The last installment of the Modern Mathematics Classroom discussed choosing and creating a task to center your teaching around. This week the discussion turns to planning and launching the task. To get the most of instruction associated with discovery based tasks, thoughtful planning is hugely important. If you don’t have the “end in mind”, you may create a rich discussion that leads you down a path you didn’t intend to go on; missing the standard/goal you were trying to instruct. Anticipating what you expect will happen during the task, forming assessing and advancing questions leading to your goal, and being open to what the students offer will help create rich mathematics discoveries down the path you lead them on.

The main concerns teachers have about student directed task based learning are time management, and student misperceptions. Having a discussion where students share ideas they have discovered while working through a task can be unpredictable and time consuming. Tasks are built to help students learn by play or discovery, so it can be loud and chaotic. Often we avoid these experiences because of the chaos associated with discovery based learning. We also avoid this type of learning because of the mistakes or misunderstandings that may be unearthed in the process. Planning the task from start to finish can help teachers prepare for what may come. Things we didn’t anticipate or plan for will still come up, but there will hopefully be less of them if we have tried to think it through before we launch. Through the whole experience you are still the teacher and ultimately direct the discussion and instruction. Be careful not to stifle the process or give answers away, but lead student discovery by using assessing and advancing questions. Research has shown the value of these types of experiences in learning. It is worth the time and chaos.

The planning tool I will share with you has two multi-use areas. The light grey parts are done prior to the task, and are about anticipating what you think the students will do. There is a spot to:

  • Write the standard or goal you are working towards.
  • Express your target outcome.
  • Write the task.
  • Anticipate strategies students will use.
  • Anticipate misperceptions that may come up.
  • Create assessing questions for each strategy.
  • Create advancing questions for each strategy.

The white boxes are to help you monitor during the task. In these boxes you can:

  • Track common mistakes.
  • Who and What do you want to share.
  • What order would you like things shared in to lead you to the content you would like to teach at the end of the task.
  • Other things you find interesting during the process.

As you fill out your planning sheet, you may want to ask your grade level team members how they would do this – what strategies would they use? OR What misperceptions/mistakes would they anticipate the students making? Do you want students in groups from the start, or do you want them to have some time to work on the problem individually before they meet in a team? With your planning sheet filled out, you are ready to launch your task.

When you launch a task, make sure everyone in the class has a clear understanding of the task. Be sure any academic vocabulary used in the task is clearly explained. Many of our students have different life experiences. Not everyone in the class will have a frame of reference for every task we work. Try to explain things so everyone can have access to the situation. For example: Soda vending machines have array’s inside – a real life example of multiplication, but not everyone has seen the inside of a soda machine. If you need to, explain it. All students will then have better access to a task that uses a soda machine.

Once you are sure your students understand what they are supposed to do, let them go. Try not to direct the experience too much. Give them time to think. If a class is not used to this type of experience, it may start off taking a long time to get through a task. In time students will become used to it, and tasks will get quicker. Next week’s installment will cover the monitoring, questioning, and lead in to a discussion of the content.

Below is a link to the Planning Tool:



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