Math is The Vocabulary for Your Intuition

Dan Meyer is a highschool math teacher who is pretty much over the use of mathematic textbooks and is looking to give all math classes a makeover. In his TED talk he begins with the 5 symptoms you’re doing math reasoning wrong in your classroom.


  1. Lack of Initiative
  2. Lack of Perseverance
  3. Lack of Retention
  4. Aversion to Word Problems
  5. Eagerness for Formula

When a student demonstrates one of these behaviors it should be a red flag that something is not being done correctly.  He relates what happens in a math textbook to that of a nightly sitcom. There is 20 mins, when commercial breaks are taken into an account, of a problem and a solution and that is the basis of the show. When looking into a math textbook it is organized in this fashion. They problems are basic and easy and lead you to the answer instead of teaching. Meyer refers to a physics textbook where in the problem they give you the answer. If a student is able to decipher the textbook they don’t need to learn the material. The problem then arises when assessments are given.

So how do we revamp mathematics to get the learning point across? Meyer re-defines word problems from the textbook to accomplish this makeover. He takes a problem from the book and rebuilds it to supplement math reasoning and patient problem solving because “a problem with an easy solution is not a problem worth solving.” He then takes this newly created problem and uses real world objects to demonstrate it. Finally he uses video to demonstrate what is being done to reach the answer. In the TED talk his class was to find out how long a bucket would take to fill up with water. The class spoke about what they needed to find out, what variables they needed to use, and then they actually went through the procedure of filling up the bucket to achieve their answer. He makes a point to state that as they were sitting there waiting for the bucket to fill up the students actually held a conversation. Most of the questions asked were phrased in annoyance “How long is this going to take?” but the students were talking and inferring and learning more than if they were to just go through the book.

He concludes his talk with 5 things he recommends you do when teaching mathematics to any grade level.

  1. Use Multimedia
  2. Encourage Student Intuition
  3. Ask the Shortest Questions you Can- The more specific questions should come out in conversations held by the students.
  4. Let Students Build the Problem
  5. Be Less Helpful

I really enjoyed this talk because math for me was always a problem area but science came easily. Dan Meyer really understands that students need the visuals and need the hands on experience to understand what is happening and what they are learning. He also makes great points about why the textbooks used in todays classrooms are so bad for the students and how we can fix that. I now have a better understanding of how to approach teaching math.


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