Our guest blog today comes from Maureen Wilson – one of our local teachers who received a scholarship to attend the National Council on Teachers of Mathematics conference this spring with Zeno! Hear what she’s bringing back to HER classroom as we head into the end of the school year…

I was inspired by many of the speakers at NCTM 2014. I appreciated and will put to good use all of the practical information and tools that I collected – including graphic organizers, place value understanding inventories, strategic games, productive talk posters, materials for centers, etc. However, it was the opportunity to hear the thoughts and ideas of instructional leaders and innovators that I found the most exciting.

Dan Meyer was my favorite speaker. I first saw his Math in Three Acts curriculum several years ago. Although the tasks were written for high school students, I could see the genius in the structuring of the lessons. I started looking at the world differently – through math eyes. Months later when I listened to his TED talk, “Math Class Needs A Makeover”, he sealed the deal. I became an official fan.

Apparently, Dan has read a number of blogs and attended several presentations where the authors insist that the key to student engagement is using real world problems. Ever the one to doubt anything oft repeated in math education, Dan spent the hour debunking the idea.

Dan began his session, Video Games and Making Math More Like Things Students Like, by sharing an astounding fact. In its heyday, Angry Birds was played over 200,000,000 minutes worldwide PER DAY. That means that 381+ years of Angry Birds was played daily. Dan shared the obvious conclusion – many people will spend hours doing something, for that matter, anything that is interesting and challenging. “Real world” had nothing to do with it! He wondered how this insight could help us be better math teachers.

Selflessly, Dan began “extensive” research. He looked for gaming experiences that proved to be, for lack of a better word, addictive. Dan eventually culled his list of games to Angry Birds, Super Stickman Golf, Flight Control, and Portal. These games were similar in that:

  • They were task-oriented
  • The player participated in skill building
  • Assessment and feedback were part of the experience
  • Success was obtainable

As he further analyzed the shared appeal of the games, Dan created a list of “lessons” that could help teachers make math class as magnetic and appealing as the video games:

  • Video games get to the point.
  • The real world is overrated.
  • Video games have an open middle.
  • The middle grows more challenging and more interesting at the same time.
  • Instruction is visual, embedded in practice, and only as needed.
  • Video games lower the cost of failure.

Dan’s presentation influenced how I received and processed information at every other session I attended. I think about the “lessons” every time I plan my math instruction. I can’t wait to share these insights with my colleagues!

Maureen Wilson

4th Grade Teacher, Blakely Elementary

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