OSCON 2009: My Ignite Presentation

I was constrained by twenty slides at fifteen seconds apiece for a lean five minutes to talk about whateva to a crowd of open source software-types. I talked about a) teaching, b) why my first two years were miserable, c) the difference between teaching math and teaching citizenry, and d) what excites me lately.

[Click through to view embedded content.]

If any other pecha kucha survivors want to commiserate over the format, which required (for me) 400% more rehearsal and 90% less slidework than I’m accustomed to, the comments are all yours.

BTW: A couple of people have asked for a YouTube embed. I tried, but the audio stopped tracking with the video. Here, instead, is a link to a high-quality file.

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. Strong.

    I wonder what the response to this was from the non-teaching crowd? How would it be different for a teaching crowd? Would you change it for a different audience?

  2. Help This Man. 10 points for verbalising something that’s on so many teacher’s wishlists even if they don’t know it. Code it up OSCONners!

    Also: awesome summary of the challenges, 100 points for open honesty about points to improve across the profession.

  3. Just listened to your 5 minutes of fame at Oscon. Enjoyed it very much. “I want to Open source my teaching and help learners learn.” I think you just captured the spirit of what I think Math 2.0 is all about.

    You have a new fan!

  4. Bill Bradley

    July 27, 2009 - 1:40 pm -

    Although it’s officially about Science, a limited version of what you’re talking about is available at http://itsi.portal.concord.org
    The site is going to be updated based on suggestions from the first round of teachers (which means it will have better graphing and tables soon).

  5. Let us know who is going to build that portal that contains audio, video, lesson plan etc.. I want in on that.

    You have pretty much said it all in 5 min. Way to go. Every teacher should listen to this before the start of this school year. It would generate incredible debate and conversations within a school faculty or school district.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  6. @Dean, like I mentioned in the overview, everyone I talked to had an opinion on what makes for good teaching or bad teaching. Everyone had a favorite teacher or a hated teacher. When it comes to teaching, everyone’s an expert, right? In light of all that, my audience was receptive.

    I wouldn’t modify the presentation much for an audience of teachers, mainly because I don’t think the “be less helpful” thesis is trite or the application to voting/politics/citizenry obvious. I would make the opening anecdote a little less broad, though, illustrating instead one of the subtler agonies of new teaching.

    @Bill, I don’t mind Concord Consortium’s work here at all. Two ways, however, that it isn’t what I have in mind:

    1. There doesn’t appear to be any way for teachers to contribute, no social interaction between teachers over their lesson materials.

    2. CC attaches fully-outlined labs to java applets. I’m looking for multimedia – audio, photo, video, not java – that leave that outlining to the learner.

  7. Dan,

    Nice presentation. The extended elevator speech is indeed a difficult task. But you did state the problem (need the code to Open Source education). You did request the help you need to the right people (coders and Open Source thinkers).

    From Dean’s question, I think you would need to change the presentation, because you will not have the coders to create the place and space. Teachers need to know what and how to contribute once the place and space is created.

    Fully agreed with the “be less helpful” philosophy. The difficulty, is knowing what is “just out of the students’ reach” so they are compelled to seek the answer (Dan Willingham helps in his new book – Why Don’t Students Like School).

    Keep up the inspirational work. Keep asking questions in a world that only wants the right answer.

  8. @Ric, crud, yeah, I forgot how completely specific the closing call to action was to my audience of developers. With an audience of teachers, I’d focus much less on that pitch and much more on what makes a particular image “less helpful” or “too helpful.”

  9. Bill Bradley

    July 27, 2009 - 6:09 pm -

    Oh, teachers can contribute lessons, using the templates or modified templates, including embedding images or multimedia (have to create a teacher account for that… nothing more than registration required). The portal is not the best way to discuss though, there is also a Wiki. Again, far from ideal, but a decent start in the right direction.

  10. Nice work! Good job distilling your thesis & presenting it well. Was that your first pecha kucha? And THANKS for bringing the “no good collaboration site” problem to open source developers! I hope something comes of it.

  11. nicely done.

    i’m new to your stuff – thanks to a tweet from ben grey. have since watched your 10 videos. do you have more somewhere? do you have an archive of some of the lessons you are doing?

    i would absolutely love to be a part of this open source. i would especially love to include kids in it. i think the more we get them creating in order to teach others – the better.

    thanks for all you are doing and being dan. refreshing to say the least.

  12. I would like to hear more about what you want out of this portal.

    There are existing open source environments where folks can upload pictures, documents, videos, audio, etc but the hitch may be collaborative. Are you thinking folks need to be able to work on documents, etc in the portal itself?

    I can help with this, let’s chat.


  13. Nice. I think I might have my student assistants watch it this fall.

    I see this as a 5 min summary of “What did I learn in two years?” – which is excellent reflection.

    What did you learn about learning how to teach?

  14. I forwarded a link to this talk to three lists I either moderate or participate in daily. “Be Less Helpful” should be some sort of motto for teacher education programs, particularly in mathematics.

    Imagine the temerity of suggesting that real-world problems are generally not well-formulated when first encountered, that real-world data is generally messy, that reality generally gives us too little or too much information, and that a teacher’s job is not to reduce reality to neat little packages that can be consumed efficiently in 22 minutes with commercials.

    David Milch’s point about television is dead(wood)-on target And the implications about creating a passive, lazy, thoughtless citizenry with entertainment as well as with mathematics “education” is chillingly apt.

    I have had a running battle with one particular advocate of traditionalist mathematics teaching for about a decade now over the issue of “helpfulness.” I imagine his reaction to your talk will not surprise.

  15. @Chris Lehmann, oh, right, now I remember where I jacked that big. Citation needed.

    @Kate My first pecha kucha. Tough format. The person before me had to stall a bit while she waited for the next slide. It’s easy to lose track of time or paint yourself into corners with the timing, like, okay, I have to say this right as this slide changes to that one. Not good.

    @monika, thanks for stopping by. At the moment I have only produced one season of dy/av, ten episodes in all. You’ve watched the entire series.

    @Chris Craft, which portal are you thinking of? Off my research, very few have quite the multimedia support I need, a CMS that supports audio, video, and photo, all from the same node. If you have any pointers, I’m certainly receptive.

    John: What did you learn about learning how to teach?

    It’s more fun the more people you learn with. Thus, blogging.

  16. Dan,

    Check out osTube (http://www.ostube.de) and switch it to English.

    I am hosting this script, it’s what I use for http://www.spantube.org

    I turned on documents and sound, which are usually off. Go check it out.

    It takes more than shared hosting. If you decide to take hte plunge, please let me know, I know a guy who can host it really nicely for you for not much moolah.


  17. @Michael, thanks for passing the link along. I think I know one of the lists you’re talking about and may not be able to help lurking.

    Incidentally, if you’re interested in the source of that Milch bit, along with a lot of his other really smart thoughts on media, culture, and politics, I posted a few of those here.

    @Chris, I followed your adventures with PHPMotion and osTube some time back. I forget why I wrote both off as insufficient (though I may grab pieces) but I’ll give them both a second look.

  18. I would love to her what features you would add.

    It may be that we can add the features you want. It is open source after all. We can change the code.

    Let me know.


  19. Nice work, Dan! You did a great job getting in all your comments and slides and it made a lot of sense! Very impressive!

    Now I’ve gotta run and rehearse MY powerpoint preso for the World Peace Conference on Thursday in Huntsville! Hope I do as well as you did!

    Keep up the great work! See you on Twitter!

    The “other” Dan Meyer
    Sword Swallower

  20. Dan, great blog, nice video. I’ve been thinking a lot about how such a site might work over the past year. I think we teachers could learn a lot from open source software sites like http://SourceForge.net, where programmers from around the world work together to create great software. (Programming is my side job/hobby, when I’m not teaching.)

    The site would allow teachers to easily upload lessons and related digital media, and more importantly, allow other teachers to discuss and evolve the lesson over time. Like a Japanese lesson-study project [1], but distributed.

    Some characteristics I think such a site should have:
    * Low friction (minimal/optional registration, community moderation via flagging/tagging) (ex: http://craigslist.org , http://stackoverflow.com)
    * Simple UI
    * Strong version tracking
    * The ability to fork off multiple versions of a lesson

    I’ve looked at a lot of what’s out there, but nothing seems to be catching on or doing it right.

    Email me if you’re interested in talking more, ajacoby at gmail.com. I just registered http://teacherforge.net for this purpose and set up a discussion group for it too.

    Thanks again for writing a great blog,

    [1] http://www.tc.edu/lessonstudy/lessonstudy.html

  21. I thought of your “be less helpful” statement while I was reading a biography of the statistician John Tukey today. He was home schooled by his parents, both secondary school teachers. The bio said, “Their educational method was to respond to John’s queries by providing clues and asking further questions rather than giving a direct answer, a characteristic that John inherited and used throughout his career. ” John Tukey introduced the boxplot and developed the median-median line both of which are covered in my grade 10 mathematics course.

  22. I would think a sharing site wouldn’t need to host video/images. I’m think of Facebook, where you can embed Youtube or whathaveyou. If it was a site not developed for profit, it might be worth saving on the storage. Although storage is cheap. Anyway, just a thought.

  23. Back off a siesta from the Internet. Alex, if you’re still around, let’s chat here. Your description of a content-sharing site is powerful, both in the ways I agree and disagree with it. Nothing about your description rolls along the middle of the road. Here’s the quote. Please, other teachers, comment on this:

    Some characteristics I think such a site should have:
    * Low friction (minimal/optional registration, community moderation via flagging/tagging) (ex: http://craigslist.org , http://stackoverflow.com)
    * Simple UI
    * Strong version tracking
    * The ability to fork off multiple versions of a lesson

    Even the examples are spot-on, esp. Stack Overflow, which has been on my radar for some time now, esp. for its reputation system.

    I can’t point to a single extant content-sharing site for teachers that hits the first two bullets. You’re either e-mailing powerpoint files to the sysadmin or you’re filling in text-fields labeled “Lesson Plan” that are too poorly considered and too ambiguous for lasting use.

    The second two interest me. And I’d like input from other teachers here. I have lists of qualms and quibbles with current content-sharing sites but none of them read, “I wish I could fork this lesson plan and build my own” or “I wish I could see what this lesson plan looked like three revisions ago.”

    I’m not saying that wouldn’t be useful but you’re complicating your simple UI with something that (I don’t think) will pull its weight.

  24. Nope. Don’t see the need for version tracking or lesson plan forking. I’d think if you were going to write your new improved version of a lesson, you’d just make it a new lesson. Maybe link back to the old one. Or give it the same tag.

  25. I love that you said holler. I didn’t even notice 5 minutes had went by. For future reference, maybe part of teacher education programs should be Photoshop/Video Editing work such as what you’ve done?

  26. Total agreement that I want simple UI in my dream teacher site.

    Regarding version tracking, I’d like a way to know that whatever I’m looking at has been updated. I want to see the newest, most improved version of the lesson instead of the original.

    I’d also like a way to preview materials (or some part of them) without downloading them. For whatever that’s worth.

  27. Thanks for the comments! It looks like most people are unconvinced about the need for version control and forking. Let me see if I can explain why these are necessary, and how they might work.

    Resources must be able to evolve and hopefully improve over time. If it’s just me uploading my new versions of a lesson (I tweak them every time I teach them), then I probably don’t care too much about the ability to see what the lesson was like two versions ago. But if this is a collaborative effort, there’s a good chance I won’t agree with every revision made by every other user out there, and I do want to be able to see older versions. I’m pretty sure this is why all collaborative editing tools out there have strong version controls: just look at any wiki or google docs/sites. I don’t think it needs to clutter the interface — just a link for viewing previous versions (auto diffs would be great too, but not feasible for all file types). And as Sarah said, there should definitely be some note linking to the most recent (or popular) version if you’re looking at an older one. (And if you think that the version you uploaded has definitely been superseded by a newer version, you could mark it “deprecated” or something like that, so people know they can safely ignore it, and it wouldn’t show up in search results by default.)

    I don’t know how many other programmers are out there reading this right now, but if you’ve ever worked with a version control system, you know how nice and addictive they are. Granted, computer programs and lesson plans are very different types of content (your lesson is unlikely to crash because of one typo), but as disk space is so cheap, why not use a safety net if there’s one available (and it doesn’t complicate things much)?

    Why forking? Perhaps it would be better to think of it as offering multiple versions of the same lesson. Maybe there’s a version of the lesson for a 50 minute period, and another for a 90 minute period. Maybe you just redid the lesson in smartnotebook format, or powerpoint format, or something else, and you want to make that available too. Maybe you revised it for an especially gifted or slow class. Or it could be differentiated thematically, or based on which materials are available for labs, etc. This might be too ambitious for version 1 of the site, but I think teachers naturally adapt lessons for their own needs, and if they make substantial contributions to a lesson, it makes sense to keep those versions together with descriptions of how they’re unique. Keeps search results less cluttered, and keeps related content together.

    When would it make sense to create an entirely separate lesson, rather than a new version of an existing one? This would be tricky, but I think it would be great if all the lessons that aim to teach the same thing, regardless of the method, were grouped together, sort of like Kate’s suggestion of having them share a tag.

    Finally, here are a couple sites that seem headed in the right direction. I’ve never used either much, but these are my quick impressions:
    http://curriki.org – Anyone can easily upload any (?) file, has peer reviewing
    http://cnx.org – Heavy emphasis on collaboration (problem: resources have to be in special XML format?)

    Look forward to hearing your further thoughts,

  28. Oh, we haven’t vocalized it because of the OSCON aspect, but copyright needs to be discussed. I don’t like resource sharing sites that claim copyright over whatever I submit.

    Alex, that looks good for preview. Skitch documents in blogs work. I mean, I even like the picture of a single slide like Dan does at the geometry site. What I don’t like is an icon identifying the document type. I mean, I can get that by looking at the file extension. I still don’t know if it’s worth downloading over my school’s overloaded connection.

    I haven’t looked at Connexions before, will poke around there. I remember getting quickly frustrated with Curriki, but I don’t know why. Will investigate.

  29. Agree with Sarah about copyright. Ideally the whole thing would be under whatever CC license lets people use everything without reservation in schools and prevents them from republishing the work for profit. Having an author retain copyright might be untenable if collaboration involves a final product with multiple contributors.

    Alex I didn’t see the appeal of versioning or forking until you explained it. Thank you. I really like the idea of multiple plans for blocks vs periods, for example. And maybe I post a lesson and someone wants to alter it to suit them, I wouldn’t necessarily want to see my stuff replaced. Especially if this website is the way I manage and store my lessons for later revision/reuse.

    I remember not being terribly impressed with curriki, but I haven’t looked at it in a while.

  30. Oh yeah. Curriki. Everything I saw there that maybe might have potentional was in Flash. (Please ignore the grammar, concentrate on the sentiment.) I don’t want lessons for my students to do at home. I want something semi engaging. It might not be entirely fair to judge based off content, but there you have it.

    I like Connexions better, but it seems very textbook focused. Which is great when I want to look through textbooks so I can learn 4 different ways to teach factoring by grouping–because before I taught it, I’m not sure I could have explained one–but not so great when my lesson bombed today and I need to reteach in a whole new way tomorrow.

  31. For Alex and other people relatively new to the conversation surfing through sites, BetterLesson looked promising at the beginning of the summer. I’m still waiting on my Beta invite though.

  32. I just got a BetterLesson invite this morning. It looks promising but not that useful yet. For example, of the document types I checked, it will only let you upload word docs, pdf, and photo files. Not video or smart notebook files. And there doesn’t seem to be a way to save and share links. It’s brand new though so maybe that functionality is coming.

  33. I agree with Sarah and Kate about the copyright issues… I’d assumed CC licensing or something like that, and I’d assumed that it would take more research/thought than I’d given it so far. There are a ton of licensing options out there.

    I agree too that it’s hard to judge sites independently from the content that they’re currently hosting. Usually I’ll try a site once or twice, almost never find what I’m looking for at that moment, and rarely return. That said, I do try to pay attention to the site features and usability, and maybe I’m too picky, but I’ve never felt like any of them would be worth my time to get involved in and start uploading my work to. My point is that there’s a chicken-and-egg problem, and even if none of the existing sites have the content we want right now, if we find one that at least has the right features/structure, it makes more sense to jump on their bandwagon rather than create a new site. Though I do really like the idea of making a new one :)

    I signed up for BetterLesson beta last night too. Would be interesting to see where they’re taking it, and how they’re differentiating themselves from the rest.

    Sarah, about flash content, I think some teachers use stuff like that in the classroom a lot, especially if they have interactive whiteboards. In general, if people wanted to post content for students’ home use, I don’t have a problem with that, but I’m like you — I’m more interested in resources for the classroom. But I don’t see why the site couldn’t host both, and in fact, it would be nice if the various resources were tied together.

    And yeah, document icon previews — what a waste of space :P


  34. Sarah: I don’t want lessons for my students to do at home. I want something semi engaging.


    I don’t want sample problems, problem sets, five-step lesson plans, openers, or closers. I want interesting, inspiring, curious, multi-facted gem-like starters. I want sharp, little hooks. I want the basic ingredients. Let me make the soufflé.

    After you get the past the clunky, high-friction UI, one reason I think lesson sharing sites are a difficult sales pitch for millions of teachers is that teachers are very autonomous creatures, both by nature and, to a certain extent, by necessity.

    There is very little to be done about the natural autonomy of the classroom teacher except to throw as many high-quality resources at her as possible and watch that autonomy erode.

    Teachers must be autonomous from one another, even across the same content-area or grade-level, though. Your opener for the same lesson won’t work for my class. We haven’t done radical expressions yet. You’ve paced this lesson out for an hour-long period but I’m teaching it on a reduced day. Or an extended day. I need a five-minute break somewhere in there for show and tell. My class has standard procedures for closers that’s incompatible with the one you’ve laid out in your lesson plan.

    These aren’t just picky predilections of autonomous teachers. These are integral to classroom culture.

    Any site hosting lesson plans that are paced down to 60 minutes or 90 minutes won’t find traction outside of a few passionate and deeply alike teachers. It’s too difficult for the other autonomous teachers to reverse engineer the interesting hook out of the lesson plan and then re-engineer it for use in their own context.

    None of this concerns revision control or forking, necessarily, but this does illustrate, to me, that revision control and forking will be of little consequence to the success of a lesson content sharing site. The forks and revisions are endless.

  35. Dan, I’m not sure if we’re disagreeing on emphasis or something more fundamental.

    Dan: There is very little to be done about the natural autonomy of the classroom teacher except to throw as many high-quality resources at her as possible and watch that autonomy erode. [snip] It’s too difficult for the other autonomous teachers to reverse engineer the interesting hook out of the lesson plan and then re-engineer it for use in their own context.

    I disagree. If you tell her she must use those resources, then of course that will erode her autonomy, but if you make stuff available to her to make her souffle from as she pleases, I’m less worried. I’ve often eviscerated my colleagues’ smartnotebook lessons for my own use (and they’ve done the same to mine). I pick and choose the parts I like, or just find inspiration and do it my own way. Have you tried this and had a different experience?

    You say that my lesson won’t work verbatim in your class, and I completely agree, and I completely agree that the forks are endless. I don’t mean to advocate that every teacher upload every minor variation on a lesson plan to the site. But if you have a good idea that substantially changes the lesson for your purposes — a great new hook for example — and is something you think others can benefit from, then I don’t see the problem. Distinguishing between minor and major changes might not always be obvious, but my hope is that the community moderation system could moderate down any versions that don’t cut it.

    Dan:I don’t want sample problems, problem sets, five-step lesson plans, openers, or closers. I want interesting, inspiring, curious, multi-facted gem-like starters. I want sharp, little hooks. I want the basic ingredients.

    I’d like interesting, inspiring, curious, multi-faceted same problems, problem sets, lesson plans (of any number of steps), openers, and closers. You seem to be saying that anything larger than bite-sized is going to be uninspired. Though we’ll surely put our lessons together differently, I’d love to see how you fit your souffle together.

    Revision control: Think of it as plumbing. It’s not something that will stand out on the site — it should be basically invisible — but I think it’s easy to add and has surprising value.

    Forks: A bad choice of words on my part. What I was trying to get at is that it would be nice if the site could keep related content closely together: three different hooks on a topic, a few lesson plans to cannibalize in different formats (trying to cannibalize a powerpoint document to create a smart notebook one is a pain, and vice-versa).

    It seems like you’re strongly against the sharing of “lesson plans”/slides. Is that true? What do other people think?

  36. I’ve been imagining a tool for a little while after getting frustrated with certain lesson planning sharing sites.

    I feel like I have to do way too much digging into a lesson plan before I get the essence of it then (if it is any good) adapt it to my own lesson.

    What I would rather see instead is “idea sharing.” I’m imagining a tool for posting an idea where I can include text, images, video, audio, .pdf, etc.. I can tag it and title it so that it is really sortable and searchable. Then others can rate it in ways that make sense “love it, would use it”, “love it, have used it”, “used it and it didn’t work” and leave comments to help improve it.

    Then, when I log into my account the upcoming ideas with really high ratings that are relevant to my content are brought to my attention. I can then read them and rate them as mentioned earlier or add them to a “tool box” so that I have a way of saving them.

  37. I agree that idea sharing is the key. We all have differing time frames, classroom procedures, and outside constraints. Thus I rarely want a full lesson based around someone else’s time frame, procedures, and constraints. Instead I want the spark of insight, the media that prompted the spark (if there is media), and access to the supplemental material so that I can revise them. I’d also like some way to provide feedback.

    Of course in the back of my mind is that fact that there should be someway to do this already using social tagging service plus blogs (which already serve as a means of making content in many formats available online).

  38. Alex, I stand by Mr. Follett and Dave here. Consider this excerpt from your comment:

    Alex: I’ve often eviscerated my colleagues’ smartnotebook lessons for my own use (and they’ve done the same to mine). I pick and choose the parts I like, or just find inspiration and do it my own way. Have you tried this and had a different experience?

    My experience is exactly the same. But that’s my experience. And your experience. Do we want to build a content-sharing site that demands that kind of tenacity, a site for educators who will push past any number of barriers between them and the hint of interesting lesson content. Most educators won’t use that site. Most educators can develop a serviceable lesson plan in the same amount of time or less than it would take them to eviscerate a smartboard notebook file, which may or may not have something worth their while.

    I can divide most of my lessons between form and content. The form is the pacing, the opener, the closer, the checks for understanding, the assessment, etc. The content is that genius idea to connect trig identities to the six degrees of kevin bacon. Or using a photos of the St. Louis gateway arch to motivate quadratic equations.

    I won’t say that one is more important than the other but I know that content is much harder for me to develop than form. I can develop form pretty easily at this point. The valuable commodity is the content.

    I conclude, then, that the ideal lesson content sharing site – a site used by more teachers than those who blog and comment on blogs, in other words – will keep form and content separate.

  39. Ok, here’s my attempt using currently available tools that I am familiar with (flickr).

    “The math image and idea sharing project”

    I’ll share this throughout the year and see if it amounts to anything by the end of it. That will be the other trick, whatever the perfect tool is, it relies on a critical mass of engaged users. If betterlesson.org is it (Thanks Sara, still waiting for invite) the early adopters may have to be patient for a while before it has spread to enough users.

  40. Mr. Meyer
    Thanks for this we should not forget why we have teachers. Is it not for our students to learn in a nebulous uncertain world… there are no easy answers there.
    I am about to teach grade two for the first time and I too am looking for connections.

  41. Wow. Dan, I love your comment about the autonomy of the profession at 42 and I love your response, Alex, at 43.

    For me, time is absolutely the number one barrier to any site like this, so it is essential that it be a) easy/quick to use, b) easy/quick to find where to start, and c) easy/quick to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty creating/editing the lesson.

    Great stuff, as usual, Dan.

  42. Just listened to your Ignite presentation on my iPod Shuffle via Conversation Networks. FYI: Ignites work pretty well without video or graphics; just sound is enough. :)

    But yes, I was wondering if http://lemill.net is close to what you’re envisioning? I couldn’t find a link to the specs and design ideas you mention in the presentation – are they somewhere publicly available? If not, we could discuss privately. I represent the Learning Environments research group at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland, and we’ve been doing open source educational environments for over a decade. We could figure out how to get funding for this work, if your ideas carry water.

  43. Tarmo, it’s long but BetterLesson Reviewed lists some of the specs I’m after with this site. It’s tough for me to assess LeMill along those lines as it isn’t clear to me what content its CMS manages. There’s a definition of lecture. I saw an essay piece on technology. But there wasn’t much there I felt like I could use tomorrow if I wanted to, which is fundamental to this site. I’d like to register once this “bad gateway” issue resolves itself and check out the content upload process, which is also heavily prescribed on my ideal site.

  44. Thanks for the link, Dan. I’ll read through it and get back to you if I have any further ideas.

    LeMill does not have any prebuilt content – it’s all done by volunteer teachers. There’s quite a lot of good content in Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Polish, and other exotic languages, but content in English is still quite sparse.

  45. Just finished moving and traveling and generally getting ready for school to start this week (we start late and end late here in NYC).

    Dan, Dave, and Mr. Follett: it seems like we’ll have to disagree over what an ideal site should contain: just ideas/hooks, or complete lessons. I think I understand the desire to have a site organized around bite-sized bits of content: they’re easy to pull into whatever lesson format you’re using and they don’t impose another teacher’s constraints or philosophy on you. However, for a teacher like me who generally has three new, different preps a day, it’s definitely easier to work with completed lesson plan. Finding good practice problems takes time. Typing them up takes time. Typing up the solutions takes time. And it seems like a waste of time when you know that dozens of others have already done it. I’d rather spend that time thinking of cool content or projects.

    I don’t see why a site needs to pick one or the other. Many of the sites already out there allow you to differentiate resources by type: lesson plan, activity, project, etc. And if I post a lesson plan and someone is kind enough to pick out and repost what they think are the useful bits of content from it, great.

    I checked out BetterLesson and LeMill today. BetterLesson is looking pretty good, but I haven’t tried uploading yet, and they have no HS math content at all. LeMill had a few resources, but the first one I checked didn’t make much sense — it seemed like the teacher had cut a paragraph out of a lesson and posted it. Which highlights another problem with the site: no rating system that I could find. It was probably just a new user testing the system, but there’s no way for me to vote it down somehow so it doesn’t keep cluttering the search results.

    Mr. Follet, the flickr group looks cool, I’ve subscribed in reader. Also, I like your suggestions here, sort of a collaborative EverNote:

    What I would rather see instead is “idea sharing.” I’m imagining a tool for posting an idea where I can include text, images, video, audio, .pdf, etc.. I can tag it and title it so that it is really sortable and searchable. Then others can rate it in ways that make sense “love it, would use it”, “love it, have used it”, “used it and it didn’t work” and leave comments to help improve it.

    I’d still want full lessons in addition to it.

  46. Mr. Follett, Alex: I too like the idea of “idea sharing”. But that’s not all that different from Dan’s and Kate’s WCYDWT sharing. Ideas can be pieces of lesson plans as well. It would be fun to collaborate and take these pieces and put them together into a whole and then get feedback from someone who actually tries it out in class. It would be a bit like having interesting Lego pieces to build with. The site can also contain lessons that already have a track record. Ratings could be for determining the most popular ideas, but not necessarily the best ones.

  47. Alex: I think I understand the desire to have a site organized around bite-sized bits of content: they’re easy to pull into whatever lesson format you’re using and they don’t impose another teacher’s constraints or philosophy on you.

    This is exactly what I’m talking about.

    Alex: However, for a teacher like me who generally has three new, different preps a day, it’s definitely easier to work with completed lesson plan. Finding good practice problems takes time.

    I understand, but it seems a shame that one of the most rote teacher actions should preside over this (as of now, fictional) collaboration tool. Perhaps we can accomplish both, through tagging. I have my doubts. It sounds like BetterLesson is right along those lines, though.

  48. Lesson plans and structure are impossible. My classes run for 2 1-hour periods and 1 2-hour period per week. I don’t see myself using time to smash a lesson plan into my sequence, schedule, or pedagogy.

    I think it is not realistic to share lesson plans in an exciting way.

    Content is not impossible:

    * I made a video of a footrace between me and some of my students. The question is “who wins?” or “how fast are they going?” The race starts off screen – “when did they start?” or “how long have they been running?” I made copies of the videos with superimposed numberlines, timers, or both, for when the students ask for that structure. You can download that and use it in your class! Talk about average speed or systems of equations or freaking unit conversions.

    * I made a geogebra file that labels the derivative of a function at 10 points and shows how those values inform the graph of that derivative. You can download that and use it in your class!

    * I take my calc students for a van ride. They record the time we pass flags spaced 100 ft apart with a program I wrote. The question is “how fast were we going” or “how accurate is the speedometer?” Download my program and use my idea in your class!

    I don’t have a clear thesis here but my overall emotion is GIVE ME HUNDREDS OF RESOURCES LIKE THESE. I want to have something engaging ALL THE TIME for EVERY TOPIC.

    They exist, so come on, give them to me! And give them to the geometry teacher at my school, who won’t use geogebra because he doesn’t know it and doesn’t have the time to learn it. I want to point him to content that will COMPEL him to use it in his class because it is so easy and so strikingly effective.

    Dan suggests being less helpful to our students, and I think his advice applies here, to ourselves, as well. If I’m downloading a lesson plan and following it, I’m not engaged and I don’t know why it’s a great lesson plan. If I’m downloading a great freaking idea and I have to work out the best way to use it, I’m going to know it better and be more excited about it.

  49. Oh, and PS: Everything on this system needs to be sweet. At least 80% of it. I don’t have time to decide a whole bunch of things aren’t really that cool.

  50. I disagree with you, Riley, and if Dan’s advice applies here, too, then I disagree with him. The purpose of of being less helpful, IMO, is for students to learn to think for themselves, ask questions for themselves (without being prompted), all leading towards cognitive independence. If I’m wrong in this, Dan, please correct me.

    I don’t think the goal of Dan’s golden software is independent teacher thinking. The roles and goals of students and teachers are totally different.

    Plus, I think being less helpful to teachers would be disastrous to the software. No one would use it.

  51. A little to agree with in both camps:

    With Touzel, I agree that the goal of the software isn’t to teach teachers, per se. It’s to share content. To that extent, the less helpful motto needs to be sparingly applied there.

    With Riley, I agree that overly helpful lesson-sharing sites — the kind that provide pacing guides down to the minute, pre- and post-assessments, etc. — won’t get much use because they’re shoehorning teachers into a certain pedagogical mold. Call it BetterLesson Syndrome. I tend to think that Riley is taking the less helpful call to extremes, but I can’t be sure.

    For mypart, I post WCYDWT media on this blog to put other teachers in a position to consider what more do I need to make an awesome lesson? We can have a conversation about it here. It’s harder to have that conversation on a site built for content-sharing. Which is why I will post entire packets — no coy unveiling — on BLH when it goes live.

  52. Riley, I agree with your premise–and Dan’s clarification–that teachers shouldn’t just grab lessons and use them willy-nilly with no thought of how to apply it in their classrooms. Teachers should be somewhat deliberate about pulling shared lessons, adjusting them to meet the needs of their students.

    I do, however, think that the many new teachers might need the help of something with a little more substance than a great graphic.

  53. Here’s a thought: how about using mediawiki (the Wikipedia software)?

    It does revision control, maked-up text, multimedia, number tables (sorting by all sorts of funky columns), […]. Forking off lesson versions—maybe that can be done by disambiguation-like pages.

    Oh, and people are already comfortable navigating it, and some are already comfortable editing it; others will learn a new skill with fringe benefit applications ;-)

    How does that sound?

  54. First off, it’s nice to see the conversation still alive :) Has anything turned up in the past year that people are using? I haven’t checked on BetterLesson (the apparent front-runner) in a long time.

    I like the mediawiki idea, enough that I might try throwing it up on teacherforge.net just to see how it feels. I fear it’d be too free-form and complicated for 90% of math teachers though. I think we need a more guided interface to keep content addition fast and simple. It also doesn’t seem to have a built-in reputation system, but it looks like add-ons are available.

    Re-reading the conversation from last year, I still come down on the side of having more of the lesson available rather than less. In particular I believe creating/choosing excellent example/practice problems is much harder than most people think. The selection of a good sequence of problems can be just as important than a great hook. I definitely want hooks, but I want more than that too.

    What do people think? Is the problem solved or are we still looking?

  55. Alex: Is the problem solved or are we still looking?

    No to the first. Definitely, yes, to the second. It’s on my mind, like, 24/7.

    Alex: I still come down on the side of having more of the lesson available rather than less.

    You could very well be right. I’ll say this, though, that while there are many competitors in the “everything but the kitchen sink” category (including BetterLesson, the best-funded of the bunch) there are none that trade on inspiration. Just a bunch of scattered blogs like this one. All that’s to say, I’d like to see someone give the latter a try since the former has been tried so much and been found (by me, if no one else) to be pretty well wanting.

  56. Great conversation – some of the comments echo my own desire as a teacher to have a free, searchable library to choose from the greatest classroom activities, not lessons, shared by teachers around the world.

    We built a website from scratch (www.edufy.org) that does everything we need (no ads). It looks like we addressed the following hopes from this post:
    -ratings by the community, best activities rise to the top of search
    -modular/flexible so they can be added to existing lessons, instead of replacing them or pulling out the parts that are needed.
    -see the activity/overview in list view without the need to open it
    -insert images into the activity
    -comments on activities, which could include alternatives/ suggestions are seen at the top)
    -creative commons licensing
    -I originally wanted the wiki model, but we’re starting off with giving the option to duplicate activity and add to it, or distill multiple similar activities into one super-activity. The search is designed to be more sensitive to the latest versions.

    Here’s some other functions we have that are really useful:
    -search by/filter on relevant educational criteria (grade, stage of the lesson (engage, explore, extension, etc) learning style, ability level, duration, etc)
    -click to hide any parts of the learning activity that you don’t want

    Functions that are top on our list to add:
    1-Print student or teacher versions
    2-from the activity, have a menu of attachments that can be downloaded
    3-My Favorites tabs
    4-comments are also rated, so the most useful, highest rated alternates/ suggestions are seen at the top

    Future functions:
    -videos as previews, shared by people who have tried it
    -samples of student work, to know what to expect
    -if you like an author’s work, see what else they’ve worked on
    -question banks that can be shared and uploaded into LMS like Blackboard, Moodle, etc.

    Since introducing this at the Baltimore NSTA conference on Nov 11th, 130+ teachers joined in. There is no “real” line between Math and Chemistry and History, so we don’t offer a “subject” filter. I teach Earth Science and Physics, so we focused on science to start. There isn’t much Math there now. However, if 100,000 teachers start sharing best ideas… it shouldn’t take long before there’s something for everyone on every topic, right?

    Best wishes,