by Karen Bloom, PMS Math Teacher
On Tuesday, January 27, 2015 right after school, a large group of Piedmont teachers were learning from Dan Meyer, self described worker, learner, go-getter, writer, speaker. He was a high school math teacher and is now on a mission to change the traditional “go over homework, teacher lecture, examples and practice, student homework” model of teaching math to a new model that engages students first and offers math practice with a purpose.
To that end, Mr. Meyer began his work with us teachers as if he were the teacher and we were his students. He showed us a video showing candy boxes encircled with ribbon in four different shape configurations. He then asked us what questions this brought up for us. Together we brainstormed questions, and then he stated the question he wanted us to answer: Which box is the most cost effective, i.e. uses the least amount of materials?
We worked together with our colleagues to figure out how many chocolates were in each box, how much cardboard would be needed for each box, and how much ribbon would be needed for each box using the math concepts of surface area, but not necessarily using set formulae for figuring out those answers. Mr. Meyer collected our ideas, and we had a discussion about which box would be the best choice for saving our company the most money.
After working through the problem with us as students and Mr. Meyer as the teacher, we changed the discussion to how we teachers could use this model of student engagement and discussion to help our students want to learn and explore math. Using questions and videos to spark curiosity, we would be able to provide students with guidance, appropriate math formulae and techniques, and whatever else they may need to answer the questions that THEY are curious about.
To further illustrate how textbooks can damper our students’ enthusiasm, Mr. Meyer showed us a page of figures with labeled dimensions where students are asked to find the volume and surface area. By removing the question/instructions and the given dimensions, he creates a page of shapes that provokes the reader to ask questions about the shapes such as how big are they, what are their dimensions, and maybe even, how much are their surface areas and volumes. Then, once the students are curious, the teacher slowly adds information to allow the students to satisfy their curiosity and figure out the answers to their questions.
This is how Dan Meyer illustrates to us what he thinks, that math education can be made interesting and relevant to our students today by piquing their interest first, giving our students information as it is needed instead of all at once at the beginning, and encouraging exploration of questions not asked by a traditional textbook. Teachers were enthusiastic about Mr. Meyer’s presentation and are looking forward to trying this different method of engagement with our math students.