Call to Action

I gave myself too much credit for innovation with that DVD sub plan. Some of y’all have been pulling that rabbit out of your hat going on years now. Respect for that but here’s my question:

Why aren’t we sharing?

Why didn’t I read about it? I’ve been issuing lousy sub plans for three years, three years which could’ve been cooler if someone I readAnd, admittedly, someone I don’t read might’ve posted it and I wouldn’t know. had made that part of his or her practice public.

One of the most shocking blog entries I read this week was Miss Profe’s Tic Tac Toe: Foreign Language Style. There was nothing obviously earthshaking about it but still I sat there with spoon frozen halfway between bowl and mouth, realizing how rarely people Around Here share lessons and activities.

Time is always a good scapegoat. These things take too much time sometimes. I wonder also, though, if we don’t post more resources because those posts are some of the least sensational. They generate the fewest commentsZero so far on Miss Profe’s.. They don’t fit into the standard post templates of a) anecdote (“my day sucked today, here’s why”) or b) manifesto (“my school district disabled the right-click today, here’s why that sucks for education”).

Lesson plan posts lack any call to action, which seems like a waste in a blogosphere where every third blog post is a call to action.

But that sucks because new teachers want your answers. That sucks because I want your answers.

  • I want to know how to do group work right.
  • I want to know how to do a good equipment check-out system so that my compasses and calculators don’t walk out the door but which doesn’t sap away instructional time.
  • I want to know how to incorporate some math on the sly into the day before Christmas break.

I know you’re holding. Give it up.

If you’re a blogger …

  • post something cool from your bag of tricks.

If you’re a reader …

  • put a request in the comments. Something that’s getting you down (solving equations, seating arrangements, whatever). Something you’d like to see. Or just an affirmation that you’d like to see more resources floating around the ‘sphere. You’ve gotta let ’em know it’s worth their while.

One of these days, as a blogosphere, we’ll get resource sharing rightSomehow I suspect that somewhere someone’s working on it. and this job is gonna get a lot easier and a lot more satisfying for a lot of people. Until then, as connected as this place seems, we’ll struggle alone.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Hi, Dan.

    Thanks for the props.

    I realize that I share far less than I ought/would like, and for all of the reasons you list.

    It is like a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, isn’t it, this lack of sharing, between and amongst teachers, whether within the same building, or, in the blogophere?

    BTW: Zero and counting on the Tic-Tac-Toe post. :)

    Miss Profe

    Felicitaciones on being named Best New Blog. Mad props to you.

  2. i’m skeptical of online resource sharing. there is actually a ton of stuff out there. 99% of it is crap. we don’t need more resources, we need better filters.

    but even for the stuff that’s good, i think a big part of the problem is that it doesn’t always immediatly connect. (your blog is a recurring exception to that rule). until you see how something works in action, it can be difficult to grasp how it’s supposed to work.

    i just signed up for our schools professional development committee. my agenda is going to be to get rid of as many of those afternoon sessions as possible, and replace them with teachers going into each others classrooms during their conference periods.

    i think a big part of why we don’t adopt from others is because we don’t see it happening. when you watch a class, you can tell when something succeeds, and figure out how to incorporate that into your own teaching.

  3. oh, for math on the sly (such as days before holidays, or after testing, or any day the kids want a break), i swear by this book. they’re not “assign & forget” worksheets – they’re explorations that are open ended enough to allow kids to find both their own comfort level and interesting aspects.

  4. You’ve made a really good point. I’m lucky to be at a school that shares extensively and I’ve never thought about broader sharing. I love reading your lessons (even though I teach elementary) and gain ideas from them all the time. I agree with fgk that a lot of what’s out there is crap, but to me that suggests that finding lessons on blogs I read would be fantastic. I already know that I respect these folks as educators, I’d love to see what’s happening in their classrooms.

    One resource for specific questions (like a check-out system or group work) is It’s elementary focused because it’s elementary teachers answering the questions. But things like a check-out system might work there.

  5. I agree with fgk, there is a massive amount of stuff on the Internet–kinda left over from Web 1.0 (?) Google found 14,000,000 hits when I searched for “lesson plans”. I like reading about what people are doing in the classroom and how it worked for them and their kids, but like you say Dan, if it’s not whining or written with “deep thought” there is no responses.

    I’ve tried to start some discussion with a blog on using primary source documents in the classroom. I just write a story about each suggestion–since I have no readership I don’t write often, but when I started I thought it was a good idea.

    Why don’t you start a Great Classroom Activity blog or ning–divide it up into content areas and let us all put our WOW” activities there. At least we would be able to find the ideas without searching through 14,000,000 pages. N.

  6. I have a wiki that I put my lessons up on. Not because they’re good (definitely not good after reading the Elias Presentation post you linked to last week), just because its an area that I can store the files so that I can get to them from anywhere.

    I broke down and started using Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t think it would be useful, but it’s very good for sharing links and such. Now there is another one called Pownce that allows you to share files and embed videos right in the posts.

    I’m jdwilliams on both of those.

  7. Maybe it’s a cultural thing and not the reason in US but here in Sweden we don’t share because you are afraid that the other teachers will take offence. “Who do you think you are that your lessons are so much better than mine that you have to show me what you do?”

    Here it is not really social ok to say that you made a great lesson that you think other teachers could benefit from… and if you suggest you have made something not half bad that might be a good idea for others to look at you better make sure it is a really REALLY great lesson.

    Another reason it’s hard to share is that it is a lot more work. If I make a decent lesson using PowerPoint it isn’t enough to just post that PowerPoint. For it to be effective I need to write down what I said, timing and how it connects to previous and later lessons. I need to explain what I put on the whiteboard next to and on the presentation.

    I also need to address how I would have handled different student interaction… it is not uncommon that I have a 2nd and 3rd PowerPoint in the background that I can switch to depending on what the students ask (more common in physics then math). For me to get all that down would double my time working on the lesson and that is time I don’t have.


  8. What’s interesting is that the blogosphere is the perfect medium in which to share ideas like that. There’s nothing new under the sun–it’s just a matter of sharing the wealth for the betterment of our students.

  9. I’d love to know which teacher blogs I can get the best ideas for math classes from. Outside this one, there aren’t any that I read. (I also don’t look very hard…) Suggestions for a small handful of excellent math teaching blogs would be great.

  10. Dan,

    For starters, can you please upload your “video sub lesson plan” for us to see?

    I would love to see and hear you in action…


  11. Can we agree on something, though:

    These lesson plan depots are awful. Just awful. They are nowhere close to our ideal. They force teachers into tiny little boxes w/r/t what they can post (handouts, problem sets, objective lists) and what they can’t (pictures, video clips, dialogue samples). I mean they are no-kidding-destructive and backwards-facing from where teacher mentorship needs to go.

    Blogs, on the other hand, place no constraints on what you want to share or how you want to share it. The first plan I posted sucked, just a list of objectives and assessments and attached handouts. I thought that was how it had to be done. Since then, I’ve posted narratives not outlines. I tell stories about what happened in class, weaving teacher-actions into the mix.

    Make lesson sharing part of your teaching/learning cycle. For me, I don’t feel like I can call a lesson a success, or close the book on it, if I haven’t mashed through it here. Simply start.

    fgk: thanks for the resource back there.

    Hemant: math teacher bloggers are tough to come by. Vlorbik maintains a long list if you want to start there. The only math bloggers I read are: jd2718 and Robert Talbert.

    Phillip: I’ll get on that sometime this week.

  12. I pondered doing this back when I set up my blog, in fact, it was one of the things I was going to do. I think the thing that stopped me from doing it was that I always felt at the end of every lesson, ‘that would have been better if…’, but never had the time to fix it. But I was also unwilling to post something I knew wasn’t as good as it could have been.

    In the UK, there are quite a few History teachers using to share resources and it does work pretty well, as it tends to weed a lot of the rubbish out. However, there are always concerns over copyright issues, as many of my resources are designed to compliment specific textbooks, and include extracts and images taken directly from them. Maybe I just need to create more original stuff.

    OK, Dan. Just for you*, an early New Years resolution. Over the holiday’s I’ll get round to sharing a bunch of resources on the blog, and with fingers crossed and a fair wind behind me, keep it up through ’08.

    *Well, hopefully not ‘just for you’, otherwise it would be a bit of a waste.

  13. Also meant to say, that to do group work ‘right’ you have to make effective group work the main objective of the exercise the first few times you do it.

    Ideally, give them something completely unrelated to achieve (I like to get them to make a free standing giraffe with nothing but some newspaper and a roll of selotape). Then talk about what they did well, and what didn’t go so well, remembering the golden rule – don’t name names, name behaviors, and get them to complete this grid –

    There’s other stuff as well, but I’ll probably put that into a post myself at some point in the future. Hope this helps in the meantime.

  14. I think we should talk more in terms of ‘ideas’ we can share rather than ‘lessons’ we can share. It’s what makes the lesson collections on line not so valuable, but makes teachers talking to each other worthwhile.

    I will not play a game where kids conjugate verbs (I teach math), but maybe a Hollywood Squares with factoring?

    Groups? My groups usually have three kids in them. One facing forward, two in front of that one, face-to-face sideways. Why? No one with their back to the front of the room… Take it, leave it, remember it, forget it. It’s an idea, not a lesson. If someone wants it, easy to use.

  15. I also think that when it comes to lesson planning, everyone has their own way of going about things. Having a narrative of what happened with the attached lesson plan not only shows people how you implemented it, but also what the student reactions were. Don’t discredit the worth of your own stories. Even my scrap lesson planning with rap songs got a little bit of feedback, despite how mainstream rap is now.

    However, we can’t lose hope on that. We need to make a site that works like a blog in terms of its unlimited sharing, but more like a wiki so people can alter it and add things on there that might make it more effective. Unfortunately, some blog formats aren’t as crisp as far as archiving is concerned. Again, it’s something to think about.

  16. Hello, all,

    This is a great thread — some ideas that have arisen in a couple places that bear highlighting/repeating:

    1. Teachers plan in different ways, as such, canned formats limit creativity, where the open structure of the blog support individual differences by *not* imposing an artificial structure

    2. The current lesson depots are, to be polite, not that good.

    3. The stories and the narrative of how a class unfolded add value to a lesson.

    4. I’d like to add that, if given a choice between sharing something incomplete or not sharing at all, sharing the incomplete resource at least opens up the potential for someone else to benefit. If the lesson creator indicates that the resource is incomplete, so much the better. Sharing is good.

    Toward that end, I started working on a site last night that can be used to aggregate lessons. I’d be willing to build and host this as a resource. One of the main advantages of this site is that people can continue to work from their blogs, s there is no added workload (on top of creating the lessons, and blogging them, of course, which is the hardest part).

    The site is *not done yet* — the pre-alpha version is here:

    I’ll be rolling in some changes/improvements in the next 48 hours or so.



  17. Great stuff here. I think you hit the nail on the head as to why my blog gets so many visitors compared to a lot of the other blogs I read, and yet receives such a relatively small number of comments. Most of my posts are about sharing what works for me.

    I wish more teachers would begin sharing what they do that makes their classes run smoothly or whatever. Thanks for this call to action! We’ll see what comes of it….

  18. An exception to the rule of useless databases of shared lesson plans is I Love Math. I’ve found really good stuff there that I’ve used again and again. Check out the Slope puzzles and the Partner Problems in the Algebra section. Some kids are so happy when they get to do the same old math by cutting and pasting little pieces of colored paper in the process (Slope Puzzles) – and the Partner Problems, where horizontally aligned problems have the same answers, give students instant feedback on whether their work is correct.

    I Love Math is also where Dan Greene posts materials for Algebra II, and much of that is just great – check the worksheet on Complex Numbers, for example.

    I can imagine much good coming of this call for more posts on actual lessons taught, and will try and follow up on it in a few days. Just now getting grades updated is a more urgent matter, though.

  19. I think for many people the idea of sharing is lop-sided. I don’t mind sharing ideas with others, but it frustrates me when I’m the only one sharing. I have had teacher websites for years, including some that are now defunct, but in the thousands of hits I get, I almost *never* get a submission. I can host about any type of file you want to send, but it requires that people send stuff. I also work 80 hour weeks on my own courses, so I do have limited time to help others as well. I think your “Call to Action” is a great one, but unfortunately I don’t think it is realistic. I have tried since 1999 to get people to share and I’m still trying – I hope you are more successful than I’ve been.

  20. Dan, whenever I start a new concept I go to google and I search your archives. Two different tabs and which one happens first depends on whether I think I’ve seen it somewhere here or not.

    In the google tab, I can usually find some sort of lesson plans. But if the plans for elementary school math are icky worksheets, the ones for high school are worse, especially given that we’re working with students so far behind. The tutorials aren’t what my students need while they’re in the classroom and the worksheets are boring (though I may send students to either type of site for another explanation or review later).

    The power of your narratives is the piece that keeps me hoping that something turns up in your tab. It’s that reality check of what works. It’s hearing your voice, getting hints of your personality, helping me mentally test what I can pull off, and what, like rap music, would be obvious that I’m faking. That voice is what every lesson plan needs. It also represents the extra time that you keep taking to push us all to the next level.

    By all means, I want to see more resources out there. (I’m building my curriculum as I go this year. I have sample textbooks, but it’s first year teacher hell.) I need the resources where I can find them easily. Your “search engine friend” in lesson plans is magic. Ilovemath might be the third tab for me to start searching, but just turned up nothing when I searched for exponents. This despite the fact that there is a whole section on exponents and logarithms in the Algebra section. Whether what comes out of this is wiki, blog, or something more carnival-inspired, let’s make it easy to find things.

    At this point, I’m not comfortable putting my stuff out there. (The blog linked here isn’t updated often for that reason. Also, because there are enough first year manifestos out there.) But my resolution can be to comment more whenever I take lesson plans. If only to tell you wonderful authors that you are helping me.

  21. So, I put in a little more time tonight and the site is at a place where it is starting to take shape — it’s not done, but it’s at the point where it can at least be useful.

    If you navigate to you can see the lessons/blog posts that have been imported into the site.

    We have some ideas on things to add in as far as functionality, but would also like to get feedback on how things look so far.

    Some quick notes:

    All content on the site is full-text searchable, and tagged by keywords.

    This site does not require anybody to join a new site, or to use a different blogging platform. If your current site can generate an rss feed, we can aggregate it on this site.

    All content in this site in turn can be redistributed via rss feeds, and every tag generates a specific rss feed.

    Over time, as people share resources, they will be collected in this site. I’m looking at this as a starting point — with the data in this site, we can look at a variety of options over time — things as simple as user ratings and comments, and moving to a community-edited resource.

    However, I need to stress this: the more people contribute, the better this will become! If you find yourself saying, “I’m not comfortable putting my stuff out there” — well, now’s the time to get comfortable putting your stuff out there. The more people look at lessons, comment on lessons, and reap the benefits of the ideas others have put into lessons, the more we all benefit.

    So, share some lessons, suggest some feeds, and give some feedback:



    On a related note, I was disappointed to see that the ilovemath site did not generate an rss feed — it’s built using Joomla, so it should be able to generate feeds — if anyone knows the people running the site, it would be great to have feeds of new content coming out of the site.

  22. Well I can give you an answer to one of your questions. They way we at our school manage the equipment is fairly simple and quite effective. First each child has to use the calculator that corresponds to there roll number. The calculators are then but in a holder that makes them easy to quickly visually inspect that they are there. What we use is similar to an over the door shoe holders. for example With a quick look you can tell if all your class set is still there.

  23. @Druin,

    It may be frustrating that others aren’t sharing as much but that can’t be the motivation. I’d share my stuff with you or anyone, whether or not they return the favor.

    Perhaps we should call it giving instead of sharing.

  24. For some reason my entry was held for comment moderation (Dan — what was that?) so that Druin’s entry was posted before my mention of her site. I do feel a bit bad now — it is true that I have been liberally using materials from I Love Math and other sites without contributing myself. Now this is also the first year that most of my materials are entirely electronic instead of more messy hybrid worksheets with graphs and annotations penciled in… and the quality of my the stuff can’t compare with the best at I Love Math. On the other hand, imperfect starting points can be useful too, and as a result of this exchange I might spend a day or two in a coffee shop this Winter Break, adding my few cents worth to the communal pot.

    However — someone just has to be the best, and while arriving first is lonely and breaking trail is hard work, that doesn’t mean that the efforts since 1999 toward exchange of materials weren’t worthwhile and must be part of an impossible project. And while mutuality would evidently be more welcome than appreciation, do know that materials from I Love Math saved several lessons for me in an awfully difficult school with very low skilled students last year. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

  25. To Sarah… I’m not sure what you mean by no exponents on ILoveMath – there are 12 files listed there, but I don’t teach Algebra, so I will admit that not much of that is mine. There are 2 searches – the one on the left sidebar will search through the links, the one at the top when you are in the lesson plans section will search through the documents and files.

    To H… I do appreciate that you are using ILoveMath. I freely support and share whatever I can. I have always vowed that any website that I own will be 100% free to users and 100% ad-free. The site only grows because of the membership. I am so grateful that you found materials there that were useful to you. I have not had much time to work on it lately because I’ve been totally revamping my Geometry curriculum due to the new state End of Instruction exam and trying to support the Collaboration of teachers at my site (for anyone interested in seeing how I share and support the teachers at my site, please visit Each chapter, I try to search the web for the absolute best resources for teachers to use in the classroom. The purpose is to save them time so they can spend the time on creative lessons. I also use the site to help with Best Practices, although I’ve gotten a bit lax on that *shame on me*.

    Anyway, the point of this very long comment is that you are all more than welcome to post anything you wish to post at ILoveMath. If there are certain file extensions that you need, let me know – only the most common are currently in my list because those are the ones that I use most often.

    Thanks for your continued support – I’m sorry this sounds like an ad, because I rarely spread the word that I am the person behind the server :)

  26. One of the reasons I’m such a surly blogger is that five years ago, I thought this was the direction we were heading. Teachers would start blogging about their practice. Frankly, that’s barely gotten off the ground yet (notwithstanding blogs and wikis about using blogs and wikis), and everyone seems sufficiently distractable (hey, ning! look, twitter!) that it may never happen at a larger scale.

    Technically, lesson plans are difficult. They’re semi-structured data. Some are very free-format, some are highly organized, and there is huge variety in the design and intent of the structures that are used. There are technologies well suited to organizing all this stuff — web ontologies and the like — but essentially, developing that stuff is nobody’s job, or job description, so it is unclear how it would ever happen, and since only a tiny, tiny handful of people understand the real issues… well, it is pretty hopeless to do it *right*.

    I’d say blogging, and linking to good stuff in other people’s blogs is the right way to go, in part because that method leverages Google most effectively, and it just avoids the hopeless technical terrain.

    Also, I think Lesson Study is a good model and quite relevant to this issue, which I keep trying to pimp to the blogosphere, to no avail. Here’s a good place to start on that if you’re curious:

  27. To Druin:

    Ahhhhh…. (I swear my housemate must think I’m crazy for all the noises I’m making at my computer right now.)

    I was using the wrong search function. (And even with your description, it took me a while to get over the search at the top of every page as the “second” search.) Your site just got so much better for me. Though now I need to remind myself to come up with tomorrow’s quiz questions rather than search for things that are already over for the year.

    To H: I’ll join you in the day or two in a coffee shop over break to get some of my two cents out there. Though, despite everyone’s encouragement, I may focus on developing stories without my materials for now. Because while imperfect starting places are something, I can give links to the places that I stole from.

  28. This past August, several teachers on an AP Physics listserv set up a wiki for sharing lab experiments. Previously, someone would ask the list members for a lab idea and another would reply with “I have one to share.” And then an avalanche of people would write “Could you email it to me, too?”

    It was crazy.

    Now with the wiki, a shared lab is posted once and then anyone else can download it whenever. Check it out:

  29. To Tom: I reckon for a lot of old-timers this seems like a case of history repeating itself.

    “Time” is a timeless constraint and will always discourage well-meaning bloggers from posting resources. But even if a blogger had the time and the notion (which I do) the largest storage mediums around right now (these depots) impose too many constraints on creativity. Mandatory fields, file formats, and formatting. Because of server space and bandwidth constraints Graphing Stories would never have happened at ILoveMath. Which is totally fair.

    But what we need then is a Flickr for lesson planning, a site which imposes no constraints on content (no mandatory fields, radio buttons, file formats, or sizes) but which encourages indexing and tagging.

    After posting a lesson here, I want to head to a site, input my trackback URI into a field, add some tags, checkboxes for recommended grade level, etc., and then add it to the index.

    This works well for sites reliant on user-generated content like YouTube and Flickr. Why not lesson plans?

    (Except, of course, because no one’s raising a hand to code the thing?)

  30. @Tom — you mean you weren’t always a surly old blogger? :)

    And don’t even get me started on the Ning/Twitter effect. There are times when I feel that huge swaths of the educational blogosphere are crows running after shiny things.

    RE: “There are technologies well suited to organizing all this stuff – web ontologies and the like – but essentially, developing that stuff is nobody’s job, or job description, so it is unclear how it would ever happen” — absolutely. And that is why, in the face of that reality, using the blog as a container is a decent starting point — simple enough for most people to use, and flexible enough to hold whatever we throw at it. Most decent blogging software also supports at least rudimentary metadata (very rudimentary, in the form of tags), which should be enough to get things started.

    @ Dan — RE: “After posting a lesson here, I want to head to a site, input my trackback URI into a field, add some tags, checkboxes for recommended grade level, etc., and then add it to the index.” — This is very achievable as an add-on to the site I created over the last couple days. This would simply be a form with fields for a URI, description, and some taxonomy categories (for the checkboxes).

    This functionality, combined with aggregating selected feeds (and possibly some code in the background to automatically prune imported blog posts on specifically defined conditions) would be a good first pass at the “Flickr of lesson sites” —

    I also think that some similar filtering could be accomplished by community-applied tags, and a user ratings system that would bury less relevant content.

    RE: “(Except, of course, because no one’s raising a hand to code the thing?)” — while I can’t drop everything and immediately put development hours into perfecting this, I am more than willing to put the time into spec’ing a prototype and, where possible, bootstrapping either our internal dev work or development that is released back into the Drupal community into improving the site.

    So, consider my hand raised. From the comments in this thread, it seems like there are a few other folks with development chops as well. I also think that a site like this, developed as a project used for Open Educational Resources, running on Open Standards, and powered by Open Source code, could actually attract additional development funding once we had a solid proof of concept.

    The key is a tool that is simple to use, leverages existing work by educators without placing an additional burden on educators, and supports involvement within the community at a variety of levels — from the passive content browser, to the commentor/rater, to the lesson-blogger, to the lesson-developer, to the site maintainer.

    Which, as I said earlier, we pretty much have now.



  31. Dan,

    What a wonderful video of your sub lesson plan:

    Your video demonstrates all of the key ingredients you have been advocating for, from effective Keynote/Powerpoint techniques, to engaging and interesting questions and visuals (both math and non-math), to your light, humorous, yet respectful speaking style.

    Making video lesson plans can have so many good uses…From students watching them over and over again, to other teachers picking up ideas, to potential teachers like me learning how to give effective presentations and how to connect to students.

    Your video is worth a lot more than a thousand words!