CEP Week 2: Dan Meyer-ing a Classroom to Create an Environment for Questions

The last time you opened a math book I’m sure your first reaction was, “How am I going to learn this?” Dan Meyer has taken an approach to math that veers away from the wordiness of a textbook and generic one size fits all note taking, and makes the student pose the problems. He is a teacher that has gone off-script in his lessons in order to make students ask their own questions and create their own problems (Berger, 2014, p. 55)

We live in a world where we expect the teacher to ask questions to guide the student through a typical lesson. Teachers often rely on the text, but in math a lot of the sample problems show step-by-step instructions to the solution and homework problems refer back to these sample problems. This scenario allows the student to just plug and chug versus asking questions to further explore the material to develop an understanding. Dan Meyer has eliminated these steps and has students watch videos with little information in order to create their own question to help find a solution (Berger, 2014, p. 55). Teachers may feel weary of not knowing what questions students might ask, but don’t we want an engaging environment for our students in our classes? According to Gallup’s research, only 44% of High School students are engaged (Berger, 2014, p. 45). Our goal as teachers is to raise the engagement level, and I believe that Dan Meyer’s ideas will help our students become more involved.

Dan Meyer has been an inspiration in my classroom. I constantly try to find ways were I could step away from the front of the classroom, allowing the students to drive the conversations and create their own discovery. This is easier said than done especially for the Honors Pre-Calculus class that I teach. There are many topics that the students do need to have a more formal setting, and I find that I do not receive many questions on days like this. I have tried to create days where the students are encouraged to explore, such as finding the angle of elevation of an object of your choice outside, finding a destination on Google maps using law of sine and cosine to find the area, or creating a miniature putt-putt course using conic equations. Days where students are able to be creative and use prior knowledge to create something new or make the lecture days more concrete through exploration have helped students ask more questions and become more excited about math.

Students learn about conic sections in Algebra 2 and repeat it in Pre-Calculus in order to begin rotating the shapes on a graph. The idea of repeating lessons that were already taught is a reoccurring theme in high school math texts, but why do we encourage students to re-learn something versus using their prior knowledge to continue forward? When I reached this section in the course I decided to change things up and have my students create miniature putt-putt courses using what they already knew form Algebra 2. Students were bringing conics to 3-D and asking questions as to how to create the correct shapes. Even though this seems like a simple question, it holds the entire meaning for the unit. I would have students find videos on the internet and post them on our Google Classroom to help others or ask their questions out loud to see if another group was having a similar issue or knew the answer. When a student asked why there is an xy-term, I knew “I baited the hook,” as Dan Meyer says (Berger, 2014, p. 56). Within the project we were able to figure out what the xy-term meant and how to rotate conics, which is the lesson that is not taught in algebra 2, and a great question to explore when the student had created one on their course. Most importantly the students were asking why.

Here is are some images of the Putt Putt Courses my Students completed:


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury USA


2 Comments Add yours

  1. aprylemarie says:

    This is a great example of how ill structured problems lead to questioning and subsequently understanding of ideas. In teaching chemistry, I too find that some days are more structured and that these days have many fewer student questions. Finding the perfect balance to building a skills foundation and honing those skills through exploration and inquiry is a much more wicked problem! Adaptability and flexibility are key in an ever changing classroom environment, particularly when you never know what idea a question will spark!


  2. Angela,

    I couldn’t possibly agree more! I felt the same way growing up and trying to read a math book. It was too much information for me at once and I used to dread the “end of chapter” tests. I love the idea of first giving little information and then having students formulate their own questions. I believe that this helps guide their own learning, which is crucial to all learning today. I think it’s pretty awesome that students would post videos to answer other students’ questions.


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