3 Act Math Tasks with Littles

act 1

I heard about 3 act math on Twitter (where else?) I didn’t understand it but I also knew that some of my coworkers were using this method with their students. This fall, I attended the High 5 Math Summit at NC State. When I saw a 3 Act Math session on the schedule, I made sure I was first in line for that session. In this session, the presenter took us through a 3 Act Math Task as if we were students. She stopped along the way to comment on how she, as a teacher, pushes her students thinking and provides assistance as students work. At the end, she shared with us resources to find already created 3 Act Math Tasks. I was interested in trying 3 Act Math with my students but until I lived it as a student, I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this would work with littles. I finally decided to give it a try. I decided to have all of my students attempt the task. I disagree with only giving these types of tasks to high performing students because I believe that all students should have access to challenge in a real-world context.

act 2

After the Math Summit, I brought many great things back to my classroom to try with my littles. 3 Act Math is one they LOVED from the first moment we tried. As a teacher, I thought the first 3 Act Math Task I gave to my students was a huge failure, but in their eyes it was amazing. I used one of the resources she shared with us, Graham Fletcher, as my first 3 Act Task. Graham publishes 3 Act Tasks he creates on his website. They are ordered by grade level and the common core standard is listed beside the task. I love that he puts the standards out there so the curriculum connection is clear. 

We tried the Cookie Monster task. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. By the end of the 3 Acts, only 2 or 3 of my students reached the correct answer. I was intentional about not jumping in to save the day and lead them in the correct direction because I wanted to see how they reacted to the struggle and their incorrect answers. Most of them loved the process. The hook video got them thinking and asking questions. Their questions weren’t math based and I had to redirect their thinking. They handled it well.

I had some students share their strategies with the class (this was something they hadn’t done before and I had to do a lot of prompting). I only had the few students who were successful at the task share. Some students quickly found their mistake while their friends shared and fixed their work. I celebrated their mistakes. For the few students who were still very confused by this task, I pulled them in a small group and walked through all 3 Acts with them again and helped them through the problem-solving process. Since the fall, I have completed 3 more of the tasks on Graham’s website and have even attempted creating 3 of my own tasks.

This tweet was during another Graham Fletcher 3 Act Task – The Juggler.

act 3

Each 3 Act Task I give my students, I have learned something different. I always give my students the opportunity to try the problem on their own and wait until the end to provide supports. Because I don’t jump in to save them, my students have become skilled at failing and finding their mistakes. They have become better at these 3 Act Tasks and are able to use the problem-solving strategies I have taught them in real-world applications.

Sharing has changed in a big way after the 3 Act Task. As I observe my students solving the problem, I mark their dry erase board with a dot to let them know they will be sharing. I strategically choose who will share based on the strategies they chose or the mistakes that they made. Yes, you read that right. I have students share even if they made a mistake or didn’t reach the correct answer at the end. We can all learn from each other’s mistakes.

One thing I am going to try next is to have those fast finishes not only show multiple strategies but to then write about their problem-solving process. Writing about math will help to deepen their understanding of the task they completed. I would also like to have students create a video that will teach others how to solve a problem like this. Their instructional video will not only help them fully comprehend the problem and strategies but also benefit students who struggle with this problem type or strategy. I really want my students to learn from each other and not just me.

Have you tried 3 Act Math? What are your experiences? What are your favorite resources? How have you made this accessible to littles and struggling students?

2 thoughts on “3 Act Math Tasks with Littles

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