88-Make your Math Class Enchanting…Starring Denis Sheeran

I love the shape of numbers!

I remember trudging to Math class in high school…AND I MEAN TRUDGING. I had zero confidence, zero interest, and I could not fathom any relevance in what I was being asked to do. If you’re a Math teacher, these adolescent frustrations may sound familiar. Guess what…I get the Why do we have to learn this stuff? question in history class too. Think about it. It’s a fair question. Maybe, educators need to get better at answering it.

Today’s episode will help you. Denis Sheeran is the Director of Student Achievement at Weehawken Township School District, which is in New Jersey.


He’s written two books on this issue. Instant Relevance came out in 2016 and Hacking Mathematics, which will soon be published. I prompted Denis to describe a typical day in his Math class. Here’s how he responded:

In Instant Relevance, I use an example called Unanswerable Questions which hacks a random chooser google sheets file and uses it to display things like images of partial google searches (where google finishes it for you) or other interesting images/questions. I replace the opening question in class (do now or bellringer) with one of these to engage students in the thought process necessary for entering into a mathematical experience. I turned that into a workshop session I call Moving from Do Now to Think Now. In the new Hacking Math book, I bring that shift into play with a different version of the opener called I See Math. It’s got the same philosophy (get kids to see the mathematical question, investigate it, think strategically and discuss briefly, but uses their images and questions as well. I think that this could be a good topic for the podcast. It connects both books and is a central theme of both engagement and the creative use of technology in the math classroom.

Episode Template

The Problem:

Students are bored and frustrated in Math.

The Solution:

Create an enchanting Math class where the real world takes shape and is explained.

What you can do Tomorrow:

  • Install a tremendous hook in the form of an unanswerable question.
  • Install real-world applications in your lesson.
  • Mimic Denis’ migration from Do Now to Think Now.

Hunger for a student to ask you…Why do we have to learn this?

Listen to “James Sturtevant Hacking Engagement” on Spreaker.