Meatballs: A 3-Act Goes Digital

I am absolutely in love with the newest Desmos creation, Central Park.

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 7.05.18 AM

This is great digital content. It lets the student experiment in a way that isn’t possible with pencil and paper, motivates why variables and expressions are useful, and gives the teacher instant feedback. It also has social built into it. Students answer the questions and, in some cases, get to see other students’ answers — answers from students in their class! This is what digital content should be — it doesn’t put a traditional lesson on the computer, it explores what pencil and paper can’t do and makes it happen.

So I thought it might be fun to try and create a digital lesson with these values in mind. I took Dan Meyer’s Meatball 3-Act and put it into a Weebly page built on  Vimeo videos and Google Forms. Here’s the link to try it out.

The first page looks like this:

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Students can watch the video in the page, multiple times if they like, and answer a number of questions. When they submit their answers, they see this:

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They click, and they get Act Two:

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This is where the calculation happens. Once they’ve submitted, they get another link, and click to Act Three:

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Where they watch the resolution, analyze their answer, answer two extension questions, and if they finish early are told to draw me something in Desmos.

That’s my lesson. Click through the link to give it a shot, everything is live.

I really enjoyed building this. It didn’t take long — maybe 30 minutes — and took no programming whatsoever. The videos and Google Forms were easy to embed — each website will give you an embed code. Cut and paste the code,

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and it magically appears. Totally reasonable for one lesson’s prep, although it may have been easier for me because I’ve taught this lesson before.

All that said, I don’t love this. I’m not sold that it’s better than the version of this lesson where kids use pencil and paper, and I show the videos on the projector up front.

Things this lesson does well, compared to the pencil-and-paper version:

  • It gets me information right away. For instance, I can pause the class, show them their estimates from Act 1, sort them from least to greatest, and ask the students with the highest and lowest estimates to defend their answers. I can calculate the mean or median of the estimates instantly in the spreadsheet and share that with students. I can respond immediately to their explanations and misconceptions, if they come through in the form.
  • It gives students control of the media. Instead of images on the projector, or a black-and-white handout that’s hard to read, they can scroll up and down and zoom in to get a better look at the images.
  • Students get to control the pace a bit more, in particular watching the resolution as soon as they finish calculating.
  • It provides students more tools to use — a bit less useful in this case, but exciting for other 3-Acts.

Things I don’t love about it:

  • It just feels bootleg to me. The Google Forms don’t look great embedded in the page, and the fact that you have to click submit, and then click a link that pops up could be confusing. Then the link opens in a new tab, which feels bootleg as well.
  • The Google Forms don’t actually give live data — they shoot it to me once a student has hit submit. I spent a ton of time researching online learning tools and quiz websites, and they were all hard to set up, hard to customize, and more complicated for kids to use. I’m still on the lookout for a great product, though.
  • Students have to enter their name multiple times so I can track the data.
  • There are three separate Google Forms so I can get some information partway through the lesson, but that means three spreadsheets where information is going. I stitched it together so they’re just three tabs in one spreadsheet, but it’s still tough to use on the back end.
  • Elements of the page had trouble loading a few times for me. I’d need to test this extensively before I put it in front of a whole class of students.

I really don’t know if this is ready to put in front of students. I’m excited about the possibilities, but it feels like the technology may be a bit forced here. I’d like to build some more for different types of lessons — for instance, Robert Kaplinsky’s Guatemalan Sinkhole lesson could link to the news articles and costs of concrete, or this Yummymath Godzilla lesson could link to a Desmos activity to explore trend lines — but the student experience just doesn’t compare to the quality of Desmos that feels like my benchmark right now. But maybe I’m being tough on it. I don’t know.

2 thoughts on “Meatballs: A 3-Act Goes Digital

  1. Megan Schmidt

    This is awesome, Dylan, that you’re willing to put something together, put it on your blog and say, “here it is, how can we make it better together.” I really like the idea of collecting the responses in google forms as a way for you to see the progress they are making in one shot. I’m wondering if the click through lesson would detract from the collaboration that might occur otherwise?
    Either way, bravo for trying something new and sharing it with us. If I have an opportunity to try this with a class this year, I’ll certainly give you more specific feedback.

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Yea one big benefit of the pencil and paper version is that it keeps students at the same stage of the process.

      Another thing I don’t love about this is that doing it on a computer makes it harder to use whiteboard — not enough room on the desks. We just got a set of giant (2′ by 3′) whiteboards that I’d love to have kids collaborating on for a task like this, and the computer takes away from that.

      It’s a tough question — for me it comes down to whether I want the majority of feedback students get to come from each other — continued collaboration and revision — or if I want to be giving the whole class feedback and scaffolding based on information I’m getting through the computer. There are some great opportunities both directions.

      Thanks for the comment! Definitely let me know if you try it.


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