Dan Meyer – Be less helpful

In 2010, Dan Meyer, an high school math teacher, presented a TED talk titled “Math class needs a makeover.” In this funny and critical examination of a typical high school math lesson, Dan outlines his atypical teaching technique. Moreover, he claims that we need different textbook where math problems contain far less helpful information to foster a strong grounding in math reasoning. I definitely agree with him. Schools seems to prepare kids to find “the solution” without being able to describe a problem, formulate an hypothesis and develop a plan of actions.

More generally, I think his motto “be less helpful” should guide our profession of teachers, in high school but also in higher education. We tend to provide our students with all the information to pass the exam. In our mind we think we are doing that for our students, but actually we are doing it for ourselves. We want to minimize the time we spend discussing with students and answering their (boring) questions. We want to pass them our knowledge and avoid any confrontation and misunderstanding. Just read my slides! You can find all the answers you need there! But, maybe, like that we are harming our students.

In my own teaching I try to provide a clear map of what they have to achieve during the course but at the same time I let students free to find out their path to knowledge. They are alone, they can get help only from their classmates. I am sue they complain about my teaching style and they may think I am just a lazy and disorganized teacher that does not prepare well his lectures. Of course, this is not true: I invest a lot of time to prepare every single lecture and I reflect constantly how to improve “my show”. During the learning process, lecture by lecture, students develop skills and use them in practice to solve those problems I pose. They work in teams, they re-define the problem, they discuss what they are supposed to do using the material I asked them to read, they draft a possible answer, get some feedbacks and, often, start the process again. Only after experimenting, failing, and struggling, students will acquire those competencies listed in the syllabus.

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