I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a solid task and whittled it away to almost nothing.
It’s easy to fail with a terrible task. But over the past few years, I’ve also found a number of ways to flame out with lessons that were packed with potential.
The Main Culprit?
My inability to “let go” during the launch has derailed more than a few lessons. Picture me as the 4×100 relay member who won’t let go of the baton, causing the team’s chances to crash in a heap of flailing limbs.
I’ve been stretching myself in recent months by giving as brief an introduction as possible before getting out of the way. It doesn’t always work out, especially if the task itself is unclear. However, sometimes the results are fantastic, as was the case last week with my Math B class (mostly 8th graders).
I distributed student handouts for Battery Charging (an Illustrative Mathematics task), asked them to read the directions to themselves, then directed them to work in their table groups. I announced: “You’ll be on your own for the first 10 minutes.” I then stepped out of the way and watched as they struggled, some frustratingly, and others very productively. Some even finished the task with half of this “introductory time” remaining.
Stepping Back In
At the end of the 10 minutes, I re-engaged, offering guiding questions to struggling groups and pushing those who had already finished to solve it using another approach. Eventually, we drifted toward Desmos as a way to summarize our findings in different representations. This stage of the lesson—synthesizing, connecting, closing—is another element with room for improvement, but I find I do less damage here than in the launch (thanks in part to the 5 Practices).
What About You?
Is lesson launch a place where you struggle? If so, try launching your next task with as few words as possible. (Better yet, try launching something without saying anything more than, “Go!”)
Are you adept at setting rich math tasks in motion? Drop a line in the comments to share your wisdom.
Do you struggle with the all-important elements at the end of a lesson? Or have your abilities here grown in recent years? Either way, I’d love to hear what you’re doing well and what you’re looking to improve.