Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Mathematical Maverick – Dan Meyer – “Be less helpful”
If mathematics has a poster boy it is – or at least should be – Dan Meyer. Meyer is something of a rarity in the field of public discussion of mathematics; he is not an academic, he is not an educational administrator, he is a teacher - someone who works in real classrooms with real students with real mathematics. It is this “real world” context that makes him worth listening to – and which provides the grounding for his instruction.
Meyer is an advocate of authentic learning in mathematics. If you think of “drill and practice” worksheets or textbooks, or even the Khan Academy online learning site, then Meyer is at the opposite end of the spectrum. However, Myer is not “warm and fuzzy” or laissez faire when teaching mathematics – he expects his students to learn and master the material; it is just that he considers it far more important that students understand the concepts involved before reducing mathematics to pencil and paper exercises devoid of any connection to the real world experiences of students.
In his recent TEDxNYED talk Meyer claims that the traditional text book approach to teaching mathematics destroys mathematical reasoning and patient problem solving, replacing it with an attitude that mathematics is all about plugging in some given information into a formula, which incidentally is also given by the text book, and churning out an answer with little or no meaning. It need not be so and in his talk Meyer demonstrates how to use effectively teach the same material.
He gives some general advice as well. One piece of wisdom he shares is to “Ask the shortest question you can”. Another is “Be less helpful”. These adages may appear to be counter to conventional wisdom – and perhaps they are. They make more sense in the context of his talk – which can be viewed here.
If you teach mathematics – or know anyone currently being taught mathematics, this is a “must see” video.
Meyer also maintains an informative mathematics based blog that can be accessed here.