Student Created 3-Act Math

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When will the world population reach 8 billion?

I integrated a bunch of 3-Act math tasks into my Algebra classes this year, and I love the spirit in which these can be presented.  3-Acts give math teachers the language of drama and storytelling, language often reserved for writing or drama class, revealing information bit by bit to students, and keeping them hungry for more through a regular dramatic format.  In my experience, this has been motivating for students, and this motivation has led to leverage for convincing students to care about mathematical rigor.  Thank you to everyone who creates and shares the work to make this possible, including 3-Acts, for the benefit of myself and my students.  MTBoS rocks, and it’s a verdant time to be a math teacher.

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How do slow and fast speeds compare in “Piano Tiles”?

For one of our final projects this year in my Algebra classes, I asked students to design their own 3-Act tasks.  Even though they had seen a number of these, and were familiar with this format, there was mixed reaction to this assignment from students (…and mixed results).  Some created really great work, but some still resent the idea that they are expected to be creative in math class.  Lots of students have a pretty narrow definition of math, and it’s really hard for many of them to shift in attitude – in spite of  my persistence this year in presenting tasks that required critical and creative thinking.  Lots of them have long since defined themselves as a certain kind of math student and have become accustomed to being taught procedures, and repeating them back on demand.  Just for context, while my school doesn’t totally track classes, in general the highest achievers are not in my sections, and I work with many concrete thinkers.

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What are Leroy’s chances of survival?

3-Acts are hard.  They are demanding on students, and they require rigor and precision, synthesis and critical thinking.  And this is a tough job for the teacher as well.  We need to craft the lesson in such a way that students actually feel a need for the math skills we want them to practice, and then make the right tools available and accessible at the right moment. I think that overall, I did have some success in shifting student attitudes in general towards math this year, and I think we created some good work together.  I think that just like me, students would get better at creative thinking in math with practice.  It would be good to try this assignment mid year, and then again at the end of the year.  During our share, they definitely enjoyed viewing and solving each others’ 3-Acts (some in spite of themselves).  And there is value in the final math class experience of the school year being so positive. Their 3-Act subjects ranged from estimation to frisbee to World of Warcraft.  Check out a few of their projects HERE or at the top of the page, and let me know what you think.

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How many mattresses?

BTW, I asked the following question on my end of year student survey: “What project/lesson/assessment have you learned the most from this year? Why?”  48/62 student responses included positive references to the 3-Act problems.  Here are a few excerpts:

  • “3 part problems- more realistic then normal word problems- feels like the math I know will be useful…”
  • “The 3 act problems. We did a lot of them and each time I could learn more of it. Culminating with creating one myself really helped to practice it even more.”
  • “3 act work because we never know what it’s going to be when you walk in class,”
  • “…you found something I was Passionate about and taught me how to make it in to a fun learning Experience.”

An aside: I’m heading out for an adventure, and will be teaching at an International School in Cyprus next year!  Even though I am excited about my new position, I am super sad about leaving my AWESOME school in Portland Maine: Casco Bay High School.  My colleagues were inspirational, demanding.  My math colleagues, and the junior team (BTW, check out the amazing 2014 Junior Documentary Work HERE) are world class educators, every one of them.  Derek Pierce, the school principal is a truly exceptional leader; supportive, inspiring, and kind.  I have been incredibly lucky to work for and with him.  Derek and my colleagues at CBHS encouraged me to take risks, and to push myself as an educator and a person, and helped me to encourage students to take risks.  Without their support, this kind of work would not be possible.  Thank you to everyone at CBHS! CBHS Staff Further Reading: I’m pretty sure that the 3-Act rubric I found HERE came from a Math Forum problem solving session.  I wonder how their students did?

2 thoughts on “Student Created 3-Act Math

  1. Monique

    Do you have a copy of the rubric used for this project? I am thinking of implementing something similar.

    1. Nat Post author

      Sure thing. You can find the materials I used here:

      Definitely some things that I would change if I tried this again; doing strong work on this project is likely beyond most students. I tried a different version a couple of years ago, where I just asked kids to try to capture something that made them curious. I added the guidelines to the same link above in case they might be useful to you. Please do let me know how your project comes out. :)


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