Dan Meyer’s making Maths fun again!

Dan Meyer has got me excited about teaching Maths. As I am Health and PE teacher, that will probably seem odd. Today, I had the pleasure of attending one of Dan Meyer’s Sydney Seminars hosted by 3P Learning (the makers of Mathletics). Although I’m a PE techer, deep down, I do love Maths. It was my favourite subject at school and I even voluntarily took a first year Maths course in first year university.
What was it that I liked so much about today’s seminar that got me excited? Dan has simply tried to make it interesting for students to do Maths. He’s trying to get students out of textbooks and into the real world to see the application of maths. In his words, ‘There are limitations to the medium of paper to convey the likability and usefulness of Maths’. Instead of opening the textbook in the first instance, Dan’s trying to get the students developing their own critical thinking skills, developing the problem solving skills by trying to get them to work out how to ask questions to solve problems and he is also advocating for the collaboration between students to get to the point of solving the problem. To do it, he’s using images or videos that he’s found or created to engage the students in the topic.
His process isn’t too dis-similar to that of Project Based Learning. Use a ‘hook’ to engage the students, get them record the questions they have and then work out how to solve the questions. He’s not telling them to do the math, but he’s asking them to solve their own questions – questions that you’d probably have found in a textbook anyway – but because a student asks the questions, they’ve bought in to solving them. That’s the kicker really. The student wants to see their questions answered and they can’t just look it up in the back of the book.
As Dan took us through the process, one thing stood out, there was no judgment on our individual  performances. We worked together using the ‘Think-pair-share’ method not just to formulate our questions but also as we worked out how we’d solve those questions. As Dan said, by using this method, it gives all the students a chance to think of questions before becoming distracted by the question that the student with the first hand up provides. By getting us to review our guesses from early in the process, he was giving those that didn’t have the refined maths skills the chance to succeed.
The reality is, this doesn’t happen enough. Allow the students to fail or succeed in safe environments that aren’t high stakes. It provides a terrific opportunity to build their confidence and enjoyment in what ever subject you teach. Students in this environment are willing to take risks with their questioning and problem solving and get to experience how others would tackle the question too.
We’re all passionate about our subject areas and want to see our students share the enthusiasm that we have, but sometimes we get bogged down in teaching methods that don’t inspire the students. Again today, I was reminded that I need to keep focused on how I engage my students in my subject so that they too may become passionate about health and physical activity.
For those Math’s teachers playing along at home: