Year: 2008

Total 265 Posts

Asilomar #1: YouTube Math

Session Title

YouTube Math: Politics, Advocacy, And The Internet

Better Title

Math: Politics And Advocacy


Marianne Smith, consultant.


I enjoyed this session a great deal considering I only realized I had little interest in it after it was too late. Smith wrote the only description in the program featuring the word “blog,” so I thought I’d get my token 21-century session out of the way as soon as possible.

She started with two YouTube videos, both out of Washington State, each taking an opposing side in their math war:

  1. Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth, featuring a Washington TV meteorologist, polished to a shine, representing procedural fluency.
  2. A Parents’ Guide to Math Education in Today’s Classroom [sic], representing conceptual fluency.

We spent fully one third of the presentation on a) those two videos and b) a think-pair-share discussion with our neighbors. Marianne Smith did a fabulous job facilitating discussion between attendees but now, only a day later, I recall little of what Marianne Smith thought about any of this.

She did report that a grassroots site in Washington succeeded in dethroning the Superintendent of Public Instruction (a proponent of conceptual fluency) and installing one of their own (big procedural fluency fan). Most of the attendees in our session advocated not one or the other but – get this – a blend of procedural and conceptual fluency. (I love these people.) Smith urged us to become more active on committees at the state level, to write our legislators, and to make YouTube videos advocating our point of viewSmith falls under the same category of tech user as my mom: really eager, really curious novices who use “a YouTube video” and “a YouTube” interchangeably. I can’t help finding these people really, really endearing..

The crowd was satisfied. I’m curious if anyone has written the how-to guide for educational activism using YouTube videos and blogs I thought this presentation would be. Does anyone who matters (on a policy-making level) even read these things?


PowerPoint. Traditional. All-white background.


A comprehensive bibliography of Internet links, which is weird, right? I’m pretty sure this was the first time I ever transcribed a YouTube link from paper to web browser. Facing the same dilemma in my own session I tagged all my online resources in Delicious, but there is probably a better solution.


  • One particularly earnest and agitated audience member: “Maybe we should start a blog … get the word out.” This is how it all begins, isn’t it?

Asilomar Dispatch #1: Schedule

BTW: added links to session recaps.

I’m tweeting and blogging CMC-North in Monterey this weekend so get juiced. This is the tentative line-up:


  1. YouTube Math: Politics, Advocacy, And The Internet, Marianne Smith. [link]
  2. Visualize Algebra And Geometry Concepts With Greatest Of Ease, Bill Lombard. [link]
  3. From Tsuruda to Sicherman: 30 Of The Best Math Problems Ever, Megan Taylor. [link]
  4. PowerPoint: Do No Harm, Dan Meyer. [link]


  1. Games And Puzzles That Develop Sequential Reasoning, Michael Serra. [link]
  2. Making High Content Math Movies And Music Videos, Robert MacCarthy. Students Take Charge Of Their Learning And Raise Test Scores, Kate Reed. [link]
  3. What Does A Complete, Balanced Curriculum Really Mean?, Tom Sallee. [link]
  4. Digital Story Telling With Mathematics, Brian Van Dyck. [link]


  1. In Fact, It’s All About Data, Tim Erickson.

My closing remarks.

Expecting The Worst

CMC-Northa/k/a Asilomar starts Thursday and I present on Friday.

I have spent, cumulatively, 70+ hours organizing, illustrating, and supplementing a presentation which I have delivered twice to a total of eight people. I’m really proud of these ideas and really eager to discuss them with a larger crowd.

I backed my Keynote slides onto my iPhone yesterday, along with my audio and video supplements. You know, just in case my laptop fries and I have to deliver the whole thing from my mobile phone. Obviously, some part of me hopes my laptop fries.

Wrongheaded Presuppositions

Dean Shareski:

Stop the assumption that reading and writing and math are the most important things everyone needs to learn. Anyone who suggests reading is more important than art scares me.

Comments like these, pitched along the Ken Robinson wavelength, do nothing to rid me of (what I’m positive is) my wrongheaded presupposition that the ed-tech evangelists, writ large in the blogosphere, have a very loose grip on the challenges facing low-achieving populations and their teachers, though that prevents none of them from adopting an authoritative stance. My bias, which I have never explicitly disclosed in two years blogging but which I suspect has been evident from the start, is that none of them has any idea how difficult it is to do what I do. I’m certain this bias is false, unmitigated self-absorption, but the comments section at Ideas and Thoughts does little to disabuse me.

The Rule Of Least Power: An Initial Approach

This is why I only use ten percent of my textbook’s printed pages:

The text has already imposed a rigid, powerful framework around an interesting drawing of a ski-lift. It has labeled the points, scaled the axes, and written the questions. The textbook has told my students how to care. The student can interpret this drawing only as the textbook intends.

To a certain extent, I have no problem with this. I want my students to interpret this drawing in a particular way. I want to use it to learn slope. But by applying this powerful framework in advance, the textbook has told my students exactly how they should be curious, which isn’t any kind of curiosity at all. It doesn’t train my students to draw these strong, interesting connections on their own and it presumes their engagement with the problem.

For example, if a textbook were to repurpose my last What Can You Do With This? prompt, it would run like this:

Just a guess.

The textbook would apply the most powerful framework to the problem, imposing a definite line of inquiry on the student before she even gets around to asking herself, “why does the tennis ball blur like that?”

By contrast, an application of the Rule of Least Power to the problem looks like this:

I put this picture up, just a picture, totally absent any mathematical framework, the least possible power I can apply here, and I ask, “What do you guys notice about this photo?”

The moment any student mentions the blur I drive the conversation her direction. The student has given me permission to apply more power to the situation. I ask, “Does anyone know why cameras do that?”

Several students take photography as an elective and mention shutter speed. I have the students take out their cell phone cameras and take a picture. I ask them to explain the camera’s pausePerhaps we digress with these images..

Having been given permission now to talk about shutter speed, I apply more power:

We talk about “1/25” and what it means to photographers. I might draw another blurred tennis ball on the board, one with a longer blur, and ask them to describe the differences. (A: a longer blur would mean it was dropped from a greater height.)

Finally, after this careful, deliberate application of power, I ask, “Can anyone tell me how high up off the ground this tennis ball was dropped?” No one can, not without measurements, and once someone mentions that, I project the last picture.

And we take on the problem. We have voluntarily committed ourselves to a mathematical framework. That commitment wasn’t forced upon us by an external agent. (Again: the involuntary commitment.)

The Rule of Least Power, as I have applied it to my classroom, means:

  1. Tell no student to care.
  2. Tell no student how to care.
  3. Apply increasingly powerful frameworks to mathematical objects only as the class cares about them.

Please don’t confuse this with hardcore, Waldorfian constructivism. I have an agenda, a standard to meet, a lesson objective. But I don’t fence my students onto a narrow path to my objective. I instead pave the ground beneath them so that the path to my objective is the easiest and the most satisfying to walk.