Where Are The Next-Gen Math Teachers?

… however we’re defining “next-gen” nowadays. Oh and I’ve met Darren, who’s good people.

I only ask on account of my impression that math, maybe more than any other secondary subject, lends itself least to this self-directed, participatory culture promoted by the next-gen crowd. Not unrelatedly, liberal arts bloggers (English and Social Science, specifically) outnumber us by a pretty wide margin.

It should go without saying that lecturing isn’t necessarily an effort to make the teacher feel smarter, more powerful, to subjugate her kids, or any of the other whack motivations next-gen teachers throw around in an concerted effort to get uninvited from my birthday party.

I lecture – and by “lecture” I mean short bursts; five animated, image-heavy minutes max before I have my Algebra kids getting dirty with numbers – only because I believe it’s the least frustrating way for them to learn a wide breadth of material well. Nothing more sinister than that.

Darren’s got a high-functioning slate of calculus and precalculus classes. Sophomore year of high school I was that high-functioning kid who taught himself precalculus over Christmas break and then wrecked the calculus final. The next-gen approach works for some.

But my kids come in Below Basic and Far Below Basic, unhappy and unconfident math students. The next-gen strategy, as best as I understand it, is to put them in charge of their learning, hand them the textbooks, get them on the Internet making math, get them talking to each other and, I swear, as honestly and accurately as I can predict the result of that year, it wouldn’t work. I’m pretty sure it would be a disaster and I’m not willing to bet a school year on the possibility that my intuition sucks.

Perhaps I’m being narcissistic. Perhaps kids in other content areas carry the same intellectual baggage as do my FBB Algebra crowd. Doubt it, though.

We’ve got a lot of kids stuck in this very complicated intellectual thicket called “math” and they need really competent guides to extract them. I suspect that all this enthusiasm for kids to extract themselves is a response to a desperate shortage of good guides.

We respond. We say, “This is too difficult for us.” We offer them a textbook, the Internet, classmates from other cultures, and the well-meant promise to answer any questions they have. We volunteer to split the burden of their extraction 50/50.

And I agree with them: this is a very difficult job.

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. Ok, here’s the thing. I hate the “next generation” bull. I used to be a teacher and people would be like, “So what are you doing that’s new?” (Note: I taught Deaf kids. . . )

    I’d think, I haven’t even mastered the BASICS, like getting them to complete work IN CLASS. Now teaching a college class (I teach the “how to succeed in college/life” course for Freshmen), I use a blog and some podcasts and people MARVEL as if I’m showing them my not-so-secret ability to move objects with my mind (Note: podcasts—not a good idea for teaching the Deaf).

    But here’s what frazzles my chops, I have students FAIL my intro to college class, they FAIL. I can have all the razzle dazzle; make it hip; keep it real; meet them where they are at, and they cannot, (will not), get their homework in (I assign homework) or just read the Damn book.

    So if they do not have a fundamental desire to learn, crack a book, see the necessity (and PRIVILEGE) of an education, then nothing “new” is going to help them learn. I understand you should have clear, concise teaching in the short and long term. I get it. But this “new” stuff isn’t backed up by statistical success. So even though I use podcasts and blogs, that’s due to my volition and I’m not pursuing anything “new”.

    Unless by “new” I can take a 20″ gauge needle and inject the information directly into their skull. Hand it over. This might hurt a lot.

  2. Ironically, as math is far harder to teach (dodging bric-a-bracs) than anything else, we are far less likely to be able to acquire technique simply by reading. I want, if I am trying to pick up something new, a live person in the room with me, modeling, answering my questions. Face it, I can’t simply suggest introducing the theme of rebirth in chapter 4 instead of chapter 5.

    And we are the ones who know some math. We require instruction. The kids shouldn’t?

  3. I realize that this is a math-oriented discussion. However, as a Spanish teacher, I feel you, Dan. I am all for self-directed learning, and taking ownership of the learning process. In fact, learning a second language successfully demands it. Still, this self-directed learning can only happen once the students have had enough opportunities to manipulate the vocabulary, verbs and grammatical structures through lecture, memory and recall, drill and skill, and guided practice BEFORE they can make it their own, i.e. creating with the language. I also teach students who could be called low-performing and lacking in self-confidence, as well as students with learning disabilities. So, they need all of the structure and guidance they can get from me. Teaching a second language is very teacher-directed for several years, at least until the students get to Level IV, and, depending on the school, not many students hang in that long, and the ones that do are the “high flyers” – the ones for whom Web 2.0 and next-gen. teaching is made.

    No wonder language teachers are so exhausted at the end of the day!:)

  4. I’m an EFL teacher. Hm, that explains why I keep coming back here, and am learning a lot.

    my impression that math, maybe more than any other secondary subject, lends itself least to this self-directed, participatory culture promoted by the next-gen crowd is not just a facetious comment. And while some are certainly promoting a kind of culture, some are naturally embracing the social-software-networking tools (web 2.0) because they do lend themselves to the skills some teachers are trying to develop in their students. After a certain point, you learn to write better by writing, and by having others read and respond to your writing.

    The next-gen strategy, as best as I understand it, is to put them in charge of their learning, hand them the textbooks, get them on the Internet making math, get them talking to each other
    The next-gen strategy works well with students who’ve already mastered the basics. ‘Cept the next-gen teachers often forget to mention that bit.

  5. Miss Profe, thanks for registering world languages in this discussion. I’m recalling my own Spanish experience and how we did these fantastic collaborative presentations, plots, storylines, vocabulary interwoven, how those presentations first got me working with video. Those projects probably carried with them the essence of the School 2.0 movement, but none of them would’ve been possible were it not for Sra. Jamison’s direct instruction, getting us up to speed on vocab, syntax, and verb tense. Couldn’t have done it.

    Marco, I feel like I would be a much less grating presence on the blogsphere if I taught English. Or Social Science. ‘Cause the value of blogging/wikiing seems so much more obvious there and the opportunity cost so much lower. Like, instead of assigning an in-class paper/pencil quick-write, I could have them post it to their blog (assuming we all had blogs) and make the peer review process part of the assignment. Everything you would’ve done in class plus tech engagement.

    Basically, I can see the value of next-gen technology in other content areas. The bummer part of participating in this global conversation is that those content-area teachers don’t have a lot of empathy for (or knowledge of?) the limitations of a remedial Algebra class.

    (Seriously, I’d love a next-gen show of hands. I’m wagering that once the hands were counted we’d have over 80% language arts, social science, and technology.)

  6. Learning at every turn from each of the comments here, as well as the ongoing train of thought (and questions) Dan poses on the blog (and via other blogs).

    Thanks on all fronts.

    Skill development takes…development. And time. And careful consideration of the foundation details that are eventually built upon to develop long-term knowledge (and the ability to ‘do’ something in the discipline).

    Fully agree with the implicit and explicit statements here.

    ALL that one can hope for with regards to anything “nex:gen” or 2.0 or whatever you want to call it is to foster a culture of curiosity and empathy on all fronts. To split hairs between skills and mature wisdom, or one subject vs. another, is to minimize what great teachers have done for centuries.

    All the 2.0 consideration offers is the ability to foster new opportunities to engage. As all of us are realizing via our own blog usage as educators (and learners), or video usage (Dan), our own learning, networking, and passions are being fueled in a way that was conceivably impossible in the past.

    Can we give even a hint of this to our kids, while still maxing out their skill development regardless of their background or the subject matter? Curious.

    Love the conversation. Thanks on all fronts, even if I am a 2.0 proponent and an English (read: non-math) guy. Forgive on both accounts, but know you’re having an impact on my thinking.

    And isn’t that the point, rather than simply staying in our various camps of opinion?

    Cheers, Christian

  7. Here again, Christian, we find the conflict between your definition of School 2.0 — a two-way conversation, curiosity, passion, empathy etc. — and how it’s practiced and evangelized across the blogosphere. Do you realize your interpretation is far more open-armed than most?

    The two themes I find most often from other blogs – typically tech-teacher blogs, history-teacher blogs, and lit-teacher blogs – is that a) lecturing is fundamentally poor teaching and that b) it isn’t a learning moment if the teacher is talking from the front. You’ve hinted at the same from your blog with your recent preference of blogger cafés over session speakers.

    I find the lecturing backlash to be a predictable but regrettable moment in the schooling revolution. The fact is that both exchanges – learner-to-learner and speaker-to-learner – are utterly different and utterly essential.

    On the one hand, you can’t put two below basic math students or below basic School 2.0 teachers in a classroom or a café together and expect them to develop. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

    Lecturers are great for lending perspective, experience, knowledge, and inspiration to a large group. School 2.0 is so eager to chuck it, I imagine, because so many of those offered the lectern do so little with it.

    On the other hand, learners have to be given time to process new knowledge whether we’re talking solo practice work, blogging, wikiing, essay-writing, speeches, group projects, videos, or whatever.

    Whereas I admit the necessity of both, School 2.0 would kinda like to see lecturing slip and fall off the boat and then disappear into the waves without any witnesses to call the Coast Guard. Which is a bummer because, from my experience, good lecturing is the difference between kids understanding math and kids hating it.

  8. Here’s my personal ball/strike count from the last 2 years that frames at least a hint of my own biases as I prepare to return to the classroom in less than 2 months for the first time in 3 years, Dan:

    1. Started blogging 2 years ago. NOTHING prior to it in my experience came close to fostering debate, conversation, introspection, research, and radically self-challenging even my own ideas for me as a learner in school or life. Parts of grad school came close, but the end-game had a boundary. Blogging (and other 2.0 elements) has no end-game. It just evolves. And for learning, that counts big in my book. The vast majority of what I seek I am NOT an “expert” on. My desire to learn, however, or at least to be in the conversation, necessitates that I scramble for footing constantly.

    2. Started consulting and speaking on a national and international level 2 years ago. Suddenly move from being a teacher with 10 years of classroom experience on a wide # of fronts (and socio-economic kidscapes) in solitary classroom settings to being a hired ‘expert’ in front of large and very diverse professional audiences all focused on the future of education. The fees and ego-strokes and travel opp’s were humbling and stimulating. At the end of the day, however, boredom or ennui eventually sets in. Simply being the ‘expert’ with an audience mixed with less-than-interested to extremely-engaged ‘learners’ listening and taking notes and trying to figure out the ‘solution’ begins to lack value if you remain the “expert” only. Where the real value lays is in the conversations off-stage, in the collaborative ventures that grow out of such conversations, in the exchange in roles between ‘expert’ and ‘learner’ at all turns.

    3. For the last 2 years, there arose a remarkable desire to return to the classroom at the same rate that #2 grew in reality for me. And thanks to #1 (esp. blogging across a remarkable range of networks and ideascapes), my perspective on being an ‘expert’ and being a ‘teacher’ has shifted dramatically. I have NOT thrown out the ability nor the need to be an ‘expert’ with my students, nor to ‘lecture’ at strategic moments. Both will be evident in spades whenever they further the learning curve for my students. A the same time, two things have changed since before I left teaching 3 years ago: 1) As a young teacher, ego and fear and wet-behind-the-ear-ness demanded that I prove I was an ‘expert’ to both student and teacher. Just not sure that matters much now. To anyone. Framed diplomas on the wall. Plenty of experience both in and out of the classroom. Always 100 exponential steps ahead of all of my students at a moment’s notice in my chosen academic discipline. And I get that handy title, desk and grading book that pretty much seals the deal when I need proof…or the kiddos to hush up. While I can’t deny that ego and fear won’t rear their heads on occasion in the next 30+ years of my teaching career, I suspect that I’ll be faster in admitting when they are driving the “must prove I’m an expert” reaction…and then switch gears to focusing on my kids’ own learning and passions and questions instead. Additionally, the “expertise” will be used in ways I lacked the instinct and wisdom for during the first 10 years, and will never (within reason) get in the way of my students wrestling with problems of their own and beginning to take ownership of the class and topics/projects at hand. 2) I will walk into a teaching situation this year with no assigned classroom of my own, potentially a loaned laptop, and a school that is open to limited 1.0 technology use primarily…and do not expect to use even 5% of the digital/2.0 options afforded to me today while in the classroom. 95% of my work with students will be with books, pens, paper, and conversation. Both by choice and by default resources. The difference, however, lies in the fact that EVERY opportunity to shift from demonstrating my own “expertise” and assuming that of my kids are incapable of learning both the foundation skills and the higher-order, conceptual layers of any topic simultaneously will be at the center of any class I teach. And any chance I have to nudge, cajole, tease, or invite my students into risking creative/intellectual discovery beyond the foundation skills, I will go there without apology.

    And this to me — the drum roll, please — is the 2.0 promise in my steep-learning-curve-still opinion.

    What does it look like? Conversation. By any means (and digital or paper tools) necessary.

    Now, there is an important and secondary issue of disciplines that I’m pleased has been brought up first by Dan and then by others who have taken the time to comment. Definitely worth exploring.

    Dan, you’ve noticed that tech, history, language arts bloggers tend to have one voice — one that dismisses lecture as an appropriate teaching strategy and student need. I can’t argue for or against that. You’ve noticed it, so I take it as legit. Is there a difference in perspective between educators that a) either are technology centered by literal contract/position and/or b) in classrooms that revolve more around interpreting texts/voices…vs…those educators that must focus a) on the foundation skills before anything else can be considered next and/or b) are inherently more factually based vs. conceptually based more time than not? Sure. Is this echoed in the blogging (and 2.0) world? Sure. But is it new? No. this is Plato and Socrates in nature. This is left and right brain in nature. This is the great default divide found between ALL academic subjects at all times in history. And also within the various domains of each subject. And the various levels of each subject. And in various nations/cultures who see each subject slightly differently than others.

    This is, however, hardly a 2.0 issue alone.

    Ultimately, we as human beings first, teachers second, tend to fall into 2 camps (if we must see everything in a black/white way):

    1) The point of learning the subject is to master the ‘facts’/’skills’ of the subject.


    2) The point of learning the subject is to form ‘opinion’/’questions’ about the subject.

    At various points in the process, we must ebb and flow between ‘facts’/’skills’ and ‘opinions’/’questions’ in order to have relevant skin on the table within the discipline. Certain subjects lend themselves to more of one vs. the other at any given time. And schools — as structures, schedules, and assessment filters — tend to exaggerate those differences in order to facilitate collective goals and to maintain social mores. At the end of the day, however, life demands that we master just enough of the ‘facts’/’skills’ that we can validate our ‘opinions’/’questions’ about any given subject so that we can a) stand a chance at moving up the academic ladder (if desired/required), b) stand a chance at being a viable candidate for some professional/social opportunity, and b) stand a change at being a reasonably interesting human being to others.

    With all that said, I don’t spend too much time really worrying about whether or not we’ll ever achieve School 2.0 as a literal (or desired) reality. I merely use it personally as a challenge to myself to push learning forward by any means (or tools) necessary) and as a prompt for others to wage in on all sides. And I don’t spend too much time worrying about the need to outlaw (or make uncomfortable/irrelevant) the issue of lecturing or skill development. I merely use such conversations/questions/examples as a challenge to myself my own teaching style to engender something far more dynamic than just broadcasting my own “expertise” within my classroom and with my students.

    The red herring lies in both the phrase “School 2.0” and “lecture”. Regardless of how you use them. Using either isn’t bad inherently. But it helps to see the red herring writing on the wall from both POV’s. And to be comfortable simultaneously in both camps at all times.

    But, as I have said all along, it is about conversation. Only. And through conversation and a constant shifting between the roles of “expert” and “learner” within our own classrooms, we all stand to gain immeasurably from the process.

    Again, thank you for the post that sparked this, Dan (as well as the many that have come before it). And thanks to those — whether math teachers or the ‘fuzzy idea/skill’ types who sit on my side of the language arts fence (he smiles) — who have commented here that have helped my own mind focus in better ways.


  9. Dan,
    As a parent and a special educator, I would LOVE it if my son’s math teacher would use the ability to record her five minute bursts of instruction and post it online so that my son could retrieve the instruction at home.
    (“Mom, I get it in class, but don’t get it at home!”)
    Kids in remedial math classes benefit from the repetition that Web 2.0 tools allow. Can you tackle it from that angle?

    (there are free screencasting tools and then post the lectures on the class wiki for retrieval as your students need it – they have control over how many times they need to review the information before they get it!)

    Not a profound response I know, but I tend to think in a practical way!

  10. Perhaps when teaching basics skills math, the lesson is not so adeptly. However, I do not think that is the case. In fact, if anything, I think math lends itself more to the use of school 2.0 tools than any other subject- whether it be basic math, where the repetition allowed by computers is extremely useful, or an advanced class where collaboration is integral. I myself can’t speak for remedial math classes since I have been in the most advanced math classes throughout my schooling. However, I can say that in my advanced discrete/algebra classes we use school 2.0 and collaboration tools a lot. Maybe my teacher doesn’t record lessons, but all our work is stored in Google Docs so students can collaborate easily. When you only meet 3 times a week, the ability to collaborate outside of class is invaluable.
    In addition to the ability for collaboration, if all in-class lectures/teaching were recorded and accessible from home, it would be extremely useful for me and many other students. Oftentimes, you must think back to the lesson when working on homework, and it would be very useful if we were able to watch the lesson again.
    Math lends itself to school 2.0 in far more ways than this student can imagine.

  11. Where I’d like to see some math teachers headed, Dan, is more toward the stuff you’re doing with your kids. As a former math teacher myself, I agree that the subject area lends itself least to self-directed learning — especially with the customers you’ve got in your classroom.

    In all of my observations of math teachers, here’s what I’ve delineated:

    Old School Math Teacher – Take out your books. Watch me do a whole bunch of problems. Any questions? No? Good. Do 1 through 35 odd. The answers are in the back of the book. Come see me after school if you have any questions.

    And don’t think for a second that OSMT isn’t around anymore. He is alive and well in every school I’ve ever worked in.

    Next-Gen(?) Math Teacher – Emphasizes application instead of rote memorization. Can answer with sincerity and authenticity the question, “When am I ever going to use this?” Engages students in a way that today’s students are accustomed to being engaged, be it with technology (Smart Board, slide deck, TI Navigator…) or an effective, interactive lecture. Avoids beginning sentences with the generalization, “These Kids…”

    And there are plenty of these around, too, although they don’t get the same amount of press as OSMTs.

    I’ve been there, Dan. I’ve had the lowest of the low in an urban school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Moving those FBB kids is a tough, tough job and it’s often frustrating for you and them. You’ll find those times when you’ve emptied your bag of tricks and they’re still not getting it. They’ve had very little (if any) success in school, so they’re at the end of their ropes as well.

    I have a hunch, though, that your kids very much get the sense that you’re in it with them. And I know that relationships are an important part of making sure that you all make it through.

  12. Scott, I like you’re definitions. That’s how I see it in English, too. You’re writing about Old School v. New School teaching in general, not just math teachers.

    Perhaps I’m being narcissistic. Perhaps kids in other content areas carry the same intellectual baggage as do my FBB Algebra crowd.

    Yeah, you’re being narcissistic. Just mention the word “Shakespeare” to your students and watch their eyes glaze over with juicy “I-can’t-do-this”-ness. That intellectual baggage comes with all students in all subject areas at all skill levels. My Proficient students feel weak in the knees over Hawthorne just as much as my BB students. Just as many kids say, “I can’t do math” as say, “I can’t write,” immediately giving up on an entire subject due to previous failures.

    I don’t think you need to abdicate authority to bloggy things. That’s not the only place learning occurs, but it is one such place. You’re right: an entire year of students directing their own learning would fail. That’s where your (and my) five-minute lectures come in handy.

    This entire post applies to English teaching, too. Just swap out “numbers” for “words.” This entire post applies to all teachers, I’d bet. We’re all in this together.

  13. That is, “I like your definitions.” I swear, once you hit the “Submit Comment” button, never go back to read your own comment. Sheesh…

  14. I don’t like Scott’s definitions one bit. There’s a wide range of approaches to teaching math, and a continuum of how we teach.

    Creating a charicature of a traditional teacher in order to mock is exactly what I thought Dan was getting at in his Web 2.0 post.

    Look, the smart board faces the wall, graphing calculators come out ‘as needed,’ I even keep Staedtler sharpeners so we don’t use electric in my classroom. Do I do ten examples then assign 1 – 35 odd? Go ahead, guess.

  15. What I like about Scott’s definitions is the reminder that there are a lot of teachers out there that don’t think about what they are teaching. They just teach material because it’s there and someone else said it was a good idea. That’s Old School and a way of teaching that needs to die a quick death. If you’re thinking about what you’re teaching and, most importantly, why you’re teaching, welcome to the New School.

    Good for you if you believe that assigning those odd questions help students learn. Keep it up. Stop, though, if you don’t even think about why you assign them or find evidence that suggests they do not help student learning.

    And what’s wrong with electric pencil sharpeners?

  16. I think we have to start taking ourselves so seriously all the time. So you assign 1-35 odd. Good for you! But you know darn well you’re not an OSMT (the very fact that you read Dan’s blog bespeaks that). And I think you know exactly the teacher I’m talking about.

    It’s not a caricature at all. If you visited my school, I could walk you into that teacher’s classroom. I could show you a litany of parent and student complaints. I could even show you choice quotes from his lectures like, “Don’t worry if you don’t understand what you’re doing – just do it.”

    I won’t endeavor to speak for Dan, but what I got from his School 2.0 rant was that he objected to the blanket characterization of any teacher who does any form of lecturing or who doesn’t have a blog, a wiki, and/or a class of self-directed learners as “bad.”

    I was the “Do 1 – 35 odd” math teacher myself so this is all about self-discovery and what helps each of us better ourselves. Goodness knows I have a long way to go as an administrator and an educator myself.

    What I am going to object to here, if I may, is the implication that any time an administrator (or anyone else) points to an example of less effective teaching methods, we’re accused of painting the entire profession with that brush. Are there a lot of old-school teachers who do EXACTLY what I described? You’re kidding yourself if you say, “No.”

    OTOH, are there a lot of highly effective teachers who are challenging themselves to try something different? You bet! And that’s what makes my job so much fun. Finding those folks who want to try something different and supporting them in that endeavor. Making sure they feel empowered to try (and sometimes fail with!) some innovative approahces to instruction.

    Life is full of caricatures and over-generalizations. Every teacher doesn’t bolt out the door at 2:30pm and relax from June through August. Every administrator doesn’t sit in his or her office all day with their feet up playing solitaire.

    To that, I point you to my initial statement: Stop taking yourself so seriously. We’ve all got a lot to learn.

  17. No, of course I’m not that caricature. But I use next to 0 technology. So I’m not your next generation teacher, either. The divide between good and bad teachers is not a technology divide. And it’s not age. What I do best is 1) copy what effective teachers have done before me, and 2) critically examine my own teaching.

    There really is a continuum. It’s not a divide.

    So how do you improve teaching?

  18. Agreed. And I would never state otherwise. Technology does not make a bad teacher into an effective one. In fact, some of the worst lessons I’ve ever observed were when a science teacher used a PowerPoint as a substitute for an overhead — putting up a slide, waiting for the students to copy, putting up the next slide, etc.

    In his case, we had some great conversations and he was really passionate about technology. I asked him how “engaged” he thought his students were when they were copying notes off the screen. He said he’s never thought about it – and that it probably wasn’t very engaging.

    He loves technology. So with his ideas being the driving force, we worked together on some ways he could use technology in his classroom that would improve student engagement.

    I wrote a little about it here: http://blog.scottjelias.net/2007/01/starting_small.html

    I think it’s different with every teacher. If you’re not into tech that’s fine. Let’s work on something you’re interested in because odds are if you’re interested in it, you’ll teach it well and your kids will benefit.

  19. Jonathan, you’ve hit on a good point: the divide (and there most certainly is one) between good and bad teaching does not necessarily involve technology. The next generation teacher does not necessarily walk into the classroom with blog and del.icio.us account in hand. The next generation teacher looks at students and chooses the best tool for the job out of a toolbox with as wide an array of tools and as thorough a consideration of constituency as possible. Lecture? Sure, sometimes. Blog? Sure, sometimes. Homework? Sure, sometimes. PowerPoint? Never with Georgia on a PC, but other than that, go for it. And all of these things are done with consideration for the educational efficacy of the tool used.

    And I still want to know what’s wrong with electric pencil sharpeners.

    Scott, you sound like the kind of administrator I’d love to work with. My administrators are great people, but they aren’t working with teachers to improve teaching. They are working to keep the campus running and put out parental fires. They stop in for that once-every-two-years visitation and never step foot inside a classroom after that. But even that visitation is just a chance to declare the facts of the observation, not a quest to raise the quality of teaching.

  20. Electric sharpeners have a nasty buzzing sound. Hand-held sharpeners make the user quite conscious of exactly what is occurring. Plus, the kids have a tiny bit of responsibility for the quality of their own point. Plus, I toss them. The kids like throwing things in class.

    But to the other point, there’s nothing particular “next generation” about good teaching.

  21. Todd –

    Thanks for the compliment. I’ve been “brought up” by some outstanding mentors who have worked hard to show me that “administratoring” is not all about discipline, budgeting, and putting out fires.

    Of course, to a large extent, it’s what you make it. I love being in classrooms. I love working with teachers on developing their craft. So I make time for those things. Let’s face it – the classroom is where the rubber meets the road; where the real work is happening. If I’m not there, how can I speak with any legitimacy about instruction?

    It’s important for me to be visible in classrooms. As an instructional leader, when you’re “of the fabric,” I think that what you say carries a lot more weight than someone dictating from the isolation of a high-back leather chair in the principal’s office.

  22. But I think there is something next generation about considering how your teaching impacts students and that’s what I saw as the distinction you, Scott, made between those two types of teachers. Further, there’s something next generation about considering educational impacts of brand new tools. For instance, Jonathan, if using electric sharpeners uses less time and students get to work quicker because of it, instead of grinding away with handheld ones, it would be a shame to dismiss them. Conversely, if using handheld ones cause students to have a greater consciousness about the point they are putting on their pencils and allow students to engage in the class a bit more by throwing them around, it would suck to be forced to use electric ones.

    The next generation vibe I’m picking up on in these last few comments deals with the amount of reflection a teacher has about the craft. That OSMT, as Scott calls it, doesn’t think about how to perform the job any better than he has been instructed by his master teacher or any better than his files of lessons from years past. Even if that OSMT honestly believes that sine and cosine will never help his students later in life, he teaches the concepts anyway.

    It’s the way we define good teaching that’s next generation and that’s how the two terms are related.

  23. That is the distinction I was shooting for, yes. But maybe “next-gen” is a misnomer since obviously a lot of us have been doing the things we’ve been describing as “next-gen” for a long time before the term “school 2.0” entered the lexicon.

    I think that’s what I got from Jonathan’s comment. And hopefully the point of this great discussion will shake out that:

    next-gen does not necessarily mean technology


    technology does not necessarily mean effective instruction

  24. Scott wrote:

    “next-gen does not necessarily mean technology


    technology does not necessarily mean effective instruction”

    I’m glad we finally got here because, like Jonathon, I didn’t like Scott’s definitions at all. Paying attention to student learning, reflecting on your own practice, effectively guiding learning inter- and intra-lesson, this isn’t next-gen, 2.0, or OSMT. Those things are part and parcel of what it means to be an effective teacher.

    And that right there, that’s the only divide we need to focus on. There are good to great teachers on one side, and truly lousy ones on the other. As median income drops and skin-color darkens, you tend to find higher concentrations of those lousy ones. It’s abhorrent, and I don’t think you’ll find the root causes in the amount, or quality of technology use.

    I don’t want to be the lumps in anyone’s oatmeal, but looking at my corner of the educational landscape, I want some teachers who can help keep my kids in school past 8th grade — I don’t give a damn if they use blogs or not.

  25. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out what is so problematic with my examples of both ends of the teacher spectrum. Maybe what you’re finding objectionable is the fact that somehow my “examples” keep getting called out as “definitions.” I wasn’t defining anyone and I really wish people would stop implying that by giving two opposite ends of a continuum I’m somehow pigeon-holing all educators into one end or the other. There’s a lot of in between here and I’m not glossing over that at all.

    As I’ve admitted before, if I was to honestly reflect on my own teaching of mathematics, I’d be more toward the OSMT end of the spectrum. That was unfortunate for me because I missed a lot of opportunities to “hook” kids into math.

    On your blog, TMAO, your header says:

    “The student achievement gap is merely the effect of a much larger and more debilitating chasm: The Educator Achievement Gap. We must erase the distance between the type of teachers we are, and the type of teachers they need us to be.”

    Why, then, do you object so much to my examples of both sides of the gap you describe?

    Please understand: I’m not saying you are one, I’m saying they’re out there. And that is the challenge of administration. I can’t ignore them because the day I start ignoring that they exist is the day I stop doing my job.

  26. I do understand, Scott. Truly.

    My thing is the widespread conflating of effective with “next gen,” and the corresponding equation of ineffective with “old school.” I’m not seeing it; I don’t see it daily.

    That’s why I quoted that sentence of yours. Your OSMT sucked because there was no rationale or intro, no guided practice, no formative assessment, and no close. He didn’t suck because there was insufficient technology usage.

  27. Much obliged to the commenters for putting round edges on an issue where there used to be only sharp corners for me. In my About page I wrote “The input of good teachers has always been valuable to me.” and that’s never been more apparent than right here.

    Christian (waaaay up there) describes the collaborative/endless sensation of blogging pretty accurately for me. The six months since I began blogging have been some of the most educationally exhilarating of my life.

    Only problem is that I’ve never seen math successfully taught that way.

    It’s easy for me to nod my head when he says “It’s all about the conversation,” because this post woulda been pretty worthless if I had turned the comments off, but there are so many moments en route to skill acquisition (as a 30+ math class) where the wrong questions, the wrong conversation can send us far astray.

    I think that detours in a conversation about math carry weightier consequences (the mentally shutting-down, checking-out variety) than do detours in a discussion about what the green light means in Gatsby. (Jonathan agrees. Todd thinks I’m a narcissist.)

    If I were in a one-on-one tutoring environment this stance’d be moot but my responsibility to a class of struggling math students demands I lecture. Not share the forum equally with every member of the class, not drill and kill my audience, not brandish my intellectual authority like a gun, but lecture well.

    Those last two words strike much of the ‘sphere as an oxymoron but I love Todd‘s most recent assertion that old-school and new-school tools are just tools and that next-gen-ishness (or as y’all have re-termed it better: good teacher-ishness) demands responsible use & self-reflection. It’s true that in many content areas, lecturing has lost a lot of relevance and become less appropriate as a tool. That can’t be said (to nearly the same extent) in a remedial math context.

    Mostly it’s this lecture thing that’s made a grating harpy of me. Done well, it’s proven an extremely useful arrow in my quiver, second only to putting visuals in front of students quickly and accurately with Keynote. I think that after all the self-reflection on this blog I could make it a useful arrow in your quiver also but not if you’re convinced that “lecture well” is a contradiction in terms.

    Basically, if I could ask anything for Christmas it’d be for just a little empathy from all these School 2.0 lit, soc. sci., and tech. teachers, some reciprocation for the enthusiasm I have for them and the opportunities these new tools have opened up for their students. Some empathy for (or, failing that, just acknowledgment of) the differing demands of different populations, some of which include a capable lecturer.

    Seems like that request is pretty unnecessary around here, having been fulfilled on a comment-by-comment basis for the last several days.

    (What isn’t unnecessary is Jonathan‘s point about handheld sharpeners. Buck apiece at Staples. Revolutionize your practice for pocket change.)

  28. Thanks for the clarification, TMAO. I reacted the way I did b/c I thought it was pretty clear that my OSMT’s flaws had nothing whatsoever to do with technology. In my attempt at fleshing out a “next-gen” math teacher, I even said:

    “Engages students in a way that today’s students are accustomed to being engaged, be it with technology (Smart Board, slide deck, TI Navigator…) or an effective, interactive lecture.”

    I love this discussion.

  29. Four for $1.89.

    I swear some kids break their pencils before my class just so I’ll toss them a sharpener.

    What generation is that?

  30. This conversation has been a gift across the board. Let alone the reminder that 4 sharpeners for $1.89 is still possible.

    I wish Ben Wilkoff could have added his post — “The Ripe Environment” — to this as well, but I’ll share it here for anyone interested:


    It starts with “I am tired of the tools.” I think everyone will appreciate his take on the larger implications…and the simple need to help each kid move forward.

    Dan, well done for staging the conversation. Karen, “Concerned Parent”, Scott, TMAO, Jonathon, Todd, Arthus (“kid blogger!”), Ryan, Ms. Profe — truly appreciate having the chance to pick all of your brains!

    Cheers, Christian

  31. I was away for one day and look what I missed!
    Powerful conversations tackling the issues of the day. This is part of the reality of the 2.0 conversation. Would these conversations occur absent web 2.0? I am now connected to educational thinkers world-wide. Does this happen in YOUR teacher’s room?

    (One other thing, those cheap sharpeners are hell for my dyspraxic students who can’t coordinate the two sides of their bodies to successfully sharpen the pencil. Give them the electric sharpener or the mechanical pencil, as long as they don’t put too much pressure on the pen. Better yet, eraseable pens!)

  32. As an unrepentant English teacher, I believe that students who ‘go forth’ on their own don’t grow. I am opposed to classes taught entirely by lecture. I also oppose clases that are all about letting the students explore on their own. Someone has to present them with the material (content, methodology). It is important that the material connect them to the world, their lives, etc. in some fashion — that is part of the on-going journey taken by teachers and learners together. As with so many (all?) other educational bandwagons, one tune just isn’t enough — Use ALL of the tricks in the bag.

  33. Heck, when I read the name Darren, I thought you were referring to me! Then I ran the cursor over the name and found I’m not the only blogging math teacher named Darren.