Dan Meyer opened his site 101qs.com some time ago now, and I have to say it has been rather engaging to see what the results have been. You enter the site thinking you have some pretty top notch photo or video prompts that are bound to produce wonder and amazement, and yet somehow you find your perplexity score slowly going the way of the buffalo. At first it was disheartening. You think to yourself how could my amazing collection of gumballs stacked on dominoes in the shape of a sierpinski triangle at the burning man festival not provoke the question, “How can we derive the gravitational constant?” The question now becomes, "Is that the point of 101qs?" What do we want out of these videos and pictures? Do we want everyone to be on the same page or do we want multiples questions to stem from each video? Do we want both? Is 101qs giving us what we want?Clash of the Titans
Over at Dan’s site people have been discussing these last set of questions
and we find, naturally, Dan promoting his brand of “Make the prompt scream the question you are looking for
” and Karim Ani saying, “There are more interesting questions that go beyond a one minute clip or picture
When I read debates from guys like these I imagine this, but with better vocabulary.
I think many of us, including Dan and Karim, find ourselves right in the middle of these two conflicting axioms. On one hand we desire that students seek for themselves. We desire that they personally invest in interesting questions that provoke grand thoughts about life the universe and everything. Yet we also recognize that they are young whippersnappers who have little experience beyond their hometown, school, and even neighbourhood; they may not have the capacity to think beyond the world of their home. We then as teachers must make the hard decision of how to lead them to these wonderings.How many “how many” questions can we put up with?
One of the biggest critiques of 101qs right now is that the questions are too simple.
- How many dominoes?
- How many combinations are possible?
- How many tickets?
- How many gumballs?
These questions have all been taken from the top of our list of most perplexing images. Sure they represent different math (in this selection alone we have rates, combinations, volume, and area covered!), but the depth of questioning is shallow to say the least, and this is coming from teachers, who have
experienced this world and are confronted with questions that affect our humanity and interactions with the world at large. “How many dominoes?” just doesn’t cut it when we live in a world that is torn apart by famine, poverty, super-consumption, and an economy that seems to be hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. We the teachers need to see how we can bridge this gap. Students are certainly engaged by these problems, but how do we turn them, and mathematics as a whole, into more than a daily puzzler? If our subject, and this website, is turned into only a collection of neat little brain teasers, then we have missed the point of our roles as teachers.
Sadly, the interactive iPad version comes out next year.
Finding the Middle Ground
Just looking at the top of my site you will see clearly that I have drunk Dan’s Kool-Aid. I love anyqs, and the whole three act process. I know Dan's framework has directly made me a better teacher, and helped me to focus on more engaging class discussion, but I am beginning to find myself wanting more out of it. In my comment on Dan’s blog
I express that my main answer for this question is that we must understand that 101qs.com, in its infancy, is only presenting the first act of a fuller narrative. We must use these videos as starters to the greater questions. Students want to experience mastery of concepts, they want to feel positive about their abilities, and we can enter these students much easier into this subject that we love so much with a question like “How many gumballs are in that dang machine?” It is fun, it’s nice, and students say to themselves, “I can do this!” Then they take to the math, and they realize, “I need to know a lot of information to solve this. What shape is that thing? Is it a prism? No, it’s a ball shape! What is the volume of a ball?” We enter with our sequels to these stories to propel their thinking, “How many gumballs could fit into this room? Into this whole school?” Students start adapting their thought to new situations, and they begin to see that this one little problem can extend far beyond just this picture.Going for the Home Run
Once we have given students these chances to use their knowledge in differing situations we unload the brain busters. We ask the hard questions, we develop projects from here. After seeing so many of these “How many little things can fit inside one big thing (gummy bears, tickets, dominoes, gumballs, teacups...) the question that has been arriving in my mind is this, “Why do we measure things in g, mL, etc. and not gummy bears, or gumballs?” Get students to debate, and then create their own measurement systems. Have them create conversion charts, and think about how to create a system that measures mass, volume, as well as linear measurement. Have them reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of having their own measurement system. Have them present their measurement systems to the class, have them create lessons about the Billy-Standard-System. Then show them why the metric system is so awesome! They started their journey in the “How many?” river, but they are now swimming in the “What if?” ocean.Where to Now?
Have I pulled this stuff off? Not yet, I’m still young, but I know that this whole 101qs thing is Dan Meyer’s attempt to pull the stunt on us as I want to do with my students. “Take some pictures,” he says, but underneath it all is the possibility to go wherever we want. So yes, if we discount these “How many?” questions as paltry, then that is all they will ever be, but if we keep pushing, we can turn these low floor questions into high ceiling discussions and projects. So grab your camera, grab your phone, and get some first acts loaded. We’ll work on the rest together later.