I hope you can see that what we’re doing here is taking a compelling question and a compelling answer, but we’re paving a smooth, straight path from one to the other, and congratulating our students on how well the can step over the cracks along the way.

Dan Meyer discussing the problems with a math word problem.

What he proposes instead is “patient problem solving.” He turns word problems into something that students can engage with, argue about and try to solve themselves. He strips the problem back to its most basic, places it firmly in the real world and leaves students to their own devices, so that they have to build the solution themselves.

It’s interesting that he also uses online video and pictures. This is very different from the educational software I referred to earlier. He’s using digital tools to help kids escape the easy answers of traditional words problems, and start thinking for themselves, rather than looking for a formula that they can plug numbers into.