What is this #anyqs thing?

Followers of #mathchat and #scichat may be wondering what this #anyqs hashtag is that people seem to be tweeting about.  Dan Meyer’s at it again!  For anyone who hasn’t heard of Dan (Surprised smile), here’s his much-viewed TEDxNYED talk.  He started off WCYDWT and the #WCYDWT hashtag, which he vigorously tries to defend as a brand.  That is an abbreviation of “What can you do with this?” – the prompting of “How much, how big, how long, how many…?” types of questions using a photograph or a video.

The #anyqs hashtag, which Dan launched on 5th May 2011, seems to me, at least, to be a refinement of the #WCYDWT idea.  Dan’s follow-up post Dissents Of The Day: Danielson, Pickford, Scammell says:

The point of the #anyqs challenge is to evoke a perplexing situation so skillfully that the majority of your students will wonder the same question (whatever that is) and the rest of the class won’t find that question unnatural or uninteresting, even if it wasn’t the first question that struck them.

The ‘rules’ are much tighter than #WCYDWT – one picture or one video with a duration under 1 minute, viewers should respond with the first (mathematical) question that springs to mind.  A few others have ‘jumped on the bandwagon’, I have set up my own pages to collect questions for myself, but this raises another question: “What do I do with all of the questions once I have collected them?”

It seems to me there are two main approaches you could take, once you have first tested the visual prompt outside your class:

  1. Look at all of the questions and explore which can be answered, maybe choosing one or two to explore first or allow students to work on one or two of their choice from the full list; or
  2. If there is too much disparity in the range of questions, then the visual prompt needs to be revised so that only one (or maybe two) question(s) screams out to be answered.

The first approach is probably a return to the confusion or flapping about, the “excessive cognitive load resulting from a unfocused problem space” Dan refers to in his response to a question about the difference between #WCYDWT and #anyqs (comment 14).  I suspect, judging by the comments, advice and friendly prods from Dan, that his intent is to adopt the second approach.

If  (when!) I get approach two working myself, it could/should lead to the situation where my own students are making #anyqs challenges for each other, with me doing the friendly prodding and giving advice.  If students can get caught up in designing these types of prompt, perhaps they’ll increase their awareness of the mathematics around them, and forget that maths lessons aren’t supposed to be fun… And if they don’t get to the stage where they can create their own challenges, maybe they’ll have fun doing mine… (ooh, did I just say fun again?) Winking smile

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7 responses to “What is this #anyqs thing?

  1. Hi Colin, just wanted to clarify this:

    ” … viewers should respond with the first (mathematical) question that springs to mind.”

    Rather, viewers should respond with the first question that springs to mind. Any question. Ideally, the person created the image so that the most intriguing question also happens to be the intended mathematical question. That’s the power of #anyqs. Students want to know the answer to a question and the tool we can offer them to find that answer is mathematics.

    If the intended mathematical question doesn’t arise from the photo or video, then to ask it is a mild to severe form of pseudocontext. We’re forcing math on a situation that doesn’t need or want it.

    It’s a challenging challenge, right?

    • Thanks for the clarification, Dan. I guess a lot of this is about the context in which the question is posed too. If I show this picture in a mathematics session, whether to students or teachers, surely there is going to be a bias towards mathematical questions anyway? Also, in my experience of presenting to teachers, many teachers will come up with the least obvious or least common response. For example: “Name a bird!”… penguin, ostrich…

      So to restate: in #anyqs you are ideally looking for a visual prompt, which is as unhelpful as possible re: explanation or words, where the first question that pops into almost anyone’s head needs some kind of mathematics to answer it… as opposed to the “Where did you buy it?” or “What is that?” which might be more natural, and more common, in many situations.

      I also get the pseudocontext element of ‘forcing’ a mathematical question, which is why I put the () around mathematical in the post. I should probably remove it from my existing prompts. I suppose we should really be starting from something that made us think of a mathematical question when we noticed it, as with my own examples, rather than specifically looking for mathematical things to photograph or film. Then, I guess if the mathematical question you have in your head when you present the prompt doesn’t get asked by anyone, or by very few, you need to find a more compelling way to get people to ask that question – if it’s important. And yes, that is challenging because as mathematics teachers, or heavy users of mathematics, we definitely ask a lot more mathematical questions than our students do!

  2. So to restate: in #anyqs you are ideally looking for a visual prompt, which is as unhelpful as possible re: explanation or words, where the first question that pops into almost anyone’s head needs some kind of mathematics to answer it… as opposed to the “Where did you buy it?” or “What is that?” which might be more natural, and more common, in many situations.

    The goal here is a “natural” question that “needs some kind of mathematics to answer it.” I don’t want to ask students to give me a question that is unnatural to them. Or a question that interests them only within certain lines I’ve drawn in the sand. (ie. “your question has to be mathematical; it has to concern the current unit we’re studying,” etc.) ie “Will it hit the hoop?” is the natural question and the mathematical question. That’s the challenge.

  3. Pingback: dy/dan » Blog Archive » [anyqs] Two Weeks Later

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