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Why Use Math Tasks to Engage Students in Math Class this Year?

Are you wondering why (and how) to start the year with math tasks? By using open math tasks you’ll engage every student and create a positive classroom community. Let’s chat about what math tasks are and how they can be used to jump start engagement in your classroom.

What are Open Math Tasks?

An open math tasks is a math problem that allows all students to access the problem and leads to multiple representations, solutions, and strategies to solve.

Why use Open Math Tasks?

Open math tasks promote higher level thinking. These tasks don’t just ask your students to follow a procedure that was modeled in class or to find the one answer. Instead, tasks ask students to create, evaluate, analyze (hello 👋🏽 Bloom’s Taxonomy)! They also bring Math Practice Standards alive! For example, MPS#1- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Open math tasks are engaging! This is THE best way to get every single student engaged in math… ready for it… tell them you don’t care about the right answer to the problem, but instead you just want them to get creative and work hard to explain their thinking. Honestly, it lightens the pressure so many students feel in math to “be right” and instead helps them focus on what all of us can do, think!

What makes a good math task?

✻ One that is open ended and allows for multiple ways to arrive at an answer.
✻ One that entices every learner to start with a simple entry point.
✻ One that has potential for extensions to challenge every student.
✻ One that gives students many ways to discuss mathematics.

Read even more about how high quality tasks can engage students in deeper learning here.

What makes them engaging?

Math tasks allow students to draw upon their innate problem solving skills & math knowledge. Math tasks also allow students to be innovative and creative, something that is usually missing from math class. I have found that using math tasks help me draw in every student to loving math– even the ones that aren’t “math people”. With math tasks I can show students that there is no one right way of solving, but instead multiple strategies and models. Math tasks help me create a classroom of problem solvers that are willing to engage in productive struggle, share their thinking, and attempt new challenges with gusto!

3 Tips for Choosing a Math Task

#1 Find the Zone of Proximal Development

When choosing a math task you’ll want to ensure it is in your students zone of proximal development. Basically, make sure the task is not too hard or too easy, but JUST RIGHT (this Goldie Locks). That is hard to do when the levels of your students varies so greatly. Utilize exit tickets at the end of lessons and math conferences during work time to gather information about your students abilities.

 

#2 Relevance Matters in Math Tasks

You want to choose math tasks that are relevant to your students. That could mean real world problems including situations and people they are familiar with. It can also mean that a math task could solve a real world problem. However, you have to be sure that the “real world” problems are in your students’ world. For example, feeding cows on a ranch or buying enough hotdog buns for a block party are two very different types of contexts. Be sure your math tasks are relevant to your students and draw on their background knowledge.

 

#3 Routines Matter

When you are using open math tasks to spur deep thinking, productive struggle, and discourse you will want to be very intentional about your routine. I suggest that you develop a routine that is predictable and simple. For example, my routine for problem of the day is always

  • launch
  • grapple
  • discourse

This allows my students to know exactly what to expect so they are not spending their energy anticipating or figuring out what they will do next, but instead dedicate their energy to getting creative, pushing through challenges, and trying new strategies.

I go in depth about my routine here.

Where can I find tasks?

Start with your curriculum. There is a good chance there are some great math tasks buried in the curriculum you teach. However, they are often simplified by giving away too much information before students attempt the problem. I suggest you look at the last few problems in each problem set.

Youcubed.org by Jo Boaler for tasks that are ready to use for every grade level!

Which One Doesn’t Belong is a great math task that can be found here wodb.ca

 

Looking for more ways to engage your students in math?

Check out these fabulous math teachers that have some fantastic ideas on how to engage your learners.

math engagement

 

Jay from @Joyful.Math with  Building Self Efficacy to boost Engagement!

Juliana from @Mathwithmsmatherson with Collaborative Groups

Jamie from @JamieMillerMath with Creating Math Norms 

Molly from @theHappyLittleClassroom with Math Identity Journals!

 

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Hi, I'm Mona!

I help 1st – 5th grade teachers like you develop a classroom that lays the foundation for engaging and rigorous student led math instruction.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here. 

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