Adventures In Plagiarism At #GSDMC12

I was sitting in a morning session with six other people at the Greater San Diego Math Council’s annual conference when I saw a slide that looked familiar.

At first I figured I had read that language in some paper or another in grad school. (“Aversion” seems like the sort of language an academic might use to paper over a lack of insight.) Then I remembered I had used that language. When I wrote it in a presentation I gave two years ago.

The presenter went on to describe each of those bullet points using exactly the same words I did in that presentation, in exactly the same tone of voice. Fella had rehearsed.

Four things:

  1. The good news is that we’ve apparently solved the “perseverance” problem in the last two years.
  2. Don Whiteside storified my livetweeting and added his commentary.
  3. I edited his slide next to mine and described the rest of his plagiarism under the heading “This is not okay.” I’ll send that e-mail off to him, the president of his council, and the conference head later today.
  4. How should this have gone? Against the judgement of some folk on Twitter, I’m choosing not to name his name. I figure it isn’t sporting to slug someone beneath your weight class. (Define “weight class” however you want, okay.) I figure he’ll have to explain himself the next time he wants to give a talk in San Diego (or he should, if GSDMC has any self-respect) and that’s enough. I’m open to counter-proposals.

2011 Feb 3. Since you’re all no doubt dying for updates, my plagiarist attended my session this afternoon. (I don’t know why that surprised me. Of course he attended my session. Where else is he going to get fresh material?) This was before I e-mailed him. He came up to introduce himself as I was setting up. Before he got too far into his introduction, I said, “Yeah, I know who you are. I was in your session this morning.”

“You were?” he said, and very obviously winced. “I may have borrowed some of your material.”

“‘Borrowed’ isn’t the word I’d use,” I said.

He apologized several times. I thanked him. He left. I sent the e-mail. We’re square.

Featured Comment:


I’m seeing many commenters who think that frowning upon plagiarism is all about credit, but that’s a very shallow view. In this case, the plagiarist completely disconnected the audience from Dan Meyer’s extensive work in this area. That means they can’t read the extended discussions, they can’t draw on other related resources, they can’t contact the real author and ask their own questions. They can’t connect to the author to follow future developments.

The plagiarist is standing at the top of a well, with the audience at the bottom. He throws down a loaf of bread and a few pages from a book, and leads the audience to believe that basically that’s all that exists outside the hole, and he’s the only one who can provide it to them.

I really want to give the plagiarist the benefit of the doubt, that it was a stupid mistake that hasn’t happened before or since. But I can’t get past the idea that some of us spend 40 hours or more putting together the best 1 hour presentation we can. The plagiarist took the easy way out. It’s disrespectful to the original author, to the subject, and to the audience. I tend to think that disrespect like that doesn’t just randomly rear its head once.

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. Math Fight! I have been chuckling to myself following this. But when someone near you asks “what’s so funny”, you realize that the time required to get them to up to speed is inversely proportional to the humor payoff. I hear he is working on a 4-act process for presenting inquiry problems.

  2. Are you sure this wasn’t a demonstration? Looks like he covered all the bases – lack of initiative ( has to take some else’s ideas), lack of retention ( who did I steal this from?), aversion to word problems (copies out the words, but does not comprehend…), eagerness for formula ( heck, here’s a formula talk that I can copy!)
    Thanks to Don, who managed to plagiarize both people’s slides as well as a conference catalog and post them on the interwebs. (what? there’s a difference between using an example and pretending something is your own idea?)
    Great story, and thanks for all you have actually given to us in your posted work. Really.

  3. Aaron Hampshire

    February 3, 2012 - 6:21 pm -

    Come on, man. There’s no reason to post cat fights like this on such an incredible blog. As a physics teacher, this is my first year teaching math, and your ideas and philosophy have greatly influenced me. But this… this is a bit below who you are in my opinion.

    Stick to what you do and why you do it, not a remix of the drama we hear about from our students everyday. Then again, it’s your blog…

  4. This is a pretty egregious example, but for someone who wants to spread ideas there is also a tension. After all, we *want* good ideas to travel and be repeated. Moreover, getting the original message verbatim is often better than a watered-down reinterpreted version.

    For example, I think Howard Gardner would be happier if interpreters of his theory of Multiple Intelligences photocopied chapters from his book rather than “explain” his ideas themselves!

    At the other extreme, a few years ago I attended a Kagan workshop about cooperative learning structures. They gave us a primer on copyright infringement, required us to sign agreements pledging to uphold their intellectual property rights, and told stories about teachers who had lost their jobs for violating similar pledges. Even though I learned quite a bit at the workshop, I left with a bad taste in my mouth thinking these people are not interested in spreading there ideas but merely selling their product.

  5. Too funny! Based on the dialogue and commentary, I would have guessed I was about to witness a minor league profesional wrestling event. Sayre’s law remains intact.

  6. @Aaron, you just don’t get it. Dan generously puts his ideas out for people to use in their classes. That doesn’t make it OK for people to present them to their colleagues as their own. I make my living providing professional learning to math teachers. I share ideas that are my own, as well as ideas I get from people like Dan. Whenever I share ideas that aren’t my own, I always cite the source. It would be unprofessional for me to do otherwise.

  7. I meant to add, too, that I typically contact the person BEFORE I share their stuff. It’s a professional courtesy. I let them know that I would like to use it and I make sure it’s OK. As much as possible, I let them know afterwords how it went over with the teachers I worked with.

  8. @aaron- what scammell said, plus: f I had paid a hundred bucks for a conference to see a session that was lifted from something I had seen on youtube, I’d be pretty miffed. While this might not be a huge deal in the great scheme of things, I wouldn’t call stealing intellectual property and passing it off as one’s own petty.

    Dan, thanks for keeping it tactful and classy, as always.

  9. Aaron Hampshire

    February 3, 2012 - 7:48 pm -

    No, doubt, John. I TOTALLY agree! I would be so pissed if I were Dan. I think Dan has a right to be angry. And I think the other guy should be ashamed. I get it. I really do.

    I just think, why put it on the blog? It makes me think Dan does this all for reasons other than the kids…

  10. Good stuff my man. I sit in front of my computer getting ready to prepare my lesson for tomorrow morning for a small group of “second career” teachers on backwards mapping. I’m struggling to make sure that at every turn I remind them that we’ve based our PD this year at my school on Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe and that, though I wish it weren’t the case, none of what I’m going to say to them hasn’t been said before by people much smarter than me.

    It takes a big man (I think you’re 6’7″) to be square with this fella.

  11. I don’t think I am saying anything new, but FWIW, I think we all know that Dan is very open with the work that he does. He is definitely a set of shoulders upon which we have all stood, and our appreciation for that should be shown, not stolen. I just hope that whoever this is can admit fault, and give credit where credit is due. I hope Dan can be gracious as well, so that we can continue to learn from him and his unique insights.

    Dan, keep fighting the good fight, you have our support!

  12. I feel the same as Aaron. Perhaps Dan could clarify what dissemination of his ideas he’s really proud of, what he could tolerate and what feels like plagiarism to him.

  13. We’ve used some of Dan’s materials at our professional development meetings in the past, but rather than rehearse the speech and pass it off as our own, we just played the video which Dan uploaded online. We then shared the link to Dan’s blog and discussed the points we felt were relevant. That’s the way it should be.

  14. I read a bit more about what had happened, and can see how Dan’s work has just been lifted and copied word-for-word. I see this is more than just working with Dan’s ideas.

  15. Dan, thanks for sharing this story.
    So many valuable lessons for all of us, learners ourselves and teachers from whom students learn more in life than simply mathematics.
    -If you don’t have your integrity, what do you have?
    -Furthermore, a simple “(Meyers, 2011)” opens the door for the audience to see that mathematics educators are like mathematicians-problem solvers where we build on the works of others, looking for connections and applications.
    This blog is a wonderful vehicle for learning about mathematics education in the way math should be learned…through dialogue.

  16. As one of the people who was encouraging you to stand up in his session and shout “I am Spartacus”, I have to say that your option was *way* classier and more effective.

    Skills. :-)

  17. I think the sad part of this whole tale is that the presenter had an opportunity to take what he learned from Dan, give him credit, and then build on the work with his own experience and research. If it was my work, I probably would have responded the same way.

    This year I changed my physics and calculus courses over to standards-based grading. I will be presenting what I’ve done to my coworkers in a PD in the near future. I would never presume to take credit for any of the ideas. They will be handed a reference list, starting with Dan’s discussions here on his blog.

    Doing anything less is dishonest and shameful.

  18. Thanks for the story Dan! I’m sure it will become a cocktail party classic in your far future.

    I start almost all of my PD sessions with your TED talk, and go on to explain that my deepest wish is to be able to channel you for the remainder of the training session. It’s difficult, being only 5’3″.

    Thank you for ALL of the ideas, brainwork, and humor you continue to give us.

  19. You handled that better than I would have.

    Scott is dead on about this presenters wasted opportunity to add to the culture and knowledge of math education.

    For the record, I don’t want to stand on your shoulders. I think my weight would hurt you, and that’s a long way to fall. ;-)

  20. Just to bounce off a few comments.

    I owe my current career and my family owes its wellbeing to the easy transfer of ideas and intellectual property over the Internet. The fact that my talk and my work are easily found online makes my life and my work better. That’s why I license everything under the loosest possible constraints outside the public domain. CC-BY means you can even sell my work and keep that money for yourself. You only have to attach my name.

    I require credit in part because it’s the right and fair thing to do. Even if I were dead and could no longer profit from my work, though, it would still be the right thing to do. Because my plagiarist pushed the discipline of education forward not even an inch by parroting my words without credit. He didn’t add a new spin to my argument. He didn’t critique my argument. He didn’t give credit so that people could go research the rest of my argument. Self-cannibalism is a terrible strategy for growth.

    I posted this, in large part, because it was too weird not to. It’s also hard to know how to handle these situations. It’s possible that someone reading this post will one day have the exact same experience. Whether they follow my lead or take a different path, it can only benefit that person to know how someone else handled it.

  21. Dan, thanks for sharing this experience.

    I am planning to give a summary of the situation to my students to illustrate the importance of citing sources in their upcoming research project. I’ll also be sure to give you credit for the idea.

  22. I’m with you, Dan. I post my materials under a Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike, NonCommercial license, and the most important aspect of that license in my mind is the attribution.

    I have used your stuff in my presentations as well, Dan, and John, you know I’ve used your stuff as well, but both times with appropriate attribution.

    I’m not sure what an appropriate “punishment” is though. Given that the event happened in San Diego, we could probably, with some work, look up to find the name of that presenter, so this blog post isn’t quite anonymously shaming that person. It has been traditional to publicly shame people who have plagiarized work, and this has done nothing to prevent other people from plagiarizing. If our intention is to try and reduce the rate of plagiarism, then I think it might be time for a new tactic (although I’m not sure what that tactic might be).

    Can anyone comment on whether the rate of plagiarism has increased or decreased in the past five years? Maybe we will need to wait until the Internet is no longer “new” (another 20 years?) and see if the plagiarism rate has stabilized, and then see if we can see what the effect of varying policies is on a local level that seem to be successful in reducing plagiarism rate.

    I watched an interested TED talk the other day (see which suggested that language was developed as a way to discuss ideas and learn how to cooperate, and as a result of trying to prevent people from stealing your ideas (watch the video to understand the argument). Point is, humanity has been grappling with this problem for 200,000 years and we do not appear to be any closer to a solution.

  23. Wow. To have the nerve to plagiarize your work is astoundingly stupid, not to mention illegal and unethical. Even if you were not in the room, Dan, I would think that another audience member would recognize your work! One born each minute, too bad it’s an educator.

  24. You should be flattered that he found your words so wise and inspiring that he found the need to use them himself.

    This is what I have thought when it’s happened to me, a long time ago……but this is from a UK perspective…..and we are all very happy when someone uses our words as it makes us feel we have had an influence and someone has taken notice of us.

    In short, it makes us feel very clever. We don’t worry so much about the ‘illegal and unethical’ bit over here. Bit of a cheeky bugger though.

  25. @Amanda, I’m sure Dan would be flattered IF Mr. Whiteside had given Dan credit. “Cheeky bugger,” makes me smile, I think of my favorite guy Eddie Izzard :)

  26. Definitely out of your weight class, Dan.

    I agree with sentiments already expressed, 100%.

    This guy is totally off base and totally out of your league. Your response has been restrained and creative. Leaving identifying features out of your posts was the right thing to do – if he ever comes here, the embarrassment should be enough to show him what the community thinks of his conduct.

    This will be an example for my classes for preservice teachers on scholarly practice / plagiarism / social media / being an educator in an ICT-rich world. Well done.

  27. Someone stealing your words is not the same as stealing your ideas. The ideas expressed in the Ted talk were already commonly held ideas that you expressed in an entertaining, eloquent, and passionate way. The words were yours, but the ideas had been around for a very long time. That power point slide? Good grief.

    So, some loser lifted your Ted talk, you confronted him, and notified the relevant parties. Sensible enough. What he/she was doing was dishonest, weird, and ridiculous — it should be stopped.

    But then we get the blog post: So, like, this kid stole this bike that I found, and I saw him at the mall, and he, like, almost crapped his pants when he saw me, and I was going to totally kick his ass, but he was way below my, like, weight class, so …

    You are puffing out your chest over some nut job speaking to six goobers at a math conference. Relax. Have a sense of humor. Ask a bunch of questions at the talk, but address him/her as Dan when you ask the questions. That is my suggestion for a better way to deal with the situation. More humor, less ego.

  28. Hey, Dan.

    Not a math person, but a foreign language girl. That said, I like your blog, and find that much of what you say and about what you write parallel language teaching and learning.

    Dan, I understand, and, I think confronting the presenter in a firm albeit professional manner was the way to go here. If he’s a decent enough human being, he’s reflected on his interaction with you, and, is contemplating on how to develop his own knowledge, rather than using yours and calling it his expertise. That said, a simple hat tip to you regarding the slide, and anything else he used, would have given him more credibility.

    Speaking of foreign language teachers, Dan, why are there none listed in your blogroll, hmmm?

  29. Dan did right to quietly challenge the other presenter, he was even right to raise it with the organisers. What I’m uncomfortable with is his writing a blog post about it. I admire so much about both Dan and his work but I feel this last action lacks dignity and kindness.

  30. a different eric

    February 5, 2012 - 8:00 am -

    my whole classroom is a dan myer carbon copy.
    i feel kind of bad about it.
    then again, i take no credit for it, either.
    and it works better anything i’ve ever tried.

  31. @a different eric:

    I might be walking a fine ethical line here, but I don’t really care how anyone uses my stuff in the classroom. If I cared, I would include a “CC-BY Dan Meyer” at the end of every video and at the bottom of every handout. At the level of professional development, though, where we’re trying to advance each other and advance the entire discipline, that’s where citation matters most to me. If you aren’t adding to the ideas or critiquing the ideas or sending people back to the source of the ideas, we are all on a treadmill, running in place.

  32. Dear Dan and the @ddmeyer community,
    I am the president and conference organizer for the Greater San Diego Math Council 2012 Conference. I wish to apologize to Dan for the experience, and the poor judgment shown by one of our presenters.
    I had a similar experience when teaching in Colorado almost 20 years ago. Along with some colleagues at my high school, we developed some rather forward thinking assessment tools involving student portfolios. One year, our state’s presidential award winner shared some of the work she did as evidence of her excellence and damn if it wasn’t 90%+ duplicated from our work. My reaction was very similar to Dan’s, somewhat conflicted–feeling ripped off and pissed at first, but eventually settling into reasonable calm and self-satisfaction recognizing that others valued my work.
    I hope at minimum the sheer embarrassment of the whole situation created a long-term learning experience for Dan’s plagiarist. And I hope his apology was sincere; I imagine it was. I suspect we won’t have to blacklist him from the speaker applications for future conferences; I believe he won’t bother submitting a request again. Maybe we could put on our application form a checkbox that says “I plan to use Dan Meyer’s intellectual property and have received his permission in advance.”
    Maybe if Dan wasn’t wearing the gorilla mask in the audience, the guy would have skipped that part of his talk?
    Again, Dan – my sincerest apologies.
    Brian R. Lawler

  33. Upon reading this post, I had very similar thoughts to those of blink (see above). As teachers, we all need to answer the question, “why am I in this profession and what do I hope to accomplish?” I would argue that we all want to improve the lives of our students and, to a larger extent, the system itself. Does it matter who gets the credit as long as the larger mission is accomplished?

    Having said this, I too have had a protectionist view of some of my materials at times, which I then have to fight to suppress. He should have given you credit but at least the ideas are circulating! Keep in mind, there is only one of you and a whole bunch of people that the message needs to reach.

  34. Peter Robertson

    February 5, 2012 - 5:29 pm -

    How would this situation have hypothetically played out if the presenter had given the credit for the source of this information to Dan Meyer before presenting it?

    What if he presented Dan’s perspective (and gave credit) and then compared/contrasted it with other leading maths ed specialists/researchers. (giving them credit as well). Yeah he isn’t coming up with anything new, but at least he is giving credit where credit is due and possibly demonstrating some of his own analysis by comparing perspectives.

    Just wondering what this presenter could have done differently in order to save face.

  35. As a long time teacher who frequently gives presentations at state conferences I ran into a similar situation. I considered it a compliment that someone would think my work worth of sharing. My guess is that this is not a presentation for which he was going to make money. I have shared many many of Dan’s ideas, thoughts, links, and videos. I do give credit to Dan. The the important consideration is that students somewhere will enjoy learning mathematics.

  36. Yup, Plagiarist is off-base.
    Yup, s/he should have cited.
    Yup, it’s wrong because s/he didn’t make any edits or changes to improve it.

    All these comments (including yours, Dan) hover around the point: the Plagiarist got paid to present Dan’s findings at the conference. Even if s/he was aware of your licensing, this individual chose to peddle your wares for a buck. This kind of laziness and aversion to work is exactly what makes our students take shortcuts, as you all mentioned above.

    Also, I cringed when reading your response after your session, and I didn’t even do anything wrong. You’re well in your rights to give your plagiarist reason to squirm.

  37. About 10 years ago, I attended a conference where the keynote speaker had attended several regional and national conferences I’d presented at over a 2-3 year time period. When she recognized me in the audience, before she started her keynote, she had me stand and introduced me to the audience as her “muse” in getting started in the math education professional development business.

    Considering at least 1/3 of her slides came from originals I’d created for my presentation, I thought she did the best she could to get out of trouble by acknowledging me. But, she had never asked for my permission to use them in her presentation, nor had she credited them to me in her handouts.

    Very unprofessional of her and awkward all around.

  38. I’m seeing many commenters who think that frowning upon plagiarism is all about credit, but that’s a very shallow view. In this case, the plagiarist completely disconnected the audience from Dan Meyer’s extensive work in this area. That means they can’t read the extended discussions, they can’t draw on other related resources, they can’t contact the real author and ask their own questions. They can’t connect to the author to follow future developments.

    The plagiarist is standing at the top of a well, with the audience at the bottom. He throws down a loaf of bread and a few pages from a book, and leads the audience to believe that basically that’s all that exists outside the hole, and he’s the only one who can provide it to them.

    I really want to give the plagiarist the benefit of the doubt, that it was a stupid mistake that hasn’t happened before or since. But I can’t get past the idea that some of us spend 40 hours or more putting together the best 1 hour presentation we can. The plagiarist took the easy way out. It’s disrespectful to the original author, to the subject, and to the audience. I tend to think that disrespect like that doesn’t just randomly rear its head once.

  39. Thanks for sharing. You got to the heart of the problem for me when you highlighted how without proper citation we loose the thread of information; the breadcrumbs that lead us back to valuable sources. That was what was stolen, our opportunity to make connections. (Loved the ‘well’ analogy.)