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. Just watched your TED talk on Youtube… fascinating! I’m a recent chemistry BS graduate (as well as recently turning 30) and the kind of of student you describe (“come on! just give me the formula!”) is all too common to me. You might think that in a discipline with more “real life” examples like chemistry and physics you would find people who are more willing/wanting to ascribe these formulas to something more concrete to learn them but that’s not the case. The vast majority, though part of a program they VOLUNTARILY joined, just wanted the quick answer and, as such, did not do very well. This is, of course, why a BS in chemistry is mostly useless. Only when you’re in a lab and accountable for actual molecular production do you start to understand that the formulas can only get you so far. What you said about discussions surrounding sources of error is right on point from my experience. It’s also the hardest things for some folks to grasp.

    It’s fantastic to see someone bringing some thinking to the art of thinking and question the tenants of our education system. Your techniques have weight at all levels of teaching and learning and I hope you can reach a wide and universal audience!

    Thank you!

  2. So far, interesting on the homework thing. I guess it’s working for you.
    I also like the practice, regular, challenge part. I might do that, because, I remember never being able to do the homework at home, but understanding it in class all the time when we went over it.
    I’ll have to see how my class management plan for guaranteeing 100% participation goes!

  3. Within my school carier in The Netherlands I have had 1 teacher who tought us your way. I can still duplicate all formulas with high ease. Hope this TED talk reaches more teachers to get teaching this way.

  4. That TED talk was really stimulating and very well-done. Your students are lucky to have you.

  5. Congratulations!
    There are many things to do in the teaching of this science, and it is important to teach to look the reality and to think to improve it.

  6. The TED talk was brilliant! I just received my B.S. in math, and while I don’t intend to teach as a career, I do think being able to teach material is the ultimate test of your own understanding of it. I tutor math often, and I do it both for the money and for my own personal improvement.

    I didn’t start really understanding what was going on with math until I identified the sorts of problems I wanted to solve, and just sat by myself and attempted to solve them. No exercise sets, no solution manuals, just real problems.

    When a problem is grounded, and I mean REALLY grounded, it is interesting. This doesn’t mean replacing generalities with concretes and calling the resulting problem an “application.” Students are much more intelligent than textbook authors give them credit for, and they can see right through that farce; They immediately shut off because it just feels like busy work.

  7. Good day,

    Just watched your talk, and rewatched with my wife. We are going to start home schooling, and greatly appreciate your bringing this type of teaching to a broader audience. When I was in school, I was the kid who could ‘de-code’ the textbook as you put it, and then spend 45 mins arguing with the teacher as to the formulas application to the real world.

    I could only get away with this because I was an honor student. Which is unfortunate.

    My physics teacher was a complete opposite of the rest. We would spend a whole class setting up tables and bouncing balls across them in order to start understanding waves/amplitude/etc. We would design problems of how to push the vice principles car up a ramp to the top of the gym roof. I learned more from his class then all of the others put together.

    Hopefully I will be able to dissect the ‘workbooks’ problems and present them like you have to my children. Thank you for your inspiration.

  8. I teach computer studies at an independent school in Toronto. I’ve recently challenged my colleagues to look at ways of incorporating multimedia and tech into their classes, and have passed on your TED talk to show that yes, it even applies to math studies.

    Thank you!

  9. Just saw your talk on TED – thanks for the welcome message! You’ve described exactly the problems I’ve been feeling with my physics (grade 10) teaching, but have had no idea/time/energy to fix.

    I’ll be reading more of your blog!

  10. OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

    Just saw your TED talk and found it to be PHENOMENAL for the ideas. ANd just what you said. I’ve been a math and science nerd since the 11th grade. I’ve got my BS in EE and Math and I’ve been tutoring ppl of all ages in math and science. What is so disheartening to me is how turned off ppl are to math. They dont realize as you say in your talk, “Math helps us understand the world”. People dont get that Math is a tool that we use to understand the world around us. Anyway, I love your ideas. My wife and I might do some enrichment programs next summer. I really want to get kids excited about math and science. They may not choose to go into it, but the reasoning and analytic skills you hone are valuable in any profression. Your ideas and techniques are definetly something that I’ll be incorporatiing. I’ll also be checking your blog often to share my ideas and to see more of yours. Awesome what you are doing. Just awesome.

  11. I have 4 elementary school age kids and look forward to start applying some of these ideas… this weekend!
    keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!

  12. Richard French

    May 13, 2010 - 8:08 pm -

    Dan – your TED talk resonates with me. 2 of my 3 kids have problems with math which revolve the daunting formulaic approach which is ubiquitous.

    It’s obvious to me that the approach you put forward would be readily and successfully used by my kids (and I’m sure billions of other), who have fantastically-enquiring minds, great imagination, intuition, but understandably resist when provided with the ‘old-skool’ method of problem-setting.

    We don’t only need more patient problem-solvers, we need more patient problem-setters.

  13. Hey Mr. Meyer,

    I really enjoyed your Ted Talk. I tutor economics a lot and intend to pursue a life of teaching (I start my Ph.D. program this fall!). When I really get a concept in to the head of one of my students, it’s almost always because I’m using the methods you outline.

    My most powerful tool is the question “why?” When going over homework I will randomly sprinkle in why’s to keep them thinking. “Why is it C?” It’s exactly your point of being less helpful.


  14. Hello Dan,

    I’m a planner by profession. And you’d be surprise that it isn’t just your students who come installed with the 5 virus you so candidly pointed out at Ted :) A lot of juniors come into the advertising industry unaware that they too have been infected!

    Your approach to learning has inspired me to perhaps change the way I’m used to training my team. I think we’re just too use to the idea of ‘time constrain’ therefore, never bothered to explore problem formulation. Instead, we’re always so eager to solve the problem via familiar formulas. No wonder, they say originality is dead. It’s been pushed over the cliff by too many rules.

    I hope you’ll continue to do great in what you do and more importantly, continue to share these great ideas. I’m sure it doesn’t just inspire your students but other fellow teachers.

    Great job!

  15. Hi Dan,

    I watched your excellent TED talk yesterday and have spent more time than I’d care to admit going through your “WCYDWT?” archives. Great stuff! I’m not a teacher, but I can totally see how this sort of approach could work for many different areas of a curriculum. If I ever go back to teaching ESL, I’ll definitely keep this in mind.

    Cheers, and congrats,

  16. Loved your TED talk! I shared it with my colleagues in my school district and on the college level. I’m sure it takes time rethinking your lesson approach but what great rewards. I’m looking forward to trying it next year with my fourth graders!

  17. Just watched the TED video. I peak in on the website from time to time for thoughtful ideas and a few laughs. That brought me to your blog. I’m not a typical educator. I decided to homeschool my son last year. We are just finishing up our first year. He is classified as gifted and I’m trying to offer him more than public school could (especially since they changed their gifted program in a way that almost made it void). I plan to look at your blog more and get ideas for helping my son understand math better. He’s finishing up 4th grade so feel like I can start this early enough to make a difference. I’m going to share this with my fellow homeschoolers as well. We want so much for our children and teachers like you are helping us when our own schools won’t. Thank you.

  18. Your insight inspires me to work harder. Your evaluation of teaching is pointed and appropriate, and your criticisms compel me to improve every aspect of what I plan to do in the classroom. I’m so glad Devlin’s column led me to yours. I’m grateful you’re willing to share all you have; you’re certainly teaching me as well.

  19. I enjoyed your TED presentation. I have a few things, though, that I would offer….

    From my teaching of my five-year-old son to add, subtract, divide, and multiply (all at a very elementary level, of course), I have found that while I want him to be a creative problem solver, there is an infrastructure (such as the multiplication tables and various formulas) that is best learned via rote memorization. This doesn’t mean that child doesn’t understand the concepts behind multiplication, but rather than he/she doesn’t have to, say, ADD 9+9+9+9+9 to know that 9 x 5 is 45.

    In a word, it is a COMBINATION of approaches that seem to work best with my son and my students. Some need to simply learn the multiplication tables in order to soar through their math. Others need MORE help…while some indeed need LESS help.

    The words in the text do not always strike home in the mind of a student. A good teacher can simplify the issue, bringing about understanding…and THEN backing off and forcing the student to resolve the problems from then on.

    I hope that makes sense. In any case, after watching your TED presentation, I composed three simple word problems for my son. One was this: “There are 27 apples on the table. You eat five of them. How many are left?”

    He correctly wrote the problem as 27-5…and then solved it.

    THANK YOU for opening a new and interesting door to train my son. By the time word problems show up in a big way, I have no doubt that he will have no fear of them.

  20. Hi,

    Just wanted to say a quick thanks! I watched your TED presentation, and you inspired me to start subscribing your blog. Thanks for sharing!

    Oh, and if you haven’t heard about the Khan guy from khanacademy.org, I think you’d maybe find him interesting. He has made a huge amount of videos teaching math, but often (always?) doesn’t explain so you really understand. He teaches you so you “know”. Not “understand”. Maybe you could collaborate in some way? And then make a blog entry, if you do, so I can learn even more from you guys.

    Thanks again!

  21. Terrific talk. A series of inspiring math teachers led me to a math BS degree and my career as an actuary. I wish there were more creative and passionate teachers like you. Thank you.

  22. Awesome talk, I’ve been attempting for a while now to lay down some groundwork on a new system of education. I came to your talk hoping to find a good way to get kids/adults interested in maths, but I found so much more! Your ideas and dedication are inspiring. Thank you!

  23. Hi!

    just wanted to say – I really enjoyed your talk! it was very inspiring :)
    this is my first year working as a math teacher. when I was a student, one of my big “math-teaching-dreams” was to have a special classroom, full of experiment equipment. during this year I haven’t thought of that dream at all – but now, by watching your talk – it has returned.

    thank you!
    and thank you for loving this job! :)

  24. corn walker

    May 18, 2010 - 8:46 am -

    Your TEDx talk has just been promoted to the TED weekly mailing. Prepare for more incoming. :)

  25. Very much enjoyed your TED talk and am delighted that you are not only enabling students to think and learn on their own, but also helping other educators do the same. I had one teacher in Secondary that taught in a similar fashion and made a tremendous impact on me. I only wish more teachers, like yourself, were as passionate about enabling students to learn rather than training them to answer questions. Thank you.

  26. Lindsay Dunseith

    May 19, 2010 - 5:28 pm -

    Wow, just watched your TED talk. I think you’ve just radicalised the way I teach.
    I have been trying to integrate articulating understanding, in everyday language, in my classes before the maths representation of those ideas are presented, but I have often had difficulty with student motivation. They want the formula, as you say. But starting with the problem automatically gets conversation going!!

  27. I found your blog through the ted talk – it was really wonderful. I’m looking forward to looking at some more presentations from that conference in New York! I am an early childhood educator, and because so much of our work really focuses on problem solving, it is wonderful to see that you are out there focusing children on the roots of problems and guiding them to really think about problems instead of just solutions. Thanks!

  28. Excellent talk! You are doing a brilliant job in inspiring and making learning a fun game! I have a 10 year old kid and gets too bored too quickly with mundane math. I hope many teachers aournd the world adopt your techniques and bring fun in learning Math. It would be a great benefit if we all as a community come up with math lessons with real life problems for different grade levels.

  29. Great talk – I have been training teachers for the past several years in the US, Singapore, and Hong Kong…mainly to transform their classroom to be more like yours. Thankfully, like you mentioned, technology is freeing educator’s creativity if they only use it. We (www.mininggems.org) have upcoming chapters in math for the AmBook (Active Media Book) and would love to know what you think about it (can send you a free demo when available). Keep up the good work – this is the direction of educational practice.

  30. I saw your talk on TED. I loved it. I’m 23 and it feels like high school wasn’t long ago. I am lucky to be a ‘natural’ when it comes to math but I too had been searching for the formulas out of laziness! I would complain that all I did was memorize study guides and formulas and ace all my tests. Yet all I wanted was an easy way out because I knew I could get it (e.g. just look at the corresponding example in the text book and just copy). I like that you don’t have all those things as a back up because it would have had someone like me work harder and retain so much more. On a side note, college isn’t much different sadly. I’m going to a community college and haven’t had any high level math classes so perhaps that is why, but I am still just plugging in numbers. I hope future generations will be taught better. Thank you for your ideas!

  31. Emily,

    On that note, I was in your same plug-and-play holding pattern for years until I ran into a professor who based his entire class on proofs (intro to group theory). Boy, was that a wake up call! So if you explore the world of proofs (if you haven’t yet), you’ll definitely be tasked beyond just plugging in numbers. I know I have.