Maths tasks that challenge the whole class - Education Matters Magazine
Professional Development

Maths tasks that challenge the whole class

A team from Monash Education has been working with teachers to test the effectiveness of a series of mathematics lessons using challenging tasks for early primary classes.

The tasks are connected, cumulated and challenging, and form a single sequence of learning. Students are required to work out the answers themselves, with teachers providing support only at key strategic times.

Launch, explore and summarise
These lessons have three phases. When the task is launched, students are given the task without instructions on how to solve it. They then explore strategies and ways to solve the problem. The teacher then selects different students during the summarise phase to share their mathematical thinking and strategies with the rest of the class.

Throughout the lesson the teacher can use enabling or extending prompts to support students at all levels.

How it works in practice
On TeachSpace – Monash Education’s new resource for teachers – Dr Sharyn Livy and classroom teacher Mark Pietrick show how a 12 cubes task was used with a Year 1-2 class.
Proficiencies and curriculum outcomes are outlined, and a two-part lesson plan provided, along with a video that demonstrates the lesson in practice.

The lesson was designed to assist students to develop the understanding that the same number of cubes can be used to make different prisms. The big idea was that the same volume can look different.

The question was: “A rectangular prism is made from 12 cubes. What might the prism look like? Give some different answers.”

Students used their 12 blocks to make prisms and took a photo of the various prisms they created on an iPad. They drew and labelled their answers on paper.

There was more than one solution, and all students constructed different prisms with the same volume and number of cubes.
Students then shared, explained and justified their mathematical thinking.

Teacher feedback
Mr Pietrick has trialled these kinds of tasks in his classroom for two years, and encourages teachers to give it a go. “If you are not used to this technique, it can feel like a bit of a disaster, especially if you haven’t done it before,” he said.

“But it does really work. The kids love it. They enjoy the challenge of the tasks and making those connections. You really do see the benefits of this type of learning and where it can take the kids with their maths.”

This project will continue thanks to a recent three-year Australian Research Council linkage grant. Monash will be partnering with the Catholic Education Dioceses of Parramatta and Catholic Education Melbourne to further investigate similar lesson ideas and develop mathematical resources for teachers and their students in the early years.

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