Video of a Lesson: Robert Kaplinsky’s In-n-Out Burgers

First off, thanks to Dan Meyer for alerting me to the idea of 3 Acts problems. This particular problem was created Robert Kaplinsky. You can find all of the lesson materials at this page, free of charge.

I had seen Dan Meyer present the 3 Acts lessons to teachers, and that helped shape my understanding of these problems tremendously. However, I hadn’t see one “in action”, with a bunch of real students, who may or may not already be “done” with math.


We start with some bare-bones math problem for the warm-up. Unlike last year, where “participation points” were given for working on the warm-up, there’s no obvious incentive for them to work on the warm-up, other than “so Mr. Newman doesn’t get on your case”.

Watching myself, one thing I’m glad I did was ask “if you messed up, how did you mess up?” I’m really pushing this year trying to make mistakes not only acceptable, but a great source of learning.

We open with a prayer (I try to open each class that way–this is a Christian school), and jump right into the warm-up.

The rest of the power-point is right here because you can’t really see it in the video.

Act 1

This goes pretty smoothly–most students know what In-n-Out Burger is, and the images that Robert Kaplinsky found are definitely riveting and shocking, if not simply gross enough to draw student attention. In my other period, the first question (How much does it cost?) jumps out before I even ask for questions. In the past I would have discouraged the somewhat-off-topic questions, but I find they often keep the interest of the students and makes the task genuine.

One of my favorite exchanges is:

S1: “We’re getting an In-n-Out Burger”

S2: “That’s a lie.”

It doesn’t contribute to the mathematical side of things, but it draws all the students in a little more. Time well spent (maybe 15 seconds talking about whether an In-n-out burger is coming to town?) in my opinion.

It was 10 minutes before class when I realized I hadn’t printed out the sheet that I wanted. Here’s what I had seen before and wanted (from Robert Kaplinsky:

Here was what I created, which gets at most of the same ideas:

Block Day Lesson.pdf or Block Day Lesson.docx (scribd isn’t working at the moment)

Block Day Lesson, page1Block Day Lesson, page2


I want the answers to the math questions to be earnest, so I try to treat all the questions more or less equally. That’s why I go ahead and answer the questions that I can, and we later tackle the questions that they can get. My goal is to answer everyone’s question in the end–or at least leave them with a good idea of the answers (or the tools to answer all the questions).

Act 2, part 1

I’m not sure where Act 1 ends and Act 2 begins, but I decided to cut the video where I said “Go” to the students. I was less than thrilled with students’ creative thinking, so I had a divergent thinking interlude.

Divergent Thinking interlude

My goal of this task was getting them to be more creative[1]. Part of that is helping them realize that they are more capable of being creative than they think they are.

Act 2, part 2

Now the students are more oriented to the task, and come up with a little better information. I give them the necessary information (the menu) and they take off.

Act 2, part 3

Here the students are working in groups at different rates. I do an okay job giving the group that was done first the longest/most difficult task. I really wanted one of each of the following from different groups: (1) a graph, (2) an equation, (3) a table, or a solution in another way. Some groups “thought it out” and used words, which was great.

Act 3

We (I) talked about what the graph means, what the axes mean, and what the equation “y=mx+b” means in this situation. After that, I showed them the “answer” (the receipt) and they thought it was cool. I mean, I got several of them to clap–that’s always fun when that happens in math class.

Unfortunately we ran out of time and I didn’t really get to explore “How many calories is that?” in this class, although one group in my other class (which I didn’t film) did. They found the information online by themselves (identical to the numbers that Robert Kaplinsky provides!), answered it, and even answered the question of “How much does that weigh?” They put their answer in terms of Chromebooks so we could compare to what was right in front of us.

The last part of class (which I cut from the film) just involved me teaching the students how to log into ActiveGrade. Mostly just classroom-administrative stuff that’s not nearly as interesting to watch.

Things to Improve On

Others talk about having students make approximations or estimates to increase “buy-in”. I didn’t do that because I forgot about that aspect of it, however, I think there was sufficient “buy-in” (this is pretty close to the start of the year). That’s definitely something I’ll need to do in the future, though, because it also increases their estimation abilities and allows us to discuss afterwards “Does this answer make sense?”

One thing I struggle with is finding a balance between giving students the distance they need to be creative and think on their own, yet being close enough to make sure they’re focused on the task at hand. Ideally the 3Acts is a great hook and I don’t need to be hovering over students to get them to work. But this hasn’t been my experience.

For the first half of class, the student in the front had his head down, and I had to go over and talk to him to make sure he was participating.

Watching myself teach, I talk way too much. And I answer my own questions way too much. I’ll walk away from a class thinking “that was a good class”, probably because I understood everything that happened. I need to do more formative assessment to make sure that they understand everything that’s happening.

I also haven’t made my Popsicle sticks in this class yet, so I also had the problem of the same 2-3 students answering all of my questions. Oh, and my wait time is awful. Every now and then I consciously think “just wait”, but not often when I’m excited about something. And these 3-act lessons always make me excited.

I didn’t end the lesson with a “summary activity” to make sure the students learned something. I even have a box at the bottom of my sheet “what did you learn?”, yet I didn’t take the time to fill it out. Now another day of school and a weekend will have passed, and I’m left asking myself whether it would be worth it to return just to answer that question.

One other thing I think I do is that I teach as if I’m in a rush. Yes, it feels like we have a lot to go through, and we do, but if I could slow down, I wouldn’t lose so many students, and I could take time to do things like acknowledge when a student is brave and submits his or her own mistake for review by the class.

Other Notes

I used Doceri to write on the iPad and have it show up on the projector.

I introduced Desmos to students, and they got a small glimpse of how awesome I think it is as a tool. I don’t they understand just how truly awesome it is yet, but that’ll come.

I know that this is a ridiculously long post, and I don’t expect many people (anyone?) to read it all the way through, though I hope that the video of the lesson was at least helpful. That is one thing that I would like to see more of on the MTBoS: video of teachers in real-time. I understand that many teachers (mostly public school, but some private as well) have tons of red tape to walk through to put videos online of them teaching since it usually involves students’ faces. Teacher blogs are a great window into a teacher’s classrooms, but I want to see how other teachers handle behavior problems, or keep students excited about a lesson when it starts to turn sour. This is like getting to observe other teachers in the MTBoS, which would be an awesome experience!

Another note: while this reflection/sharing was good, it took way too long–especially the video editing on my 6-year-old computer!

[1] I know that divergent thinking and creative thinking aren’t identical, but for the purposes of this activity, I used the two phrases interchangeably. Sorry.



Filed under Teaching

2 responses to “Video of a Lesson: Robert Kaplinsky’s In-n-Out Burgers

  1. robertkaplinsky

    Lots of great stuff here. It is nice that with a good problem, the question asks itself. I also agree that the off-topic questions are not really that big of a deal and truly what the students are wondering. The PDF version of the Problem Solving Framework you were looking for is located here:

    I admire your desire to try and get every students’ questions answered. It is a noble goal that is challenging to accomplish with limited time.

    Another thing to think about when students are done early are whether an extension focuses on breadth or depth. There is a place for both but it is worth being aware of which one you are choosing. Breadth would include doing the calorie totals. It is essentially the same thinking and doing it again. Depth would be deeper thinking and application of the problem. For example, “What would be the biggest burger you could get for $200?”, “What is another method you could use to solve this?” or “How is this new method connected to your first method?”

    It is funny how you mentioned forgetting to have students make an estimate. I always did the same. That is why you will see on the version of the Problem Solving Framework I linked to, the guess is built into the template. It prevents me from forgetting it.

    Regarding the “balance between giving students the distance they need to be creative and think on their own, yet being close enough to make sure they’re focused on the task at hand,” if the issue is classroom management, that is one thing. However, if the issue is how much to let them struggle, I would always err on the side of being less helpful. It is like cooking a steak. If you over cook it (give too much help), the steak is ruined and there is nothing you can do to fix it. If you under cook it (let them struggle by not giving them many hints), you can always throw the steak back on the grill to get it closer to done (give them additional help).

    In general, I really admire the honesty of your self reflection. Thanks for sharing this. I will make sure to link to it from the lesson page.

  2. April Walsh

    I love this post! I love that it is lengthy, apparently, because I found the whole thing helpful! We all rush, and we all “talk too much!” Honesty is refreshing! Thanks for sharing. I am trying this tomorrow!

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