Episode 209: What Math Class Can Learn From The Oblivious Viewer Loop

Nov 28, 2022 | Podcast | 0 comments



In this episode Jon & Kyle compare the consolidation and connection phase of your math lesson to the Oblivious Viewer Loop phenomenon in common mystery TV shows. 

Stick around and you’ll learn how focusing on the intentionality of your learning goal can help shape how your consolidate your lesson so that we can avoid students “missing the point” of our lesson and instead make the connection to the learning goal.

You’ll Learn

  • What is the oblivious viewer loop why we need to consider it when teaching our lessons; 
  • Why focusing on the intentionality of your problem based lesson will help make more connections during the consolidation of your lesson;
  • What you can do when some kids are ‘getting it’ and others aren’t quite there yet


Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pierce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We're from makemathmoments.com, and together-

Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers Worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark curiosity.

Jon Orr: You'll sense making-

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Math moment makers from around the globe, we are so excited to be coming to you into those iPods, those EarPods-

Jon Orr: iPods.

Kyle Pearce: ... those earbuds, whatever you've got in your ears right now. We're super excited to be chatting with you because both Jon and I have a pretty interesting story to chat with you about and how it relates to our math class, and how we can think about how we can use this example as we structure and deliver our math lessons each and every day.

Jon Orr: Yeah. Kyle, I'm excited to share this idea that we've been sharing with teachers across the districts we were working with. We talked about in our live Q&A, we mentioned it with some of the teachers, and we're excited to bring that to you, but I don't want to spoil anything just yet. I don't want to give it away right now. And actually the reason I don't want to give it away is going to become very clear later, and I think it has everything to do with the actual idea we want to share here about not giving things away. So, Kyle, I know that you first started talking about this because you had an interaction with a person at your district, I think one of your secondary math coaches. Why don't you fill our listeners in on that story, and then that gets us into this idea we want to chat about here in this episode.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. Not only one of the secondary math coaches, the secondary math coach, and his name is Mr. Mark Bodett, or at least that's the way we all pronounce it. I should actually ask him because I feel he has a French background, French degree. He teaches French as well as mathematics. So I should ask him. I'm guessing it's probably Bodett, but I'll probably find out after this episode or the next time I bump into him, I'll ask him. But Mark and I do a lot of learning together. It's been awesome. He's been one of the key-Yvette is on the K-8 side in math with me, where we dig into the concepts and all of that stuff. Mark has been on this journey as well, probably joined in to the team a couple years after Yvette did. And we do so much learning together, and it's been just a fantastic journey.
And the other day he came in, we were getting ready to plan for a session we are going to do with all of our department heads, and he says, "I got to tell you this story." He's like, "I'm at this appointment." I don't know if it's chiropractor or what? Dentist, something. And he is there and he is like, they were just sort of chatting. And this idea came to this particular doctor, or dentist, or whoever it was who basically was describing the TV show, NCIS. They were just discussing an episode and probably just making small talk. And the doctor went on to describe what was happening in this show. And I'll give you the version as I remember. And he was saying, "In that show and in shows like it, whether it's CSI or any show where something's going on, and there's a mystery to be sold." Something like that.

Jon Orr: Colombo?

Kyle Pearce: Yes. Absolutely. Like an incident takes place on the show. And oftentimes in these types of, whether it's a TV show or a movie, they use like a show don't tell approach. So right away when you think about that, you go, "Oh, I feel like I'm hearing this math moments connection going on here." We're not just going to tell you how to do the math. We're going to show you and hopefully you'll get some learning out of it. So that happens on these TV shows, except while many of the viewers are following along, the show writers actually, they continue writing the script and filming the show under the assumption that some of the viewers have likely been oblivious to the events that were taking place, right? When you think about this, so you've got some-

Jon Orr: Like I'm Mister.

Kyle Pearce: ... people... Yeah, like Jon, you might be watching it and you're like, "Woo, that was so obvious."

Jon Orr: Right. Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: Oh my gosh, there's something going on. Or you've got suspicion that this person did it or that person did it. Meanwhile, there's like somebody else sitting there who may have completely missed that, right?

Jon Orr: Yeah. That reminds me of an exact situation about the Sixth Sense. And-

Kyle Pearce: That's a great example. Great example.

Jon Orr: The Sixth Sense. I don't know, should we spoil to ending?

Kyle Pearce: I think, everyone, if you haven't watched it yet, it's almost-

Jon Orr: It's been a while.

Kyle Pearce: It's on you.

Jon Orr: You know what?

Kyle Pearce: It's not inaudible it.

Jon Orr: It's not one of my favorite surprise endings. It's got a surprise ending and I think it does a great job, obviously. It goes down as a great kind of surprise ending type show. And that's probably why it popped into my mind because of that exact thing. But in the end of the Sixth Sense, I remember going, "Oh my gosh." In the movie theater just being like, "Oh." And most people in the movie theater I think did the same thing.
And the people I was with did the same thing. It was very clear. I'm not going to spoil it, Kyle. I can't do it. I can't do it because if I was that person and I saw the Sixth Sense later and I was like, "It's just too good to spoil, okay?" So I'm not going to spoil it, but if you watched it, you know what I'm talking about. So you're like, "Oh." And then later I remember talking about the ending with someone who I wasn't in the movie theater with later on, and then they're like, when I said, "It was crazy that he was the whole time." And somebody's like, "What do you mean he was the whole time?" And-

Kyle Pearce: Little blanks in there.

Jon Orr: I'm blanking it out. So I was like, "What do you mean? How'd you miss this?" They missed that to me, very obvious ending of the big reveal in this show, but they had missed it. And I was like, "I can't believe they missed it." It's like these shows that you're talking about where it's almost like these TV shows. M. Night Shyamalan who written it and directed the Sixth Sense, didn't assume people would miss it. He's like, "If you missed it, too bad for you."

Kyle Pearce: Right.

Jon Orr: Because it wasn't like these TV shows, because you described this to me that someone later on, the writers of these TV shows on the TV are assuming they don't want to assume you picked up what they were putting down. So what they do is they specifically write another scene later on that all of a sudden this character comes off from somewhere else, wasn't in the big reveal part at the end of this TV show. And then someone who was there reexplain the whole thing, very matter of factly, very step by step to them, so that if the viewer, the person watching wasn't paying attention at that time or didn't pick up the pieces, they can get it again. It's like the Sixth Sense doesn't do that, by the way, but these TV shows, you're mentioning NCIS. I think CSI sometimes does this, but I remember Colombo doing this a long time ago. Lots of mystery shows do this. They're like, "We're not going to assume these people understand this connection we made. We're going to specifically tell them."

Kyle Pearce: Right. Right. And you know what? Something that's really interesting too, and I think about the implication as well, if you think about it from a movie like Sixth Sense, where there is no maybe planned sequel. Really, it's too late. It's the end of the movie anyway. So it's like, "Oh, well on you, you didn't get it, that's fine." Now, maybe it might get them less stars if too many people don't pick up on it. But it's almost like the people who do pick up on it, it's like they're so excited about it that they want to actually share. It actually works out. But on a TV show or a series where it's like, "I need you to be with me in order for the rest of this to work out." I think about this and I go, "Wait a second, that is an awful lot like our math classroom." And we use this word oblivious because the word we were thinking, I don't even want to say it because I feel like it's not a great word to describe what's going on here.
It's an oblivious viewer. If you look at the definition of what an oblivious viewer is, it says not aware of or not concerned about what is happening around one. And I think about this, and I go to my math classroom and I'm like, "As I'm saying this story, I cannot help but pan from this example in a TV show like NCIS all the way over here to my classroom. And I think about, I'm watching a TV show where most people are watching the TV show because they probably want to watch it. You've got lots of viewers in your classroom who never signed up to watch your episode. So it's almost more imperative for me as an educator to ensure that I leverage this strategy in some way, shape, or form. Because again, it's like if they were doing what you were doing or if you're watching the show and you're actually into the show and you missed it, maybe it's like the clues just didn't... You didn't pick up on the pattern, or the clue, or whatever it was.
Then I think about my math class and I think about some of the activities that we do, if it's problem-based, if it's inquiry based, if it's an investigation, these are all things that we're using to try to bring up or emerge an idea. And the part that I think you and I got wrong, you had already mentioned, Jon, that you and I struggled with this part of our math lesson for a really long time. The part that I now realize is that never was the investigation inquiry, problem-based lesson, never was that alone going to do the work. It just helps you get there. It helps get everyone on board, it helps get everyone on the same playing field. They understand the situation in the context, much in the TV show where they're like, "I get it. Something just happened here. There was a crime that took place, but I don't get who did what or why it matters yet."
And there are lots of kids that at the end of an inquiry based investigation, a problem-based lesson, take your pick a lot of students in your class who might be like, "I get it, there's this context. There's something going on here. There's an answer we're looking for, but I'm not seeing how the pieces all fit." And the part that you and I think were missing from our math lesson for so many years was that extra scene, that place where someone comes in and goes, "Here's what happened." Now mind you, I don't have the luxury of bringing in a new character to do that. That person's got to be me, right?

Jon Orr: Just bringing the kid from next door.

Kyle Pearce: It totally can. And you know what though? I mean, I guess we could argue that sometimes when you're going and you're selecting and sequencing student work from around the room, sometimes you get a perfect scenario where that student gets to take the baton and be that person to restate, and you're guiding them to say, "Hey listen, I need you to talk about this part right here. I don't want you to just tell me everything you did. I want you to focus on this area right here."
And if you haven't picked up on what we're talking about yet, we are talking about the importance of the consolidation. So when we think about this oblivious viewer loop, what we're describing is exactly what we're doing in a consolidation, you might feel in the consolidation, you're like, "Why am I saying this stuff? Didn't we just do this?" And the answer is, I got to do it because not every person is with me, and I don't want them to turn this TV show off because guess what? It might be September. And you've got a long way to go to get to the end of this series. And we certainly don't want to be losing the viewer, or in this case in our class, the math student this early in the game.

Jon Orr: And sometimes we call this tying the bow on that lesson. So what you said, Kyle, is that when we made the switch to teaching through problem-based lessons or activities and investigations and getting students to productively struggle through tasks, a lot of times we would move around the room and we would see a student doing this strategy or this strategy and sometimes we would say, "You know what? I think they got it." And then we would be like, "Let's just go right to the practice." And that part I think didn't pay off for us down the line when we went back to revisit an idea, or maybe an assessment came up, or maybe a standardized test showed up later on and you're like, "Man, I thought we had this." And I think what we've realized is that we didn't tie the bow on it, we didn't complete the loop.
We didn't kind of say, "Here's our learning goal, here is our intentionality here. These are the things, these little look fors, these are the success criteria for what we want to accomplish here today." That doesn't have to be you at the front of the room delivering that. That could be, like you said, you're around the room, a student could be pointing that out, but you make that connection and go, "That's one of our look fors, or that's one of our success criteria." That's our learning goal here today, everyone, is putting the big bow on it by the end of class that students walk out the door going, "I know exactly what I was supposed to do here today, and I know how it ties in for what I need to do going forward." And I think that's really brought us as a full power pack together to help students understand what that learning goal is.
We talked about this about learning goals specifically, is that teachers get caught up, and administrators get caught up, or superintendents, or district improvement programs get caught up with stating the learning goal at the very beginning of class. Students should know this. We've always advocated for, it doesn't have to be at the beginning of class, and actually there's not any data that suggests it has to be at the beginning of class. It just has to be stated in the lesson. It doesn't have to be-

Kyle Pearce: That's got to be clear.

Jon Orr: ... at the beginning. Right. And so that's what we're saying. We usually hold back on it to talk about that connection of the learning goal later on, but it has to be there because there is data that suggests students, if they understand those learning goals, they will make that deeper connection into their learning. Now also, Kyle, this is something to point out. What we used to do years ago, 10 years ago, before we started making switches to being problem-based, or teaching through some task in having students think through their lessons through productive struggle first and tying it up after, basically we used to close the loop at the beginning. We used to play the oblivious viewer loop right at the beginning. We assume right off the bat that no one's going to get it. So we're going to tell you right up front, this is what's going to happen, right? So imagine in the Sixth Sense.

Kyle Pearce: Before you even started watching the show, we were like-

Jon Orr: Exactly.

Kyle Pearce: ... "We're going to tell you what you're going to watch so that you don't miss it."

Jon Orr: Exactly. It's like, "Hey, here's the Sixth Sense. This is what's going to happen, and this is what's going to happen and this is the ending and we're going to make sure we get there." And then-

Kyle Pearce: So ready? Ready?

Jon Orr: Let's go.

Kyle Pearce: I'm going to hit play.

Jon Orr: Exactly.

Kyle Pearce: Now go.

Jon Orr: Right. So we used to do that. Now, we've definitely had students thinking more during our lessons, and we just make sure we tie it up at the end for the students that may have missed it.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. We'll put it in the show notes. I don't know what episode it is, maybe Jon knows offhand, but where we talked about the hero's journey, I kind of picture, it's like the hero's journey is all about storytelling and it's all about having a great script, a great journey to follow. And we do talk about consolidation there, but we don't talk about it in this regard. We never once in that hero's journey discussed the fact that maybe somebody missed part of the story along the way. We could have crafted an amazing experience for our students, but some of the students may have missed something. So again, it's about being explicit and there's something that I'm so happy you had mentioned about how we used to do things.
So it was almost like we were so afraid of missing the point that we did too much of it, but then when people start flipping it, we call it that real flip classroom, as you referenced earlier. It's like when we do that, then oftentimes people forget to state the point at the end. It's almost like we avoid it completely instead of putting it at the end. And in both cases, it's like you can't teach an effective lesson and explicitly state what students need to walk away with without that planning and intentionality. So again, coming back to your point about the learning goal, if me as the educator, if I don't understand the point, right? If the author or the script writer for NCIS doesn't actually understand what the point of that TV show is, then there's going to be confusion at the end. All these open loops, all these loose ends that have not been tied up. Only when we have a clear understanding of what that learning goal was, that learning intention was.
And when we craft that journey, can we actually close that loop at the end and ensure that there are less oblivious viewers, and in this case, in a math class, I hope they're not just viewers. I want them to be participants. I want them to be participants in my math class. You could watch the TV show, but I want you actively participating in this math class. But again, I could walk around the room, I could see everyone's got the right answer. I could see, "Hey, this student's showing some great work, all this great works here." If I just assume that everyone got the point as to why we did this task, then I could be leaving so much awesome, awesome learning on the table. And again, students might walk away going, "Okay, I got the answer to that problem, but I didn't recognize the fact that this strategy, or this idea, or this approach could be leveraged for all of these other ideas that I'm going to be encountering over the next little while in math class."
So that for me was like a massive epiphany. So I want to thank Mark again for bringing that up. Without him making the connection when he was in this conversation, he obviously wouldn't have shared it with me. So I feel like for me that's such an easy way to connect and remind myself of how important it is to not assume that anyone in the room or that everyone in the room got the point because there's probably one, probably more than that, that are in the room that might be shaking their head yes when at the end of the day they're going, "I don't really know what just happened here."

Jon Orr: Yeah, Kyle, and I think you just closed that oblivious listener loop right now. I hope you've clearly stated what we wanted to convey here in this episode on understanding that we do have to tie some bows as well. Don't forget about tying those bows. And I think like we've said before, we used to do it all the time. We just did it at the beginning. We tied the bow at the beginning when no one really needed to know what we don't wanted or wanted to know, what we were kind of giving.
Wait for the end. Wait for the end. Close that loop though. Make sure we close that loop. Kyle, episode 153 was all about the hero's journey. If you are keeping track folks and you are fact checking us, head on over to episode 153 to listen to more about the hero's journey. Also, we have a couple episodes where we talk about the end of lessons, how to consolidate your lessons, head on over to episode 160 which is about how to make connections in your problem based lessons, or episode 177 on making the consolidation count. Those are some other episodes we've talked about how to end math lessons, how we end our math lessons. Kyle, since we've tied a bow on this, let's tell folks where they can go next.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Absolutely. We love, love hearing your feedback and your reflections. As always, reflecting in some way, shape, or form is really so helpful and critical for you to make sure that you took something away from here. You might think you've got the point, but it might not stick with you unless you do some form of reflecting. One thing that I'm really loving and really appreciating from the math moment maker community are those who are leaving their reflection like the one you have right now over on iTunes, or Apple Podcast, or any platform where you're able to give us a review and a rating. Leave your feedback right there, leave your reflection right there. It's so awesome to see those coming in. And the bonus is that you're telling the algorithms, you're telling the intro webs to share this podcast with more math educators from around the world when you do things like that. So find a way to reflect and a rating and review would be so awesome.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff there, Kyle. In order to ensure you don't miss out on our new episodes as we put them out every Monday morning, subscribe on those podcast platforms that Kyle just mentioned, or hey, your favorite one, and show notes, links, resources, and transcripts that we have. You can read them, download them, all that kind of stuff. Head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode209. That's makemathmoments.com/episode209.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. Jon, this week we've got some awesome, awesome conversations going on with one of the few districts that we carve-out time to work with and chat with us. So-

Jon Orr: If you know if that was you.

Kyle Pearce: ... if you are a district leader, and you are looking to take your district improvement to the next level in mathematics, make sure you reach out to us over on makemathmoments.com/district. We only have enough energy, time, and focus to look and work with a few. So head on over and have a look to see if it's a good fit. Well, until next time, I'm Kyle Pierce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: And a high five for you.

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