TED Talks for Transformation: Dan Meyer

This month I seek to provide inspiration for transformation by paying homage to some of the most impactful TED Talks available, related to education.  Success will be gained if more educators and campus/district administrators are drawn to not only watching the TED Talks mentioned, but also sharing them with others through conversations rooted in the Visioning work.  The first week, connections were made to Rita Pierson’s Every Kid Needs a Champion.  Then, Todd Nesloney explained the many reasons Kids Deserve It.  Week three featured Ramsey Musallam and his 3 Rules to Spark Learning.

This week highlights Dan Meyer’s Math Class Needs a Makeover.

This talk was filmed in March, 2010, and has been viewed more than 2.4 million times since then.  I, myself, have watched this talk at least a dozen times, start to finish.  The message Mr. Meyer shared 7 years ago still resonates with the Visioning work as it inspires math teachers to design problems worth solving and utilize modern tools to set the stage for students to engage in the learning.

Mr. Meyer introduces himself as a high school math teacher, or more candidly in this way:

“I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but is forced by law to buy it.”

He tackles the impatience with irresolution issue with math education in the US today by breaking down math into two categories: computation (the stuff you have forgotten that is easy to re-learn, provided you have a strong grounding in math reasoning), and math reasoning.

Mr. Meyer’s talk centers on 5 symptoms you are doing math reasoning wrong in the classroom:

  1. Lack of initiative
  2. lack of perseverance
  3. Lack of retention
  4. Aversion to word problems
  5. Eagerness for formula

He models how to promote this patient problem solving by removing the simple, straight path provided so often by textbook publishers.

“No problem worth solving is that simple.”


Once these layers are removed, Mr. Meyer encourages math teachers to rebuild the questions to promote math reasoning and patient problem solving.  Using 21st century modern technologies (photos and videos), he shares how he encourages the students to join in on the conversation, engaging in the problem solving process and anxiously anticipating the solution – not from a pre-printed answer key, but rather by revealing the end of the video.

We recognize within Article II: The New Learning Standards, this premise: IIb. Learning should be specified to the “profound level,” that is, students are able to apply their learning to new situations, to synthesize, solve problems, create knowledge, and cultivate and utilize the full range of their capabilities.  The patient problem solving that Mr. Meyer promotes embodies this learning at the profound level.  Application of learning is key for students to foster mathematical reasoning.


Mr. Meyer closes with the notion that it is a great time to be a math teacher.  Equipped with the tools to create high quality curriculum and the opportunity to share openly, the opportunities to benefit students are limitless.

It is the responsibility of curriculum leaders to articulate, model, create, and promote high quality learning design.  It is the responsibility of teachers to provide such learning experiences for the future of their students’ success as they build mathematical reasoning skills.  This challenge is articulated within this premise: II.k When competent, caring teachers provide properly designed learning experiences in inspiring social environments, all students will engage and can meet or exceed a reasonable variance to the standards.

I encourage you to watch (or re-watch) Dan Meyer’s TED Talk and talk to someone about it.  Ask questions.  Challenge your thinking.

“Be Less Helpful.”




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