Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lights Camera Action: 3-Act Tasks

"Ask yourself, what problem have you solved ever, that was worth solving, where you knew all of the needed information in advance? Where you didn't have a surplus of information and you had to filter it out, or you didn't have insufficient information and you had to go find some." ~Dan Meyer

This week, in my classroom, I implemented some training I recently received on an idea known as 3-Act Tasks.  I was extremely excited about this idea when I first heard it last April, and even more excited when I recently discovered that Georgia's Department of Education has updated their curriculum to include many 3-Act Tasks throughout their units in every grade level K-5.  Thank you Georgia, I'll be borrowing your tasks this year!

What is a 3-Act Task you ask?
A Three-Act Task is a whole-group mathematics task consisting of 3 distinct parts: an engaging and perplexing Act One, an information and solution seeking Act Two, and a solution discussion and solution revealing Act Three.
Got it? Clear as mud? Maybe I can help. I'll take you through the one I did this week in my class. (Keep in mind, this is not the only thing I did in my class this week. I spent about 20-30 minutes a day on it. I still had number talks, fluency practice, and fact strategy reinforcement activities taking place each day as well.)
Day 1 Act 1:

It all began with this 30-second video of someone dumping coins out of a very full piggy bank.

After showing this video, my script went something like this, "What are you thinking?  What questions do you have?  Write the first question you think of in your journal.  Meet with your partner and share your question.  Did you have the same question as your partner? Let's share some of your questions."
This is what they came up with...

After a quick discussion about the answers to their questions (which included much inferring I might add) we landed on the idea that the mystery person probably didn't have that many coins to start with.  Instead, my students decided that they must have saved and saved and saved until the piggy bank was crammed full.  At that point I asked the question, "I wonder how many coins it took to fill the piggy bank like that?"  This of course was the "main" question.  The one that I wanted them to answer all along.  One of my students offered a guess, and I asked all of them to pull out their journals again and record their own personal guess in their journal. 

Day 2 Act 2:

To re-engage my students in the task on day 2, I had them get out their journals, watch the video again, and update their guess for how many coins there were if they needed to.  Then we shared out their estimates and wondered who's was the closest to the actual number of coins.  Then I said, "Well how many is it?"  A few tried to share their guesses again.  I said, "No, I want to know exactly, how many is it?" Protests.  We don't know.  We can't figure that out!  "You can't?" I asked.  "Well, we could count," one student offered.  So we tried.  Unsuccessful.  Too many hidden coins in that pile.  After about five minutes of conversation we weren't getting anywhere, so I let them in on a little secret.  "I know more about this video than you do.  I'd be happy to share my information with you, as soon as you figure out what you need to know and ask me for it."  I sent them off to work with their partners and come up with a question for me that they thought would help them solve our problem.  Once again, here's what they came up with...

You can see that these questions are marked through with a red highlighter.  This is because as we discussed each question, and I answered them, we determined that none of these questions would actually help them solve the "main" question.  We ended day two with them completely frustrated and dying for me to tell them something.  Anything.  It was awesome!

Day 3 Act 2 Continued:

Today was day 3.  I started this part of my lesson by having them get out their journals once again.  I told them I wanted them to watch the video again.  This time, I had them write in their journals a list of details.  Specific things that they noticed about the video.  A few of their details included:
  • There are pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters
  • There are more pennies than quarters and dimes
  • It was daylight when this video was recorded (yes I entertained even the random details)
Next I asked them to join their partners and think of a detailed question that would help them solve the problem.  Finally, the questions I had been waiting for... 

As I began to answer these questions I noticed two things.   
  1. Light bulbs were going off.  Students were realizing what information they needed to solve the problem.
  2. Every single one of my students was engaged.  100% engaged. 
They were so upset that time was up and they didn't have time to take their new found information and apply it to the problem.  I had to force them to put pencils down and put journals away. 

Day 4 Act 3:

Tomorrow will be Act 3.  I cannot wait.  They cannot wait.  They will solve the problem using whatever strategy they see fit, and we will discuss their strategies, as well as their estimates.  Who got the closest?  I cannot wait to find out. 

For more information on 3-Act Tasks, visit the blog of Dan Meyer, the creator of 3-Act Math.  Also, you can find a library of these tasks here at gfletchy's blog.  Last but not least, as I mentioned before, Georgia has these tasks scattered through their Common Core Math Units

Happy acting!