Thursday, May 1, 2014

Productive Frustration: Implementing Math Learning Tasks

Winding down... While the school year is winding down students seem to be winding up!  With all that anxious energy floating around, we are tackling, wrestling, and basically pummeling Common Core math learning tasks.

Learning tasks are lessons that consist of word problems designed to make students dig deeper.  Tasks provide opportunities to play with numbers.   Students are encouraged to use words, pictures, and equations to explain their thinking.  Often, tasks do not ask for a simple put together or take away answer. Instead, they ask for a variety of solution paths, to compare or explain paths, or to make decisions about whether a given assumption/answer is correct.   

Here are some student examples. I have included a variety of skill levels. 

Lesson Format: 
  • Set Up - Teacher explains the context of the problems and makes tools available. 
  • Private Think Time - Students work independently to create possible solution paths.  Teacher monitors, using advancing, assessing, and guiding questions to correct misconceptions or draw attention to precision (errors).
  • Small Group Discussion - Students work with partners to discuss differences and similarities between solution paths.    Teacher monitors.  
  • Analyze and Share - Everyone engages in discuss that focuses on key mathematical ideas. Models /solutions are explained and critiqued.
Our classroom motto during a learning task is, "Try, try try! It's okay to make a mistake, because we have erasers!" So often, students hold back.  They don't want to make mistakes.  Students have come to expect answers to be given to them. That's just not happening in our class.  This is called productive frustration.  It's not easy, but it is so worth while to creatively work through tasks.  It builds stamina and deepens mathematical understanding. 

Where can fielded, high quality math tasks be found?
There are several places to find good solid tasks.   

  • Illuminations - Lessons for learning is a great place to start. 
  • Tennessee teachers have an abundance of tasks available through
  • K-5 Math Teaching Resources is another excellent site. You'll find tasks, lesson plans, literature connections and much more, all organized by grade level and standard.  There are printable journal tasks/word problems available for purchase. These are formatted to print on 30 per page labels. While a little pricy, they are convenient and good quality problems.   
  • Envision math users will find that most quick checks located at the end of each lesson for K-5 can be tweaked to fit the format of a math task learning lesson.

Keep in mind when planning tasks that they should be open enough to allow for a variety of solution paths.  The goal is to create opportunities to play with numbers and use effective mathematical practices.  Remember it's all about productive frustration!

More student examples from varied skill levels: