Sunday, July 31, 2011

NCTM Institute on Reasoning and Sense Making - Rich Tasks in Algebra Work 7/30

We had two breakout sessions on Saturday. The first I attended was “Rich Tasks in Algebra Work: Assessment for Learning in Action” by William Thill from Harvard Westlake. Bill was very up front about what his session was going to be – we would do and analyze a math task, go over what he called the 5 non-negotiable strategies, do some designing work, give and receive some feedback on what we designed, and if there was time, he would share his experience with this task.
His Goals –
• See how analyzing the mathematics of a task influences how you’ll engineer classroom time with your students
• Use “five nonnegotiables” of assessment for learning as a framework to use rich task effectively in your classroom

If you head to the Institute handout website, you will find his handouts, slides, and a couple of other references. Before we got into the task, Bill cited that Park City Mathematics Institute was the most influential experience for him as a mathematics teacher. He also stated that this workshop is about us – not him. The last thing he did before we began was to establish three norms –
• Ask, don’t tell. Share.
• Focus: what can I learn from those next to me? What do I have to offer?
• Keep the right hat on (student or teacher hat)

The particular problem he gave us he called the Trains problem. After working on the task, we looked at the possible mathematical topics as well as possible Mathematical Practices / Habits of Mind it could use. Bill did say that this particular problem could use all eight Standards of Mathematical Practice. He reminded us that tasks don’t teach, teachers teach.

Bill then briefly presented to us the five non-negotiatbles of assessment for learning. They come from an article titled “Classroom Assessment, Minute by Minute, Day by Day” in Educational Leadership (11/2005) by Leahy.

Non Negotiables Assessment for Learning
• Clarify and share learning intentions and criteria for success with students
• Engineer effective classroom discussions, questions and learning tasks
• Provide feedback that moves learners forward
• Activate students as owners of their own learning
• Encourage students to be educational resources for one another

We then went through looking at this task and adapting it to our particular classes. We had to create posters. We put them up and did a gallery walk. Instead of a person staying with the poster, he had us write comments on post-its and left them on the posters. As we were debriefing that process, one participant commented that teachers are a critical group. She had noticed way more negative comments than positive ones. As Bill asked us what we could learn from that comment, we concluded that we should make sure you say something good, before you say something bad.

Of all the sessions I participated in, this was the one I wrote the least amount of notes in. I was a very active participant in this session. It was almost impossible not to be based on how Bill designed the breakout session. I also feel that I got the most out of this session on many levels. It was good to actually see a session with “Rich Task” as part of the title. This is something I have been wanting to delve more into this summer (not that I have gotten there) and I have come to the conclusion that a “Rich Task” has to involve reasoning and sense making. You could almost say that this whole Institute has been focused on the use of “Rich Tasks.” Seeing that now helps make sense of this for me.

Something else that struck me after the fact was in all the other sessions (including the one after this) except for Dan Meyer, the presenters were older, well-experienced teachers. I don't know how many years Bill has taught, but my guess is somewhere between 7 and 10. Seeing a younger teacher doing these kind of activities was powerful for me. As a more experienced teacher (19 years), my natural draw is to see what the younger teachers are doing as being more current and grounded in current math-ed research. It's not that the older, more experienced teachers than I couldn't be up-to-date in research, but my natural tendency is to assume that what they are doing has come from their years of experience. Not new, not fresh. But seeing a younger (than I), less experienced teacher doing these things sends me the signal that this is what is perceived as the current stuff in math ed. In essence, Bill helped validate what everyone else was doing as being the most current thing.

1 comment:

Bill T said...

Thanks, Lisa for the feedback. This workshop was an experiment for me: My intention was to get participants t think a bit more deeply about the preparation that needs to go into making a rich task "work" in a classroom. I'm still struggling to define, exactly, what I mean by "work:" Does this mean I get more information about where students are in my goals? Does this mean I push them further in their goals? From reading the exit cards, I got menu responses mentioning that they needed to be more intentional and thoughtful about preparing questions and goals before launching a task. I was also happy to se at least one person talk about the ideas of using rich tasks as a tool to help students practice the reasoning / thinking skills that they will need on future "graded" assessments. Thanks so much for your feedback.

PS: I am starting a blog, at

Any help will be appreciated. I am a TOTAL non-accomplished novice at this. Thanks for the encouragement.