“How Do They DO That?”

A Challenge for Your Students

I love street performers! Busking is a true example of #TLAP’s (Teach Like a Pirate) two essential questions:

“If they didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?”

“Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?”

You have to build your own audience from scratch by hooking people in who had no intention of seeing a show and are usually on their way to do something else. You have to keep them riveted and engaged because anyone can leave at anytime. Then at the end, you have to pitch them and convince them to reach into their pockets and pay you for a show they already got to see for free. That is tough work…they earn every penny!

I have studied busking and have done it several times in my life. Originally, I performed as a “popper.” I would wear an Adidas sweatsuit, a Kangol hat, and traveled with a boombox. I stood motionless like a statue until the beginnings of a crowd would form and would then begin popping. Later in life, I dabbled in busking as a magician. You find out very quickly what it takes to engage an audience when you are working the street. Not recommended for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned.

There are many types of street performers ranging from musicians, artists, magicians, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats, skateboarders, break dancers, etc. They are usually going to perform a “show.” Another type of street performer entertains by literally doing nothing! Human statues fall into this category…not as easy as it looks!

I was in London last year and was highly intrigued by the buskers who seem to defy all laws of physics. You can look at them from every single angle and as close as you want…you still see nothing! How do they do that???? As soon as I saw them, I knew it was a great challenge for students.

I immediately see science!

Put some of these pictures on the screen and have students brainstorm possible solutions. I would start by not allowing them to look it up but to rather engage in collaborative discussions. Have them generate theories and maybe even sketch out possible solutions. Discuss the physics involved and what it is that makes the illusion so compelling.

I think kids would love to explore how this is done. There are many resources online that show how to make these illusions…I’m guessing they will go straight to them when they get the chance!

How about challenge them to design one? What would be the coolest costume and set-up to be highly engaging and draw people in? What is the most deceptive and yet doable position? Sketch it out! Hey…maybe they can build it? Are the materials and construction too expensive? What about a scaled down model with an action figure? 

Let me know how the discussions go and I’d love to see some of their ideas! Feel free to post in the comments and/or tweet to @burgessdave and #tlap on Twitter. Enjoy!


PS: There are even 2 person versions like below!


7 Reasons to Judge #TableTalkMath By Its Cover

This guest post from Table Talk Math author, John Stevens, is the single GREATEST description of a book cover in the history of the world! Hyperbole? I don’t think so!

We are PUMPED to simultaneously release his book with the AMAZING Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 Gsuite Activities by Alice Keeler and Diana Herrington. It is filled with POWERFUL pedagogy…not just tools. How good is it? The foreword was written by Mathematical Mindsets author, Jo Boaler. Ummm…wow! Check out the #GoogleMath hashtag on Twitter.

Without any further delay…here is John with his incredible description of exactly why you should judge his book by the cover!

Take it away…

I’m asking you to forget the old adage to “never judge a book by its cover.” In fact, I want to give you reasons to do exactly that. Before sending it to print, I wanted to make sure that the cover represented who I am, where I came from, and what messages I really want to send. Take a peek:


1. The Foreword

Putting words on a printed page is a tough thing to do. Finding the right thing to say and being willing to back it up has made me nervous in all three books I have written, but this one is different. Table Talk Math is a solo project filled with vignettes from friends and colleagues and I had no idea what to expect.

When I reached out to Christopher Danielson, author of Which One Doesn’t Belong, the chances were pretty slim in my head. I’m not as confident as I may lead on, and the chance of him being willing to jump into the project seemed like a long shot. When he immediately said yes, I was floored. Christopher Danielson just agreed to write the foreword for my book! People don’t do that out of sympathy or take it lightly, and I am beyond honored to have his contribution be the first thing that people will read.

2. The Design of the Title

The premise of Table Talk Math is that you–the parent or guardian–can host rich and meaningful conversations at the dinner table, coffee table, or anywhere you and your family congregate.

​The design of the title was intentional and important. For one, Table Talk and Math are separated. If you aren’t talking with your child, start. Please. This is the most important thing that you could ever do for him or her. Learning from your child, playing with your child, and being there for your child is the most precious gift you can ever provide, and no book or website will ever change that. This isn’t only true for their younger years; in fact, as they get older, your children will need you even more. Be there.

Another key piece of the title was the design with Scrabble tiles. As I mention in the book, we didn’t grow up with much, so games were the easiest way for us to find entertainment. We played Scrabble as a family to learn vocabulary, to count points… Nah, we played to be a family, and we loved it.


3. The Lego Pieces

My kids have reinvigorated a reason to pull out the bucket of Legos and build. Fatherhood has a ton of ups and downs, and one of the biggest ups has been folding in the things that I was so passionate about as a child. Seeing my boys’ creativity go from a pile of bricks to a house, a dinosaur, and a boat-car-dragon in the matter of minutes must be why my Gram and Papa always loved to just sit back and watch us boys play.

Patterns and conversations don’t have to be hard, and Lego bricks provide an equalizer. In the book, Fawn Nguyen shares about patterns and I just love how natural it can all be. Plus, the colors of the bricks on the cover are green and gold, representing the Green Bay Packers. Yep, Go Pack Go.

4. The Dice

Nowadays, when my family gets together, we love to play a game called Farkle. Before then, it was Yahtzee. In between then, there were a number of other dice-based games that we grew up playing. Seeing a pair of dice on the cover was an important one. Yes, I’m from Nevada and the game of Craps is a prominent staple of The Silver State. No, that wasn’t the inspiration.

The numbers and colors are also important. The blue and white represent my favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, Giants fans, I know it’s been a long time since they brought home a World Series, yet I still love a franchise that does so much to promote diversity, deliver on equity, and provide opportunities for a guy who would one day become a Hall of Famer.

Number 31, Mike Piazza, was selected in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League Baseball draft as a favor to his father from Tommy Lasorda. When he made his debut in 1993, I was ten years old and looking for an athletic hero to believe in. To think that he worked as hard as he did, made as much of an impact as he did, and left such a legacy on his profession after being selected as a favor… I had to tip my hat to Mike Piazza and this was the best way I could draw it up. Because of him, I grew up knowing–and witnessing–that it was possible to chase a dream.

5. The Square Root of 9

When I joined my first soccer team, I was handed number 9. At the time, as I mention in the book, I was watching Los Angeles Kings hockey games on a regular basis and I loved watching Bernie Nichols play alongside Wayne Gretzky and Tim Watters. He, too, was number 9, and something about that made me proud. Ever since then, all the way through high school, my jerseys had 9 on them.

My Twitter handle has a 9. My email has a 9. I’m borderline OCD about the number 9.

In 2008, my best friend, Preston, passed away. It was devastating for me and for our entire framily (y’know, friends as family) group, and I’ve been finding subtle ways to pay homage to a great man throughout my own life path ever since. Preston’s number was 3, and everyone knew that.

So, in this case, the square root of 9 is 3, and the root of who I am has been made better by Preston, number 3. Cheers, buddy.

6. The Wooden Background

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I dabble in the woodworking projects on the side. Recently, I have tried my hand at the fine craft of cutting boards, serving trays, and carved spoons. They take patience, but they are stunning when completed right.

The background of Table Talk Math is actually an image my dad took of a serving tray that I made. There’s no stain, no photoshop saturation, nothing. Just a pure image of a pure product. Truth be told, I hope that’s what Table Talk Math reads like as well. I didn’t want any fluff, no distractions, and no false hope. There’s nothing quite like looking at a freshly-crafted project and enjoying the result.


7. The Subtitle

Practicality is key here. There are a lot of books available that will walk you through the forest of ideas to try out with students, with colleagues, and copious research is available on why those are helpful. In Table Talk Math, I really wanted the feeling of “I can totally try this out” and the subtitle speaks to that.

I also wanted the reader to feel like they could try something out with their child on a daily basis. We don’t need to have a “math day” in order to bring math into the conversation. Also, we don’t need to force it. We can find something in the everyday hustle and bustle to talk about, so long as we keep talking with–not at–our children.

Now is your chance. You’ve judged the cover, so check out the book, available on Amazon TODAY!

Also, I have created a free weekly newsletter to share ideas and prompts with parents, so be sure to head over and sign up!

Thank you to Christopher Danielson, Andrew Stadel, Fawn Nguyen, Mary Bourassa, Nat Banting, and Annie Fetter for offering up your thoughts and expertise that is in the book. You are all truly inspirational and I couldn’t be more grateful for you saying YES.

Thank you to Dave and Shelley Burgess for another opportunity to share my voice, however loud it may become.

There you go! Both of these books will make KILLER additions to your professional development library!! Thank you so much for your support!

Empty Kids Into the Gift Shop!

Some Pirate Thoughts on Homework

Homework is a hot topic these days. I have lots of opinions on it…even more so now that my own kids are making their way
through school! Here is a quick video (less than 4 minutes!) that may help you look at homework a little differently. It’s based on my observations of the marketing techniques used by theme parks to sell their merchandise. Plain and simple…it works!

Remember, Teach Like a Pirate is a way of looking at the world.

Enjoy! I get a bit fired up…but you’re probably expecting that!