I recently had the pleasure of attending the Nation Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Washington, DC. This was my first big math conference. I attended some great presentations. One message that I heard reiterated in a number of presentations and one that resonated with me was about rich tasks. The message was that having a rich task is only a starting point for effective mathematics instruction. A rich task in math class is like being dealt a great hand of cards in Poker. It makes winning easier but it still takes a seasoned player with solid understanding of the complexities of the game to win a big pot.
Full Stack Lessons
Dan Meyer presented a session called "Why Good Activities Go Bad" in which he discussed a math task called Barbie Bungee. After giving summary of the task he interviewed three different teachers on their use of the task and their students' experiences. Dan asked us to think about what makes a task engaging and productive and what might make it fall flat. He talked about "full stack" lessons and how the mathematical task itself is just one component of a fully developed and presented lesson.
Sara VanDerWerf, in her presentation ‘Engaging Students in Seeing Structure’, talked about her overarching goals when lesson planning. Using routines such as Notice and Wonder and Stand and Talks, Sara supports her students to see and talk about math concepts before they are formalized. Students have a chance to engage in the mathematics and build conceptual understanding.
These types of routines which allow students to be curious about math and ask questions are important elements for getting the most out of a rich math task.
Super (Secret) Mathematics of Game Shows
One of the most engaging sessions that I went to at NCTM was presented by Bowen Kerins. He had a fun presentation called Super (Secret) Mathematics of Game Shows. A few elements of his presentation that stand out:
Shortly after returning from NCTM, I saw these tweets above from Fawn Nguyen and from Cathy Marks Krpan. These thoughts sound like they reflect many of the messages that I heard in Washington, DC this year. This morning, I also saw John Rowe's blog post "The Secret Sauce of Great Lessons." It looks like he attended several of the same sessions that I did and had a similar reflection.
My Lesson Planning Challenge
One the first slide of my presentations, down in the notes, I often write, "The essential components of a presentation: a clear focal point, a strong flow and structure, a beautiful design and a compelling delivery." (I picked this quote up here). It serves as a reminder to stay focused and think about the structure of my presentation (or blog post for that matter). I need to create a similar reminder for planning lessons to focus on more than the task itself. I need to consider how that task will be implemented to make it as engaging and productive for students as possible.