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  • Writer's pictureLara

How to Plan a Building Thinking Classrooms Style Task - Coming Up With Engaging Math Tasks!

Updated: May 26

One of the hardest things about building thinking classrooms is coming up with tasks for your kids to do because before you know it, it's back to a session and you're like, oh my gosh, what task am I going to do? 

Do you need a fancy task? Of course not. 

The goal is that your students will engage in any task. 

But sometimes you just want a little spice, you know, you want to add something extra so I'm going to walk you through how I think about tasks. 

I'm going to walk you through a second-grade example, and this is for a curricular task, not necessarily a noncurricular task.

Non Curricular Tasks

My go-to for a noncurricular task is usually a puzzle-type task or something like that, that'll kind of get you going. Keep them interested. And I find kids have a lot more stamina naturally with puzzles than with some random word problems. Number puzzles and math puzzles for the win! You can also read about the first tasks I started with here!

Decide What Skill or Standard You Will Focus On

  • What are you working on? Skills, standards, etc.

  • Are you just starting this topic, is it the middle of the unit, or the end?

  • How can you make this task accessible to your students? Does it need to focus on the standard from the previous grade level and build up? Do you need to start with friendly numbers build up?

  • What is a real-world scenario where the skill might be applicable?

  • What is a theme your students like? 

Example of a Task Adding Up to Four Two-Digit Numbers

What skill or standard are you working on?

For this example, I'm going to do a second-grade task about adding up to four different two-digit numbers. ( Number Operations in Base Ten 2.NBT.B.6 for reference. Add up to four two-digit numbers using strategies based on place value and properties of operations.)

What is a real-world scenario where students would see this?

The first thing that came to mind was in a grocery store. In this task, our background is that we are working at a grocery store and our register is broken. So we're going to have to figure out. How much all of our customers owe is based on what they're purchasing.

How can you make this task accessible to your students? 

In this scenario, there are lots of different people who are coming through. There would be lots of different “customers” and opportunities to solve a lot of problems. The addition of new customers might be my thin-slicing for this task. To make this task more accessible, number choice is important, you could start with a mix of double, and single-digit numbers, then move to double digits that are friendly with zeros or fives in the ones place, then maybe double-digit numbers that would make a new ten, then more difficult numbers from there. Each new set of numbers to add could be presented as a receipt from a new customer.

You could also consider numbers that would highlight whatever strategy you want the kids to be working on. So maybe your strategy is decomposing. So you would have numbers that are easily decomposable. Maybe your strategy is going to the nearest 10 so you would make sure that all of your double-digit numbers, all the numbers in the ones place that you're choosing might conveniently end up making a 10 so that they can get a nice whole friendly number. And then from there, as they develop strategies that work, they can move through these receipts, and the numbers start to get trickier. 

And then from there, enable them to feel confident in the strategies that they're using. That they can keep going, that they'll want to keep going. And then from there, it leads to rich discussions about what students were doing, what was working, what wasn't working for them. And then hopefully, right, the goal is that they'll take those strategies and apply them to the next situation. That might not be so fancy. 

Using this task for future tasks

Maybe the next time you do a task like that, it's not being a cashier at the grocery store, maybe you just give them bare numbers to add but they'll have the experience of putting it in context, so they won't need context for the next time you do problems like that. A task like this is easy to differentiate for different grade levels by increasing or decreasing the number range!

If you have a formula that works, you can make it work for any strategy or theme. Maybe for Halloween, it's all Halloween items the customers are purchasing, or something related to a topic you are already learning about in another area of your class, or real things from your own life as inspiration like the time ants escaped my class and farm in this Escaping Ants task.

Escaping Ants was a fun task for my kids to do because we were learning about ants. So they're like, oh, ha, ha, ha, the ants escaped. Little did they know the ants actually escaped my classroom. Even though my kids were five in kindergarten, they came up with some amazing strategies. So some of my students were just drawing the ants with the little legs on and counting all of the ants.

Then, some students kind of didn't need to draw it, they knew that there were six, so they would either represent groups of six on their whiteboard, or they got groups of six manipulatives that they were using to show how many and counted them all. Some students, keep in mind they're in kindergarten, figured out on their own how to draw an array. So they had little dots in an array representing it, and skip counted it that way. 

It's really interesting to see that if a problem makes sense, they can think about it logically and figure out a solution to that problem. So, those are things I would have you keep in mind. Maybe it's a fun scenario that they'll enjoy that's really fantastical, but still is rooted in reality, like what is actually happening here that they can figure out, tease out, and they'll be able to come up with their own solutions to solve these problems.

You can get the Escaping Ants Task for free or the Grocery Store Task for Kindergarten, 1st Grade, or 2nd Grade!

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