I Told My Kids I Invented Bingo Yesterday

Brian Cormier:

I played [math basketball] today in class. Class versus the teacher. When I told them I never lose, this was all the motivation they needed.

This kind of hyper-authoritative faux-confidence informs at least 50% of my student-teacher interaction, letting me acknowledge to them that, yeah, I realize this particular lame-duck teacher is real, that I don’t like them any more than my students do, letting me have some cake and eat it too. We get along.

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 see this too. I see it at my school.

    Here’s the stupid thing:

    My gut instinct is much more comfortable trying to invoke change among the teachers not at my school than it is among the teachers at my school.

    I think it’s a “you don’t have to be faster than the bear” thing. I don’t have to be the best teacher on the planet – I only have to be better than all of their other teachers. I know I can’t compete against a PS3. But I can be a whole hell of a lot more rewarding than a history teacher who has you come in and quietly read a chapter and then answer the questions in the back – every single day.

    I was thinking about this a couple of days ago, when I found myself reluctant to share some of the optical illusions I’d found to amuse my kids at the end of a tough lesson. If I share that, then when I do it, it won’t be new and different.

    I need to be very careful about where I draw that line. My wanting to be the best teacher is a whole lot less important than making sure my kids learn – in every class, not just mine.

  2. I hear that, Mr. K. I’m reluctant to share by best stuff, too. But when I find good stuff I steal it, shamelessly. Not only that, but I totally let the kids think it was all my idea. “Yes I took that picture!” So I feel compelled to pass on both my own stuff and adopted stuff (giving credit, of course). The crappy teachers won’t bother using it anyway. And if someone really wants to be better, and I can help, great.

  3. As I’ve thought on it more, there are two categories of stuff. Part of it is just good basic pedagogy. I’ll pimp that out all day long.

    But, there’s also the stuff that you use to distinguish yourself. It’s stuff that’s not directly related to teaching. But, by virtue of it being quirky and different, it keeps your students interested and engaged. Silly stuff, like my socks. The kids stay fascinated for months that I wear odd colored socks (well, they’re 13 year olds, with pretty rigid rules about fashion.) It does nothing pedagogically, except keep them coming back to my classroom with an attitude that is not one of “I’m going to be bored.”

    That stuff, that i use to be interesting, gets diluted if it is copied. It’s worse if it gets copied poorly. Which means that I can only dribble it out as quickly as I can come up with new interesting stuff to replace it.

    Some of the stuff is a gimme, though. The (unrecognizable) picture of me in Wired magazine 20 feet away from a 200 foot fireball is not something any other teacher is going to be able to pull out and show their kids when they ask “What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?”

  4. I was camping with a group of people who were friends with the people who did the simnuke project, and they came out to do a trial run for the actual event. They needed a safety person to watch the blowers, and since I’d worked with a couple of them before, they stuck me in a proximity suit with a fire extinguisher.

    If you watch the video on that site (for some reason the audio is messed up, and it’s long enoigh ago now that most of the images have been unhosted) you can see me – I’m the one that’s almost invisible because I’m in front of the flame, rather than off to the side.