Dan Meyer TED Talk Video

Posted by Raj on Oct 19, 2015

Dan Meyer seeks to explain how, from his insightful view and practical experience, schools today choose to teach mathematical concepts to pupils. He argues that for a given problem, ‘the conversation serves the maths as opposed to the maths serving the conversation.’ He quotes Albert Einstein who said, ‘the formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution.’ He contends: in schools we often just give a problem to a student for them to solve.

His main objectives at the end of the year is to have students overcome the ‘pre-installed viruses:

  • Lack of Initiatvie
  • Lack of perserverence
  • Lack of retention
  • Aversion to word problems
  • Eagerness for formula

Fundamentally, he suggests students should learn ‘patient problem solving.’ We should not be misleading students into believing that mathematical problems are as formulaic as American tv sitcoms – twenty-two minutes long, with two ad-breaks. This twelve minute video is insightful, entertaining and even inspiring to a prospective maths teacher. “Now is a great time to be a maths teacher,” he says.

As a maths teaching classroom assistant, I have seen how maths is taught in a Secondary school environment; the curriculum requirements that need to be satisfied; and generally, the lessons pupils find the most engaging.

It is likely that most, if not all, teachers at some stage will have experienced the effect of the ‘pre-installed viruses.’ I saw this on several occasions, ‘ … but when am I ever going to use this in real life, sir.’ Is a typical example where a little perseverance and the correct answer would not have received this response. Lack of perceived achievement can lead frustration and even disruptive behaviour may follow.

For a teacher it may be difficult to argue that working out a solution to a linear equation, let alone a quadratic is going to help a student in the future. Perhaps a student might want to design a skate park where straight lines and curves are used in some way. However, it would be difficult to find practical examples that satisfy all the pupils all of the time. Asking this question two weeks before sitting a GCSE maths paper is not an ideal time to be asking this question but I saw it happen. In another example, a student was working out the length of a side of a right-angled triangle. He relied on the formula used for Pythagoras’ theorem to find answer. When it was the length of the hypotenuse he needed his formula worked, but when he needed to know the length of one of the shorter sides, he was confused.

The idea of calculating the time taken to fill a large container with water and drawing a discussion from it; even from those students who were not engaged seemed to me be genius of an idea – something to remember. The entire video was fascinating and I found absolutely nothing that I disagreed with.

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