Dodging My Tech Coordinator

a/k/a Linear Fun #4: Hit ‘Em

She wants her laptop cart back so I’m ducking her calls, trashing her e-mails, employing idle freshmen to shield me as she walks past.

I don’t know how this happened. I reached for those laptops to show my tech detractors I could, to inoculate myself against charges of Ludditism the next time we went to the mattresses, debating the relevance of the read/write web to math education.

“But Some Of My Best Friends Are Laptops.”

But then, after our first investigation into the flight data, after they selected their own data sets for regression analysis, after we investigated the data from the Department of Motor Vehicles (which y’all positively killed in the comments, thanks) I roughed up an interactive activity in Microsoft Excel:

Punch in a slope and y-intercept. Do your best to hit a set of targets. Get ready to give me several sentences explaining both.

There were positive, zero, negative, rational, and impossible slopes.

This was, like, the fifteenth extension on the mobile lab return deadline I begged off my tech coordinator and I realized this laptop thing was no longer an affectation. I wasn’t posing. It was real, more or less.

The Lonely Criterion

If you’re a tech proponent, coordinator, evangelist, or whatever, I’d like to break my complicated, conflicted, highly emotional experience (seriously: who am I anymore?) into small pieces for you.

  1. I had to accomplish a specific instructional objectiveWe can debate the merits of my state’s content standards, fine, but you can’t ask me to defy my employers, simultaneously setting my students up to fail in their next class, all so BJ Nesbitt won’t think I’m a lousy teacher. I mean, if that’s integral to the master plan, we have some work to do.. My students would a) model some part of their world with a linear equation, and b) explain the significance of the equation’s parameters.
  2. Microsoft Excel (coupled with a web browser) was the best tool to accomplish those objectives. And by “best” I’m balancing more factors than I have time or eloquence to describe but a) student engagement (are their brains working hard?), b) student enjoyment (are they having fun?), c) seat-hours expended (could I use our in-class time better?), d) planning hours expended (could I use my out-of-class time better?), and e) assessment scores (how well can they demonstrate mastery of the objective?) certainly round out the top five.

That is my uncomplicated flowchart, my lonely criterion for working technology into my classroom or not. I can’t imagine it is uniquely mine.

Your Job, Simplified

See, this is great. You don’t have to email your entire faculty a link to Mike Wesch’s latest call to educational actionFor serious: if I never saw another stony-faced child staring grimly at the camera, holding a hand-scrawled sign denouncing her out-of-touch, digital-immigrant teacher for not letting her SMS her iPod playlist to her Facebook group (or whatever) during class it would be too soon.. You don’t have to throw statistics at me. You’ve convinced me that my students need different instruction this century than they did in the last – check. got that. – yet you’ve satisfied only one-tenth your job description.

See this is the bummer. Now you have to immerse yourself in my content standards and use tech to help me satisfy the same instructional objectives in some way that’s a) more engaging, b) more fun, c) less time-intensive for my students in-class, d) less time-intensive for me out-of-class, or e) sturdier upon assessmentReally, if you can show me gains along any of those vectors without losing the others, you’ll be my valentine..

But this is also a bummer because, assuming your background wasn’t in every content area your school offers, you have to build a robust network of prolific educators pushing every content area in every direction but down.

And that’s the final bummer for y’all School 2.0 sectarians I’ve hectored these last fifteen months: unless I’m missing several platoons of math teacher bloggers, we’re stuck with each other.

‘Cause I’m starting to enjoy these Internets of yours, and finding a place for them in my classes.

2015 Nov 9. This might be the most belated update ever on this blog. Ms. Mac asks why there isn’t a Desmos Activity Builder-enabled version of this task yet. (Note to my past-self: you now work for an edtech company. Take the day off while you process that turn.) There should be. She made one.

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. You know, Dan, that’s the relevance piece that we so often espouse as being critical for students.

    Somehow, though, we often gloss right over the relevance thing when it comes to professional development. Especially tech-related PD. As if it should somehow be the teacher’s job to make it relevant to them if it isn’t already.

    Use the best tool for the job. Period.

  2. My bad, H.. Back up now.

    Scott, I scrapped a follow-up post to yesterday’s which basically noted how much easier it is to issue the emotional calls to action, the appeals to decency, than it is to give tangible, actionable advice for integrating this tricky new stuff into existing coursework.

    The edublogosphere abounds with low-hanging fruit.

  3. Easier? Sure. Necessary? A whole other question.

    I don’t actually think the basis for criticizing Wesch-type sectarian stuff is that it is de facto an appeal to emotion. (What the heck was “I Have A Dream?”) As much as we empirical rationalists don’t like to admit it, the heart must inform the mind as much as the reverse.

    The basis for criticism is because it is poorly supported, manipulative, hyperbolic, superficial, *plagiarist* appeal to emotion. :)

  4. Dina, nowhere am I denying a place to the emotional call to action. It’s just an aggravatingly easy first (and, for a lotta bloggers, a last) step in this process.

    cf. Why does Spielberg imperil a kid in every one of his movies?

  5. Agreed, Dan. But in an ironic twist, I generally attribute much more honesty of motive to Spielberg than some. He genuinely thinks childhood itself is imperiled– the theme runs from Jurassic to ET.

    Also wonder what you think about the idea of myth. I’m not saying Freedom Writers or eduporn are good examples of this, but myth does explore human realities in broad strokes– with no “actionable, tangible items” whatsoever. It has to. Where do you draw the line?

  6. Ways that I found technology to be helpful – rather than harmful or neutral – when it comes to visual data analysis. I’ve spent a while teaching students how to read visual representations of data, and creating them in real time really helps. (eg. HR diagrams)

    I’ve also found technology to be really helpful in garnering student engagement for some assigments. Rather than handing students an article to suppliment their textbook to read and discuss, I posted it on the web. I had (not the most controlled of experiments) 35% more buy-in for the class that read it off of a computer screen rather than the class that read it off of paper.

  7. @Dina: Great prompt, and I think you answer it aptly with your analysis of Spielberg.

    The difference for me splits along lines drawn by ET and War of the Worlds: either there is truth to the myth (by which I mean honesty in the broad strokes) or there is shameless manipulation. (Plus an ocean of gray between them.)

    And I’m a total sucker for the myth. Back when I first linked up blogging-soul-buddy TMAO, I wrote this:

    TMAO is also singlehandedly creating the mythology of the young, new teacher. And before you sneer at that assertion or, particularly, at the assertion that us young, new teachers need a mythology – a John Henry-type for novice educators – check your age … and then check how all the teachers nearabout your age are just about done. Then note all of us noobs entering the profession, banging our heads against the whiteboards, exiting the profession just as ceremoniously two years later, all the while leaving a legacy of failed students and sustaining the market for long-term subs. And then tell me that new teachers don’t need some larger-than-life icon to keep us all together.

    I reckon there’s manipulation to every mythic fable – even TMAO’s blogging, which lately has been making the rest of us look like filthy hacks. Some myths just hide the guy wires and internal mechanics better than AVK12ST. And by “some” I mean “basically all.”

  8. @TheInfamousJ: cool first example. the second, though, strikes me as an effective novelty, which’ll wear off, unless by transforming the medium (from print to digital) you’re adding good stuff like hyperlinks and multimedia capability.

  9. It’s so *fascinating*– and I don’t mean that in a condescending fashion. It’s fascinating the way your language betrays basic discomfort with emotion-evocation, even while asserting its appropriateness through myth. “I’m a *sucker* for myth,” you say, as if myth is a frighteningly good telemarketer. (Does TMAO know you’ve got incense burning to him in your classroom? :) )

    See, for me, real myth has no manipulation involved whatsoever. It is utterly, completely, truthful; it’s just talking about truths that are not minutae-driven *facts*. There is such a thing. In otherwords, myth touches the heart. (I know that sounds awful, but stay with me.)

    The heart, however, I think is often confused with the GUT– and deliberately so. Big fat difference. See below for some scary examples. I saw these on another thought-provoking blog today,

    So anyway. If something is manipulating you, it isn’t a myth. It’s an ad.


    -The key to emotional language is its simplicity and clarity. It has to be immediately believable and authentic. If it requires you to think, it’s less powerful; if it requires you to explain, it’s less powerful. Frank Luntz, Republican Pollster

    -The most effective fear-inducing language and images speak to the amygdala, not the cortex. Newsweek article describing how politicians use fear to influence, Dec 24, 2007

    -A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth. Frank Luntz

  10. Real myths are utterly, completely, truthful?

    I don’t think I quite fit in this box you’re trying to pack me into. I mean, I get the power of a narrative more than most educators, I think, but still, I can’t follow you all the way down this path where myth and truth are one, or even equally essential, or even equally comparable.

  11. (laughter) How did we get from “Dodging my Tech Coordinator” to “What is truth?” The hallmark of a decent conversation, I suppose… I suspect this is going to come down to some type of thumb-wrestling match between mathematical truth versus metaphorical truth, which are, of course, the respective hearts of our disciplines.

    I’m not turning tail– I could argue this for hours– But I am thinking of you and your audience, though, and my documented propensity to completely KILL parties with this kind of talk. So– match to you, by default.

  12. I would so like to hear Dina and Dan debate this over a cafe table. Coffee and cinnabuns would be on me. Dina, do you really need to live so far away?

  13. what, dan wins an argument AGAINST metaphorical truth?

    dina, why are you giving up so easily? let me kill the party, please! all you gotta do is ask dan if he thinks that “the wire” is a truthful depiction of the city of baltimore.

    truthiness…what a great topic. sigh.

  14. You people are so much fun. Any one of you, just email me if you’re in upstate NY for that cafe debate. I’ll bring black berets, clove cigarettes, and my copy of “Leaves of Grass.”

    All right, so I’ll throw one last post out. I swear to God that I was flipping through this book just this morning, seeing if I could recommend it to a kid, and fell on this page randomly. The book is by all accounts spectacular: “The Things We Carried” by Tim O’Brien, about the stories of Vietnam vets, finalist for the Pulitzer etc. It says the following.

    “You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask, “Is it true?” and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.

    For example, we’ve all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies.

    Is it true?

    The answer matters.

    You’d feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it’s just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen– and maybe it did, anything’s possible– even then you know it can’t be true, because a true war story does not depend on that kind of truth. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.

    For example: Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast, but it’s a killer grenade and everybody dies anyway. Before they die, though, one of the dead guys says, “The fuck you do *that* for?” And the jumper says, “Story of my life, man,” and the other guy starts to smile but he’s dead.

    That’s a true story that never happened.”

    What say you to that, Dan?

  15. Awright awright, I went back and re-read this whole thread and watched you take us down this primrose path into the representational forms of truth, which, I’ve gotta repeat, really isn’t where my heart’s at.

    I’ll reiterate here, then, that my problem with AVK12ST isn’t how true or untrue it is, rather, how shamelessly it goes about its truth. I mean, why not have kids speak those lines, except it would rupture the abused-mute-child vibe Nesbitt is clearly going for.

    Back to our coffee & cigarettes: it matters to me that one grenade story was real and one wasn’t. I want to know. I’m digging deep for rationalization from the philosophy classes I never took in college.

  16. (more laughter)– “watched YOU take US down this primrose path”– what’s the matter, Dan? Feeling a little at sea? Needing some guerilla pronoun support?

    To sum up, doesn’t seem we’re disagreeing about AVK12ST. You say it’s shameless, and I say it’s shameless, and (actually) I also say that therefore it doesn’t qualify as truth at all. Truth does not manipulate. End of story.

    Now, obviously, I also think truth resides in other places than facts (myth, metaphor, and the responsible appeal to emotion). You’re feeling a little weird about that idea. I get that. I guess I would be really interested to have you crystallize why this is.

    Take the two grenade stories. To me, the second one– the “unreal” one– doesn’t manipulate. In fact, I love the last line precisely because it’s overtly and recognizably reaching *beyond* fact– a dead guy can’t “begin to smile”, we all know that. No manipulation, see?

    But because the teller knows something of the souls of these men, he has supplied an opportunity for the men in this story to react– an opportunity that the grenade took away. THIS is what he means by “something factual happening and still being a total lie.” There is a fundamental lie in the horror of wartime robbing these men of an opportunity to say their wise, funny, profound last words. Am I making this clear?

    So in a way, it’s the second story that’s more “real” to me than the first.

    It isn’t that way for you, clearly– so I’d ask you: why? And I’ll also give you permission not to answer since I’m obviously continuing to veer way off course in these comments. :)

  17. Where the hell are those pronouns I commissioned?

    *sigh* Now I’m left shrugging: you win. I don’t know if I ever disagreed. I mean, I’m decidedly not a nonfiction documentary kinda guy. My favorite movie, 25th Hour, has spoken more truth to the reality of growing up a dude in America than any interview or expository essay in Harper’s ever has. That fact isn’t lost on me.

    I just can’t really hang with this debate, “which is more true?” ’cause it’s really really a matter of personal preference.

    Do you prefer the more boring, objective truth (they died) or the more nuanced, recreation of the truth (they died and here are the author’s thoughts on what they were like in life)?

    And I think I know which I and my pronouns prefer.

  18. Just an FYI,

    That slope activity where you punch in an equation to try to hit points already exists in game form. Look up Green Globs. It even allows you to use equations with sine and cosine etc….

  19. Yeah, yeah, Green Globs! From Sunburst, right? Very cool stuff.

    Very not free, though, which is why you’ve got my humble li’l workaround instead.