Any Questions?

Aug 2, 2011 by

Storytelling, inquiry, and mathematics go hand in hand, or so says Dan Meyer. And since he’s a former Google Curriculum Fellow, and a doctoral student at Standford, I’m going to put my faith in those fancy titles that he’s a pretty knowledgeable guy. That, and the small conversations we’ve had via Twitter give me a sense that he really understands one of the most important soft skills intrinsic to great teaching; the ability to tell a good story.

I’m not talking about the stories your old high school World History teacher used to tell about his time in the army, or old “sand lot” baseball tragedies from his youth. I’m referring to the storytelling that takes place in some of the best classroom environments, where the teacher weaves a yarn around the lesson or learning objective, engaging the students, and getting them not only to take a bit more interest in what it is they’re learning, but also to invest some emotion in the learning process. My 3rd grade teacher was masterful at this. From taking the class on historical tours of our city, to creating a model of our town out of old milk cartoons, construction paper, and paste, she understood that to help us understand community, and the importance of it, we had to understand the narrative that was our hometown, how it came to be, how it grew, and what made it unique.

Which is why I’m drawn to Dan Meyer’s concept of #anyqs (the twitter hashtag abbreviation for “any questions”). In exploring what makes a great math lesson, he’s invited anyone that’s interested to create and share still images or brief video clips that encourage require storytelling, inquiry, and dialogue in order to make math more interesting, and ultimately to make it much more open. The idea is rather than become incredibly proficient at solving pre-made questions presented in a text book, why not prepare students for the real world, in which they will have to figure out the problems for themselves, determine what needs to be answered, what information is extraneous, and then how to best tackle the problem. It’s a radical departure from traditional mathematics instruction, and by no means needs to replace the ability to solve scripts and standard equations, but a method that will help students begin to create stories around math so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll be better able to find mathematical solutions to the stories and situations they may come across.

While I haven’t yet started producing high quality “any questions” videos in the style of Dan Meyer, complete with graphic overlays, I have started to toy with the idea of capturing video from everyday events that don’t quite fit my idea of video story problems, but still illustrate something I feel would make a worthy teaching resource. Below are my #anyqs videos that I’ve made thus far, and I highly encourage you to share any and all still images or videos that you want via twitter with the #anyqs hashtag, or perhaps the #wcydwt (what can you do with this), if you’re not sure how to frame the content you’re sharing.

Have questions that would spark conversation in your classroom? Feel free to share in the comments here, or directly on the Vimeo comments!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Jayna Brown

    Wow! This is the stuff I’m talking about. Exactly what children should be seeing in class when they are discussing these topics. So many of children are visual learners and the tradition lecture/read this problem & solve it is not working for them. Especially since this new generation is so detached from the creation and manufacturing of products. I frankly believe most kids could careless how their PS3 was made, just concerned that it has the latest technology. Who cares how the roller coaster spins, drops, twist and turns me? Just make it do it! Great stuff! Wish I had the creativity to do what you do, however I do have venue and sense to use it. Thanks!

    • Thanks for enjoying what I’m putting out there, Jayna! Truth be told, I don’t get to use these things in the classroom anymore, so when I hear that they still have value, I’m heartened to create more. I agree with what you’re saying about the idea of “users” rather than “thinkers”. I would liken it to most car owners today. Many of us don’t know how it all works, how it was built, and honestly, couldn’t care less. However, it’s an important part of our lives, and we use, and abuse, them as often as we need.

  2. Nice! More of this learn-how-it-works stuff should be available for our kids! I believe that they are interested deep inside but the way we live and rush through life with them does not allow them to slow down and actually think about stuff.

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