Teach Math with Spiralled 3-Act Tasks – a full course

This semester was my first go at spiralling a course through problems instead of units. Traditionally we teachers follow the chapters and sections from the textbook. Well why not? It’s all laid out and organized nicely….most times in 1 day chunks….no planning needed, am I right???

How exciting is it though? How much do students really need to think? Are they really solving problems and learning mathematics.

After reading about spiralling from Alex Overwijk and bouncing ideas back and forth with Kyle Pearce we decided to give spiralling 1P math with 3 act tasks a try.

Each day or two I would  introduce to a new 3-act math problem (read Teaching with 3-Act Tasks) to solve with students. We would use that to stimulate wonderings and finally narrow down to a particular goals I wanted to cover.  Each of these lessons is taught with a 4 part math lesson (From Kyle Pearce) which always has students working on solving problems on their own FIRST, and then we step in and teach skills (“math teachery” way) after.

We did not teach within units. We mixed up our 3-Act tasks and problems throughout the semester.

I kept a list of all lessons, and order I used, along with any resources like blog posts, video files, handouts, etc. I wanted to share that list below.

Access the sheet Now
Spreadsheet design was by Kyle

The spreadsheet shows for each day,

  • the strand we covered,
  • the learning goal (LG – for my assessment sheet),
  • the topic, notes for planning,
  • the inquiry lesson portion (3-Act math problem(s))
  • connections to other strands (a place for me to remind myself to tie this piece to other strands)
  • the consolidation/practice resources/links
  • other resources like blog posts, handouts, links, tweets, etc.

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You may notice the bright pink row. These are our assessment/mastery days. We had one whole class each week for this.

The first half of an assessment/mastery day class was handing back of past paper assessments that look like:


Each one consisted of 4 questions that covered the learning outcomes of the last week or so.  I wrote feedback for any question that weren’t completed perfectly. They were to read the feedback and re-do those questions.

I let them know that everything counts…..I consider all our conversations, my observations and anything they hand in for their grade.

Also during the first half of class students worked towards upgrading their skills. They access their customized spreadsheet which shows their achievement on each of the learning goals. They choose a learning goal to upgrade. Based on their prior achievement they are given another task to try. After I assess this new task I go and change the mark for that learning goal.

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Both Kyle and I have written posts on this sheet a few times. (here, here, and here). An idea we extended from Alice Keeler.

We spend a good chunk of time working at getting better on our skills always promoting growth!

The last half of the class we do this week’s paper assessment (that looks like the one above). I mark it and give it back so that next Tuesday we can do that all over again.

Here are some benefits I have noticed from both spiralling and teaching through problem solving:

  • Almost no need to review at the end of the year. We reviewed all through.
  • Students see how math connects together. (Proportional reasoning shouldn’t stand as a lone unit when you have linear relations and algebra to teach too!).
  • Students were more confident in math than I’ve ever seen them. (And for 1P’s too!). When teaching in units, students know that whatever problem we will solve today HAS to do with what we learned yesterday. When we teach through spiralling students are always wondering what math they can use to solve the problem at hand. My students became great at risk taking! They would try! How many times has it been where we give a new problem to our students they complain that you haven’t shown them how to do this. My students were given new problems everyday and they became great a trying strategies. Whiteboards help immensely with this too!
  • A time saver! You may think that I would run out of time teaching this way…..I couldn’t possibly teach through problem solving and still cover everything, let alone booking a whole day dedicated to growth EACH WEEK! We had lots of time. Since each lesson tied multiple expectations and learning goals together, we could cover more in one lesson than we could in two lessons the old way. The growth/upgrades each week allowed students to practice skills from all over the course. Around mid-term time I gave my students an old final exam to see how they would do, and they did great!!! I was amazed. We still had half a semester to go!

Since we are coming close to the end I wanted to share my experience! Feel free to check out my daily plan from grade 9 applied

Access Now

As always, if you have any recommendations or feedback for me I would love to hear about it!



Help us Make the Awesome Assessment Tool We All Need!

Our semester is now half over and the use of our spreadsheet and mastery learning has been amazing. I didn’t think that the spreadsheet system Kyle and I created back in January,  based on Alice Keeler’s Google Sheet’s and Gamifying the classroom, would have had this much of an impact on student learning. But it did!

We want to take our Assessment spreadsheet for growth learning to the next level!

Students are empowered! They are taking learning into their own hands. They can see on their student view each learning goal (expectation) and their achievement on that goal. They have specific feedback on what to do next! They can access the customized questions based on their skill level and improve! More than before they can see exactly what to do next to get better. Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 4.20.29 PMHowever, we know that the Master View of the spreadsheet looks intimidating to set up and edit. Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 4.34.56 PM We have shared this spreadsheet with many educators from all different subjects, and we get the same response “This looks awesome! but…..it’s scary ….what if I delete a cell here or there by accident? Would it mess it all up?”

Answer: It could!

We love this tool….we want to make it better and so much easier to use. That’s where we need help!

We are just regular’ ol’ math teachers.

We imagine this on the web.

We need the help of web programmers.

In the web version:

Students, parents, can log in access and view their achievement. Share it even! A place to capture their learning!

Teachers can log in, track marks, provide feedback, award mastery badges, give next steps, reveal new questions for mastery, point to extra help resources all in one place. They could capture and store student work. Teachers could share learning goals (even whole courses) and the activities/resources they have with other teacher users.

So many tools are out there for assessment. None of them are a complete system. This one is!

We have so many ideas on where this could go….but we are stuck. We need it to be more user friendly.

Please share this out! If you know of anyone who wants to partner up, share our passion and help make this happen as much as we do….show this post to them!

Kyle over on Tap Into Teen Minds has also written a post. Go on over there are read his too!

If you yourself are interested in partnering up with us fill out the form below Let’s make that assessment tool we ALL Need!

Interested in learning how we assess these days?

Learn how to assess for growth through our self-paced online assessment course for math educators.

We Like Those Stinkin’ Badges!

I was sick one day this week and instead of laying in bed binge watching Netflix I spent a good chunk of the day reading blogs on assessment.

For the last year or so I’ve been trying out different methods for students to keep track of their own learning. I’ve been slowly moving my assessment techniques away from the standard unit test (too bad kid if you failed that test….try harder on the next unit kinda thing) to mastery learning and standards based assessment.

I’ve been using a system like Dan’s and have wanted to jazz it up a bit to incorporate a more game like feel (Especially after seeing his talk on Video Games and Math Class)
I came across Alice Keeler’s blog and wow!!! she is a Jedi on Google! I especially love her google sheets for levelling up and awarding badges and Gamifying Searching Google Drive. I felt that a combination of these two ideas was exactly what I wanted.
So again instead of watching House of Cards on Netflix, I modified Alice’s sheets to create a system that works form me.
Here is what I came up with….
I created a Master List which will keep track of each student and their level/achievement on the expectations/learning goals.
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 I created a Student tab/sheet which will show a student their current mark on each learning goal, the level (stars), and a mastery badge (if awarded). The best part about the student tab is that it is completely automatic. Everything on that tab is populated using formulas. The only thing I need to enter on that page is the individual student numbers.
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This student page is what the student will see. They can look here to check their “score” on each learning goal. See how many badges they’ve earned toward mastering their learning. I just need to publish each of the student sheets and share the public link with each of those students. (Read at the end of the post to see how)

Here is the process…..and this is where I may need some help…

For my senior students:
We will have weekly to semi-weekly “rolling” assessments. On each assessment I’ll assess up to 4 learning goals. For example, the first one it will be learning goals 1 through 4. The second assessment will assess 2 through 5 and so on. The second and third times assessing the same learning goal will include tougher questions.
Every time a student does better on a learning goal they get the better mark. I go to the master sheet take out the old mark and put in the new one!! Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.52.50 PM
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It magically shows up on the students score page.
To get a badge the student will have to have demonstrated mastery of the learning goal. For me this is the student has demonstrated that they know the concept repeatedly. To award the student a badge I just have to put an M in the second column of the learning goal…..and voila! a badge shows up on the student score page!
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My students will have a visual record of their achievement. They can also request “upgrades” on any learning goal! They can set a date and time to come in and get another assessment testing that learning goal. Their mark should always reflect the amount of knowledge they know rather than the knowledge they know on test day.
Check out the badges tab, Alice has included a ton of different badges. You could set up the different badges you want displayed. You will need to just edit the formula in the badges column on the student tab. (Do this before you make a copy for each student).
Here are some samples of badges I’m creating to award mastery of learning goals.
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Currently my sheet is set up for 20 learning goals. If you need to add more, do it before you make copies for each student. Fill all the formulas down on the student page.
If you want to try this out:
    1. Definitely go and see Alice’s blog and see what she’s got.
    2. Download a copy of my Spreadsheets and give it a whirl 
    3. Let me know how it’s going by commenting here or sending me a tweet @MrOrr_Geek


After showing Alice the new sheets she pointed me to her Template Tab sheet which will automatically create tabs/sheets for each student!! Awesome.

Here’s how to share the student tabs with kids

Share the first student sheet by choosing publish to the web..

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Choose the first student to publish and hit publish (Do not choose Entire Document). It will give you a link copy that link!

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.34.43 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.34.49 PM


Create a brand new spreadsheet and paste that link beside a cell with the student’s student number.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.34.59 PMRepeat this for every student. I know it seems like a lot of work at the start, but that will be it!!

Now you can share that one document with your class and they can always access their score sheet!