Here are two very similar #anyqs entries from Dan and Nancy — two teachers I worked with in Grand Forks, ND. I asked my readers to decide which was the better first act and I disagreed with most of them.
Dan’s features a spigot leaking into a bucket. It’s just leaking. Drip drip drip drip drip.
Nancy’s features a faucet leaking into a measuring cup. It’s just leaking. Drip drip drip drip drip. But Nancy also includes a timer on her iPhone. And at the end of 39 seconds she draws the measuring cup close to the camera so you can see how many ounces have leaked out so far.
Why Dan Has Told The Better Mathematical Story
The first act of a good story introduces a conflict. It does very little to solve it. Think of the shark in Jaws munching on the lady swimmer. At that point, we have no idea what tools, resources, and information will be brought to bear on the task of killing the shark. We only know we want it dead.
The first act of a good story asks very little of the viewer’s intellect. It appeals, instead, to the gut. The viewer of Nancy’s first act would ideally think, “My word. How much water is that faucet going to waste?” Instead, because Nancy has already foregrounded the tools, resources, and information that belong in the second act of the story (just several minutes later in the lesson!) the viewer thinks, “Oh. This is a math problem, isn’t it?”
We need to curb our natural tendency as math teachers to burn up interesting problems on an altar to our math gods. In this case, all that means is you wait until after your students have formulated a question that interests them before offering them tools, resources, and information to solve it.
BTW: Picky? Absolutely. But where’s the fun in this job if not in negotiating the details. For whatever it’s worth, if you called me out for featuring timers prominently in the first acts of my own stories (as Bowen Kerins did recently) you’d be right on. The timers came from a position of insecurity that no one’s going to wonder “how long?” if I don’t explicitly call out time in the first act. That’s done now.