Myriad Prompts!

When I opened up ActivePrompt (real name TBD) last week I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I thought it’d be really useful for prompts like the one I showed in the video.  “Where do you think [x] is?”

A bunch of people thought similarly:


Where do you think the lines intersect?

Where should the cafeteria go to be equally far away from all of the schools?

Where’s South Dakota?


I was surprised by some really different tacks, though!

Spot the mistake on this test!

Which part is the prettiest? Ugliest? Which part represents the government?

This is one of my favorites, and most different from what I had in mind:

Cooperate with classmates while watching the overhead projector with all the dots on it, and create two parallel lines. Then, create a star shape.

On this grid the students will have to invent a way to communicate with each other about shapes, relative distances, etc.  All of their dots are totally anonymous.  This is a community building activity as much as it is a math lesson, and vice versa!

The follow up challenge is “create a star shape!”  Holy moly – I’d love to see that class.

Multiple choice – which set of coins come next?

Whoa, TIME: where’s the next dot going to be? I love this one

When the laser bounces off this mirror, where on the wall will it be? I bet you get a great spread of guesses here



I’m so pleased to see such a diversity of uses already – I honestly never expected them.  This is all totally open source – you can see all of the code at and I will happily accept offers to help.  A few people have already started playing with it, but you can see there are a few active issues – it doesn’t work on the iPad, apparently, and when the picture is too big it gets a little messed up.

Keep ’em coming, and let me know if you want to help – I’ll probably keep working on the code, because it’s fun, but I’m really eager to help YOU work on the code, because realistically we can get a lot more done together.

Have fun, and if you use this in your class, please post back here to tell us how it goes!

Engage your students with an interactive photo

Dan Meyer emphasizes that students should be abstracting in math class.  When we present a formula and then talk about a situation in which it would be useful, we’ve done all the abstracting.  Instead, Dan suggests, let’s just give the students a situation and ask an interesting question about it.  He’s collected a bunch of interesting photos and videos at – check it out!

I wanted to help teachers get this done.  Dave Major made a neat proof of concept for some full lessons, but I shot for just the opener.  You can use this new mini-app to get your class started, and then the rest of the structure is up to you and your teaching skills.

If you have any programming chops, or if you want to get some for yourself, please check out the source code from github and make improvements.  I have a lot of ideas for what this could become, and I want to help you make it better.  This is not connected to ActiveGrade in any way (except the temporary name) so I won’t be able to dedicate the time it (might) deserve.  Please help!

Go here for the app: .  Warning: I expect it to work. I haven’t tested it. Have a backup plan in class.  Warning 2: There is no security whatsoever in the app.  Anyone can delete everything at any time.  Probably no one will.

Go here to help make it better: .  Even if you have no tech skills, you can help with design, ideas, or by coming up with a good name!


Language! Please!

Kelly O’Shea makes my favorite SBG blog, Physics! Blog!

She recently wrote,

Hey Joe, I think we’re on the same page. I don’t even let them use any sort of “re”anything in their language. They want to test, not to retest, their skills. If the extra tests are “retests”, then every test after the first week of school is also a “retest” since it also tests skills that were tested before using completely different questions.

This is part of the secret sauce.  Students (people) store information in the form of words, and the word you use determines what information gets stored.  Drop the “re” and students will literally think differently about assessments.

Kelly finishes the paragraph with characteristic sensitivity:

It is necessary to be really clear to the kids about that, though, because many of them expect the same problems, maybe with different numbers (or maybe not), because that’s the only kind of extra opportunity they’ve even heard of in the past. They can then feel really cheated when they get a brand new test that doesn’t look anything like the last test they took. Kelly.

It’s important to remember the context our students live in. We’re working for them, after all. Don’t fall victim to the traps I fell in!

Sex Ed, Legislation, Khan Academy, &fc.

Some people want to ban discussion of sex in school, including use of contraception, homosexuality, dinosaurs, etc.  The argument is that morals are taught at home.  School should be where you learn math and writing, not where you learn what math and writing can do.

I sort of get it. Parents, right? Parents do that stuff. In some ways it would be nice if you could go to school and just download information into your brain, and come home to get your dose of culture.  It’d be like that scene in The Matrix where he learns Kung Fu, except really boring, takes a decade instead of 5 minutes, and teaches you to submit to the machine.

Obvi: it’s too simplistic.  If you send your kid to spend 40 hours a week with a group of adults that aren’t you, your kid is going to pick up some values from those adults.  It would be cool if you had total control over another person’s morals, but if you want our society to help you out by teaching your kids you’re going to have to face the fact that some of society is going to spill on them.

Trust teachers or don’t. Talk to them about what you want and see if they’ll give it to you. You can’t legislate this, ffs – don’t pretend you can abstract our service away from our humanity.

If you don’t want them to learn about differing viewpoints, keep your kids home in front of Khan Academy.  Be careful, though: even recordings of other adults can transmit infectious opinions.

6 changes I made to show more respect

  1. I told my students what I was trying to do with each class. Simple, but just showing that I was actually trying to accomplish something for them showed respect for their time.  This one’s easy – if you don’t do this, just start tomorrow.
  2. I asked my students for feedback and made changes to the class where I felt I could.  Discussing how they were feeling about the class showed respect for them as learners.
  3. I did a lot of work preparing questions and activities that would never leave any students hanging with no graceful path to follow.  Students who know they won’t look stupid can engage more easily.
  4. When I posed a question to the whole class, I gave everyone time to prepare answers before calling on anyone.  I avoided asking questions with quick, pre-determined answers. I showed that I take questions seriously, and don’t just use them as a device to keep underlings on task.
  5. I followed a predictable structure and didn’t change it without warning and discussion.  Giving them input about how they spend their time showed respect for them as people.
  6. I expected them to show respect for me and for each other. Holding them to high standards showed them I think they can meet high standards.

Working to really SHOW respect has two purposes.

It supports a group of people (children) who are just now earning respect for themselves.  They aren’t necessarily very receptive to respect yet, so being obvious about it can help.

It also teaches THEM to show respect. Which might be even more important than teaching them trigonometry.

6 Ways I Disrespected My Students

  1. I have assigned homework without a clear idea of what good it would do them
  2. I gave tests that permanently affected their lives without being ultra-clear about my expectations
  3. I have written things in grade reports to parents that I had not yet told the students
  4. I changed my expectations and grading policies mid-semester
  5. I steered conversations toward lesson goals while pretending it was an open-ended investigation

The thing is, I did all of these things without really thinking of them as disrespectful. Once I realized that my students were people in the prime of their health, trusting hundreds of hours of their youth to me… it was easier to get my copies done on time.

I was eager to correct my attitude, but in my eagerness I made another mistake.

  1. I overreacted and put too much pressure on the students to be their own guides. I forgot that 15-year-olds do still need guidance, and left them to unguided exploration that left them feeling lost and foolish.


Being George Jetson won’t be an option.

This shopping cart  can follow you around a store by itself.  When you put items in it, it can cross them off your grocery list.  How long can it be until the groceries just show up on your counter when you’re ready to cook?  What will happen to the clerks, and janitors, and stockers, and delivery men and women? The store manager? The shopping center?


George Jetson commutes to work on a little air scooter to push a single button for an hour a week.  It’s hard to imagine what George might do instead of pushing the button – to find a new way to be helpful, he’s going to need skills and passion that I just don’t see in him yet.  Everything else he could do – every job he’d get such simple instructions for – has been automated.  He’s going to have to change completely, from a routine-following technophobe to a self-directed instigator – and it’s going to be COMPETITIVE.

He should start now, while button tech is still primitive!

Jobs that can be automated may simply disappear for our students and their offspring.  There may be no truck drivers, or factory workers, or cashiers. Most of our office jobs can be automated too, so watch out, middle class.  Wealth is already being concentrated by this stuff.

I’m focusing on helping kids be adaptable and incisive. They are NOT going to be hired to push a button all day.