Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rethinking Assessment

"Get good grades, go to college, and pursue a profession that will deliver a decent standard of living and perhaps a dollop of prestige."[1] That is basically the same spiel that we all received from our parents growing up.  Our parents encouraged us to pursue our talents in order to prosper in life.  If you were good at math and science, you should become a doctor.  If you were better at English and history, become a lawyer. [1]  If you were a student who excelled in academics, all you had to do was get good grades and score well on standardized tests, and your future was pretty much handed to you.

However, what if you were better in the arts or something other than core academics? What if your strengths weren't in logical, critical thinking? Rather, they were in abstract, creative thinking?  What if you wanted to become a designer, an artist, a musician?  What opportunities did you have to shine?

Daniel Pink writes, "If the global supply chain ever confronted a shortage of NO. 2 pencils, the American education system might collapse. From the time children are able to grasp one of these wooden writing sticks, they use them to take an endless battery of tests that purport to measure their current ability and future potential." [1]

In elementary school, we assess children's IQ's.  Later on, we measure their skill in reading and math, then plot their scores against children from the rest of the state, the country, and the world. By the time kids arrive in high school, they're preparing for the SAT, "the desert they must cross to reach the promised land of a good job and a happy life." [1]

“If you don’t do well on the SAT,” Sternberg says, “Everywhere you turn the access routes to success in our society are blocked.” [2]  The SAT is a measure of skills in reading, math, and most recently, writing.  These skills are typically "left-brain" oriented and focus on sequential, logical and analytical thinking.  This is the only skill-set that is tested for high school students to predict their future success in college and in the workplace.

What if you were a student that is more right-brain oriented?  There is currently no mandated standardized assessment that measures this nonlinear, intuitive and holistic thinking.  However, you could find one of these tests in New Haven, Connecticut, where a Yale University psychology professor is developing an alternative SAT. "Professor Robert Sternberg calls his test the Rainbow Project and it certainly sounds like a lot more fun than the pressure-packed exam many of us endured as teenagers." [1]

In Sternberg’s test, students are given five blank New Yorker cartoons and must craft humorous captions for each one. They must also write or narrate a story, using as their guide only a title supplied by the test givers (sample title: “The Octopus’s Sneakers”). And students are presented with various real-life challenges such as arriving at a party where they don’t know anybody, or trying to convince friends to help move furniture and asked how’d they’d respond. [2]

"Although still in its experimental stages," Pink writes, "The Rainbow Project has been twice as successful as the SAT in predicting how well students perform in college. What’s more, the persistent gap in performance between white students and racial minorities evident on the SAT narrows considerably on the test."

My point is that we should be providing assessments for our students that measure both critical thinking and creative thinking in order to more accurately measure students' current ability and future potential.  By failing to assess this type of thinking, we are completely disregarding the kind of "right-brain" attributes such as people skills, emotional intelligence, imagination, and creativity.  There are plenty of professions out there for "right-brain" thinkers that are not just for inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs, but also for counselors, therapists, schoolteachers and salespeople.

I agree with Daniel Pink when he says that "We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age."

We live in such a left brain world ... and here’s this whole other world that we must integrate in order to meet the challenges of the next century.  Let's rethink assessment and work together to create authentic opportunities for our students to demonstrate both creative and critical thinking to prepare them for their future.

For your consideration

1.  Right-brain thinking is often more difficult to assess.  What types of prompts would you have your students complete to measure creative, critical thinking?

2.  How might we integrate these types of assessments (such as the Rainbow Project) into our curriculum to also measure learning and understanding in our content areas?

  1. Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
  2. Sternberg, R. (2003). Rainbow Project: Enhancing the SAT Through Assessments of analytical, practical, and creative skills

Looks like its "Game On" for Education

“Games are the most elevated form of investigation”
- Albert Einstein

For a generation of people, games have become a tool for solving problems as well as a vehicle for self-expression and self-exploration. [1]  I was fortunate to grow up in the generation of both board games and video game systems.  I had every board game from Life to Monopoly and every game system from Nintendo to Playstation.  I loved playing games, and I still do.  Games allow me to think critically and creatively, in a way that I really wasn't able to do in school.  The fact is, when kids play video games they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they’re in the classroom.  Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts.  It’s about connecting and manipulating them. [1]

Believe it or not, games can be used to teach and assess 21st century skills, in addition to content knowledge.  If you think about it, games require 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.  Not to mention that kids actually have "fun" playing games ... now that is a novel idea!

Some games only require one of these 21st century skills, while others require two or more.  For example a game that might require one of these skills is chess.  The game of chess only requires critical thinking.  Whereas a game like Catch Phrase (a word guessing party game) requires communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  It's important to consider games that require multiple skills when implementing them in the classroom.  This ultimately prepares students to use these skills in conjunction with one another, rather than in isolation, which helps to better prepare students for the 21st century workplace.

Thanks to advances to the internet, more and more designers are incorporating communication and collaboration into their games, also known as MMO or Massive Multiplayer Online games. [2]  These games can be downloaded in the form of "apps" on smartphones and tablets which can leverage the internet to communicate with their opponents such as Words With Friends.  Moreover, some video games such as Halo and Call of Duty allow players to communicate AND collaborate with each other from all over the world in order to beat their opponents.  These games are known as MMORP or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing games, which simulate real life in different environments and contexts.

Recently, there seem to be a lot of teachers that support game-based learning or gamification for students in and out of the classroom.  Games outside of the classroom allow students to build on their 21st century skills via imagination, creativity and exploration of their interests.  Whereas games inside of the classroom help to construct these same skills in addition to curricular content by simulating a workplace-ready, learning environment.

Furthermore, research suggests that on tests of visual perception, game players scored 30 percent higher than nonplayers. Playing video games enhanced individuals’ ability to detect changes in the environment and their capacity to process information simultaneously. [1]  There’s also evidence that playing video games enhances the right-brain ability to solve problems that require pattern recognition. Many aspects of video gaming resemble the aptitude of Symphony--spotting trends, drawing connections, and discerning the big picture. What we need people to learn is how to think deeply about complex systems (e.g., modern workplaces, the environment, international relations, social interactions, cultures, etc.) [1]

So, how does playing games transition into success in the workplace?

The ideal hire, says one game-industry recruiter, is someone who can “bridge that left brain-right brain divide. Companies resist segregating the disciplines of art, programming, math and cognitive psychology and instead look for those who can piece together patches of many disciplines and weave them together into a larger tapestry. [1] In other words, students who master these 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity will ultimately be more prepared for success in the workplace.

Application to Education

Integrating games into the classroom can help motivate students to learn, and foster 21st century skills at the same time.  Some of my favorite games to play are Pictionary, Taboo, Scategories, Charades, etc. All of these games require students to think critically and creatively, use some form of communication, and use teamwork and collaboration in order to participate.  These games serve as a great review for assessments, or could even be used as an assessment.  Allowing students to create the content for the games (such as game cards from vocabulary words) is also a great idea.

For your consideration

What games do you play in the classroom with your students to facilitate learning and understanding?


  1. Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Getting "Inuit" with Arts Integration

Mary Ellen Henderson 5th graders kept the beat with Arts Integration as the Husky ENCORE team taught them about Native Americans during the Native American Festival on Tuesday. Drumming was just one of several activities geared toward helping students remember the cultures of tribes from all regions of United States in advance of SOL tests. Others included storytelling, lacrosse, artistic symbols, and a scavenger hunt for artifacts.

Virginia Standards of Learning: US History to 1865

USI.3 The student will demonstrate knowledge of how early cultures developed in North America by
  • b) locating where the American Indians lived, with emphasis on the Arctic (Inuit), Northwest (Kwakiutl), Plains (Lakota), Southwest (Pueblo), and Eastern Woodlands (Iroquois);
  • c) describing how the American Indians used the resources in their environment.

Application to Education

As the Instructional Technology Coach for this school, it was fun for me to really capture the essence of "low-tech" skills that were needed for the Native Americans to survive.  It reminded me that technology can simply be defined as "using our available resources to solve problems and improve the quality of life".  These students are demonstrating (what we call) 21st Century Skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving via Arts Integration.  I'm pretty sure that Native Americans also needed all of these same skills in order to survive and thrive as a civilization. 


I filmed and edited the video below to demonstrate how my school is successfully integrating the Arts to deepen the learning and understanding of curricular content. 

What is Arts Integration?

"Arts integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both." -Kennedy Center

Why Arts Integration?

Research shows that arts education is crucial in children’s learning process and development. Studies show that children exposed to arts education throughout childhood through primary, secondary and tertiary school show greater scores on academic achievements as well as greater social, cultural, emotional and cognitive development. Some of the measured improvement are greater self-confidence, communicative skills, cultural awareness and sensitivity alongside greater stimulated creativity and overall academic achievement. [1]
  • Arts education is a key to creativity
  • Creativity is an essential component of, and spurs innovation
  • Innovation is, agreed to be necessary to create new industries in the future
  • New industries, with their jobs, are the basis of our future economic well-being.

Many other countries in Asia and Europe, include vigorous Arts curriculum as a national priority in their public school systems and we must do the same. The mission is to make the country, its leader and the funding agencies aware that Arts are not just a “nice” thing to have in the education systems – but rather they are an essential national priority to the future of the US in this rapidly changing global economy. [1]

The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind--creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people--artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers--will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys. [2]

We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age. [2]

Let's continue to integrate the Arts to best prepare our students for their future!

You might also like

Leveraging the Strengths of Our Students
I Think We Have Education Backwards ... Don't You?
The 21st Century Learner, Needs a 21st Teacher
STE[A]M Education: Integrating the Arts into STEM


  1. STEAM:
  2. Daniel Pink: A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Favorite Thoughts About Education in 140 Characters or Less

After favoriting one of my tweets today, I decided to go back and read all of my favorite tweets on Twitter.  By scrolling through my own my personal backchannel, I was able to remember why I favorited each individual tweet and why each one was so significant to me.  After re-reading every Tweet in my favorites column, I decided to make a list of my favorite, favorites.  In doing so, I was able to reflect on how my core values in education have both changed and grown over the years.  I decided to synthesize all of my favorite tweets into specific categories with regard to education.  What I discovered was that I typically value tweets about leadership and pedagogy.  This was such a great reflection activity for me and it really helped me to construct my own personal vision of education.

My hope is that you will not only read the tweets that are valuable and useful to me, but that you might also perceive them as valuable and useful as well.  Furthermore, I hope that you might choose to follow some of the people that I mention, and contribute to some of the hashtags that I use for education.


@MrLands: For all educators: True leaders don't create followers ... they create more leaders. #satchat #edchat

@MrLands: "Either do something worth writing or write something worth reading" - Ben Franklin. This is why I teach. This is why I blog. #engchat

@MrLands: It has been said that the smartest person in the room ... is the room. #leadership #plc #pln #plnchat #plnchat

@MrLands: Perfection is often impossible. But if you strive for perfection you will achieve greatness! #edleadership #edchat #learning #edu

@MrLands: We must be reflective and prescriptive, rather than descriptive and deflective when collaborating and problem solving. #pln #plc #plnchat

@MrLands: Reminder "ahah" moment for me: Focus on the things that you can control and dedicate yourself to positively improving those things. #plc

@MrLands: Even the best seeds can't grow in the worst soil. The soil needs to be cultivating and nurturing. #pln plc# #plcchat #plcchat #edchat

@MrLands: "How might we" - best way to lead and problem solve. #edleadership #pln #plc #plcchat. #edchat

@MrLands: Two forms of change: Technical (structural) and cultural. Cultural change needs to be changed before technical to be successful. #pln #plc

@MrLands: Motivation needs to be intrinsic in nature, not extrinsic. #edchat #plcchat #pln #plcchat punishment and reward are the two worst motivators

@MrLands: All of us are smarter than any one of us! #plc plcchat #pln #plcchat #edchat

@MrLands: If we don't know where we are going, we probably aren't going to get there. #mission #vision #edleadership #pln #plc #plcchat.#edchat

@MrLands: Our belief needs to be supported by practice. Our philosophy of education needs to be institutionalized. #edleadership #edchat #pln #plcchat

@MrLands: "I don’t want her to settle for the “real world”. I want her to help build an ideal one." #edchat #leadership


@MrLands: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." - Ben Franklin #studentcentered #edchat #lrnchat #learning

@MrLands: “It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” 
― Albert Einstein #learning #mathchat #scichat #edchat #lrnchat

@MrLands: With regard to learning, failure is not an option ... It's a requirement! @web20classroom #learning #lrnchat #edchat


@MrLands: Thank you @NicholasFerroni "Why is teaching the most important of all professions? Because without it; no other professions are possible."

@MrLands: I agree with @21stprincipal students don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care! #edchat


@MrLands@21stprincipal Answers are part of the process. They are not the product. The product is the knowledge the student walks away with. #edchat

@MrLands: Questions have always been the answer #edchat #edchat #inquiry #lrnchat

@MrLands: Often, a learning disability is not so much a difficulty in learning, as it is a difficulty in being taught. #edchat

@MrLands: For Students, Why the Question is More Important Than the Answer! Great resource! #inquiry #learning #edchat

@MrLands: Agreed "@ddmeyer: Daro prefers "you, we, I" to "I, we, you." The former draws out the prior knowledge the latter ignores. #cmcmath" #edchat

@MrLands: All kids are gifted in something. Let's channel their gifts to enhance their learning. #edchat #gtchat #spedchat #multipleintelligences


@MrLands: "Let’s shift our #assessment of students' mastery to ones that examine mastery in action." #performancebasedassessments

@MrLands: New Post - We can't forget that there are faces behind the data 7 reminders about data analysis #assessment #plc #pln

@MrLands: There is More than One Way to Climb a Tree! #edchat #edreform #speced #assessment

@MrLands: We need to remember to put faces on the data of our students! #edchat #education #assessment

@MrLands: Data are only numbers. They only measure what has been tested. And people often only test what they can measure. #edchat #assessment

@MrLands: Data need to be supplemented by other kinds of data, data that might not easily be quantifiable at all. #edchat #assessment #education

Application for Education
  1. I recommend all educators to go back and look at their notes from different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Google+) to analyze their ideas and beliefs in education.  It might remind you about your passions, or even help you to make new discoveries!
  2. How might we facilitate a similar activity with our students? This could be a great reflection activity for students to learn more about themselves, or to help them construct their own opinions and ideas about specific content. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Leveraging the Strengths of Our Students

Often, a learning disability is not so much a difficulty in learning, as it is a difficulty in being taught.

As we grow up and attend school, many of our ways of gathering information are taken away. We are told to sit still, be quiet, stop daydreaming, not to doodle and pay attention. For the child who learns best by moving around, we have taken away his or her primary mode of learning. For the interactive learner who needs to talk about ideas to understand them, we have taken away the ability to integrate information.

For the child who understands best by drawing diagrams and symbols, he or she loses that most vital tool. Although music is used to teach the ABC's in elementary school, it is considered too childish to use in the higher grades. Before we know it, learning becomes boring or school becomes a challenge to meet without our full set of tools. The joy is gone.

School programs and educational techniques reflect our western values which elevate science, math, and logical achievement above success in the arts and human relations fields. Schools teach most effectively to those with strong language and logical thinking skills. If you were successful in school, you are probably strong in these areas. Yet your students may not be. Those who learn differently are often misunderstood, neglected, or undeserved by our educational systems.

Studies of the brain have shown that we need to move, sing, dance, draw, talk, and reflect to learn effectively. So the first thing we need to let go of is the expectation that there is one "right" way to learn or teach. Secondly, we need to let go of the expectation that our learners will be most successful if they use the same strategies that worked for us. Diversity is the key.

Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed his theory of multiple intelligences more than twenty years ago. Simply put, Dr. Gardner argues that people employ several different types of intelligence, rather than one general type.

Dr. Gardner defines intelligence as “The capacity to do something useful in the society in which we live.  Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences.”

We as educators need to be helping our students discover their many intelligences and how to use them effectively in mastering whatever content is being learned in the classroom and at home. The emphasis is on tapping into the student's unique and natural learning processes to ensure success.

In order for students to leverage their strengths in school, they first need to become self-aware of their strengths by identifying their most dominant intelligences.  Moreover, students need to also identify their learning styles, interests, and needs.  This helps to paint the whole picture of the learner profile for each student.

I have included some resources to help students paint their own learner profile picture, below.

A key to successful teaching is understanding what the learner already "reads" well. Although a reader may have difficulty reading print, he or she reads other things successfully, such as car engines, menus, blueprints, football plays, body language, situations. It is our challenge to discover with our learners what they "read" well and to break down how they do it.

It is the premise of innovative educators like Peter Kline that each of us is an "everyday genius," that we have a great capacity to learn. The key to unlocking that capacity is to create an environment that supports discovery and allows us to enjoy learning because our natural talents are being used more successfully.

In short, let's leverage our students' strengths to enhance their learning and educational experience!

  1. Dr. Howard Gardner, author, Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice
  2. Peter Kline, author, The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning, and Yours Too
  3. Why Arts Integration?
  4. I'm Determined 
  5. Literacy Works: Multiple Intelligences
  6. Multiple Intelligence Assessment: Find Your Strengths:
  7. Practice: Engaging the Intelligences:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Top 10 Most Valuable Posts of the Year

It has been exactly one year since I first started my blog, The Landscape of Learning.  From blogging, I have learned so much about learning, teaching, reading, writing, blogging, education, and relationships.  I have noticed myself become a much better writer by simply reading what other educators have to say, analyzing their thoughts, and synthesizing my own into blog posts.

In just one year I have written nearly 100 blog posts and collected nearly 50,000 views by more than 135 different countries from around the world.  What I find interesting is that what I perceive to be the most valuable and useful blog posts are completely different from what my readers perceive as most valuable and useful.  After rereading and analyzing all of my blog posts, I created a Top 10 List of my blog posts that I personally find to be most valuable and useful.

Below are my Top 10 most valuable blog posts of the year.
  1. Questions have always been the Answer
  2. There is more than one way to climb a tree
  3. I think we have education backwards, don't you?
  4. The Landscape's guide to creating your PLN
  5. Three Apps to Manage your 21st Century Toolbox
  6. Three Act Mathematical Problem Solving
  7. Let's plant the seed of learning in our students
  8. It's time to shift or get off the pot!
  9. How many uses can you find for this Paperclip?
  10. The Evolution of Education: From Teacher to Co-Learner

Honorable Mentions
  1. Mindset: The difference between Good teachers and Great teachers
  2. The difference between "Grading" and "Degrading": My philosophy on Assessment
  3. Keep it up America! We are doing something right!

I would like to thank all of my subscribers, commenters and readers for finding my blog to be both valuable and useful.  If you are reading this blog post, then I would like to personally thank you for participating and contributing to my personal learning network!

You might also like

The Landscape of Learning's Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year

The Landscape of Learning's Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year

It has been exactly one year since I have created my blog, The Landscape of Learning.  From blogging, I have learned so much about learning, teaching, reading, writing, blogging, education, and relationships.  I have noticed myself become a much better writer by simply reading what other educators have to say, analyzing their thoughts, and synthesizing my own into blog posts.

Like most educators, I decided to start my own blog for the following reasons:

  1. To internalize all of the information and media that I consume everyday regarding best practices in education. 
  2. To build on my pedagogical beliefs, keep current in my field, and stay up to date on the latest technology resources that are available.
  3. To share my expertise, resources, and pedagogy with other educators around the world. 
  4. To give back to my personal learning network of educators who already do so much for me.
  5. To continue to learn and grow with my personal learning network with the hope that our knowledge and expertise will continue to provide the best possible education for students all over the world.
In just one year I have written nearly 100 blog posts and collected nearly 50,000 views by more than 135 different countries from around the world. What I find interesting is that what I perceive to be the most valuable and useful blog posts are completely different from what my readers perceive as most valuable and useful. After analyzing my blog stats, it seems as if my readers are more interested in the resources and tools that I share, rather than sharing my educational insight, experience, and ideas regarding best and next practice teaching strategies.  This is very powerful feedback for me!

I would like to thank all of my subscribers, commenters and readers for finding my blog to be both valuable and useful.  If you are reading this blog post, then I would like to personally thank you for participating and contributing to my personal learning network!

The Landscape of Learning's Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year
  1. My Top 25 Free Math Resources for Education
  2. Twitter Tweet Sheet: Tips, Tricks, and Resources
  3. My Top Free Online Tools and Resources for PBL
  4. My Top 25 Free Science Resources for Education
  5. 15 Free Online Apps to Get Your Students Creating
  6. 13 Ways to use Socrative as a Formative Assessment 
  7. The 21st Century Learner Needs a 21st Century Teacher
  8. The 21st Century Resume`: How to Get Your Students Noticed in the Workplace
  9. MyBrain: The Most Underrated App Off the Market
  10. We Can't Forget that there are Faces Behind the Data

My Comment to a Controversial Blog Post

I read a blog post this morning that really got me thinking.  I read about an educator who used to feel hopeless in the field of education. He became very negative and cynical regarding our education system today.  Toward the end of the blog post I was refreshed to read that he persevered and re-instilled hope and faith, both in himself and the field of education. However, there was once particular section of the blog post that I found to be very controversial, and I realized that many educators share the author's same frustration.  I decided to put a positive spin on the issue to help remind educators that we need to continue to be resilient by motivating and inspiring our colleagues, future teachers, and our students to be the best that they can possibly be, especially when times are tough!

Below is an excerpt from the blog post, "Why I Continue Teaching"

As the weight of proposals such as these and standardized testing crushes my innovation, imagination, and creativity, I can no longer look anyone in the eyes and recommend that they become a teacher. It breaks my heart when my daughter says that she wants to become a reading teacher and the only thing I can think of deep down in my heart is “please don’t let it happen.” I have been passionate about working with college students both as interns and student teachers. It has been one of the greatest benefits of my profession over the last 22 years. But this year I turned down a placement with me, and plan to continue to do so into the future. I can no longer assist people to become a part of a system that is hell bent on creating an educational genocide.

My comment that I posted on the blog

"As a fellow educator, I share your frustration during these times of education reform. However, I believe that we should not give up hope on teaching. I believe that it is more important now than ever to become a teacher in this demanding and rapidly evolving world. We need passionate, creative teachers who will lead our nation in education and challenge the minds of our students who will be running the world in the 21st century."

"We need to remain positive in education and know that each teacher can make a significant impact on our students. Teachers today can still find creative ways to successfully prepare students for their future AND meet state and national standards. We need to establish a healthy school culture by collaborating together to solve today’s problems in education. Negativity is contagious and creates a toxic environment to all of those exposed. Let’s stop complaining and start positively working together to collectively inspire new teachers and current teachers to be the change they wish to see in education! I have faith that if every teacher does his or her part, then we will have successfully reformed education. Let’s focus on the factors that we can control as teachers and make our best effort to positively improve those factors! Thank you for sharing your frustration, your vision and your commitment to the field of education!"

For your consideration

What might you have posted as a comment in response to Why I Continue Teaching?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Three Act Mathematical Problem Solving

To remain competitive in the global economy, our students "... should be able to use the logic of Algebra and the spatial reasoning of Geometry to understand and solve real-life problems. These mathematical practices equip learners with the ability to solve complex problems and think critically about issues unrelated to mathematical concepts. With these skills, our young people will have the potential to do amazing things – in math, in science, or whatever field they choose to pursue." -

If we want our students to become productive, contributing citizens of the United States, then we need to change the way that we are currently teaching math in our schools! We need to integrate inquiry, problem-solving and real-world application into our math curricula. Students should be engaged in creative, critical thinking when they are solving problems. Teachers should articulate that there are multiple ways to arrive at the same solution to any given problem and allow students to struggle in order to make discoveries on their own with guided facilitation and appropriate scaffolding.

Dan Meyer believes that storytelling gives us a framework for certain mathematical tasks that is both prescriptive enough to be useful and flexible enough to be usable. Many stories divide into three acts, each of which maps neatly onto these mathematical tasks. Meyer explains his three acts mathematical problem solving strategy below:

Act One
Introduce the central conflict of your story/task clearly, visually, viscerally, using as few words as possible.

Act Two
The protagonist/student overcomes obstacles, looks for resources, and develops new tools.

Act Three
Resolve the conflict and set up a sequel/extension. The third act pays off on the hard work of act two and the motivation of act one.

As a former STEM teacher and an Instructional Technology Coach, I share Dan Meyer's passion for educating students and preparing them for their future as creative problem solvers and critical thinkers.  Moreover, I value his Three Act Math model for teaching mathematical concepts and problem solving.  So, I decided to adopt and implement his model with Michelle Janney, a co-teacher in my middle school.  To model this teaching strategy for other math teachers in our school and math teachers all over the world, we decided to document our first attempt of using this teaching strategy with our students.

Dan Meyer's Vision

"Many math teachers take act two as their job description. Hit the board, offer students three worked examples and twenty practice problems. However, it's clear to me that the second act isn't our job anymore. Not the biggest part of it, anyway. You are only one of many people your students can access as they look for resources and tools. Going forward, the value you bring to your math classroom increasingly will be tied up in the first and third acts of mathematical storytelling, your ability to motivate the second act and then pay off on that hard work."

Final Thought
"The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill." -Albert Einstein

Extension Activity

Our sequel to this lesson will be to have students take pictures, or video with iPods or iPads to create their own Act I and have other students solve their math problems.

For your consideration

How might you use this problem-solving strategy in your class?

You might also like

Questions Have Always Been the Answer
My Top 25 Free Math Resources for Education
Camera, Set, Mathematics
My Three Acts of a Real World Math Problem

  1. Dan Meyer:
  2. TED Talks: Dan Meyer Math Curriculum Makeover:
  3. The Three Acts of a Mathematical Story:
  4. Sugar Packets Lesson Plan:
  5. Dan Meyer's Three Act Math Curriculum: