Math Tasks? Yes, you CAN!

3:30 AM

What is a math task?  Is it just one of those things that comes and goes?


I'm sure you are thinking....  I just can't do it.  I don't understand it!


When I first started using tasks I was skeptical.  I was worried that the time I used wasn't worth it.   The first few times it was a disaster, but I kept at it.  Four years later, it has become part of my regular classroom teaching and is one of my kiddos favorite things to do.

Tasks are focused on one math problem.  The best part is that that it can include several different standards and more mathematical practices than you could ever work on during a typical lesson.

When I do a task I divide it into 3 stages.

Stage 1 -  Private Work Time
During this stage I project the task on the screen of my board.  I read the task aloud or have a student read it.  I let the kids work silently for about 10 minutes.  During this stage I don't talk to the kids or answer questions if at all possible.  If a student is really stuck I will ask them scaffolding questions to get them going, but I am careful not to give answers to them.  As I walk around I look at their answers and take notes.  I divide the note into 4 or 5 sections and place kids into spots for the next stage.

Stage 2 - Group Work Time
Group work time is designed to give the students time to share what they came up with their peers.  My role during this time is to rotate around to different groups asking questions, redirecting their ideas, and advancing their learning.  I look for interesting ways that they might have solved it and encourage them to share with each other.  During this stage we write in colored pencils.  This makes it easy to see what each student came up with during stage 1 and stage 2.  You can give each group chart paper so that they can pick their best solution path to show the class.

The kids are working in small groups sharing their ideas they came up with during private work time.  

Here is a sample of one of the kids math task notebook.  What they came up with in pencil they did on their own and what they learned from their group they add in colored pencil.  It is super easy to see that they only could divide a circle and that they got a BUNCH of new ideas from their peers.

Here is another example.  This student was able to divide it into four pieces, but needed their peers to get the concept of 1/4.

Stage 3 - Class Sharing and Discussion
In the final stage we have different students come up and show/explain their ideas.  These are very teachable moments when the teacher can help the students compare/contrast solution paths as well as learn how to agree/disagree with ideas constructively.  

For this task the kids took turns coming to the board and showing us some of their ideas.  They LOVE writing on the board with the pens!

During this task I had a group that came up with a lot of different ways very quickly.  To increase their learning I asked them if they could create a pizza where each person at the party would get 4 pieces. Here was one of the models they made.

Sometimes they make mistakes and it is OK!  This student was SUPER proud of her idea and I had to take a picture because her answer wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it sure was sweet!
She thought they should cut it into 8 pieces.  One piece for each of the kids, one for mom, and still have 3 for leftovers.   This is the reason we do what we do, for moments just like this.  These are little kids that see the world all very differently.   I just loved it!

Some Common Questions People Ask:

What if a group has the wrong answer?
GO WITH IT!  This is perhaps that most teachable moment in the process.  Let them show their solution path and discuss it with the class.  You would be surprised how well they take correct from each other?

Do I group all them into high, medium, and low for group work time?
That is completely up to you.  Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.  Once I start walking around during private work time I am able to get a good picture of their ideas.  If I have a bunch that are really off track, I might have them all in the same group so that I can spend a little more time reteaching and helping them find their mistakes.   The same is true for kids at the top.  If I see three or four that have solved it, I would put them together so that I could increase the rigor of the problem and advance their learning by giving them an additional part of task.

Can you wing tasks?
NO!  Before you do a task you need to think about your kids an anticipate what they may struggle with so that you can think of clarifying questions to clear up misconceptions.  It is helpful to write them on a sticky note so you don't forget them.  The same is true of those that solve it easily.  Have advancing questions or another twist to the task to give to those students.

Where do I start?
Find a task for your kids.  Read it over and think about how it might unfold in the classroom.  Think about possible questions you could ask them during group work time.  If you are lucky it might already have lists of questions for you to ask during group work time.   Take a deep breathe and give it try! You won't be sorry!

Want to read more?  Just click on my blog button!

Happy Teaching!

by Tracy Smith

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  1. I love how this gets students working together to solve problems! I think having that time to talk about how to solve a problem greatly helps to increase understanding. Thanks for sharing what you do in your classroom!!

  2. You are so welcome! I'm glad you see the value in getting them to talk to each other. It helps so much with their understanding! Have a great week!



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