Show and Tell: Day 7

  1. The Davidson v. Harby Darby prank.
  2. Ensuing CNN coverage of the same.

Let’s pretend you’re my principal. If you’re any good at your job you oughtta raise an eyebrow at all this.

Usually I run a safe and quiet show with videos standing only a coupla inches away from academia – excerpts from Planet Earth, Beer Geometry, etc.

Then there’s this sort, featuring some kid nearabouts their age who goes waaaaaayyy off the reservation, takes a twenty-hour break from Bioshock, and drags everyone he knows and everyone watching him to the hottest street corner in town: the intersection of creativity and hard work.

These videos, in their own small way, push the ceiling higher on what my kids think is possible at their age. That’s my heart for this job.

So, look, yeah, the pure academic value here is practically nil but I’ll make the following case that these videos result in a net gain in instructional minutes.

The simplistic response is that they re-energize kids and I’m getting good at re-directing that energy into our next instructional activity. (Mostly by avoiding clunker transitions like, “Okay, now I’d like to get back to some math.”)

The more complicated response is that by dedicating math time to something that is distinctly disconnected from math, I pour an individual glass of empathy for each of my kids.

A lot of these kids don’t enjoy math but my attendance and classroom management remain stronger than I deserve because they know that twice a day – if they’re working hard straight through the period – they’re gonna see something intriguing that has nothing to do with math. Doesn’t matter if it’s academic material from another class (e.g. “Name That Flag!”). It’s the different-ness that matters most.

I can’t buy that kind of positive PR.

I can’t explain it to an administrator either.

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. I’ll save being long winded at the moment, but I would say you could easily make a case for your video use based on operant conditioning. You are immediately reinforcing behavior that you desire which then serves to support the behavior prior to the film clip. I do a similar thing except towards the beginning of class to reinforce them being there and ready and then move into other reinforcements after a lesson. This is a lengthy discussion but I’d be willing to say you could easily make a solid Skinner-based operant conditioning case here if you ever had to justify it to admins.


  2. I can only speak for myself, Dan and Chris, but as an administrator I’m looking closely at student data with attendance and discipline are two big indicators. If I see few absences and few referrals, it’s an indication that the teacher is doing something right.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is worry less about justifying to the Powers That Be. Your work speaks for itself. The data don’t lie.

  3. Well at least Chris has given me a lot of heavy vocab to lob across the big wooden table. I’m not sure how much I buy it, though, or how much it should be bought.

    The case for Skinnerian conditioning doesn’t look so horrible when we’re talking about ninety second videos, but what if I was offering a day off to any kid who got in her seat in a timely manner or let the class out ten minutes early if they got to work inside of ten minutes. Skinner would be proud but admin would be frothing.

    My point is that I’m not playing inside the instructional standards here – where I’ve been paid to be every minute of every day – and it makes me nervous, that’s all.

    If called on it, and I’ve got reason to believe with our new administration I will be, I’ll flashbang ’em with Skinner psychology but underline it repeatedly by “no referrals no referrals no referrals.”