What I’m Working on the Day After the Election

Every morning, the four members of the teaching team at Desmos post a note to their Slack channel listing all the tasks they’re working on that day. We use the hashtag #workingon for easy reference. This is what I posted this morning.

I don’t know how any of you voted and I won’t make assumptions. (It’s clear that a lot of people who represented themselves one way to pollsters voted another way, and that likely holds true for our company as well.) But you may have voted like I did yesterday, leaving you bereft today, and struggling to locate some kind of purpose for your work, struggling to participate in the solution to a problem that has many names. If that’s you, then this what I’m telling myself about our work this morning.

If the name of that problem is economic anxiety, if President-elect Trump was propelled to power by people whom globalization, open borders, and free trade have left behind, I encourage us to locate political and social solutions to their problems, definitely, but also to help those people (and their children, particularly) learn better math better. Capitalists continue to automate routine manual jobs, leaving behind more and more non-routine cognitive jobs. Non-routine math tasks are difficult to design, difficult to teach, difficult to learn, and increasingly essential to full economic participation. We can help design them and we can give teachers tools to make them easier to teach.

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If the name of that problem is bigotry, then we should help teachers facilitate constructive arguments, cultivate empathy, and emphasize patience. One dimension of bigotry is impatience, a sense that “I know everything there is to know about a person based on his or her most easily observed characteristics.” The traditions of many math classes – completing short problems resulting in simple answers that are easily verified in the back of the textbook – only exacerbate this problem. Christopher Danielson’s “Which One Doesn’t Belong,” by contrast, invites students to realize that all of those objects don’t belong for one reason or another, that we can negotiate those reasons productively, and that we can understand the world through the eyes of another.

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Obviously we have lots of work to do in our neighborhoods, our churches, our social networks, our local and state governments, and in ourselves, work that is probably larger than anything we’ll do at Desmos today. But if yesterday’s election left you wondering what work you can do at Desmos to help solve a problem with many names, this is what I’m #workingon.

BTW. I’m watching Twitter for examples of math teachers helping their students understand where they live today. I’ll continue to update this post throughout the day.

Matt Enlow:

When you learn mathematics, you also learn a lot of other things. Here are three of those things.

John Golden:

We did Elizabeth Statmore’s talking points for Math Mindsets Chapter 7 (tracking), then for the election, then we looked at Megan Schmidt’s Social Justice Math slides.

wwntd offers her classes some words of consolation.

Dianna Hazelton asks her class:

What does the word empathy mean? How do you show empathy?

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.

17 Comments

  1. Inspiring, as usual. Never cease to be amazed that you can put into words exactly what you are feeling, and then make a plan to act on it. I will admit, I’m struggling to do that today.

  2. Thank you Dan for giving me a sense of purpose and way to move forward. I’m having a tough time teaching today, but I feel like my students are eager to think about mathematics as an escape. You offer math as a change agent and this is powerful.

  3. As the weight of this decision settles upon us, I agree wholeheartedly with these #workingon tasks. Our world is becoming more cognitive and less procedural, and increasingly instant. Teaching students the value of struggle will be and has always been difficult. I do think Desmos, more than most arenas or platforms, encourages this trait of grit. Desmos harnesses the instantaneous feedback that we all crave and puts it into something useful. It allows students to use technology and gives them opportunities to use it responsibly. If anything I want this to be encouraging to those working at Desmos, your work means something and has shown fruit, and I want others to read this and recognize the worth in Desmos and similar companies.

    Side note: I was incredibly impressed with Google’s coverage of the election. Their live feed map and percentages and blue/red states seems as if it were a math problem waiting to happen.

    “If Trump has 1,203,499 votes with a 49% share of the state and the state is 91% reported, how many more votes can Trump expect to receive from this state? Will that win him this state and it’s corresponding electoral college votes?”

    I think this is the usable math that people want and are curious about.

    Thanks Dan for sharing.

  4. Wisdom from Dr. Meyer, for all of us to use to create a future for our students and get them to be nontraditional cognitive thinkers.

  5. I too was not in the mental space to do anything that appeared traditional/typical today. I just had a question that related to mathematics/economics and let the kids take it where it needed to go. This was an in the moment creation and it allowed students and I to discuss this uncertainty that comes with our newly elected president but with a mathematical/financial literacy lens. It was the best I could do today.

    As I woke up and heard how the market was effected by the results of the election, it sparked a social justice/financial literacy idea for me to explore with my 8th grade students. The learning goal was: How does change or uncertainty impact the stock market and the economy? We discussed briefly the types of events that create change or uncertainty in our world. Students were challenged to share their “wonderings” related this goal and do 10-15 minutes of online research sparked by their curiosities. Some wonderings were straight forward such as “what is the stock market?” while others were more far reaching pertaining to the impact on foreign trade and trade limits. As they researched, more questions and wonder arose. I then asked students to group themselves and take a position on if they would invest in the stock market and why. Very few said yes, some said no and many said they weren’t sure: each group with valid reasons. Lastly, regardless of their decision to invest or not, I gave them “$500” to invest. Some students created investment teams while others chose to stay independent with their investment decisions. As students watch their stocks, it will be fun to see who changes their position on if now (after a presidential election) is a good time to invest. Tomorrow we will circle back to the learning goal as students make their own connections.

  6. Dan, thank you for this. I was beside myself yesterday morning, and reached out on Twitter for support, and as always, found it. Spent the day allowing my students to my classes about the election results. I was still upset at the end of the day, but having them share and exploring their fears (and trying to dispel the ones I could) was a big help to all of us.

  7. Sharon Friedman

    November 10, 2016 - 9:31 am -

    Dan,
    Like others, I thank you for this. One of the thoughts that made me so distraught on T Day two nights ago was that my life’s work in teaching has been a waste because it makes no difference. Teaching is by nature a profession of optimists. And for teachers, making a difference is pretty much our main reward. One of my fears, on T Day + 2, is that the brewing leadership forces will create a misguided perfect storm to intentionally wipe out the math shift toward thinking. I don’t want to be in the position of reacting and defending. How can we be politically pro-active?