Dan Meyer: Math Class Needs a Makeover

I just watched Dan Meyer’s TED Talk entitled “Math Class Needs a Makeover“. In Ontario, we have Additional Qualification (AQ) Courses that you can take after your certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. One area of personal interest that I have been taking AQ courses in is “Primary/Junior Math” and I have been working on developing my teaching strategies to assist students in developing conceptual understanding, and problem solving skills not just which formula to use when. This year I have been focused on teaching more through problem solving and developing my own problems to really get at what students understand and are able to do.  It was interesting to watch Dan Meyer’s TED Talk because he mentioned a lot of things that I have been doing/ noticed with text books.

One point that really resonated with me was the use of the term “Patient Problem Solver”. So often in my class I find that I am spending my time encouraging kids to continue solving the problem and looking for other strategies because they seek the quickest, fastest, easiest solution (that may not always be correct). I am going to use this terminology in my classroom to encourage my students to understand that problem solving requires you to stick with it and be patient.

The second point that stuck with me was “math serves the conversation not the conversation serves the math”. I have been finding this in my class (but would have never been able to word it this way!). Working on utilizing pictures and having students do math from the picture I think it is a great way to add meaningful vocabulary and purpose to each element that is introduced.

The third helpful point from Dan was about creating good problems. I have been working on this all year and it is not an easy task. His suggestions were to eliminate substeps, ask the shortest problem you possibly can, let students build the problem, be less helpful! I know that I am not the only one that will struggle with the “be less helpful” but I think it is actually being more helpful in other ways. Developing better questioning strategies to assist students in solving the problem themselves will I think be my “be less helpful” strategy. Any other suggestions?

His closing message “math makes sense of the world” is truly the reason that we need to insure that all of our students develop a solid conceptual understanding of mathematics and problem solving skills so that they will be able to interpret the mathematical world around them, in whatever context they require.

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