Innovative Math in 3 Acts

Last week I had the pleasure of working with an awesome group of fifth graders over at Burnt Bridge Creek Elementary. Their equally awesome teacher had contacted me on the rumor that I had a plan for a class to develop and film their own 3 Act Tasks. In truth, I only had about 5/8 of a plan but as I was also the one that started that rumor, so I was eager to close the deal.

The idea of 3 Act Tasks comes from Dan Meyer a math teacher/guru and blogger out of Oakland. In Three-Act Tasks, students are shown an image or video that depicts an interesting situation. Examples of elementary tasks might include an image of two sisters standing side-by-side, one taller than the other, or a video of candy being poured into a jar. A good task will suggest some mathematical features or relationships that children may wonder about. After viewing the image or video, students are engaged in asking mathematical questions, identifying important information that is needed to answer those questions, constructing mathematical models of the situation, and comparing their models to the real world.

(Dan Meyers collection   Graham Fletchers collection)

The activities are real world, engaging and require deep inquiry.  They are also beautifully simple in structure. Three short video clips, and a couple leading questions. Reasoning that if deep thinking is required for an outcome then equally deep contemplation must be needed for the creation we set up the perimeters with the class.

  • We used “old math,” concepts at least a grade level below their current work.
  • Teams of 4 or 5
  • A cast of hands and arms (No head or face shots in the video.)

The class had already seen several 3 Act Tasks in their daily grind but we watched a couple more with different eyes. This time looking for how they were laid out, trying to figure out what was enough info to raise questions without doing the work for the learners. As this was our first outing we looked for ways to mimic patterns without stealing ideas.

It was tricky keeping the groups centered on a single task. The temptation to create a 3 tasks was a common distraction. The realization that the work required both a problem and an answer was a bit of a disappointment to some.

 

The results:

For three days a group of 5th-grade students as varied and diverse as any in our district were actively engaged in understanding and explaining real-world math problems. (some of which involve candy)

The class was exposed to a new way of approaching any task by asking themselves not only what math is being asked of them but also the whys and hows of the request.

We all learned about the magic of video editing, and that first attempts are best designed to be explorations not a nominee for best educational short.

We will work on that nomination next time.

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What the Gingerbread Ninja Heard

Last week we had the opportunity to work with the kindergarteners at Fishers Landing. While I am not one of those gifted with the native talents of a primary teacher, I have spent enough time with its inhabitants to be comfortable with the habits and fluent with most aspect of their communication.

Kinders are a highly intelligent group; they are strikingly honest, deeply empathetic, and shockingly self-focused. In fact, it is not uncommon to witness all of these behaviors within moments of each other and sometimes simultaneously.

We were working with the students to develop their skills and understanding of story form. To do that we were recording unique variations of The Gingerbread Man story, as told to us by the students, with sound effects of student-chosen characters added in editing. The concept is simple enough. The classes had already read a variety of gingerbread stories and the kids had identified the common elements, such as the gingerbread character meeting three different characters before meeting its untimely end. From there, it doesn’t take much work to convince a five-year-old to create their own story; and for a student of the digital age adding sound effects seems like something that has always been a part of good stories.

All that was left was for them to write their script, or create a storyboard if they liked that idea better. It was nothing complex, or even wholly complete in most cases, just something on paper that kept them on track during the telling, something that showed the order of events.

To watch this writers workshop was to bear witness to 21st-century alchemy. The subtle yet sloppy mixing of graphite, grim and… something strangely sticky yielded pure gold on several levels.

 

(Link to just a couple of student audiobooks)

Academically, the students offered strong evidence of understanding story sequence, rhyming, the power of iterations and patterns. They talked about and demonstrated the use of tone, voice, and inflection at levels they won’t be asked to reproduce for another six years.

Socially, the students were excited, engaged, and eager to share. Jimmy, whose face bore evidence of at least one sticky substance, had a four-page story with only a couple letters but plenty of heavily lined images that did not do justice to the epic adventure of a gingerbread ninja that fought off howling wolves, growling bears, and a hissing snake only to be swallowed by an alligator.

Eva’s story didn’t have the illustrative quality or intensity of Jimmy’s, but it was eight pages long and Eva wrote and then read every word, and became quite critical of using the “right cat sound.” Still unsatisfied with my efforts after four attempts, she took pity on me.

“I don’t think you can do it so how ‘bout I just make the sound and say them where I want them.”

We recorded countless riffs and covers of the classic lines “run, run as fast as you can…” some in the sugary sweet voice of a cookie and other laid out like old school rap. The students also felt free to use an animal from well beyond the barnyard standards. The resident realist wanted the sound of joggers chasing a cookie, only to be followed by the next storyteller who needed the sounds of a unicorn, mermaids, and a shooting star.

Make no mistake, the product quality was low, the background volume high, and the running time was inconsistent, ranging from 11 seconds to 3 and a half minutes. It took us most of the first class to adjust and configure the lesson into something that was going to work. But it did work.  The audio stories added authentic and real academic discussions between kindergarten students.

It takes a little prep but no more than most new lessons.

Soundbible.com has a huge collection of royalty free sounds you can download.

Mp3converter.net lets you copy/paste any youtube video into its page and converts it into a ready-to-use mp3 file because, unfortunately, soundbible doesn’t have a unicorn or mermaid sound. Youtube does. A unicorn sounds like a running horse with magical twinkling in the background, in case you were curious.

Audacity is a free sound editing software already on most teachers’ devices. It’s not super user-friendly but easy enough if you stick to the cut and paste to start with.

Community Support for ELLS

community support for ellWhen building a support network for English language learners (ELLs), community organizations can play a valuable role and offer resources that schools may not have at their disposal in order to work with ELLs and their families. While the community schools model is one way that these partnerships can grow and thrive, a school need not be an official community school to have effective partnerships. Follow this link to learn more about supporting ELLs and their families.

Using an interpreter for conferences or communicating with families?

If you plan to use an interpreter to connect with our ELL families this year please follow the link to our new document: How to Work with an Interpreter – Tips & Advice.”

interpreterWe hope this information will help you have productive and effective conversations with our ELL Families when using an interpreter.

Thank you,

Catherine Carrison, Ph.D.

ELL Department Manager

Evergreen Public Schools

360.604.4007 ext. 4470

How to get students to better identify fake news

Given increasingly fast and bite-sized nature of information production, distribution, and consumption it is becoming increasingly important for people do develop some special skills to employ when being hit with fake news. One way to develop the skills needed to deal with fake news is to learn how it is created and the tricks it employs and a great way to do that is to create fake news. Here is an article about some teachers who who have their students write fake news stories so they can better detect it.

EPS Academy Offers Real Learning that Translates Directly to the Classroom

Do you need time and support to plan units that your kids will engage in and care about?

Sign up for: Learning Design for the Workshop Classroom, or Supported Unit Planning in PBL / Inquiry

My students have Chromebooks, now what?

Beginners, click here! Past beginner, but need more? Click here

Struggling to reach your at-risk kids?

Develop your skills in supporting students with social-emotional and cognitive learning needs in this session: Structures, Systems, and Routines to Create a Calm Classroom out of Life’s Chaos

Join us on November 20 & 21st at the EPS Academy at Cascade Middle School to get exactly what you need; and earn up to fourteen clock hours doing it!

Math Intervention Supports on EPS Math

On the Home Page for EPS Math, you will find our Unit Plans (K-5) from our Scope and Sequence, 3 Act Task libraries, and a brand new Number Routine resource folder.  If you scroll down just a bit farther, you also will find you have access to supplementary resources from LearnZillion.  There are full units and lesson plans (K-8) in English and Spanish.  There are also summative assessments for the LearnZillion units. And if you are looking for ways to intervene for students that are struggling in math, you might want to check out the Math Instructional Videos link.

blog learnzillion

The Math Instructional Videos are based on standards from grades 2-8, and are broken down into the critical math areas for each grade level. These videos can be assigned to individual students, small groups, or an entire class.  The teacher can display the video, or students can access from their device.  One of the great things about these videos is that teachers have access to all grades. For example,  a fifth grade teacher in the middle of a multiplication unit, might have  students that are performing lower in the progression of multiplication than fifth grade standard.  That teacher can use 4th, 3rd or even 2nd grade instructional videos to intervene based on student need.

These LearnZillion supplements are provided for you to enhance our core EPS K-5 math curriculum.