Good Questions For Good Contexts — Ignite #openedu

If anyone ever asks you to give an Ignite talk, say yes. With twenty slides auto-advancing every fifteen seconds – ready or not – it’s a wonderful, miserable format. I’ve given a handful and each one has helped me get a stronger grip on editing, illustrating, and public speaking. Here’s the Ignite talk I gave at O’Reilly’s #openedu confab yesterday:

The short version is this: lousy contexts and lousy questions are easy to find. Good contexts and good questions are scarce. I’m working on one solution to the good contexts / good questions shortage that isn’t even in the same ballpark as “perfect,” but it’s a start.

Scott Farrar, Dan Anderson, Frank Noschese all made contributions to this talk. Thanks, buds.

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. Thank you, Dan. Good contexts and good questions are there, but hard to capture and bring into the classroom. My radar for lousy contexts/questions is heightened, thanks to your 3-Act lessons and presentations.

  2. One thing I love about the 101qs is that students can inquire, wonder, pose problems. That’s so rare in public school mathematics classrooms, yet such an important part of thinking mathematically.

  3. Great presentation, Dan. You really nailed the Ignite talk format (with 15s to spare.)

    Have been enjoying 101 questions, also. The pictures are awesome with compelling questions. Sure wish class had been taught this way when I was in high school. I know it isn’t easy, but what an awesome experience algebra or geometry would have been if each class had started with a question and we were given a mental framework for which to model and resolve a series of questions.

  4. Edwin Ulmer

    May 24, 2012 - 8:34 am -

    Dan, not sure but are you advocating a Computer Science emphasis in math education? How much or was that just a passing remark?

  5. Very good stuff obviously, but what perplexes me most is this Ignite business!

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, but what is so special about 20 slides 15 seconds each? It seems very arbitrary. But somehow it IS special because it caught on.

    I wonder how many words/sentences the average Ignite talk is? Or of the highest rated talks? How many words/sentences per slide? Does this pace match up well with accepted listening comprehension research?

    Somehow this format most hit a communication strike zone of some sort…just trying to put my finger on it.

  6. Different Dave

    May 24, 2012 - 10:49 am -

    I think the restrictions force a type of creativity and extreme summarization that most presentations don’t. “Perfection…is when there’s nothing left to take away.”

    Pecha Kucha ( is a similar but more Google-able format, if anyone is looking to learn more.

    I’m tempted to prepare a presentation or two in this style as a Prof. Dev./self-help project, just to force myself to identify what’s actually important in my work and my life.

  7. Edwin:

    Dan, not sure but are you advocating a Computer Science emphasis in math education? How much or was that just a passing remark?

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say we should emphasize CS, but whenever possible the goals of math education shouldn’t actively subvert a kid’s future computer science education. We can get good math education and set a kid up for productive CS work, in other words, if we do a better job with modeling.

    Yeah, Marshall Thompson got us good back there.

  8. Concerning CS:
    For the past 4 years, I have coached teams of students in the Moody’s Math Challenge. This is an East-Coast contest which requires modeling and communication:

    I have found that students are somewhat comfortable with defining a problem, checking assumptions, and developing a model. But while my students understand the need to test and troubleshoot a model, they haven’t been exposed to a toolbox which allows them to do so. And I find myself at a loss to give specific advice, as there are so many new tools out there, and frankly my own programming skills have eroded (we don’t use Pascal anymore…right?).

    Seems to me that a true modeling course which combines the application of stats, calc and CS would be a neat hybrid to develop.

  9. Jake Jouppi

    May 24, 2012 - 7:00 pm -

    Great job. This will serve as an excellent intro to spark some of my colleagues’ interest/give a good intro. in some of the things I have been babbling about since seeing your presentations at OAME. Loving the 101qs site. I have a nice collection of bookmarks that I plan to use on Mondays to get math classes going for the week. I will keep putting items up, and use clickers to assess student interest in exploring. Once again, thanks!

  10. In 5 minutes, you touched upon the major points of your 30+ minute vimeo on Design Principles for Digital Tasks. As our communication moves to sound bites and tweets, the Ignite talk is the natural next step.