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Task Centre News

March 2009

300 tasks placed in schools during February.
313,394 placed since the project began in July 1992.

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In this month's News you will find:

More from Eritrea

Crosses Across the World

Lincoln High School, NZ

Maths300 Conference

Tasks of the Month
Task 83, Racetrack
Task 84, Rectangle Nightmare

Note Paper
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  • More from Eritrea
    We reported in the February News that Aaron Peeters has volunteered to teach in Eritrea. While waiting in Asmara for Visa approval he has met a 'revolutionary' teacher named Matthewos (pronounced Matewos):
    He really is a revolutionary teacher when you consider that there are so many obstacles in the way of what he has achieved.
    Matthewos has supported Aaron in trying out the whole class investigation version of a couple of tasks. There are messages for us in what Aaron learnt from the experience.
    I tried doing Crosses and Heads and Legs (see Link List below) with the students last week. I got some good pictures too which I will try and email through when I get the chance.

    The first mistake I made was to assume they would understand my English. The second was to assume they would understand a non-routine problem. They fared reasonably on both counts, but I think I shot a little high.

    School here consists of teachers writing work on the blackboard for students to copy. As such, those problems deviated from the norm a bit, so they needed a bit more support to get started. All things considering though, they are a very bright bunch of students who are quite open minded. Matthewos is the single teacher in that school who is trying to enhance the quality of education for the students. The great thing about it is that they are given so much responsibility that they can pretty much run everything for themselves.

    For example, there is a festival coming up soon and 2 students have been selected to partake in a debate. They will be arguing in the affirmative for 'Men are better than women.' They have written some drafts, and then I have seen them present to the class audience twice. Both times the class had a heated discussion about the topic (in English) as well as providing the two students with really great feedback about their strengths and weaknesses. The teacher has basically become obsolete, because these kids are questioning, learning, arguing, debating, explaining etc. all by themselves.

    So, it's probably been a good thing that I have been delayed a couple of weeks because I have already been able to learn a lot.

  • Crosses Across the World
    Eva Larsson from Stockholm participated in a task workshop at the Swedish biennial maths conference. We won't say it was that experience which made her choose an Australian holiday, but the experience was sufficient, once here, to ask if she could visit to learn more about tasks. We don't usually have visitors at the Distribution Centre - that's not its purpose - but of course when someone has travelled so far and is interrupting her holiday we were delighted to welcome Eva.

    We had a good chat and used Task 35, Crosses, (see Link List below) as an example to illustrate principles and practice. The photos show Eva exploring the task in its several forms and even doing a little recording in her 'maths journal'.

  • Lincoln High School, New Zealand
    As reported in the previous eNews, on February 12th I ran a workshop day for the enthusiastic and professional staff of Lincoln High School, near Christchurch, across the Tasman. Mitchell Howard, HoD, had purchased a Maths With Attitude Pattern & Algebra Years 7 & 8 kit (Years 8 & 9 in NZ) and we chose to run a Working Mathematically in Pattern & Algebra day (see Link List below) to support its introduction.

    The Planner (Scope & Sequence) for this kit contains a Replacement Unit (see Link List below) that requires reasonably intense use of a set of 20 hands-on tasks. We envisaged that one kit could be readily used by two parallel classes, but the staff at Lincoln must have really wanted to explore this different approach. As Mitch's message shows, they have gone beyond the call.

    Hi Doug
    We have been flat out using task centre with each of our 12 Year 9 classes. We have been learning a lot and things are going well. We are using the Replacement Unit model you demonstrated for us but we have had to do a lot of organising to share the kit around. All good fun, and we might need to get some more for next year.
    Thanks, Mitch
    At a follow up team meeting on March 9th, staff entered a frank and full discussion of how their curriculum experiment had been working. Mitch has supplied the minutes below, which have been slightly edited so the thoughts and experiences contained might support other schools.

    Reflections

    • Most teachers found that they had lots of hands up during first lesson.
      It was suggested that in the second (or third) lesson the teacher could get the students to rank themselves on how they have been going by lining up in order at the front of the room. The teacher could then pick mixed ability groups. Students are not to ask teacher for help until everyone in group has been asked. Remind students that teaching others has been shown to produce the highest learning retention rate.
    • Many students lacked self help skills, such as "reading the question properly".
      Teachers should continue to refer students to the "working like a mathematician sheet".
    • Some tasks are much easier than others.
    • Make sure the first time you use it is not late in the day.
    • Many students are getting enjoyment, but others really struggle and need support.
    • Some of the equipment has been damaged or lost.
      Important to remind students to seal the bags after they have counted the pieces.

    The staff continued their review with a couple of PMI studies.

    PMI - Task Centre

    Plus Minus Interesting
    • Really good to see some students catch onto generalising.
    • Great for extension kids
    • Good when you can get more able students to help less able ones.
    • Good to have hands on
    • Some kids were working really well
    • Links in well with key competencies of new curriculum
    • Practical
    • Valuable teaching resource
    • Would have been good to have more time to get familiar with task centre
    • Some instructions need to be simplified
    • A lot of extra organisation e.g. sheets to print out.
    • Make sure the first time you use it is not late in the day
    • We need more kits as it took a lot of organisation to get around the 12 year 9 classes
    • Would be easier with smaller class sizes
    • Could be worth while to team teach some of this
    • Maybe have extra materials in the resource room
    • Worried N/L kids not getting as much out of it when they struggle with the language.
    • Used Crossing The River for Year 11s to introduce patterns

    PMI - Workshop Day

    Plus Minus Interesting
    • Very cool having us participate in the lesson
    • Very informative, made us think about our teaching
    • Nice to have new resources
    • Good to play with materials
    • Refreshing
    • Interesting and inspirational
    • Leader knew his stuff
    • Well organised
    • It was a long day.
    • Maths stick activity was drawn out
    • More time to play with activities
    • It was good to see video of leader teaching a lesson
    • Behavioural strategies to deal with students on activities would be helpful
    The meeting rounded off with time to explore more tasks.

  • Maths300 Conference
    Last chance to register for this excellent conference. For most Australian states it's in the Easter school holidays so wouldn't you rather be on the Gold Coast at that time of the year? Judith Selby, Cowra High School, and a team of teachers and presenters supported by Curriculum Corporation are planning a conference entitled Successful Students Think for Friday April 17th. Charles Lovitt, Steve Flavel and Matt Skoss are among the presenters. Don't leave it any longer. Now is the time to apply through the application form in the Link List below.

  • Tasks of the Month
    Two new cameos this month.
    • Racetrack is an intriguing spatial challenge involving drawing on a track while looking in a mirror. Hugely important for eye/hand control and development of spatial perception.
    • Rectangle Nightmare is a sneaky example of a 'missing square' puzzle. Two sets of shapes with a difference in area of one unit, fit into the same frame. Not possible! True but how do you explain the paradox that it appears to be true?
    Racetrack      Rectangle Nightmare
    Click a photo to access its cameo, or access all current cameos through the Link List below.

  • Did you miss the February News?
    If so you missed information about:
    1. Tasks being used in Nepal
    2. Iceberg Information about four Tasks of the Month (Tasks 79, 80, 81, 82).
    3. Observations of teaching in Eritrea
    4. Contributions to Row Points and Game of 31
    5. Information about price changes
    6. ...and more...

Keep smiling,
Doug.

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