Formative Assessment & 3 Act Math Tasks

This post references the 3-act math task structure. If this is unfamiliar to you read about it here from Dan Meyer, and here from me.

A common question I get about using 3-act math tasks from teachers is “How do you assess that?” And I’ve found it’s both hard and easy to answer this question mostly because for the last few years I’ve felt like I’m ALWAYS assessing! 

Let me explain.

“3-act tasks are formative assessment machines.” They’re naturally structured to give you the teacher rich information about your students understanding and knowledge.

From Wikipedia,

Formative assessment is, “a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”

Keys words: “during the learning” and “modify teaching

When I first started teaching I asked about the difference between formative and summative assessment. I was told to think of it like: formative assessments were quizzes and summative assessments were unit tests. Both of which were marks that got recorded in a markbook. It was like the going mantra was, “Why are we marking it if I’m not going to count it?”. I’ve grown to believe that formative assessment isn’t just a packet/booklet/worksheet/homework/quiz that we count or don’t count for marks…..Formative assessment should inform us.  It should give us information to use to help craft our next instruction.

3-Acts and Formative Assessment

A teacher while observing one of my lessons commented: “Wow! Your students were so engaged during that task with the movie.” Most teachers I see are seeing 3 act tasks as a way to engage our students. In my opinion thinking that the power of 3 act tasks starts and ends with student engagement greatly undervalues the task structure. As a teacher you can learn so much from what your students show you during those first two acts. You just have to listen.
Those acts are all about assessing where you students are and designing, on the fly, where to go next!! And I totally I agree, That is definitely hard! It’s hard to plan to be flexible.

“plan with precision so we can proceed with great flexibility.” – Tom Schimmer

Act 1 is about  Being curious, Wondering, Estimating, and being informal. Listen to their estimates. Insist on having students share their reasoning. Don’t let them off the hook when they say “I just guessed”. You gain valuable feedback on their ability to use our Mathematical Processes. Listening to their reasoning will give you insight into possible strategies they will use when solving the problem. It will help you prepare on the fly possible scaffolding questions to push your students thinking.
Act 2 is for watching what your students do. This is your chance to carefully craft a plan. What strategies did you see? What strategies need to be shared and discussed? What strategies didn’t see and need to be introduced and modelled? For me, gone are the days where I develop a “lesson plan script” that I follow for the first 25 minutes of class. I need to know where they are before proceeding.

Let’s consider the proportion problem Turbo Texting (See the whole lesson here). See the act 2 video below.

Have a look at the student work after showing act 2.

What do you see? What information does this tell you? What would you ask this student?
Does the student know why they divided? Do they know what the 0.1125 means? Can they interpret to see who is faster? How can you use this to help craft your instruction when you bring the class back together?

Then when you see this answer, it’s clear that they knew how to interpret their calculation, but also informs you that you’ll need make sure both of these solutions are shared to the class. A great class discussion can occur here on how each solution shows who is faster and why we would want to find each rate.
Without allowing your students try their own strategy here in Act 2 it is most likely that both of these calculations would never have popped out. It’s allowing your students to show what they know that allowed for this discussion to happen.
Or take this example from the popcorn pandemonium task (read here first). View Act 2 here:

and a student’s thinking,

and another,

If the learning goal is to “Connect various representations of a linear relation” then seeing this strategy from our students allows us to take what they know and connect it to something new! We should build on their understanding not dismiss or overrule it. This can be powerful in their learning process. But without seeing their thinking first you wouldn’t know exactly what to build onto. To help our students the most we should be continually assessing where they are and where they need to be then design our instruction to make that happen. 3 Act tasks are amazing structures to assist you in this journey, they’re not just videos to engage your students……they’re so much more than that. Go ahead…… plan with precision.

Further Reading.

 

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