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Thinking about Dirt

Dan recently did an online lesson on a clip from the movie adaptation of Holes. These are some thoughts on how it went for me.

The technology/web aspect had plusses & minuses. It would be a lot more work intensive to get this collection of people together without the technology. Having a running list of people’s comments that I could go back and review was useful – I can’t write and listen at the same time. My sum total of notes for my many years of college is surely less than two pages. Being able to go back and review comments was a godsend. Not being able to review information Dan shared via audio sucked, but it did provide him an opportunity to bypass the chat noise to guide the lesson. I liked his use of the “type in your answer, but don’t hit return” – it allowed for a much higher bandwidth of feedback.

I also realized I’m a crappy student. I didn’t have paper & pencil ready. I totally missed the part where an agreement how much shorter the shovel was was arrived at, and ended up using a different number in my calculations. The not having paper & pencil handy killed me, because I started off trying to present my work using latex, and got frustrated with thinking and editing at the same time, and had wasted half the time before I started over. That’s just my problem, though – not with the lesson. (Though perhaps it would have been nice to get a “what to expect” list before hand – I managed to get myself a dimdim account, but that was about it).

As Dan notes, the “what do you want to know” question yielded diverse responses. After he gave the intended question, and going back and looking at the clip, it seemed obvious. Perhaps just a simple change in the prompt from “What do you want to know” to “What were they talking about” would be enough to provide some focus.

I also got a bit hung up on the weight/volume question. I agree with Dan that weight is a more tangible thing, that our students have more experience with it, but it is also a lot more difficult to estimate, especially in large numbers. In retrospect, I think not specifying the units for the answer would halve been appropriately less helpful, and provided some fodder for discussion afterwards.

The actual problem was great – it provided several different equally reasonable approaches to solving. It’d be just about the right length of time for a full period. It has a completely unexpected answer (That might change if you used a much smaller difference for the shovels). It was very straightforward, but just challenging enough to make you want to question your answer when you were done. I’m kind of surprised that Dan hadn’t worked it out beforehand, and I’d be interested to see how the lesson would have changed if he had.

I loved doing this, right in the middle of my Saturday afternoon, and look forward to being able to participate in one of these again. Way more fun than our usual after school PD.

Answers to some of Dan’s questions:

I didn’t care too much about seeing my costudents’ guesses, but I’m odd that way. I know that when I collect guesses from my kids, it totally builds buy in, and I expect it would with this problem too.

If you use Apple Mail to read your mail, one of the filter actions is “run Applescript”, and you could write up a small script to automatically FTP stuff to your site. Using php instead of html would allow you to automatically link to the uploaded files.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Dan Meyer | August 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    “I loved doing this, right in the middle of my Saturday afternoon, and look forward to being able to participate in one of these again. Way more fun than our usual after school PD.”

    I feel the same way. These are a lot of fun from the facilitation side also.

    Thesis: When teachers have a really fun time with this kind of perplexing problem solving, it makes it that much harder for them to return to their textbook’s status quo.

    I’m basing that off of two DimDim sessions and a handful of F2F workshops. I’m guessing that, for a lot of teachers, I don’t even have to break down the WCYDWT process as literally as I did in the post-mortem. They’re challenged, having fun, and they understand why they’re having fun.

    Unless you feel like nudging me in a different direction, I think the next iteration needs to:

    a) automate the process so that it doesn’t require a facilitator. (I’m following the same script every time.)
    b) make it asynchronous, so that people can check in at different times and get (roughly) the same experience.

  2. Mr. K | August 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    automate the process

    This was the first one I’ve participated in, but the key steps seem to be:

    1) Watch the media
    2) Submit your puzzlement
    3) Get the teacher’s question
    4) Submit your SWAG
    5) Work out the answer
    6) Submit your work as jpeg or pdf
    7) Compare your answer to everyone else’s
    8) Provide feedback

    You could use the same model that a lot of online polls do, where submitting your input is the ticket that allows you to see what everyone else has done for that step.

    This is the sort of thing that’s easily hacked together via PHP, though you’ll probably still need to do some moderation of the submitted work.

    I suspect, however, that part of the charm is the real live interactive process – being part of a larger group working on something pushed me past my pettyish fixations and allowed me, as participant, to also be an observer of the process, and I think that’s where the real value lies.

  3. Tom Loughran | August 25, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    This WCYDWT approach, and your discussion around it, are a breath of fresh air in mathematics and science education. Down the road, it would be great if the approach morphed into What Are You Doing With This (WAYDWT), where mathematics and science are taught in an environment where the walls between school and community have dissolved. How have your WCYDWT approaches translated to partnerships with science teaching, or with partnerships on projects with footprints outside of the classroom environment? I’m particularly interested in the transition from “Can” to “Are”. Thanks!