How can I make Maths more engaging and relevant?

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Great question mentioned by @robmarchetto

Let’s look at some quotes from Professor Jo Boaler from Stanford University:

When real Mathematics is taught – problem solving, creating ideas, exploring puzzles and discussing methods then many students succeed.

Students have the potential to be more engaged when a teacher brings passion to the classroom. I’ve always been inspired by the learning culture of High Tech High. It turns out that teachers actually lead the way as learners. The organisational structure is such that teachers can collaborate, receive mentoring, participate in learning groups and are provided with feedback.

High Tech High places a high emphasis on public exhibition. Students will be more engaged if they complete work that matters.

The teachers model learning and then replicate that in the learning spaces.   Watch this video and catch a glimpse. Now teachers don’t have the ability to change the organisational structure of a school however they can create aspects of the HTH model by participating in teachmeets, on twitter and with blogs. This then leads to teachers being exposed to other ideas of what could engage learners. We are embarking on a problem based approach to the teaching and learning of Maths at NBCS. This means that students will begin with a scenario, problem or puzzle rather than a lecture. They will get stuck. They will get really stuck. What should I do when I can’t clearly see the next step? I like this summary. There are loads of people who are asking interesting problems and Geoff Krall has compiled some amazing problem based work. 

There are two versions of Maths in the lives of people; the strange and boring subject that they endured in the classroom and the interesting set of creative ideas that is Maths in the real world.

These are some interesting starting points to see Maths in the real world. Sometimes though, there won’t be easy connections to the real world and it doesn’t really help to make forced connections. I have seen more successful engagement when students are faced with a  ‘need-to-know’. They ask authentic questions and have a better chance of developing their personal interest.

Students need to solve ill-structured problems, ask many forms of questions and to use, adapt and apply methods.

There are very few schools that boast of offering a Maths class that is full of ‘ill-structured problems’. No teacher wants that. No parent wants that. Students needs a lecture, three examples and then they can answer questions from the text-book. That’s learning. What does a teacher need to let go of so that they feel good about providing students with open ended problems? Ron Ritchhart from Harvard provides some good food for thought.



How do educators define and design rich tasks for students?

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Great question.

Rich tasks tweet

The first thought that came to mind when I read the phrase ‘rich task’ was the Nrich team from Cambridge University. They offer some interesting points in describing characteristics and components of a rich task and the types of student behaviour associated with rich tasks.

Rich tasks encourage children to think creatively, work logically, communicate ideas, synthesise their results, analyse different viewpoints, look for commonalities and evaluate findings. However, what we really need are rich classrooms: communities of enquiry and collaboration, promoting communication and imagination.

– Jennifer Piggott

I like that definition and suggestion.

Geoff Krall has compiled an amazing array of ‘problem based tasks’ which I believe are synonymous with rich tasks. Whenever students have used these tasks in my classroom I have been encouraged by the level of critical thinking and engagement. I don’t believe that rich tasks require a specified time frame. I’ve found that in some situations students can experience elements of rich tasks. For example, with the 101 questions, ‘What’s the first question that comes to your mind?

High Tech High in San Diego talks about their teachers as ‘designers’ of projects/learning that will engage students. They have a strong culture of mentoring in building rich tasks (projects) that require Significant Content and 21st Century Learning Skills.

Because there is so much great content out there to access there hasn’t been much pressure for me to design rich tasks on a regular basis. I have begun work on designing a PBL unit for Year 7 and I believe the first step for a great project (rich task) is passion. If you’re not passionate about seeing students of all ability levels being engaged in learning then things become difficult. Mark Burgess suggests that, where possible, working in teams will help the process of design because you can be constantly providing review and feedback. This guide has been an amazing resource for guiding our project design.

How do you design rich tasks? What do you describe as the key elements?



October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

IDEO writes that design thinking is a

creative process that helps you design meaningful solutions in the classroom, at your school, and in your community.

We took the crash course as a team and learned about the 5 stages of design thinking. Having been through different iterations of the process before, it was great to see the impact that empathy has when team members solve problems collaboratively.


Our team is currently working on project_z which is a transformation of 4 traditional classrooms into 2 flexible learning spaces. So far we have considered the look and feel of the physical space and next we will consider software, hardware, teamwork and pedagogical solutions using the design thinking process. Mark Burgess has been very helpful in providing advice on how to approach and plan the sessions.

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