Captivating Students with Perplexing Problems

Dan Meyer speaks at CUE about how to engage students with questions the Internet can answer.

Open a class with an interesting factoid, and your students’ attention may be piqued for a few moments. But open with a perplexing question, and you might launch a classroom discussion.

That was the logic behind blogger and math teacher Dan Meyer's keynote at the annual Computer-Using Educators (CUE) conference in March. Meyer reviewed different techniques that use technology to keep students challenged by life's many curiosities.

"I encourage you guys to become more perplexing, curious educators," Meyer said.

A video of the keynote speech can be viewed on Meyer's blog, which was chosen as one of EdTech: Focus on K–12’s Must-Read IT Blogs last year.

Perplexity drives imagination, Meyer argued. The thrill he gets from teaching comes from discovering and resolving perplexing information.

For example, why did water usage spike four times in Edmonton, Canada, during the men's gold medal hockey game in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia? Meyer pulled up a PDF file of the data, then had the audience figure it out, ultimately concluding: bathroom breaks.

"When a kid doesn't know something, wants to know that thing, and believes that knowing that thing is within her power, that right there is some of the most powerful learning moments I've ever seen," Meyer said.

Meyer employs a variety of online shortcuts to find meaty, perplexing topics he can incorporate as challenges for his students. The Internet, according to Meyer, is a "large, live wild game preserve," and RSS readers such as Delicious are one way to help navigate the wildlife.

Meyer also had tips for how to download YouTube videos from the server to bypass bandwidth concerns during a lesson plan, and encouraged educators to take note of anything they see out in the world that confounds them. He showed a Google Doc riddled with his personal memos, which he hopes to later make sense of.

"Keep a list of what you see and where you see it," he said. "I want to turn into this walking, living, breathing perplexity antenna that captures all this stuff around me."

You can watch Meyer’s full keynote from CUE here.

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Apr 24 2014

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