Thursday, July 16, 2015

Make Math Meaningful: Math Tasks

       The days of the boring worksheets in math class and the word problems about the train leaving New York are over.

       Well...actually, they're not over.  But they should be over.

       We already know that most students (and adults) do not learn new things very well just by listening to someone explaining it; after which the teacher often says something like, "Does anyone have any questions?"  This is when the students want to say, "How can we have any questions about this?  You just taught it to us one minute ago.  (And then they get a worksheet.)

       This is passive learning.  This learning promotes adherence to procedures and getting-the-right-answer over true learning and understanding.  Some students do fine and some students do not; and it is simply not acceptable to engage in teaching strategies that don't help all of our students.

       Math classes should be places where students are actively engaged in their learning.  Students are presented with a problem or a task and they work in groups to brainstorm ideas based on the objectives that they have been recently learning.  The final answer can be reached via multiple solution methods and (most importantly) the students are using and learning mathematics simultaneously.  Finally, students are able to explain what they are doing (teaching others) which is a way for students to demonstrate their understanding.

       Math Tasks are written to be activities that students can do in small groups in their math classrooms under the direction and supervision of their math teacher.  Math Tasks are meant to take the place of the old 20-problem-worksheets during class time.  Instead of students working quietly and independently, they are working together with other students: learning from each other and sharing their ideas.

       There are many online resources that have wonderful math tasks.  Some of my favorites are:

  • Illustrative Mathematics
    • Go to Content Standards, then chose a Grade, then chose a Domain, then chose a cluster, then chose a standard and you'll see a list of Math Tasks.
  • Mathematics Assessment Project (MAP)
    • Click on Tasks and see a list of middle school and high school Math Tasks.
  • Inside Mathematics
    • Click on Performance Assessment Tasks and chose a grade or course to see a list of Math Tasks
      Math Tasks model the way math is done in the real world.  That's where you are presented with a problem and you have to decide which resources to use to find a path to the answer.  There is more than one way to get the answer and sometimes there is more than one possible answer.  Math Tasks help our students to understand mathematics.

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