Dan Meyer was right…


One change since I left the classroom is our district has adopted a new mathematics text, California Mathematics from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill. In just one week with the text, and already I’m complaining. The text in it’s ambition to be helpful, engaging and entertaining, is constantly focused on the non-pertinent, and telling kids what they should be able to figure out themselves. It’s a beautiful proof for Dan Meyer’s admonition to “be less helpful.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for Saxon Math, the text it replaced, which was at the opposite side of the entertainment spectrum (the only illustrations were line drawings), way too opaque, and moved around in a seeming random fashion from one topic to the next (they called it spiraling — I called it confusing and inappropriate for ELs). Enough of that, I just wanted to establish when I’m complaining, I’m not longing for “the good old days”.

Here is a great illustration of what I’m talking about:

First, I’m not going to even address if this is a pseudo-context problem (which there is probably an argument for). My students are so eager, they will still do problems with a ridiculous premise. Today is all about the axiom, be less helpful, because that is really where this lesson died for me.

Look at the table, that one where the “helpfully” provide the rule right at the top, spoon-fed to the students so they don’t have to hurt their brain trying to figure it out for themselves. Maybe they thought this was the way to “scaffold” for ELs. As a long-time teacher of ELs, this is not scaffolding, it’s stupid. Fortunately, this was my second lesson and by then I had figured out they were sharing way to much (maybe we can call it the Jerry Springer school of textbooks?). I told the student, keep your books shut on your desks. This was because on the first lesson, I asked them some opening questions about the data, and a student pointed out that the answer was on the next page (ARGHHHH! [sound of my eyes rolling back in my head]). I then wrote a simply input/output table on the board and asked them to comment on patterns they saw.

So we got to question 3, describe the pattern of numbers in the output column. You can see the Teacher’s Edition answer up there, multiples of 6. One of my sparkier students says the answer is +6. I start to argue with him, then I think about it really fast, and realize, his argument that when you look at just the outputs, +6 makes sense (although you could argue multiples works too), but I’m also wondering, why do they keep hammering this pattern into the kids head? Why are they even bothering asking that as a final question since they have already given the kids the answer before they even asked any questions?

7 Comments to

“Dan Meyer was right…”

  1. September 11th, 2011 at 4:37 pm      Reply Jenny Says:

    This is why I don’t use any textbook. I have both Everyday Math and Investigations in my building and pull from both. But there isn’t really any text that doesn’t try to do too much. It’s very frustrating.
    Good luck with this.

  2. September 12th, 2011 at 7:24 am      Reply Online High School Says:

    “Jerry Springer school of textbooks”

    That quote made me spit my coffee out of my nose. Where do you come up with this stuff Alice? I hear last comic standing calling your name.

    When I was working in Lee County I made sure the text books in my classroom had the answer whitted out in the back of the books. But now-a-days all it takes is the kids to look it up on the internet.

  3. September 12th, 2011 at 10:44 am      Reply Dan Meyer Says:

    Mercy. At least the caption that 98% of pistachios are from California will engage the learner.

  4. September 13th, 2011 at 12:59 am      Reply David B. Cohen Says:

    [Insert distinctly ethnic names for students] counted out 50 pistachios. How many of them are from California? [Insert more distinctly ethnic names, and achieve gender balance] counted out 100 pistachios. How many are from California?

    • September 13th, 2011 at 7:19 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Still not as pseudo cultural as the jingle dress exaple someone sent Dan. I’ll dig out the link. That wins the totally missing the point prize for cultural insensitivity.

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Howdy! I teach sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. I started my career in Oakland, Ca, and moved here to Sacramento in 2001.

My goals are:

  1. To reflect on how I am teaching, and how effective my practices are;
  2. To reflect on my profession, and how effective various practices are;
  3. To understand the political and cultural context that we teach in; and,
  4. To network with other like-minded educators.

To help me reach my goals, I use this blog as a place for me to reflect on best practices, and the practices I’m (trying to) putting in place in my classroom.

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The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not those of Sacramento City Unified School District.