Starting a Task Centre
& Creating a Working Mathematically Curriculum
Damian describes the background reasons for, and stages in the development of, a Task Centre at MacKillop College. His description, written in March 2008, is supported by a PowerPoint show prepared to guide workshops presented at the 2007 Annual Conference of the Mathematical Association of Victoria. Damian has also included documents developed by staff from Task Centre resources. The documents are used to administer and evaluate student use of tasks.
MacKillop College, Swan Hill
This project is a growing experience for staff and students and includes the integration of Maths300 into their curriculum. Overall the school is focussed on students learning to work like a mathematician.
We saw the task centre and Maths300 as a means of teaching problem solving in an explicit way. We felt it was important to be clear that problem solving is not a separate part of the curriculum that is only delivered to the better students if there is time. All students should be given opportunities to solve problems and work mathematically. Otherwise they are never really 'doing mathematics', they are simply forever in the process of 'getting ready to'. This belief was primarily the reason for beginning a task centre.
|All students should be given opportunities to solve problems and work mathematically. Otherwise they are never really 'doing mathematics', they are simply forever in the process of 'getting ready to'.
|It was also a time when we were addressing the new VELS* in Victoria. Part of this approach to teaching and learning and assessing was the dimension 'Working Mathematically'. We were intent upon making sure that this dimension, if it was to be assessed as a dimension in its own right, was taught and learned explicitly. The task centre and Maths300 has a very simple but powerful framework based on Learning to Work Like a Mathematician. This seemed like an obvious approach to delivering this dimension in our curriculum.
To make this happen one room in the school was set aside especially for the purpose of teaching and learning problem solving and working mathematically. The teachers refer to this room as the Task Centre. Many of our students refer to it as 'the Problem Solving Room'. Each mathematics class was timetabled into this room at least once per fortnight for an 80 minute period. Within this time students would select a task with a partner, play with it and work on it, and then report on what happened. So essentially we created this time for students to be mathematicians.
There were numerous challenges to us as teachers. Firstly, we had never really thought of teaching a learner to be a mathematician. Also we were unfamiliar with the tasks themselves and were in a state of ignorance when students looked to us for confirmation of 'the right answer'. The students were unfamiliar with the manner in which they were being asked to work and this was more so when they were asked to think about the 'iceberg' of the problem. A whole page could be filled with other challenges but the short end of the story is that we, teachers and students alike, have learned a great deal now about working mathematically.
|We persevered with our model, thankfully, and with very encouraging results. Students did come to value this time each fortnight. As the PowerPoint shows, students probably gained more from the experience than we had imagined or dared to believe.
One year on and we see ourselves very much still in the birthing stage of building a Working Mathematically curriculum. The task centre as it was last year was a great way for us to address our issues of problem solving and VELS, but we now have new goals and our direction is refocussed.
Tasks have three lives:
We came to realise that we have used one of those lives much more than the other two. Our model certainly gave time for students to solve problems in pairs. What is now needed is a model better balanced with whole-class problem solving and investigating.
- as a problem for a pair of students,
- as a whole-class investigation and
- as a deeper investigation guided by an investigation sheet.
|A whole page could be filled with other challenges but the short end of the story is that we, teachers and students alike, have learned a great deal now about working mathematically.
Maths300 is very much the answer to our prayers in this regard. Some of the Maths300 lessons are tasks presented as whole-class problems to solve and work on. They have the potential of not only being problem solving exercises but powerful tools by which to teach and learn topics in all dimensions. Hence we have been busy at the start of this year mapping Maths300 lessons and tasks into all of our course units.
What began as a model to address working mathematically on its own, and was successful on many accounts, has begun our transition towards what we hope will be a fully Working Mathematically curriculum. It is certainly good to know that we are on our way.
These documents have been prepared by staff of MacKillop College, Swan Hill, and are offered freely to colleagues:
*VELS - Victorian Essential Learning Standards: Government curriculum dictates from the state of Victoria, Australia.