A Collection of Anecdotes

When something special happens with tasks and kids, it doesn't take much to write a paragraph or two to share the moment. This is your place to record those moments.

Send an email, add a photograph if you wish, or a scan of a kid's work to Doug. Williams: doug@blackdouglas.com.au

Row Points
Row Points Task Cameo. Also see Immaculate Heart of Mary below.

Find anecdotes from this list or scroll down to see them all with the most recent recorded first:

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Poster Problem Clinic at Albanvale Primary School

First published in the August 2017 Mathematics Centre eNews within an article titled Fascinating, Captivating and Absorbing Kids in Maths. This section stands alone. You are invited to read it here then return to this link to see it in this broader context.
This story is an example of an unexpected outcome when students are offered a whole class investigation in the same sense as a teacher will choose a book and read it to the class as a literary adventure. Ellen Corovic begins this story with the email below, but the story really belongs to Jane Lockwood and her Year 4/5 students at Albanvale Primary School.
Hi Doug,
I just had to forward you this email. As you may remember I have been working with a school this term specifically on reading and understanding problems. A part of this was introducing teachers to poster puzzles.

We've been focusing on slowing down the initial part of problem solving so that everyone really understands. Student discussions and drawing out the mathematical language has been a feature.

OMG Ellen, I wish you had a live feed into my room. I just introduced the 100 animals for $100 poster problem (Maths 300), and it was amazing, going through the process, they really slowed down this week, but you still had a few who wanted to dive into solving it. The conversations and mathematical language and problem solving being used was incredible, they were really frustrated and they loved it. I told them it is good they were frustrated, because if this was easy it wouldn't be a problem, they were soooo engaged.
I asked permission from Ellen and Jane to use this quote and the email conversation continued...
I am happy for you to use it and I will send photos...
They were even more annoyed with me today, one group got 98 animals for $100 and they said "Jane. It's not fair." Another group asked if they could have half an animal, lol. I said no of course, they had to be live animals. 1 group worked with the ES staff member in my room, and although they haven't come up with a solution yet, the mathematical language they used to explain their thinking just blew me away, I'm talking low functioning children here which I find very difficult to engage, so it has been wonderful to see how hard they are working. We will continue this tomorrow so we will see how popular I am by the end of tomorrow.
The next day came...
Here are the photos. The lesson ended the way it started, with lots of very frustrated, but engaged and interested children. No group found a solution but everyone got very close. I was reflecting on it later and I was actually glad they didn't find a solution, because it made them focus more on the problem solving process rather than finding an 'answer', which I find very frustrating as a teacher. I try to instill that we value their thinking and how they find the answer rather than the actual answer. I teased them a bit and said I wasn't going to show them the solution, they were begging me to show the answer, so funny, so we worked through it together. The most satisfying outcome for me was that they asked if they could take it home to see if their parents could do it. I was over the moon as we are always trying to engage parents in their children's learning at our school. I had stories about dads skipping dinner to try and work it out and others cheating and going online to find a solution. I am expecting a few angry parents at my door over the next few days, I hope.

Fascinated, captivated, absorbed? I think so.
Learning to work like a mathematician? I think so.

What do you think?

See more information about the Poster Problem Clinic.

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Working Like A Mathematician at St. Bede's

Dear Doug,
Thank you warmly for the continued newsletter delivery, these are valuable. I thought you might be interested in our 'aha' moment with (Task 123)
Bob's Buttons.

Today for Mathematics, and totally by accident, Bob's Buttons was completed with 113 counters. The children loved that we could not create equal groups but always had a plus something. Having only investigated groups of 5, 6, 7 and 8 it is not reasonable to conclude that no other amount could share evenly. So it is on ... can we prove that 113 is a prime number?

Alicia Ernst
Year 4, St. Bede's Primary School, Braidwood

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Working Like A Mathematician at Monbulk

Hi Doug,
I just love all the various activities and try to do a couple for each topic that we teach.
Cars In A Garage, once tweaked, suited the Year 11 class and since many are on their L plates was even more engaging.

I trialled it today for the first time with my Year 11 students. I extended it further by printing the coloured car sheets (from the Maths300 companion lesson) and giving each pair of students a whole sheet. This enabled us to explore combinations where you have several cars the same colour and to also do selections both with different colours and some the same.

The activity worked so well, it was not long before they were wondering how to do 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 very quickly and some found the ! button on the calculators themselves.

Kind regards,
Sue Ditchfield
Maths Learning Area Coordinator, Monbulk College

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Tasks in Africa
The following email from Ian Lowe, Professional Officer, Mathematical Association of Victoria, tells its own story. It was first published in Mathematics Centre News May 2011.

Hi Doug,
I am back from three weeks in South Africa and Malawi. I used several of the ideas inherent in Maths300 and the Mathematics Task Centre with three groups of primary or secondary teachers during that time, and I want to report that an approach using group work, cooperation, hands-on material and problem solving works brilliantly with teachers - and they tell me, it will also work with students - in Africa. There is an active interest in a new approach to teaching.

Truth Tiles and Jumping Kangaroos.

Fay's Nines (also done with cards) and Circumference of a Circle (we did it for 8 steps then predicted what it would be for 4 steps.)

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Queen Victoria High School, Scotland
Don Shaw ordered a new kit of tasks. Don had used our tasks in another school. We asked what it was about the tasks that would make him choose them for his new school. He wrote:

I absolutely love the tasks that you provide.

In Scotland, at present, we are embarking on a brand new "Curriculum for Excellence" which involves trying to get the students to understand more of each subject instead of just being taught to memorise fact after fact. The hands-on experience that your tasks provide is an ideal way to give students a good understanding of the logical thinking skills and deep problem solving skills that they will need to succeed in the employment market when they leave school.

I searched for other resources around the world but there is nothing to compare with what you provide.

I also purchased them with a view to bringing a little more enjoyment into the Maths classroom. Forgetting educational reasons for a second, these tasks are fun!! Students love to do them and they look forward to their problem solving period.

Thanks again for providing them and I'll be recommending them to my colleagues in other schools.

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Maths With Attitude: Port Glasgow High School
Marc Barry and the team at Port Glasgow High School have been using Maths With Attitude kits in Years 7 & 8 (S1 and S2 in Scotland) since 2006. (Editor: This article was written in April 2009.) Recently too they have been working with their feeder primary schools to introduce the resource into P3 to P6 with a view to an integrated approach to learning to work like a mathematician.

To help teachers become familiar with the breadth and depth of the resource, the High School staff have been mapping one Maths300 lesson per fortnight into their curriculum and one Task lesson per month. Here Marc is showing us the record of that planning.

Marc has presented twice at the Stirling Mathematics Conference on the school's use of Maths With Attitude and has recently been asked to write an article on the school programme for the Scottish Mathematical Council Journal. This small extract suggests that the school is achieving success with this approach to learning:

A recent survey of students has shown that the young people of Port Glasgow High school are enjoying their Mathematics and look forward to their next Task session or whole-class lesson. Teachers report that students are now more willing to tackle new or unfamiliar problems.

We have recently taken the decision to increase the frequency of whole class lessons to once per week in both S1 and S2. We are also attempting to integrate some of these lessons into the S3-S5 curriculum where appropriate. This will allow us to continue the investigative approaches to learning throughout the remainder of the curriculum.

Following a workshop for staff from Port Glasgow and other local high and primary schools on April 2nd, it was clear that there was lots of enthusiasm for exploring further the opportunity for each school to develop its own form of a Maths With Attitude curriculum. We look forward to hearing more instalments in this story.

Sphinx at Port Glasgow
While visiting the school I was invited to participate with 3 S1 classes being introduced to Sphinx for the first time. The three classes were running simultaneously in three separate rooms.

(Australian teachers should note that the common practice in Scottish high schools is for each teacher to have their own room and for the faculty to have a suite of rooms in the same geographical area. Yes we can!)

Interactive White Boards (IWB) are a well established tool at Port Glasgow and I was interested to see the Sphinx lesson supported by what was in essence an electronic Investigation Guide for the class built from material on this site (see Link List below). As with many other slide shows used in their curriculum, one teacher prepared the material and stored it on the server for others to use. Perhaps this idea has a place in other schools. Marc did advise though that the IWB is a tool to support the lesson, not the driving energy of the lesson. These photos give some idea of what I saw across the three classrooms.

Four Sphinxes make a Sphinx. Mmmm, nearly.

Got it! Ahh, but now can you explain to someone else
how to make it with your hands behind your back.

Now everyone can do it.
So, as the slide says, where to from here?

How about four Size 2 Sphinxes
make the next size, like this.

Now we are starting to work like a mathematician (see Link List below).
  • Playing with a problem we are interested in.
  • Collecting and organising data.
  • Can anyone see a pattern?
  • What's our hypothesis about the next size? ...and the next?
And so much more to explore from here. As the teacher of the third class said as the bell rang ... To be continued...

More about Sphinx.

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Joshua Dean, Alice Springs High School, Northern Territory
Joshua comments on the important place professional development has played in changing his teaching practice.

I have definitely found the Maths300 resources very useful - they certainly tick all the boxes from a pedagogical point of view - well done with everything there! ... It's not just the richness of the tasks that has been transformative in the classroom for me - it is the approach from the teacher that they call for. I used to be a very 'controlling' and content-oriented educator, but I think I am achieving a better balance these days. One thing that particularly struck me was observing Charles Lovitt deliver a PD session in Tennant Creek at the start of the year, showcasing a variety of tasks. Just the way he was able to lay down the challenge, to conjure intrigue and interest with a softly spoken approach with few words - inviting us to 'come and have a look at this' and 'come and have a go', just as he would with adolescents but just as effective with the adults that were present. Anyhow, I look forward to learning more about what you guys are up to - in particular for Indigenous education - and I am sure we will be in touch in the future.
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Lance Rooney, Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Newborough, Victoria
Lance organised a Maths on the Move pupil free day followed by a Discussion Lesson day.

I have to say that since your 2 days at St Mary's there has been a change in the way Mathematics has been presented in the classroom. The learning centre tasks are being used and there is a great deal of professional discussion and sharing that is occurring between teachers about what has worked, what has not and how to dig deeper with the tasks to get the most out of them. We still have a long way to go, but the early signs have been encouraging.

Personally, I have enjoyed completing a number of whole class investigations, especially with the Grade 6 children. I recently completed the make me a million investigation with them. I was shocked to learn how few of them had a meaningful concept of how big a million actually is. They believed that it was possible for a person to live a million days and it took a lot of convincing to get them to accept that you really have to live over 2700 years to achieve that. Of course, that lead to how old for 1,000,000 hours, minutes and seconds and they decided that in order to be told to do something 1,000,000 times it would require 11 solid days of nagging. None the less it was fun. I also introduced the game Nim to them. As they are chess nuts at the moment, this strategic game was right up their alley and they wanted to start a Nim tournament.

I also ran Row Points (one of your Discussion Lessons) with Grade 3/4. It was a wonderful session. In the end (we could only manage a high score of 40) I was asked by a Grade 4 girl What would happen if we had 14 counters? Would our top score only go up to 41 or would it be much more? It is questions like this that make me believe that we are on the right track in getting our children to think like mathematicians.

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Sue Whitney, Canberra, Australia
During the workshop to establish a task centre in their school, teachers at Southern Cross Primary School experienced, and were challenged to use in their classroom, Task 45,
Eric The Sheep as a whole class investigation at every level of the school. In the days following the workshop, Sue sent this email:

Some of the staff have had a go at Eric - I had a conversation with Irene who has the Senior Special Learning Centre today, and we commented on how flexible these tasks are. She was only able to scratch the tip of the iceberg in her session on Eric but we were both very happy with the way it went. For those students it was enough, for now, to look at the different strategies you could use to solve the problem.
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Lynn Patterson, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA
Lynn has used the tasks for many years and is sometimes asked to run task centre workshops for colleagues.

Upon reflection, I am amazed at just how universal the tasks are. That they can indeed meet the math needs of such a variety of grade levels and cultures.

In a conversation regarding the workshop I was asked the following questions:
Question: Who was the workshop for?
Answer: High school and middle school teachers
Question: Don't you teach elementary?
Answer: Yes, but the tasks reach all grade levels and have different depths of understanding depending upon the developmental or academic needs of the group. They provide extensions and challenges for all grade levels.
Question: Did you say the workshop was for Native American students and don't you teach average middle income socio-economic students?
Answer: Well, the tasks have been proven to work with Aboriginal students in Australia ... so they work in all cultures including Native American math students in Wisconsin. That is why the teachers are interested in learning how to use the tasks ... for motivation and connections and to, of course, simply improve mathematical understanding for their students. And the tasks are just so engaging!

Isn't this fascinating?? I am in awe of the 'power of tasks', the way they can engage and connect the learner.

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