Impatience With Irresolution, pt 2: Part Of The Solution

I do my best not to worsen the problem of uncritical, impatient thought, but my best effort at a solution to the problem is What Can You Do With This? where we pull the world into our classrooms through digital media artifacts.

I have spent the last month trying to determine a framework for capturing and presenting these artifacts effectively, a framework that will differentiate effective and ineffective use, that will explain why some of these artifacts provoke lousy questioning, forcing the teacher to gesture and explain and prod, shooting blanks wildly at the target of real-world relevance, while others are sublime, provoking different routes to different, equally justifiable answers to interesting questions.

I presented my usual PowerPoint dog-and-pony show to UC Berkeley’s math/science teacher cohort on Monday. I had an extra half hour so I decided to test this framework to see if any of my ramblings here make any sense whatsoever.

The short answer is that, yes, off a brief introduction, most everyone could see why your textbook’s halfhearted stab at real-world relevance withers next to a single, compelling image, to which we gradually apply a mathematical framework, only as students request it.

I prefaced it with the Milch audio but I didn’t get around to playing what has become an extremely important piece in this puzzle, the opening shot of a French movie called Caché.

I reckon the majority of my time-strapped readership checked out of that one pretty fast. As drama, it’s kind of boring. As digital media instruction, though, it’s a road map and a full tank of gas.

You realize quickly that the camera won’t move, that there isn’t a soundtrack to establish the mood. (Should I be tense? Eager?) And then certain synapses of your brain start firing. You start constructing meaning from the scene however you can. You scan the margins. You check pedestrians for malicious intent. You notice you’re in an affluent neighborhood. You try to identify the protagonist.

The cameraman, the editor, and the composer are all on a coffee break. It’s on you to ask the difficult questions. It’s on you to find their answers within the scene and defend them. It’s on you to become patient with irresolution.

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. After showing this clip, how would you handle student responses like “that’s stupid” or “that sucks?” I am sure you would ask something like “please explain” and the student respond with something like “it just is” or, if you are lucky, “because the camera isn’t showing anything.”

    Where would you expect a classroom conversation to go, should there be more comments or questions other than “that’s stupid?”

    Would this be the very first video segment of the year, or perhaps one near the end of the year when students are well practiced in making quality comments and questions about the video?

    Dan, what math content do you expect students to notice in this clip, if any (for your intention may no necessarily be for a math classroom).

    What a great clip to support your point about irresolution!

  2. This isn’t a clip for math class. This is a clip to illustrate how clips for math class need to be captured (with a static camera, without music, etc.) and presented (without introduction from the teacher). My kids would hate this.