What Worked. What Did Not.


One School's Experience with a Task Centre

Marita Miesen
Catholic Regional College, Melton, Victoria, Australia

This article was first prepared for the 1996 December conference of the Mathematical Association of Victoria and was first published in the proceedings of that conference as:

Using the Curriculum Corporation Task Centre: What Worked. What Did Not., Forgasz et. al. (Editors), (1996) Mathematics: Making Connections, Mathematical Association of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, p.130.

The article was displayed on the web site of the Mathematical Association of Victoria from 1997 - 2008 when, by agreement with the MAV, it was transfered to this site.

Green Line

Introduction - Our History

Our aims were to incorporate problem solving into our course and to cater for mixed abilities in the one classroom in a non-threatening, self-paced learning environment. We bought 100 tasks from Curriculum Corporation in 1994. They are currently used in two ways in our Mathematics course. Some are stored in the Library in crates and have been categorised according to five of the Curriculum and Standards Framework Strands; ie: Space, Number, Measurement, Algebra and Chance & Data; and others, are stored in a separate room which classes visit. They were purchased as both a part of the Special Education Program and the Mathematics Curriculum. At the time we were attempting to set up a Numeracy Centre based on a model observed at Carwatha Secondary College, Noble Park in 1990.

Our aims were to incorporate problem solving into our course and to cater for mixed abilities in the one classroom in a non-threatening, self-paced learning environment. Over the past three years we have tried using the tasks in various ways. We have also experimented with both different formats for students to express their interpretations of, and their solutions to, the tasks, and with different methods of assessing their interaction with the tasks. We have formed some opinions on what works and what does not.

Getting Started

When purchasing the tasks from Curriculum Corporation you have the option of additional consultancy. We participated in two workshop based in-service programs and these were a positive introduction to the use of the tasks and developed a lot of enthusiasm amongst the staff. It felt somewhat like Christmas unpacking the tasks together and actually working through some ourselves. We were presented with many of the issues we were to face and the experiences of other schools, in using these resources.

We already had a Numeracy Centre operating with an extra staff member allocated to those lessons. Students completed Tables Tests at the beginning and then went on to cooperative problem solving tasks we had produced. We replaced the problem solving tasks with Curriculum Corporation tasks which were bright, colourful and far more enjoyable.

We participated in two workshop based in-service programs and these were a positive introduction to the use of the tasks and developed a lot of enthusiasm amongst the staff.

Teachers' Notes

We could have purchased Teacher's Notes, of which we were given samples, which looked good but were beyond our budget and we wanted staff to become familiar with tasks themselves. We, with the help of a past student, wrote our own solutions for teachers under the following headings:
  • Name of Task
  • Solution
  • Strategy eg: Make a list, Look for a pattern, Trial and Error
  • Hints/Clues
  • Links to other subjects (eg: Science)

Expectations of Students

We expected students to write up tasks, and developed the format for this ourselves taking ideas from many we had seen. The headings were as follows:
  • What did you do to solve the task?
  • Did anything go wrong?
  • If it did, how did you fix it?
  • Did you find an answer? What was it?
  • If it was a game, did you find out any hints to help you win? What were they?
  • What have you learned from this task?
  • Rate the task on a scale of 1-10 (did not enjoy [1] to really enjoyed [10])

Maintenance of Tasks

A major difficulty for us as a secondary school was, and continues to be, maintenance of the tasks. Part of the problem is that we have eight to ten Year 7 & 8 classes using the facility. To overcome this we needed consistency in the room we used and the staff.

Procedures Implemented

We use my Home Room which has enabled constant checking. Rules were posted in the room and students are drilled with checking before and after use, and on reporting to teachers any missing parts.
  • Incomplete or damaged tasks are immediately put on my desk.
  • We bought supplies of materials including: counters, dice, playing cards, rubber bands and mirrors.
  • We raided toy stores for army men and other objects.
  • The Woodwork teacher was of great assistance making extra wooden blocks and other shapes.
We did not want them deteriorating and becoming a wasted and unused resource.
It required constant checking and after two years of use, my Home Room class and I also checked them all carefully, restoring those that had been damaged. We did not want them deteriorating and becoming a wasted and unused resource. Those stored in the Library are bar coded and have lists of equipment attached to the boxes.

Second Year of Use

The review at the end of the first year identified the following: Consequently, during our second year of using the tasks we left out the Tables Tests and shifted the focus in the room to purely problem solving. We provided sample reports of what students should write and worked through this with them. We were not allocated two teachers in the room each lesson but had the use of a job skills person to record student progress during most lessons. We recorded depth of involvement and report writing and reported to parents on these two areas. Grades or marks were not awarded; rather, feedback was descriptive.

Integration into the Curriculum

...the tasks are well designed and almost every one has the potential to link to a unit we were teaching I was aware of the need to integrate these tasks into the curriculum but this was an involved process because the tasks are well designed and almost every one has the potential to link to a unit we were teaching. So, having our management and organisation procedures established, it was time to begin using some of the tasks to their full potential. This year was the perfect time to begin incorporating them into units since we were rewriting our course and completing a Curriculum and Standards Frameworks audit.

After attending an in-service by Charles Lovitt, one of the producers of these tasks, I realised that they were best used as a starting point from which we could then teach content. They work best not as an addition to what we are doing to teach concepts but as a means of enabling the students to make links and establish concepts themselves. A model was presented entitled Replacement Unit and a description of this is available here. Our adaptation of this has been to choose areas of content within a unit and allow initial student learning to happen solely via the tasks. The staff feedback has been positive with comments including: They work best not as an addition to what we are doing to teach concepts but as a means of enabling the students to make links and establish concepts themselves.

Assessment

We chose to assess the following areas in the Chance & Data unit at Year 7:
  1. Level of Engagement / Involvement with the Task
  2. Understanding the links to Probability
    1. Are they just playing the task as a game, unaware of any probability?
    2. Or, are they aware of probability and chance?
    3. Can they assign probabilities as fractions; choose the most common, most expected outcomes; understand equally likely outcomes, etc.?
  3. Amount of logic used
  4. Look for strategies of recording results, being systematic, etc.
This assessment has proved manageable in class as students are assessed on a 1-5 scale in each category after the teacher observes them working on the task and discusses their strategies with them. Approximately four to six lessons are needed to sufficiently observe the students and to allow the students to use enough of the tasks. Table 1 shows a portion of a recording table which teachers used for this process for a whole class.

Table 1
Portion of a recording table which teachers used when
assessing students working on tasks during a specific unit.

YEAR 7 MATHS 1996 ... UNIT: CHANCE & DATA

TASK 1
Engagement Understanding Links Amount of Logic
Shelley 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
Allyson 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5
Clayton 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5

Continued Use of Task Centre

Our task centre room is still operating with what we considered to be the tasks which were predominantly logic based. Table 2 shows a chart we designed through which students still express their interpretation of the task and the strategies they used to solve the task, but which is not as onerous as what we had initially asked of them.

Table 2
Chart which students complete in the Task Centre.

TASK CENTRE REPORT CHART
Name: ................................................
Home Room: ...........
You must complete 15 to 20 tasks over the year and fill in this chart for each one. You must write up three tasks in a full report. The tasks you must choose from to report in full are on the notice board in Room 8. Difficulty
1. Very easy
2. Easy
3. OK
4. Difficult
5. Too difficult
Enjoyment
1. Fun
2. Sort of fun
3. OK
4. A bit boring
5. Boring
Task No. Task Name Explain what the task is about. What strategy did you use? Difficulty Enjoyment Teacher's Signature
1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5

Students continued to work in pairs but each filled in their own chart. As the year progressed these became boring and the task centre needed supplementing, so once a crate of a particular strand had been used by a class in a particular unit, then it was able to be borrowed by that class from the Library and used during the Task Centre lesson.

Conclusion

Our experience with these tasks has been so rich that I recommend any Maths Faculty, Primary or Secondary, purchase them. I also recommend that they use the consultancy service. My suggestions for their actual use are:
  • use boxes to store them individually
  • label them yourself (including degree of difficulty and at least the dominant strand, possibly sub-strand also)
  • divide into groups according to dominant strand (try and record second strand but focus on one to begin with)
  • store lists and labels on computer so they can be updated
  • number them alphabetically for easy access
  • have solutions available for staff
  • store extra parts
  • do not try to make students write up too much, focus on interaction with the task and the resultant learning that takes place (take the opportunity to ask students to express their strategies)
  • integrate the tasks into the units where possible and use to establish concepts at the beginning of units as well as reinforce those learnt
I recommend any Maths Faculty, Primary or Secondary, purchase them ... [and] ... use the consultancy service.
Green Line
Follow this link to Task Centre Home page.