Teaching without words | Matthew Peterson | TEDxOrangeCoast

Teaching without words | Matthew Peterson | TEDxOrangeCoast

Translator: Ariana Bleau Lugo
Reviewer: Maria Carolina Aguirre J. In school, the way of conveying ideas is through words. A teacher walks up to the board writes words, says words, students receive books with words, and are expected to respond to questions with words. The vast majority of teaching is done through words. But let’s look at who we’re trying to teach. Focusing on California, 25% of students are English language learners. Another 15% have language based learning difficulties such as dyslexia. An additional 20% fail language comprehension tests. And a large portion of the remaining students characterize themselves as visual learners. Left over, there’s only a tiny little segment of students for whom current teaching methods are a good fit. I was one of those students way down there. I have dyslexia. And for me words were really big learning barriers. I mean, I didn’t even learn to read until I was in fifth grade. Years later, I read a biography of Albert Einstein, and I discovered that he was dyslexic too. And one quote from him really struck me. He said: “The words of a language as they are written or spoken don’t play any role in my mechanism of thought.” Wow, wow! So, if words are not needed for great math and science thinking, then maybe words are not needed for great math and science teaching. So, when I started investigating how we might be able to teach without words, I was shocked at how language heavy even pre-school materials are. Look at this worksheet I ran across. “Color the shape that is the same as the first shape in each row.” They even have it in Spanish. So I wondered what would happen if we remove all those words and hand it to some four-year-olds along with some crayons, and don’t say anything. This is what happens. (Laughter) We didn’t tell them what to do, and so they did whatever they wanted. But how do we tell students what to do without words? Here’s one way. Interactive software with informative feedback. If you click on the wrong thing, it shows you why you were wrong. And when you click on the right thing, it shows you why you were right. And you can help a little penguin across the screen. OK, so this works for shapes. But what about things like word problems? I mean, how can we do those without words? Well, here’s a typical word problem from a second grade text book. Ostriches have two legs. How many legs does a group of three ostriches have all together? We can translate this into a completely word free problem. Again, if you don’t know what to do when you get it wrong, say, you pick eight legs, it shows you why that’s wrong. You picked too many. And when you get it right, it shows you why it’s right. The feedback teaches the students. It doesn’t just replace the words. It provides more instruction than the words ever did. And this visual feedback is so powerful that we can use it to teach really sophisticated subjects. This is pretty sophisticated. This is a page from an Algebra I textbook. A very language heavy approach and here’s what it does to our kids. (Laughter) Over 70% of students fail to learn this stuff. Now here’s a video game teaching that very same content. Here students are learning to factor and solve quadratic equations, all done visually, with informative feedback. And because these games allow students to touch, feel, see, and interact with the math it’s able to clear out many of the mysteries about why and how math works. For instance, when only done through words, students often find it mysterious why multiplying two negative numbers produces a positive number. But, when done visually, like in this block stretching game, students can see how multiplying by a negative number not only stretches but also flips the block in opposite direction. And then, when you multily it by a negative number again, it ends up flipping it again back to positive. It’s not mysterious anymore, it’s fascinating. And so, we created hundreds of these games to teach all the math concepts, conceps from pre-K to Algebra I. Here’s some exponents, and some fractions. We were basically able to boil all math down to how do you help a little penguin across the screen? But does it work? UC Irvine recently conducted a study where they put these visual games into 106 schools in Orange County. And after one year we’re able to triple the rate of growth in Math proficiency. (Applause) And last year we replicated this result in Silicon Valley, Las Vegas, Chicago and Houston. (Applause) This simple innovation of removing the language barriers is able to elevate Math proficiency everywhere we put it. And of course, increasing standardized test scores is great. But we also want to make sure we increase real mathematical thinking. And we definitely see that too. Because, instead of just throwing a bunch of words at students, we create rich opportunities for them to connect their own dots, in their own heads, about how Math works. And when students play an active role in figuring things out they want to talk about it. It sparks mathematical talk. And in this way a language free approach can actually improve language skills. A striking example of this is a young autistic student named Omar, shown her with his dad. Omar had such difficulty with language that he only spoke in single words. Never in full sentences. Not even to his parents. And when Omar’s school started using our program his teachers were astonished at how gifted Omar was in Math. They never knew. But more amazingly, Omar started talking, and the first full sentences he ever spoke were about these mathematical ideas he was experiencing in these visual games. And he’s now excelling in school, in both Math and English, and has completely changed his life. All those familiar with TED understand the importance of saying a lot in a few words. And I think the idea worth spreading here is that all students, not just students like me and Omar, but all students, can benefit profoundly, from some opportunities to learn without any words at all. Thank you. (Applause)


  • GOD equals 3 says:

    More animations are needed in other areas as well, and more animations of the same subject are also needed for evolution to occur.
    A revolution in education is possible and it means a lot for everyone, we are what we learn.
    We shall embrace new technologies, new tools that opens new possibilities.

  • Theresa Stanley says:

    Visual learning is wonderful, but being an accessibility expert, this technique flies in the face of universal design. How can you teach the blind with this visual approach? They must have their visualization described in words. How do students, whose main approach is done with words, learn with this method? Curious to know how well deaf children learn with this approach, since they don't hear direction, but follow direction through the written word. Overall a very interesting approach.

  • Victor Mercado says:

    wow… just wow (in a good way)

  • Victor Mercado says:

    YEA 75 likes in a row don't stop now!

  • Dyslexia Potential says:

    This is awesome how do I buy the sofeware?

  • AZ says:

    Fantástico !

  • AZ says:

    This is priority !

  • aishamohammad says:


  • safletcher says:

    I'm intrigued by the idea. I totally buy into the concept that teachers spend too much time talking at the students and I like the concept of interactive, non-verbal lessons. But I have two thoughts:

    1) How do I implement this if my school is relatively low tech? I will be student teaching this spring and I will have access to an overhead and honest to God chalk boards.

    2) Administrators are exerting pressure on math and other depts to INCREASE the amount of reading/writing done in class.

  • Mark Nugent says:

    safletcher My father and I are probably dyslexic, my 11 year old son is dyslexic – my father taught himself to read in his 20's using comic books, I struggled at school – I went to university in my 30's – struggled there – I credit very little to any teacher – I taught myself – I used work arounds to do it – I now have my own business, which is now nationwide in my own country.

  • Mark Nugent says:

    I worry about my son as it was a very hard road for me – continuous failure knocks the hell out of your confidence – unless a person is tenacious and has a core fundamental belief in themselves – they will never succeed – life is hard enough without going through a system that is geared up to fail a sector of our population that has produced some of our greatest minds – you want to be a good or even a great teacher – you need to find a way to enable your students to succeed – that is your job.

  • Mark Stanzel says:

    Well, I would be considered a failure according to what you caged me into with your words – not that you meant to. But my point is that you don't need to be so worried. I pushed all my life but never had the confidence until after the Army. I was 28 when I married, had horrible grades, got outside of my normal comfort zone by deploying to Germany during the Cold War, scared out of my mind with discos blowing up. I needed a way to prove to myself I was good enough. I graduated with honors.

  • NappaTheProducer says:

    Personally having something like this for Computer tech training would be amazing for me. I'm doing ok but the vast majority of my proficency comes from hands on and visual practice. When I read I have to usually do something alongside it or I don't really understand or even remember what the hell I just read.

  • Lazer Mike says:

    What does "growth in math proficiency" mean?

  • Nikhil Shrivastava says:

    amazing dude, love it !!

  • Nikhil Shrivastava says:

    It should be increase in rate of growth in math proficiency..!! But one can reduce it by saying "growth in math proficiency".

  • Barbara Smith says:


  • Butterfly Lullaby says:

    Wow! This is brilliant! My daughter has dyslexia and sadly there is no funding in UK schools, so children suffer. How do I get in contact with Matthew Petersen? I would like to share my daughters Maths rap, which was a song she made up when she was in school. It proves how bad the Education System made her feel and how it caused serious anxiety issues. Visual is far better for children than words, because children love pictures. She is now homeschooled and her anxiety has gone.

  • Butterfly Lullaby says:

    My little girl has made up a Maths Times Tables game for the Wii. Would be great if someone could help us create it!

  • bibornosotta says:

    I've read through some of the comments. I think that it's a high-quality clip. My cousin simply wants to become extraordinary with sexy ladies. He learned alot from Master Attraction. (Google it.) The information on seducing girls in clubs from Master Attraction got him his first sex in around 2 yrs. I got pissed though because I heard them all.

  • MrJOHNNI74 says:

    I've read most of the posts on here. I feel it's a reasonable vid. My sibling wishes to become powerful with gals. He gleaned a fuck load from Master Attraction. (Google it.) The help about picking up girls through night clubs from Master Attraction got him his very first lays in 4 long years. I have been displeased however seeing that I heard them all. Grrrr.

  • Tricky Trick says:

    Life sucks. My friend has begun seeing a 10 mainly because 60 days back he signed up to an internet site named Master Attraction (Google it if you desire to learn how.) I’m jealous because I wish to fall in love too. How come it’s so hard? I’m going to take a peek at this Jake Ayres guy’s material and check out if it can help a person like me. Strange point is, my friend previously had NO luck with girls. How could you transform so swiftly? His girl’s like a model…

  • Gin says:

    This is worth viewing…

  • Mona Chowhan says:

    Awesome Mr Peterson! I loved your spirit! and the penguin too 😉

  • Rory Kliewer says:

    Ji ji is adorable!

  • John Hadley Strange says:

    Fascinating. You should watch this!

  • Jennifer Blair-Cockrum says:

    What is the name of this program? Is it available online or for schools to access? Would love to see this used in our schools here in Colorado.

  • Merrin Jeff Art. says:

    can we get access to trail this program and where can we link in to it?

  • Nimi says:

    I don't know dyslexia more than main idea,.. but stages n states of focus… Im pretty convinced it's that cognition difference again like W adhd

  • Trinity Ramos says:

    what is this magical program!!! WANT what website?

  • Amith hillshow says:

    it's like steve jobs method!!

  • Lucy Keller says:

    I disagree with this intensely. Einstein said if you can't explain it simply then you truly don't understand it. How on earth are you going to be effective in the workplace without being able to explain what you are doing? I'm a high school math teacher and am big on having then write and explaining why. Also this is what state testing is going to. I do agree on shortening lecture time and having instant feedback.

  • Samuel Brentnall says:

    You nailed it – spread the word brother.

  • Samuel Brentnall says:

    Maths without words – oh bliss – visual depiction of ALL formulas – oh bliss – …………..send it around the world.

  • ΛDX7マイケル says:


  • Emmanuel Lacoste says:

    I like the software you're showing, and it's great supplement, but I don't see it working without words.

    Want to convince me we don't need words, redo this presentation with words and see how many of us understand your message.

    A good example is right in your presentation, "Students want to talk about it."

  • Ramaz Kutateladze says:

    This man has changed the world! Just like the significant part of the dyslexics did ))) Proud to be dyslexic!

  • Joey Stefanovich says:

    I know this would benefit my son. He has so many problems with math. He gets stuck with all of the words. He doesn't understand the instructions. Is this offered in Wisconsin?

  • Audrey Williamson says:

    This is awesome!

  • Joe King says:

    that's revolutionary

  • Urszula Perez says:


  • Geneva Chapman says:

    Currently designing curricula for zero to three. This is SO helpful.

  • Sarah Harvey says:

    I'm trying to think how I could do this in my class, but I teach English as a foreign language. Without (English) words, students will just think in their native language! Any ideas?

  • Moonlight Shadow says:

    Hello! Do you have any useful links or articles to read more? I saw a video not long ago about this topic and it intrigued me so much I want to explore it more and hopefully do it as my thesis on college. I'm going to an academy for applied arts and I would love to learn more about this. I have a dream to make like a book or something that would teach students through images and not just by repeating the same words. Maybe make a video or something. I believe we live in such a visual society with so much visual information it makes more sense to use pictures then loads of words. If anyone has any recommended videos/documentaries for me to watch I would be really grateful. Thank you so much for this great video!

  • Jean Waggoner says:


  • Kathy W. says:

    Eventually you do need to use words though…how is this bridge accomplished?

  • Leonardo Barichello says:

    Although I agree with the idea of using less and less textual language in lessons, I am a bit sceptical about the program.
    I did a little digging and found this: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19345747.2013.856978

    Apparently, when publishing at renowned journals, the results do not look so promising…

  • Poppy says:

    honestly I don't understand it

  • Donette Meaghan says:

    I just want you to know that my son is now reading like a pro! We started the program [Check Details Here ==https://www.facebook.com/Teach-Your-Child-To-Read-731975013638587/app/208195102528120 ]about a year ago and nowadays he is competent that he corrects me while I read to him. Thank you for such a great program!

  • Christian Gingras says:

    The visual game to explain the concepts are excellent. It is much more easy to grab what you really mean. But the ideal system should combine both visual and words simultaneously.

    The operation symbol should appear "-", "*", etc and the English word that this symbol represent should be clearly spelled "Addition" and "plus' need to appear

    When multiplying by a negative, a verb should appear on the screen or a phrase if the duck is speaking.

    It is important to both, understand what the math really do (visual is better than words for that) and to learn the English word which is likely to be used.

    You don't realize how your accent is thick. The child is used to read a word and pronounce it in a way that follow some logic. But the way you, teacher, pronounce that word, have no relationship with the writing. It doesn't help to become impatient and repeat too many time that same word which is meaningless up to that point.

    If the penguin or duck show that your endless amount of words is just trying to explain such a simple concept as the exponent ; those triangle expanding in group of same triangles and those larger group repeat ; that is easy to understand, this concept is already pre-programmed in the human brain like most basics concepts, like Noam Chomski elegantly proved. Once the duck show the word "Exponent", then the student may finally realize that this weird sound you keep producing is your way to say that simple word "exponent".

  • Bana Aloul says:

    You are brilliant. Thank you.

  • Haitham Behery says:

    Wonderful.. Would you provide me with the link for the penguin program

  • Gayathri Kumari says:

    This is lovely! so interesting!

  • Michelle I says:


  • Letitia Sangster says:

    ST Math is amazing! Worth every penny!

  • Dayton White says:

    I can do the algebra problem showed in seconds in my head, however, I have absolutely no clue what was going on with all the boxes on the visual part. This is very confusing…

  • Shane M says:

    Hi. I'm a college student in my last year and we are required to have a research. This video piqued my interest 🙂 so I wonder if he has a research paper regarding this and if we can have access to their interactive game…?

  • Lu Andrade says:

    Good evening! Does the program for dixlexia have in Portuguese? I'm Brazilian and I was interested in this educational method!

  • Rachel Michels says:

    I think this is a good beginning for teaching math, especially those with disabilities. Start with the concrete. They are making it entirely concrete, which most classrooms fail to do. After the kids master the concrete, then words should be added. It doesn't have to be either/or. It should be a continuum of concrete to the abstract. Words are abstract.

  • Lyubov SPb says:

    Impressed! It's great!

  • Jessica Baker says:

    This is an interesting concept. Teaching math without words. As much sense as it makes, I would have never thought to use games as a way to reinforce topics without words. Sometimes the words can get in the way of the mathematics. ST Math allows the words to go out the window and the students to explore through an interactive game increasing the students ability to think about the math rather than the words. The story of Omar is inspirational in proving how much of an impact a program like this can have.

  • Anna Maledon Children's Author says:

    WOW WOW WOW, what a brilliant concept, that's a math revolution. And that story with Omar, just mind-blowing!

  • 555ikog555 says:

    Hey. What is the name of that program where you got these graphics from? that looks really really useful! Is it a website or something? please tell me! Thanks

  • Prachi Rahate says:

    Love this
    Love this
    Love this……
    Someone truly read and understood my mind😇

  • Kimberly Howard says:

    Very cool 👍

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