer’s Sketchpad still has a large market share. Part of this is through school licensing. As an example, I ran a GeoGebra workshop this past summer for a larger suburban district here in SW Ohio. There was one geometry teacher who had worked very hard to convince his district to purchase a 250 computer license just a week earlier. After just one 6 hour workshop with GeoGebra, he realized had (actually, his district) been screwed…er…had failed to do his due diligence. Though there are teachers in this district who are using GeoGebra, there are others who feel honor-bound by the licensing agreement made by their employer.

    I see this in colleges, too. Each semester, I speak to a math education cohort group at a College on the other side of town. Two years ago, I visited this group towards the end of their semester. I shared GeoGebra with them, only to learn that they had just finished a large “Teaching Geometry with Sketchpad” project that required each student to pay for a student version of the software at the bookstore on campus. After getting the group to make simple web pages with dynamic applets in less than 30 minutes, they nearly turned on the professor of this group.

    (3) Related to the school licensing, there are many individuals who have purchased this software, and are not about to see their hard-earned money go to waste. I also believe that for many teachers (the 90% implied in your post), if you have GSP, you are comfortable with it, and after five years or so, you have a hard drive FULL of GSP sketches for every conceivable situation ( I know I did before I made the switch). GeoGebra IS different (besides just being better), and there is a learning curve to the software, and for many, switching is not worth the time or effort.

  6. on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:51 pmSarah Cannon

    (Sorry, that was my gut reaction to your question, Dan. Realize all of these ideas need some extra shove to be something other than fish chum.)

  7. on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:54 pmScott Elias

    It’s the “good” that’s the kicker here.

    Goodness knows there’s no shortage of easy, fun, and free web junk that some will try to shoehorn into the classroom in the name of “technology” or “innovation,” but that is nothing more than eye candy and window dressing.

    The “good” is what I spent time last semester exploring when I had the opportunity to teach an undergrad ed tech class at CSU. It’s the “good” that that 10% of educators at the front of the curve can help to vet.

    The best experience I’ve had with encouraging teachers to try something new is to use it myself. Invariably, someone will ask, “Hey – what program is that?” or “How did you make that?”

  8. on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:58 pmScott Elias

    Steve – I think there is a mega-markup on education-specific software and tools for the reason you stated above… If it’s free then, by definition, it can’t be any good.

    Aside from our student information system (which I’m stuck with), I avoid like the plague anything education-specific. In large part because our kids need experience using tools they’ll use Out There in the Real World.

  9. on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:03 pmSteve Phelps

    Dan – I would like to add WolframAlpha to the list. I have not figured out a good way to take advantage of this, though. I guess I should just give my students the address and see what they figure out?

    Scott – Yep. But what will they use in the real world? Hopefully Open Office!

  10. on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:13 pmJenny

    I completely agree that WCYDWT is fun and free. But easy? I’m not convinced you would say it’s easy for you and it comes more naturally to you than to 99.9% of teachers.

    Even the 10% of teachers reading blogs (or some such percent) struggle with the ideas you throw out in WCYDWT.

  11. on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:20 pmjosh g.

    Easy only comes when we have a shared archive of WCYDWT media, tagged and searchable for every topic.

    So how is that new site doing, anyway?

  12. on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:21 pmjosh g.

    Also, GeoGebra isn’t as widely used as it should be because it’s a pain in the butt to get a class full of 30-ish grade 9’s to a computer lab for a geometry lesson.

  13. on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:58 pmDan Meyer

    I’ll put myself, conservatively, in the top 20% of K12 math teachers in terms of computer literacy and I find GeoGebra to be several thousand kilometers from anything close to “easy.” The learning curve on that sucker is steep. Maybe I’m thick, fine, but then you have to do something about the 80% of teachers beneath me on the computer literacy ladder.

    So no, we’re looking for something that is as the Clipse describe cocaine: it simply sells itself.

    I’d argue that disqualifies much of the Google suite, most of which still requires some kind of lesson plan. ie. You’re staring at an empty Google Doc. What are you supposed to do with this? There isn’t anything obvious about it. Again, I’m trying to set a particularly high bar here.

    Google Reader isn’t like falling off a log, either. There is still some brief set-up but after you learn how to throw in a new feed (the only required skill) you have an incredibly easy, incredibly fun, incredibly free way to learn about whatever you want.

    Jenny: I’m not convinced you would say it’s easy for you and it comes more naturally to you than to 99.9% of teachers. Even the 10% of teachers reading blogs (or some such percent) struggle with the ideas you throw out in WCYDWT.

    I’ll take Jenny’s point but only to an extent. There’s a huge difference between what I do from this blog with WCYDWT (posting a single, coy image and then asking for the lesson plan) versus the vaporware site I’m building where you get all the media, the central question, and a longer lesson plan, all linked to a huge “Download All” button.

    Here’s the WCYDWT proof of concept. The only instructions for the tasty / easy graph are these:

    1. cover up all the fruit.
    2. have an argument about where fruit goes.
    3. work mathematical terms into the conversation as they become useful.

    I’m pretty imaginative but I have a hard time imagining the 80% teacher who could mess that up. We can even pull in a few more teachers by making the image available for download with the fruit already obscured.

  14. on 11 Mar 2010 at 5:50 pmTom

    I run into teachers fairly regularly that insist that assigning really boring unpleasant work is a key part of preparing students for life. Their words, freely and repeatedly given.

    I also run into all sorts of people who seem to have forgotten what good means or what fun is.

    Seriously.

    I’m not going to guess at percents but it’s far more than I’d like.

  15. on 11 Mar 2010 at 7:28 pmJerrid Kruse

    Dan, This is my first comment on your blog, but I have read with interest for quite some time. I am a science teacher, soon to be science education professor. The idea of how to improve teaching is constantly on my mind.

    I find myself disagreeing greatly with your notion of free, easy and fun (mostly the easy and fun part, because what I propose as necessary is definitely free).

    The reason I am so opposed to “easy and fun” is because encouraging real learning is not easy. If it were, everyone would be a great teacher. Instead, developing and maintaining high quality instruction abilities takes time (a LOT of time). I don’t think you would disagree.

    Because of the inherent difficulty of real learning and teaching, they are not necessarily “fun” in the sense of entertaining. While effective teaching and deep learning are both worthwhile, and the rewards are enjoyable, the process is often fraught (sp?) with frustration and difficulty. I think about working out, while I enjoy the feeling of having worked out, and enjoy the benefits to my health, I would not call the actual workout “fun”. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Fun? No.

    Of course this does not mean I believe learning has to be boring! I prefer the term engaging rather than fun. This could be semantics, but our words are what we mean and ought to be chosen with care. I worry if we send the message to teachers or students that learning should always be entertaining, we are setting them up to not engage in difficult, but worthwhile activities.

    While the fun/engaging differences might be reconciled, I see no place that I can budge on the claim that reform ought to be easy. I think I see your point that in order for teachers to “get on board” the new stuff has to appear easy, but that just means that we need more dedication from our teachers. Or perhaps teachers who are dedicated to a different purpose.

    Which brings me to the free thing I think we need to “reform” education. A change in philosophy & purpose. There is no cost associated (other than time) with changing our instructional purpose from skills to understanding or from memorization to application. What your 80% needs is not something that is free, easy and fun. Instead, they need to consider what their goals are for their students. Once the goals are articulated, they must consider how to best achieve their goals. If a teacher’s goals is to have students simply gain a skill or have 90% accuracy on a timed test….well, they need to either re-evaluate their goals, or leave education.

    I know all teachers “say” they want students to deeply understand content and be able to apply that understanding to the real world. Yet, so few teachers actually teach in a way that would help students actually do that. A worksheet is not real world. I word find is not deep understanding. Aligning our practiced purpose with our articulated purpose needs to happen. We don’t need a tool to do that, other than perhaps a mirror. :)

  16. on 11 Mar 2010 at 7:30 pmLee Trampleasure

    I’d offer that 86% of statistics are made up on the spot.

    With that in mind, I’ll go further and suggest that of the 80% “in the middle,” about half of them are excellent teachers who have worked out a system that works for them, have seen new fads come and go, and realize that they are tired of having to change their teaching style every five years.

    I’ve been teaching science for 15 years, and am convinced that math is being taught “wrong” by most math teachers because when students come to my class (including physics), most of them have no idea that math can be applied to anything. And many of these are students who have received A’s in their math classes. It’s as if an English teacher taught spelling and grammar, but used sentences that had no applicable meaning.

    I’d ask you to go to the science teachers in your school and ask them how well students UNDERSTAND math and can apply it. Hopefully most of you who read this blog will be pleasantly surprised, but I also worry that many of you will be disappointed.

    OK, so I read Dan’s blog because I AM interested in how math teachers are adapting their teaching styles to make math more “real.” You all ARE working to make math teaching better. I’d just not write off so many good teachers just because they don’t want to go along with the latest fad.

  17. on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:04 pmChris Lehmann

    I think that what you’ve written is probably true if we are talking about ‘teacher-level’ reform, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true about school-level reform. I’ll give you the best example:

    Laptops.

    I had an old colleague of mine visit SLA today, and it was fascinating to me to view the school from the eyes of someone who was with me at a school that shared a basic pedagogical foundation w/ SLA… I was again struck by how some of the decisions we’ve made that were different from my last school have helped shape the place, but I was also struck by how many of the ideas really are made possible by the laptops.

    And they weren’t easy to figure out how to use, and they certainly aren’t free. But because we made that decision at the school-level, we were able to make it and (so far) sustain it.

    We have to look at what is possible from the teacher level, yes… because the school (and policy) level is going to be a tougher fight, but let’s not forget what is possible when it’s more than just a single teacher in their classroom trying to affect change.

  18. on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:47 pmMr. Sweeney

    First, I like this post a lot. From my experience, it seems very factual. Like it or not these three things are very important for teachers if they are to adopt something new.

    As far as Geogebra goes:
    “I’ll put myself, conservatively, in the top 20% of K12 math teachers in terms of computer literacy and I find GeoGebra to be several thousand kilometers from anything close to ‘easy.'”

    ^this

    My degree is actually in computer science, and I’m generally able to walk people through how to do something in programs *that I’ve never used before*. So, I’d put myself in much higher than the top 20%. Geogebra took me quite awhile to figure out, (if I can even say that I’ve figured it out at this point) and I actually had to read some of the instructions. Last time I read instructions I was in 9th grade putting a bookcase together for my mom and only did then because some of the pieces were missing. That being said, Geogebra is awesome, I just don’t think it’s intuitive enough to catch on widely.

    Dangit. I just realized all I did in this comment was agree with Dan. Next time, you’re going down Meyer! There can be only one.

  19. on 11 Mar 2010 at 9:26 pmPete Welter

    Coming into education from the commercial software industry, I can vouch for the importance of “easy” as critical to getting people to use your software. Unless an app/site has some incredibly mission-critical functionality, it had better be useful in 5 minutes or less or it will be “adios!” and on to something else for that potential user.

    I define “easy” as being able to do something that is useful the first time you try the program – in fact if possible the app should start up with something useful for you to modify and not just a “blank page.” This doesn’t mean the app needs to be trivial, just that the the common actions are easy, more complex actions can still be figured out without a manual, and very deep functions are possible.

    Speaking from experience, this is *not* trivial to engineer, both on the usability or the software installation side of things. One reason the web makes so much sense as a software platform is that it eliminates most of the installation/compatibility side of problems.

  20. on 11 Mar 2010 at 9:59 pmDan Meyer

    Like I said, this blog and my own practice have given me a particular, blinkered view of innovation, one which can only benefit from the pushback here. Thanks. Keep it coming.

    Jerrid: Because of the inherent difficulty of real learning and teaching, they are not necessarily “fun” in the sense of entertaining.

    I specifically addressed (or tried to address) this reaction when I wrote:

    I’m not talking about “fun” as it exists in “unlimited rides and deep-fried Oreos at Six Flags.” Rather I’m talking about the profound sense of satisfaction and accomplishment inherent to good learning.

    Lee, I’ll go further and suggest that of the 80% “in the middle,” about half of them are excellent teachers who have worked out a system that works for them, have seen new fads come and go, and realize that they are tired of having to change their teaching style every five years.

    Let me see if I can explain why the two tools I’m promoting defy the term “fad.”

    Google Reader. I hope you would agree that “excellent” teachers should also be voracious learners. Google Reader, then, is a very broadly sketched tool for that learning. It doesn’t preference any particular learning modality. If you like text, if you like images, if you like podcasts, if you like vodcasts, it’ll serve them up. It doesn’t care what you want to learn, either. It serves knitting hobbyists and foreign policy wonks equally well.

    WCYDWT. Likewise, I have established constraints on WCYDWT media (specifically, The Rule of Least Power) such that, so long as you can put images in front of your students, WCYDWT will adapt to your teaching style. My cardinal example, above, the tasty / easy graph, can be used across the spectrum from constructivism to direct instruction. These are resources that are hard to find and create but which anyone can use across a broad range of classrooms.

    Chris: Let’s not forget what is possible when it’s more than just a single teacher in their classroom trying to affect change.

    Certainly. Under your leadership, with a killer staff, with sufficient technical resources cleverly deployed, SLA has accessed certain economies of scale that a single teacher cannot.

    But I have become, in recent years, completely uninterested in the larger debate over policy and administration, which I realize makes me somewhat useless to teachers stuck in this kind of hell. My interest (and the point of this post) instead is in mobilizing reform at the lowest, most atomized level of our public schools.

    Pete, thanks for your perspective here. I tend to reflexively resist comparisons between corporations and schools, but this one is appropriate.

  21. on 11 Mar 2010 at 10:32 pmJerrid Kruse

    Dan, Touche :) However, I am curious what your thoughts are on other parts of my reply. I know your use of “innovation” seems to be focused on technologies rather than philosophies (so we might be comparing apples to oranges), but your post got me thinking about root causes of why some teachers are the way they are. If we can get at the root cause (what makes the 10% willing to be innovative), then we can really get somewhere! I mean, do we really want to cater our innovation efforts to the lowest common denominator, or attempt to change the motivation of the 80% so they become the top 10%.

  22. on 12 Mar 2010 at 5:42 ammonika hardy

    always find great conversation here. thank you Dan.

    two (possibly naive) comments to add.

    1. i think a key answer comes in redefining teacher professional development. wondering what would happen if the teacher owned their own pd, the only stipulation, proof they are learning in a purposefully selected group of like minded/passioned mentors and an expert tutor.
    i know that’s the main reason i can’t sleep at night… my group drives me daily.
    i know this is the real experience i want for my kids – to be in a such a group.
    and i know teachers spend way to little time modeling sophisticated, expert learning.
    i also know that like the kids – we are all so different. i’m wondering if a process such as this… learning through a pln… is a more standardized approach than trying to pick a tool or platform or content that we all agree upon.

    2. for all the semantic wrestling going on in regard to fun and easy… i’d like to add the word flow. Csíkszentmihályi’s mash-up of work and play. i love it… the zone… the runner’s second wind. seems to be what you’re all describing.
    so – i’m wondering if that immersion happens optimally and more ubiquitously if you are first engaged in a pln.

  23. on 12 Mar 2010 at 6:04 ammatt glass

    i would venture there are very few teachers who don’t *want* to be in that top 10%, who don’t *want* to do great things in their classroom and truly engage their students….i don’t think it’s a willingness or unwillingness to be innovative or excellent.

    i think they’ve just never seen anything they thought was better AND accessible? or maybe if they have, it’s not part of their weekly diet?

    usually one or the other (seeing better and actually finding better accessible) is off balance. sometimes the educator is not spending time in places where he/she sees best practices in action. collaboration breeds innovation…one of the reason dan craves pushback so much…and many teachers don’t have that venue. i know i haven’t until the recent few months, and that change has mentally opened up unlimited possibilities for me. others may indeed have that venue, and get to observe great techniques in action, but but find them inherently out of reach…whether by lack of confidence, lack of skill, or lack of resources. and i suppose that’s the meat of the “easy, fun, and free” directive. if you want to raise the bar for the masses…teachers AND students…the bar must be perceived as accessible.

    it’s all about the sell…

  24. on 12 Mar 2010 at 8:45 amMark Barnes

    I couldn’t disagree more with Steve about Google being a staple in the classroom. Google apps are useful, unless the teacher has already replaced them with something abundantly more manageable and all-inclusive.

    An effective wiki-hosted classroom contains integrated calendars, message boards, blogs, gadgets, videos and secure student web sites, none of which need be anything Google related.

    Is this a knock on Google? Of course not. I’m only suggesting that Google is not the be all and end all.

    Not to be a cynic, but I also agree with Mickey. Saying that 80 percent of teachers “exist on a sliding scale of innovation. . .” is overly optimistic. In my building, most are skeptical, at best, about anything innovative in edtech.

    Thought-provoking, as always, though, Dan.

  25. [...] by Mark Barnes on March 12, 2010 One of the blogosphere’s more intelligent educators, DanMeyer, suggests that a large percentage of teachers are innovative. Realize that if you’re a [...]

  26. [...] Easy. Fun. Free….in which Dan Myer tests this hypothesis: If [x] is going to change teaching practice at scale, then [x] needs to beeasy, fun, and free for both the teacher and her students. [x] needs to be all three of those things at the same time. Posted on March 12, 2010 at by Mister V · Permalink In: General [...]

  27. on 12 Mar 2010 at 3:52 pmBill Bradley

    Dan, you also have to realize what we’re up against. Google Reader and in fact your Blog are both blocked by my school’s web filtering (Social Networking) and we’re not allowed to install software like Geogebra without getting the IT department to (eventually, if they feel like it) install it, and then fight with them when it doesn’t work correctly on some machines (since they’re too incompetent to be able to do a Push install across the network so they come in and do it on every machine individually). Just last week I had a lesson that I tested using a student account on Friday, and on Monday it was blocked. Eventually things like that wear down even the most enthusiastic teachers.

  28. on 12 Mar 2010 at 6:07 pmDavid Cox

    Now I’m really confused. You can make magic happen with digital media but think that GeoGebra has a steep learning curve? Don’t get that at all. Maybe “intuitive” is relative, but it seems to me that the basics are fairly easy to grasp. I have learned to navigate my way around GeoGebra fairly well and if I run into a roadblock, I know who to ask to get help, but I still can’t figure out After Effects, Photoshop or Premiere Pro. Go figure.

    I completely agree with you on the Fun, Easy, Free thing, though. I am finding that many teachers just don’t like change.

    I can see your point with regards to WCYDWT because it has a direct effect on what students do and how they do it. But what’s the direct relation with Google Reader? I mean, I get good ideas through my reader, but they usually still need some refining on my part before they’re ready to be put in front of my kids. With all the applets folks have uploaded to the GeoGebra wiki and show up every day in the GGB upload manager, my bet is on the third horse, Granite Brassiere.

    @Bill
    Can you just use the GeoGebra WebStart? That way you won’t depend on the IT department to install anything.

  29. on 12 Mar 2010 at 7:38 pmBill Bradley

    Oh, I actually got them to install Geogebra, but it’s a fight, every time I try to do anything innovative. Right now I’m fighting to get the Business Office to actually order the high speed video camera that I put in my budget last year (and got approved) so that I can make videos to use with Tracker in my Physics classes.

  30. on 13 Mar 2010 at 6:50 amrhett

    So, one thing you are saying is that many teachers do what they do because it is “good enough” for them. This is a great point. In fact, there are certainly college faculty that do the same thing.

    However, the interesting thing is that college students also do this. They adopt a learning strategy that works for them. Maybe it is highlighting the book, maybe it is making flash cards. The point is that they do this because it works (for most classes). Perhaps this is what causes them much grief in courses like intro-physics. They try to use flash card learning techniques where it doesn’t work.

    So, my point. How do teachers know if their methods are good enough or not? I don’t think standardized testing is the answer. Actually, I don’t know the answer – but I am guessing something like “talking to your students and getting to understand their thinking process.”

  31. on 13 Mar 2010 at 8:41 ammonika hardy

    great point Rhett… listening is huge. especially to students. what are they doing and saying about what you are saying and doing.
    i also think if we would listen more to each other, there would be less repeating of conversations and more doing – more learning happening.

    and you’re right – standardized tests no longer will even touch the surface. i mean – that’s like the good enough piece …maybe.
    i have to emphasize again… personal learning network/environment’s are what i believe to be the best way for any of us to optimize learning. we all have our own brand – if we really want to sophisticate or expertise it, we have to hone in with like-passioned/focused people.

    that’s what i want for my kids.

  32. on 13 Mar 2010 at 8:50 amDan Meyer
    Jerrid: I mean, do we really want to cater our innovation efforts to the lowest common denominator, or attempt to change the motivation of the 80% so they become the top 10%.

    I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the bottom 10%. I wrote, “80% of teachers exist on a sliding scale of innovation and are basically up for grabs.” That’s where my interest lies.

    monika: i think a key answer comes in redefining teacher professional development. wondering what would happen if the teacher owned their own pd

    Agreed. And, from my own (blinkered) perspective, Google Reader is the best tool I have ever found for managing my own learning, for owning my own PD.

    Mark: Saying that 80 percent of teachers “exist on a sliding scale of innovation. . .” is overly optimistic. In my building, most are skeptical, at best, about anything innovative in edtech.

    I’m skeptical about most edtech innovations. What innovations have you seen your colleagues reject that are easy, fun, and free?

    David: I still can’t figure out After Effects, Photoshop or Premiere Pro.

    I’m confused. Why do you need to know After Effects, Photoshop, or Premiere Pro to have a conversation with your class about the tasty / easy graph?

    @Bill thanks for the reality check.

    rhett: How do teachers know if their methods are good enough or not?

    I think, in my own case, I’m extremely sensitive to fluctuations in changes on the easy, fun, and free axes. Give me something that does what I’ve already done only three times easier, and I tend to take notice.

  33. on 13 Mar 2010 at 9:02 amMark Barnes

    Dan, Blogger and PBworks are easy, fun and free. We recently had PD in our building on them, and I don’t believe a single teacher uses them.

    I teach online coures on classroom web site creation and Web 2.0 tools, like podcasting, screencasting, message boards and using wikis, and no colleague has ever said, “will you help me learn to do this?”

    Worse, still, I told an upper administrator that I’d be happy to do some PD, free of charge for the district. I was never taken up on it.

    Does all this make me skeptical about teachers being innovative and open? Yes.

    Maybe I’m cynical. Or, maybe they’re just lazy.

  34. on 13 Mar 2010 at 2:28 pmDavid Cox

    No, of course I don’t need Photoshop, After Effects or Premiere Pro to have a great discussion about the tasty/easy graph. My point was about learning curve.

    I started teaching when my tech questions were: chalk or overhead? Needless to say, anything that involved graphing or any type of graphic involved either creating some sort of image and burning it to transparency or drawing it on the fly. GeoGebra allows me to do both very quickly with the option of exploring things that may come up in class as students ask. I don’t think it’s too hard to do that as long as one knows to use a “*” for multiplication and a “^” for exponents. I find that fun, easy and free and I’m no tech expert.

    You have said yourself that your teaching changed when the LCD projector came into play. Many of the classrooms in my district still use overheads, so an LCD projcetor and a SmartBoard have simply taken the place of the white board, but the pens don’t run out of ink. Most teachers haven’t considered that this technology can actually transform how they teach. They simply aren’t asking the questions. I didn’t really start asking the questions until recently.

  35. on 14 Mar 2010 at 11:30 amMark Barnes

    Good for you, David. It’s nice to know that other veterans are reaping the rewards of the Smart Board and learning that we have to continue to ask questions.

  36. on 14 Mar 2010 at 1:07 pmDan Meyer
    Mark: Blogger and PBworks are easy, fun and free. We recently had PD in our building on them, and I don’t believe a single teacher uses them. [..] I told an upper administrator that I’d be happy to do some PD, free of charge for the district. I was never taken up on it.

    I think you’re entitled to some frustration here, Mark. But I don’t have any hope in the scalable transformational power of any tool that requires anything more than ten minutes of professional development.

    This isn’t to say that Blogger and PBworks aren’t amazing tools that are also (sort of) free. But I’m carving out some severe lines in edutechnology, looking for tools that are so easy, so fun, and so free, they basically sell themselves.

    The lesson plan associated with [x] needs to be fairly well apparent while also flexible enough to adapt to different classrooms and styles. (cf. The Rule Of Least Power.) Blogger and PBWorks are too flexible. There isn’t an apparent lesson plan. This is why those tools require a lot of PD. This is why you’ll only find their adoption in the top 10% – 30% of innovative teachers.

  37. on 14 Mar 2010 at 1:44 pmrobertogreco

    What about Tumblr? At my school, the tool has spread quickly from teacher to teacher with minimal PD. It’s easy to get going using the dashboard to just follow other Tumblr blogs to see what’s going on around school and beyond (like using Google Reader for the greater web), and to make text posts summarizing what’s going on in the classroom (replacing class newsletters for parents). That eventually leads to creating posts to share images and interesting finds from the internet. Then they slowly begin expanding their use of Tumblr’s features like ‘hearting’ others’ posts, reblogging, creating a photo gallery, posting a video they’ve created (leads to Vimeo), etc. In this way, Tumblr is acting as the gateway to other uses of technology.

    Note: this Tumblr trend started by using it in one classroom with all students as something of an off-the shelf LMS and digital portfolio.

  38. on 15 Mar 2010 at 6:42 amDan Meyer

    @Roberto, yeah, I need to give Tumblr some thought. I think you’re onto something there. Google Reader lets you manage your learning. Tumblr lets you share it.

    I’d love to see some examples from your site. Can you post them here or e-mail a link to dan@mrmeyer.com?

  39. on 15 Mar 2010 at 6:45 amTom

    @Roberto-

    You’d think Google would have done a better job integrating reader and their blogs in a similar way. I haven’t used Tumblr but that sounds pretty appealing for people starting off.

    I’d be interesting in those examples as well.

  40. on 15 Mar 2010 at 7:49 amrobertogreco

    Here’s the blog that I keep for our seventh graders and the one I keep for sixth grade too. Posts vary from daily reminders to event announcements to examples of student work to education related articles to presentation follow-up to random internet goodness to the just plain silly. The other middle school teachers send me an email with daily homework assignments which I put together each day, but they have their own Tumblrs too. The “Cast/Crew” list in the side columns link to student blogs. (We’re in the process of rolling out a middle school, so numbers are very small.)

    And here is a list (from a website that is in need of update) of some of the other blogs from around the school. You’ll notice that a few teachers use Blogger instead of Tumblr, and that the state of each blog varies. Of course, all of this is easier as a small, independent school, but it’s only been a year and a half since the first blog was started and no one was forced to join in. I’ve also heard that our fifth grade students will be starting their own Tumblrs in the coming weeks.

    There’s some more about why we use Tumblr about midway through this comment/post I wrote about our laptop program.

    Oh, and I guess with starring and sharing and now Buzz, Google Reader does allow for the same, but as Tom mentions it’s just not well integrated or easy to figure out.

  41. on 17 Mar 2010 at 4:46 pmJenny

    I’m jumping back nearly a week in the comments (apparently it’s been quite a week, I blame DST).

    I think the site you are creating is brilliant. I agree that it will make WCYDWT more accessible to many more teachers. It would thrill me beyond belief if 80% jump on it.

    It’s possible that my concerns stem from being an elementary school teacher rather than middle/high. In my experience, many elementary school teachers, even really fabulous ones, are intimidated by math. Many teachers who would never use a textbook for social studies or English rely on a math textbook for everything. It’s hard for me to imagine them being able/willing to open things up in the way WCYDWT does. I hope I’m wrong.

    I firmly believe that WCYDWT is so much more powerful than a traditional math textbook. I want it to spread like lice in a kindergarten classroom.

  42. on 17 Mar 2010 at 8:13 pmDan Meyer
    I firmly believe that WCYDWT is so much more powerful than a traditional math textbook. I want it to spread like lice in a kindergarten classroom.

    Gross. I appreciate the sentiment, however.

  43. on 18 Mar 2010 at 7:12 amvlorbik

    great post.

    Many of you have vastly overrated the ease of educational computing.

    thanks for this in particular.

  44. on 19 Mar 2010 at 3:25 amDina

    Dan, just a question here. How do you square your answer above to David Cox…

    “I’m confused. Why do you need to know After Effects, Photoshop, or Premiere Pro to have a conversation with your class about the tasty / easy graph?”

    …with your comments in “Who Cares”?

    “One, the average WCYDWT activity takes me ten hours to complete. Maybe I flatter myself, but this form of curriculum development involves something more than just a few snapshots.”

    Given the above, seems to me that if you’re talking “easy, fun, and free,” you’re talking about something very different from empowering teachers to create beautiful, class-specific, local standards-based WCYDWT stuff. Rather, it it seems you are talking about the ease, fun, and financial freedom of teachers downloading and using *your* WCYDWT work.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with pimping good curriculum. But let’s be clear– given the extremely small quantity of tools on your shortlist, of which a whopping 50% is yours– that this is what you are doing.

  45. on 19 Mar 2010 at 8:07 amDan Meyer
    Dina:: … it seems you are talking about the ease, fun, and financial freedom of teachers downloading and using *your* WCYDWT work.

    Swap out “your” with “anyone’s” and I’d say that’s about right.

  46. on 19 Mar 2010 at 11:34 amDina

    OK, with you so far; but we’re still left with a mythical bevy of tech-proficient, standards-soaked, highly creative, magnanimous teachers who will produce these materials at a ten hour pop– for free– for Creative Commons consumption.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible, and creating an electronic treasure trove of these items would be extremely useful. That being said, even if you got it together, I am doubtful that the WCYDWT product– divorced from the process of creating it– lives up to your lofty claim. Why would it revolutionize teaching practice any more than plunking a Smartboard into a struggling teacher’s classroom does?

    Teaching is just too complex a phenomena, and the true benefits of WCYDWT to *practice*, as far as I can see, are tied too tightly to the hands-on creation of the thing. So now tell me why I’m wrong.

  47. on 19 Mar 2010 at 2:53 pmsylvia martinez

    Dan,
    I’m also missing the part where you think WCYDWT is easy. You gave a “proof of concept” – for the tasty / easy graph:

    1. cover up all the fruit.
    2. have an argument about where fruit goes.
    3. work mathematical terms into the conversation as they become useful.

    I think 2 & 3 require quite a bit of mathematical imagination on the teacher’s part plus skills in steering group conversation. Neither of these are easy. This kind of conversation will veer from the “right answer” if you really do allow student to discuss their theories. It takes understanding more than the mechanics of how to solve problems as the textbook suggests to a greater and wider understanding of how to see student conceptions, misconceptions, and perhaps new ideas as viable paths to possible solutions. That kind of mathematical imagination is not “easy” to develop.

    I also agree with Dina’s line of questioning. I think the creation of these WCYDWT problems helps you anticipate student reactions. Finding them, tuning them, and testing them out hones your skills. Plus, over time, you’ve become more adept at steering the resulting conversations towards the math you are trying to teach.

    I’m just not seeing how handing these artifacts off to a different teacher shortcuts the process. And I certainly don’t see this as “easy.”

  48. on 20 Mar 2010 at 7:36 amDan Meyer

    I don’t know that either of you are wrong. There isn’t enough precedent for this kind of content-sharing between teachers to prove or disprove my case. I’m attached enough to the idea to have invested time this year developing a community around it but not so attached that I wouldn’t scale back that investment if I determined it was either a) too difficult for your average teacher to adopt (pace sylvia), or b) too specific an idea, in general, for an idiosyncratic profession (Dina).

    Two comments:

    @Dina, your critique describes the failure of every lesson plan sharing site to date. They ask for lesson plans that too particular to the pacing and style of the author’s class for anyone else to download apart from really desperate new teachers.

    I have built the WCYDWT framework, instead, around the rule of least power, which means the media come pre-packaged with the least possible structure to get a discussion started — a raw video clip or photo or sound file with the mathematical structure waiting somewhere in the wings — specifically so it can be adapted easily to the most classes possible.

    @sylvia, I’m not sure you appreciate the range of possible outcomes here. It took me three years using the same tasty/easy picture to go from a simple conversation about which quadrant was the worst quadrant for a fruit to a conversation about how a coordinate graph is so much better than a dot plot of the same information. All of those exercises resulted in better retention and more fun than my textbook’s approach to quadrants, but yeah, the better you are as a teacher the more success you’ll have with these resources. Nothing too controversial about that, I hope.

  49. [...] reality, their messages can almost always be clarified, made easier, more fun, and less expensive. I want nothing to do with that culture of punditry. I can be clearer. I can find new metaphors. I [...]

  50. [...] reality, their messages can almost always be clarified, made easier, more fun, and less expensive. I want nothing to do with that culture of punditry. I can be clearer. I can find new metaphors. I [...]