3 Act Math

One of my favorite math teachers/bloggers/speakers is Dan Meyer.  He really “gets it” when it comes to making math meaningful for students and I learn so much from him every time I watch a video, hear him speak, or read a blog post.

He has inspired many people to take mathematical thinking to the next level and turn students into question askers instead of question answer-ers (is that a word?).

Many elementary math teachers have began making videos to explore concepts using his 3 Act model and this post will explore one of those.

If you type 3 Act Math into Google, you get lots of different sites where educators have begun posting libraries of lessons.

I have always admired this approach to mathematics and it aligns so closely with my instructional philosophy that I decided to try it out with some students.  I went into 3-5 classrooms and introduced the lessons as “you figure out the objective” instead of telling students what we would learn in class today.  They had to figure out which questions to ask, which operations to use, and why the answer didn’t match the problem they set up.

The first lesson I tried, was from Graham Fletchy’s blog  here.  I presented the lesson in a module format with each act on a seperate page in our Canvas learning management system.  They first watched the video for Act 1 and then were ask what they wondered about the video.  Students said things like “How many skittles are in each bag? How many did it take to fill up the jar? How many bags did it take?”

So naturally the next step was to see if we could answer their questions. Dan Meyer uses an ingenious strategy to get students to engage with the math.  He first asks them to write an estimate that is way too high, and then one that is way too low.  Every student has an entry point with this approach.

We talked about what it means to estimate and what was a crazy number that they know could not be right.  Then we talked about a number that might be close.  We then talked about what we might need to know to figure out how many were in the jar.

Enter Act 2:  We opened the page that had a picture of how many skittles were in each bag, and how many bags there were altogether.  What operation could we use knowing that information to arrive at a solution?

Students did the math.  We revealed Act 3 and some students were down right mad.  How could their answers not be correct?  What factors played into that.  They did the computation correctly.  Finally we were able to talk about the fact that maybe not every bag had the same number of skittles in it or some were left over at the end. We talked about how math in our daily lives is sometimes messy, there are multiple factors that we have to take into account in addition to computation.

To wrap it up, I asked students what they thought the objective was today?  Where was the math?

Answers came as multiplying, adding, estimating.  And although we did all those things…the true purpose was productive struggle.  Engagement. Critical thinking.  Collaboration. Put your finger on a practice standard. Nailed it.

Can’t wait to blog about some of the other 3 Act lessons we used and 3 Acts with K-2!

Special thanks go to Graham Fletchy and Dan Meyer for sharing their knowledge and resources!

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