Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Your Life Depends On It

On the drive home tonight, I was listening to RadioLab's most recent podcast entitled, Worth. (Thanks Justin) At the 17:45 mark, one of the producers shares her story about going out on the street and asking people the question, "What is a year of life worth?"

Take a second to think about this question.
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  • Would you immediately have an answer?
  • Would you want to know more information before answering the question?
  • What questions would you ask before finally coming up with an answer?
I totally see this as one of those questions that produces many more questions. Right?
If you are curious, ask your students this same question, "What is a year of life worth?"

Just take a moment to learn from (and listen to) your students what they have to think of, share, argue, discuss, etc. I would guarantee students will raise so many questions and points. Is this a fake-world question? Can you imagine a question more specific to your content area that would spawn a rich discussion like this? I think Mathalicious does a fantastic job asking powerful questions in their lessons. Let's play a game here. Play along, won't ya?

The challenge: How can you take standards and concepts in your math class, and ask questions that almost get a similar response to the question above?

Let's call them, "Your life depends on it." questions.

Here are three images. What "Your life depends on it." question you would ask for each?



Again, what "Your life depends on it." questions would you ask? If any?
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I'm not saying mine are awesome. I simply think in order to answer the question, students would want to know more information. Ask more questions. Make guesses. Construct a model. Use math to make strong predictions, and more.



What do you think here?

Worth.
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9 comments:

  1. I went to a Quaker school and we did lots of thinking about values, society, war and peace, etc. In the late '70s and early '80s, the discussions of war vs. peace tended to be apocalyptic. At some point when I was in 7th or 8th grade, someone gave us a thought experiment about a bunker big enough to save only a certain number of people, and who from a list of people, each described briefly, we would save from annihilation by putting them in the bunker.

    I found this so fascinating that I proceeded to spend quite a bit of time in the following weeks thinking out which of my classmates I would save and which I would abandon to the nuclear holocaust. Yikes. I SWEAR I was a pretty good kid and grew up to be a decent adult who places value on every person's life... but I think of this sometimes when I read about the differences between the adolescent brain & the adult brain.

    I guess I'm just saying, don't ask any questions you don't want to hear a teenager's answer to.

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    1. Hi Julie,

      I totally appreciate your comment here. Believe it or not, I'm at a place where I would rather hear a teenager's answer more often than not. That said, I changed the question so it is now more focused on quantity and not a list of people. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. My takeaway from this post is that we should be more intentional, whenever possible, about choosing questions and tasks that "spawn a rich discussion like this." I have to simmer more on what this actually looks like but I appreciate you making me think about it.

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  3. I also listened to this podcast and I came away with a similar feeling. What an interesting question about the value of something that is not normally quantified. "How much money is one year of life worth?" Radiolab went on to talk about how some countries are trying to quantify how much the "work" that nature does in order to compare it to the same work done by paid humans. For instance bees in a Chinese town disappeared because of the chemicals being used on the farms, so humans began to hand-pollinate the flowers instead of the bees who do it "naturally."

    This Radiolab episode was a treasure trove of thoughts about value, quantification, and interesting numeracy questions. Thanks for bringing it up, Andrew!

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    1. Hey Andrew,
      Glad you enjoyed the episode. I just finished the podcast this afternoon and had similar thoughts to yours as well.

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  4. I love this! I think my kids will really enjoy questions like this. Thanks for the idea.

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    1. I'd love to hear how it goes. Please report back...

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  5. Thanks for sharing this insight Andrew. I'm always looking for generalizations to apply to any math lesson I am creating. My takeaway is to ask POWERFUL questions. Powerful questions cause students to ask more questions, ask for more information, make estimates, and create a fight (aka debate).

    Need to ponder some more...

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