Coming Up with a Math Plan, Teamwork, and Perseverance!

standards for mathematical practice

I just wanted to share a quick blog post about what I am doing in math workshop over the next two weeks because my students are SO excited!  We are digging into the next series of fraction lessons, and I know that some of my fourth graders are going to handle the material easily.  To make sure they have plenty of meaningful work to do when they finish their learning, I introduced the holiday cookie task to them!  They were thrilled!  One even said, “Is this one going to challenge us even more than the Thanksgiving feast one?” and I just smiled and reminded him that different tasks provide different challenges for different people because we all bring different background to it.  I was going to introduce it Friday and get started on Monday, but we had extra time and they begged and I was tired.  So I caved.

I told them that the main part of this project that I wanted them to focus on (always good to keep a simple focus on complicated tasks, I have found) was that with their partner(s), they needed to come up with a plan.  This task has many solutions…but the key direction is to “make as many cookies as possible”…so I wanted my students to really be thinking about what they could do to “test” if they could possibly make more cookies than their first attempt showed them. I also told them that they would really have to remember all they know about basic fractions AND solving problems with more than one step–and they were ready.

So they looked…

problem solving

 And they read…

I really like my students to read these complicated tasks on their own to try to “make sense” of problems without me spoon-feeding.  Depending on the student, I may restate the task, ask THEM to restate the task, or let them proceed and then adjust along the way with questions like, “Hmmm…does it SAY that you can do that?”  Great opportunities for teaching mathematical thinking sometimes require students to make mistakes and adjust–and they learn quickly to dig in deeply to find information.  It’s too easy when the teacher tells them everything they need to know!  This is also a great way to push students toward better perseverance; when everything is “coached”, they don’t learn those critical skills needed to push themselves, ask good questions, and have great “math talk” with each other.  I heard some of the GREATEST “arguments” as they were working to make sense of this problem–and THAT is exciting math!


 And they started to record their ideas

fraction problem solving

 I love that some immediately went to abbreviations (“SC” for sugar cookie, etc), others drew pictures, some made tables…and they were off and running.  As I circulated, I kept asking students to remember to have a plan to see if they are REALLY maximizing how many cookies they could make.  I love the hum of collaborative math work…seriously.  I sometimes just stand back for a few minutes and watch them ENJOYING math.

holiday word problems

As they worked to get going, I got some of the BEST questions…so I am super excited to see how the next few days unfold!  “Can we cut recipes in half?  What about fourths?” and “Is this a problem where we can work backwards?” Love it!  I think when we finish, students who are interested will report back to the class how their strategies and plans changed and evolved throughout the process.  Like my other Thinker Tasks, I know some students will get a lot farther into the project than others–but those discussions about planning and modifying and adapting are so important as students begin to realize that problem solving is about FAR more than the answer!  Stay tuned!

Interested in seeing more about this project?

Here is the discounted bundle of all my Thinker Tasks!