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Instructor offers new formula for teaching math

GOFFSTOWN – Educator Dan Meyer is helping local teachers see math in a whole new way.

Meyer speaks internationally about using video and digital technology to teach math with real-world scenarios. He came to Goffstown High School on Aug. 20 and 21 through a shared effort by the Goffstown and Bedford school districts, paid for by a grant. About 50 middle and high school math, science and special education teachers and administrators attended the two-day professional development workshop with Meyer.

Meyer is a realist.

“I teach high school math,” Meyer said. “I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it.”

Still, he has found a way to engage his students and convince them that math has power in their lives. His message was simple and inspiring.

“We have the ability to bring the world into the classroom like we never did before,” Meyer said.

Believing that a sense of curiosity is the most valuable commodity in a classroom, Meyer shoots videos to encourage student curiosity and stimulate conversation about problem solving.

Students walking into Meyer’s class may find themselves confronted with a video of a slowly filling water tank and a simple question: How long will this take? Or it might show a strobe shot of a basketball over a hoop with the message: Hit or miss? Instead of plugging information provided by a text book into a formula, the students must decide what information is needed to find the answer.

“The problem with problem solving in life is you don’t always have all the information in advance,” Meyer said.

While discussing the best way to solve the problem, students develop patient problem-solving and math-reasoning skills. When the discussion is over, Meyer simply fast forwards to the end of the video.

“It’s asking students to do more and they having more fun doing it. That’s a crazy kind of double win,” Meyer said.

Meyer advises teachers to be less helpful and push students to formulate the steps to solve the math problem. He sends educators out, armed with camera phones, to bring real-world math problems back to their classrooms.

His method meets students at the intersection of digital and print, said MaryClaire Barry, assistant superintendent of SAU 19. Today’s students often arrive at class with a textbook in one hand and a smart phone in the other, she said.

“We’re trying to really understand, and we have to begin with our teachers,” Barry said. “We’re proud and pleased to do it.”

Bringing the technology into the classroom helps teachers end up where they need to be, said John Boucher, curriculum coordinator for K-8 math and science for the Bedford School District.

“The hook is the teachers show them something that piques their interest, and the problem solving starts,” Boucher said.

The key is that the visual method requires students to decide what is needed to solve the problem and what steps to take once they’ve gathered the data. Students need to leave high school knowing how to problem solve, Boucher said, and Meyer’s method is the professional way to bring the world into the classroom and teach them how.

Meyer taught high school math for six years and is currently a doctoral candidate at Stanford University in the field of math education. He speaks internationally and works with textbook publishers, helping them with transitions from print to digital media.

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