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?



During my recent illness, I plumbed the Netflix “Watch Instantly” library pretty thoroughly. When I got sick of watching this dramedy in plaid, I opted for some documentary offerings and watched, “Helvetica” (which is also enjoying a run on PBS) a documentary about the type font. I asked an edublogger interested in design issues, if he had seen it. His response, “I need explosions and stuff, right.” So rather than bore everyone with the meandering and slow moving plot that is this documentary, I’ll share two points (one of which involves an “explosion”) that hit on some of the arguments I’ve heard around edublogging about design.

At the 25 minute point, Micheal Bierut, a graphic designer, shows how explosive Helvetica was in design comes on and describes how marketing and advertising went from this:

With multiple fonts, that looked cluttered and like your grandmother’s Victorian parlour
to this:   

The documentary claims that the font had come out of the post-World War II modernist design aesthetic that wanted a cleaner, more democratic (proletarian even) look in response to the fascism the continent had just left behind. Certainly it doesn’t have the baggage of the highly serifed fonts favored by Nazi propagandist that appeal to a very traditional Germanic design sensibility. But…at 45 minutes Paula Scher points out how as she was in design school in the late 1960s Helvetica came to be the font of corporate America and began to stand for corporatism, fascism, and the Vietnam War, for her and many of her peers, and more organic fonts (think Yellow Submarine) began to pre-dominate.

Here we have many of  the major design arguments that have floated around edublogging. Design is becoming more democratized (a point hammered at the end of the documentary), and Helvetica’s design pre-stages that democratization. The downsides of Helvetica are some of the downsides of democratization of design…at best it’s bland but if you stray from it, well it can be even worse (Wired magazine at its inception). To what degree is design and marketing owned by corporate interest? Can anti-establishment propaganda and good design go together? Can good design subvert the dominant paradigm?

Alice Mercer

Thank you Flowing Data!


Which offered to send a copy of their awesome looking (and thinking) prints on the state of education to a public school or library if folks would buy one set for themselves. I asked if my school could receive them, and Dan Warren offered to pay for it. BIG kuddos for Dan for making this kind and generous offer. Here they are in situ in our cafeteria:

I hope this not only introduces the idea of the importance of education AND good design to my students.

CORRECTION: Fixed link to Flowingdata.

posted under design, fun | 2 Comments »

Week 30 in Lab: Focus on Improving Objectives


Among the many adjustments that have been difficult going from teaching one class with one grade level, is writing appropriate objectives for each grade level. I had been doing something generic, but like many generic templates, I felt like I wasn’t saying anything of substance. Here is what a Sixth Grade standard used to look like:

We had our monthly curriculum meeting, and it was suggested we use the verbs that kids are given on CST testing at their grade level (there are lists of these). I’m not a big test prep freak, but I love good vocabulary development, so this made sense to me intuitively. Here’s what I have now:

They are not perfect yet, but I feel like I’m on a better path. Only time will tell.

Update: I’m interested in feedback, BUT I would like to concentrate on the text with this, NOT the images.

Photo credits:

My Favorite Music…
by nadworks

Built-Rite United States Map Puzzle
by Marxchivist

California Farm
by karmadude

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together
by Boeke

Independence Rock

Under the Canopy
by C-HAD

Thanks Tom!


Tom Woodward, at Bionic Teaching, who was one of my peers giving feedback that led to Before and After…, really went the extra mile, in Picking up Gauntlets is Heavy Work, where he basically went through the whole slidedeck for a preso, and offered some alternatives.  VERY impressive. So here is one section with changes based on his input, with a few interpretations on my part:

I’ve gone the typography route here, and emphasizing the critical words. I also changed the wording. He had suggested the conjunction “and” putting both on the same footing, but I like the modifier “just” and conjunction “but”.

I liked the first cupcake Tom found better than the second, but I did the small pic a lower right was his suggested layout.

Really, this does look retched and only a truly gross personality would find this more appealing. I think I solved my lawn gnome affinity problem.


Okay, new day, new problem. I have to update the program for the Reclassification Ceremony we do for English language learners who are designated as fluent (big event at our school). I’m looking for a new image for the front cover. I’ll adjust the font, colors, and deco items to suit, just give me a tasteful images suitable for the emotion, and content of the event, suitable for an audience that will include many who do not read or speak English. Tom is officially exempt from this project as he has already done much heavy lifting.

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