Two Excellent Entries For The WCYDWT Course Catalog

Kate Nowak:

Here’s what basically has to happen to make a successful WCYDWT lesson:

  1. Lighting strikes (you observe something).
  2. You recognize that lightning has struck (you say “holy *&^%”).
  3. You investigate by building layers of abstraction on your observation.
  4. You realize that that particular abstraction fits in your curriculum.
  5. You strip away all those layers to a core question interesting to a 15 year old, who (I’m sorry and draw whatever conclusions you will about me or my school system) are the least interested people on the planet.
  6. You rebuild the abstraction in a way that will support the questions you successfully predict they will ask.
  7. You make attractive keynote slides out of it.
  8. You extend your original abstraction to questions that they will want to pursue to enhance their understanding.


there seem to be two corners of necessary student experience here. first, engaging with the instructor in “recreating mathematical reasoning”…using cooperative examples to learn how to ask useful questions, and making visible the math already there to find solutions. but those presented scenarios, in turn giving birth to the useful questions, are still coming from the heart/experience of the teacher, even if covertly. the most valuable part of WCYDWT to me is giving students the confidence and skills to recognize within their own spherespassionsinterestsloves specific places where those useful questions can be posed.

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. Longtime reader but new to commenting– Kate’s step 4 strikes me as one of the most challenging pieces for a new teacher, in that it’s often so tempting to teach something that has the wow factor even if it’s only tangentially related to your curriculum. One voice in my head would insist “well, it’s math, and there’s always value in getting kids to find math interesting, right?” but another would counter “yes, but what will your students be learning, and how does this connect to the lessons before and after?”

    I suspect it takes a pretty considerable understanding of the curriculum in order to identify where these great WCYDWT opportunities would fit best and to integrate them most effectively.

    Given my relative inexperience teaching math though, I would love to be proven wrong.

  2. Hi Grace, a quick comment on your strong observation:

    I’ve created a lot of WCYDWT lessons that I’ve never used in a classroom. I haven’t taught geometry in two years. It’s been four years since I taught math analysis. And I’ve never taught calculus.

    Still, I capture and create lesson that exist outside my current, limited scope of “remedial algebra” for two reasons that are quickly obvious to me:

    1. I’ll use them eventually.
    2. I need to keep these creative muscles limber and toned.

    Idea goes in. Photos, videos, and lesson plans go out. I need to keep that circulatory system moving, otherwise it gets harder and harder to create.

  3. i love this thread…the iterations we all long for in class:

    someone’s struggled with your ideas…
    comes to some resolve and restates your thinking…
    someone else feeds off that restatement…
    and makes their own new statement/revelation/question…
    originator feeds off all the above..

    rinse and repeat.

    The more we adults can embrace the type of learning we want our kids to experience…the more authentic for everyone. Dan is providing a most authentic professional development experience for those taking advantage of it. Let’s all try to get more pd happening this way…

    my crazy question….
    ….is the curriculum getting in the way?
    I mean I love what Dan wrote here:
    I’m all for letting this unfold organically, but class time is too scarce to leave this entire thing to chance. We need some kind of plan for your students – a series of questions, an activity – in case we need to prompt their imaginations.

    in trying to address that – i’m drawn towards another question…
    ….is seat time getting in the way?
    How cool would it be if we weren’t forced to imagine/create on the spot, all together at one time. Like we’re saying – here’s a room with parameters… now be creative/imagine – on this one topic. Just curious where we could go without these limitations. Curious how truly natural learning is.

    And back to the first…
    Without a curriculum.. would we be swimming (a good thing) in a more relevant math… today – calculus pops in and we address it… rather than so compartmentalized per scaffolding of a curriculum. Would we feel successful in coverage?…Would that force a more relevant curriculum?.. And can that scenario only happen with an expert individual tutor – as opposed to a classroom setting?…

  4. Sorry, not directly related to the thread, but I thought I had better get this out to this community while it was fresh on my mind. I received an email today that introduced me to “Eureqa” from Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory:

    Free to use, looks very cool, and looks like some opportunities to play with data in new ways. I’m wondering what data sets people may find to play with, and whether some shared lesson plans might emerge. Or perhaps it gives new opportunities for students to collect data and find patterns. Or perhaps a Google Document spreadsheet could be shared between several classrooms for larger-scale data collection on something of interest. . .

    Just thought I would plant the seed here since it’s such fruitful ground for innovation.