Definitions of a rich task can get rather technical and annoying. Let’s make it simple because it should be. A rich task is a lesson, activity, or task in math that takes a student beyond the old mundane math practices. Most people consider the old math practices things like taking notes, practice problems, worksheets, bookwork, etc. It is important to emphasize here before anyone is offended that these practices are not terrible things and I condemn no one for using them in your classroom. What we need to focus on is the reality that if these are the only things you do in your classroom day in and day out then math will rarely be an engaging subject for the majority of your students.
This is the reason that rich tasks are a foundational piece of what I try to put forth here at Make Math More. Taking math beyond the mundane means we have to enrich the experience. I use myself as the penultimate example.
When I was in middle school I was good at math but slowly grew to hate the subject. It was SO BORING for me. I never saw the point in notes and book work day in and day out. Even though I was in advanced classes I got my first D ever in 8th grade math. By my junior year of high school I failed an entire year long math course. I stopped doing my homework and I stopped paying attention in class – it was a train wreck. Nothing happened in-between 6th and 11th grade that ever held my interest in math – not even a little bit. I realize this may seem like an extreme example. But every time I plan a lesson I sit down and think about that 12 year old version of me and whether or not this lesson would engage me in what I was learning.
Chances are you teach students like me every year. Take out the advanced math part and this story expands to even more students. If this doesn’t describe one of your students then there is still a good chance they become a math loathing adolescent before they leave school. Isn’t our job to change this or at least plant some seeds of interest to endear math to as many as possible?
I believe this is achieved through enriching what students participate in during class. Make them engaging and meaningful. Rich tasks provide this. Rich tasks also encourage students to think more deeply, conceptually, and move well past a superficial understanding that old math practices might elicit.
It should be stated before we go any further that all of the Real-Life Lessons found on this site are already rich tasks which I will elaborate on later.
So what makes a rich task a rich task? I want to refer back to the original definition before we get more complicated. I truly believe that if you are making efforts to engage students beyond the mundane in deep and meaningful ways then you are utilizing rich tasks in your instruction. However in consulting with lots of research (http://nrich.maths.org is a great one) there are specific aspects of lessons that when included draw a moniker of “rich task.” Each one of these aspects below could be a whole article unto itself (and might be in the future!) so I will not go too far in depth on them right now. Let it also be known that not every aspect listed below has to be included in a lesson for that lesson to become a “rich task.” Just by incorporating one aspect you are making your lesson more and therefore you are enriching the lesson and creating a rich task.
The bolded phrase is the generally accepted and used phrase for many training purposes – the phrases in quotes next to the bold is how I would like it to be said.
- Inquiry Based Learning or “Try it first before I show you”
- Leveled Activities or “Be challenged and you might get some hints”
- Multiple Paths To A Solution or “Your way isn’t the only way”
- Student Discourse or “Talk Amongst Yourselves”
- Hands on Learning or “Touch some math”
- Connected Concepts and Skills or “Because we know that we can now do this”
- Use Games/Challenges/Novelty or “Are you having fun, learning, or having fun learning”
- Real-Life Situations/Scenarios or “Yes, Math exists outside of these 4 walls”
Students get such a deeper understanding of something if they discover it themselves which will give them self-confidence that can last for months.
Differentiating based on the ability of a student or groups of students. I prefer to do this with questioning which I will elaborate on in a future article.
Having students reach the same answer in different ways is really powerful when coming back together as a class to discuss what students found. This is so true to life outside the math class as well – a great life skill to learn.
Students need time to discuss what they found and talk through what they are finding so give them time!
Not every student learns kinesthetically but many do and more at least appreciate the change in pace when they get to manipulate something that isn’t in a book or on a computer screen. Give them a chance to move stuff around – students will be much more willing to make mistakes.
Link your learning and build from piece to piece. This will hopefully be less revolutionary with Common Core here in the U.S., but important none the less.
I’m not a huge games person, but I completely get this. Nothing really beats a game for practice problems though – I will share one I use in a future rich task.
Hah, I told you it was here. Some of my real-life lessons incorporate the above rich task aspects, but more than that they use real-life situations and scenarios which I absolutely love.
This is not a list to make anyone feel inadequate about not including this aspect or that one. It is definitely worthwhile to strive to include as often as possible. Remember trying to include all of these aspects in every lesson is just crazy talk. Let’s just worry about enriching our classrooms so we can produce students who care about math and are engaged by it.